Ranjona Banerji: Media Control: Wrong Then, Wrong Now

09 Mar,2021

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The fallout of The Caravan’s expose of a Group of Minister’s report on how to control the media, with the active help of the media, continues.

Some journalists claim they did not know about the agenda, that they were misquoted or quoted out of context, that they were told they had been called for “off the record” briefings and so. Sadly, it seems that the Government of India did not honour the “off the record” convention and instead misquoted the lot of them in its report. Much as some journalists ranted and raved at The Caravan, the meat for the expose comes from the Government’s own report which was accessed by the magazine.

A report the The Wire.in shows just how easy it was for the Government of India to get its pet journalists – o, am I being unfair here – to do its bidding. One meeting, and a flurry of stories:

https://thewire.in/media/gagom-government-communications-kiren-rijiju-kanchan-gupta-congress-rajiv-gandhi-foundation-china

Let’s argue for the sake of argument that this is not the first time this has happened, that it has been done before, that “dynasty hacks” were no different, that Indira Gandhi invented media control techniques and so on. All that maybe be true (although not about Indira Gandhi: all authoritarian/fascist governments have the same ideas and no one did it better than the Nazis) but it does not make it acceptable.

Wrong then, wrong now. And very sad that in spite of all the lessons of the past, our community still has such stellar and prominent players who remain unable to grasp the basics of the job. Access is all, clearly, the reader and viewer be damned. I don’t want to be harsh, but I will. It is precisely this behaviour by journalists which encourages media owners to start editorial-selling initiatives like Medianet and election-driven paid news. The management’s logic is clear: if our journalists are going to behave like publicity agents anyway, why don’t we monetise it and increase our profits.

I have shared this link from Newslaundry before but I’m doing it again for the sheer amusement of reading our friends and former colleagues scrambling to defend themselves. And using the same old trite excuse used by politicians and celebrities when they’ve been caught out: misquoted, misinformed, blah blah.

https://www.newslaundry.com/2021/03/05/bogus-quotes-and-a-misrepresented-meeting-journalists-disown-govt-report-on-setting-the-narrative

At least this gentleman advocating fare hikes is a former journalist who has got a government plum. He’s not sitting in his media castle pretending to be neutral:

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/transportation/railways/passenger-fare-hike-must-to-push-indian-railways-on-reform-track/articleshow/81391435.cms?from=mdr

I would make the same argument for people who work for OpIndia, Swarajya, Republic and so on. We know that they are propagandists even if some of them had been journalists in a past life. Similarly, journalists who have joined the public relations industry have switched streams. They are honest about what they do. They’re not pushing publicity schemes or propaganda under false pretences. Of course, there is more respect for public relations professionals than for propagandists.

And no respect at all for journalists with venerable publications like The Hindu, the Indian Express and so on who are part of this control mechanism and being used as propagandists. Lack of respect as well as great sorrow.

Ha!

PS: Here’s senior commentator Urvish Kothari with his short satirical take on “colour coding” journalists. Always sharp, always tongue-in-cheek:

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

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