In a recent post, the online portal Caravan raised a serious question on the editorial freedom in Firstpost, a Network 18 owned online portal. The Network 18 group, in turn, is owned by Reliance Industries, and thus by Mukesh Ambani, who is claimed to be close to PM Modi by opposition parties.
The point which triggered this story is the mysterious disappearance of an opinion piece written by R Jagannathan, the editor-in-chief of Firstpost. The piece was titled “GST, Land Bill on Hold: Modi May Have to Rethink Jaitley as Finance Minister” and was initially published on 21st July 2015, but was taken down within 3- days without any explanations being given. It can still be accessed at R Jagannathan’s personal blog.
Now comes the interesting part. Caravan talked to the former executive editor of Firspost Lakshmi Chaudhry (who had resigned a few days after the opinion piece was taken down). According to Caravan, “Three or four days after the article first went live, Jagannathan had a meeting with some of the board members of Network18.” Further, according to Lakshmi Chaudhry “a diktat was issued in that meeting that from now on there will be no criticism of certain political leaders. The decision to pull the piece on Jaitley was a part of the same conversation.”
Caravan also quotes an unnamed source who told them that a “directive stated that the website could not carry any criticism of “the big three” in the BJP”. The story further says that when Chaudhry resigned, she told her staff that she was leaving because of “editorial pushback.”
So in short, it would appear that at least from July 21 odd, the owners of Firstpost have laid down an unwritten rule that “3 top leaders” from BJP are exempted from critical posts. Caravan does not name them, but it is pretty clear these leaders would be PM Modi, his trusted aide Amit Shah and of course Arun Jaitley.
So does this allegation of interference and censorship hold ground? Not in totality. Lets first look at some anti-Modi stories posted on Firstpost:
21 August 2015: Sacking of Sanjiv Bhatt part of Gujarat Vendetta Politics
19 August 2015: Modi ignored the real problems of Indian labourers in UAE
19 August 2015: Why PM Modi should stop chasing UN Security Council mirage
16 August 2015: Some things which Modi got wrong in his I-Day speech
14 August 2015: Modi govt should walk the talk
6 anti-Modi opinion pieces in last 7 days. Almost 1 every day. And these are beside the regular posts which directly report anti-Modi statements by various opposition leaders. So if indeed there is a “don’t criticize Modi” policy, it seems to be hardly effective.
If we analyze posts on Amit Shah, there are just 3 posts tagged with”Amit Shah” in the past 7 days, 2 of which could be said to be anti-Amit Shah (although 1 is not an opinion piece). It must be noted that by and large, media doesn’t carry too many regular posts on Amit Shah because he is finally only the Party President, and not part of the Government so he is not actively involved in its functioning.
As for Arun Jaitley, there are 25 posts tagged with his name in the last 7 days. But most of them do not talk about him, he is only tagged by virtue of being the Finance Minister and gets a passing mention in many of the posts. However, we could not find any “anti-Jaitley” post per se.
So does this point out to any trend? It would not be unreasonable to say that:
1. Posts critical of Modi do appear frequently on Firstpost
2. There is insufficient data to arrive at any conclusion on Amit Shah
3. Arun Jaitley seems to get lesser brickbats
In fact, from our past experience with Firstpost, we can say not only is it critical of Modi on many occasions, sometimes it has relied on pure lies to defame Modi. In this post from April 2015, Firstpost decided to use an NGO’s proposal to rename Delhi, to slander Modi by calling what they claimed was “his actions”, reminiscent of “Stalinist-era revisionism“. So not only has Firstpost been open about skewering Modi, it has done this without being truthful too.
So is the directive issued by Firstpost board only Arun Jaitley specific? And is this “don’t criticize Arun Jaitley policy” only Firstpost specific? What separates Jaitley from Shah and Modi is while Shah and Modi are rank outsiders to the Lutyens world and have been the Media’s favourite punching bags for a decade now, Jaitley is considered to be one of Lutyens’ own. Social Media has been filled with rumours and displeasure about Jaitley’s alleged closeness to many media outlets and personalities, who have been known to be anti-BJP or anti-Modi. So is a no-attack-on-Jaitley policy being old as something else?