Ranjona Banerji: Republic TV: Journalism, Bad/ Annoying Journalism or no Journalism at all?

27 Oct,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

This is not a sinkhole I’m falling into. The great liberal intelligentsia might have to force itself to appear “fair”. The new Editors Guild of India might have words of advice and opprobrium for “both sides” of the battle. But this trap is not for me. And like all traps, this one is extremely dangerous for the future of journalistic credibility.

It is, of course, the fallout of the Television Ratings Points scam, Republic TV’s role in rigging TRPs, the police action against Republic TV and the judiciary’s comments. Arnab Goswami and his channel have moved courts here and there to wriggle out of the TRP scam they are being investigated for and also for the despicable assault on the character of actress Rhea Chakraborty during the massive drama they concocted over this spurious desire for “justice” for actor Sushant Singh Rajput.

The Editors Guild walks a fine line, where it is “pained” to see hundreds of FIRS filed by the Mumbai Police against employees of Republic TV. That done, it ends on a stronger note as far as the innumerable transgressions of Goswami and his channel are concerned: “It is high time the channel behaves responsibly and not compromises (sic) the safety of its journalists as well as hurt the collective credibility of media”.

The Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde, meanwhile observed that the Supreme Court would like an “assurance of responsible reporting” from Republic TV.

https://www.barandbench.com/news/litigation/want-assurance-responsible-reporting-republic-tv-cji-sa-bobde

This an extremely noble sentiment but it is patently impossible for Republic TV to fulfil. It is neither responsible nor does it display any semblance of reporting as understood by any journalist.

Is Republic TV a journalistic enterprise at all? It may employ journalists or former journalists but in its very core, in its practice, in its behaviour and its presentation, it is an assault on the very notion of journalism. It is not just bad journalism or annoying journalism or low-level journalism, it is not journalism at all.

But by being part of the mass media – as in anything that broadcasts or sends out matter into the public domain – Republic TV has managed to seriously taint the image of journalism, even really bad journalism, everywhere.

Is there a distinction to be made between the really bad journalism practised by Times Now, Zee News, Aaj Tak, India Today and sometimes other “news” channels as well, apart from several journals? After all, most of them were completely despicable in their targeting of Chakraborty and in building up a completely dangerous, destructive “campaign for justice” after the death of Sushant Singh Rajput. But many of them, unlike Republic TV, did not abandon all elements of journalism all the time.

How does a lay person tell the difference? Last week, the rumour mill was buzzing with the “news” of civil war in Pakistan and pitched battles on the streets of Karachi between the police and the army. But as you tried to investigate, the main sources of this “information” were BJP propaganda outlets like OpIndia and so on, which have no connection with journalism. They picked the notion from a tweet and then built up stories without any corroboration, fact-checking, reporting, editing. All pure fantasy based on one political incident in Pakistan.

Sadly, given the abdication of responsibility and total capitulation by many senior journalists and journalistic organisations when it comes to making clear the differences between news organisations and propaganda machines, the general public has been left to fend for itself. This capitulation to the regime by senior journalists and traditional news outlets in power has also severely destroyed the credibility of the journalistic media as much as the propaganda machinery’s appropriation of journalism.

In its earlier avatar, before the complete change of guard within The Editors’ Guild, let us not forget on 2018 how long and how much pressure it took for the Guild to comment on the sacking of journalists at ABPNews for daring to criticise Narendra Modi. But how quickly the Guild jumped to defence of Smita Prakash of ANI because Rahul Gandhi called her a pliable journalist. How promptly the Guild tried to save Goswami, also in 2018 but how less well-known journalists were largely ignored in spite of the might of the state falling on them.

Of course, the collapse of journalism cannot be attributed solely to the likes of Republic TV. The screenshot is from a Times of India front page last week. As we can see, the head of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, that shadowy organisation that controls the BJP but has no Constitutional role, gets prominence as the main story of the day over all else.

When you open the doors like this, just about anyone is free walk in.

 

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

 

 

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