To the eminent journalists: Here is what ‘co-opted media’ truly looks like

The other day eminent journalist Sankarshan Thakur published an op-ed in The Telegraph accusing the media of being “co-opted by the government”

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Thakur’s article is only the latest in a long line of whining from establishment journalists about the mere existence of (somewhat) right wing media in this country. More than three full years into Modi’s term, India finally has one mainstream (perhaps two) right wing English news channels and one mainstream right wing Hindi channel. A drop in the ocean when compared to the extensive network of left wing propaganda across news channels, academic campuses and the internet. When you adjust for the fact that the BJP has a majority in the Lok Sabha and runs 19 states along with its allies, it’s not even a drop in the ocean.

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But that does not stop this drop (or less than a drop) from being an eyesore for eminent journalists who have dominated media for decades in this country.  Like I pointed out in an earlier article, Republic TV reporters face a stunning level of hostility (including stuff bordering on physical violence) from the larger journalistic fraternity.

Shekhar Gupta derisively refers to these two or three (somewhat) right wing networks as “commando-comic” channels. Some like Sankarshan think that media has been “co-opted” by the government.  Others call them “India’s North Korean channels,” without even realizing the irony that North Korea is the epitome of leftism. The liberals should ask their revered Communists about North Korea and Kim Jong-Un; Shri Pinarayi Vijayan is a big fan.

How come liberal journalists don’t see that right wing media in our country is a mere drop in the ocean? The answer goes beyond mere bias and selfishness. The problem is that our “eminent” journalists have been bred in an environment where they never expected to encounter a right wing thought in their whole lives.

Imagine if tomorrow a Martian were to suddenly fly in from space and land on Planet Earth. That single Martian would get more attention than the other 7 billion people in our world. Just like that, eminent journalists today are running around, freaking out and screaming their heads off : OMG! OMG! Look! A Right Winger!

Do you, Sankarshan, know what “co-opted” media looks like? Then open the Telegraph itself and read this article by your editor Manini Chatterjee :

As Rahul Gandhi formally takes over as president of the Indian National Congress today, there is a chorus of voices asking him to “reinvent” himself and the Grand Old Party. He should do neither.”

Begging that Rahul Gandhi shouldn’t change a thing about himself nor anything about the Congress Party. Begging that things in India should stay exactly the same as they were during the six decades of Congress rule. Now, *that* is an example of media that has truly been “co-opted.”

I really recommended folks to read Manini Chatterjee’s entire article. The image that will come to your mind is that of an old loyalist rubbing her nose on the ground in submission.

But neither Sankarshan Thakur, nor Shekhar Gupta nor anyone else in the liberal media can see that. Because this state of grovelling submission to the Nehru-Gandhis is seen as perfectly normal.

Sankarshan probably doesn’t even realize how pitiable he sounds when devoting an entire paragraph to complaining about how Narendra Modi took away free trips for journalists on the Prime Minister’s plane. He is not alone, we have seen Suhasini Haidar do the same and we have even seen Barkha Dutt refer to this.  Well, Sankarshan, if travelling on the PM’s official jet was not a huge privilege, then as many as 3.5 years after Modi took office, we wouldn’t be seeing whole paragraphs in newspapers complaining about the loss of that privilege, would we?

But eminent journalists continue to show a remarkable lack of self-awareness. Living in a world of their own, they actually think that the Indian media has not questioned Narendra Modi enough. Perhaps they don’t realize that Narendra Modi was India’s first Prime Minister to be held personally accountable for petty theft of Rs 8000 from some missionary school in Delhi. Questions that should have been directed at a local police constable were directed towards the Prime Minister’s Office.

A rape of a nun in a non-BJP ruled state by illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh? Blame Narendra Modi, of course!

And yet they actually think media has been “co-opted” by this government!

They actually wonder aloud why Narendra Modi has not held press conferences or faced difficult interviews. Would they dare to ask a similar question about Madam Sonia Gandhiji during her period of supremacy from 2004-2014? Show me one article, one op-ed published in a major newspaper complaining about that.  Of course not, because submission to Nehru-Gandhis is seen as “normal,” even a requirement for being a journalist.

That is what it truly means to have co-opted journalism, where media is so compromised that submission to a ruling family is seen as a fact of life.

Co-opted journalism is when a leading journalist gets into an argument on Twitter with a private citizen and while replying with a legal notice, he tags the media in charge of a certain political party, almost as if marking attendance. Because the lines between that party and the journalist have practically disappeared.

Co-opted journalism is when the political editor of Hindustan Times jumps for joy like this at the possible electoral consequences of the suicide of a young man.

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It’s not just the leading journalists; it’s the foot soldiers too. You probably never heard a name like Ifrah Mufti. She is a small-time journalist working for The Hindustan Times and participates in downright abusive hashtags like #JaahilPMModi. Folks like Ashutosh Mishra or Supriya Bhardwaj (both India Today/Aaj Tak) are not household names. But those on Twitter know them as unofficial spokespersons of AAP or Congress.

Is your news report being written by someone like Ifrah Mufti or Ashutosh Mishra? Most people reading wouldn’t know.

That is co-opted media in its purest form, when every little foot soldier owes allegiance to the old establishment.

Most people reading this garden variety article in the Indian Express bashing Yogi Adityanath would not realize that the author Amaresh Misra threatens to behead any Modi supporter in front of their mother.

Just yesterday, The Print had to distance itself from “freelance contributor” Harnidh Kaur after it was discovered that she publicly wished for the assassination of Narendra Modi. Less than a year ago, the Quint had to end its association with journalist Vikas Malhotra, who had also wished publicly for Modi to be assassinated while campaigning in Varanasi.

Few people in India know their names or their faces. But the Harnidh Kaurs and Vikas Malhotras of the world will move on with their careers, writing more and more reports and opinion pieces that the public will consume without knowing their political history.

“Being attracted to a 12 year old doesn’t make you a pedophile.”

Shocked?

Believe it or not, this sentence actually appeared in print last month in the Deccan Chronicle. The context? The author was trying to defend Communist leader (late) A K Gopalan and his “mutual attraction” towards a 12 year old girl when he was a 38 year old man.

The Deccan Chronicle piece does not give away the name of its author. We will never know who it was. But what we can say with reasonable certainty is that this author will go on to have a long career in media, writing articles on intolerance, communal harmony, how great the Nehru-Gandhis are and how much of a dictator Narendra Modi is. We will be reading this stuff without knowing that the author will gladly support even paedophilia as long as a Communist does it.

Now, *that* is co-opted media.

Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.

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