Former ABP News prime-time anchor Punya Prasun Bajpai on Saturday tweeted that the Editors Guild would only act on the allegations of government interference in the press if it received a written complaint.
Bajpai’s comments follow his resignation from the channel on August 2, the day after ABP News Managing Editor Milind Khandekar had quit. Their decisions came weeks after the channel had faced criticism from senior ministers for airing a segment that claimed that a woman who appeared in a video interaction with Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been tutored to make false claims that her income had doubled. The resignations of the two journalists triggered a debate on freedom of the press, the accountability of media owners and the government’s attitude to criticism.
During a debate in Parliament on Friday, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore claimed the government had not targeted the news channel. But Bajpai said Rathore’s statement in Parliament on Friday was not based on facts.
On the Editors Guild, Bajpai tweeted: “If Sanjaya (who narrated the action in the battle of Kurukshetra to blind king Dhritarashtra in the Mahabharata) himself becomes (blind like) Dhritarashtra, then perhaps it is apt for Dhritarashtra to be considered Yudhishthira (the eldest of the Pandava brothers, known for always speaking the truth).”
The channel was criticised by several quarters after Bajpai’s primetime show Masterstroke on July 8 featured a segment about a woman who said in a video interaction with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 20 that that her farm income had doubled. However, the ABP News report said that the woman had been tutored to say this. Several Bharatiya Janata Party leaders criticised the segment, claiming it was false. Amid these developments, several viewers said they were having trouble accessing the channel when Masterstroke was being broadcast in July.
On Thursday, Editors Guild President Shekhar Gupta said that he could not comment until he had more clarity from the former ABP News journalists. “We are talking to the ABP journalists and waiting for them to say something,” Gupta said. “The process of conversation is on so I’d rather not say anything. At some point, when we have more clarity you will hear from us.”
Gupta was not available for a comment on Bajpai’s tweets on Saturday. The story will be updated when he responds.
‘Misleading’ statement in Parliament
Bajpai also brought up the Union information and broadcasting minister’s and Opposition’s comments in the Lok Sabha on the matter. Bajpai said the Opposition did not know how to discuss media-related matters in Parliament. “The minister’s statement is misleading, not based on facts,” Bajpai tweeted about Rathore’s comment. “If there is no interference, are invisible forces at work?”
During the Lok Sabha’s Zero Hour on Friday, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge claimed the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre was intimidating the media to ensure that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his policies were not criticised.
Minister Rathore had dismissed the accusations, and said that the government had not issued a show-cause notice to the TV channel though it had aired wrong news. “The channel he [Kharge] is talking about ran a wrong story,” Rathore had said. “Despite that, the government did not issue a show-cause notice. If the government wanted to interfere, it would have because the Free Dish [state-run satellite TV service] is the government’s.”