Ranjona Banerji: The Protests are Real. The Media Coverage is Mingy & Scared

29 Dec,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

What a pass we have come to. One of the biggest mass movements in recent history happening around the National Capital Region and other parts of India and it is almost impossible to find straightforward news about it.

You get at best tiny reports interspersed with government propaganda. Or, you just get the government’s point of view, which includes obfuscation, name-calling, blaming and deflection. And of course, our prime time “debates”.

It’s not just TV channels though. Most of our venerable newspapers play the government’s opinion on their front pages and somewhere way inside you get the actual reports of what’s happening on the ground. The opinion pages meanwhile are full of excuses and justifications of the government’s point of view.

What am I talking about? Indeed.

You would not know the extent of the ongoing protest against the Modi Government’s farm laws if you never ventured beyond our traditional media. You would know that the Modi Government is the best ever with farmers’ interests at heart and that an assorted bunch of terrorists, anti-nationals with foreign funding and political parties have gathered together to oppose the great government.

The situation is so bad and the distrust in the media so immense that farmers have set up their own channels of communication: Trolley Times, Tractor to Twitter and so on. This way, they themselves know what’s happening at the Delhi borders. Both are in Punjabi but Trolley Times has an English version and Tractor to Twitter, which features journalist Sandeep Singh from the protest sites, is English on Twitter. The Lallontop, journalist Saahil Murli Menghani are other sources through social media.

And this only underscores the massive betrayal by the mainstream media. That it cannot find within itself its basic duty to cover such a large anti-government movement of people asking for their voice to be heard. Compare this to the TV coverage of the India Against Corruption movement. The gatherings in some places were tiny (I have seen them myself in Mumbai, less than 500 presented as thousands) but the people of India were made to believe that IAC was a new freedom struggle.

In comparison, the farmers protests are real. The numbers are huge. But the media coverage is mingy and scared. If you put together snippets gleaned from various media outlets, you gather that farmers from across India are part of this movement. That not everyone can make the journey all the way to Delhi so they protest at home. Many groups have made the attempt and are stopped and harassed by police along the way.

The front pages however will have some rubbish about PM Narendra Modi and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal inaugurating some “Kisan” train. And the voices of the farmers themselves are hidden away if you can find them at all. Not since the days of the Emergency has media coverage been nothing more than a public relations exercise for the government. Then the capitulation was enforced. Can one now infer it is wholly voluntary?

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Equally mindboggling is the growing lack of Covid-19 coverage. The focus is so strongly on the BJP’s various electoral campaigns and its losses presented as victories, that we no longer get a proper perspective on the virus. It’s not just about figures. We’re also being denied exact news about the vaccination rollout in India. We are instead subjected to PR for the Serum Institute of India and only allusions to the vaccine go-ahead in India.

The Modi government I guess is too busy destabilising Bengal and Maharashtra, passing laws to take away the freedom to love and marry and planning costume changes for Modi to even bother anymore about the vaccine? And there’s the media. Flat on the ground writhing in worship.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Her views here are personal

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