Ranjona Banerji: TV anchors as government mouthpieces?

22 Oct,2021

Ranjona BanerjiBy Ranjona Banerji

 

The joy, o the joy! TV personality Marya Shakil could not contain herself at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s amazing achievements in a tweet the other day: “As India achieves #VaccineCentury. PM Modi’s leadership stands out.”

 

In case you don’t know, “Vaccine Century” is not really a thing. Technically it means 100 vaccines or 100 years since vaccines were invented. But Shakil was just parroting a BJP-Modi publicity stunt: a “celebration” of a billion #COVID19 vaccines given in India. Not a billion people vaccinated, mind.

 

The rest of the tweet is equally instructive of how sections of the Indian media are nothing but Modi Government PR departments: “Leadership is critical in times of an emergency. India’s scientists and healthcare workers rose to the challenge of a devastating pandemic. India produced indigenous vaccines, and also supplied to the world.”

 

That India’s scientists, the medical community and healthcare workers did an amazing, selfless job is laudatory and for which we are exceedingly grateful. However, it is also true that they did this job under very trying conditions which the Union government did nothing to alleviate. In the early days of the pandemic, they begged for more facilities and equipment and less publicity gestures like banging and crashing pots and pans. They also pleaded for more science and less dangerous mumbo-jumbo that was propounded by senior BJP ministers. The Prime Minister had absolutely nothing to do with the enormous effort put in by India’s healthcare and scientific community. Why should Shakil conflate the two unless the intent was to bolster Modi’s image?

 

And don’t ignore that the one line about India’s “indigenous” vaccine. The vaccine that was pushed through without the basic testing protocols in a global situation of truncated protocols, because of the extent of the Covid emergency. The vaccine that is yet to be accepted by the WHO. The vaccine that was returned by some countries. Covaxin may well work but it was forcibly given to people as a jingoistic exercise and not for its science.

 

That one tweet could be so full of so many lies and half-truths.

 

Like the claim that India has fulfilled its vaccine export and sharing commitments. Untrue. Because of the disastrous manner in which the Modi government handled the second wave in early 2021, India had to hold back its vaccine supplies to the world. This included both contractual obligations by the Serum Institute and the vaccine donation commitments made by the government.

 

It is understandable that a PR-driven government would push out such dangerous drivel.

 

But why should India’s best known TV people act as their mouthpieces?

 

Heh.

 

What makes it clear that these TV people are following a BJP PR line is this other tweet by Rahul Shivshankar of Times Now: “Covaxin constitutes over 10% of all doses administered till date on the road to 1 billion. Despite this is W.H.O’s delay in granting approval to Bharat’s very own vaccine justified?”

 

Shivshankar is an enthusiastic Modi government supporter as this tweet shows. This push for Covaxin is typical of TV personalities. Several journalists who specialise in healthcare have covered the problems with Covaxin. But as Shakil’s tweet also demonstrates, it is important to push the jingoistic and not the scientific angle here: “indigenous”, “Bharat’s own”.

 

The owner of Times Now, Vineet Jain, meanwhile wants social media companies to be treated as publishers so they are subject to Indian laws when it comes to sharing information. The intent is apparently to stop the spread of fake news.

 

However, if Jain and other media-owners encouraged their employees to fact-check before putting out tweets and stories, to stop spreading BJP (or any party) propaganda, to not act as publicity agents for anyone, then the fake news scourge would be substantially reduced.

 

Shivshankar could explain why exactly WHO has not okayed Covaxin yet and what protocols Bharat Biotech has not yet completed, Shakil could explain that the success of the medical community has nothing to do with Modi and that the thousands who died from the pandemic did not reflect well on the “leadership at all.

 

They might even try and practise a little journalism.

 

O yes, pigs might fly.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia on Tuesdays and Fridays. Her views here are personal

 

 

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