Ranjona Banerji: Total collapse of journalism in the last 11 years

09 Sep,2022

By Ranjona Banerji


Ranjona BanerjiCongratulations MxMIndia and to Pradyuman Maheshwari!

It’s been 11 years of this website and for 11 years, it has covered almost every aspect of the media – journalism, advertising, branding, promotion, public relations, marketing with gusto.

Little did I know when Pradyuman asked me to write for MxM 11 years ago, that I would be first witness to the total collapse of Indian journalism.

What innocent days those were.

I trawled through newspapers. I was forced to watch TV news. I listened to “debates”. I could identify one anchor from another. I was amazed at the crowds that apparently showed up at India Against Corruption rallies until I went to one of those rallies and realised there was no one there.

There was a UPA government at the Centre and journalists assiduously did their thing. They criticised, they analysed and many worked very hard to build up the opposition as an effective counter.

And really, that’s what it all began.

It’s not easy to remember, but social media in 2011 was not quite what it is now. Digital publications were not our only solace against bad journalism. A few print publications stood out. FirstPost was the big English language digital thing. The Ambanis had not yet bought News18. And the BJP funded Right Wing digital sites like Niti Central were introduced to pretend that the BJP was interested in news and not propaganda. Arnab Goswami still worked for Times Now.

And TV, well TV was all gaga-googoo for India Against Corruption. But it still tried to bring us a little reporting, and tried to keep objectivity the cornerstone of their prime time debates rather than bogus “bothsidesism”.

Increasingly, however, although not totally evident that the time, the media played a massive role in the projection of Narendra Modi as the saviour of a new India. From 2012 to 2014, the use of the media and organisations like APCO was masterful. Political organiser and manipulator Prashant Kishor’s work in Modi’s re-election as Gujarat chief minister passed under the radar. But his CAG (later rebranded I-PAC) outwitted the media in building Modi’s image.

Those who were outwitted then are now fully paid up members of the Modi media club.

A few significant moments stand out in these past 11 years. Some before and some after the BJP and Narendra Modi swept into the Union government in 2014. In 2011, India Spend was formed, and although many in journalism have not yet understood the importance of data journalism, we do see more and more of it.

The arrival of Scroll and The Wire in 2014 and 2015 both brought the basics of ethical journalism back to a beleaguered profession. Several others followed, all of which opened employment opportunities for young people as well gave those interested in the news a number of options.

Alt News arrived at the end of 2011 and with it, came Boom and Twitter account Hoax Slayer. This started the trend of fact-checkers, people who exposed lies told by a compromised media. And the enormous amount of fake news which spreads around the world on social media.

Fact checking is a winner for the consumer, without a doubt. It is also a massive shame for a media which is no longer capable of doing a basic job: assessing the information it puts out in the public domain for accuracy.

Many media outlets claim to have their own fact-checking departments. But they cannot compete with independent checkers like Alt News which are quicker and more accurate. They have paid a heavy price for their work, but have carried on relentlessly.

Some hope has also come from independent journalists who have bucked the trend of genuflection and tried to speak truth to power. Many were in evidence during the farmers protests, which much of mainstream media blanked out.

But these are but small sparks of home in a vast sea of misery as far as the media is concerned. In the past 11 years, we have collapsed in the press freedom rankings, we have seen journalists killed and jailed for taking on the powers that be, we have seen almost no solidarity for our targeted colleagues. Spaces for independent critical voices are shrinking. And so is our covenant with our reader and viewer.

And there is almost no sign of anything getting better as far as the mainstream media is concerned.

I must therefore thank MxM and Pradyuman for giving me this opportunity. For standing by my unpopular comments in spite of the potential threat to the website and the organisation. It takes courage and conviction and I know MxM has that in spades!

Here’s to many more years!


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