Feel sorry for Big Media?

04 Jun,2021

 

Ranjona BanerjiBy Ranjona Banerji

 

How sorry is one supposed to feel for Big Media? Yes, times are bad but that is true for everyone right now. And times are much worse the lower down the economic and social scale you go.

 

Add to that, the continuing need for most of the media to “appease” the government in power.

 

For instance, The Times of India does an investigation into the correlation between rising Covid19 cases in Uttarakhand and the various holy “snans” or mass bathing in the Ganga during the Kumbh Mela. The investigation showed that cases doubled after the first five holy dips in Haridwar.

 

This report was not carried in the local paper edition of The Times of India which I buy every day from a vendor. It is part of a premium package on the website which you have to pay to access. Therefore, people who live in Uttarakhand will not know how the Kumbh Mela affected them, even though it has affected them dearly.

 

How much of a stretch is it to wonder whether an article like this – clearly critical of the state government of the Uttarakhand and the Centre for going ahead with the Kumbh Mela in spite of the second wave of the pandemic – has been deliberately hidden behind a paywall to ensure that only a very few people read it and therefore the media house can claim that it has not upset the Modi government and the BJP?

 

Am I reading too much into this?

 

Here is another article from the Indian Express, by the “Express News Service”. It repeats verbatim various claims made by Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani about how well the Modi government has handled the pandemic and how millions have been vaccinated.

 

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-under-pm-modi-successfully-fought-covid-19-battle-shah-7342640/

 

The same PR exercise was carried out by NDTV:
https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/india-under-pm-modi-successfully-fought-covid-19-battle-amit-shah-2455528

 

Sometimes, these news outlets also inform us of the terrible impact of Covid-19, the incompetence of the Centre in both handling the pandemic and creating confusion in the states, we are also informed about the huge shortfalls in vaccine procurement and disbursement.

 

But none of this immense courage shows up in the bland reporting of a load of self-promotion presented by Shah. The fact that Shah himself has been barely visible since May 2 when the assembly election results were declared is not mentioned. He is the Union Home Minister. The pandemic should have been his primary responsibility.

 

Therefore, after hundreds and thousands dead and even more affected by the pandemic, big media houses run true to the pattern of the last seven years: overwhelming fear when it comes to taking on the Modi Government. We have got used to the mealymouthed cowardice of publishing government propaganda on your edit pages, pretending to be “free speech” and “opinion”. And we continue to be underwhelmed by propaganda pretending to be news reports.

 

This daily quote feature from the Deccan Herald is therefore so very welcome. Lies are lies and if you cannot show truth to power, what are you?

 

It is true that some of these news outlets have informed us about dead bodies of Covid-19 patients floating in India’s rivers, about the hundreds of shallow graves on riverbanks, about governments trying to cover up Covid-19 deaths, about vaccines running short despite government claims, about massive economic hardship across the board.

 

And yet, they are unable to take the bit between their teeth and present to their readers and viewers just how bad the pandemic and the official response has been, when confronted by the criminal negligence of the Modi government at the Centre. Try and remember the massive countrywide rage against the UPA government at the Centre, if you can, as the India Against Corruption movement was supported wholeheartedly by the media.

 

Compare that to now. Our failure as journalists is stark and painful.

 

The danger is that if you keep hopping indiscriminately between genuflection and criticism, you are going to fall into the gap and getting out will be very painful. It is true that this government is particularly malicious and vindictive even compared to other malicious and vindictive governments. But it is also true that if you carry on as a government publicity outlet, you make yourself even more redundant than you actually are.

 

So to answer my own question: we can’t feel sorry for Big Media. But we can be sorry for what it has become.

 

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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