Ranjona Banerji: Truth is the first casualty…

25 Nov,2022

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Ranjona BanerjiThe Ministry of External Affairs put out a long statement on how Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Jo Biden spent time together at the recently concluded G20 summit in Bali. According to the MEA, Modi and Biden discussed artificial intelligence, advanced computing, emerging technologies, and close cooperation between their two nations.

According to the White House Press Secretary however, the two met very briefly and that of course, the relationship with India is very important.

Which of the two stories is true and how has the Indian media reacted?

Why do I ask.

Obviously, sensationalism is the default only when a Muslim man is accused of murdering a Hindu woman.

But when two governments disagree, then we dismiss that to column inches on the inside pages or whatever the TV equivalent of that is. We do not have the courage to accuse the US Government of lying and we do not have the courage to expose Modi’s publicity department of lying and thus we are caught between a rock and a hard place.

Such is our dilemma in the media that even when the US state department mentioned Modi’s name in a list of somewhat, um, dubious dictators and politicians who have been given US visas only because they were heads of state, our normally loud and combative media when it comes to protecting Modi’s name, have been mild or silent.

The MEA’s little bleats of protest have not been amplified either. But it is the truth, much as the media does not like it. As Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi was denied a visa to the US by the George W Bush government. This was overturned when he became prime minister because he became prime minister. The main reason the media will not make a big deal of this recent “insult” is because it brings up the issue of the Gujarat 2002 riots, which the media does not want to discuss for obvious reasons.

The MEA also put up a wishy-washy protest: do not see how the comment was “relevant, necessary or contextual”.

If the media had any courage, it could put up a show of massive outrage and excoriate the US state department.

Or, conversely, it could prove how the remarks by the US state department were relevant and contextual – the question asked was about how Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad bin Salman was given immunity while facing allegations of killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the official was listing other people who had earlier been given immunity. Clearly, there is relevance and context. Modi is one more example of relaxation of an earlier ban. “Necessary” perhaps is debatable. Or not. And let’s not forget that Modi has bear-hugged Saudi Arabia’s Salman on more than one occasion.

That the media could do neither once more underlines how much of it acts as a publicity device for Prime Minister Modi whose primary responsibility is to ensure that his image is not sullied. This image is more important than the image of India and of the truth itself, obviously. Truth is the first casualty when favourable publicity is given such prominence.

And that is why we were denied such fun debates as: US insults Modi! Biden must Answer!

Biden depends on Modi! White Press Secretary Must Apologize!

Our loss?

 

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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