Media winners and losers in 2016

BY THE HOOT| IN Opinion | 28/12/2016
TV anchors with diametrically opposite convictions rode high, and Sushma Swaraj’s Twitter activism went global. But regional media barons ran afoul of parties in power, and a jailed reporter spent yet another year deprived of freedom.
THE HOOT picks newsmaking people and trends this year

 Pix: Clockwise from top left: Subhash Chandra, Ravish Kumar, Sushma Swaraj, Arnab Goswami, Santosh Yadav, Sudhir Chaudhary, Aveek Sarkar and the Maran brothers.

 

WINNERS

 

Subhash Chandra and ZEE

Media mogul Subhash Chandra, and his ZEE Media group had a great run in 2016. Apart from launching a slew of new regional television channels, and a Hindi movie channel called ZEE Anmol cinema, ZEE ramped up its broadcasting empire with the launch of its global English news channel called WION. Pitched as India’s answer to a CNN, BBC or Al Jazeera, WION hasn’t made much of an impact  however, and continues to suffer from shallow reporting and poor programming.  

Zee is also extending its footprint in radio. This year it picked up a 49% stake in Reliance’s 92.7 BIG FM and acquired UAE’s radio station HUM as well. It went places elsewhere — launching ZEE Sine in the Philippines, ZEE One inGermany and ZEE Mundo in the US Hispanic market.

The year also brought a personal triumph for Subhash Chandra. The long time supporter of the BJP became a member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha. Chandra, whose net worth, according to Forbes, is $4 billion, also published his autography this year — The Z Factor: My Journey as the Wrong Man at the Right Time.

Well, that’s just humility. Chandra is usually the right man who knows how to make the most of the right time.

 

Sushma Swaraj

India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj took her activism via social media to greater heights in 2016. In December Foreign Policy magazine named her one of the 15 top Global Thinkers of the year — for her “novel brand of Twitter diplomacy”. 

Swaraj, who has nearly 6.9 million followers on Twitter, has used this social networking site to become the saviour of Indians in distress anywhere in the world. Earlier this year when someone tweeted an image of an Indian worker in Saudi Arabia who had been laid off and had not eaten for days,  Swaraj replied: “I assure you that no Indian workers rendered unemployed in Saudi Arabia will go without food. I am monitoring this on hourly basis.”

She not only made arrangements for food to be delivered to the laid-off workers, but also got Indian diplomats in Saudi Arabia to talk to the government on the workers’ behalf and make sure that they got their dues. 

Indeed, whether it is helping to replace lost passports, or coming to the aid of foreigners in India who tweet to her about any problem, Swaraj is quite unmatched in the way she uses social media.  Foreign Policy magazine called her “the common tweeple’s leader”. 

We couldn't agree more.

 

Arnab Goswami

Known for his high-decibel brand of journalism, Arnab Goswami finished the year on a suitably high note. Editor-in-chief of Times Now for more than a decade, he quit the channel in November to start his own gig, which he said would be called “Republic”. Reportedly, he has well heeled backers, including Rajeev Chandrashekhar, MP and chairman of Asianet.

But before he took the leap to become a media owner himself, 

Goswami set the agenda for the bulk of the English TV news space this entire year with his usual bully pulpit style. He spearheaded the corrosive national versus anti-national debate on television; beat the drums of war with Pakistan in the aftermath of the Uri terror attack; and scolded his panelists if they dared to express an opinion other than his own.

As always, his viewers loved it — and his Newshour show rode the top of the TRP charts week after week. 

He also ran away with the prize of landing Narendra Modi’s first interview to an English news channel after he became Prime Minister. It was quite the journalist coup of the year. 

Will Arnab Goswami continue to dominate English news TV next year? Watch this space.   

 

Ravish Kumar

Ravish Kumar, Executive Editor of NDTV’s Hindi Channel, NDTV India, grew into near iconic status as he sought to cast himself as a sort of last man standing for liberal media and impassioned defender of freedom of speech.

The popular anchor’s legions of fans lapped up his two dramatic — if wildly over the top — performances this year. In February Ravish did an entire Prime Time show with a blackened screen, launching into a lengthy monologue that bemoaned the “darkness” that had set into India’s media environment which would stoop to any tactic to garner the TRPs. The context was, of course, the virulent rhetoric of nationalism that many TV channels had whipped up in the wake of some JNU students allegedly having raised anti-India slogans on campus.

Yet another sensational programme that saw him trending on Twitter came after the ministry of information and broadcasting announced a day-long ban on NDTV India for its coverage of the Pathankot attacks. Ravish got two mime artists on his show to make the not so subtle point that the government wanted journalists to be mute, and not ask questions. 

On both occasions critics pointed out that shows were more sanctimonious  histrionics and less journalism.

But, no matter. Ravish is now up there among the hottest media celebs in the country. 

 

The Wire

The Wire, a digital publication launched by journalists Siddharth Varadarajan, Siddharth Bhatia and M.K. Venu in 2015, won the RedInk Media Start-up of the Year award in April. The honour is fitting, for the news site has indeed been making a mark for its quality of journalism.

The Wire’s goal is lofty: reimagining “the media as a joint venture in the public sphere between journalists, readers and a concerned citizenry” — as the founding editors put it in the 'About Us' section of the website. Committed to independent journalism, it commissions leading personalities with domain expertise, journalists, and concerned citizens to write. What sets it apart from other digital media start ups is its science section, with separate focuses on health and medicine, environment, energy, space and technology.

In August The Wire carried a piece on its website announcing the receipt of a grant of Rs 1.95 crore from the Independent and Public Spirited Media Foundation. Rohan Murthy has been an earlier grant maker to The Wire to enable its coverage of science. 

In July the news site appointed a Public Editor entrusted with the task of looking into readers’ complaints and concerns with regard to its stories. The Wire is India’s first digital publication to make such an appointment.

 

Fake News

2016 will go down as the year in which fake news gave real news a run for its money. A large number of websites sprang up that put out fictitious stories and conspiracy theories, many of them to do with the two US presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. People clicked on these sensational items that masqueraded as real news and many believed them implicitly. A lot of them went viral, shared and reposted millions of times on Facebook and other social networking sites. 

A Buzzfeed survey has found that the 20 top performing fake news stories in the run-up to the US elections were shared many more times than the 20 top performing stories from mainstream media in the same time period. That’s just one indication of the power and influence of bogus news.

Google and Facebook have now announced steps to flag fake news stories and restrict their ads. Governments are also taking note and moving to contain the menace. Germany announced recently that it would set up a centre for defence against fake news. The country’s lawmakers are also pushing for steep fines on social media platforms like Facebook that continue to carry news which has been found to be fake. 

 

LOSERS

 

Media in Kashmir

The Kashmiri media has been under attack ever since a violent uprising broke out in the Valley following Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s death at the hands of security forces in July this year.

Soon after violence erupted, the Jammu and Kashmir government blocked mobile and internet connectivity in the Valley, ostensibly to prevent the spread of rumours and incitements to violence. Then it raided the printing presses and offices of newspapers and detained many of their journalists. Newspapers remained shut for three days in July.

Though the first clampdown on the press was lifted soon enough, on October 2, the government banned a small Kashmiri English language paper called Kashmir Reader, calling it a threat to “public tranquillity”.

The ban on Kashmir Reader, which was lifted only this week, points to the fragility of the media in the Valley. On October 4, Kashmir’s largest circulated newspaper, Greater Kashmir, wrote: “The ban on Kashmir Reader newspaper was least expected after the state government backed off from its recent attempt to muzzle the local press following the widespread condemnation from across the world. But as another similar bid reveals, the government is none the wiser for it and in no mood to give up.”

  

ABP and Aveek Sarkar

2016 has turned out to be something of an annus horribilis for the Kolkata-based media group, ABP. Its Bengali flagship Ananda Bazar Patrika as well as its English daily The Telegraph were wide of the mark in gauging the mood of the people in the run-up to the West Bengal Assembly elections in May this year. Both dailies ran a campaign against chief minister Mamata Banerjee, betting on her defeat. 

The Group and its owners Aveek and Arup Sarkar were seriously humiliated when Mamata won a second term with a thundering majority.

Aveek Sarkar stepped down as chief editor of the dailies soon afterwards and made way for younger brother Arup. Though no reason was given for the change at the top, it was widely assumed that Sarkar the Elder had stepped back owning responsibility for a botched election coverage. There were whispers too that his exit was a peace offering to Didi.

As if all this disruption weren’t enough, there are now reports that both papers are retrenching 40-50% of their staff. Several regular sections in The Telegraph have been scrapped already. In sum, ABP’s has been a sobering story in this year’s media landscape.

 

Sudhir Chaudhary

Sudhir Chaudhary, star anchor and Senior Editor, Zee News, had some big pratfalls this year. He and his channel led the charge to pronounce the JNU students who had allegedly raised anti-India slogans guilty of sedition. The video clips that were showed again and again to establish their so-called guilt were not verified or authenticated. But for Chaudhary and his cohorts at ZEE (and indeed, other channels like Times Now) that didn’t matter. They whipped up the nationalist outrage by holding forth that the students, who were supported by tax payers’ money, were indulging in “anti-national” activities while soldiers sacrificed their lives for the country.

In the event, two of the videos broadcast by channels were found to be fake.  

Chaudhary, who is known to be close to the BJP, had egg on his face yet again in November this year after the government scrapped Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes. He solemnly reported that the new Rs 2000 currency notes that were being introduced had a nano GPS chip embedded in  them that would allow them to be tracked via satellite. In other words, he took a wild rumour that began as a WhatsApp forward and presented it as fact.

Charged in a Rs 100 crore extortion case along with his channel colleague Samir Ahluwalia in 2012, Chaudhary also got reprimanded by the Supreme Court earlier this year. Both he and Ahluwalia were directed to submit their voice samples to the investigating officer in the ongoing case.

 

Maran Brothers

The fortunes of Dayanidhi and Kalanidhi Maran and their family’s media empire touched a low point in 2016. This month, the CBI filed a chargesheet against the brothers for allegedly using 764 high-speed data lines at Dayanidhi Maran’s residence for the benefit of their Chennai-based Sun TV empire when the latter was telecom minister in the UPA government. The charge sheet says that 764 telephone numbers were provided to Dayanidhi for which no bills were raised. This allegedly  caused a loss of Rs 1.78 crore to BSNL, Chennai and MTNL.

The Maran brothers have been facing the heat ever since their party, the DMK, has been out in the cold both at the Centre and in Tamil Nadu. Earlier this year the home ministry denied security clearance to 33 channels of  the Sun TV network, on grounds that there were criminal investigations pending against Sun TV and its owner Kalanidhi Maran. One of the them, the Aircel-Maxis case, had forced  Dayanidhi to resign as telecom minister in 2011.

Having profited from their political clout for decades, the Brothers Maran are finally having to learn the art of holding on to their media businesses in a hostile political climate.

 

Pahlaj Nihalani

Central Board of Film Certification chief Pahlaj Nihalani, the self-appointed arbiter of morality in Indian cinema, had a rough run this year. He was widely lambasted after the CBFC not only proposed a bizarre 94 cuts to the adults-only film Udta Punjab, but also directed the producers to lop off all references to “Punjab” from the film. Nihalani and his board felt that this was necessary so as not to show the state in a bad light since the film focused on the drugs menace in Punjab.

Unfortunately for Nihalani, the Bombay High Court threw out the Board’s diktat and directed Udta Punjab to be released with just one cut. The judges also ticked off Nihalani, saying that the Board’s job was to certify and not censor.

More embarrassment waited for the good Mr Nihalani. By the end of the year the former film producer who has projected himself as the most sanskaari of all Censor Board chiefs, seemed to have had a sudden change of heart. He passed Aditya Chopra’s film Befikre with all its hot kisses between Ranveer Kapoor and Vaani intact. And passed it with a U/A certification to boot. This was seriously renegade for a man who, in 2015, had snipped the duration of a single kissing scene in the James Bond film Spectre

When critics jumped on him demanding to know why he had suddenly become kinder to kisses, Nihalani mumbled some pretty thin excuse. “In Befikre the kisses are used as signs of affection warmth and kinship. And they are not shot in close-ups. That makes a helluva difference in terms of impact,” he told DNA.

Clearly, 2016 left Nihalani — and the Censor Board — looking completely discredited and confused.

 

Bastar journalist Santosh Yadav 

More than a year after he was arrested, Santosh Yadav, a journalist in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, continues to languish in jail. Yadav was arrested on September 29, 2015, when he had gone to a remote village to report on the plight of five villagers arrested in connection with an encounter between the Maoists and the police. The police claimed that Yadav was involved with the Maoists and had supported the encounter. 

It was not until six months later that the police filed a chargesheet against Yadav. The chargesheet made it clear that he was being made a prime accused in the encounter that took place on August 21, 2015.

Yadav, who has written for Hindi newspapers like Dainik Chhattisgarh and Dainik Navbharat, has received enormous support from the journalistic fraternity and human rights groups. More than 300 journalists, lawyers and social activists signed a petition seeking his release and that of another journalist called Somaru Nag who had also been arrested for alleged links with the Maoists. Nag was acquitted by a local court earlier this year.

However, Yadav, who was booked under more serious charges under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Chhattisgarh Special Powers Act, has so far not been able to get bail.

 

 

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