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Aayush Soni
Media Minutes

Aayush Soni is a journalist based in New Delhi. Follow him on Twitter at @aayushsoni.

New benefits for old supporters

Swapan Dasgupta

ow that Narendra Modi is on course to become Prime Minister, his consistent supporters can expect to be rewarded for their cheerleading efforts. Buzz is that Swapan Dasgupta, a columnist, former managing editor at India Today and one of Modi›s most vocal supporters will play a «major role» in the new government. One option is that he could be India›s next high commissioner to the United Kingdom, given his Oxbridge credentials and an undying love for Pax Britannica. Dasgupta could also be appointed as Modi›s media advisor because of his strong networks within the Delhi journalism circuit. Apart from India Today, he›s also worked at The Telegraph, The Indian Express, writes a column for The Times of India and is a regular on practically every English-language news channel. Moreover, as an unabashedly right-leaning journalist, he accompanied LK Advani during his Bharat Uday Yatra in 2004 and is known to be close to Arun Jaitley — himself a phenomenal networker. Therefore, as media adviser, Dasgupta will be best suited to help Modi navigate the sharp currents of the media circuit in Delhi. Should that happen, one man who could feel very uncomfortable is Prabhu Chawla, the editorial director of The New Indian Express. Their rivalry goes back to the time when Chawla was Dasgupta›s boss at India Today and cut the Oxford-bred Bengali journalist down to size within the organisation. Rumour has it that Chawla also had some role to play in Dasgupta›s departure from the magazine, soon after the exit of Vajpayee›s NDA government in 2004. Dasgupta›s ascent into the power elite comes at a time when media discourse in the country is sharply tilting towards the right — often with amusing consequences. This week›s Open magazine is a collector›s edition devoted entirely to Modi. On the day election results were announced senior journalists like Karan Thapar addressed him as Prime Minister on Headlines Today – even before Manmohan Singh had formally resigned. One only hopes this Modi bhakti is a temporary expression of excitement rather than a preface of things to come in the next five years.

When vociferous media goes silent

Even as our media was engrossed with election coverage, news came in from the United States that Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, was fired. In the aftermath of that decision taken by publisher Arthur Sulzberger, a number of senior staffers at the paper expressed their views on what happened, on blogs, social media and in columns. Somini Sengupta, the paper's UN correspondent, asked for gender equity in the newsroom. Patricia Cohen, an arts and culture writer at the Times, expressed her sadness on what happened. Media columnist David Carr wrote a nuanced piece in which he commended Abramson's rise in a male-dominated business as well as detailing Sulzberger's reasons for firing her. As I browsed through these opinions it made me wonder: what if an Indian editor of a leading media organisation was summarily fired by its proprietor? Would journalists at such an organisation go public with their views? Unfortunately, recent history suggests nothing of this sort would happen here. When Siddharth Vardarajan announced his resignation from The Hindu in October last year, hardly anybody from the paper's newsroom spoke or wrote about how they felt. Similarly, when Hartosh Singh Bal was sacked from his position as political editor of the Open magazine, its staffers adopted a miasma of silence in public rather than voice their views. It isn't my contention that journalists at both these organisations were right or wrong in keeping quiet. After all, the fear of a backlash is very real, very high and, in these stressful times for the media, nobody wants to invite the wrath of the bosses. But it says something about our stifled media environment that is worth thinking about. If journalists don't feel free to go public on something that happens in their own newsrooms, then one shouldn't be surprised if they choose to remain silent on events that take place outside of them.

 
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