Ranjona Banerji: Government propaganda officially or unofficially on news channels

24 May,2022

Ranjona BanerjiBy Ranjona Banerji


Anyone here old enough to remember Films Division news reels from the 1970s? Shown before every movie? Luckily in those days, popcorn and wafers – standard cinema fare, apart from the exotic stuff like samosa, chicken sandwiches and various patties – came in closed packets. So, you were not tempted by wafts of buttery yumminess which you had to hold carefully as you watched Indira Gandhi or Morarji Desai visit one more coal plant, open some new facility or fly off somewhere.


Later, when TV reached parts of India not called Delhi, Doordarshan News took over this role. Because there was only one channel, the live telecast of Wimbledon final was often interrupted by the news where you watched some prime minister inaugurate something.


Now, all these government propaganda roles have unofficially, or maybe it’s officially, been taken over by private news TV channels. The Prime Minister sat in a car, got on a plane, got flown by a pilot, landed in another country, walking down the stairs of the plane, wore a mask, sat in another car, met some people…


I write this blandly. Imagine for yourself the drama, the breathlessness, the excitement, as our propaganda pundits reach orgasmic joy: “Is that Him? Has Modi ji finally taken one step out of the plane? Is that a new dupatta? OMG! Can you feel the josh! The whole of (Name of Any Country) is here to greet him at the airport! All Indians in (Name of Any Country) are here to dance for Modi ji! Modi ji is the World Leader!”


And so on.

Actually, I take back what I said about those boring news reels. In keeping with the style of the times, the commentary was formal and matter of fact, much as the “news” itself was missing. So, you could snooze or dream of Dharmendra in a miniskirt or Asha Parekh dancing in a field or whatever. Or even of the “westernised” heroine coming back to India and walking out of the aeroplane in a giant hat only to be tutored in desi-ness by a tight-trousered hero. Such were the delights of those early days. The coal plants barely registered. Everyone knew it was government stuff, paid for by the government. Journalists had no involvement in their making.


But these TV anchors, what are they? They have worked hard to ruin any claim to journalism their channels have. They have debased junior reporters working with them, making them breathlessly watch aeroplane steps to collapse in joy at the sight of Modi ji and chase postmen in order to defame a young woman. The anchors themselves jump into earthmovers so that they can get a first-hand experience of what it feels like to destroy a poor person’s home, even more exciting if the person is a Muslim.


Ambulance chasers, much rackers, gutter journalists – these have always existed. Ours is not a profession filled with gravitas, as much as the pompous commentators on TV might like to pretend. We are scum. The job demands it. But our friends in news television keep digging new depths.


I almost crave a black and white news reel on some yawn-inducing government event…



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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