Ranjona Banerji: Why do politicians need to lecture journalism students

24 Nov,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Parkash Javadekar had several nuggets of advice for journalism students when he spoke at the inaugural session of the new academic year at the Indian Institute of Mass Communications.

“Do not chase TRPs” was one, “no need for drama or sensation if your story is based on facts” was another. And that good news was also important. He then went on to list various good news stories all of which were publicity for his government’s various schemes.

Javadekar, in his spare time, is also Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Under his divine stewardship, India has seen some fabulous dilution of laws to assist the destruction of India’s natural habitats and facilitate “development” and private sector profit. How are India’s budding journalists supposed to cover such “news”? In the good news or bad news sections of their media outlets?

Why do politicians need to lecture journalism students at all? This deification of paid politicians is one of many stumbling blocks in our search for an equitable society. Politicians in the best sense are natural enemies of journalists. So unless the institution has made it clear that the politician has been invited for target practice, one can only assume that the intent is to ensure that the sort of genuflecting selfie “journalism” we see all around is today continues into perpetuity.

On a side note, the ministry of information and broadcasting needs to be abolished. Set up a separate commission to handle state-run media if you must still have it. And get rid of government interference in journalism matters. Of course, no one will do it. It suits all political parties when they come to power. And suits all political parties as a whipping post when out of power. It’s like journalists getting government handouts like Padma awards. What does that make them if not “good news” cronies?

Should I even mention the irony of the BJP’s early origins in being part of the pro-free-press movement in the anti-Emergency movement. What a joke!

What else did the honourable minister say?

If you read between the lines, it was really quite funny. The most pro-government pro-BJP media outlets are those which use drama, sensation and lies to spread BJP propaganda. Other media outlets, which are less sensationalist, promote government projects without question operating therefore as publicity arms of the government.

So does Javadekar want the Arnab Goswamis, Aaj Taks and Times Nows of the world to stop using drama, sensation and lies? Javadekar was one of the first Modi government ministers to tweet in favour of Goswami’s fine journalism when the TV anchor was arrested in Maharashtra. This is most confusing. If drama, sensation, lies are all bad journalism then Goswami, Aaj Tak and Times Now and so on are at the bottom of the pile. Er, which they are. But they are also top of the pile in numbers, BJP support and BJP propaganda. Who knows. My mind is now scrambled.

Anyway, there’s everyone else for the “good news” part of Javadekar’s advice. There’s ANI news agency with its good BJP connections which everyone subscribes to and Reuters has tied up with to spread “information” about the Modi government’s half-baked ill-judged policies. And outright lies about the “success” of its projects.

And we all know what the “bad news” constitutes, the news that the government and its cronies want to keep hidden. Rising Covid-19 figures, bad planning in handling the pandemic, bad Centre-state coordination, social disharmony, divisive policies, environmental damage, economic collapse, falling employment figures, rural and urban distress, manufacturing, export, import problems, crony capitalism, banking tremors, education backlogs and stumbling blocks, diplomatic disasters…

That is, whatever constitutes actual journalism which students are being told to stay away from.

Good luck with that!

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On a happier note, congratulations to all the winners of the Laadli Media and Advertising Awards for Gender Sensitivity, supported by the UNFPA.

As ever, some great submissions this year!

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

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