Ranjona Banerji: Disintegration of the Media

04 Sep,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

As you know if you read this column regularly, I am much given to doom and gloom. I claim helplessness. Watching the disintegration of the media over the past seven years has been a dismal experience, thinking and writing about it even worse.

The upshot has been is that I have gradually reduced my reading and viewing. I dip in and nip out as fast as I can. I know by this I do a huge disservice to my profession and those few media houses and a somewhat larger number of journalists who actually do their job.

One of the main culprits of this disaffection – and there is no great revelation here – is TV “news”. Forget the right-wing left-wing argument. Most channels have given up watching in the wings and have taken centre-stage as outright government propagandists.

Anyone remember those days, pre-2014 when the government in power was ripped apart for spectrum, coal auctions, Commonwealth Games, corruption in general, policy paralysis and more? And further excoriated for its draconian use of sedition laws against cartoonists, for instance? Yes, UPA 2. And please compare that to the radio silence we’ve had for the past six years of two Narendra Modi-led governments at the Centre.

The change in the Rafale deal? The horrors of demonetisation? The disaster that has been GST? The changes to coal auction laws? The assault on citizenship rights? The questionable procedures around changing coal and spectrum auctions? The constant attacks on a free media? The imprisonment of activists who question anything? The relentless communal onslaught? The strange behaviour of democratic institutions? The judiciary? The blatant crony capitalism where only two Indian companies have profited in a flailing and failing economy? The wilful and sustained destruction of India’s natural environment in the name of “development”? Every policy that has failed from “Make in India” to insurance schemes to health promises to smart cities to education… add whatever you want here, the result will remain disastrous. And I haven’t even mentioned the pandemic, economic collapse and Chinese invasions into Indian territory.

All this encompasses whatever was wrong with UPA 2 and worse. And yet, where is our media?

We all know where: busy with distractions, so that a pliant populace is kept seduced by sensationalist “coverage” of a celebrity suicide.

I watched part of MxMIndia’s editor-in-chief Pradyuman Maheshwari’s video interview of Arnab Goswami, head of Republic TV. Goswami’s main focus was his own popularity and reach which was at the top, beating news channels like Aaj Tak at times and everyone else all the time. But when it came to tougher questions about the journalism content of his channel, Goswami often looked away from the camera and deflected.

And there you have it.

There’s a letter doing the rounds from a former Republic TV employee about how difficult it was to work with Goswami, why he quit and so on.

However, the letter goes on to praise “journalists” who worked with Goswami at Times Now and Republic TV who subsequently quit. In fact, those names were as bad if not worse than Goswami, like Aditya Raj Kaul, when it came to pushing a communal agenda and otherising religious minorities. I know everyone has to make a living but when you choose to work with Goswami and what he had become towards the end of his tenure at Times Now, I find it disingenuous that you suddenly have issue with his brand of “journalism”. That ship had sailed long ago. I can understand young people falling for it, I can understand interns, but anyone with a bit of experience, you bought into the propaganda.

Okay, maybe I should not be unfair and judgmental? You bought into it. You realised you were wrong. You opted out.

The damage however is being done. As you watch. As you succumb.

*

 

Sometimes, though, change comes through pain. I attach two screenshots of tweets from Aroon Purie and Vineet Jain, both owners of massive media houses, both of whom own “news” channels that spew the most terrible filth hatred and both of whose organisations I have worked for.

The wallet pinches and mild, mild criticism emerges.

I’m not in the prediction business. Just in the pointing the mirror business. Don’t hold your breath though. The battle to normality is long and hard.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal

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