Ranjona Banerji: So which media companies are playing the double game?

22 Sep,2020

By Ranjona Banerji


Times Now, Republic TV, AajTak often get flak as India’s worst TV channels, especially in their abdication of all responsibility when it comes to journalism and their eager embrace of BJP government propaganda. Worst is a comparative, so practically every TV channel fits the description at one point or another. Even NDTV, which was usually seen as the channel for liberals and centrists, has recently been accused of presenting the BJP line far more often than it used to. That is, the English version. The Hindi channel under Ravish Kumar does not appear to have jumped tracks.

But let’s look at those that openly play the double game. There are those which run publications which have different takes on their TV siblings. For all the anger directed towards it, almost nothing in the Times of India can match the gutter “journalism” practised by Times Now’s Rahul Shivshankar and Navika Kumar. Mirror Now is also not pro-BJP although several eyebrows were raised when popular anchor Faye D’Souza quit. Or take The Telegraph, which stands as a strong, consistent, brave opponent of the Narendra Modi government. However, its TV channels under the ABP umbrella are often both sycophantic and distinctly anti-democratic.

There are also channels which play the double game. CNN News18 has some very good reporters on the ground. But it also has anchors like Marya Shakil whose shows usually work hard to show the BJP in a good light, no matter what. And then there’s The Right Stand’s Anand Narasimhan whose main job appears to be demonisation of every religious group that is not Hindu or conversely, to present the “Hindu” point view, with this o-so-clever twist on the word “right”. Because it is the RSS Hindutva “stand” which is presented, obviously. The “news site” Firstpost is also in the mixed category although it is firmly tilted government-wards.

And there’s India Today. Recently, its Camouflage Vest Editor Gaurav Sawant was in Leh, presumably to present the Modi government version of the conflict with China, since Sawant fancies himself as an army general. However, there he was, also promoting one more interminably tedious pro-Kangana Ranaut damn everyone else while pretending to care about Sushant Singh Rajput story. From, do not forget, the ground zero of Bollywood, Leh. Although Ms Ranaut one hears has gone back from Mumbai to Manali (the rubbish one learns from what passes for news today), so perhaps Sawant and India Today justified themselves with the knowledge that Leh is closer to Himachal Pradesh than Maharashtra?

Rahul Kanwal is usually a substitute for a BJP spokesperson, although he occasionally (very occasionally) stumbles across journalism. Rajdeep Sardesai is pulled out as the “objective” voice, possibly as a counter to Kanwal and Sawant when they are in extreme BJP mode. Objective by TV standards I mean, where throwing stones at a bus is the same as police brutality because buses also have feelings. Sardesai is so “objective” that they have had to widen the top of the fence.

India Today, the magazine, is possibly the exception to the “double policy” system. For years now, it has been a “rightist” as in pro-BJP publication. The most shocking abdication of simple journalistic sense was during the Gujarat 2002 riots where the Gujarat bureau consistently flew against all evidence in order to protect the Modi government.

The “gold standard of journalism” which Aroon Purie proudly discusses, and which to a great extent was true in the early days of Living Media, has now been firmly and effectively stamped out by its various media outlets.

The problem with these news “sources”, even as the Sudarshan News case is debated in the Supreme Court, is they have not just destroyed journalism, they have also destroyed the taste for journalism. Viewers and readers now expect the sort of vicious and vicarious “entertainment” provided by the outlets in the Sushant Singh Rajput case and the credence given to one person’s rantings which vilified and destroyed Rhea Chakraborty whom we have now apparently forgotten as she sits in jail.

And by this wholesale abdication of journalism, for a few favours or a selfie or even a Padma, these outlets have also legitimised Sudarshan News or OpIndia, which are not journalistic enterprises and are, make no mistake and let us have no pretence, only and only hate-spewing BJP propaganda machines.

Do we need reminding of the crisis which India and the world are in? And that the damage being done to journalism by these media outlets is incalculable?

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes every Tuesday and Friday on MxMIndia. Her views here are personal. She can be reached via Twitter at @ranjona

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