The Trustees of Sameeksha Trust, which owns the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), have again courted controversy, by making it virtually impossible for their Editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta to continue. Last year, EPW's parting with Rammanohar Reddy, the editor for 12 years, was bitter, with the trustees looking – at the very least – graceless. Barely 15 months later, they seem to have buckled under Adani's pressure, asking Guha Thakurta to take down from the EPW site his exposé of the Adani Group's tax evasions. The Adani Group had sent a lawyer's notice to EPW claiming huge damages; this has become routine for big corporate houses seeking to muzzle the media. Though none of these attempts have gone to court, let alone a judgement passed, the EPW Trustees appear to have used this letter to force Guha Thakurta to resign.
There are three issues that are important in this tussle between the EPW Trustees and the Editor, particularly as it has now happened twice, and in such quick succession. Who do the Trustees represent – themselves, or the larger EPW community, including readers of EPW? Trustees are not shareholders. The Sameeksha Trust that owns EPW was set up with a purpose. Who judges whether the Trustees are serving this purpose? The Trustees have now arrogated to themselves the status of sole arbiter of EPW, and appear to look upon the editorial staff, the journalists and the workers as hired hands who can be sacked at will. The EPW community needs to assert itself and ask: if the Trustees cannot run EPW with two eminent, well respected editors, has the time come for them to leave before they take EPW down?
The second issue: were the Trustees not aware that Guha Thakurta is known for his exposés of big capital in India? When they chose him to run EPW, did they tell him that such exposés should not happen in EPW? Or that if he were to do such exposés, that the Trustees should be informed? If they did not, why are they surprised when Adani sends them a legal notice? Either they did not do their due diligence before hiring Guha Thakurta; or they got cold feet with one letter from an Adani lawyer.
The third issue: what sort of example is EPW setting for other journalists and media organisations? Is the message “Don't buck big capital, as they have muscle and money?” It’s understandable that most owners of media houses are scared of big capital, and back off when it comes to their economic crimes. After all, they belong to the same club. This kind of media only goes after soft targets now – the opposition, or activists, or NGOs. If the leading lights of our academic world fall prey to the blackmailing tactics of big capital – their filing of multi-crore claims to stifle voices in the media – what is the message they are sending out to the media, intellectuals or all of society?
A sad day for EPW and its readers indeed.
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