Ranjona Banerji: The joke that is a media “protest”

07 Dec,2021

Ranjona BanerjiBy Ranjona Banerji

 

The contempt which the political dispensation has for the media in India is apparent in the fact that most of the media has been barred from Parliament. And most of the blame sadly lies within the media itself. It has spent the last seven years being so obedient and obsequious that it has made itself unworthy of any respect. Not least from those it has bowed down to.

 

Thus it was sad and amusing that some of the very specimens who have walked that fascinating line between licking the feet of the Modi government and cloaking their mild criticism by bringing up a similar example of bad government from the past now suddenly protest for the “freedom” of the press.

 

What freedom? It is a joke that Parliamentarians have gone back to the Houses and have carefully left most of the press out based on old Covid19 protocols. Here is a statement from the Press Club of India (so-called because it is in Delhi):

 

“We are concerned that there is a depressing trend emerging to isolate parliament and parliamentarians from media gaze. The trend augurs ill for parliamentary democracy and [is] much against the spirit of our parliamentary democracy.”

 

You would be hard-pressed to find much concern for democracy as Indian journalists have pranced around for seven years, preening at their selfies with Narendra Modi and promoting government-speak without any questions.

 

The piece de resistance here is the Speaker of the Lok Sabha made promises after this minor media revolt and then did nothing!

 

The Deccan Herald says in an editorial dated Dec 6, 2021:

“Free and unhindered functioning of the media is an essential feature of democracy and it is a part of the right to speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution. Parliament is the most important institution of democracy and to deny the right to report from Parliament is very anti-democratic.”

 

Without a doubt, the Deccan Herald is correct. But who will be convinced that the Indian media has finally woken up from its self-imposed stupor to realize that democracy has long been stifled on its watch?

 

The world’s “greatest, best, largest, mostest, oldest” and whatever other lies the prime minister comes up with democracy, is pretty low down on the annual Press Freedom Index prepared by Reporters without Borders. India is at 142 out of 180 nations on the list.

 

Wow.

 

This Constitution which we celebrate when we want a photo op, which promises us freedom of this and that, is largely forgotten the rest of the time. And the media has allowed the debasement of this most important of all promises we the people made to ourselves.

 

I have said this before and will say it again: a media which kowtows to a political mindset or party or to a government will never be a free media because it has chained itself. The battle can only be fought with solidarity to the principles of democracy. Otherwise, we become the sorry farce we have today. The laughter is one of desperation not humour.

 

**

 

And now to a sorry topic: the accolades and praise given to the journalist Vinod Dua who died this week. He was accused of sexual harassment by more than one woman during the Me Too movement. But these accusations find scant reference in the obituaries. One obit mentions the accusations but then says there was no evidence.

 

Here we are on a terrible slippery slope. Dua may have been an excellent journalist, brave and forthright. But what the Me Too movement underlined is that “proof” is hard to find, women find it difficult to speak up for a number of reasons and when they do, because they are often not believed, they retreat again. And assaults continue. If the allegations against MJ Akbar, also known for his journalism, can be accepted, why not against Dua?

 

The larger issue is of male power, privilege and agency. And we have to acknowledge that. No matter how great a person may have been in their other life.

 

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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