One More Nail in Journalism’s Coffin

13 Oct,2020

Cartoon by Hemant Morparia in Mumbai Mirror, September 2020. Republished with the permission of the artist-commentator


By Ranjona Banerji


Several leading film production houses have filed a suit in the Delhi High Court against the television channel Times Now and its two “star” faces, Rahul Shivshankar and Navika Kumar and propaganda channel Republic TV and its star Arnab Goswami, as well as one Pradeep Bhandari also with that channel.

The case is about “irresponsible reporting” in the context of the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput and the damage done to the film industry with constant derogatory references to it. irresponsible-reporting-by-certain-media-houses-2308968


Actress Rhea Chakraborty, who has been extensively vilified by several television channels and was jailed as a result of this malicious campaign against her, in the same Rajput coverage, has filed a case against her neighbour for lying to these television channels. Her lawyer, Satish Maneshinde, has also mentioned legal action against media outlets which went after Chakraborty. against-neighbour-for-misleading-probe#:~:text=Actor%20Rhea%20Chakraborty%20has%20filed,Hindustan%20Times%20reporte d%20on%20Monday.&text=Chakraborty%20in%20her%20complaint%20to,statement%20was%2 0%E2%80%9Cutterly%20false%E2%80%9D. spoil-rheas-image-says-lawyer-satish-maneshinde/

In any other universe, except that of Indian television, I would have sided with the channels. But most of them and all of them at some point or the other, have no or very little association with journalism as it is understood. Not even the worst yellow, gutter, ambulance-chasing, tabloid journalism of the past can compare to what these television channels do.

And thus, this bit of petulant outrage from Shivshankar of Times Now on Twitter, in response to the film industry case, is nothing short of hilarious: “Cases against journalists of Times Now that have only sought justice for those who are wronged are a bad precedent. The mighty may think they can weaken the resolve of the fearless but they are wrong.”

The problem starts with the third word of the tweet and just escalates from there. Neither Shivshankar nor Kumar are journalists now, whatever they may or may not have been earlier. They are rabble rousers who are into amateur dramatics. Justice is not the domain of the media in the same sense that it is for investigative agencies and courts. The media’s role is to ask questions, yes, and that begins with those in power. Times Now only questions governments which are not made up of the leading party of the Central government. So that’s its first massive failure. And the very question of this imaginary “justice” in the face of all evidence, not all of which journalists have access to whatever they may claim, is also up in the air.

And much worse was the deliberate targeting of a young woman to get increased viewership every night. On what basis was Chakraborty made their scapegoat other than some accusations by Rajput’s estranged parents and a vindictive actress who had no connection with Rajput at all? Where was this great “justice” then? And what is “fearless” about attacking Chakraborty? That was nothing but the basest instincts of misogyny and patriarchy.

Is there anyone that these television channels have not blamed for the death of Rajput, except perhaps themselves? Maybe they should have promoted his movies better, without taking any money from him, and thus made his life happier and richer?

As for Republic TV and Goswami, what else would anyone expect of them? From the time the channel launched it has been a BJP propaganda medium and Goswami has revelled in the role, gaining more and more supporters as he shouted into cameras year after year. Shivshankar is but a poor imitation of his master and Kumar of course was trained by Goswami.

It is possible that nothing will come of this case. It is possible that behind the scenes negotiations will happen furiously. But it is also true that Times Now, when Goswami worked there, had a 100 crore defamation case slapped on it by Justice PB Sawant. Because the channel used his photograph in a provident fund scam case involving another judge, PK Samanta. Sawant asked for an apology, did not get that, Goswami ducked reconciliation meetings and so Sawant filed a case. Sawant was assigned the damages, the Supreme Court refused to stay the damages and Goswami apologised.

The freedom of press does not include making mistakes and then refusing to acknowledge and apologise for them. The case against media credibility gets built up by channels like Times Now and Republic TV – and the rest including India Today, Aaj Tak, CNN-News18 and the rest when it comes to Rajput and Chakraborty – and journalists who actually fulfil their mandate have to deal with public anger and distrust.

The damage that these channels have done to journalism is dangerous. I do not know a single journalist who agrees with the vilification of Chakraborty and the frenzied coverage and finger-pointing done by these channels after Rajput’s death.

One more nail in journalism’s coffin.


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


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