Dera fiasco: Smriti Irani draws ire for twitter advisory to media

In a subsequent tweet, she wrote that her “drawing attention” tweet was an advisory issued by News Broadcasters Association, the parent entity of News Broadcasting Standards Authority

Photo by Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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Ashutosh Sharma

While the BJP governments in the Centre and Haryana struggle with the Dera Sacha Sauda fiasco, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani has tweeted out a media advisory presumably in the context of reportage on worsening law and order situation. The advisory asks TV channels to refrain from “causing panic, distress and undue fear”.

“Drawing attention of News Channels to Clause B of Fundamental Std. of NBSA refraining channels from causing panic, distress & undue fear,” she wrote on twitter and in a subsequent tweet clarified that “this advisory has been given by the offices of the National Broadcasters Association.”

There were many who immediately reacted to her tweet asking if she was attempting a cover up on Haryana government’s utter failure. Others, unsparing in their comments, curtly responded to the minister—who has dubious educational credentials—that there is a difference between objective reporting and fear-mongering, which she won’t understand.

Sharing the specific guidelines covering reportage, framed by the NBA, many questioned the minister’s silence over TV channels peddling and promoting sensationalism, superstitions, occultism, jingoism and other regressive views.

Madam, do you mean not to stress too much on the failure of the Government? A twitter user responded to the Minister.

Just like President and Prime Minister, the I&B minister also appealed “all citizens to maintain peace.” This again intrigued some twitter users to point out that “it was only Dera followers who are on the rampage” and the government needs to focus on them.

But this is not the first time that the minister has courted controversy over her twitter advisories to the media. On August 6, PTI posted this picture on twitter, reading a caption: “CM @Nitish Kumar urges Center to allocate funds liberally to strengthen subordinate judiciary in Bihar to provide speedy justice to litigants” and also dispatched it to its subscribers. But the picture appeared so objectionable to Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani that she publically admonished PTI on the twitter. The infuriated minister tweeted out: “@PTI_News is this how elected heads will be projected? Is this your official stand?”

The PTI picture showed as many as four men with two each wearing the masks of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The occasion was Raksha bandan. The men impersonating as Bihar CM are tying raki to the other men sporting masks of PM Modi in the picture. All of them looking into the camera.

PTI immediately not only deleted the picture from its twitter account but also apologised for “hurting sentiments”. In another tweet responding to the minister’s tweet it said: “PTI apologises for hurting sentiments and therefore has withdrawn the picture (sic).”

The news-agency also issued a ‘kill’ alert which is journalistic jargon for withdrawing a picture or a story, sent to the media outlets.

National Herald tweeted a question to the minister on August 8, asking what she found offensive in the picture but she hadn’t responded till the time of filing of this report.

Photo editor PTI, Gurinder Singh told National Herald: “This is beyond my authority to comment on the controversy. It was not just about the picture but also the tweet. Only the Editor in Chief can comment on this issue.”

National Herald sent e-mail queries to the Editor-in-Chief PTI over the entire issue but his response is still awaited. The e-mailed queries are as under:

  • What did the Minister find offensive about the picture in question?
  • Were you called upon to apologise by the government or PTI management?
  • Is it true that PTI has sacked the photographer who took the picture in question?

The real reason as to why the minister pulled up PTI publically and the latter tendered written apology on social media, however, remains a riddle wrapped in mystery. Many media observers point out that Modi government is overstepping its boundaries to tighten its control over media houses by dictating editorial policies.

Many in the media and political circles keep wondering what exactly was wrong with the picture. On social media many recalled how BJP’s IT cell would circulate morphed pictures to mock elected legislators when it was out of power.

Other vigilant tweeter users pointed out that it was BJP which in fact introduced Modi masks during election campaigns and poked fun at minister by posting the screenshots of the PTI’s picture in question. The picture continues making rounds of the social media.

On the contrary, several followers of the minister have been seeking “strict action” against PTI and other media houses for what they believe “defaming India and Narendra Modi government” in the world.

Previously, the Minister had alerted the PTI over photo of a waterlogged Chennai airport—which had been captioned as Ahmedabad airport in flood-ravaged Gujarat in July. The agency had to issue a clarification and fire a photographer.

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Published: 26 Aug 2017, 6:04 PM
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