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Amrita Rai’s comeback

After an eight-month-long sabbatical, veteran scribe and wife of Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh, Amrita Rai will now be back in her journalistic avatar to head a digital news start-up founded by Gurdeep Singh Sappal, the former editor-in-chief of Rajya Sabha TV. Sappal announced on his Facebook page that Rai will be joining his twin ventures, HashTagNews and HindKisan, as managing editor. A journalist for over two decades, Rai had quit RSTV in August 2017 after serving as a senior news anchor with it for six years. Her departure from RSTV was reportedly triggered by the election of the BJP’s M Venkaiah Naidu as the vice-president and ex-officio chairman of the Rajya Sabha. Rai had then accompanied her husband, on his six-month-long Narmada Parikrama, travelling nearly 2,500 km across Madhya Pradesh. HashTagNews and HindKisan are both likely to serve as the Congress’ mouthpiece, articulating pro-farmer and pro-poor issues while attacking the Modi-led government at the centre and BJP regimes in nearly two dozen states. It is pertinent to note that Sappal himself is known for his proximity to the Congress leadership. His appointment as the chief executive of RSTV during the UPA days was seen as a reward for his loyalty to Rahul Gandhi at a time when the Nehru-Gandhi scion was struggling to revive his party in UP, with Digvijaya serving as his chief lieutenant.

Foreign hand that wasn’t

Karnataka pre-poll surveys have been a mixed bag of predictions. There was, however, one particular survey that stood out. This wasn’t a survey broadcast on any news channel or published in a newspaper but one that made the rounds on WhatsApp. The Janta Ki Baat survey, purportedly conducted by the BBC, showed a clear majority for the BJP, projecting a landslide win of 135 seats in the 224-member Karnataka Vidhan Soudha.

The ruling Congress, according to the poll, was expected to finish third with just 35 seats while the JD(S) was poised to win 45 seats. The survey brought cheer to the BJP and its supporters at a time when they have been left dumbfounded by Siddaramaiah’s rebuttals to Narendra Modi’s and Amit Shah’s acerbic attacks.

The only problem with this survey, supposedly conducted by a foreign media organisation, and so more reliable than the desi pollsters, is that it is fake. The BBC, on May 8, was forced to issue a clarification saying: “A fake survey on Karnataka polls has been circulating on WhatsApp and claims to be from BBC News. We’d like to make absolutely clear that it is fake and does not come from the BBC. The BBC does not commission pre-election surveys in India.”

Tribune Merry-go-round

Nearly two months after the controversial exit of veteran journalist Harish Khare as editor-in-chief of The Tribune, the trust that runs the iconic newspaper (once headed by greats like Prem Bhatia and Hari Jaisingh) has finally managed to find a replacement. Rajesh Ramachandran, who recently quit Outlook magazine as its editorial boss, is set to join as editor-in-chief. Ruben Banerjee, who had quit as national affairs editor of Hindustan Times in December last year, will be replacing Ramachandran at Outlook.

Ramachandran’s innings at The Tribune will be keenly watched, especially by the media fraternity, as it comes at a time when the newspaper has been facing flak, like many other news organisations, for compromising on its editorial freedom to keep the ruling elite in New Delhi happy. Khare’s abrupt decision to put in his papers over two months before his contract as editor of The Tribune was to end had been attributed to the pressure he faced from The Tribune Trust, headed by Jammu and Kashmir Governor NN Vohra. This was after the paper carried an investigative report that exposed how easy it was to breach data gathered under Aadhaar. Earlier, in October 2017, The Tribune had published a front- page apology to former Punjab Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia for publishing two reports about his alleged links with druglords. Khare had offered to quit in protest against the apology, reportedly forced on him by the Trust.

Digital Slavery

The Times Group Managing Director, the evergreen, smooth-tongued Vineet Jain, was completely upbeat about the growth and future of the Indian media industry in a recent speech before the 15th Asia Media Summit. With more than 900 TV channels and about 17,000 newspapers, India is the most diverse and vibrant media market in the world today, Jain exulted without, however, commenting on vertical integration, monopolies and oligopolies and politically-oriented corporate ownership.

He did, however, strike one negative note, bemoaning that “digital India” was increasingly losing its sovereignty. India’s digital economy holds significant promise, he remarked, but “dig­ital India looks to become an extension of US and Chinese companies rather than a strong standalone ecosystem. These companies now dominate digital businesses in India. They can leverage larger balance sheets and resources from their home markets. Unlike traditional industries, for these companies, expanding into India is as simple as flipping a switch, requiring little investment in India to succeed”.

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