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Fired Up

The tragic fire in a Mumbai pub which killed 15 customers on December 29, had another unsuspecting but prominent victim—The Times Network, the broadcasting arm of the Times of India Group. Their broadcasting operations are in Kamala Mills in Lower Parel, adjacent to the pub—they share a boundary wall—and the fire entered the offices and studios, causing considerable infrastructural damage. The network’s entire bouquet of channels—Times Now, Mirror Now, ET Now, and entertainment channels Movies Now, Romedy Now and Zoom went off the air temporarily but restarted transmission after some frantic jugaad by engineers and technicians on-site who created makeshift studios.

The news channels—Times Now and Mirror Now, flew down the editorial teams to the network’s state-of-the-art studios in Noida where broadcast quality and facilities were better and space was available. For a while, however, Times Now and Mirror Now were running the same feed. The fire also affected the network’s Marathi channels. The Times group has had bad luck with fires. Last February, a major fire broke out in the TOI offices on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg in New Delhi from where The Times of India and The Economic Times print editions operate.

Behind the Bar

The blatant bias of two leading English news channels—Times Now and The Republic—has led to some predictable consequences. Both channels are pro-Modi and rabidly anti-Congress, often using fake news to attack the Congress and its president, Rahul Gandhi.

Arnab Goswami started the trend when he was in charge of Times Now and, after he quit, to launch The Republic, the channel was already cemented to its anti-Congress and pro-government stance. (Arun Shourie recently compared them to North Korean channels.) Arnab’s replacement, Rahul Shivshankar, has become an Arnab clone. The Congress has banned the two channels from any media interactions held by them. The breaking point was Times Now’s headline slamming Rahul Gandhi for taking time off to watch a movie—Star Wars, ironically enough—after the Gujarat campaigning.

Pardon the Advertising

In times when global media is facing huge advertising cuts, the opposite is true in India. Whe­ther newspapers or TV, advertising takes up a major chunk of space and is expected to grow 12 percent in 2018. The surprising growth is largely to do with government advertising. There is delicious irony in the fact that the BJP had criticised the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi for spending  Rs 526 crore on advertising its achievements in a calendar year. Now, an RTI application has revealed, the Modi government has spent Rs 3,755 crore in three-and-a-half years on its publicity. In comparison, the government’s allocation for pollution control over the same period is Rs 56.8 crore. No one in the media is complaining.

De-Pressing Times

Rarely do Press Clubs interfere in the working of the media outlets that most of their members belong to. The Press Club of India, on Delhi’s Raisina Road, has broken that taboo. The club, popular with sections of the media for its central location and reasonably priced food and liquor, recently wrote a letter to NDTV founder-chairperson Prannoy Roy, asking the broadcaster to “make the stance of NDTV clear” regarding what it termed “disturbing reports emanating from NDTV which refer to massive reduction and lay-offs of employees”.

This is a rare departure for the club but it based its unique stand on the fact that the club, also because of its prime location, has become a popular protest site for issues affecting the media, and that includes NDTV which organised a protest against government pressure and income tax raids where Roy was the main speaker.

The real reason, however, is that some club members close to the managing committee are among the large number of staff laid off by the broadcaster in its latest move to cut costs which means pay cuts for top management and a reduction in workforce by 25 percent. This affects over 300 staffers. It is the second cost-cutting exercise at NDTV in the last two years.

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