The Arvind Kejriwal government has been the darling of the media for a long time. Only recently, an RTI had revealed that Rs 150 crores were spent by the AAP government in Delhi only in the first three months of 2021 on media ads. Now, that loyalty seems to be being put to test. Newslaundry reported how 7 Hindustan Times journalists were thrown out of an official WhatsApp group after their paper wrote an article critical of the AAP government’s handling of the oxygen crisis in Delhi amidst the rising COVID-19 pandemic.
The incident reportedly occurred on the 6th of May after Hindustan Times had published a report headlined, “Anatomy of Capital oxygen crisis: 5 things Delhi govt didn’t get right”. The report essentially pointed out how the Kejriwal government had failed to effectively manage to supply chain, the distribution of oxygen within Delhi, how it has failed to spread awareness about oxygen filling centres and has no centralised number to help patients, how it refused to be proactive in setting up PSA plants in Delhi and how the government’s response for delayed after the second wave began.
Drawing the Kejriwal government’s ire for this report written by a journalist called Sweta Goswami, Vikas Yogi, the Arvind Kejriwal government’s Chief Media Coordinator proceeded to throw out 7 reporters from the Hindustan Times who were present in this WhatsApp group.
IANS journalist Navneet Mishra too took to Twitter to post a screenshot of the journalist from Hindustan Times being expelled from the group too and questioned the Kejriwal government.
जिस रिपोर्टर ने कोरोना प्रबंधन में दिल्ली सरकार की 5 बड़ी लापरवाही उजागर की,उसे प्रवक्ता ने आधिकारिक मीडिया वाट्सअप ग्रुप से बाहर कर दिया। क्या दिल्ली सरकार की यही है अभिव्यक्ति की आजादी?कुछ साल पहले 1 टीवी पत्रकार को भी ऐसे बाहर किया गया था।दिल्ली सरकार को सच्चाई बतानी चाहिए pic.twitter.com/ajGHKEcniL— Navneet Mishra (@navneetmishra99) May 7, 2021
It is pertinent to note that this WhatsApp group was an official media group used by the government to send out press releases and health bulletins to the media. While such groups are extremely common and there is nothing wrong with it, it is pertinent to note that while there were over 150 journalists present in the group, only a handful spoke up for the journalists who were unceremoniously thrown out for merely doing their job.
The journalists who spoke to Newslaundry spoke about the high-handed manner in which the government had behaved and how it had refused to give any responses to even the reporters they knew “personally” about why the other journalists had been expelled. Further, they spoke about how the Arvind Kejriwal government had “refused” to interact with the media much and had stopped taking any questions for the past year. While Kejriwal does press conferences every day, the journalists revealed that no journalists were allowed to ask questions in that press conference.
The most shocking aspect of the report, however, was how while a handful of journalists spoke up for those expelled, most senior journalists in the group chose to keep quiet because they did not want to draw the ire of the Kejriwal government.
Newslaundry quotes a journalist present as saying, “There are more than 150 journalists in the group and a lot of them are very senior correspondents. But only six people in total questioned the removal, everyone else remained silent,” he said. “This very clearly shows that nobody wants to upset the government. Perhaps they are afraid that they will stop getting access to information or that their organisation will not back them up if they speak up in support”.
it is pertinent to note that recently, an RTI reply had revealed that Rs 32.52 crores were spent on ads by the AAP government in January 2021, Rs 25.33 crores were spent in February 2021 and a whopping Rs 92.48 crores were spent in March 2021. This averages to Rs 1.67 crore daily when the health infrastructure in the national capital had begun to crumble amid the second wave of coronavirus. The reply specifies that the total expenditure includes advertisements and publicity through print media, electronic media as well as the internet. Further, the Kejriwal government has spent over 800 crores in advertisement expenses in past two years.
With an average of Rs 1.67 crores spending on a daily basis for ads, the revenue for which forms a large chunk of how media houses fund themselves, it comes as no surprise that several journalists would refuse to speak up against the high-handedness of the Arvind Kejriwal government as they threw 7 journalists out for a report that did not sit well with the government.
It is also pertinent to note here that since the COVID-19 crisis began, the media has been more than favourable to the Arvind Kejriwal government. As Delhi cases and deaths spiked, the scale of the mismanagement by the AAP government became rather evident, however, the media was far more focused on running ads to whitewash the image of the government. We had reported how India Today ran Arvind Kejriwal ads 25 times in 10 hours.
Pertinently, AAP is now new to this shenanigan. Even in 2016, the Arvind Kejriwal government had expelled ABP and Dainik Jagran reporters were thrown out of the government WhatsApp group because their opinions did not align with the Delhi government. Soon it emerged, at least 6 journalists had borne the brunt of the AAP regime.
Delhi Government and the mismanagement of the oxygen crisis
While it seems the media, overall, is far from interested in calling out the AAP government’s shenanigans in Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal and his government have refused the centre’s pleas for an oxygen audit and said that the Supreme Court should rather order an audit to look into the centre’s arbitrary allocation of oxygen and mismanagement of transportation to Delhi and other states.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the centre has already supplied 730 MT of oxygen to Delhi on Wednesday, which was more than the Supreme Court’s order asking them to supply 700 MT of Oxygen. SG Mehta also insisted that there was a need for carrying out a simultaneous audit of oxygen utilisation in Delhi.
Requesting an audit to know the real demand for Oxygen in Delhi, SG Mehta said that some experts believed that Delhi could manage the situation with 500-600 MT with proper distribution and utilisation the way Mumbai has been doing. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta accused the Delhi government of being slow in offloading oxygen from tankers and allowing them to go back for a refill.
Interestingly, while Delhi is denying an audit to understand how the state is consuming oxygen, data has revealed that while the Delhi govt continues to demand more oxygen, its demand is four times the actual consumption of Mumbai, which has a similar number of active COVID cases.
According to AAP leaders, Delhi has been demanding 700 MT of oxygen per day during the last fortnight of April, and its demand went up to 976 MT per day from 29th April. On that day, Delhi Deputy CM wrote to the union govt demanding 976 MT oxygen per day. Delhi had an active caseload of 97,977 on that day. On the same day, Mumbai consumed 225 MT oxygen for 61,433 active cases. If we go by Mumbai’s average O₂ for that day, Delhi should need around 360 MT. According to the Delhi govt, they received 400 MT of oxygen on that day, which means they received more oxygen than the consumption by Mumbai.