It was a packed year for the Indian media, but different sections of the media chose to divide focus between different events that punctuated the news cycle, some more than others.
The year 2021 saw an unrelenting second wave of the pandemic that claimed countless lives, recorded and unrecorded, and ended with the farmer protests culminating in the Narendra Modi government’s U-turn on its three farm laws. It saw the phrase “Bollywood drug gang” come back into the media lexicon, while the annual string of avoidable and unavoidable natural calamities happened one after the other.
Newslaundry decided to know from journalists themselves, what they felt the year was like, for Indian journalism. We asked them three questions: What was, in their opinion, the lowest point for Indian journalism in 2021, the highest, and what they hope Indian journalism gets right in 2022.
Here’s what they said.
Ravish Kumar, senior executive editor, NDTV
Indian media is now found only at its lowest point. It has abandoned its quest towards the pinnacle. The distinction between media and Godi media has shrunk even more this year. At the speed of light, the entire media fraternity is transforming into Godi media. Godi media today prefers to stay in the mud, with the exception of a few news pieces. In 2020, whether it was the link between Corona and Tablighi Jamaat or the months-long coverage of Sushant Singh Rajput's death, and in 2021, with coverage of the Aryan Khan drug case, the Indian media demonstrated that it is unaffected by the passing of time.
Godi media solely supported the government during the second wave of Corona. It took a back seat when it came to holding the administration accountable for the lack of oxygen.
Throughout the year, farmers warned the nation about the dangers of Godi media. What could be more embarrassing for the Indian media than the fact that there were signs during the farmers' protest stating that Godi media should not cover their protest.
Godi media swallowed that disgrace as well, saying that it will continue to drink every shame as if it were Coke, Pepsi, and that it will not fall out of the government's lap. The media slept soundly on the ground of its demise in 2021. It enjoyed the AC cooler.
In terms of the highs, during the second wave of Covid, Gujarati journalists accomplished an outstanding job. The death toll from Corona was initially reported by Saurashtra News, Gujarat News, Sandesh, and Divya Bhaskar. Journalists from Gujarati language publications devised a believable approach for reporting the toll by risking their own lives, which drew widespread attention.
Researchers from a number of prominent universities around the world gathered information from Gujarati newspapers and concluded that the government is underreporting the number of people killed in the second wave. This technique was then adopted by Hindi newspapers. Bhaskar’s report on the data of those who died was excellent. The Bhaskar group was also raided subsequently. Anurag Dwari, Ravish Ranjan, Saurav, and Pooja Bharadwaj are some of my channel’s associates. They did an excellent job of covering the farmers’ movement and Corona second wave. The report on the selling of land to a temple trust in Ayodhya by Newslaundry’s Basant Kumar and Ayush Tiwari should also be remembered. Who can forget the Pegasus Report from The Wire?
Between 2022 and 2024, Godi media will take on a more violent appearance. It will go after dissenting voices with renewed vigour, and it will suppress authentic information in order to promote the administration. On TV news channels, in the coming two years, as the unemployed youth and the general public become more concerned about inflation, Godi media will progressively turn against the general public. In TV channels and newspapers, new kinds of politics and religious debate will be introduced. Every debate will be strangled under the guise of religion.
There is no chance for journalism from these quarters because you can’t tell the difference between Godi media and media. There will be more news about names and less news of work in the media where journalism will be practised. Many journalists, including us and you, will continue to do something on the fringes that is referred to as journalism. Other journalists will continue to risk their lives through YouTube, but under the name of journalism, market money will be spent exclusively on Godi media, which does not contain any journalism.
Those who are doing journalism on their own and in danger should be hopeful. The battle for hope is a daily one for them. Their hopes are not going to change as the old year comes to an end and the new year begins.
Karma Paljor, EastMojo
The Indian media faced one of its toughest challenges this year: we had to continue reporting from the ground even as Covid wreaked havoc in the region. The media professionals showed, on most occasions, exemplary behaviour in disseminating verified, factual and contextual information on the pandemic, and often doubled up as facilitators for patients and concerned families too, helping them arrange oxygen, hospital beds and every other essential. This year, the media also saw more value in using data and numbers to drive home the point. The Indian media also took a stance towards fake news, with almost every notable media house establishing its fact-checking teams. This, even as dozens of media professionals died in the pandemic while many became severely sick due to Covid.
The negatives, however, were many: the shamelessly biased reports on some media houses, the overwhelming love for certain leaders and parties, and the constant media trial faced by protesters across the nation left a bitter taste among the viewers. The Indian media is becoming increasingly polarised, and the “take no sides” mantra seems like a thing of the past. The year also saw harassment of media professionals at the hands of government agencies, an act that unfortunately found support among pro-government journalists.
Sushanta Talukdar, NEZine
The media in Assam got the news of the BJP and its allies retaining power for the second consecutive term in Assam right. The election analysis in most media correctly projected that because of the failure of the Congress-led Mahajot and two newly formed regional parties to unite despite a powerful movement against the Citizenship (Amendment)Act, 2020, the ruling BJP would not face any formidable challenge and will have smooth sailing.
However, what it got completely wrong was the eviction of “encroachers” from “government land” in Gorukhuti in Assam’s Darrang district in September. Most media organisations portrayed these alleged encroachers as “suspected Bangladeshis” or “suspected foreigners”, as claimed by the ruling BJP or right-wing forces. Assam Revenue and Disaster Management Jogen Mohan informed the Assam Assembly on December 24 in reply to a starred question raised by Leader of Opposition Debabrata Saikia that no government land is under encroachment of “foreigners” in any of the districts in the state.
About what it needs to get right in 2022, gatekeeping in mass media must be strengthened to get the facts straight. The media must be cautious against deliberate attempts to destroy its credibility through planting stories to usurp media space for advancing the ruling party agenda.
Anirban Roy Choudhury, Barak Bulletin
During the second wave of Covid infections, Dainik Bhaskar’s report on dead bodies buried along the river bed in Prayagraj managed to change the discourse altogether. The shrouds forced the general public to think about the number of unreported deaths as, till then, only the reported deaths were making the headlines. It is a high for journalism and the raids at Dainik Bhaskar’s office proved it.
The way Indian mainstream television media reported Taliban capturing Kabul stays as a low, as was the reportage of the overthrowing of the Myanmar government by the military. India’s Mizoram shares kilometres of porous borders with Myanmar and thousands of Myanmarese from the Chin province were seeking refuge in India. Both international stories are significant to national security. Yet, Indian media only had the Taliban during the prime time broadcast. Why? It wasn’t a coincidence but a strategic ploy to erase the visuals of Covid. People forgot about the second wave’s devastation and a new narrative was set.
In 2022, the mainstream media will do the nation a lot of good if it stops batting for the government or the men in power. It shall not be forgotten that the media serves at the pleasure of the governed and not the governors!
Parth MN, PARI Network
One could write reams on the low points in journalism but I think the lowest was when the Godi media even tried to justify the massacre of farmers at Lakhimpur Kheri.
The highest point would be the spirited reporting by independent media outlets such as PARI, Newslaundry, Scroll etc. during the second wave of Covid. Reporters my age or younger who haven’t spent decades in journalism risked their lives and relentlessly brought out harrowing stories at great cost to their own mental health. That was inspiring.
I hope that we cover more stories from the rural areas, which aren’t the outskirts of Mumbai or Delhi. Usually, the media covers the countryside only when there’s an event. The Indian media needs to understand that the rural distress, caste discrimination, social injustices and so on are faced by people in their daily lives. When we cover that, we’d be better equipped to make sense of and report on the bigger developments.
Priyanka Pulla, The Wire
As a health journalist, I was disappointed at how often the government tried to justify their suboptimal policy decisions with incorrect science. And how often journalists bought the government claims without questioning.
Am happy with every bit of long-form health journalism that appeared, because it meant that publications were allowing journalists to spend time on a subject and to understand it, rather than demanding hot takes. There was plenty of good long-form health journalism, and I hope this grows.
I look forward to more training programmes for health journalists so that they are able to deal with the frequently technical nature of their beat, and are able to fact-check false claims.
Meena Kotwal, The Mooknayak
The lowest point for me was when the so called mainstream media ignored giving news space to the alleged gangrape and immolation of a Dalit girl in the Delhi Cantonment area.
I say it with utmost regret that there was virtually nothing that I found myself feeling proud about in the media…I am unable to recall a high point despite wanting to do so.
Lastly, for years, the media has been doing one-sided reporting on Dalits, tribals and Muslims, which is often far from reality. This is because there are rarely people on their teams to represent these communities, especially not in the editorial and decision-making positions. If people from the Dalit and tribal communities will get space on their teams, their issues will be spoken about in a nuanced and open manner; this had also been found in multiple research studies. I hope this situation gets better in the coming year.
Vinod Jose, Caravan
There’s probably no one lowest point for Indian journalism in 2021﹘there are several. The year started with the government becoming super nervous with the critical coverage of a select few media houses on the farmers’ protest, while it had still handled the legacy media to act as propaganda platforms, from prime time slots to the oped pages. Whoever covered the farmers protests critically faced arrests and jail terms; from Mandeep Punia, the regular Caravan contributor, to the Caravan publishers and editors who were booked in sedition cases. Then there were the raids and harassment of a number of media outlets such as Newslaundry and Newsclick. The Pegasus spying on the editors of the Wire was another low point. Killing of a journalist covering the farm protest was yet another low point. The government asking Twitter to block the Caravan Twitter account, and Twitter duly obliging, was another low point.
Sashi Kumar, Asiaville
The Pegasus malware surveillance and the way the media took it up has been the high. Not only reported on it, but also became a party to counter it, due to concern that Pegasus was snooping on the citizens of India. No clue whether or not the government of India had knowledge of it, although by all accounts it looks like it had acquired the technology.
The overall despair and difficulties the media is facing overwhelms the achievements and breakthroughs that come once in a while﹘it’s a systematic sustained attack on the media by the authorities. Invoking provisions such as UAPA has also been a peculiarly worrisome aspect of journalism. For a good section of the media, the average kind of attitude is just to anticipate and go about the government’s wishes. In the mainstream papers, their coverage of things like hate speech is soft peddled, as they know it will be frowned upon by the government. Acts of omission and commission – and the way news is ignored and treated – are rampant in the media now. Farmers’ protest was reported because regional media was strongly covering it, and mainstream media had to follow suit. This year has been marked by the recognition and realisation that it is not the mainstream media that will deliver journalism; it is the new kids on the block who, if anything, will speak truth to power. That has been a silver lining.
The mainstream media has been put to shame by the courage shown by digital media which I would call the marginalised media. But the marginalized are moving towards the centre. Mainstream media will continue to talk about gossip and entertainment but they are digging their own grave. You can’t on one hand be a business profiting and then ask for free press. In a common citizen’s mind, the idea of a credible media mind is taking a beating. When the going gets tough, the tough should get going but here when It happens, they don’t have muscles.
Suhasini Haider, National Editor, The Hindu
Hats down, it is the people who went out in the field during Covid second wave. For me, they are heroes. They are up there with all the doctors and the rest. Because if we would have left it to the government, people wouldn’t have even known about the crisis being faced. The kind of great job the journalists did in terms of putting out the news; it came at a time when I was personally affected due to family members being down with Covid. I realised that if journalists despite dealing with all of that in their lives were still going out there and recording for the public﹘hats off to them.
Samriddhi Saikunia, HW News Network
To even think of the lows, our Indian journalism has witnessed in 2021 is a joke in itself…One such lowest point, according to me, is the Aryan Khan drug case. It is a part of a larger witch hunt that further deteriorates when there’s actual ruckus in our country that the media tries to keep our audience away from. Yes, the media yet again very conveniently ignored the communal tension in Tripura, giving all space to the Aryan Khan drug case. More than 12 mosques were burnt and vandalised, various houses and shops were burnt, targeted and stone pelted; there was a mob of over 5,000 on roads chanting anti-Muslim slogans, a community in our own country in Northeast was living in fear and despair, but it took nothing for our so-called journalists to ignore the plights of mourning in fear.
Even social media where so-called journalists discuss news of public interest stood as a mute spectator on Tripura. It took a few independent journalists and local individuals on Twitter to break the news…While Tripura police continued to intimidate those who became the voice of the voiceless and chanted their fake claims of “no situation of law and order in the state”, the journalists took the ground to bring the factual news to all those mute spectators in mainstream media and online. And the end result was a mass FIR against lawyers and journalists...
In the month of July, when The Wire partnered with Washington Post and 16 other publications to break the Pegasus spyware report, belief in hard-hitting journalism was again restored…
The economic constraints in the media have often led to the theatrics we see in the newsrooms, more than ever before. I believe the accountability here is on the revenue model and reliance on the advertisements. What needs to be done is a collective action on the revenue model in order to get rid of these constraints. A model like Newslaundry seems like something which would be a good option to seek..
Another depleting factor in news organisations is the negligence of ground reports.
Josy Joseph, founder, Confluence Media
There are a lot of great things that were done in the last one year, which includes some very outstanding investigations into the handling of the Covid situation. Some really courageous investigations by Newslaundry, Caravan, Wire and by some of these business verticals like the Morning Context, and the Ken. But what I wanted to say was that actually the high point of Indian journalism comes from somewhere else outside, because it’s a historic year for us in terms of, after almost a century, the Nobel committee recognising the threats to and significance of adversarial journalism by selecting two journalists as a Nobel Peace Prize winners. Both were very smartly and interestingly, selected from two countries, which are very similar to India in terms of suppression of dissent, challenges to adversarial media for authoritarian governments and very deep political and corporate corruptions. So I think the high point is that because it’s a recognition that we should also be finding gratification from, because…it would serve in creating and would continue to create awareness among the public about the need to support independent, investigative adversarial journalism.
I don’t know if there is any particular low point. We seem to have two parallel graphs trending about Indian journalism. One is the graph of high point: the little reporter in some far corner of the country, some small news media operation on the web, which is standing up to the bullies of the government and corporates and parallely, there is another track running where you see most of the mainstream media, and some of our most well-known media personalities, especially the TV anchors, running around like headless chickens and acting like monkeys, without the brain...
I think there is no one low point to point out. It swings between the history kill, even in drama on TV screens, to the drunk anchors and obviously, communal abuses on screens. Add to it the deliberate failure of the mainstream media, including the television channels to provide equal space to the opposition and critics of the government….
Many of those journalists who are now crawling before the establishment, were once happy and proud of being adversarial journalists, and were happy sharing documents from people like us, and happy celebrating investigations done by many of us, so I hope they all find their spine back…I hope they find their feet back, that's my hope for next year. But what makes me confident is that a new group of young media houses and reporters are rewriting the history of Indian journalism. And sorry to say the fossils, the dinosaurs in the newsrooms of our mainstream may not find even a footnote reference when there is a return of good journalism.
Compiled by Anna Priyadarshini, Diksha Munjal, Supriti David and Tanishka Sodhi.
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