When Times of India boss Vineet Jain damns Facebook on hate speech & fake news…

30 Jun,2020

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Vineet Jain, managing director of Bennett, Coleman and Company, set off an interesting discussion on Twitter the other day. Bennett, Coleman is the owner of The Times of India and Times Now amongst a large array of newspapers and television channels. India’s largest media conglomerate is how the company is often described. Jain is the MD and part of the family which owns the group.

Jain tweeted this, about ongoing discussions about Facebook, and advertisers applying pressure on Mark Zuckerberg’s social media platform to eliminate hate speech and fake news: “Social media has become the cause of violence, hate & fake news. Govts globally have been lazy & have failed to control them. Advertisers r walking away from social media forcing them to review policies on violent content. Biz men are doing Govts job in making the world better.”

 

 

Jain went on to post a link to a Times of India article on the issue, and also tweeted this: “Unilever #Honda #coke among many other corporates have stopped advertising on social media because of poor policies & insignificant moderation regarding hate speech.”

O the irony, the irony. Jain’s “news” channel Times Now is a regular purveyor of both hate speech and fake news, and has substantially helped to destroy the reputation of the venerable Old Lady of Bori Bunder, The Times of India, the group’s flagship publication.

I can hear the scoffing. Because much of the destruction of the credibility of the Indian media is thanks to TOI. You could start with the hegemony of Response over editorial, the appointment of “brand managers” to oversee the hegemony, the introduction of Medianet where the company itself sold editorial space to advertisers and so on.

But for all its many faults, there were many things – and still are – that are right with the Times of India. I myself have benefitted from a management that did not interfere and indeed supported us when we reported on the 2002 Gujarat riots from Gujarat, as I have mentioned many times before. And this is despite huge pressure from the Response section to get us to stop taking on Narendra Modi’s culpability as chief minister of Gujarat. I quit TOI just as Medianet began, so perhaps I did not see the worst of it.

However, what Times Now does is far worse than anything that any print publication within Vineet Jain’s empire can conjure up. A non-stop barrage of anti-Muslim debates, a distinct pro-Hindu slant to what passes for news and for discussions, rabid anchors in Rahul Shivshankar and Navika Kumar, an absolute inability to question the Narendra Modi government at the Centre on anything, an endless blame game against the Opposition. It is essentially a propaganda channel for the Modi government, the BJP and the RSS.

Here’s one small example of its behaviour. A recent poll run by the channel on how Modi had handled the ongoing China crisis had 60.2 per cent of the people saying it was handled badly and 39.8 per cent voting Modi handled it well. Times Now put up a pie chart where the 39.8 per cent was bigger than the 60.2 per cent. This ran until it was trolled on social media. I know there are many kind souls who will want to give them the benefit of the doubt but anyone who has followed the channel knows it was deliberate.

Mr Jain might perhaps want to rephrase his observations about hate, violence and fake news being seen on social media alone. He might perhaps want to steel himself to watch his own toxic channel. The second tweet in his thread is particularly interesting because it comes to the conclusion, in the Facebook case, that it is business which does the government’s job by withholding advertising from FB and making it change its ways.

Is this a message to Indian businesses to stop advertising with Times Now? I joke of course, but think about it. Perhaps a withholding of money is the only way that the company will consider getting Times Now to become a news channel rather than a purveyor of filth and fakery.

It is unlikely that Jain wants government interference. The Newspapers Owners Association of India fight off any sort of government interference because it might interfere with their ownership patterns, not because they care about freedom of expression or a free press. The Association also fights against the Wage Board Commissions which work on fair-ish wages for badly paid newspaper employees.

Or, is something strange brewing???

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal

 

 

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