Ranjona Banerji​: Free media anyone?​

26 Sep,2017

​By Ranjona Banerji​

 

Two stories about the media released in the past week need further attention. The first is in The Indian Express about NDTV being sold to Spicejet owner Ajay Singh. The second is in thewire.in about why Bobby Ghosh, editor-in-chief of Hindustan Times, has resigned after less than two years in the newspaper.

Although NDTV has denied the sale to Spicejet, rumours have been floating around. A politician put up a hint on Twitter before the story itself appeared. The Express story says that Spicejet will now hold 40 per cent of NDTV and Prannoy and Radhika Roy will hold 20 per cent. Spicejet will also have editorial control.

That NDTV needs a cash infusion is not new. But editorial control to a known BJP supporter is the matter of concern. After the CBI raids on NDTV this June, there was plenty of speculation that the government was gunning for it because of the channel’s criticism of some government policies and of particular aspects of rightwing behaviour by the BJP’s larger family across India.

Right now, in news television, NDTV is a rare bird that stands up to the government now and then, especially when compared to its rival channels which either ignore government mistakes or act as public relations agents of the Modi government. Some anchors are bolder and freer than others, which is what makes NDTV a target for Bhakts and the BJP’s online army.

By comparison, Times Now is a bad copy of Republic TV, NewsX is a bad copy of Times Now, India Today TV is largely a pro-government puppet with occasional forays into criticism, Republic TV openly conflates “patriotism” with being pro-Modi, CNN

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News18 has more balanced reportage than the rest although its debates and star anchors can go anywhere at all. Mirror Now tries to contrast with Times Now, to give BCCL its “all things to all people” cover. All of these channels , one way or another, use deflection to cover up any bad moves by the BJP and all BJP governments. The concentrated focus on Karnataka, Bengal and Kerala by these channels tells you clearly what the BJP’s next targets are.

NDTV has denied the sale to Spicejet as has Spicejet. But scuttlebutts insist that something is afoot. Personally, I find it hard to believe that Express would run such a story with no proof at all. Not that such mistakes have not been made in print (far from it) but right now, one has to go by that ghastly cliché: wait and watch!

http://indianexpress.com/article/india/spicejets-ajay-singh-set-to-take-control-of-ndtv-prannoy-roy-radhika-roy-4855381/

 

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The fear of a government takeover of the media goes deeper than the possible capitulation of NDTV. A more disturbing story has been carried in thewire.in about how Bobby Ghosh was asked to leave Hindustan Times, for his anti-government stance in the paper and on social media. Anuj Srivas’s detailed, informative story points to Ghosh’s “hate tracker” initiative which angered the government. And in a meeting between Shobhana Bhartia, owner of HT, and ​Prime ​Minister Narendra Modi, this displeasure was made clear.

The link appears below and is worth reading.

But what this means is that there is a direct attack on a free and fair media in India. Social media trolls may dub everyone who criticises the BJP as a Congress stooge blah blah but that “insult” is so old that it is now dry as dust and meaningless. The BJP has been in power at the Centre for three years and any journalist who covers for it is now sold out and without any credentials.

Rumour tells that there is a longer list of editors who the government wants to get the chop. Ghosh has said nothing yet. When and if he does, we will have an inkling into the future of a free media in India. So far, the portents do not look good.

https://thewire.in/178102/hindustan-times-bobby-ghosh-narendra-modi-shobhana-bhartia/

 

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

 

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