Hafta 271: Media and government ads, #9Baje9Minute, Covid-19 in West Bengal, and more


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In this episode of NL Hafta, Newslaundry’s Abhinandan Sekhri, Raman Kirpal, Manisha Pande, and Mehraj D Lone are joined by Anand Vardhan and Shaoib Daniyal, associate editor at Scroll.Abhinandan asks Shoaib about the situation in West Bengal, regarding people’s distrust for the number of cases released by the government and the committee formed by Mamata Banerjee to tackle Covid-19. Shoiab says it isn’t clear what powers the committee will have and for now, we can assume it’s a “PR move” to “grab headlines”. Mehraj says the world over, countries use different methodologies to report deaths. What’s different here, he says, is India isn’t reporting infections in the first place. “And that’s where the problems begin.” Manisha says the south Indian states have been “great at giving out data”. About Bihar, Anand says the infection rate is “as low as one percent”, mostly from people who have returned from Gulf countries. He adds that Bihar has received thousands of testing kits, and the pace will pick up soon.Abhinandan brings up Sonia Gandhi’s letter to the prime minister, focusing on her recommendation to scrap government advertising across all media. Shoiab asks if the press can be a “true watchdog of the government, if its financial pillars are dependent on government funding”. Raman says this recommendation will be the “death of the newspaper industry”. Mehraj asks if the media is “a public good”, since most mainstream media, even during a pandemic, has been whipping up hate and bigotry that is sponsored by these ads. But Manisha criticises Gandhi’s recommendation, saying the print media are the ones doing “honest, accountable and strong journalism”. Discussing the #9Baje9Minute event of April 5, Manisha says she was “appalled” by the media coverage of it, and the way people celebrated as if it was Diwali. Raman points out instances of coercion by resident welfare associations, and Abhinandan calls it “Modi’s event altogether”. Anand says the event had “the appeal of a symbolic gesture”, which is valued in Indian culture. Abhinandan compares it to advertising, where you first need a good product to advertise — which was lacking in this case. The panel also discusses the Trump-Modi hydroxychloroquine saga, the power that journalists hold, and much more. Tune in!

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