Rajeev Chandrasekhar censors The Wire. But why?

BY SEVANTI NINAN| IN Media Freedom | 09/03/2017
Newslaundry asked the same questions some months ago. So why is Mr Chandrasekhar taking umbrage now,
wonders SEVANTI NINAN

Extract from the legal notice received by The Wire.

 

Businessman Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s actions in getting a Bangalore court to issue an ex parte injunction to The Wire to take down two articles about him, are curious. The website was not the first to point a finger at him for attempting to align the media he owns with the political ideology he supports. Nor was it the first to describe his military-related business interests, even as his public activism has centered on the armed forces. And the conflict of interest involved in his being  on the Parliamentary Committee of Defence and also on the Consultative Committee for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) while transacting business with the army.

The credit for that must go to Newslaundry which published an  article last October alleging both and documenting its assertions with evidence.  The MP did not take any legal action against Newslaundry, so why this show of legal might now? It is because the launch of   his most widely publicised media investment to date is imminent, and its credibility is being sullied pre-launch by allegations being made about Chandrasekhar, one of its investors?  

Even as Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV  is about to be launched sometime soon (or so the expectation is though earlier launch dates have  been missed)  we were being told by a former colleague of his in an article titled  ‘Arnab’s Republic, Modi’s Ideology’ on The Wire, that the fire and brimstone anchor of yore was planning  to turn out journalism “biased for the country”.

The author Sandeep Bhushan also wondered about the  assurance that Republic  TV would be an independent media platform. “Will Arnab’s claim of editorial ‘independence’ hold out in the face of  his own biases, and the political and business interests of his largest investor, Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar?” he asked in the piece.

The second Wire piece published a few days ago, titled “In Whose   Interests Do Our Soldiers March?” was focused entirely on the second point, and talked  of the "process by which the state could be captured to serve private commercial interests.” Damning yes, but as one as pointed out earlier, Newslaundry asked the same question some months ago.  So why is Mr Chandrasekhar taking umbrage now?

There could be a right to reply issue, except that The Wire says it asked him questions on both his media and defence interests, and on the potential conflicts of interest involved, but Rajeev Chandrasekhar was not available for comment.

Both Newslaundry and The Wire point to the glaring linkage between the Member of Parliament’s media interests and his business interests. Newslaundry links a point in the internal memo it scooped about  what profile prospective candidates for his media outlets should have—they should be “Pro-India and Pro-Military”—with the fact that being pro-military would serve the business interests of a media owner who was also selling to the military.  And The Wire linked all of the following: Chandrasekhar’s executives seeking to hire journalists who were pro-military, with the business interests of his company which had invested in a defence solutions provider, as well as the MP’s political initiative of sponsoring a bill seeking to declare Pakistan a terrorist state. Noted the website, “Chandrasekhar’s media investments are therefore seeking to shape the national narrative to align with his foreign policy positions.”

Does it help the good parliamentarian and media owner to drag a media outlet to court?  Surely the publicity is likely to do more good to The Wire than him?  Will people now wonder how much he will be inclined to censor his own channel should the need arise?

Several websites such as Scroll.in,  Quint and the Huffington Post  asked Chandrasekhar for his comments on his action and all of them were told by him that he had sent the legal notice because the articles were an attack from the Congress and media houses in nexus with the party.

If you search for the articles that the Bangalore civil court ordered TheWire.in  to take down, you will find them in interesting places. One is an Indian Defence Forum(indiandefence.com),  another is a Czech archive.  The Hoot would rather not link to them because the law says to do so is to invite the same punishment that carrying the article attracts.  And we can do without a repeat of old history where the personalities in this story are concerned. Our only legal notice so far came from Arnab Goswami a long time ago, for asking questions about his channel which he did not like. 

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Arnab Goswami's Newshour episodes of last summer have come under the scrutiny of of the UK broadcast regulator, Ofcom. Times Global is a licensee in the UK because its channel is shown there. This  long, civil post mortem of 19 episodes in August and September of Newshour viewed by the regulator holds them  in breach of one of its rules which require adequate alternative viewpoints to be provided. Several instances of Goswami's fulminations against Pakistan's government are cited. One of the pleas made in its own defence by the broadcaster was that the presenter had left the channel and had been replaced by one who had "a very different approach". (indiantelevision.com)                                           

ET Now is reported to have started a process of laying off employees, and plans to replace them with free lancers. Eight people in the Delhi bureau were given pink slips last week and some in smaller bureaus. These are at the desk, and also include cameramen and OB van personnel.                         

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