Unfair to Take Rajdeep Off Air?

29 Jan,2021

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The drama over TV anchor Rajdeep Sardesai has got sections of the media and social media all roiled, and on all sides of the political spectrum.

Sardesai had tweeted and stated on-air that farmer Navreet Singh had been shot by the Delhi Police on January 26, during the turmoil of the tractor parade held by India’s protesting farmers. For these two actions, Sardesai was taken off air by his employer India Today and his salary docked for a month.

https://thewire.in/media/india-today-rajdeep-sardesai-farmer-death

Glee and consternation were the dominant emotions by the public and the media.

However. How could there not be a “however”? First Sardesai. At face value, without imputing motives, he may have jumped the gun in order to be first with the news. This is not new to Sardesai or to TV “journalism”, where carrying uncorroborated news as fact is extremely common. Also, Sardesai later retracted his comment and deleted his tweet.

Then, the death of Navreet Singh himself. His family and farmers present still contest the Delhi Police’s version that the young farmer from Australia died when his tractor overturned. They insist that he died from a bullet wound. Various media outlets have carried the contrasting versions of his death from family members, eyewitnesses and the police. Sardesai was not alone here.

Times of India report on dead farmer's autopsy reportThis is a link to a Times of India story, datelined Rampur:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bareilly/kin-say-he-was-shot-autopsy-finds-no-bullet-wound/articleshow/80485330.cms

I quote from the first paragraph: “A day after the young farmer from UP’s Rampur died during the Republic Day farmers protests in Delhi, his family said they saw a gunshot wound – in hole in his jaw and one just above his ear close to the skull”.

The article goes on to say that the autopsy report says there was no bullet wound with a quote from the ADG of Bareilly zone, Avinash Chandra.

This is not the first time that autopsy reports have been contested or overturned. Or have been spectacularly wrong.

But Sardesai sits in the peculiar position of being both a well-known TV anchor and one who sometimes likes to do ground reports. He is also reviled by BJP supporters for being a “liberal” and by liberals for not being outspoken enough against bigotry. I myself have called him out for his fence-sitting.

The problem with doing ground reports when you are a prominent studio personality is that you do not any more have sufficient ground contacts, and because you can get easily carried away by your own fame and experience, mistakes are easily made. Also, the more famous you are, the more people are out to get you.

The question arises though: who was out to get Sardesai?

In my few years of experience, the journal usually takes the flak for mistakes made by employees. Far worse errors have been made. But no media house behaved like this. You stand by your staff in public. If you feel the journalist has erred, you issue a retraction or an apology. If you think not, you issue a statement saying you stand by the contested report. If you are feeling contentious, you wait for some legal situation to arise before you decide. In this case then, the pressure came from somewhere and we all know where that could be.

Never have I seen a media house where I have worked throw an employee under the bus for an error of this sort. Suppose it was later proved in another autopsy that Navreet Singh was indeed shot? What would India Today do then? The mysterious death of Justice Loya comes to mind, where questions are raised all the time in different sections of the media. Not very loudly, but they are.

TV of course operates on its own rules, most of which are inexplicable to me. And yet, TV itself is notorious for pushing fake news, for inciting religion-inspired division and violence and a constant travesty of the core of journalism.

Media watchdog Newslaundry.com (there is an inside irony here) has compiled this excellent list of gross errors by India Today anchors, for which there was no public punishment:

https://www.newslaundry.com/2021/01/28/rajdeep-penalised-how-come-these-india-today-anchors-are-still-on-air

You have here mixed messages from the India Today management to their staff. Although this is not the first time that India Today has done this. The case of Angshukanta Chakraborty being sacked from DailyO is top of the mind:

https://scroll.in/article/868531/india-today-fires-journalist-over-tweet-criticising-fake-news-peddling-tv-anchors

The latent intent in the action against Sardesai is clear: do not expect any support from us. The result will be that no one will make any effort – if indeed they do – to work on anything that might upset the Modi government for fear of losing their reputations, jobs and money. We will see more from their star anchors to push the government agenda and hide the truth of India their viewers.

A sad comedown from India Today’s self-proclaimed “gold standard of journalism”.

Underlying all this is the veritable collapse of Indian journalism under BJP and government pressure. Sedition cases filed against journalists of National Herald and The Caravan over the farmers protests bring that home.

https://www.thequint.com/news/india/tharoor-sardesai-and-5-others-filed-for-sedition-by-up-police#read-more

The Editors Guild of India has also issued a strong statement on this (See here)

The farmers protests, especially by television, have been portrayed largely from the government’s perspective. The damage done to all journalism is incalculable. And it is only going to get worse.

 

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

 

 

Post a Comment 

Comments are closed.

Videos