Ranjona Banerji: Finally, Indian media is calling the government out

20 Apr,2021

Ranjona BanerjiBy Ranjona Banerji

 

We’ve been here before. Dead bodies piling up and governments lying about Covid deaths. But there is a difference between 2020 and 2021. Not in the ferocity of the virus, alas, but in the media coverage. Suddenly, we are flooded with gruesome images of mass cremations, of bodies waiting for burial, of families in mourning and distress. These images come from Indian TV, well known for its enormous sycophancy, and from Indian newspapers who usually promote Narendra Modi first and report on the news later. Surprisingly, for instance, newspapers of the Bhaskar group have been particularly active in revealing what is actually happening and combating fake government propaganda.

These two reports from Reuters and The Telegraph paint a very painful picture of India’s Covid-19 deaths:

https://www.reuters.com/world/india/non-stop-cremations-cast-doubt-indias-counting-covid-dead-2021-04-19/

https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/covid-narendra-modi-pits-smashan-against-kabristan-in-polarising-elections-speech-in-uttar-pradesh/cid/1813065?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=tt_daily_twit

 

While there is expected government obfuscation, happily more media organisations are calling the government out.

However, when it comes to our more famous names, it is business as usual. Mild criticism of the absolute mess that the Modi government has made of the second wave of Covid is linked to some comment by a member of the Congress party so as to play the criticism down. Or there is more focus on Maharashtra, which is not BJP-run, than on Covid cases in BJP-ruled states. You know, the same old double game continues. Whether it is because of fear or favour I leave to your generosity of spirit to decide. Whichever way you spin it, it’s bad journalism.

An adjunct to the latest World Press Freedom Index (India at 142) from Reporters Without Borders is ingeniously named ‘Censorship and Disinformation virus hits Asia Pacific”. It outlines once again the threats to the Indian media from the Bharatiya Janata Party:

“The way India (142nd) applies these methods is particularly instructive. While the pro-government media pump out a form of propaganda, journalists who dare to criticise the government are branded as “anti-state,” “anti-national” or even “pro-terrorist” by supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This exposes them to public condemnation in the form of extremely violent social media hate campaigns that include calls for them to be killed, especially if they are women. When out reporting in the field, they are physically attacked by BJP activists, often with the complicity of the police. And finally, they are also subjected to criminal prosecutions.”

 

In spite of this, we see more and more accurate reporting. Some coverage is inadvertently funny. Like Times Now cutting off a caller who blamed its star personalities Navika Kumar and Rahul Shivshanker for relentlessly supporting Modi while the country suffered. The anchor then reiterated that the channel always presented “both sides”.

It is interesting that Times Now feels there are two sides to a pandemic where millions are affected and dying: “We now have an exclusive interview with a representative of the virus, who says that his family is only trying to survive in a tough world.”

Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently said that although ABP News now favours the Trinamool Congress and Mamata Banerjee, after the election results in Bengal, it will switch allegiance to the BJP. How does Shah know this? Perhaps one of those little flies on the wall will let us know soon?

Meanwhile, The Telegraph from the same group carries on with its sharp critique of the Modi government. Like this front page:

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At the end, here’s a tip. Watch for how many journalists genuflect at Modi’s masterstroke in opening up vaccinations for over-18s. These are the gone cases, waiting for selfies and if they’re very lucky, lotus awards. Those question the timing (after many others and former PM Dr Manmohan Singh had suggested this), the format (allow the private sector to decide on pricing), point out how we will still have shortages, or question the government’s irresponsible decision-making process and you will know how many journalists India still has.

Good luck!

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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