An increasingly divided media

BY THE HOOT| IN Opinion | 09/06/2017
The raid on NDTV’s Roys has drawn only selective indignation from across the media spectrum. Can a divided media stand up to this government?
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Jurist Fali Nariman addresses a large gathering of journalists at the Press Club of India, june 9.

 

For the BJP-led government it is taming time. In March it was the Times Group whose global business summit the prime minister and his ministers ditched at the last moment, ostensibly to send the media house a message on Economic Times’s allegedly fulsome coverage of the Samajwadi Party in the run up to the UP elections. It seems to have worked,  just track the Economic Times’ coverage of Yogi Adityanath’s performance in UP since then.

Last month BJP president Amit Shah told journalists at a press meet at Chandigarh to keep quiet—“Aap chup ho jaiye,” when their questions irked him. There was no walk out by the press though.

This month it has been the CBI raids on the Roys of NDTV.  It may be just a coincidence that an NDTV anchor asked a BJP spokesperson to leave her show the day before the FIR was filed, for accusing the channel of having an agenda. And then, maybe not. Maybe the heated ticking off to its spokesperson which made headlines the next day was more than the party leadership could stomach, coming from a channel which it has already been trying to tame. The Enforcement Directorate and income tax authorities are already  investigating NDTV’s financial transactions for the past two or three years.

In the days following the raids it is becoming increasingly clear that the government’s latest action  stands on pathetically flimsy grounds. Why should a government  agency conduct a raid on a company for causing a loss to a private bank in 2008-2009 when the bank (ICICI) never lodged a complaint and the loan was certified as repaid?  Why an FIR now? The complainant is rather grandly described as a shareholder of ICICI Bank and NDTV, but is in fact a former associate who bears a grudge.   Did he give this government a handle that was eagerly grabbed?

Since 2010  a Sunday newspaper then owned by M J Akbar, a parliamentary committee headed by a BJP MP, individual ideologues and individual journalists have been building up a chargesheet of sorts against the owners of this media company. NDTV’s overseas financial dealings have led to scrutiny,  and the owners’ decision to buy back some of their own shares let to a maze of borrowings.  But there have been other TV News operations such as Network 18 whose erstwhile owner’s actions also led to both convoluted and colourful financial dealings.  They have not been under the BJP’s radar in quite the same way. 

In November last year the same group’s channel had come in for more unwelcome attention—NDTV India was ordered off the air for its coverage of the Pathankot terrorist attack.

But the latest government action has drawn only selective indignation from across the media spectrum.  There is hesitation over whether defending a media outlet in the given circumstances will amount to condoning the business practices of the media firm.  And the silence from some quarters is also an eloquent indication of how polarized the media is becoming. Nationalist versus non-nationalist, pro-BJP versus anti-BJP,  ideologically-aligned versus independent. 

The spectacle of media attacking media on news bulletins, witness Arnab Goswami’s tirade against NDTV and Barkha Dutt, and more recently  Times Now’s rant against The Wire on a news show, only serves to further undermine media credibility in public view. Even as an aggressive government tries to set the terms.

"The latest government action has drawn only selective indignation from across the media spectrum."

 

While some of the print and digital media has been outspoken in its criticism of the action on the Roys that has not been the case with news broadcasters.  The News Broadcasters’ Association has issued no statement at all, though it did do so last November when NDTV India was being punished with a blackout. One reason could be that the CBI raid was not on the offices of NDTV at all, but confined to homes and other offices of the Roys and the holding company RRPR Private Ltd. (The  Editors Guild statement which mentioned raids on NDTV’s offices got its facts wrong.) The CBI pointed this out in the long statement it has rather unusually issued. “CBI has not conducted any search of registered office of NDTV, media studio, news room or premises connected with media operations. CBI fully respects the freedom of press and is committed to the free functioning of news operations.”

Another reason could be that the NBA’s influential broadcaster members  include cheerleaders of the current dispensation. Why would they be seen defending NDTV which a BJP spokesperson had just days before described as a  channel with an agenda? 

The print and digital media has chosen not to differentiate between NDTV and the Roys, taking an attack on the owners as an attack on their media, while stating that due process should be followed with regard to the alleged business-related offences. 

For the NDA government independent media seems to mean those whose independence they approve of.  Can a divided media stand up to its intimidation?

Wise old American broadcaster Edward Murrow said a long time ago that a nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves. That applies to journalists too. The less they stand up to the government, the more the wolves will come for them when it suits them.  

 

 

 

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Employees of the Hindustan Times were told on June 20 that because of the difficult period the company went through last year, and the continuing "challenge on revenues" there will be no salary increase this year.  A Variable Performance Bonus has been paid to "all eligible people," and  a special fixed monthly payment was announced  (for the period Apr’17-Mar’18) for those people whose relative salary is low. This will be done across HT Digital Streams, HT Media Ltd, and Hindustan Media Ventures Ltd.           

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