The exit of three top editors at ABP News dominated conversations on social media much of last week. The story was completely ignored by the mainstream media (except NDTV). However, many online platforms, like Scroll, The Wire, Print and Quint picked it up. (You can read Newslaundry’s story here: How the cookie crumbled in ABP News.)
Questions were also raised on the silence of those who resigned. If the exits were indeed because of government censorship, why were the top editors not speaking up?
In a piece for The Wire (Hindi), though, Punya Prasoon Bajpai has finally shed light on the exact nature of pressure he and his organisation had been facing owing to his show, Master Stroke. Newslaundry Hindi has also published Bajpai’s testimony, which details a straight-up attempt of censorship on the part of the current dispensation.
Using the good old trick of blocking access, Bajpai says the Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh spokespersons were asked not to join ABP’s shows and that even Union Ministers had stopped giving bytes to the channel.
More importantly, advertisers had also threatened to pull out from the channel. Bajpai says the management had asked him to not use Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s name in Master Stroke. He says that he was even asked not to use pictures of the PM in stories that portrayed the government in a bad light. He says that it was impossible to speak about issues like unemployment and not name the PM and the claims that he had made in public. When this was discussed with the management, he was told — “…whatever it is, Master Stroke cannot show PM Modi’s photos or his videos.”
What is even more worrying is that Bajpai’s show was allegedly being tracked by a 200-member team that prepares reports on the media and what is shown. Bajpai has not specified which team this is but the Electronic Media Monitoring Centre, under the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, currently tracks various media outlets. An official from the team Bajpai talks of apparently called him up on July 9 to inform him of a possible crackdown.“He laughed and said you guys show PM Modi a lot in Master Stroke, and a separate report is prepared on your show. After what you showed today, anything can happen. Beware,” Bajpai says.
Bajpai says from the next day on, the channel’s broadcast between 9 pm and 10 pm started facing glitches and interruptions. These interruptions would stop after Master Stroke. Bajpai says ABP’s proprietor and editor-in-chief asked the channel’s band of technicians to resolve the glitches in the satellite signals but without any success.
The next thing that followed was the exit of advertisers from the show and similar frequency related issues for four other channels of the ABP group. “Every alternative way out led to some debate on whether to confront those in power or not and the silence [of the management] was an answer in itself. The end of the chain events, too, is quite interesting: the editor-in-chief with folded hands asks, ‘what should I do?’” Bajpai says. “What can you do in situations like this – go on a leave or resign? Surprisingly, moments after I resigned, advertisements by Patanjali were back on the channel,” he says.
Bajpai’s allegations are damning and the government has much to answer for itself. But who’ll ask the questions? Most in the mainstream media have shown no interest in doing so, at least till now.