Ranjona Banerji: Media – manipulated & controlled by you-know-who

07 Jan,2022

Ranjona BanerjiBy Ranjona Banerji


We have two consecutive stories running in India. The extent of hatred fostered by the Hindu rightwing against Muslims, led by the RSS-BJP as seen in the BulliBai app case, and the supposed “attack” on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cavalcade in Punjab which the way it is being played up looks a lot like an example of the extent of hatred that this administration has for Sikhs ever since the farmers protested against Modi’s farm laws.


Of course, if you concentrated your media attention only on the mainstream media, you would truly believe that waiting for 20 mins in a bulletproof car surrounded by your crack security team is equivalent to a murderous attack on your person. Because that is all that happened to Modi in Punjab. Of course, a security lapse must be investigated. Why did Modi and/or his team change their minds about the scheduled helicopter hop and opt instead for a 130 km road trip? Why did no one move the protesting farmers from the route and so on.


But the very fact that the mainstream media is pretending like this 20-minute delay on an empty flyover bar some BJP supporters waving BJP flags was akin to an assassination attempt is red flag enough that the party is milking this, with media assistance, for one more election-campaign publicity stunt. The dreaded neologism “toolkit” comes to mind, as media worthies like Shekhar Gupta and Rajdeep Sardesai both tweeted very similarly worded tweets about how this is not a time to be “partisan” and we must all stand together after a “security breach” and so on. At the same time, celebrities like sports star Saina Nehwal also sent out BJP IT cell mass tweets about how the “cowardly attack” on the PM must be condemned.


Effectively, this also means that rising Covid cases, confusion over vaccines, despair over new unemployment figures can be safely ignored. And also, over the systematic targeting of Muslim women by the BJP-RSS-Hindu majoritarian troll world, as with recent BulliBai app. The Mumbai Police made three arrests two days after the FIRs were filed – unlike the Delhi Police, run by the Union government, which did nothing for seven months after FIRs were filed in the similarly degrading targeting of women, mainly Muslim with SulliDeals in July last year. The Delhi police has now managed to find someone in the BulliBai app case but still nothing in the earlier “auction”.


The connections between the BJP and this sick internet murk are made clear in The Wire’s explosive investigation released yesterday on how an app called TekFog is used to manipulate social media and push BJP propaganda.




The implications are terrifying. But let us not forget that they follow revelations in Swati Chaturvedi’s book I am a Troll, published in 2016, which delved into the Rs 2 trolls hired by the BJP IT Cell. Later, the worldwide “Forbidden Stories” collaborative series which investigated how Pegasus, a military grade spyware developed by an Israeli company to be used on terrorists, was misused by several governments, including the Government of India, against journalists, rights activists and politicians. There was enough evidence before that as well, when the BJP hired APCO, the company which successfully sells dictators, to build up Modi’s image pre-2014, together with Prashant Kishor’s I-PAC. And there was also the use of Cambridge Analytica by the BJP, which gamed Facebook to push Brexit through in Britain and Donald Trump in the USA. The BJP’s connections with Facebook are also clear from Mark Zuckerberg’s Free Basics quest to control the internet in India and later, the investigations done by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Cyril Sam, published in the book, The Real Face of Facebook in India.


Many political parties use these methods. But the consistent manner in which the BJP has successfully manipulated and controlled both the mainstream and social media is unprecedented in India.


The Times of India’s Ludhiana edition carries an article on how after Modi got stuck on a flyover and blamed the government of Punjab, social media was full of warning to Sikhs about how they are about to face “another 1984”. This is a clear threat of violence, referencing the pogrom against Sikhs unleashed by Congress workers after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. There has long been evidence that the RSS also took part in this pogrom. Does the RSS’s current hatred for Sikhs, after the farmers’ protests, have its origins in there or earlier, in the Khalistan movement?


The essence of good journalism is not to be nice to anyone, to be equally hated, and also to search for the story behind the story. By this I do not mean repeating propaganda pushed by any political party. But to use critical analysis to believe no one, and not allow anyone in power to get away with lies and misinformation.


Of course, bar a few independent media houses, this no longer happens in India.


The extent to which the media has fallen prey to manipulation by Big Tech and politicians is viciously satirised in the new film, Don’t Look Up. It is nowhere near as brilliant as Network, the 1976 Sidney Lumet-directed and Paddy Chayefsky-written satire on news television. But it is a story for our times.


As is the tragedy unfolding across in India, at several layers.


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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