An Undeclared Emergency: Controlling Media from the 10th Floor

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Television and the net media are making news, especially in the context of coverage given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It has been divulged by a fairly popular TV anchor that the Modi government is monitoring the media from the 10th floor of Soochna Bhavan with a 200-strong team of bureaucrats answering only to I&B Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and the PMO.  A report for Different Truths.

“Okay. One meeting? Or two? One for the papers and one for the TV?”

“One, I think. The TV people like to be in the same discussions with the newspaper guys. Makes them feel like journalists.”

“What about radio?” Daniel asked.

“@*#k radio.”

That’s dialogue straight out of a New York Times bestseller and sets succinctly the hierarchy among news providers. Print is by far the tops. Web doesn’t figure and television plays second fiddle to newspapers – quite satisfied with being in company.

In India, however, these last couple of weeks, television and the net media are making news, especially in the context of coverage given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It has been divulged by a fairly popular TV anchor that the Modi government is monitoring the media from the 10th floor of Soochna Bhavan with a 200-strong team of bureaucrats answering only to I&B Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and the PMO.

With general elections 2019 approaching at breakneck speed, as also testing-the-waters 2018 elections in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, some media are “breaking free”, and a supposedly panicked government is hitting back with an iron fist couched in velvet gloves.

The crap hit the fan when ABP News anchor Punya Prasun Bajpai, an import from Aaj Tak, got his team to interview Chandramani Kaushik, the star of one of Modi’s recent ‘Man Ki Baat’ and let it out that the Chandramani’s responses were coached and Modi government was spreading disinformation; that Modi’s flagship programmes were not the success they were made out to be.

Shortly, after the ‘Masterstroke’, Bajpai’s primetime show title, ABP News found itself mired in controversy and ‘blackout glitches’, and within days three top ABP journalists found themselves without jobs. Bajpai being one of them. Picked up by a prominent anti-Modi web news outlet, Bajpai has added more to the controversy, which is now down to the wire.

Bajpai wrote two pieces for the website, one on how the Modi government pressurised the “owner-edtor” of ABP News to capitulate and the other which brought to ground the “200-strong monitors monitoring the media” from the 10th floor of Soochna Bhavan – the monitoring done to keep the media on a tight leash, ensure “respectable” coverage to Modi, Shah and Rathore, in that order.

According to Bajpai, the overwhelming focus is on the television media. Anchors and television news channels which stick to the straight and narrow, be good to Modi & Co., being favoured while those which cast a jaundiced eye loosing advertisement, TRP and much more – like “no show” of BJP spokespersons.

Of course, not to speak of “blackout glitches” like the ones ABP News was allegedly subjected to. The gist of what Bajpai has alleged is that Goebbels has set up office on the 10th floor of Soochna Bhavan, strategically located next to CBI Headquarters, and news is being censored and controlled – a kind of emergency that doesn’t require declaration.

Meaning Modi is – if not a Hitler and Idi Amin – a close political avatar of Indira Gandhi, whose Emergency template has been tampered with cleverly by a master-tinkerer. Essentially, the same template but nobody accountable; nothing to hang the toothbrush on, with the medicine cabinet not among the toilet fittings.

The government’s response to Bajpai’s “unsubstantiated” revelations has been for the Prime Minister to give an email interview where he has “cleared the air” on many aspects of his governance, an account of “four-and-a-half years in action” – jobs, GST and…

Not exactly what the media ordered. Modi is still to hold a press conference where every media gets to ask him questions, but you cannot force anybody in a democracy, least of all a democratically-elected Prime Minister, somebody who stresses that come 2019, he will return to power with an even bigger majority. To many media outlets that’s warning that can kill any appetite for asking uncomfortable questions of the Prime Minister.

Is Modi a dictator in democratic garb? The answer: Goebbels are not just on the 10th floor of Soochna Bhavan. There are the ‘G’ in the media, too. Those with an anti-Modi DNA in them. Opinion makers who repeat and repeat till there’s no more wire to traverse. Leaving only this: If God wanted one man to rule, He would have come down and done it himself!

Aditya Aamir
©IPA Service 

Photo from the Internet