When no standards apply…

22 Nov,2022



By Ranjona Banerji


Ranjona BanerjiOften when I discuss the media with non-media people and occasionally with media people, I get a series of lectures and explanations. Anyone who knows me knows that I am inimically averse to lecturebaazi (unless I’m doing it myself, ahem) and more importantly, that I have spent over 35 years working in journalism. More in the media itself, if you count my little ill-fated foray into advertising! I know how it works, I say, without any modesty.

But people will have their theories, and am sure they are intelligent and have used their powers of observation to work out why the Indian media is in such a pathetic state. The other truth is that these are people who spend an inordinate amount of time watching TV news and thus believe that all these star anchors are their friends, since they met them on TV last night or this morning. So you hear all about why Rajdeep, Nidhi, Barkha, Faye – these are just representative names – think or what motivates them.

Sadly, few people I meet have such particular insights into the minds of Rahul Kanwal, Rahul Shivshankar, Navika Kumar and so on. I suspect it is not because they do not watch them but more because these anchors have no nuance and put all their hatred and incompetence assiduously and regularly in the public eye so that everyone knows what they stand for.

Almost no one discusses print reporters or print columnists.

The upshot of these insights gained from nightly observations is that these anchors are under immense pressure and are trying their best. They may work in difficult newsrooms and under trying circumstances but are trying to keep some amorphous journalism flag flying.

It is a sweet argument, even if it has almost no connection to reality. It also supplies a neat out to the rampant false equivalences and nauseating both-sidesism which characterises the more “liberal” sections of the television media. For any mediaperson, most of TV “news” in India is weak, cowardly and lacks both judgment and perspective. Newsgathering is consigned to the corners and publicity for the regime is the top priority. No standards apparently apply, even if this is a medium notoriously short of standards.

Sadly, no such concessions are made for people who work in print or digital journalism and display better journalism and higher standards. They are held to the highest scrutiny and must prove their high standards at all times. If ever they make a slight deviation or slip from this high standard, they are excoriated, often from amongst their own tribe of liberals. It’s an impossible level for anyone to maintain.

And yet, The Wire – I come back to this – continues to suffer from its mistake in its “investigation” into Instagram following the BJP’s orders. It has to be taken to task repeatedly because it tried to maintain the higher standard. If it had consistently produced mediocre journalism, those around would have said, “poor things, see how hard it tries but what can it do in these difficult times.” It was similar with TV anchor Nidhi Razdan’s mistake over her Harvard appointment: she was attacked viciously from within the liberal community.

Perhaps a big difference is that both The Wire and Razdan publicly acknowledged their mistakes. Rather than brazen it out with craven lapping at the feet of their masters or some masterly deflection to some other topic.

The dichotomy is astounding and dangerous. Pushing religious bigotry and hatred, pushing misinformation, playing conveniently dead when the BJP and Narendra Modi break every rule, you hear: “all this is par for course, what can we do, they are like that only”.

It is also difficult to try and remain “neutral”, that is to criticise both the BJP and other parties. Those who laud you for critiquing the BJP will turn on you viciously for criticising the Congress for instance. I may disagree with Swati Chaturvedi’s analysis on Rahul Gandhi’s remarks on Veer Savarkar, but I find the social media attacks on her ludicrous. Especially when the same people were happy with her earlier praise for Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra!

Obviously, people must criticise whoever they want and journalists can develop carapaces to deal with the vitriol directed at them.

But my larger point is to choose your targets wisely. Do not have double standards for news outlets. Do not feel sorry for extremely highly paid TV anchors who don’t have the gumption to do their basic job.

And the more you attack within, the more you strengthen the divisive forces working hard to destroy our democracy.


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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