2013: Annus horribilis for Indian mainstream media

Last Updated: Mon, Dec 30, 2013 02:06 hrs

​2013 was another bad year for the mainstream in India and social media continued to gain traction, more credibility and it is clear that the latter is setting the agenda for the nation.

It is amazing how many media houses show quarter-on-quarter losses and still have been surviving for so many years. One of the most high-profile shut downs was in the Outlook group which pulled the plug on Marie Claire, People and Geo.

The TV18 group laid off around 350 employees from their news channels alone with hundreds of others going in other departments. The problem was that in the past media layoffs were not covered in the media, but this time they became high-profile and there was a lot of muck-raking done in social media forums.

IBN7 also lost its stringerRajesh Verma, who died in police firing while covering the Muzaffarnagar riots.

The MSM in general has been attacking Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, but this year they were forced to course change, albeit reluctantly. With his rising popularity, TV channels in particular have been forced to give Modi a lot of coverage, especially for his speeches.

So much so that critics have accused of them being virtual PR agents of Modi!

It all came to a head when they telecast Modi’s Independence Speech soon after the one done by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Information & Broadcasting Ministry ended up sending a letter to the TV channels over that speech and even virtually threatened to pull the plug on them!

In the past mistakes by prominent journalists used to be brushed under the carpet, but with social media it is getting increasingly difficult. When NDTV anchor Srinivasan Jain used the term “chhota mota blast” to describe a terrorist operationin India vis a vis the Ishrat Jahan case, it went viral.

His colleague Nidhi Razdan was also trending for all the wrong reasons. In a curious case, Razdan was seen opposing an Indian CM (Modi) and questioning the Supreme Court while a British MP on the other side (Barry Gardiner) was seen defending them!

The YouTube clips got hundreds of thousands of views and Gardiner said, “You are very very keen to talk over me rather than conduct an interview and if you think that democracy is best served by not observing the views and the judgement of your own Supreme Court, then I’m most surprised.”

Prominent journalists coming under the scanner in cyberspace has become a commonplace occurrence.

Another thing that used to get buried in the pre-Twitter age was media sackings and resignations. But two high profile exits became the talk of cyberspace.

Siddharth Varadarajan (@svaradarajan) announced on Twitter…

With The Hindu's owners deciding to revert to being a family run and edited newspaper, I am resigning from The Hindu with immediate effect.

The Hindu’s problems continued with a case on them related to a land dispute. They got off the hook on a case on how Varadarajan shouldn’t have been hired in the first case. But the clean chit came from the court after he quit!

Then there was Hartosh Singh Bal (@HartoshSinghBal) who quit Open magazine and the very first three Tweets of his new account read…

decided to follow the trend of making journalistic announcements on twitter

Received termination notice from Open today after I refused Rs 15 lakh to move on quietly. Last story I wrote was


Offer culmination of month-long attempts to get me to leave without fuss. Decision imposed by owner Sanjiv Goenka. No reasons cited

Of course the climax had to be Tarun Tejpal. Since 2004, when the Congress came to power at the centre, the stocks of both Tejpal and Tehelka have been on the rise. However after his own employee accused him of rape, everything came crashing down.

First, both Tejpal and his deputy Shoma Chaudhury were thrashed not only in social media, but by TV channels too. The unprecedented scale of these attacks must have left Tejpal shell-shocked. He got higher TRP ratings than Modi for that week!

Former Tehelka employees came out and started revealing how all was not well in Tehelka even before the “untoward incident”. One after another report started coming out of financial irregularities within Tehelka.

Now the problem is that sleeping editors is a common occurrence in India and many media houses are also under the financial scanner. Is the Tejpal case going to open a can of worms? Events in the media will be watched really closely in 2014.

One such case did come out in the open immediately when a survivor came on national channels alleging harassment and a subsequent cover-up by a CEO in the Dainik Bhaskar group. The editor of Chennai-based Captain TV was also arrested over a sexual harassment complaint filed by a sub-editor.

While the Indian media is seen by and large pro-Congress, it will be interesting to see how events will unfold if and when Modi becomes PM!

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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. 

He blogs here.