Ranjona Banerji: Rumours that Jaggi may have to quit Network18 thanks to an anti-Jaitley article

04 Aug,2015

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The Hoot, India’s premier media watchdog, carried an item this week hinting of problems at firstpost.com, the news and views website which in effect did to the web space just a few years ago what rediff.com had done decades ago – became people’s first choice for quick news and analysis.

 

Since its inception though firstpost.com has gone through both editorial and management changes, the most significant being the sale of its owner Network 18 to Reliance. There were expectations from then on that the website would become management-controlled but not too many indications for the average reader.

 

Now we have the first one. An article by R Jagannathan, who has been largely in favour of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre, was removed from the website. Jagannathan is a very prolific writer with a very quick response time. He is also head of all print and web editions of Network 18. The ostensible reason for this killing of his article seems to be a criticism of Union finance minister Arun Jaitley, questioning whether the PM should keep him on as FM. This is the tweet that announced the article:

https://twitter.com/firstpost/status/623309942569635840

And this is what happens when you click on the link:

http://www.firstpost.com/politics/land-bill-stuck-in-the-parliament-pm-modi-may-have-to-rethink-jaitley-as-fm-2351720.html

 

To do such a thing to such a senior person and veteran journalist is unacceptable. It is also indicative of a management which determines how much criticism is permissible and make it impossible for any journalist to function. And if this is the way someone who is largely sympathetic to the government, then you have a very difficult situation on your hands.

 

Now although firstpost.com has had a definite rightwing slant from almost the beginning, it did encourage and carry a number of different viewpoints. One of those counter voices was that of Lakshmi Chaudhry, a fine writer with a humane perspective. Recently, she was made executive editor. Now according to The Hoot she has submitted her resignation citing management interference.

This is The Hoot:

http://www.thehoot.org/

And this is the article that was taken down:

http://rjagannathan.in/2015/08/03/the-modi-governments-achilles-heel/

Anyone who has any little knowledge of the last time Reliance ran newspapers in the 1990s would have known that this was inevitable. The group bought the Sunday Observer, started the Business and Political Observer and after a small pretence towards journalism turned them both into Only Vimal PR rags and ran two products, one excellent and one potentially excellent, into the ground, with company man Tony Jesudasan in charge and Pritish Nandy and his team out of the door.

There are some former journalists who are part of some sort of overseeing team at Reliance. It is still not clear whether they are part of this fiddling with firstpost.com or not. There are rumours that there are now pressures on Jagannathan to quit. The editorial staff, according to The Hoot, is very disturbed.

One could argue that there is overt and insidious management influence in every newsroom and it is the job of the editors to deal with it. You could also argue about the question of degree – that managements, corporations, government, politicians, bureaucrats and so on wield some influence within newsrooms and some have now become accepted practice.

 

But these are not arguments so much as copouts. No matter what your political slant, if you are to remain remotely credible as a news organisation, criticism is imperative. If you block that, then you have in effect sounded the death knell.

 

**

 

There has been plenty of online criticism about The Times of India’s decision to devote more first page space to bomb blast accused Yakub Memon’s hanging than to former president APJ Abdul Kalam’s funeral. I myself wondered at that.

 

But how about the contrarian view? For one thing, it is the editor’s decision to decide on what to focus on. The New York Times for instance famously refused to lead with Princess Diana’s death unlike just about every other newspaper in the world.

 

On careful consideration of the TOI’s decision, you might argue that Kalam’s death was extensively covered when it happened. The funeral therefore did get the front page but only a small portion of it. And that for what started life as a Bombay newspaper, Memon’s hanging was the end of the line for a series of events which completely shattered Bombay: in which case there is some logic at work here.

 

I have no inside knowledge here. But I am willing to be logical and not hysterical about it.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia.com. The views expressed here are her own.

 

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2 responses to “Ranjona Banerji: Rumours that Jaggi may have to quit Network18 thanks to an anti-Jaitley article”

  1. ashok759 says:

    The NYT, Manhattan more generally, wears its attitude on its sleeve. They may have deprived Princess Diana of a well deserved honour, there was some talk in Britain at that time of building a temple for her, just to stay away from the crowd.

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