Smriti Irani, who recently took on the role of the union minister for information and broadcasting has started off with a bang by alleging that the country’s largest news wire distributed photo Chennai floods claiming them to be those of the floods in Gujarat.
Unlike her predecessors, who would bring such matters to attention through direct missives, Irani chose to use Twitter to make the allegation.
“Attention: photographs of Chennai floods have been used and passed off as Ahmedabad @PTI_News Kindly alert all news establishments,” she tweeted.
“It would be prudent @PTI_News to get an explanation as to how this happened,” she added.
However, there was no immediate response from PTI or Press Trust of India’s Twitter account on the allegation.
Shashi Shekar, CEO of Prasar Bharti, the state-controlled public broadcaster and a client of PTI, however tweeted that the organization will ‘take action’.
“We regret that @airnewsalerts Ahmedabad picked up this photo based on erroneous reporting. We will take action,” he tweeted.
For the record, the minister has 6.71 mln followers on Twitter, compared to 1.53 mln for PTI.
PTI is owned by a consortium of newspapers in India. It is, by far, the biggest third-party supplier of news to newspapers and online portals in the country, and also has a strong impact on television news.
IRANI AND MEDIA
Irani was chosen to head the information and broadcasting ministry ten days ago after former minister Venkaiah Naidu stepped down on being nominated the BJP’s candidate for the post of Vice President of India.
Irani’s background in television and drama and her take-no-prisoners approach is likely to have played a part in the decision.
The minister started off her career in modelling and was a finalist at the Miss India pageant in 1998. She became a household name for her role as the daughter-in-law in smash television hit Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. Her two predecessors at the I&B ministry, Naidu and Prakash Javadekar, were far more low profile than her.
Irani started out with the equally high-profile Human Resources Development ministry, but was moved to the low-profile Textiles ministry soon after.
While at HRD ministry, the 41-year-old was in the headlines quite often, and even offered to cut off her head and place it at the feet of BSP Supremo Mayawati if the latter was not satisfied with the actions of her ministry in the suicide case of Dalit student Rohit Vemula.
Irani’s move to confront PTI on Twitter is reminiscent of the strategy of US President Donald Trump, who uses the platform effectively to bypass and attack mainstream media.
Like in the US, the ruling dispensation in India also draws its supporters from the right of center in terms of political ideology.
Also like in the US, a larger proportion of journalists in India are left of center in their political sensibilities, which adds an extra edge to the already slightly adversarial relationship between the two pillars of the democracy.
However, unlike in the US, where the mainstream media and the administration are more or less engaged in an all-out war, the relationship between the media and the current dispensation at the center has been easier in India, at least so far.