On Sunday, news-website Firstpost took down an editorial published on July 20. The move was curious when we take into account the fact that the article was an opinion piece written by its Editor-in-chief R Jagannathan and questioned Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
Media-watchdog The Hoot first took note of the article being taken down and cited it to “Not so creeping interference”. The website also hinted that things were a bit shaky on the Firstpost home-front with its executive editor, Lakshmi Chaudhry, putting in her papers and the staff not too pleased with not having the freedom to criticise certain leaders in the current government.
The article itself, titled “GST, LAND BILL ON HOLD: MODI MAY HAVE TO RETHINK JAITLEY AS FINANCE MINISTER”, was critical of Arun Jaitley as the Finance Minister. The piece (now inaccessbile), which can still be found on Firstpost’s sister publication, in.com, went as far to suggest that the Prime Minister should re-evaluate Jaitley’s position as FM.
Firstpost is part of the Network 18 stable that was taken over by Reliance Industries Limited. Rumours then started doing the rounds of whether the corporate biggie would lay down an editorial line.
This is not the first time that an editorial pertaining to Jaitley has allegedly found itself devoid of white canvas. SC lawyer Ram Jethmalani had alleged “mischief” on Jaitley’s part when his piece in a weekly was taken down but TNM’s attempts to ask the journalistic ‘why’ was met with a stone-wall on this occasion.
We tried to get in touch with Chaudhry who had put in her papers during the time the article was still up on the site. She said that she was not speaking to anyone in the media about the matter. “Still serving notice period,” was her response, in a way confirming her exit from the organisation.
Firstpost editor R Jagannathan was not forthcoming on the matter either and refused to comment.
Highly placed sources within the company’s hierarchy however confirmed to TNM that changes were being touted in the editorial policy, especially about negative reporting on some top BJP leaders, however it was unsure if any concrete policy had been formulated.
"It seems unlikely that Firstpost will follow any diktat as long as Jaggi (R Jagannathan) remains at the helm," said a senior Editor.
Media critic and journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta believes that the recent move will affect the “credibility” of the organisation.
“If the owners of Firstpost believe that the credibility of websites would be enhanced if there is no criticism of those in position and power even within the government, they are mistaken,” he says while speaking to TNM.
Thakurta adds that Firstpost comes across as a website which provided more opinion than news per se, and “even if the opinion is right-of-centre, shutting it out would not bode well for their credibility.” He says that what is also significant and may miss scrutiny “more importantly, is what is not put out (on their website).”