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Paranjoy Guha Thakurta quits as EPW editor: Adani Pressure

Sabrangindia 19 Jul 2017


Economic & Political Weekly
 (EPW) editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta stepped down after the celebrated and well-regarded Economic and Political weekly (EPW) refused to back him for his story against the political-corporate nexus published in the June 19 issue of the prestigious weekly. "As of today, i have resigned," he told Sabrangindia late last night. This move signals an all time low in Indian journalism: EPW has enjoyed a long and illustrious history in publication and prided itself, at least on being indepedent of such pressures.

Paranjoy, as he is well known and regarded has become one of the most recent --though not possibly the only -- top-level editorial casualty of corporate India’s bullying of investigative journalism.
The well established academic journal Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) has been served a defamation notice by the Adani Group on July 13. The notice was served over a story EPW ran on how the government allegdly altered rules for special economic zones (SEZs), which led to the Adani Group reaping a profit of Rs 500 crore. The EPW’s article titled “Modi Government’s ₹500 Crore Bonanza to Adani Group Company”. It claimed: “By frequently changing the rules relating to power projects located in special economic zones, the department of commerce in the ministry of industry and commerce has allowed Adani Power claims for refunds of customs duties to the tune of ₹500 crore. Curiously, the duties were never paid.”

The story was run by EPW in Vol. 52, Issue No. 24, June 17, 2017. In response to the article, EPW received a legal notice from a lawyer representing Adani Power, which is headed by Gautam Adani. The legal notice accused EPW and the writers of the article of defamation and threatened legal action unless the piece was retracted, an unconditional apology was issued, and any defamatory material on Adani not be published by the magazine “in any manner whatsoever”.

EPW, had then, just a week ago stood by its story and in his reply to Adani Power’s lawyer, EPW’s advocate reaffirmed that each and every word in the article was truthful and backed by documentary evidence. In the reply to the notice by Adani, they have stated among other things,

"8.            That on the issue of misuse of the export promotion scheme, even the Hon’ble Supreme Court has used very harsh language against your client as to how your client has misused the scheme and fraudulently inflated export turnover, and how your client has even without making actual exports, played around with the provisions of the scheme and tried to take undue advantage thereof. This finding of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has also been quoted by my client’s in the said article. Thus, the reporting done by my client’s is not only back and supported by documentary evidence, but also by judicial pronouncement.

"9.            That in view of the above it is re-iterated that there is not an iota of substance in your client’s bald claims. Your client will be well advised to withdraw your legal notice dated 24.06.2017, failing which my client shall be constrained to invoke the majesty of law to the hilt, should your client choose to trigger the first ill conceived/advised shot. Your client may kindly note the adage “be you ever so high, law is above you”. Your client may further be informed that truth can never be suppressed and it is the constitutional obligation of an independent journalist to surface the truth at any cost. I do sincerely hope, you would be gracious enough to suitably advise your client appropriately."

Known as SLAPP, this well-oiled tendency of corporates and the powerful has been used the world over. In this case, the multi-crore defamation case has been again filed as a means of countering critical reporting.

Thakurta resigned after the directors of the trust which runs the storied journal ordered him to take down two articles on the Adani group.Last month, Adani Power Ltd. sent a letter via its lawyers to EPW, the article’s four authors (which included Thakurta) and Sameeksha Trust, which owns and runs the journal. The lawyer’s letter demanded that immediate steps be taken to “remove/delete and unconditionally retract” two articles – ‘Did the Adani Group Evade Rs 1,000 Crore in Taxes?’ (January 14, 2017) and ‘Modi Government’s Rs 500-Crore Bonanza to the Adani Group’ (June 24, 2017) – that they said were defamatory and harmful to the reputation of their client.

The letter said that unless this was done, “our clients shall be constrained to take such action as they may be advised”.

The Sameeksha Trust board, met in Delhi on Tuesday, ordered the editorial department to take the two articles down (alongside which Thakurta had also posted a copy of the Adani letter and a legal response by EPW). Thakurta resigned soon after the meeting. He told Sabrangindia that this was the cost that investigative journalism would be increasingly asked to pay.

Founded in 1949 as the Economic Weekly, EPW took on its current name in 1966 and is one of India’s most respected publications, straddling scholarship and political commentary. Thakurta, a highly regarded business journalist and political commentator, took over the editorship in January 2017 from C. Rammanohar Reddy, who ran the journal for over a decade.

The Adani letter is the latest in an example of what media analysts and lawyers call ‘strategic lawsuits against public participation’ – or SLAPPs. In a 2015 editorial calling for the United States to emulate California and enact a federal law protecting free speech against encroachment by powerful interests, the Los Angeles Times pithily described what SLAPPs are all about: “A deep-pocketed corporation, developer or government official files a lawsuit whose real purpose is to silence a critic, punish a whistleblower or win a commercial dispute.”

The action of the Sameeksha Trust to, literally, back out of the story when a simple legal notice or letter had been written and a case not even been filed, has raised eye-brows. Legal notices threatening very expensive and time-consuming litigation are increasingly being used by large corporations to intimidate editors, proprietors, journalists and writers and prevent them from shining a light on allegations of wrongdoing. In this case this is a corporation that is also very close to the political leadership in New Delhi.

Thakurta, a senior journalist, author and political commentator, took over as Editor of EPW  in 2016. Rammanohar Reddy, who was its Editor since 2004, quit over differences with the board of trustees on the publication’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

The fact that the Sameeksha Trust, with a powerful and prestigious Trust Board felt compelled to take this decision is a tragedy. Apart from Deepak Nayyar its chairman, The Trust Board has the poowerful corporate figure, Deepak Parikh and historian Romila Thapar on it. It has had a long and illustrious history of reletaively un-tainted journalism. That will stand seriously questioned today.

Thakurta's books Gas Wars (crony Capitalism and the Ambanis) was self-published. It investigates and reveals how India's and the country's natural resources of natural gas and oil have been controlled and manipulated by this industrial house, aided and abetted by those in power of different political hues.

His other critical work, Media Ethics is a must read for journalists. He says here, " Media Ethics is a comprehensive textbook designed for under- and post-graduate students of mass communication and journalism courses. It discusses key ethical issues in the light of the new face of journalism and the dynamic changes that are taking place in media today. The book gives an introduction to readers about ethics, the history of media ethics and journalism in India. The book delves into key issues like truth, objectivity, sensitivity, and privacy. It explores in detail issues related to fairness in reporting and codes of conduct of the Press Council of India. It then discusses the 'media market' with issues like social responsibility, industrial journalism, advertorials, etc. The chapter on media law in India discusses democratic principles, Areopagitica, free speech vs the law, concerns like libel, privacy, copyright, obscenity, contempt of court, and right to free information..."

 

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta quits as EPW editor: Adani Pressure



Economic & Political Weekly
 (EPW) editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta stepped down after the celebrated and well-regarded Economic and Political weekly (EPW) refused to back him for his story against the political-corporate nexus published in the June 19 issue of the prestigious weekly. "As of today, i have resigned," he told Sabrangindia late last night. This move signals an all time low in Indian journalism: EPW has enjoyed a long and illustrious history in publication and prided itself, at least on being indepedent of such pressures.

Paranjoy, as he is well known and regarded has become one of the most recent --though not possibly the only -- top-level editorial casualty of corporate India’s bullying of investigative journalism.
The well established academic journal Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) has been served a defamation notice by the Adani Group on July 13. The notice was served over a story EPW ran on how the government allegdly altered rules for special economic zones (SEZs), which led to the Adani Group reaping a profit of Rs 500 crore. The EPW’s article titled “Modi Government’s ₹500 Crore Bonanza to Adani Group Company”. It claimed: “By frequently changing the rules relating to power projects located in special economic zones, the department of commerce in the ministry of industry and commerce has allowed Adani Power claims for refunds of customs duties to the tune of ₹500 crore. Curiously, the duties were never paid.”

The story was run by EPW in Vol. 52, Issue No. 24, June 17, 2017. In response to the article, EPW received a legal notice from a lawyer representing Adani Power, which is headed by Gautam Adani. The legal notice accused EPW and the writers of the article of defamation and threatened legal action unless the piece was retracted, an unconditional apology was issued, and any defamatory material on Adani not be published by the magazine “in any manner whatsoever”.

EPW, had then, just a week ago stood by its story and in his reply to Adani Power’s lawyer, EPW’s advocate reaffirmed that each and every word in the article was truthful and backed by documentary evidence. In the reply to the notice by Adani, they have stated among other things,

"8.            That on the issue of misuse of the export promotion scheme, even the Hon’ble Supreme Court has used very harsh language against your client as to how your client has misused the scheme and fraudulently inflated export turnover, and how your client has even without making actual exports, played around with the provisions of the scheme and tried to take undue advantage thereof. This finding of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has also been quoted by my client’s in the said article. Thus, the reporting done by my client’s is not only back and supported by documentary evidence, but also by judicial pronouncement.

"9.            That in view of the above it is re-iterated that there is not an iota of substance in your client’s bald claims. Your client will be well advised to withdraw your legal notice dated 24.06.2017, failing which my client shall be constrained to invoke the majesty of law to the hilt, should your client choose to trigger the first ill conceived/advised shot. Your client may kindly note the adage “be you ever so high, law is above you”. Your client may further be informed that truth can never be suppressed and it is the constitutional obligation of an independent journalist to surface the truth at any cost. I do sincerely hope, you would be gracious enough to suitably advise your client appropriately."

Known as SLAPP, this well-oiled tendency of corporates and the powerful has been used the world over. In this case, the multi-crore defamation case has been again filed as a means of countering critical reporting.

Thakurta resigned after the directors of the trust which runs the storied journal ordered him to take down two articles on the Adani group.Last month, Adani Power Ltd. sent a letter via its lawyers to EPW, the article’s four authors (which included Thakurta) and Sameeksha Trust, which owns and runs the journal. The lawyer’s letter demanded that immediate steps be taken to “remove/delete and unconditionally retract” two articles – ‘Did the Adani Group Evade Rs 1,000 Crore in Taxes?’ (January 14, 2017) and ‘Modi Government’s Rs 500-Crore Bonanza to the Adani Group’ (June 24, 2017) – that they said were defamatory and harmful to the reputation of their client.

The letter said that unless this was done, “our clients shall be constrained to take such action as they may be advised”.

The Sameeksha Trust board, met in Delhi on Tuesday, ordered the editorial department to take the two articles down (alongside which Thakurta had also posted a copy of the Adani letter and a legal response by EPW). Thakurta resigned soon after the meeting. He told Sabrangindia that this was the cost that investigative journalism would be increasingly asked to pay.

Founded in 1949 as the Economic Weekly, EPW took on its current name in 1966 and is one of India’s most respected publications, straddling scholarship and political commentary. Thakurta, a highly regarded business journalist and political commentator, took over the editorship in January 2017 from C. Rammanohar Reddy, who ran the journal for over a decade.

The Adani letter is the latest in an example of what media analysts and lawyers call ‘strategic lawsuits against public participation’ – or SLAPPs. In a 2015 editorial calling for the United States to emulate California and enact a federal law protecting free speech against encroachment by powerful interests, the Los Angeles Times pithily described what SLAPPs are all about: “A deep-pocketed corporation, developer or government official files a lawsuit whose real purpose is to silence a critic, punish a whistleblower or win a commercial dispute.”

The action of the Sameeksha Trust to, literally, back out of the story when a simple legal notice or letter had been written and a case not even been filed, has raised eye-brows. Legal notices threatening very expensive and time-consuming litigation are increasingly being used by large corporations to intimidate editors, proprietors, journalists and writers and prevent them from shining a light on allegations of wrongdoing. In this case this is a corporation that is also very close to the political leadership in New Delhi.

Thakurta, a senior journalist, author and political commentator, took over as Editor of EPW  in 2016. Rammanohar Reddy, who was its Editor since 2004, quit over differences with the board of trustees on the publication’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

The fact that the Sameeksha Trust, with a powerful and prestigious Trust Board felt compelled to take this decision is a tragedy. Apart from Deepak Nayyar its chairman, The Trust Board has the poowerful corporate figure, Deepak Parikh and historian Romila Thapar on it. It has had a long and illustrious history of reletaively un-tainted journalism. That will stand seriously questioned today.

Thakurta's books Gas Wars (crony Capitalism and the Ambanis) was self-published. It investigates and reveals how India's and the country's natural resources of natural gas and oil have been controlled and manipulated by this industrial house, aided and abetted by those in power of different political hues.

His other critical work, Media Ethics is a must read for journalists. He says here, " Media Ethics is a comprehensive textbook designed for under- and post-graduate students of mass communication and journalism courses. It discusses key ethical issues in the light of the new face of journalism and the dynamic changes that are taking place in media today. The book gives an introduction to readers about ethics, the history of media ethics and journalism in India. The book delves into key issues like truth, objectivity, sensitivity, and privacy. It explores in detail issues related to fairness in reporting and codes of conduct of the Press Council of India. It then discusses the 'media market' with issues like social responsibility, industrial journalism, advertorials, etc. The chapter on media law in India discusses democratic principles, Areopagitica, free speech vs the law, concerns like libel, privacy, copyright, obscenity, contempt of court, and right to free information..."

 

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