Ranjona Banerji: What is news? A hoodwinking tactic?

01 Sep,2020

By Ranjona Banerji


Union Finance Minister dismissed a possible contraction of India’s economy on an “act of God”. A couple of days later, God it appeared responded with this: the worst GDP contraction in 40 years. India’s GDP for the first quarter of the financial year 2021 has shrunk by 23.9 per cent. And this is, mind you, with the new GDP system introduced by the Narendra Modi government, aimed at making every figure look more positive.


Obviously, between this and the news that China’s incursions into India, and by China I mean the nation which cannot be named by Modi, continue and of action by the Armed Forces, there is only one aspect of news which interests our TV channels and sections of the mainstream media. Obviously, the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput on June 14, 2020.


Times Now in its inimitable style, was aghast that a panellist dared to talk about the economy when the burning issue of the day, the week, the month, the year was Rajput’s death. (Notice that I haven’t even mentioned India’s Covid19 figures. O yes, we’re top of the world when it comes to cases per day – 80,000 as per health ministry figures released on August 31. But back to Times Now: “Sumanth Raman Political analyst dodges Rahul Shivshankar’s question on SSR case instead speaks on India’s economic condition.” Can you believe the cheek of Mr Raman??? Daring to talk about India’s economy when the burning issue (o, does that tagline now belong to the rival BJP propaganda channel?) of the day is only and only the death of an actor, however beloved?

There is a massive battle for popularity between Aaj Tak, Times Now and the most watched of all apparently, Republic TV. All three are involved in BJP propaganda and all three currently concentrate on Rajput’s death and work hard to vilify his girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty. Subjects like a collapsed economy, rising Covid19 figures, China’s incursions into India, the states being denied their GDP dues and the current problem of the Modi government’s insistence on conducting the JEE and NEET entrance exams in the midst of a pandemic are not worthy of discussion.

What is news? Is it something with which you can keep a populace sedated and hoodwinked or is it a constant cycle of events as they happen? It is true that across Indian languages, the most popular soaps and serials involve patriarchy, extreme misogyny, black magic, superstition and sexual shenanigans. However, the news does not have to present itself as an offshoot of populist fiction. Or does it?

The Network of Women in Media, India, of which I am a member, issued the following well-drafted pointed statement about TV coverage of the Rajput case. It says:

“The coverage of the case smacks of crass sensationalism and voyeurism, with TV news channels setting up kangaroo courts to declare individuals guilty even as an investigation is ongoing. Each day brings with it a new low in TV news channels’ coverage, from leaking private chats to making fact-free insinuations to splashing triggering images of the deceased.

“NWMI upholds the media’s right to cover a case, in the public interest, with all the relevant facts. However, reporting should be carried out respecting journalistic norms of fairness, balance, impartiality and factual accuracy. The media must be mindful of its power to shape public opinion and remain alert and responsible in its reportage.”


The issue is both of bad journalism and clear deflection tactics, using TRPs as an excuse. But there is a clear strategy here to excite your viewership with extreme sensationalism and then claim that you have no option, because that is what the people want. It is nothing but brazen manipulation of your audience.

Which brings us to a curious case. The masters of media manipulation, the BJP, with all their captive TV channels, found themselves in a unique situation on the internet. The prime minister’s monthly Mann ki Baat, his “chat” to the nation, was about toys and dogs. And instead of the devoted outpouring of love which he normally gets, being the greatest Indian ever, the BJP found that on its own YouTube channel, the PM’s speech got more dislikes than likes. And when I say more, at approximately 10 am on September 1, that is today, the speech had 1.75 lakh likes, what a healthy figure, and, wait for it, 8.74 lakh dislikes. Do check the screenshot attached. Having tracked this through Monday, it has taken a huge effort by the BJP’s indefatigable IT cell to get the “likes” up. The head of the IT cell has fulminated on Twitter that that bots from Turkey were responsible. You can believe that of course, like you believe the voodoo propagated by Indian TV channels, but it is a remarkable thing to happen. Are we going to have a “debate” on this? Modi’s falling popularity or is some puppet channel going to promptly carry a fudged opinion poll?

We are at one of our lowest points as a society, a civilization, an independent nation. And one day, when someone looks back, how will the media be judged?


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



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