Ranjona Banerji: Will News TV now go to town with Sidharth Shukla’s death?

03 Sep,2021

Ranjona BanerjiBy Ranjona Banerji


How good or bad is the Indian economy? It would depend on who you asked or which news source you trusted. It is possible of course that you yourself live under a massive boulder, survive on roots and insects and don’t really get out much so your personal experience counts for nothing.


The Government of India announced that for the first quarter of 2021-22, India’s GDP grew at 20.1 %. This was greeted with enormous excitement by sections of the mainstream media. The fact that this “growth” was in fact less than the same level last year, and therefore not a “growth” at all, was found somewhere in the small print, far away from all the gush and froth.


India Today: “record pace”, “highest ever quarterly expansion”.

Times of India: “record high”, “growth on higher side”.

Indian Express: “record pace”, “still below pre-Covid level”.


The Economic Times made life a little easier for under-rock dwellers: “The sharp rise in Q1 data can be attributed to a low base last year”, “April-July fiscal deficit nears Rs 3.2 trillion”.


I have not bothered to look at TV.


Noted economist Kaushik Basu had this to say on Twitter: “It just needs a little arithmetic to see that India’s Apr-Jun 2021 growth of 20.1% is shocking bad news. The 20.1% is in comparison to Apr-Jun 2020 when India’s GDP had fallen by 24.4%. This means compared to GDP in Apr-Jun 2019 (i.e. 2 years ago) India has had a growth of -9.2%.”


The sad thing is that by personal experience, we all know how bad the last two years have been, unless your name is Adani and possibly Ambani. Between the pandemic and the downward spiral which the Indian economy was in pre-pandemic, life is tough. Unemployment is high, savings and investments are down (the madness of the stock markets apart), manufacturing is low. Many industries are in peril. Yes, we will recover but this “record high” excitement is just so much press release nonsense. Think about it. Three rival newspapers all use more or less the same language.


That’s cut-paste “journalism”: the boss/government said, so I copied it.


TV of course has found one of its favourite deflection tactic: the sudden death of a popular young actor, Sidharth Shukla. Like they did with the last Sushant Singh Rajput’s death by suicide in June last year, massive conspiracy theories are being built up on social media and TV studios and panel discussions on Shukla’s heart attack.


It will not matter that Shukla’s family has begged them not to make a tamasha out of their loss. It matters even less that there is no evidence. As long as India’s TV channels can make economic capital, captivate their viewers and deflect from the various transgressions of the Government of India or the miseries of the people of India, why should they stop?


The easy answer would be to blame the viewer – and I myself have done it in the past. But we’ve gone way beyond that. The level of hatred and destruction wrought by these sections of the Indian media on democracy, on the people of India, on compassion, on reason and rational thought has long breached the danger mark.


The people are trapped and addicted. The scent of blood excites them, as it does a lynch mob.


And the lies continue. Whether subtle, as with all those “record” highs for actual lows in newspapers or blatant, as with these giant manufactured conspiracies to ensure you forget that your life’s worth is collapsing. A new media for a new India using old tricks.


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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