Destruction by the Bulldozer

05 Jul,2022

 

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Ranjona BanerjiHow has the Indian media reacted to the biggest attacks on it since the Emergency?

In the totally expected manner.

Some associations have issued strong statements.

The President of the Press Club of India Umakant Lakhera said at a meeting in Delhi on Monday that a “multi-pronged attack on the press is currently underway”.

Other associations who were part of this meeting were the Editors Guild of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Association, Delhi Union of Journalists, Digipub News India Foundation and Working News Cameramen’s Association. Most of these associations are Delhi-based. Statements have been issued from other parts of the country as well.

https://scroll.in/latest/1027559/multi-pronged-attack-on-media-is-underway-says-press-club-of-india-chief

https://thewire.in/media/ominous-signal-journalists-cases-raids-chilling-effect-media

https://www.newslaundry.com/2022/07/04/press-meet-on-zubairs-arrest-why-journalists-need-more-than-just-shows-of-solidarity

However, as the article from newslaundry.com shows, there are questions to be asked. Is there more that can be done? Is everyone represented? Talk about legal aid needs to be followed up by action. Are owners doing enough? Is more public engagement required?

For me, the biggest problem is that these are statements issued largely by print and digital journalists.

Where are the TV anchors and TV editors who are responsible for most of the collapse of the image and practices of the Indian media?

Where are the primetime anchors who push for hatred night after night? Who have no qualms about becoming public relations lackeys for the ruling party at the Centre? Are they bothered about how the arrests of Teesta Setalvad and Zubair Mohammed affect free and fearless journalism? Have Rahul Kanwal, Gaurav Sawant, Rahul Shivshankar, Navika Kumar, Anand Narasimhan, to name just a few, stood with their peers at a time like this? Are they even aware of the danger they pose to every other actual journalist in India?

Probably not.

Apart from a few mealymouthed apologies after the whole Nupur Sharma episode as well as after fake news about Rahul Gandhi was put out by Zee News, it has been business as usual on TV.

And this where most of right-wing India gets its news from. This is where the ruling party spreads its divisive agenda. It knows that owners and editors are either fellow bigots or can be easily arm-twisted and manipulated.

Do any of these statements make any difference to those large number of “news” mongers on the internet, who also pretend to be journalists, so that they can spread fake news and whip up hatred?

“At no time in the past have we perhaps lived in such trying times, despite our tryst with the Emergency in the mid-1970s. Among the very many things that we find upsetting, what roils a sizeable section of us the most these days, is perhaps the perceived shrinking space for free speech.”

This is from Ruben Banerjee’s just-released book, Editor Missing, which I have just started reading. Banerjee was until recently editor of Outlook Magazine and this book is about his experiences as a journalist. (More on the book in subsequent columns.)

As this quote sums up, there is some agreement on where we are. But there is no agreement on what can be done about it.

We have all been in difficult work situations. There has always been pressure from government and from Big Money. Many of us have been at loggerheads with editors and owners before. The problem is the frequency of conflict and increasingly, the lack of conflict and total acquiescence to pressure at the top of the newsroom. Earlier we could stand up to dangerous directives and coercion. Now we apparently cannot.

Further, as long as we do not get a substantial number of India’s journalists – across all platforms – under one roof to honestly talk about what is actually going on, all these statements will be echo-chamber speak.

Journalist Cyril Sam, who tracks the media, made another important point on Twitter: That a lot of senior editors and old people talking to each other will not work either. Get the young journalists involved. Talk to reporters on the ground about what they go through.

I would add to this. Address how they are manipulated by their newsroom seniors to ditch their journalistic idealism and run after bulldozers. Or even worse, those who believe their job is celebrating the destruction by the bulldozer.

We can’t stop talking.

But we have to agree that talking is no longer enough.

 

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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