Ten news reports that were retracted during Modi’s first term as prime minister

Narendra Modi along with BJP president Amit Shah interacting with media personnel in November 2015. BJP.ORG
27 May, 2019

Over the course of ten years, India’s rank on the World Press Freedom Index has dropped from 105 in 2009 to 140 in 2019. Its current position of the index is worse than that of Maldives, Jordan and the war-torn Palestine. Corporate ownership coupled with advertising revenue from the government has created a national media that has repeatedly bent to external pressure, either by inclination or by compulsion. This has been particularly stark during Narendra Modi’s first term as prime minister—for instance, in June 2017, the Central Bureau of Investigation conducted raids at the residences and offices of Radhika and Prannoy Roy, the owners of the media-group NDTV. In a December 2018 piece for The Caravan, the journalist Josy Joseph wrote, “While these processes were set in motion long back, the present government’s defanging of the media remains unprecedented.”

Below are ten stories that news publications retracted during Modi’s first tenure as the prime minister. Many of these stories did not seem to have editorial fallacies, but showed industrialists deemed to be close to the government and Modi’s fellow members from the Bharatiya Janata Party in poor light—Amit Shah, the party’s national president, features in three of them. I reached out to the publications that pulled down the stories, but none had replied at the time of publishing.

1. “A Fact Check: Narendra Modi was given questions to News Nation interview in advance; video shows PM reading from file.”
Firstpost (13 May 2019)

Modi gave few interviews during his tenure, and none of them involved any serious cross-questions. On 11 May 2019, he spoke to the journalists from 24-hour Hindi news channel, News Nation. Referring to his role in the recent aerial strikes by the Indian Air Force within Pakistan’s territory, Modi said that when the force was mulling over conducting the strikes as it was a rainy day with bad weather, he suggested that “there is so much cloud cover and rain,” it “could be advantageous in escaping from [Pakistan’s] radar,” and asked them to go ahead with the strikes.

The next day, a clip from the interview emerged on Twitter where Modi could be seen holding the script of the conversation. It had a part of a question Modi was asked written on the top of the page. On 13 May, the news website Firstpost, owned by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries, published a piece “fact-checking” the claim that Modi’s interview was impromptu with embedded tweets from Pratik Sinha, the editor of the fact-checking portal Alt News. Within a day, the story was removed from Firstpost without an explanation. A cached copy of the story is still available online.

2. “The Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank (ADCB) secured deposits of Rs 745.59 crore of the spiked notes.”
The New Indian Express, Times Now, Firstpost (June 2018)

On 21 and 22 June last year, several Indian news websites published a story by the news agency Indo Asian News Service. The article states that district cooperative banks were only allowed to accept deposits of the banned currency notes for six days after demonetisation was announced, till 14 November. During this time, a right-to-information query revealed, the Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank, secured the highest amount of demonetised notes, worth Rs 745.59 crore, among cooperative banks. The BJP national president Amit Shah served as a director of the bank at that time.

On 22 June, The Wire reported that the news websites including Firstpost, the Times Group’s news channel Times Now, and the New Indian Express, owned by Express Publications (Madurai) Limited retracted the story within two days without offering an explanation. Hardev Sanotra, the managing editor of the IANS defended the report and told the fact-checking website BOOM, “We stand by our story. It is based on facts and RTI. We have nothing to hide.”

3. “Did Paytm share user details with PMO? Cobrapost sting says it did”
Economic Times(May 2018)

On 26 May last year, the Economic Times, owned by the Times Group, ran a story on its website summarising a sting operation by the investigative news website Cobrapost. The sting included a video of Ajay Shekhar Sharma, the senior vice president of PayTM, an e-commerce platform, and also the brother of its founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma. In the video, Ajay disclosed how PayTM shared their data about users from Kashmir with the prime minister’s office. PayTM dismissed the sting in a tweet which said that there is “no truth in the sensational headlines of a video doing the rounds.”

In another video released by Cobrapost on the same day, Vineet Jain, the managing director of the Times Group, was seen discussing a proposal to accept Rs 500 crore from a journalist who identified himself as a representative of an unnamed organisation, in exchange of running content that would promote Hindutva. A representative of the Times Group later said told The Wire that they were conducting a “reverse sting” as they knew the reporter had a “dubious character.” The Economic Times story, which had a subheading that said, “PayTM = PayToPM,” was later retracted.

4. “Watch: Man shouts Jio nahi chal raha hai at Mukesh Ambani, wins the internet”
Daily News & Analysis(December 2018)

On 4 December last year, the media publication Daily News & Analysis, or DNA, owned by Zee Entertainment Enterprises, published an article with a clip from the wedding of the actors Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh. The video featured the industrialist Mukesh Ambani posing for photographers and the sound of a man yelling in reference to Ambani’s Jio, a mobile network operator, “Jio nahi chal raha”—Jio is not working.

Within two days, the article was removed from the website. The news website Newslaundry subsequently reported that its sources in the DNA told them that “they were directed to remove/pull down the articles by the top management.” A cached copy of the story is still available online.

5. “4,000% Increase In Loans To Jay Shah: Cronyism Or Deserving?”
NDTV (October 2017)

On 10 October 2017, the digital arm of the media group NDTV published a report on how companies owned by Jay Shah, Amit Shah’s son, saw a meteoric rise of 4,000 percent in the loans they received within a year of Modi coming to power. The story, which was written by the channel’s managing editor Sreenivasan Jain and Manas Pratap Singh, was pulled down in a couple of days for “legal vetting,” according to NDTV. A few days later, when the report was still not restored, Jain wrote on Facebook that he is treating the incident “as a distressing aberration and have decided to continue to do the journalism that I have always done – on NDTV.” A cached copy of the story is still available online.

6. “Crop Insurance: Farmers taken for ‘premium’ ride”
Times of India (September 2017)

The journalist Rosamma Thomas’s story critiquing the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, the Modi government’s crop insurance scheme, was published in the Times of India’s Jaipur edition on 14 September 2017. The report stated, “As per government data, Rs 125.63 crore was levied from Hanumangarh alone as premium during the the kharif season last year. The claims, meanwhile, came to only Rs 8.71 crore and benefited 7,000 farmers of the 1.37 lakh farmers insured.” Within hours of publishing, the story was taken down from the news publication’s website, according to The Wire.

Thomas told The Wire that she was asked to remove the word “fraud,” which was not originally part of the copy that she had filed. “We were not happy with the introduction in the story,” Kunal Majumder, the Times of India’s resident editor for Jaipur, told The Wire. A translated version of the story is available—without Thomas’s byline—on the Navbharat Times, a sister publication of the Times of India.

7. “Amit Shah’s assets grew by 300% in five years.”
Times of India (July 2017)

On 29 July 2017, the Times of India’s Ahmedabad edition reported a 300-percent increase in Amit Shah’s assets from 2012 till 2017. The report also featured the increase of wealth of three other politicians—Balwant Singh Rajput and Smriti Irani from the BJP, and Ahmed Patel from the Congress. According to The Wire, the story was removed from the website within hours of being published, The Times of India’s sister publications, the Navbharat Times and the Economic Times, both published the stories and subsequently removed them.

8. “Modi Government’s Rs 500-Crore Bonanza to the Adani Group”
Economic and Political Weekly(July 2017)

The Economic and Political Weekly, owned by the Sameeksha Trust, published an article examining whether the Adani conglomerate received an undue refund of nearly Rs 500 crore from the finance ministry under the Modi government in June 2017. Adani Power Limited then sent a letter to the EPW through its lawyers, asking for the article to be taken down. The story’s link now states that it “failed to meet the standards of EPWand did not go through the EPW editorial review process.” This resulted in the resignation of Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, one of the authors of the story and the editor of the EPW at the time.

9. “Threat from Modi’s nationalism behind India’s poor ranking in press freedom index.”
Times of India (April 2017)

In April 2017, The Times of India and the Economic Times removed their stories on the 2017 report by Reporters Without Borders, an international non-profit organisation on press freedom. According to Alt News, the stories referred to the RSF’s 2017 report which stated that in India, “With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media.” Both the stories were taken down.

10. “GST, Land bill on hold: Modi may have to rethink Jaitley as finance minister”
Firstpost (July 2015)

On 20 July 2015, Firstpost published a piece by its editor-in-chief R Jagannathan criticising the Modi government’s finance policies. In it, he called the finance minister Arun Jaitley an “underperformer” and said that the “finance ministry has repeatedly goofed up.” In an earlier report published in The Caravan, about censorship at Firstpost, Lakshmi Chaudhry, the former executive editor and co-founder of Firstpost, is quoted stating that “a diktat was issued in that meeting that from now on there will be no criticism of certain political leaders. The decision to pull the piece on Jaitley was a part of the same conversation.” Chaudhary subsequently quit the organisation.