These are surreal times for the Indian news media—especially television. On the evening of 6 October, the news network NDTV dropped an exclusive interview with the former home and finance minister P Chidambaram, despite having aired promotional snippets from the interview during the day. During the interview, Chidambaram had expressed his view on the surgical strikes conducted by the Indian army in Pakistan, and criticised the statements made by Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar regarding the strikes. The channel claimed that it would “not air any remarks that risk security for political advantage.”
Barely 48 hours later, Barkha Dutt, the consulting editor with NDTV who had conducted the Chidambaram interview and was complicit in its gagging, lauded Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper for its courage in standing up to the military establishment (On 10 October, the Pakistani administration responded to a story that Cyril Almeida, a journalist with Dawn, had written on the rift between the civilian and military leadership in the country, by placing his name on the Exit Control List—which would prevent him from travelling abroad—prompting widespread criticism. His name has since been removed.) Shekhar Gupta, Dutt’s co-founder at The Print, a news media start-up, had briefly pinned a tweet on his timeline in praise of Dawn’s editor Zaffar Abbas. Not a word was found on his timeline, however, on NDTV’s decision to hold the interview with Chidambaram and its utter capitulation to the BJP government’s interests. Perhaps, the irony here is that it would be tough to find a single story criticising Chidambaram on either NDTV, or in the Indian Express—which Gupta headed for nearly two decades—from the time the Congress-led United Progressives Alliance was in power.
Compare this to Gupta’s bold tweet indicting the Delhi government for deaths during the dengue and chikungunya epidemic that peaked in the city in August and September. The Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal responded by calling Gupta a “dalal”—broker—for governments in power. His over-the-top reaction put him squarely in the line of fire by other journalists. But to give the matter some perspective, Kejriwal is not alone in questioning Gupta’s conduct. In 2011, during Gupta’s tenure as editor-in chief, a post titled “Is Indian Express now a pro-establishment paper?” was published on Sans Serif, a media blog started by the former Outlook magazine editor-in-chief Krishna Prasad. The post noted the Indian Express’s relentless front-page campaigns against the Anna Hazare movement:
Over a 16-day period (April 6 to 21), through 21 news reports, seven editorials, 15 opinion articles, three cartoons and one illustration…it has been a relentless torrent of scepticism, cynicism, criticism, distortion, inneundo, insinuation and plain abuse in The Indian Express. Words like “illiberal”, “fascist”, “dangerous”, “self-righteous”, “self-appointed”, “authoritarian”, “dictators”, “Maoist” and—pinch yourself—“missing foreskins” have spewed forth…
In the past months, the AAP and Kejriwal have had frequent run-ins with nearly every TV editor in the country. In September, Rahul Kanwal, the managing editor of India Today TV, responded to an online jibe from the chief minister by calling a “troll” on Twitter. Subsequently, the India Today group’s digital portal DailyO published a piece recounting their Twitter exchanges. A few days later, one of Kejriwal’s ministers, Kapil Mishra, had an online spat with Deepak Chaurasia, the editor-in-chief of the channel India News (a sister network of News X)—both Chaurasia and Mishra publically released each other’s personal mobile phone numbers, leading to complaints of alleged harassment from both sides.