முன்பு பல தடவை இந்த கேள்வி எழுந்தபோதெல்லாம்..
பலரின் ஒருமித்த பதில் குரல் “இல்லை” – “முடியாது” என்பது தான்…
ஆனால் இப்போது –
கீழேயுள்ள செய்திகள் உண்மையாக இருக்கும் என்கிறபட்சத்தில்….
“உண்மை” – “முடியும்” என்றே தோன்றுகிறது ….!
(ABP ) Amirtha Bazar Patrika என்பது தினமும் 11 லட்சம் பிரதிகளுக்கும்
மேல் விற்கும் ஒரு வங்காள நாளிதழ்… 100 ஆண்டுகளையும் கடந்து
வெற்றிகரமாக வெளிவந்துகொண்டிருக்கும் நாளிதழ்.
இந்த குழு நடத்தும் ஹிந்தி செய்தி தொலைக்காட்சி
– ABP news channel – (ஏபீபி தேசிய செய்தி சேனல்)
இதில் மிக வெற்றிகரமாக தொடர்ந்து நடக்கும் ஒரு நிகழ்கால
அரசியல் சம்பந்தப்பட்ட நிகழ்ச்சி…
” மாஸ்டர் ஸ்ட்ரோக் ” -Master Stroke…
இதை பரபரப்புடனும், பலத்த வரவேற்புகளுடனும்,
இயக்கிக்கொண்டிருந்தவர் இதன் செய்தி ஆசிரியர் –
புண்ய பிரசூன் பாஜ்பாய். (Punya Prasun Bajpai)..
பிரச்சினை துவங்கியது கடந்த ஜூலை மாதம் 14-ஆம் தேதி …
தொலைக்காட்சியின் உரிமையாளர், நிகழ்ச்சித் தயாரிப்பாளர்
புண்ய பிரசூன் அவர்களிடம் மாஸ்டர் ஸ்ட்ரோக் நிகழ்ச்சியில்,
விமரிசனம் செய்யும்போது – மோடிஜியின் பெயரைக் குறிப்பிடுவதை
மாஸ்டர் ஸ்ட்ரோக் நிகழ்ச்சி, தரமாக இருப்பதோடு, ஏபீபி சேனலின்
மதிப்பை உயர்த்தியிருப்பதும் உண்மை…என்பதை ஒப்புக்கொண்ட
உரிமையாளர், இருந்தாலும் நிகழ்ச்சியில் மோடிஜியை குறைகூறுவதை
தவிர்க்க வேண்டும் என்று அறிவுறுத்துகிறார்.( காரணம் – அவருக்கு
வந்த அரசியல் அழுத்தம்…! )
புண்ய பிரசூன், நிகழ்ச்சியை அதன் போக்கிலேயே விடும்படி கூறினாலும்,
உரிமையாளர் அதனை ஏற்கவில்லை…. கடைசியாக நிகழ்ச்சியில்
மோடிஜியின் பெயரை எந்த இடத்திலும் கூறக்கூடாது, அவரது
படத்தையும் காட்டக்கூடாது என்று தயாரிப்பாளரால் உத்திரவே
இந்த அளவிற்கு சேனலின் மீது கட்டுப்பாட்டைக் கொண்டு வர
அரசால் எப்படி முடிந்தது என்பதை கீழ்க்கண்டவாறு விளக்குகிறார்
மத்திய பாஜக அரசு, அரசின் கொள்கைகள், வளர்ச்சி செய்திகள்
ஊடகங்களின் மூலம் எந்த அளவு நாட்டு மக்களுக்கு போய்ச்சேருகிறது
என்பதை கண்காணிக்க –
200 உறுப்பினர்களைக் கொண்ட ஒரு கொண்ட கண்காணிப்புக் குழுவை
அமைத்திருக்கிறது…. இந்த குழு, அமைச்சகத்தின் கூடுதல் டைரக்டர்
ஜெனரலின் கீழ் இயங்கும். அவர், செய்தி மற்றும் ஒளிபரப்புத்துறை
அமைச்சரிடம் இவற்றை குறித்த ரிப்போர்ட்டை நேரடியாக அளித்தார்.
இந்தக் குழு, 3 மட்டங்களாக பிரிக்கப்பட்டிருக்கிறது.
முதல் கட்டக் கண்காணிப்பில் உள்ளவர்கள் ரூ. 28,635/- சம்பளம்
பெறுகின்றனர். அதற்கு மேல் நிலையில் உள்ளவர்கள் ரூ.37,350/-
பெறுகின்றனர். உயர் மட்டத்தில் கவனிப்பவர்களுக்கு ரூ. 49,500/- சம்பளம்.
இவர்கள் ஒப்பந்த முறையில் பணியில் அமர்த்தப்பட்டுள்ளனர்…
(இவர்களின் தகுதி – பாஜக வளர்ச்சியில் ஆர்வம்…!!! )
இந்த 200 பேர் கொண்ட கண்காணிப்புக் குழு மூன்று மட்டங்களாக
பிரிந்து பணியாற்றி வந்தது. அடிமட்டத்தில், 150 பேர் சேனல்களை
மட்டும் கண்காணித்தனர். அதற்கு அடுத்த நிலையில் உள்ள 25 பேர் அந்த
சேனல்களுக்கு அரசு விரும்பிய வடிவத்தை தயாரித்து அளித்தனர்.
மீதி 25 பேர், செய்திகள், விவாதங்களை கூர்ந்து கவனித்தனர்…ஜாயிண்ட்
செகரட்டரி அந்தஸ்திலான 3 அதிகாரிகள் அவற்றைக் குறித்து,
உரிய வடிவில் அறிக்கைகளாக தயாரித்து தகவல் ஒளிபரப்புத் துறை
அமைச்சகத்திடம் அளிப்பார். அவை பிரதமர் அலுவலக அதிகாரிகளின்
உத்திரவைபெற்று, சேனல்களின் எடிட்டர்களுக்கு என்ன செய்ய
வேண்டும் – என்ன செய்யக் கூடாது என அறிவுறுத்துவார்கள்.
செய்தி ஆசிரியர், மேற்படி ஆலோசனையை ஏற்காமல், தொடர்ந்து
தன்னிச்சையாக செயல்பட்டால் (புண்ய பிரசூன் போல ) –
அமைச்சக அதிகாரி அல்லது, பிரதமர் அலுவலகம் – சம்பந்தப்பட்ட
தொலைக்காட்சி உரிமையாளரைத் தொடர்புகொள்ளும்…. அவரது ஊடகம்
சரியான மார்க்கத்தில் செல்லவில்லை என்று அறிவுறுத்தும்… நடையை
இதன் பிறகும், தொலைக்காட்சியின் போக்கில் மாற்றமில்லை என்றால் –
பாஜக தலைவர்கள் அந்த தொலைக்காட்சிக்கு பேட்டி தர மாட்டார்கள்…
விவாதங்களில் கலந்து கொள்ள மாட்டார்கள்… அந்த தொலைக்காட்சிக்கு
– நிகழ்ச்சிகளுக்கான அழைப்புகள் தரப்பட மாட்டாது.
இதிலும் திருந்தவில்லையென்றால் – பெரிய விளம்பர நிறுவனங்கள்
(தங்களுக்கு வரும் அழுத்தம் காரணமாக) அந்த தொலைக்காட்சிக்கு
தந்த விளம்பரங்களை நிறுத்திக் கொள்ளும். சேனல் பெருத்த நிதி
அதன் பிறகு தினமும் மாஸ்டர் ஸ்ட்ரோக் நிகழ்ச்சியை(மட்டும்)
மக்கள் காண முடியாத வகையில் ஏபீபியின் செயற்கைகோள் இணைப்பு
மக்கர் செய்யத் துவங்கியது. இந்தப் பிரச்சினை, ஒரு மணி நேரம் வரை
நீடித்தது. நிகழ்ச்சி முடிந்த பிறகு, இரவு 10 மணிக்குப் பிறகு
செயற்கைகோள் இணைப்பு மீண்டும் சகஜ நிலைக்கு வந்து விடுவது
தான் சுதந்திரமாக செயல்பட வழியில்லை என்பது தெரிந்த பிறகு,
புண்ய பிரசூன் ராஜினாமா செய்துவிட்டு, தொலைக்காட்சி நிறுவனத்தை
விட்டே வெளியேறுகிறார். கூடவே அவரது உதவியாளரும்….
புண்யபிரசூன் வெளியேறிய பிறகு, தொலைக்காட்சி உரிமையாளர்
நிகழ்ச்சியில் மாற்றங்களை மேற்கொண்ட பிறகு- நின்று போன
விளம்பரங்கள் எல்லாம் திரும்ப வருகின்றன… சேட்டிலைட் தொடர்பு
சரியாகி விடுகிறது… பாஜக தலைவர்கள் நிகழ்ச்சிகளில் கலந்து
கொள்கிறார்கள். ஏபீபி -க்கு எல்லா அரசு மற்றும் பாஜக நிகழ்ச்சிகளுக்கும்
மேற்படி விவரங்கள் எதையும்
நான் சுயமாக இட்டுக்கட்டி, கற்பனையாக சொல்லவில்லை…..
ABP சேனலை விட்டு வெளியே வந்த பிறகு, மேற்கண்ட விவரங்களை
எல்லாம் புண்ய பிரசூன் ஒரு அறிக்கை மூலம் விவரமாக the wire.in
செய்தி நிறுவனத்திற்கு தெரிவித்திருக்கிறார்.
அந்த அறிக்கையை முழுவதுமாக மொழிபெயர்ப்பு செய்ய எனக்கு
நேரம் போதவில்லை…. எனவே, சுருக்கமாக மேலே சில விவரங்களை
புண்ய பிரசூனின் அறிக்கையில் இன்னும் பல விவரமான, கசப்பான உண்மைகள், செய்திகள் அடங்கி இருக்கின்றன.
அனைத்தையும் நண்பர்கள் விவரமாக அறியும் பொருட்டு,
the wire.in தளத்தில், ஆங்கிலத்தில் வெளியான அந்த அறிக்கையை
அப்படியே கீழே தந்திருக்கிறேன்…. முழு விவரங்களையும் அறிய
நண்பர்கள் – இந்த அறிக்கையை படிக்கலாம்.
Punya Prasun Bajpai Reveals the Story Behind His Exit From ABP News
‘From being told not to take Narendra Modi’s name on my show or show his
image on any programme critical of the government to a sinister blacking out of
my show, Masterstroke, what happened was nothing short of censorship.’
This is a complete English translation of the exposé written by the former ABP
News anchor Punya Prasun Bajpai for The Wire Hindi about the circumstances
of his departure from the channel and the official diktats which preceded it.
On July 14, 2018, the proprietor-cum-editor-in-chief of the national news channel
ABP, owned by the Ananda Bazaar Patrika Group, had a conversation with me
along these lines:
Proprietor: “Can you refrain from mentioning the name of Prime Minister Modi [in
your programme]? Mention the names of his ministers by all means; point out
anything amiss in a government policy if you want to, even name the minister of
the concerned ministry. Just don’t refer to Prime Minister Modi anywhere.”
I replied: But when Prime Minister Modi himself announces every government
scheme, involves himself in the work of every ministry; and when every minister
utters the name of Prime Minister Modi every time s/he mentions any scheme or
government policy, how is it possible for us to not take Modi’s name?
Proprietor: I say, stop insisting. See for a few days how it plays out. As a matter of fact you are doing the right thing. But leave it be for the time being.
This order/directive was preceded by a long conversation on news presentation
and its impact, the changing perceptions about the channel and its attendant
benefits. The proprietor admitted that my show, ‘Masterstroke’, had raised the
credibility of the channel. In his words, the kind of research that went into
Masterstroke, the way news was reported from ground zero and government
policies mapped through the report, the quality of graphics and script were
things he was seeing for the very first time on this channel.
Even as the proprietor-cum-editor-in-chief was enthused by the changes in the
manner of news presentation on the channel, he kept asking that if things
remained the way they were, with just the prime minister’s name being out of
bounds, would it make such a difference.
This long discussion was eventually followed by the directive that the prime
minister’s name was indeed not to be uttered on-screen.
In the context of the prevailing political scenario, following the diktat would be an immensely difficult task. Take, for instance, a report on unemployment in India highlighting the government’s claims of employment generation through its skill development programme. How would it look, showing the reality on ground
without a whisper about the claims made by Prime Minister Modi about the
success of the programmes?
On the one hand, the prime minister says that the skill development initiative has a target of training 40 crore youths by 2022. However, the truth is that as of 2018, the number of youngsters trained thus far has not even reached the 2
crore mark. Moreover, on-the-ground reports show that in all those places where
skill development centres were opened, eight out of every 10 are non-functional.
For the team of ‘Masterstroke’, following orders from the top would have meant
showing the situation on ground through a script from which the name of Prime
Minister Narendra Modi would be erased.
For stories critical of government, a ban on showing Modi’s image
There was another problem with the diktat, namely that we are talking about
television news and not a newspaper. The script might well skip the name of
Prime Minister Modi. However, in a situation where the government is
associated only with Modi, any reference to the government means that the
entire video library will have nothing but footage of Modi. It is a fact that from May 26, 2014 to July 26, 2018, the minute any editing machine had to deal with news about the Modi government or of any project of the Modi government, on
an estimate, 80% of the images that surfaced were of Modi. So as soon as an
editor glimpses the words ‘the present government’ in the script, the only image
that presents itself is that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Say, on a
programme like Masterstroke, even though the words ‘Prime Minister Modi’ may
not be uttered or heard, there is no doubt that the image that graces the screen
will be his.
I had not anticipated that within 100 hours, a second diktat – that even the
image of Modi should not appear on Masterstroke – would come my way. But
come it did.
This time, the discussion with the proprietor started with the query: “Has the
government of the day come to mean just Modi? Is it possible to prepare a
report without showing Prime Minister Modi’s image?”
I responded with a question of my own – in four years the Modi government has
announced 106 schemes. Coincidentally, the announcement of every scheme
has been made by the prime minister himself. The onus for publicizing every
scheme may well rest on the concerned ministry and minister, but it is the name
of Prime Minister Modi which dominates the publicity of every initiative. So even if an on-ground news report does not refer to the prime minister in the context of the scheme’s success or failure, those affected by it will, and constantly do, utter the name of Modi – be it a farmer or a pregnant woman, jobless youth or trader.
Whether you ask them about the crop insurance scheme, the Matritva Vandana
Yojana, Mudra Yojana or GST, those who fall within the ambit of those
respective initiatives refer to Prime Minister Modi without fail. In the same breath they say that they are not benefitting in any way from those schemes either.
How then is one to edit their statements?
The only answer I got was this – Whatever it may be, but Prime Minister Modi’s
image should also not appear on Masterstroke.
Incidentally, the question as to what would be accomplished by not showing the
image of Prime Minister Modi or speaking his name on Masterstroke, was still a
mystery to me. This is so for the simple reason that for the BJP which came to
power in 2014, the government is synonymous with Narendra Modi. For the BJP,
Prime Minister Modi is their unparalleled star campaigner as well. The face of the Sangh also happens to be former pracharak Narendra Modi. The world over,
India has only one brand ambassador of it foreign policy – Narendra Modi.
Within the country too, the person at the centre of every policy is Narendra Modi.
Then why is an hour-long primetime programme like Masterstroke, aired on ABP
– and in sixth place among the dozen odd national news channels in Hindi –
causing such heartburn within the government?
Dilemma of a Modi-centric media
To put it another way, what is the predicament due to which the proprietors of
ABP News are being pressured to keep the name and image of the prime
minister off the screen? In fact, for the last four years under the Modi
government, the way everything revolved solely around Modi; and, in a country
like India, the way news channels projected him to the exclusion of all others,
what happened was that increasingly, the image of the prime minister and his
speeches and utterances, as absorbed by viewers, became a sort of an
addiction. Its impact was such that Prime Minister Modi became a necessity for
the TRP ratings of news channels.
As the narrative about the country progressing towards “achche din” unfolded, it
became an addiction for the news channels as well. To ensure that this ‘high’ did
not wear off, the Modi government created a 200-member monitoring team
which duly functioned under the additional director general of the ministry, who
reported directly to the minister concerned.
The 200-member monitoring team functioned at three levels: 150 members were
involved only in monitoring the channels; 25 members gave it the shape the
government wanted; and the remaining 25 reviewed the final content. Based on
this report, three officials of deputy secretary rank would prepare the report to be sent to the I&B minister, through whom the officials at the PMO would get
activated and send their directives to the editors of the news channels about
what was to be done and how.
If an editor spoke about running a channel solely according to what was
newsworthy, then the officials at the ministry or the PMO would communicate
with the concerned proprietor. To keep the pressure intact, they would send a
file with the monitoring report, detailing how Prime Minister Modi’s statements,
ranging from his election promises of 2014 to his claims on demonetisation,
surgical strikes or GST could be shown again. Or how, in a report on an ongoing
scheme, the prime minister’s old claims could be included. In fact, a dozen or so
officials from the I&B ministry and the PMo work at the first level to ensure that the narrative of the Modi government’s successes is showcased in every manner possible. This is followed by the advice of the I&B minister, which is more of an order and, at the third level, there is the tone of the BJP with its many modulations.
Boycotts by BJP, RSS spokespersons
Say, a channel does not confine itself to showing the Modi regime in a positive
light at all times but occasionally includes stories with a negative tone or, on the basis of facts, shows the Modi government’s truth to be a lie. Immediately, BJP spokespersons are told to stop appearing on those channels; that is, they do not participate in any political discussion conducted by that channel. This started happening on ABP News from the last week of June this year – BJP
spokespersons stopped appearing on its debates. A few days later, BJP leaders
stopped giving bytes to the channel. The day the truth of the Prime Minister’s
‘Mann ki Baat’ was outed on Masterstroke, RSS ideologues too were told to stay
off the channel.
Before absorbing the stark truth of Mann ki Baat and the events which followed,
it is important to realise the extent to which the BJP’s parent organisation, the
RSS, has become dependent on the Modi government. This was borne out on
July 9, 2018, when in the midst of a 4 pm discussion on ABP, a professor taking
part in the programme in his capacity as an RSS ideologue received a phone call
telling him to leave the studio immediately. And the gentleman in question stood
up and simply walked away from the programme that was being broadcast live.
The moment he received the phone call, the expression on his face seemed to
suggest that he had been caught committing a grievous offence – you could say
it was the face of a frightened man.
All these machinations and yet they fell short of the desired result. Purely
because the impact on viewers of the reports being aired on the channel were
showing in improved TRP ratings; the presence or absence of BJP leaders in the
studio did not seem to matter a jot. It was in these circumstances that the TRP
report of July 5 and July 12 revealed that ABP had become the second most
watched Hindi channel of the country.
It is important to mention that it was in this period that one edition of
Masterstroke carried an exclusive report of the proposed thermal power plant in
Godda (Jharkhand) – a project in violation of all rules and regulation, a project
that is of the Adani group. For the first time, the woes of farmers in the area
were brought out through this exclusive report – how Adani’s proximity to Prime
Minister Modi had made the Jharkhand state government change its regulations;
how the farmers had been threatened that if they did not part with their land for
the power project, they would be killed. One farmer said as much on camera:
“An official of the Adani group has issued a threat, if you do not part with your
land we will be bury you alive. When we wanted to lodge a complaint with the
police, they said “It is useless to complain. They are influential people, close to the prime minister.” With the farmer was his wife, her face mirroring her terrible grief.
The TRP rating of that edition of Masterstroke was five points higher than the
average rating for the show. Masterstroke, which notched an average 12 point
rating, spiked to 17 points the day the exclusive programme on the Adani plant
was aired. Ironically, on August 3, when Opposition leader Mallikarjun Kharge
stood up in parliament to raise the issue of the government putting a gag on the
media, threatening the ABP channel and having a hand in getting its journalists
sacked, the I&B minister had this to say: “Since Masterstroke was not
contributing to the TRP ratings of the channel in any way, nobody wanted to
watch it, the channel itself stopped it.”
The real explanation, however, for the unraveling circumstances is to be found in
the growing TRP ratings of the channel. Not only was ABP’s Masterstroke
becoming popular, its impact on the TRPs started showing in the first four
months itself. The temperament of the reports appearing on Masterstroke was
precisely to test the claims of the Modi government which came through reports
from various parts of the country. What was repeatedly coming out in the
editions of Masterstroke was the sheer hollowness of the claims being made by
The government saw the approaching crisis: seeing that the people were
beginning to appreciate reports showing its claims to be false and the channel’s
TRP ratings were climbing, how would the other channels do in the coming
times? In India, advertising is the biggest source of revenue for running the
business of news channels, and advertisements are given to channels on the
basis of their favourable TRP ratings. If the TRPs indicate that reports dismissing the Modi government’s claims of success as hollow are being appreciated by the people, then the news channels that continue to sing praises of the government stand to suffer a double crisis – loss of credibility and advertisements, or revenue.
This is the background against which finally action was taken to silence this kind of programming.
Part II: Moving in for the kill
It was with a great deal of cleverness that the ruling BJP took two steps to
increase its pressure on the news channel: the first was a boycott of the
channel, and the second was to target ABP’s annual public event, which is as
much a matter of prestige as of revenue through advertisements – marked by
the presence of those in power as well as in the opposition, with politicians
responding to the questions put forth by the people. This time, both the BJP and
the Modi government declined to attend the programme – which meant no
ministers at the meet. And when those in power are conspicuous by their
absence, how can a programme be organised with just the presence of the
The message, sharp and clear, to every news channel was this: go against us
and your business will suffer. In a way, without wanting to, the Modi government
gave a clear signal that power is a business in itself, one that channels will find it difficult to run without. To rein in ABP and to ensure that other channels did not stop their praises of the Modi government and start reporting from ground zero, the government embarked on an ambitious plan – to throttle democracy in the guise of being its biggest friend. This, in the ‘world’s largest democracy’.
During the time of the Emergency, it was quite clear to the media that they had
no recourse to their constitutional rights. But in today’s India’s, raga democracy is being sung at the highest octave.
On June 20, Prime Minister Modi spoke to farmer beneficiaries of his various
schemes through a video conference link. Right in front was Chandramani
Kaushik from village Kanhari in Kanker district (Chhattisgarh). When the prime
minister asked her about her income, she simply narrated how her income had
doubled. The prime minister was happy to hear the bit about income doubling.
He started beaming for the simple reason that he has kept 2022 as the year
when the incomes of farmers shall be doubled. So on a programme that is live, if
a farmer happens to talk about her income doubling, it is bound to warm the
cockles of the prime minister’s heart.
However, from the perspective of a reporter-editor, this incident was not so easy
to digest. Chhattisgarh itself is one of the most backward regions of the country, and Kanker district even more so – according to the official website of the district, it is among the most backward parts of the world. And if from these parts a female farmer is saying her income had doubled, it was natural for us to send a a reporter to examine her claim.
Fourteen days later, on July 6 when the report was aired, we revealed how the
woman in question had been coached by officials from Delhi about what she
was required to say to the prime minister and how she must say the bit about the
doubling of income. In one blow, the report created a furore in Chhattisgarh, with many saying that the woman had been coached with an eye on elections [the
state goes to polls in five months].
The report gave rise to three questions: do officials do all this to keep the prime minister happy? Are people coached to lie because the prime minister wants to hear nothing but his praise? Do election victories hinge only on the publicity and propaganda machine? Whatever it may be, but the fact is that smarting from the report’s effect, the Modi government went on the offensive against ABP saying it was deliberately airing a programme that was nothing but falsehood. Three
Union ministers including the I&B minister, put out virtually identical tweets,
putting a question mark on the channel’s credibility.
What was it if not pressure? It was clear to everybody. So when reporter
Gyanendra Tiwari was sent to the spot again to file another report, the village
presented a very different look. The police was ensconced there. Senior officials of the state government had been sent there to ensure that the reporter was not able to reach Chandramani Kaushik. Call it the reporter’s ingenuity or the lack of integrity and discipline among the police and the officials to remain in their posts till late but they left the village during the day itself. Before night fell, the villagers and the 12-woman SHG group including Chandramani Kaushik broke their silence about how much more wretched their conditions had become.
On July 9, following the telecast of this report, the ominous silence of the
government was a clear indication that it would do something. That very night,
one member of the channel monitoring team informed me over the phone that
the latest report on Masterstroke had created an uproar in the government. The
I&B minister has taken the ADG to task, asking him, as I was informed, “Did you
not know that ABP would go ahead and air this report despite the ministerial
tweets? … Had we known, we would have sent a notice beforehand so that they
would have had to show us the programme before airing it.”
A warning, and then a mysterious interference with signals
This information was provided by a senior member of the monitoring team. I was
constrained to ask him, doesn’t providing us this information put your job at risk?
This is what he said: We are a team of 200, recruited by the Broadcast
Engineering Corporation India Limited. We are kept on a six-monthly contract no
matter how many years we have worked. There is no provision of leave. Those
at the first level of monitoring get a salary of Rs 28,635, senior members get
Rs37,350 and those keeping an eye on the content get Rs 49, 500. How does it
matter if one retains this job or not. The truth is, those who watch primetime
content are asked to prepare a report on the duration for which the bulletin
shows the prime minister, obviously in a good light. Those who show him for the
longest duration are considered the best.
Almost chuckling, this gentleman told me, “A separate report is prepared on your
Masterstroke. And after what you have shown in your report today [July 9],
anything can happen. Be vigilant.” Saying this, he put the phone down. This set
me thinking. We discussed what he said internally in the channel but no one had
any inkling of the three-pronged offensive that would be mounted – an attack
that would reduce democracy to a glassy eyed stare of disbelief, an attack in the
name of democracy, on democracy.
As if on cue, on the following news night, ABP’s satellite link started misbehaving during primetime. The disturbance continued for an hour so that viewers would be prevented from watching Masterstroke and might switch to some other channel. Exactly at 10 pm, the satellite link would be restored.
For those running ABP, this was certainly a big blow. The proprietor-cum-editor-
in chief tasked the technical team with finding the source of the problem, to no
avail. The link between teleport and satellite link would get broken within
Message put out by the channel, reproduced here in a tweet Milind Khandekar,
editor of ABP News, put out, informing viewers of the signal interference.
On an average, there would be thirty or forty instances of disturbance in the
satellite link. On the third day, a consensus emerged in the channel that the
viewers should be informed of this development. On July 19, the channel started
airing a message from morning itself: “In the last few days you must have noticed
some disturbances in the signal during our primetime telecast. We are trying to
locate the cause of this problem which has arisen all of a sudden, and are trying
our utmost to fix it. We request you to be with us till then.”
This information was provided as an essential communication. But the message
was taken off air two hours later. The decision was taken by the management. It
was a dual pressure for the channel – of being subject to the pressure of having
its primetime telecast disturbed and also to not let this information out to the
world either. At the same time some advertisers withdrew their ads – the biggest
advertiser who makes a great deal of fighting foreign brands and powers on the
strength of his swadeshi brand to sell his products, vanished from the ABP
screen in a trice.
Next, one started getting information that many advertisers were getting
messages from unnamed sources to stop their ads to the channel. In the 15
days that the satellite link was disturbed, it was not only the Hindi national news channel that was affected but four regional language channels as well.
If people are not able to watch your channel from 9 pm to 10 pm, it effectively
means that you are not being watched precisely during the slot when there is
maximum viewership. A decline in TRPs is a foregone conclusion. For the
channels indulging in limpid praise of the government, this would come as a
relief to know that as long as they go on like this their TRPs will remain
unimpaired. For the people, the powers that be would have conveyed the
message that ultimately, the Modi that people want to see is the Modi with an
eternally successful mien. Also that people have no interest whatsoever in
watching those who raise questions. Even the I&B minister knows the way the
game is played. That is why his response in parliament did not fail to utter the
mantra of TRP. As to why the channel’s TRP was climbing prior to the blackout,
he maintained a prudent silence.
During this entire process, several questions were raised. There were several
views to the effect that ABP should raise the entire spectrum of issues. It was
even suggested that if the signal was disturbed during the primetime slot of
Masterstroke, the programme should be repeated later in the night or in the
morning. Everything hinged on one central question – whether to go up against,
to challenge, the powers that be, or not. The silence following each question
was an answer in itself.
After my resignation, the storm suddenly passed
The conclusion of this long saga is no less interesting. The editor-in-chief who is also proprietor, or the management, stands before you with folded hands, asking you what should be done. In these circumstances, what can you do – go on
leave perhaps, or resign. And miracle of miracles, the minute you put in your
resignation, the Patanjali ads are back! Masterstoke sees an increase in ads as
well. The 15-minute slot for ads, which had shrunk to a mere three minutes,
swells up to 20 minutes. I resigned on August 2 and, hey presto, that very night
the satellite link became stable.
While I was still employed with ABP, there was a day when journalists in
parliament’s central hall were told that ABP would be taught a fitting lesson, and who did Punya Prasoon think he was. Two days prior to that incident and a day
after it, the BJP president had sternly instructed the people in charge of the
BJP’s social media in Ranchi and Patna, “to not spare Punya Prasoon” – to
target him through the social media.
The same instructions were given to the people handling the BJP’s social media
in Jaipur as well. But the problem the powers that be face is this –people may
attach themselves to power either due to threats or the lure of money and
power, but they are unable to mould themselves entirely in the image of the
powerful. So from Ranchi, Patna and Jaipur, those managing the BJP’s social
media handles kept informing me that I was in for some more torrid online
When the game of power is being played so openly, which editor’s guild is one
expected to write to, which journalist’s organisation should one alert – to think in line with power is of no use, at least air your grievances, and then we shall fight.
As if we are speaking not of the Editor’s Guild but an official secretariat, and
those at its helm are not journalists but sarkari babus! In the end, my appeal to you is simply this: fine, don’t challenge the powers that be, but when confronted with a truth that is so clearly visible, at least don’t cover your eyes with a blindfold.