Media Matters

India Today fires journalist for tweet criticising ‘fake news peddling’ TV anchors

The journalist had said that promoters who turn a blind eye to hate-mongering reports should be tried as ‘hate speech profiteers.’

The India Today group has fired a journalist because of a tweet in which she criticises media promoters for turning a blind eye to “hate-mongering, fake news spreading” TV anchors and editors. Angshukanta Chakraborty, the political editor of DailyO, a website dedicated to commentary and analysis that is part of the India Today group, said she was terminated from the company on Monday after refusing to delete the tweet.

According to Chakraborty, the tweet was not targeted at any organisation in particular. “I wrote this because this is what was happening in the media,” she said. “It was not directed at any organisation or any individual. It was a generalised statement and I stand by it. It didn’t get many RTs or anything and it wasn’t even my pinned tweet... yet I got a call asking me to delete it because management was unhappy.”

Chakraborty said that she refused to delete her tweet because she did not think she had done anything wrong, and stood by what she said. She subsequently was part of two meetings in which she was asked to reconsider her choice, with the knowledge that the management was unhappy. She says it seemed to die down after that, but then on Monday, she got a call from Human Resources in which they offered her three options, delete the tweet, resign or face termination.

“I decided I won’t resign, and I should not own up to any guilt, I don’t think I’m guilty,” Chakraborty said. “So I said that termination is the only way out. And so they gave me a letter of termination.”

Queries were sent to Kalli Purie, Managing Director and Chairperson for the TV Today network as well as Vice-Chairperson for the India Today Group, and to Prerna Koul Mishra, Editor Content Services, who looks over social media for the group, requesting a response on the matter. This piece will be updated if and when they respond to the queries.

Chakraborty says her tweet did not fall afoul of India Today’s social media guidelines. “It was in compliance with social media policy, it was not ad hominem, no one was tagged, it was not abusive, and moreover, it was written by someone who makes a living by making political commentary,” she said.

Per India Today’s guidelines, given to employees when they join, staff are expected to put a disclaimer on their Twitter bios that views and retweets are “made in personal capacity”. Chakraborty said her bio reflected this, and she only changed it after her termination. A recent email to staffers in fact, specifically asked all journalists in the group to make this clear and even gave them a deadline in January to do so, prompting some unhappiness within the newsroom. The policy has been used to police the tweets of a number of journalists within the group.

“Given that platforms are being seen as formal tools of news ecosystem now, it has become important to call out that the views mentioned by influencers and reporters, on the handles they maintain, are personal,” the email said, adding that this compliance will be continuously reviewed by the Social Media team for all ITG staff.
“This distinction is important to make in order to indemnify the Group from any controversy that somebody’s individual views or opinion may lead to.”

The Group’s “best practices” document on social media says editorial employees should not “allow their internet activities to undermine the impartiality of the India Today Group’s coverage, in fact, intent, or in appearance”. The document also says, “Social Media is covered under our Code of Conduct. Violation will invite disciplinary measures, including termination and legal action.”

Chakraborty said she wanted to ask if the India Today management’s response to her tweet amounted to an admission of guilt. She claims her tweet, about promoters turning a blind-eye to “hate-mongering, fake news spreading news anchors, editors, reporters and writers” was not aimed at anyone in particular. “I haven’t tagged anybody, I haven’t mentioned anybody, yet they had a problem, is this an admission of guilt?” she said. “Is this a way of admitting guilt?”

Besides DailyO, the India Today group includes the India Today magazine, Mail Today, a daily newspaper, AajTak, a Hindi news channel and IndiaToday TV, an English news channel, among others. The last two in particular have been accused of spreading hate as well as occasionally peddling fake news, whether it is regarding the “GPS chip” that was said to be in the new Rs 2,000 note or information about communal violence. Reports from AajTak and IndiaToday TV made it to Altnews’ list of top fake news stories circulated by Indian media in 2017.

Asked if she thought this was about the political atmosphere, Chakraborty says she believes it has more to do with corporate media. “I have written extremely anti-establishment pieces, I have been allowed to say lots of things, in fact, I have never been told not to say anything,” she said. “That’s why I had a great time at DailyO, which I helped shape. However, this is about practicing hypocrisy. You say something in your columns, but you live by completely different rules. This is how corporate media operates... it is about complete subordination and a controlling effort.”

India Today TV’s current ad campaign in fact calls itself India’s “most democratic newsroom”, with occasional spots on the channel showing journalists within the organisation disagreeing on different matters. “A #DemocraticNewsroom has many voices but one responsibility – to keep the news honest,” says one of the lines used with this campaign. “We pride ourselves in covering all sides.”

Update: Prerna Koul Mishra, Editor, Content Services for the India Today Group sent a response to several queries about Chakraborty’s termination. The official response, which does not spell out what part of Chakraborty’s actions the group found to be in “breach of editorial conduct” is below:


“Angshukanta Chakravorty’s services were terminated due to breach of editorial conduct. The India Today Group prides itself in being the gold standard of credible journalism. Our Code of Conduct is sacrosanct across all our mediums, including social media. Actions contrary to our editorial ethos have no place in our organization. 

As was done in this case, the concerned employee is counseled multiple times prior to taking any action. The violation is also investigated by an internal panel and taken to logical conclusion. 

This individual case, being presented in any other manner, is mala fide and should be understood as such.”  

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

Play

This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.