Ranjona Banerji: The curious use of the term “presstitute”
By Ranjona Banerji
A little storm whirled around in the world of Indian journalism when former chief of army staff and a junior minister in the NDA government at the Centre General (retired) VK Singh put out this tweet:
Friends what do you you expect from presstitutes. Last time Arnab thought there was ‘O’ in place of ‘E’ #TimesNowDisaster
– Vijay Kumar Singh (@Gen_VKSingh) April 7, 2015
This was compounded by former Supreme Court judge and current Press Council charman Markandey Katju who came up with this tweet:
The vast majority of mediapersons wld certainly fall in d category mentioned by@Gen_VKSingh , as my experience in Press Council taught me.
– Markandey Katju (@mkatju) April 9, 2015
One could argue successfully that there is nothing wrong with criticizing or disapproving of journalists and their behaviour. After all, I do it twice a week in these columns. But the choice of language used by a prominent member of society and backed by another is certainly open to question. The term “presstitutes” is not new but it is derogatory. It is also, in today’s climate, deeply insensitive to those who are now known as commercial sex workers. There is a long ongoing struggle to phase out the word “prostitute” because of its obvious connotations.
But when a former army chief and a former Supreme Court justice think they have made a clever joke then you understand the stranglehold of regressive patriarchy on our society.
Then there’s the question of journalists. The term “presstitutes” was used through the 2014 general elections specifically for journalists who did not support the BJP campaign or Narendra Modi’s candidature. These journalists are also called “paid Congi agents” – that is the Congress Party pays them to attack Modi and the BJP.
However there is a logical fallacy here. A presstitute by definition would do anything for money and would therefore switch allegiance without any problems. So here’s a further dilemma. Many journalists have switched allegiance to the BJP after Modi’s dramatic rise to prime ministership. Is Singh therefore addressing a support group within? Of course, the mistake is mine because the theory goes like this: All journalists who support parties other than the BJP are presstitutes and all journalists who support the BJP are patriots.
It is fascinating to see how many pro-BJP patriot journalists have jumped in to support VK Singh. Some of these have been journalists who have become PR people (er, what term is one supposed to use for them given what they now do for a living?). Others work for media groups which practise the worst forms of selling editorial space without informing the reader. Since these people do not quit their jobs, it makes you wonder whether they are practising some form of self-flagellation when they call journalists “presstitutes” or whether they are only pointing fingers at other people. I would suggest that working journalists who feel so strongly about abhorrent media practices invented by the people who pay them their salaries need to take a strong stand and pay the price for their principles by becoming jobless.
But you know and I know that these journalists are not just shameless but are also caught up in that old trap of left versus right and everyone versus the BJP. They see no irony in the fact that they are attacking people for doing exactly what they themselves do. So all journalists who criticize the BJP are abominable and yes sir, of course I will remake the page to fit in all those paid news, Medianet, private treaty stories.
And how is anyone supposed to respond when well-known journalists and columnists who spend all their time on TV and in print supporting the BJP then agree to become board members of large corporate and at the same time applaud the use of the term presstitutes?