Resignations of Khandekar and Bajpai have again put the focus back on the issue of freedom of press in the country
The Hush Post: Senior journalists Milind Khandekar and Punya Prasun Bajpai have said goodbye to ABP News Network. It is reported that another ABP News journalist Abhisar Sharma has also gone on a leave. But everyone wants to know why? All of a sudden why did the two leave the news organization?
At the outset, it has emerged that their work had attracted criticism from the government. Here is the turn of events that preceded the departure of Khandekar and Bajpai from ABP News.
Bajpai, in his primetime show, Masterstroke, had aired a story related to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s video interaction with beneficiaries of various government programmes held on June 20. A woman participant from Chattisgarh, Chandramani Kaushik had claimed during the interaction with the PM that her farm income had doubled after she switched from paddy to custard apples.
Curiosity drew Bajpai and his team to examine the claims made by Chandramani Kaushik. And the news story that followed revealed that the woman had made alleged false claims based on the instructions she had received from some government officials.
The story elicited strong criticism from the establishment in Delhi. BJP leaders including I&B minister Rajyavardhan Rathore and defence minister Nirmala Sitaraman castigated the story alleging that journalists were driven by an anti-Modi agenda.
It was clear from the first instance that the conversation was about sitaphal cultivation, wasn’t it? The lady farmer Chandramani also picks up the box of sitaphal to show it to the @PMOIndia . Oh, why, why this #UnfortunateJournalism ? https://t.co/JzuNAUkxHo
— Nirmala Sitharaman (@nsitharaman) July 9, 2018
“It was clear from the first instance that the conversation was about sitaphal cultivation, wasn’t it? The lady farmer Chandramani also picks up the box of sitaphal to show it to the @PMOIndia . Oh, why, why this #UnfortunateJournalism ?”, tweeted Sitaraman.
The news item further shot to limelight after Congress President Rahul Gandhi tweeted a clip of it.
PM जी अपनी मन की बात सुनाते हैं यह तो सभी जानते थे। आज यह मालूम पड़ रहा है कि वह सिर्फ अपने ही मन की बात सुनना भी चाहते हैं । pic.twitter.com/dEqvklqtRR
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) July 9, 2018
As a follow-up, ABP News re-investigated the story and aired it again. “This is ABP News’ response to the questions you have raised,” said ABP News in response to the criticism.
What ensued was even more disturbing. All of a sudden, around July 13, viewers started to complain that they were having problems in accessing ABP News at the time when Bajpai’s show, Masterstroke, was being aired.
Bajpai knew what was going around. On July 23, he said, “You will black out the screen during Masterstroke, but we will treat that as the ‘black board’ and write the truth on it.”
आप “मास्टरस्ट्रोक “ के स्क्रीन को ब्लैक करोगे..
हम उसे “ब्लैक बोर्ड” मान कर सच लिख देगें…
( मिलते है 9 बजे )
— punya prasun bajpai (@ppbajpai) July 23, 2018
Then on July 26, he tweeted that the government should focus on paying attention to starvation deaths, unemployment, farmer suicides, clean air and water instead of disrupting the signals of his programme.
“Things began to change after the first week of July,” a senior journalist in the channel told Scroll.in on the condition of anonymity, adding “We persisted with whatever we were doing. For us, news is news. But we are living through polarised times, where whatever you do is seen as pro-Modi, anti-Modi.”
Bajpai’s resignation on Thursday also attracted reactions from the Congress with party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala saying on Twitter that Bajpai and Khandekar’s resignations were an outcome of the objective to “suppress truth being spoken to power”. The issue also reverberated in the Parliament with Trinamool Congress MP Derek OBrien speaking on pressure on journalists.
Operation – ABP News Channel
Executor – Shri Narender Modi,
Shri Amit Shah.
Objective -Suppress ‘truth being
spoken to power’.
Outcome -Remove Punay Prasoon Vajpayee, Milind Khandekar, Abhisar & others
— Randeep Singh Surjewala (@rssurjewala) August 2, 2018
Resignations of Khandekar and Bajpai have again put the focus back on the issue of freedom of press in the country.
Veteran journalist Mrinal Pandey said that “the larger part of media has become subject to one political view of India.”
Senior journalist, Rajdeep Sardesai reportedly told Scroll.in, “Forget the government for a moment. Every government wants to control the media narrative. We don’t know at what form or level the government was involved. The owners of the channel are accountable. They crawl when asked to bend, then they are the ones who need to be questioned… the way they’ve handled the situation. Their role needs to be subject to far better interrogation.”
Meanwhile, Ravish Kumar of the NDTV raised concerns and pointed towards a larger picture beyond the resignations. “This is the test of democracy. We cannot become a world leader like this. How much do people value independent media?” he said.