A spat that went too far

29 Mar,2022

 

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Ranjona BanerjiThe Reporters’ Collective did an amazing series of investigations into political ads on Facebook recently. Published by Al Jazeera, the series showed with relevant data and responses, how the BJP’s ads were given preference by both being pushed ahead of the others and by large discounts. The investigations also revealed how a Reliance-owned company, NEWJ, was an integral part of this pro-BJP exercise.

 

The links between the BJP and Facebook are known by now. As are links between Facebook and many rightwing political organisations across the globe. This particular series further cemented the relationship, with additional proof.

 

The truth is that there is enormous jealousy and one-upmanship in the arena of journalism. Regardless of the rest of the world referring to “the media” as if it was one large amoeba, the media is a group of bacteria all in competition. And then you have journalists themselves, all jostling for the same information. Rivalries within the same newsroom can be as intense as between newsrooms.

 

And yet, it’s hard to understand the argument that broke out between The Reporters’ Collective (TRC) and The Morning Context (TMC) over this series. Like TRC, TMC is also a group of journalists with a preference for quality investigative journalism. It is a digital platform, and has done some excellent work.

 

I personally know neither but I admire the work of both.

 

What I’ve understood is this. TMC felt that there were some inconsistencies in TRC investigation and/or that TRC had misunderstood/misrepresented the data. An email for clarification was sent by TMC to TRC. TRC replied. However, TMC went ahead with its newsletter on the investigation without using the information it had been sent.

 

This irked TRC which then revealed the string of communication and dismissed TMC’s responses as “entertainment”.

 

Within the little media arena this “battle” escalated with name-calling and calling out and various takes on who should have, did not, should not and all that.

 

Initially, it looked like a spat that went too far. TRC appeared to have overreacted and TMC could well have waited to include the responses it had asked for. Ego and dismissiveness?

 

Jealousy?

 

Sadly, from the outside, it looks as if TMC’s analysis of the TRC report appeared to absolve Facebook of culpability or even worse, use that pathetic excuse trotted out by old journalists who have to prove they know more than everyone else: everyone does it or it has happened before.

 

The TRC series was one more in a chain of evidence against Big Tech. You have to live in a lightless, soundless, impenetrable silo if you are unaware that Facebook – and all such controlling digital platforms – have already created massive damage to democracy.

 

Why TMC should decide to give the impression that they need to defend the BJP and Facebook is an intriguing point. Because that’s the impression its reaction gives. A bit like a 50-word edit from The Print. To me, that overshadows the disrespect shown by the TRC to the journalists at the TMC. We in the media – as rivals and as a community – share an enormous responsibility in allowing rightwing propaganda to dictate our lives and to attack the very foundations of our democracy. We all know that the worst culprits are massive names within the media, backed by large industrial groups. If the few independent voices now set up petty skirmishes, we are sunk.

https://www.scribd.com/document/566564639/The-Reporters-Collective-Response-to-The-Morning-Context

https://themorningcontext.com/internet/al-jazeeras-non-expose-on-facebook-googles-billing-shift

 

**

 

Already people are taking sides. The parallel to the incident at the Oscars, where Will Smith slapped Chris Rock for making fun of his wife is unavoidable. So much he shouldn’t, no he shouldn’t, no there’re history, no why does that matter, no violence is bad but so are insults…

https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-60909487

 

The consequences of our local squabble however are far worse for India and its media.

 

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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