Ranjona Banerji: Indian media: Regressed to kindergarten?

18 Jan,2022

Ranjona BanerjiBy Ranjona Banerji


The Oxfam International Report on global inequality released at the World Economic Forum, January 17, makes for chilling reading.


It should, in a mature democracy like ours, be a massive media conversation point. India’s democracy celebrates 75 years and thus can claim maturity. But India’s media has been hypnotised to regress to kindergarten. Therefore as little coverage as possible and quickly forget!



For instance, the report says that a new billionaire was created every 26 hours since the pandemic began. At the same time, 160 million people have been pushed into poverty. And an estimated 17 million people have died from Covid19.


It makes for chilling reading. And it is worthwhile for every journalist to at least make the attempt. For every article that lauds Jeff Bezos’s glee ride to the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere, another 20 should consider the sheer effrontery of the world’s richest man to thank the poorest for adding to his wealth.



In India, Gautam Adani’s wealth has grown eight-fold – during the pandemic. And remember much as Big Pharma has profited – Adani has no stake there. He has grown from fossil fuels and his closeness to the administration.



Maybe it is no surprise that Oxfam India finds its FCRA application rejected. Some brave media houses might want to explore that minus prejudice?




However, since we are in election season, we have other agendas to fulfil. The nitty-gritty of intra-party politics gets centrestage especially over seats and candidates. The bigger story in these assembly elections from a purely journalistic point of view is usually the most salacious or controversial: it should be the number of BJP members and MLAs hopping over to the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh.


Since we cannot criticise the BJP, we must and we have found reasons why it’s all right for the BJP when large numbers leave the party just before an election. For every other party of course, this would be seen as a leadership crisis.


I must not be unfair. There are many excuses offered: this suits the BJP, Modi and Shah don’t want Yogi Adityanath anyway and this reflects badly on the CM, who cares about OBC votes when we have upper caste votes etc. Years of sucking up add a smooth glibness to these excuses. Also, for consumers of the mainstream media, years of reading and listening to such explanations – if 2% of X intermingles with 6% of Y the result is ammonium chloride or some such gobbledygook – soothes your mind into total acquiescent numbness. Later, some inner goblin can even turn all this into a Whatsapp forward.


The main effort therefore has to be to turn the spotlight on to other political parties and where they’re going wrong.




So, as we know people yawn about inequality and election coverage has to be muffled if it does not suit the narrative. That brings us to sport.


I crave the days when things were going so relatively well in India that endless boring stuff about cricket would cram our front pages and our TV coverage. Occasionally this happens. Like Virat Kohli resigning as Test captain. But since this resignation reflects badly on the BJP-run BCCI and Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah, we need another deflection. Like how dare Kohli’s film star wife Anushka Sharma write her husband a note.


Cricket, then, has failed as a deflection point because it led us back to the BCCI and to the BJP and thus the story has to be consigned to internet memes.




To me though, being evil, the news of the week was tennis star and World Number 1 male player Novak Djokovic’s deportation from Australia for being unvaccinated and for lying on his visa form and for being generally irresponsible about Covid19. Then I read in The Times of India that a former coach Bogdan Obradovic says the world is out to destroy Novak and the BRIC countries (he left out South Africa) must rescue Djokovic and make their own world tour.


I offer this as a deflection opportunity.


Any takers?


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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