On Monday, a senior journalist resigned over disagreement with the board of he publication he was part of. Another was simply informed by his outlet, out of blue, that there's no need for him at the network. A top English daily took down an article from its website that criticized government and republished it after facing a storm of online criticism.
This does not bode well for a functioning democracy. If journalists have to constantly be worried about stepping on toes, the profession will suffer.
If things keep happening so fast, young Indians might soon get a taste of Indira Gandhi's Emergency days.
Adani versus EPW
First, it was the editor of Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) Paranjoy Guha Thakurta who put in his papers before the Sameeksha Trust, the group which publishes the acclaimed academic journal. The reason behind Thakurta's resignation from EPW is the publication of two articles (published on January 14, 2017 and June 24, 2017) which reported that Union government had attuned its policy to benefit Adani group, a corporate house whose promoter Gautam Adani enjoys a close relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In June, the lawyers of the Adani group had sent a letter to the EPW, the four authors of the two articles and Sameeksha Trust, to "remove/delete and unconditionally retract" the two articles. If the publication failed to comply, the letter said "our clients shall be constrained to take such action as they may be advised."
Following the reception of letter, the EPW had uploaded a copy of the Adani letter and a legal response to it by EPW. It didn't take the articles down.
On Tuesday, after a board meeting in Delhi, Sameeksha Trust ordered EPW's editorial department to take down the two articles from its website. After the meeting, Thakurta resigned, a report in The Wire says.
(Adani’s lawyers have also shot a letter to the The Wire asking it to take down the two EPW articles in question which The Wire had republished on its website at the time of their publication. They are still available on The Wire's website here and here.)
While the allegations of government pressure on Sameeksha Trust started making rounds, the Trust, in its defense, said Thakurta's decision of hiring a lawyer to reply to the Adani group's letter without consulting the board, was "a grave impropriety amounting to a breach of trust."
“Mr Guha Thakurta initiated a legal process ostensibly on behalf of the Sameeksha Trust without informing, let alone obtaining approval of, the Trust although such a decision was not in the domain of the editor to make," the Trust's statement, quoted by Scroll.in, said.
But this "does not give the full picture of what transpired", Thakurta told PTI of the meeting on July 18, after the Trust released its statement on Thursday.
While Thakurta did "acknowledge" that he had unilaterally employed a lawyer to reply to Adani group, he told The Wire that board asked that the Adani articles "be removed from the website immediately." He was also said that the board was planning to appoint a co-editor and formally define role and duties of the editor.
However, there was no such mention of such developments in Sameeksha Trust's statement on the issue. Interestingly, while the Trust's statement gives a detailed account about the conduct of Thakurta, there's no explanation on why the Trust ordered removal of articles from the website. Also, the question that how an in-house conflict between editorial department and board members of a publication will translate in the compliance of the demands of an external party, remains unanswered.
Nikhil Wagle shown the door
While Thakurta's resignation did have a semblance of procedure and debate, well-known journalist Nikhil Wagle who hosted a popular debate show on Marathi television, was sacked without any notice.
From May this year, Wagle moderated a one-hour political talk show "Sadetod" on TV9 Marathi news channel, which aired on the network every night between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m, a report in The Wire says.
However, after completing his show on Wednesday, Wagle was told that the management has decided to close down the show and there was no need for him. Significantly, the decision of management came at a time when Wagle's program had achieved highest viewership among Marathi news shows.
"I had been sensing trouble for the last one month and the management would crib over trivial issues. I was asked why I talk against Narendra Modi or the BJP. My show had spokespersons from all the political parties including the BJP. How could I then be blamed for criticising a single party or man?" Wagle, who was had signed a one-year contract with the network, told The Wire.
As of now there's been no official statement from the TV9 Network on Wagle's sacking.
Hindustan Times axes article
On Wednesday, Hindustan Times published an opinion piece titled 'Sikkim standoff: Why China is challenging India now' written by one of its journalists Sushil Aaron. However, hours after the article went viral, the newspaper removed the article from its website.
The removal of article triggered speculations that the newspaper had come under "pressure" from the government to remove the article. Eventually, the article reappeared hours after social media users started questioning Hindustan Times for its decision.
In the article, Aaron, had accused Modi government of working to achieve political and ideological dominance rather than addressing the basic issues of the country.
"The real source of India’s weakness at the moment is that the Modi government is concentrating its energies on achieving political and ideological dominance, rather than addressing the country’s glaring deficits. Politics of polarisation has taken precedence over governmental efforts to facilitate cooperation among citizens that can yield productive outcomes. All regimes in big powers aim to increase power, but they strive for excellence as well (in the hope of compensating for weaknesses). In India we are, for most part, seeing the former without much evidence of support for the latter," read one of the scathing passages of the article.
The article was last updated at 6:51 PM on Thursday on HT's website.