No room for factual journalism

Would you agree that it is kinda lame to google yourself? Like, all the time? Every single day? As in you get up every morning and google images, news, videos and web mentions of yourself? And if somebody has said anything negative about you, then you hound them and pressurise them till they retract?

If you knew somebody who did that, you would think they were totally self-obsessed, or pretty sad, or paranoid-schizophrenic, or really need to get a life, right?

Which is why I am so creeped out by the allegation that the Modi government has created a 200-member monitoring team within the ministry of information and broadcasting, which monitors what all the channels in India are saying about it. Based on its report, three officials of deputy secretary rank prepare a report which is sent to the I&B minister, who activates the officials at the PMO, who then send their directives to the editors of the news channels about what they think of the channel’s reportage. If the editor does not take their ‘feedback’ on board, his proprietor is spoken to. And then, if the editor still proves recalcitrant, like in the case of former managing editor Milind Khandekar and Masterstroke anchor Punya Prasun Bajpai of ABP news, exits happen.

Illustration: Bhaskaran Illustration: Bhaskaran

All this came out because, about a month ago, the Narendra Modi government set up a NaMo App video conference in which the prime minister interacted with farmers across India.

I remember tuning in expecting it to be like Krishi Darshan, but it turned out to be more Kardashian in flavour. Because, right through it, our PM was channeling his inner Bachchan. He talked to the farmers in exactly the same homey, jokey, paternalistic manner that Bachchan adopts while talking to contestants on Kaun Banega Crorepati.

During the ‘chat’, one sweet lady named Chandramani Kaushik, from the impoverished district of Kanker, Chhattisgarh, claimed that her income had increased ‘from Rs 50 per kilo, to Rs 700’—thanks to switching from paddy farming to custard apple aka Sita-phal farming. Truly, Sita mata ki jai ho!

So cynical are the times we live in, that this innocent statement prompted the above-mentioned Bajpai and Khandekar to send out a journalist into the wilds of Kanker to find out if Chandramani’s claim was actually true.

Why couldn’t they just do what all the other news channels do? Send out a phalanx of OB vans manned by cameramen and technicians to the homes of the powerful and the opinionated in the big cities, and get them to snipe at each other all evening on those noisy echo chambers they call ‘news panels’? Why send out actual journalists into the hinterland and dig up actual news? That too, not in English, the language spoken by a tiny minority in the urban bubbles, but in all-important, game-changing, shit-stirring Hindi?

The Masterstroke journalist went into Kanker not once, but twice, and came back with video footage in which Chandramani and her fellow lady farmers admitted that uh, the Sita-phal earnings are perhaps a little er…premature, and that actually, they have not earned anything yet, in fact, they have had to fork out money from their own pockets to get the Sita-phal farming started.

But, this wasn’t Masterstroke’s worst offence. It was getting its TRPs to rise. People started watching the show. And so, the ads magically dried up, satellite uplinks began malfunctioning, and finally, exit Bajpai and Khandekar.

Meanwhile, ‘krishi ban gaya crorepati’ continues to play out on our screens, hosted by our homey, jokey, papa-PM. But, viewers are wisening up. Going forward, the 200-member team of dedicated ‘self-googlers’ may find more and more reports, that (like too much Sita-phal) will give them severe indigestion.