Speaking at a media event in Delhi earlier this week, Anant Goenka, Executive Director, Indian Express and Aroon Poorie, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, India Today Group, rejected the conspiracy theories that the NDA government is pressuring the media houses and arm-twisting them into following a narrative.
When commenting on the recent exit of journalists from a media house, where a journalist had reportedly indulged in peddling fake news to build a narrative, Goenka said that if at a ‘phone call’ (from the government to arm-twist the management) would have come through, it would have happened in case of either of the governments. He said that it is up to the proprietor (Ananda Bazar Patrika group based in Kolkata) how they tackle such a ‘phone call’. Purie, too, agreed with Goenka and said, ‘It is the proprietor’s phone call, it is up to him.’ Goenka then asked Purie if it is possible that the proprietor might be of the belief that the story should not have been done? To that, Purie shrugged and he has been reading all sort of stories, so he does not know.
When asked whether they have been asked to let go of journalists from their team because of their supposedly anti-government stories, Purie and Goenka both replied in negative. Purie said that this government lets you (proprietors) know that they are unhappy, unlike the previous governments, who ‘would do sneaky things and otherwise try and make life difficult for you’. But this government (Modi-led NDA government) ‘says okay, you’ve done this story, you haven’t done this and that, but it is up to you to decide how much you want to yield or not yield.
Speaking of cutting off of access to journalists, Purie narrates how on one of their events during the UPA, they had invited Salman Rushdie, when he was banned to come to Jaipur Lit Fest, back in 2012, a whole lot of UPA ministers pulled out of the event and even the President of India, who had already accepted the invite, had pulled out of the event. Without naming the media house, Purie said that the UPA ministers had pulled out of another media event as well.
Purie recalled the time when former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was upset with India Today for having covered the Nellie Massacre in Assam in 1983 when an event showcasing her was taking place around that time. According to Purie, she was embarrassed by the coverage of the massacre. When an India Today reporter asked her a question in a press conference in Kolkata, she came down heavily on him and called the reporter ‘anti-national’ and ‘traitor’.
When Purie was asked which government has been the most controlling in trying to get into the narrative, he dismissed it by saying it depends on how much one lets the government get into the narrative. He said that the current government is the one which watches them closely and reacts to things which they find are wrong and the publisher needs to be able to defend themselves. Beyond that, Purie said, they (all governments) are the same.
Agreeing to what Purie said, Goenka said, ‘I feel there is a lot of talk about how intolerant this government is or how thin-skinned they can be to the press… but it is not new, it has always happened. We have had our editors in jail. It has also got to do with the strength of the government.’ The current NDA government in power is the first party with the majority number in power in recent years.
Towards the end, Puri reiterated that the pressure from government is as much as one lets the government pressurize them. He said that pressure on media is not so much from the government as it is from the social media which sometimes leads to demonstrations and protests outside the offices. He said that what worries him the most is that in the newsroom, which is ‘greenhouse journalism’ where people are planting stories on the journalists by the sources who would never stand up for them. He urged the journalists’ fraternity to have enough checks and filters to check these plants which are usually based on partial information.
This is not the first time journalists have poked holes in the conspiracy theory that Modi government is clamping down on the media. Earlier in March, Supriya Prasad, the Managing Editor of the Aaj Tak and India Today news channels, too, had said that he never faced any kind of pressure from the government regarding news broadcasts or running ‘favourable news’. Amusingly, many ‘celebrity’ journalists, like NDTV’s Ravish Kumar and India Today group’s very own Rajdeep Sardesai, while trying to raise the bogey of ‘undeclared emergency’ or while commenting on CBI raids against NDTV promoters, have tried to insinuate that the Narendra Modi government was trying to muzzle voices in media by putting pressure.