New Delhi: Former students of Vasant Valley School – one of the leading schools in the national capital – have written to its owner, the India Today group, asking it to refrain from what they say is communally polarising programming under the garb of news reportage in the television channels it runs.
The India Today group has multiple TV news channels, prominent among them being India Today, an English language news channel and Aaj Tak, a top Hindi news broadcaster.
In the letter, the former students said they were shocked to see content on the news channels which constantly undermined the principles of freedom, justice, equality, liberty and fraternity they learned to respect while studying at Vasant Valley.
“Yet, regrettably, it is these same values that are being undermined constantly by many within the India Today ecosystem,” 165 students from 18 batches of Vasant Valley said in their letter to Aroon Purie, editor-in-chief of the news channels and also of India Today newsmagazine.
The letter was emailed to Purie on September 13, 2023 but the students have yet to get a reply. Another letter seeking his response to the letter was sent by The Wire on Monday but has met with no response.
“We write to you today as the alumni of Vasant Valley School,” the students wrote. “The India Today Group are founders of Vasant Valley School and TV Today owns and operates multiple television channels including India Today and Aaj Tak. This is an association that many of us as alumni have been incredibly proud of, given India Today’s historical legacy in holding the powerful to account even during some of our country’s darkest days, including the Emergency, the 1984 Delhi Riots, the 2002 Gujarat Riots, to name just a handful of instances. And It is within the educational institution that you founded, that we learned and internalised our constitutional principles of freedom, justice, equality, liberty, and fraternity.”
“Yet, regrettably, it is these same values that are being undermined constantly by many within the India Today ecosystem.”
The letter added: “Our only ask … is that as chairman and editor-in-chief of the India Today Group, you clamp down on the hatred emanating from your airwaves and hold accountable those that openly engage in communal polarisation under the garb of news reportage.”
“Let us start by saying, we recognise that today’s media landscape is shaped by ratings above all else. In this context, we want to make it clear that we are not comparing all of India Today to the rest of TV news. We recognise that even within this current climate, India Today continues to churn out some excellent journalism. The incredibly accurate Axis-My India exit polls are clearly a gold standard of psephology, yielding a phenomenal strike rate in terms of election predictions at both the state and Central levels. During the recent riots in Nuh, Haryana, Aaj Tak reporter Sreya Chatterjee did an entire segment on the effects of the riots in Gurgaon, while it was another Aaj Tak reporter who brought us initial visuals of the riot.”
The former students of the school said they were distressed at the way news was covered by the news channels owned by India Today.
“However, it is extremely concerning to see the polarising tenor of some of India Today’s news anchors, particularly on Aaj Tak. 50+ panchayats have issued boycotts against the Muslim community in the aftermath of these riots. Bulldozer justice, which saw 1,200+ structures demolished, has become the tool to inflict retribution against Muslims after any communal incident. Instead of questioning the establishment over this tactic which is an embarrassment to the rule of law, primetime anchors have often justified these actions, cheering on the deliverance of collective punishment.”
“In these times, we look towards organisations such as India Today to provide situational clarity, demand accountability, and douse the flames of communal hatred, rather than fanning its embers. Instead, we find that some of the commentary is extremely reductive, devoid of nuance, and does nothing to hold those in power accountable. It is as one of Aaj Tak’s shows is titled, ‘Black and White’.”
The letter raised issues of media complicity which the students claimed was exemplified by a Railway Protection Force officer who recently killed four innocent men on board a train, three of them based on their appearance as Muslims. “The officer justified his actions while carrying out this terrorist attack, citing the dog whistles he heard on news television. If the spate of communal incidents across the country isn’t a wake-up call, at least the ethnic strife and civil war-like situation in Manipur should serve as a lens into the disaster that polarisation can impart upon us,” said the former students in their distress note.
“Our school environment nurtured within us values of inclusivity, empathy and responsibility. You don’t owe us any answers, nor are we writing this to demand an explanation. Our only hope is that some of the values that were instilled within us as students, through our teachers, the school administration, our peers, and indeed Mr. Purie, find their way back to the India Today newsrooms,” the ex-students further added.
Unusually for an editor, Purie effusively praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an event his TV channel hosted earlier this year:
PM is a very farsighted person. Somebody who works with him told me that while his team is still collecting the dots, the Prime Minister has already CONNECTED the dots. And that they figure it all out much later, when the whole picture emerges.#NamoAtConclave https://t.co/QJ7QlpLTiA
— Aroon Purie (@aroonpurie) March 18, 2023