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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