Ranjona Banerji: Inhouse ‘censors’ may police TV newsrooms

15 Jul,2014

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The media world is now rife with rumours and most of them are frightening. The Adani group has apparently invested Rs 500 crore in NDTV. The Adani group is of course close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Reliance, which has now been placed firmly in the Modi camp by media watchers, already owns Network18. Now there are whispers in the wind that Reliance also wants to buy the newspaper DNA, which currently belongs to the Zee group, although that may not change the paper’s political affiliation much since it tilted to the right after Zee took over from the Agarwals of Dainik Bhaskar.

 

CNN-IBN has, it is said, introduced a novel new designation in its newsroom – the “escalation editor”. This person will look at how news is covered and decided whether a story needs to be pushed further (escalated) or killed (de-escalated, presumably). This new designation is probably because we do not already have enough jargon in journalism. Or, no one in TV or Reliance has heard of a news editor. The first “escalation editor” is Umesh Upadhyaya, whose brother is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Who knows if that is significant or not? In the old days, this sort of “escalation editor” spying and swanning about the newsroom was known as the “malik ka aadmi” and most journalists tried to give them a wide berth. I know nothing about Umesh Upadhayaya. The “malik ka aadmi”s I have met however were usually lacking in even basic journalistic skills but were very good at sucking up to the owners and throwing their weight around based on their proximity to said owners.

 

However, any daft move in journalism in India and you can look to Bennett Coleman. Anyone remember the “brand managers” in the 1990s who would spy on editorial staff and pull rank over editors in the Times of India because they had the ear of the VC? Some of those even went on to become journalists…

 

The story is that all TV newsrooms will or already have these in house “censors” whose job will be to ensure that the new government and the new PM are not targeted. Of course, it must be said that these are still rumours and that boring but necessary wait-and-watch course of action will have to suffice for now. The hope was when Reliance took over Network18 that the mistakes with the Business and Political Observer would not be repeated. The appointment of this “escalation editor” though raises more suspicion than hope.

 

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Is all this just scare-mongering? Can we expect journalists and media houses to get over its early flirtation with the new dispensation and get back to work as usual again? The media’s job is to question and in spite of the large number of columnists who appear to support Narendra Modi and the BJP, there are still those who do not and those who have not yet taken sides. Certainly, Arun Jaitley’s lacklustre budget was criticised by many, even those who appeared to be supporters.

 

It is not just about individuals though. It is the general trend which is frightening and certainly conversations with senior Delhi journalists increase these apprehensions. Anyone who knows Modi knows that he does not like dissent and does not like to be questioned. He has a massive ego and a massive desire to be seen as a “statesman”. How far this ambition will enter into conflict with his personality is what journalists have to look out for. As for those English-speaking journalists who have appointed themselves as his PR agents in print, on TV and in the social media, one fears that their hopes and dreams may not be fully realised…

 

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