L’affaire NDTV: Black, White or Shades of Grey?

13 Jun,2017


By Ranjona Banerji


There’s an old joke that Bengalis tell each other and one of its many variations run like this: put three Bengalis in a room and soon you’ll have five political parties. You could extrapolate that to journalists as well. The CBI raids on NDTV and the subsequent protest meeting at the press club in Delhi and solidarity gatherings elsewhere have thrown up innumerable opinions amongst all journalists who are of course more opinionated than most.

How do we break this down?

One set of journalists – myself included – are in full support of NDTV and see the CBI raids as a direct attempt by a government in power to intimidate a media house which has not capitulated to total genuflection, unlike so many others in the media, mainly other news channels.

Within that group there are some subsections. Some are totally all for NDTV no matter what and dismiss all the charges made by former NDTV consultant Sanjay Dutt as absolute hogwash. Some — myself included – have heard about problems that NDTV has had for years with its financing but still feel that the timing of the CBI raid is deeply suspicious, that Dutt as a implement to attack NDTV is suspicious and the CBI entering a case between private individuals where the supposed hurt party – ICICI Bank – has not filed any complaint is a clear sign of government interference.

Another set of journalists has taken the issue into another tangential fight over why there were no women on the panel at the Press Club in Delhi. Which is a good fight but perhaps for another time?

One lot of journalists claim that the media has not stood together when other journals or channels were targeted and question why only for NDTV or specifically for Prannoy Roy.

One more set has gone into NDTV’s finances in a blatant attempt to save the government from charges of press intimidation. These are clearly the pro-government journalists.

And one set has questioned the presence of former editor of The Indian Express, former BJP minister and ideologue ArunShourie at the Press Club meeting given his background.

In all these various sets – and all power to the diversity of opinion with the media – one problem stands out: Our immense hypocrisy as journalists.

Practically every owner of a news media house has suspicious financial deals and relationships with governments, from using their media power to get deals for their other businesses to using their space for “paid news”. Journalists are not always involved in these “negotiations” but sometimes some of them are.

I do not know of any media house which is completely squeaky clean in all its dealings. And yet, that does not make every single journalist who works for these organisations dirty. The insinuation that one cannot stand with NDTV because NDTV’s finances may be questionable is a bit rich when it comes from journalists – some very senior – who have worked with some of the dodgiest people in the business.

I know one such senior journalist who was very proud that he had never worked for a particular group or has any dealings with a particular industrialist – all this while he was working with a tycoon of extremely questionable tactics. Now there is such sad irony as he sits on his high horse about NDTV, he also forgets that since his declamations he has worked for that particular industrialist and also writes for the other media group, for which I presume he gets paid. Therefore, this horse looks very low and possible not even a horse at all.

In all our jobs, we have been asked to go slow on a particular government official or lay off that politician or that business house. Sometimes we have fought with the management and succeeded, sometimes we have not. One particular media group, which is often excoriated by other journalists for its general behaviour, had also told a senior government minister of earlier times to do its worst when the minister threatened to reopen old cases if the group’s newspapers did not stop coverage of a particular event. The coverage continued; the government backed down.

The problem is when some of us genuflect before we are even threatened and we see this around us every day. The immense anger of India’s farmers in the past few days was neatly twisted to a problem with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s behaviour by several news channels. The underlying note is clear: Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, the current epicentres of farmer protests, are BJP-ruled states and therefore out of bounds.

Remember when every newspaper organisation, owners included, went into sanctimonious outrage over The Times of India and Medianet? How about that fact that almost every media house practices some sort of Medianet now?

My point here is very simple. The world is not ideal. Nothing in the world is ideal. No one knows this better than us journalists. But those who are pretending that the CBI raids on NDTV are not part of a larger pattern to silence us, are either co-opted by the government or wilfully blind or just being too clever by half.

Just as a matter of interest, here is my former editor Kingshuk Nag in his newly launched website khabarstreet.com on this issue of media complicity among other things:



And here is another former editor of mine, Sidharth Bhatia, now one of the founder editors of the wire.in, in a very important piece on the implications of the raids on NDTV for the media. Sidharth does not hold back from pointing out problems within the media if it capitulates further, including NDTV’s own actions in the past:





Meanwhile, the other problem to hit the media now has Radia tape type implications. A senior editor in the Times of India outed himself, in a way, when he sent a Whatsapp message to the wrong group. In the message, he is negotiating for a foreign posting for a particular Indian Revenue Service officer with the office of Union minister ArunJaitley.

Now these are problems within the media where we cannot blame managements and can only feel ashamed that our already shaky reputation as upstanding journalists is being further tarnished by our own.

Here is the full story and its implications in thewire.in




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