Ranjona Banerji: Facts & Alternative Facts on News TV

24 Jun,2022

Ranjona BanerjiBy Ranjona Banerji


A conversation with someone this week on the Modi Government’s controversial armed forced recruitment scheme, Agnipath, brought up all the usual problems with media coverage. An avid media consumer, he said he just could not understand what the anger was about, why people were protesting and what exactly the scheme entailed. On the face of it, it seemed like a good idea.


If an educated media watcher, who does not subscribe to TV “news” at all, can be so confused, what does it mean for how the news functions in India?


The first, most logical thing to do, while covering the reactions, would be to actually explain the pros and cons to readers. You can call them explainers, inside stories, fact checks, whatever. Simultaneously, you talk to protestors, you talk to the government, you talk to the other people involved. Then you get the opinion pieces and the editorials – the newspaper’s point of view.


Thanks to TV however, the procedure has been turned on its head. First the debate, then the “alternative facts”, and then if you’re very lucky, the facts.


And let’s not forget the immense reach of social media. By the time newsdesk has got to the facts, Whatsapp has sent out 17 different versions of what’s happening, Twitter is full of outrage about burning trains and it is soon impossible to separate angry rants and rumour from whatever’s actually happening.


Not that we don’t know all this.


It’s just that when unprofessionalism becomes the norm, then you’re left playing catch up.


In an ongoing situation, getting facts sorted can be tough. But with Agnipath, the scheme was laid out, warts and all. If protestors could figure out where and how they were being cheated, so should journalists with a modicum of common sense, forget any intelligence.


Part of the problem of course is political leaning: if the Modi government has done it, it must be a great scheme.


This makes any analysis impossible as we have seen time and again.


Thus, the media gets confrontational with those who question the government rather than with the government itself.


And why Modi has managed to escape all questioning by India’s mainstream media.


Because the news cycle can change so fast, we went from protests against abuse of the Prophet Mohammed by BJP members to homes and work places of Muslim protestors being bulldozed by municipalities to violent protests against the Agnipath scheme to the rebellion in the Shiv Sena and the ongoing struggle of the MVA coalition to stay in power in Maharashtra.


All these require a media on its toes. Ready with information, not just opinion. As long as we cannot get out of the trap set by TV and social media, then we are where we are.


The average reader must remain confused and on constant high alert. Or find that she or he remains in Modiland, where all news is presented to display the BJP to best advantage.


And that is why blatant corruption becomes cleverness, illegal machinations become masterstrokes and so on.




Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia on Tuesdays and Fridays. Her views here are personal


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