When the Media looked Stupid

21 Sep,2021



Ranjona BanerjiBy Ranjona Banerji


Amarinder Singh’s resignation as chief minister of Punjab set off the most remarkably intense and unintentionally funny media frenzy this weekend. Which Gandhi was to blame? How come a Congress chief minister was resigning when his term had not ended when no other chief minister from no other party ever does that? (Okay I made that up, but it was almost like that…) Who was going to be the next chief minister of Punjab?? Who was going to be first with the news?? Me, me, no Me, no it has to be ME!


As it turned out, 99 per cent of the MEs were all wrong. All day, “sources” from within the Congress party but one suspects they were sources from other parties, informed our intrepid journalists about Amarinder Singh’s replacement.


Names came and went, confirmed appointments came and went, every sort of political configuration was discussed, every configuration changed with each new candidate but the level of confidence with which the reasoning changed with each candidate was astounding.


The choice of Charanjit Singh Channi was not mentioned earlier in the day and yet when it was settled there was plenty of pretence that one “source” or the other had always known. Which frankly is lies, given the way rumours buzzed around.


What is an editor to do when trusted political correspondents and political editors mess up so badly? For one, and please don’t misunderstand me, editors need to be a more sceptical and less trusting of “sources”. Sometimes you have no option but to go with someone else’s “sources” if you want to run a story, but at least run a few checks. What happened on Sunday with that stream of “sure shot” names that turned out to be wrong suggested that Delhi’s big name journalists really had no clue about what was happening in Punjab or indeed within the Congress Party.


Even worse, the desperation to be first with the news, even if it was uncorroborated and very soon proved to be wrong news, meant that too many mistakes were made. All this only makes the media look stupid. Although I concede that looking stupid comes easy to the media and it has never stopped many journalists and their bosses from carrying on with their nonsense. It is unfortunate though for the shrinking few who try to present facts to their reading and viewing public. Everyone gets tarred with the same stupidity brush.


Anyway, once Channi was sworn in as Punjab’s first Dalit chief minister, sections of our “let’s spread communal hatred and disharmony” media are now hellbent on proving that Channi is a Christian. As far as I’m aware, there is no law against being Christian, or against being both Christian and Indian or indeed, against being Christian, Indian and a chief minister in India. But our hatemongers cannot stop themselves. How they became journalists in the first place is mindboggling.


The excitement over the change of Punjab’s chief minister was of course powered by the fact that it was a powerplay by Navjot Singh Sidhu formerly of the BJP, now with the Congress and at loggerheads with Amarinder Singh. If Sidhu had not been former BJP, there would have been less excitement. And if this had happened in a BJP state – as happened three times in Uttarakhand in the past few months and also in Karnataka – the excitement would have been subdued and the reporting more matter-of-fact. But Congress plus ex-BJP is like hanging herrings in front of hungry cats when it comes to our pro-Modi and/or anti-Gandhi commentators.


Still doesn’t solve the problem of those leaky sources though… More red herrings perhaps?


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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