Three weeks after a letter by former students of the Vasant Valley School to clamp down on the “hatred” aired on his channels, the institute’s owner and India Today Group chairman Aroon Purie has said that he has “read and duly taken note of” these concerns.
The letter was sent on September 13 by alums from 18 batches of the school run by Education Today Trust, established by Aroon Purie and his wife Rekha Purie. While the initial number of signatories was 165, the list subsequently increased. The alums had pointed out that content on the network was against the values they were taught at school, and urged Purie to “hold accountable those that openly engage in communal polarisation under the garb of news reportage”.
My response to VVS Alumni— Aroon Purie (@aroonpurie) October 6, 2023
Dear 192 Vasant Valley School Alumni,Â
Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns with me.
It is good to know that in this day and age when everybody is constrained for time, you are watching and reading our work and deeply invested in ourâ¦
In a social media post on October 6, as well as in an email to the former students, Purie wrote, “It is good to know that in this day and age when everybody is constrained for time, you are watching and reading our work and deeply invested in our multiple brands. I have read and duly taken note of your concerns, as we do with all feedback we receive. As the Chairman of the India Today Group, I have always believed that everyone is entitled to an opinion. Diverse perspectives are critical for civic discourse in a democracy, and no one group represents all of it.”
“The India Today brands represent all points of view across the nation. Presenting these and being able to deal with them is the sign of a robust democracy, and I believe we do this very successfully. The viewer must determine which media most closely tracks their beliefs. After all, the ultimate arbiter of our work is our 500 million viewers and followers.”
“Since we have a unique relationship with India Today, we decided that we have to say something; we owe it to the rest of the public,” Avik Roy, an alum from Vasant Valley School’s 2008 batch and one of the signatories of the letter, earlier told Newslaundry. “We recognise that they are not the worst of the lot, but that doesn’t justify things. We don’t know if sending this letter will work but I’m glad we’re at least voicing our concerns to the group.”
The letter had pointed out that “it is extremely concerning to see the polarising tenor of some of India Today’s news anchors, particularly on Aaj Tak”.
Referring to campaigns to boycott Muslims and “bulldozer justice”, the letter said that “instead of questioning the establishment over this tactic which is an embarrassment to the rule of law, primetime anchors have often justified these actions, cheering on the deliverance of collective punishment. In these times, we look towards organisations such as India Today to provide situational clarity, demand accountability, and douse the flames of communal hatred, rather than fanning its embers Instead, we find that some of the commentary is extremely reductive, devoid of nuance, and does nothing to hold those in power accountable. It is as one of Aaj Tak’s shows is titled, ‘Black and White.’”
“The India Today Group are founders of Vasant Valley School and TV Today owns and operates multiple television channels including India Today and Aaj Tak. This is an association that many of us as alumni have been incredibly proud of, given India Today’s historical legacy in holding the powerful to account even during some of our country’s darkest days, including the Emergency, the 1984 Delhi Riots, the 2002 Gujarat Riots, to name just a handful of instances. And It is within the educational institution that you founded, that we learned and internalised our constitutional principles of freedom, justice, equality, liberty, and fraternity.”
Google form circulated
At least three of these letter-writers told Newslaundry that the idea to write to Purie was discussed last year between a few of them, but they ended up sending the letter only this month. A Google document was circulated on WhatsApp groups over two days, before the letter was sent across.
Newslaundry has viewed the list of signatories, and spoke to six of them.
“Of late, the kind of coverage that has been coming out of India Today is not what they have been known for before,” said one of the people who had drafted the letter. “Some of us have been following the coverage closely and we know that there is a kind of narrative being spread. We wanted to let them know that this is being noticed.”
The former student said that the kind of shows being run by the likes of Sudhir Chaudhary of late has been the “tipping point”. “This kind of dog whistling colours people’s opinions who don’t know about the agenda setting that happens in newsrooms. Media is a complex product but India Today has usually covered things in a non-partisan manner.”
The letter noted that “media complicity” was established through the incident involving a who killed four men, after identifying three of them on the basis of their appearance as Muslims. The letter pointed out that the officer justified his actions by citing “dog whistles he heard on news television”.
“Of course we understand that not every individual in the India Today Group is responsible for this, but the dog whistling that is taking place in some shows is getting too much,” a 33-year-old signatory told Newslaundry. “This was building up for the last few years, until we reached a point where we knew we had to address it.”
Newslaundry was told that the alums planned to reach out to the Puries again with an expanded list of signatories. They said the best possible outcome could be some “internal reckoning with elements in the news organisation who are making communal matters worse”.
‘Against the values they taught us’
Arjun Shrihari, an alum from the 2007 batch who has now moved to Spain, said that some of the coverage had “specific agenda” and “a biased lens”.
“In the past, they stood up for something. But what they are becoming now is running counter against the values we were taught in school and what we expect of them,” he said. “The Puries set up the school and we’ve had a lot of interactions with them. But considering the mess in the media and seeing it reflected in some parts of India Today is very sad.”
“We may not have received an official response but there has been a staggering response to the sentiment of the letter, and that is what is most important,” said Tiya Tejpal, an alum from the 2004 batch. “I did not write the letter but I stand by all that it said. When it came to my desk…I immediately signed it and sent it to fellow alums.”
The letter also made note of some of India Today’s “excellent journalism,” such as reportage on the riots in Nuh by Aaj Tak reporter Sreya Chatterjee, and the Axis-My India exit polls being a “gold standard of psephology.”
“What we're seeing now is a significant deviation from the value system we’ve been taught in school and far from how we know the institution to be as a whole,” said Shreyas, an alum from the batch of 2008. “It’s a matter of duty. We’re just reminding them of what they ought to do. Bending the rules is one thing while breaking rules or changing the truth is entirely another. There’s been a general deterioration over the years.”
Newslaundry had reached out to Aroon Purie for comment. This report will be updated if a response is received.
Update at 4 pm, Oct 6: Purie responded to the letter over two weeks after this report was published. The report and the headline have been updated with details of his response.
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