Media musings: On plagiarism and fascism

The Union Budget increased Customs Duty on newsprint by 10% and the government stopped advertisements to three big media houses

IANS Photo
IANS Photo

Ranjona Banerji

Which is funnier? The overall top bhakt of Zee News, DNA and whatever else, Sudhir Chaudhary, trying to accuse AITC MP Mohua Moitra of plagiarism or the promo video on Zee News portraying Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman as Goddess Lakshmi with multiple arms bestowing goodies on a grateful nation?

Given that the Union Budget did not shower us with gold coins as promised by Zee News, let us, move on to plagiarism charges and whatnot. In her widely shared debut speech in the Lok Sabha, Mohua Moitra quoted from an article which quoted from a poster that was on sale at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum shop a few years ago. This poster listed early “warning signs of fascism”. The article was by Martin Longman, and also carried a photograph of the poster. These early warning signs listed in the poster included: powerful and continuing nationalism, disdain for human rights, supremacy of the military, controlled mass media, obsession with national security, religion and government intertwined, disdain for intellectuals and the arts and fraudulent elections. And Moitra used some of these signs in her debut speech.

So where was the plagiarism? But of course, that’s not the point. The point is that Moitra attacked the Modi government and Chaudhary’s job was to divert attention from Fascism.

The whole Indian Modi/BJP social media universe then went into a tizzy. Martin Longman’s article was pulled up to prove plagiarism. Internet searches were done to prove that the poster may have once been on sale in the US Holocaust Memorial Museum but is no longer available.

Longman himself responded scathingly, first on Twitter and then in this article, absolving Moitra of plagiarism and recording how he became “internet famous” in India:

While that sinks in, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum also runs a fascinating Early Warning Project, which tracks countries across the world which have a high statistical risk of the onset of mass killings. In the list for 2018-19, India (14) is in the top 15 countries at risk of mass killings with a one in 13 chance of a mass killing. Pakistan is at 5, if that makes you feel happier and the Democratic Republic of Congo at 1. In just over a month since the Modi government started its second term, religion-based lynchings, sectarian uprisings and violence from elected representatives have all made their mark.

The “control of the mass media” happens in the most obvious ways sometimes and insidious ways in others. Before the 2019 general elections, government ads, a major source of revenue, were stopped to various newspaper and mass media groups. In last week’s Union Budget, Customs Duty on imported newsprint was hiked by 10 per cent.

Both moves strike at the heart of any industry: money. It will indeed be interesting to see whether these two moves make newspaper and media groups grovel even more. Will journalists be able to hold their ground, or will managements cut down even further on criticism? Or will managements (and perchance editors) realise that endless kowtowing may not always get the result you desire?

The Union Budget itself did not get many rah-rah reviews from the media, whether on television or in print. The fact that it was lacklustre was pointed out, some schemes were questioned, the lack of schemes was questioned, and the falling Sensex made praising it even more difficult.

Will bad budgets and bad government decisions make life more difficult for the Chaudharys of the world, for those who try to mask the government’s non-actions by deflecting attention or portraying ministers as divine beings? It is unlikely. True devotees must continue on their path of genuflection.

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