Prime Minister Narendra Modi was supposed to be the star attraction at this year’s edition of The Economic Times Global Business Summit. As it turns out, the PM has backed out from gracing the occasion with his presence citing “security concerns”, according to sources in Economic Times (ET). Now, this is not the first time Modi has refused to attend a media event he had earlier committed to. (Back in 2014, he had cancelled on Newslaundry too, breaking our very fragile heart.)
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As it is with such revelations, there’s plenty of conjecture — to use KJo’s go-to word – around Modi’s decision to not attend ET’s global summit. The most obvious one points to the newspaper’s reportage on the recent Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections and its perceived bias towards the Akhilesh Yadav government.
However, that is not the only theory floating around. Various sources – all unnamed, of course – have cited multiple reasons for the PM’s cancellation: from Times Group Managing Director Vineet Jain’s “demonetization tweets” to The Times of India’s cartoons taking potshots at the government to Modi spoofs on Radio Mirchi and so on. Newslaundry could not verify any of this independently.
We reached out to the ET Editor and ET’s Brand Director to gain some insights on the exact reason for Modi cancelling on the event, but were unable to elicit a response. Meanwhile, speculations became even more rife with ET journalist Rohini Singh deleting her Twitter account a while ago and Radio Mirchi temporarily suspending its spoof on Modi, titled ‘Mitron’.
If there is any merit to the rumours that the PM cancelled on ET because he was miffed by the Times Group or its reportage, this is alarming. After all, it’s not as though the Times Group is anti-establishment by any estimation and Jain’s tweets notwithstanding, it has passionately supported demonetisation with its “Remonetize India” campaign. Times Of India itself is more a paper of record and far from being a voice that challenges the government. Neither has ET or Radio Mirchi expressly objected to any stand taken by the PM or the government. The Times Group is also careful to maintain a balancing act between reports that may be considered critical with a blatantly pro-government stance, like what’s often on display on its news channel Times Now.
Under these circumstances, for the PM or government to be upset with the group is surprising.
Moreover, events are costly business and a big revenue generator for media houses. Losing out on a key speaker like the PM would in all likelihood not go down well with the sponsors and advertisers that ET had got on board. Whether that would impact its day-to-day editorial decisions is something we’d have to wait and watch, but it certainly could act as an incentive to go soft on the government.
For now, all Modi’s last-minute cancellation has achieved is to add to the anxieties about freedom of the press. And yet, given the Times Group’s careful tightrope walk, perhaps the cancellation is actually because of a security concern or for some reason unrelated to the group’s editorial calls.
The only thing certain is that this evening at The Economic Times Global Summit, Prime Minister Modi will not be in the building.