Is it censorship or is DNA taking pre-emptive corrective action after Amit Shah was appointed party president of the BJP? Here’s how the drama around journalist Rana Ayyub’s opinion piece on Shah published in the DNA played out.
4.18 pm: This is what Ayyub tweeted
Now, since DNA has a track record of indulging in vanishing acts like these and we at Newslaundry are always on the look out for drama, we decided to dig in.
For the record, on April 30, DNA had taken down an article titled “Mamata Banerjee calls Narendra Modi ‘butcher of Gujarat’; here are 9 myth busters on 2002 post-Godhra riots” written by Shehzad Poonawalla. Newslaundry had reported that episode too.
4.20 pm: We logged on to the DNA website to check for ourselves Ayyub’s claims. This is what we found.
4.23 pm: We called up Ayyub and asked her who had commissioned the article. She said the piece was originally commissioned by a national newspaper but refused to divulge the name. “I write two columns a month for DNA and so decided to give it to them after the newspaper refused to publish it.” Ayyub stated that it was Kunal Majumder and Harini Calamur of the web team at DNA who usually commission her pieces. Ayyub also told us that her sources at DNA confirmed to her that the story had indeed been taken down.
4.31 pm: We called up Kunal Majumder, Associate Editor (Digital) at Zee Media – and responsible for DNA’s online content according to his Twitter bio. Majumder, however, refused to confirm anything and told us that he was “not the one who decided what went up and what was taken down”. “I also got to know when Rana came to know”, he said. He asked us to get in touch with Harini Calamur, Head, Digital Content, Zee Media Corporation.
4.36 pm: We made our first call to Calamur – which went unanswered.
4.42 pm: We sent a text message to Calamur explaining in detail why we were trying to get in touch.
4.47 pm: Our second attempt to get in touch with Calamur over the phone. Futile again.
4.53 pm: We sent a mail to Calamur seeking a response, categorically mentioning that the story, which was to go online in the evening, needed a response from her for it to be fair. (At the time of this report being uploaded the only text we’ve received from Calamur said “Can’t talk now. Call me later” [6.33 pm])
5.00 pm: Meanwhile Twitter went berserk – sickulars and nationalists were at war again.
5.30 pm: Twist in the tale – the story magically resurfaced.
This led to speculation that there was a glitch in the system, and it had been a technical issue all along. Some (including the more naïve in our office) thought that Twitter outrage and threats to boycott DNA had made them rethink. Ramachandra Guha thought so too.
5.45 pm: NOT! Just as we thought the drama was over, Ayyub tweeted again.
5.48 pm: We went online again to check the story and the story had disappeared again.
Yes, it had and till the time of this report being uploaded, the story in question remains offline. For those uninitiated, Ayuub in her opinion piece had argued that Indian politics has hit a new low with the rise of Amit Shah (here’s a cache copy of the article).
What is a mystery so far is whether DNA’s editors took the article down in an overzealous bid to appease the new dispensation or were there actually orders from someone to take it down. Indian news media’s history is replete with examples of pre-emptive censorship. Remember the “crawled when asked to bend” remark? Who knows, maybe for some, you don’t even need to ask.