Newspaper owned by Times of India group takes self-censorship on banned currency story to new level, but makes embarrassing gaffes

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A day after Janta Ka Reporter first reported how Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance-owned News18 had taken down the story on a cooperative bank with BJP President Amit Shah as its director collecting most banned notes from its website; more facts have emerged that appear to cause more shame to Indian journalism.

Amit Shah

 

Among those very few media outlets that carried the explosive news based on the information obtained by the RTI Activist Manoranjan S Roy were Janta Ka Reporter, Economic Times (Times of India group), Reliance-owned News18, Firstpost and New Indian Express, whose editorial director is Prabhu Chawla.

The headline carried by News18 had said, “Bank with Amit Shah as director collected most banned notes among DCCBs: RTI”

However, the story mysteriously disappeared from the News18 website within ours of it being published. Upon clicking the link,a  404 message appears stating, “We’re sorry! The page you were looking for couldn’t be found.” Although the original link to the story published by News18 is still available on Google News.

Another outlet owned by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance also took down the story embarrassing Amit Shah from the Firstpost website. Its headline too was similar to that of News18. But, just like News18, it too decided to take down the story.

New Indian Express too followed suit and decided to remove the link from its website. The paper’s editorial director Prabhu Chawla has long been perceived to be a BJP sympathetic editor.

What came as the biggest shock was from the Economic Times, which decided not to remove the story, earning plaudits for its so-called fearless journalism. But not many have noticed that the website had taken self-censorship to a whole new level, thereby severely compromising editorial ethos of journalism.

The website removed every reference to Shah that had the potential to cause any embarrassment to the BJP President while still calling it an IANS story. The original report was filed by the news agency IANS, which has stood by its reporter. But, even after making a host of changes, ET refuses to remove IANS as its author. At best, the website can add a line ‘With inputs from IANS’ to avoid misleading the audience.

Even though the ET bosses removed every reference to Shah understandably to please the top BJP leadership, it continued to have IANS as author of its report.  As highlighted by fact-checking website Boomlive, ET’s original headline ‘Bank with Amit Shah as director’ changed to Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank.’ It also re-wrote the first para of the story.

The first para of the original ET report said, “A district cooperative bank, which has Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah as a director, netted the highest deposits among such banks of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes that were abruptly demonetised on November 8, 2016, according to RTI replies received by a Mumbai activist.”

Hours later this changed to “A district cooperative bank, Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank (ADCB), netted the highest deposits among such banks of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes that were abruptly demonetised on November 8, 2016, according to RTI replies received by a Mumbai activist.” The sentence highlighted in saffron in the first para disappeared. 

Photo: Boomlive

The ET website, however, simply forgot to remove its ‘Amit Shah’ tag from the bottom of the story. The selection of words for tagging in any report is usually linked to the topic of the story or to highlight the individual’s or topic’s relevance in the published story.

Times of India group’s chief Vineet Jain was recently stung by the Cobrapost website admitting on tape to push the Hindutva agenda to favour the BJP in exchange of money.

The Congress called it “Modi government’s crackdown on media”, as the party held an emergency press conference to demand an explanation from PM Modi. The party’s chief spokesperson, Randeep Surjewala, said, “By suppressing the media, truth cannot be hidden.”

An RTI reply had sensationally revealed that a cooperative bank in Gujarat with BJP President Amit Shah as director, had collected the highest volume of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes that were abruptly demonetised on 8 November, 2016 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A report by IANS had said that the bank in question secured deposits of Rs 745.59 crore of the demonetised notes — in just five days after PM Modi declared Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes illegal in a shock announcement. All the district cooperative banks were banned from accepting deposits of the demonetised currency notes from the public after 14 November, 2016 fearing that black money would be laundered through this route.

Interestingly, according to the website of the Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank (ADCB), Shah continues to remain its director raising serious conflict of interest concerns given his proximity to the finance ministry as the president of the ruling party. Janta Ka Reporter accessed the website on Thursday and found that Shah was still being described as one of the directors of the cooperative bank. (see below).

He was also the bank’s chairman in 2000. ADCB’s total deposits on 31 March, 2017, were Rs 5,050 crore and its net profit for 2016-17 was Rs 14.31 crore.

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