Ranjona Banerji: Weeping buckets over an untested vaccine

15 Jan,2021

By Ranjona Banerji


I have lied. I said I stopped watching TV. And it is true, I have no subscription to a cable or dish provider. But I do watch American television on YouTube.. To track coverage of the entire Donald Trump insurrection. And as expected, it has made me weep.

I have not watched Fox or any of the Trump channels because if I want to see sycophancy and hero-worship at work, I could also watch how we do it in India.

But I have wept buckets. At anchors and reporters who question those in power. Who question politicians of all hues. Of bureaucrats, officers, those who have been in power, those still in power, those retired, who can for the most part articulate their thoughts without descending into name-calling and schoolyard behaviour.

I don’t mean that they are perfect before you get all full of fake nationalism. But they do follow the basics of journalism and then some. And this given the limits of TV and I’m sorry, but it does have its limitations because of the desperate need to be first which seriously affects fact-checking. I don’t even know who the big names and who the stars are – barring at CNN – but it still works for me.

The other advantage of YouTube is that you don’t have to put up with the colonial style TV of the BBC World Service or CNN International, where everything is positioned for the poor third world which has limited understanding. It’s like being back to the old days of CNN, during the First Gulf War. Our editor at Bombay Magazine, Mohini Bhullar, booked a room for us at the Oberoi so we could all go and watch a new type of journalism for us, when we had some free time.

Anyway, watching journalists cover a very serious threat to their democracy from a sitting president has been a revelatory experience and hats off to them. And while we’re at it, they are also very open about the extent of failure of Covid-19 containment and the terrible situation that hospitals and healthcare staff find themselves in.

A good time to make a neat segue back to India. The situation with Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin is uncertain, given that clinical trials aren’t over. And yet as citizens we can do nothing about the fact that government is not only pushing an untested vaccine only because it is Indian-made, but is not giving people a choice of vaccine either. When you consider that healthcare workers will be the first recipients from tomorrow, the dangers are self-evident.

In any other democracy this would be the main topic of news and discussion. However, In India we must talk about where PM Narendra Modi has been for his last round of publicity, how clever Union Home Minister Amit Shah is as an election manipulator and so on. Interestingly, not even the most sycophantic TV anchors and print “journalists” never mention what a great Home Minister Shah is. I wonder why.

This report by Anu Bhooyan for IndiaSpend covers the dangers of an untested vaccine been pushed on to a hapless population. It is one more in a small list of actual work by committed journalists.



And then there are India’s farmers. Where our exalted newspapers carry opinion piece after opinion piece by co-opted bureaucrats to convince us why the Modi government is correct.

Just as well all those marketing chaps told me for years that only two per cent of readers bother with the edit pages. The less rubbish that is spread around the better.

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



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