MEDIA TARGETED: After some media outlets targeted Modi, PM turns heat on them, stops govt ads to TOI, The Hindu

Image credit INDIA TV


NEW DELHI: The Modi government has reportedly stopped release of government advertisements to three major English language newspapers — The Hindu, The Times of India and The Telegraph. The matter was raised in Parliament a while ago, but the government is unruffled. It is learnt that a couple of other newspapers too have been removed from eligibility for central government advertisements.

Government advertisements are a major source of revenue to newspapers, as also visual media. Many small-time newspapers simply sustain themselves on government advertisements.

The Hindu has been on an offensive against PM Modi and his government for long. The daily is seen to have leftist leanings in recent years, unlike in the past when it ran on highly professional and impartial lines under legendary owner-editors like Kasthuri. The daily turned leftist under the command of N Ram, a former JNU student and reportedly a card-holding member of the CPIM. There was serious concern within the newspaper management itself about the daily’s leftist outreach.The newspaper is already facing a financial crunch and gone are the days when it paid the largest pack of bonuses to its employees. 

It is not clear whether the Modi government worked indirectly too to hurt The Hindu. After Modi took power for the second term, The Hindu uncharacteristically found virtue in the Union Budget presented by Nirmala Sitharaman. There were those who interpreted it as a pat by The Hindu on Nirmala, a Brahmin from the South or an attempt to buy peace with Modi.

Times of India has been supportive of Modi and his government. It adopts a policy of equi-distance with all political parties, and avoids openly taking sides, unlike The Hindu which is seen to have often exceeded its brief in giving pin-pricks to Modi in specific. It was on a tangent. 

The perceived impartiality is seen as a major plus point for The Times of India, coming from the stable of a Jain family based in Mumbai and formerly in Calcutta, where it had major stakes in the jute business of olden days. The Hindu is run by a Brahmin family based in Chennai, and is known for its highly dignified ways in employer-employee relations and other matters as well. Ram is seen as a straggler in the family and politically inclined.

The Telegraph has a highbrow approach to journalism, and was seen in the past to be pro-Congress. It comes out of the Kolkata-based Anand Bazar Patrika group, one of the most successful entities in the print, and of late in television, fields.

What has come now from the government side is seen as part of an attempt by  PM Modi to muzzle the media — something that other governments too did in the past one way or the other. One of the favourite hits from the governments at all times was the denial of government advertisements. The first term of the Modi government did not go hard on this, though it had adopted indirect means to effect controls on the media. Knowing Modi’s temperament, several media outlets were careful about picking up issues with the government. For one, Modi’s information ministers had warned media outlets against carrying “baseless or factually incorrect” stories.

Modi had kept the media at a distance during his first term itself. He avoided taking media personnel on his frequent foreign trips; other than AIR and Doordarshan. If they wanted, they could follow him on their own, was his policy. He avoided holding press conferences, a rarity for all PMs. Modi would not take a question. He would rather hold forth from the pulpit and the media could pick operative parts of the speech from him. Media personnel who were used to enjoying a lot of clout in Delhi in the past were, to an extent, crestfallen. The very sight of Modi tensed them up.

It was widely perceived that the second term of the Modi government would be more “dangerous” to those who sought to challenge him. Modi, having won a second term effortlessly in the recent Lok Sabha polls, came to being regarded as a leader of high stature in his own right. The mass acceptance, as evidenced in the LS results in favour of the BJP, was beyond anyone’s imagination. Modi is now at a stage where there are no serious challengers.

Times of India, already having the largest share of readership and also the advertisement market to its side, could not care less. Union Government advertisement rates had been hiked some time ago, but still the rates are not high, and does not compare with the rates of commercial ads. Many of the government ads are related to auctions and the like, many of them full-page ads. Public sector ads too fetch substantial income to the media, and it would appear that these too might be stopped selectively to some newspapers. 

The instructions to block ads for some publications were issued in March, as per one report. Despite criticism in parliament and outside, the government refused to change its decision.

Modi can afford to be bold. For, none of the teasings by sections of the media worked to his disadvantage if election results are any indication. –IHN-NN


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