In the run-up to the opposition INDIA alliance’s last week, almost all the members of the ’s coordination committee narrowed down on names of “partisan” anchors ahead of a joint discussion.
The anchors were selected on the basis of their “hateful” debates, anti-opposition narratives, attempts to black out issues of public interest, and even their social media profiles. Newslaundry learned that some parties pushed for a “complete ban” on news channels like Times Now, Republic TV and Sudarshan News.
In the alliance’s first coordination committee meeting on September 13, it was decided that no ban will be imposed on news channels, but the bloc’s representatives will not appear on the “hate-filled” shows of the 14 news anchors across nine channels.
The list named Aman Chopra, Amish Devgan and Anand Narasimhan of News 18; Chitra Tripathi and Sudhir Chaudhary of Aaj Tak; Gaurav Sawant and Shiv Aroor of India Today; Prachi Parashar of India TV; Arnab Goswami of Republic TV; Rubika Liyaquat of Bharat 24; Navika Kumar and Sushant Sinha of Times Now; Aditi Tyagi of Bharat Express; and Ashok Shrivastav of DD News.
RJD leader Manoj Jha, a member of the bloc’s media committee that issued the boycott list, told Newslaundry the list of anchors is “not exhaustive” and the “matter won’t end here”.
Sources in the media committee told Newslaundry that other anchors, such as Aaj Tak’s Anjana Om Kashyap, who are also perceived as journalists with allegiance to the Narendra Modi-government, were not boycotted because they were “relatively less hate-fuelled on social media”.
One opposition leader, on the condition of anonymity, said, “The next step being considered is an economic boycott...withholding state government ads to some channels.” The opposition parties have incumbent governments in 11 states. A cursory glance across TV channels will show that at least the Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Punjab governments are big advertisers, along with the UP government.
Soon after the boycott was announced, the News Broadcaster Federation and the News Broadcasters & Digital Association issued statements protesting the alliance’s decision. Both said it was reminiscent of the “Emergency era”.
It should be noted that the BJP and Congress have, for several years, not sent their representatives to every single news channel. Until the Adani takeover last year, the BJP did not send its representatives to NDTV. A Congress representative told Newslaundry that the party had long since stopped appearing on debates on Republic TV, Times Now and Sudarshan News. The party also doesn’t permit Republic TV to attend its press conferences.
However, many opposition parties, such as the Congress governments in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and AAP in Delhi and Punjab, regularly give ads to channels such as NDTV and Republic TV.
Congress leader Pawan Khera told Newslaundry that the alliance’s move was not a “ban or boycott” but a “non-cooperation movement”.
He said the opposition alliance would not cooperate with anyone spreading hatred. “They have the freedom to spread hatred, but we also have the freedom to not be partners in that crime. We were not thinking of elections while making this decision, we’re thinking of the larger message of hatred that is being spread.”
Khera added that there was a “unanimity of sorts” in the alliance over the boycott of the 14 anchors.
Not all parties on board
Mamta Banerjee’s TMC and Nitish Kumar’s JDU did not whole-heartedly endorse the alliance’s decision to boycott. While the TMC did not nominate its representative to the media coordination committee, days after the boycott that he had “no idea” about it and he has always been in support of “freedom of press”.
In fact, the TMC nominated its representative, Mamta Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee, to only one committee, the coordination and election strategy committee. It currently has no representation in the alliance’s four sub-committees: campaign committee, working group for social media, working group for media, and working group for research.
Newslaundry contacted representatives from the TMC with queries on the matter. They refused to comment on it. Newslaundry also called JDU leader Rajiv Ranjan alias Lalan Singh, a member of INDIA’s media committee, but he did not answer.
There have been that the TMC leadership is “upset” about a possible seat-sharing formula for the 42 parliamentary seats in West Bengal, which will have to be divided between the TMC, Congress and the CPIM-led Left front. Mamata Banerjee also opposed the bloc’s plan to issue a joint resolution demanding nationwide caste census.
Meanwhile, Bihar is one state where seat sharing between alliance members – namely the RJD, JDU and Congress – is expected to be hard fought. There are 40 Lok Sabha seats in the state.
AAP spokesperson Reena Gupta told Newslaundry that the 14 anchors who have been blacklisted were “the most manageable journalists for the BJP”.
“This gang won't find place on TV as journalists in any healthy democracy as they only have one agenda – to take a pro-government stand even on issues that have dire consequences for the people,” she said.
She added that if these “proxy BJP government spokespersons masquerading as journalists” are allowed to peddle lies and hate, it will impact democracy.
Jammu and Kashmir National Conference leader Tanvir Sadiq, one of the members of the media committee, said the alliance mulled over several journalists. “But the debates of these 14 dominantly revolved around creating division in the society. These anchors may be big but India is bigger.”
He said the decision was a form of “messaging” to other journalists.
Shiv Sena (UBT)’s Arvind Sawant, also a member of the media committee, told Newslaundry, “We welcome criticism but the anchors are vindictive and try to deliberately demonise the opposition parties. If someone has taken a contract to spread an agenda, then they can keep barking. We won’t be there. Some anchors are paid workers. The prime minister has not spoken to the media for 10 years. Does anyone raise questions about that?”
Samajwadi Party spokesperson Abbas Haider said, “These anchors are full of prejudice. When they do let you speak they counter you before you can finish the sentence, and then try to trap you. They are openly biased and by now, the viewers of those shows also know that. This is an opportunity for them; they should change for good and stop working as the spokespersons for a particular party.”
A spokesperson of one of INDIA’s members also said that this move would also benefit the “unofficial spokespersons” of various parties that attend debates.
NCP’s Jitendra Awhad, also a part of the media committee, said the boycott is an act of “Gandhianism”. The boycotted anchors are known “hatemongers”, he said, where “78 out of 80 of their debates are related to hatred”. Awhad added that the alliance has “not boycotted any regional channels”.
A across three months last year showed that many anchors spent a considerable amount of time on Hindu-Muslim debates, with no time at all on issues like price rise and inflation. For example, Amish Devgan, now boycotted by the alliance, did zero debates on unemployment and inflation during that time period.
‘No real issues, Hindu-Muslim in focus’
Accusing the TV news anchors of calling prejudiced “so-called political analysts” to debates and “twisting the narrative”, the Rashtriya Lok Dal’s Prashant Kanojia said the debates are not on economic development or crime but on “Hindu-Muslim and opposition bashing”.
“They use clips without context against you. Why should we give them TRP? Their debates are not on economic development or hate crimes but on Hindu-Muslim and opposition bashing,” said Kanojia, who is a member of the media committee.
Meanwhile, RJD’s Jha said that whenever the opposition took to the streets over issues of unemployment or inflation, the news channels aired content on Hindu-Muslims. On the question of viewers missing out on the INDIA alliance’s perspectives, Jha said, “They will know that finally the INDIA alliance has decided to stay away from the poison.”
CPI(ML)’s Sucheta De alleged that the TV news media were “cheating opposition parties” by treating them as “showpieces” on debates. “When it’s their time to speak, they are muted or interrupted. It’s a pattern with these anchors.”
She said that the banned anchors had never failed to “take absolute partisan positions” for the BJP. “The intention of this move is to tell people that these aren't journalists but mouth pieces of the BJP.”
Over the years, Newslaundry has reported at length on how certain news channels are out for blood, using their primetime debates to whip up a frenzy, create conflict, and pit religions against each other. Check out our series for more.
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