Second Waves of Praising Modi

09 Apr,2021

 

Ranjona BanerjiBy Ranjona Banerji

I had promised to revisit the excellent journalism done by a small group of health reporters who kept us informed about the pandemic last year. They worked against all odds, especially official obfuscation, global confusion and a plethora of half-truths and lies about Covid-19 and its effect on both people and the health system.

Between that promise made at the end of March and now, we find ourselves in a massive second wave and one that threatens to be as bad if not worse than the worse Covid-19 spike of 2020.

Events overtake us and journalists cannot sit on their laurels. So here we are again. Having negotiated through the various information minefields of inadequate disclosure, scatty and spotty Covid-19 strategies, the Central Government’s endless publicity gimmickry, the vagaries of the virus itself and then the deleterious effect on the medical community, journalists now find themselves back where they started. In the middle of a pandemic. A number of frontline journalists got Covid-19 and a few sadly succumbed.

You would hope that we had learnt something from last year. But for the most part, you would be wrong. A vast majority of India’s journalists or if you’re feeling generous, of India’s media houses, continue to see the world in terms of: promote Narendra Modi or keep quiet. Therefore, the Centre’s inept handling of the pandemic has to be covered up. As ever elections jump to the rescue. We have spent months concentrating on the “Battle for Bengal” as if that was all that mattered: five assembly elections.

And now, the large community of political journalists – especially those on the BJP cheerleading beat – are agog with excitement over Modi’s announcement of a “tika utsav” or vaccination festival. This is while our dedicated branch of health journalists track how states have run out of vaccines, how vaccine centres are turning people away, how the manufacturers have asked for money and time, how the calls for protocols to be loosened are growing wider…

On what basis will the Prime Minister, who has ignored the second wave to jeer at Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, organise this “festival” without vaccine stocks? Instead of concentrating on facts and logistics, because it is almost guaranteed that all available stocks will be held for the PM’s “festival” from April 11 to 14, we have senior TV persons full of excitement.

Pallavi Ghose of CNN News18 was practically first off the block: “PM makes a strong case for vaccine – vaccine utsav from 11th to 16th April” in a tweet on Thursday night, minutes after the announcement. The dates are wrong, but we can forgive that in the excitement to get a praise Modi tweet out. Please note that there is no analysis here. No questions on why we just need a proper plan and not more publicity stunts.

Thus, our colleagues on killing beats like health in the middle of a pandemic get short-changed by their own community.

Ghosh is just one example. I give you this tweet from Bhupendra Chaubey, formerly of CNN News18 and now with India Ahead: “11th April to 14th April. Anniversaries of Jyoti ba Phule and Baba saheb Ambedkar (sic, sic), in between these days “vaccination festival” @narendramodi. If there ever was a doubt that he was India’s best political communicator, the reference to these two anniversaries should settle it”.

Again, no questions, no relation to ground realities, only an overwhelming desire to praise Modi.

In what way can journalists who actually do their jobs – question, question, question– compete with this?

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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