Ranjona Banerji: Damned if you have a Spine

05 Mar,2021

By Ranjona Banerji

Caravan Magazine’s explosive investigation into a special Group of Ministers’ report on the media has done that proverbial thing. Upset the apple cart, turned over the apple barrel so the rotten fruit fall out, set the cat among the pigeons… or maybe much worse.

The article by Hartosh Singh Bal, quotes extensively from a 2020 report, where the Modi government sought to manipulate and control media coverage, as well as a “strategy to neutralise people who are writing against the Government”. Apart from the nine ministers involved, there were apparently extensive consultations with media “professionals”. The inverted commas are mine, because there is no professionalism in helping a government “neutralise” critical voices.

https://caravanmagazine.in/politics/paranoia-about-digital-coverage-led-gom-propose-media-clampdown-monitoring-negative-influencers

 

Last year, Hindustan Times had provided the first part of this government strategy, which the Caravan article references early on: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/gom-lays-out-plan-for-govt-s-media-outreach/story-nAV6jIlO6IDzfJI3pAE7LJ.html

Does anyone not understand what’s going on?

Anyone with a spine or indeed half a brain knows that the Modi government has controlled the media narrative since at least 2011, between the CAG report about spectrum and the India Against Corruption movement. Since then, things have only got worse. Media houses have preferred to toe the line or try and use different outlets to play both sides.

The appalling way in which Rhea Chakraborty was vilified largely by TV channels to both influence the Bihar elections as well as distract the population from pandemic mismanagement is one example. And after that, the way the farmers’ protests were grossly misrepresented and ignored by the mainstream media especially television. This travesty of journalism continues to this day. The third example is proper pandemic coverage and the various health pitfalls. Channels which applauded nonsensical schemes like banging pots and pans to beat the coronavirus found it impossible to neutrally examine whether India had upped any healthcare infrastructure during 2020’s first lockdown. Only a few independent voices from individual reporters and small digital media outlets bothered with any real journalism.

India’s ranking in every press freedom index has fallen year on year to its lowest point. Well, we just reach a lower point every year.

But as the Caravan report shows, this is not enough for this government. They want total capitulation. The new digital media control laws are one part of this. And this GoM report completes more of the picture.

That several former “journalists” should have been part of this exercise is hardly surprising, sad though it may be. The quotes below are from the GoM report.

Swapan Dasgupta: “After 2014, there was a change. It was marginalization of stalwarts. Mr. Modi won despite them. He chose to ignore them. He met people directly through social media. It is this eco-system which is hitting back to remain relevant.”

Kanchan Gupta: “Google promotes content on Print, Wire, Scroll, Hindu, etc which are online news platforms. How to handle this needs a separate discussion and should be looked into.”

 

Nitin Gokhale: “Journalists can be colour coded: Green – fence sitters; Black –against; and White – who support. We should support and promote favourable journalists.”

 

Surya Prakash: “Pseudo-secularists were marginalised earlier. The problem is starting from them. Indian Government has enormous power to utilise the position to control them…

“In the last six years, we have not enlarged the list of media friends by having new allies. We need to introspect this.”

 

Ashok Malik: “So called social issues are becoming problems in support (sic) the foreign media. Take cues from Print, Wire, etc. Therefore, there is a need to tackle both together.”

 

Those I have quoted all have strong BJP and Modi government connections. Although they may pretend to still carry that a “journalist” card. There are other BJP and Sangh Parivar supporters like Anand Ranganathan (no idea what his background is) quoted as well. His main grouse seems to be not enough Islamophobia. How, er, surprising! The use of the word “we” by most of them, former journalists and otherwise, in their strategy suggestions is both amusing and telling.

 

The GoM report is at attached at the end of the Caravan article and is well worth reading. Part of the BJP’s Goebbels-ian strategy is now exposed. In case you were asleep all this while, please go back to Nazi strategy and fascist strategy. Benito Mussolini had been a journalist too.

 

As is also clear, all these advisors find independent digital platforms the most scary. Hmm. Wonder why?

 

The only worthwhile suggestion I found was from Ashok Malik who said that oped pieces by ministers was proving counterproductive and read like propaganda!!! Do you think anyone will listen? Newspapers and websites of course use these pieces to pretend they are pro government so that they can get away with some mild criticism here and there and withstand the hammer fist of vindictive retaliation.

 

Just for your entertainment, here’s the US Government-funded Freedom House’s views on Indian democracy:

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/india-is-partly-free-says-us-thinktank/article33981116.ece

 

Much as people are patriotically upset, we all know how low democracy has fallen in India under Modi. Look at the names above, and you’ll know some of whom you can thank. The rest are legion.

 

Well done to the few independent voices that still stand!

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia every Tuesday and Friday. Her views here are personal

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