Speculations rife about Rajdeep Sardesai quiting India Today

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Hours after India Today put its Consulting Editor Rajdeep Sardesai off-air for two weeks over spreading fake news during the Tractor Rally riots, he has reportedly quit the channel. According to sources, Rajdeep Sardesai was found guilty of spreading two major fake news in just one week, after which he was suspended for two weeks by the media house.

Earlier in the day, media reports suggested that he was taken off-air by India Today and also faced one-month salary cut. Reportedly, India Today has taken the unprecedented step to penalise the senior journalist violated social media policies of the media house several times.

Sources claim that termed his suspension and salary cut a big humiliation for him, and he decided to submit his resignation from India Today. However, in the absence of any official confirmation from either India Today or Rajdeep Sardesai, this remains a speculation.

On Republic Day, during the Tractor Rally that went violent, Sardesai had tweeted an image of the protestor Navneet and declared that he was shot at by Delhi Police. He had tweeted, “one person, 45-year-old Navneet killed allegedly in police firing at ITO.” In a bid to pump up emotions, he had added, “Farmers tell me: the ‘sacrifice’ will not go in vain.” He had also tweeted a picture of the deceased’s body covered in the Indian tricolour.

Rajdeep Sardesai’s now-deleted tweet

However, Navneet had died after the tractor he was driving to break police barricades turned turtle. He died instantly, as per reports. After it was pointed out to him on Twitter, he had deleted the tweet.

Rajdeep Sardesai did not stop there. Later, when he went live on India Today, he repeated the lie and said that the farmer was shot in the head by police. He claimed that Navneet Singh was driving the tractor and he was “shot in the head” and suffered a bullet injury that resulted in his death.

Earlier on 23rd January, Sardesai had also joined to accuse the President of India of unveiling the wrong portrait of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. After the official Twitter handle of the Rashtrapati Bhavan had posted the image of portrait on the occasion of 125th birth anniversary of the freedom fighter, several journalists and opposition leaders had alleged that the portrait was of actor Prosenjit Chatterjee, who had played the role of Bose in a movie. But later it was revealed that the portrait was based on a photograph of Bose, which was supplied by his grand-nephew. Rajdeep Sardesai was one of the journalists to spread the fake news on Twitter, along with others like Barkha Dutt, Sagarika Ghose, Rohini Singh etc.

Looking back, 2020: Journalists on their highs, lows and hopes for Indian media

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Sushanta Talukdar, editor, NEZine

Dependence on the government and the market for revenue have left some of the regional and local media devastated during the pandemic. The decline of regional and local vernacular media has led to diminishing media space for the diversity of smaller nationalities, their language, cultural practices, and beliefs that make India a plural society. We have to remain optimistic that New Year 2021 will dawn with hope for the resilience of Indian journalism against such marginalisation and dilution of its public-interest role.

In the Northeast, about 50 journalists and 150 non-journalist staff lost their jobs after several newspapers and television houses downsized their operations. Journalists of leading dailies in Assam are taking home reduced salaries after media houses announced salary cuts due to a decline in revenue. Some of the journalists who were sacked by newspapers or television houses have got openings in digital news websites launched during the year.

However, there is not much transparency about the investment and revenue model of most of the news outlets on the digital platforms and, therefore ,it is too early to rush to a conclusion about the long-term sustainability of these websites and the job security of journalists engaged by them. A disturbing trend is that some of the news websites have indulged in publishing stories with sensational headlines, in total disregard to media ethics and the basics of journalism, in a desperate bid to get more likes and shares besides inflated views of video content.

Akash Banerjee, YouTuber and satirist

The high point of the media was the government trying to crack down on digital media and trying to regulate it. We have seen the independence and credibility of digital media coming to the fore, and 2020 would be a watershed year for that. Digital journalism has been around for more than a decade but the government only felt the urge to try and control it in the middle of a pandemic, which shows how far we have come. There is a clear correlation here.

I come from the world of television and left TV in 2012. Never in its history has mainstream television news been as cursed, exposed, and abused in the manner that it was in 2020. We are at a point in time where reporters are being heckled. Although I’m not a big fan of people being heckled, I can completely understand why it is happening.

I think 2021 should be the year where reporters think about what they are doing with their lives and if they are being instrumental in others’ lives and freedoms being lost. There comes a time where you start to question what sort of orders you are following and I think that time for media came in 2020.

This was the first year that I saw reporters quit channels because their conscience told them to; this was never the cause before. 2020 showed us that farmers managed to do something that urbans, liberals or elites could not: call out the media for the fascist supporters that they are.

Mohammad Ali, independent journalist

As an independent journalist based in New York, I keep a sharp eye on India. I don’t have great words to offer on the subject. I report on the growth of the Hindu Right and its impact on ideas of citizenship and democracy in India. There is no doubt that 2020 saw the majority of the Indian media turning majoritarian, and that’s merely a reflection of the society’s shift to the Right.

I want to make it clear that I think the English-speaking press is marginal in forming and influencing the psyche of the country. By “majority of Indian media”, I mean Hindi newspapers and news channels (read: entertainment) and the vernacular press. Look at the reportage of the majority of the Indian media on the anti-CAA protests, the Delhi riots, and Covid, and you will understand what I mean.

The role played by the majority of the Indian press on reporting a discriminatory law like CAA was shameful and extremely disappointing to say the least. There was numerous evidence to suggest that a large number of Indian citizens who protested against the CAA in Uttar Pradesh were brutalised and killed by the police, but that never made it to the Hindi press and Hindi news channels. The media failed to question the manner in which the Narendra Modi government arrested innocent citizens, who protested against the CAA, for the Delhi riots. No action was ever taken against BJP leaders like Kapil Mishra who delivered hate speeches and allegedly provoked mobs in the run-up to the riots.

We have a news website which projects a Hindu extremist chief minister — who was booked for hate speeches and who is notorious for his bigotry against India’s minorities — as an ideal administrator, despite a total absence of his credentials on the matter of law and order and development as we know in a democracy. Similarly, the only English newspaper, which had popularly carried its editorial page blank during the Emergency, has lost its appetite for investigative reporting on the Modi government.

Frankly, I don’t find the need to read mainstream English or Hindi newspapers for their reporting. Websites like Scroll, the Wire, Article14, Newslaundry and NewsClick are sufficient to know a 360-degree perspective on India. I did a year-long investigation of the Bajrang Dal and published the piece in WIRED magazine. I say this with some sadness that given the ongoing censorship in the Indian media, no one would have published that piece in its current form. And that, for me, is the tragedy of the Indian media. That is why I have no hope that the situation will be any better in 2021.

Another TMC minister quits cabinet ahead of Bengal polls

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In yet another jolt for the TMC dispensation, ahead of the assembly polls, West Bengal forest minister Rajib Banerjee on Friday quit the Mamata Banerjee cabinet. Banerjee, in a letter to the chief minister, said he was tendering his resignation as a cabinet minister, but did not cite any reason.

“It has been a great honour and privilege to serve the people of West Bengal. I heartily convey my gratitude for getting this opportunity,” he said in the letter. The Domjur MLA, who had been airing his grievances against a section of ruling party leaders over the past few weeks, joins the string of TMC leaders and legislators who recently quit the Mamata Banerjee camp.