New Delhi: A story carried by the Times of India’s Ahmedabad edition about an apparent increase of “300%” in BJP president Amit Shah’s assets over the past five years was removed from the the paper’s website within hours of being published on Saturday. No explanation has been given and no editor is willing to take responsibility for having pulled the plug on the news item.
The story, which reported how Shah’s assets had grown by 300% between 2012 – when he last filed a declaration as part of his nomination papers for the Gujarat assembly election – and 2017, also noted that textiles and information and broadcasting minister Smriti Irani has clarified in her affidavit that she has not yet completed her Bachelor of Commerce course.
In her 2014 election affidavit for the Lok Sabha seat, when she fought against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi at Amethi, she had entered, under the education qualifications column, ‘B. Com. Part 1, School of Correspondence, Delhi University, 1994’.
She had made the same entry in her affidavit for election to the Rajya Sabha in 2011. Curiously, in her affidavit for the 2004 Lok Sabha election, which she fought from Chandni Chowk in New Delhi, she wrote: ‘BA. 1996. Delhi University. School of Correspondence’.
Times of India editors whom The Wire contacted said they had no information about the article but also requested that they not be identified. A message to the top management of Bennet Coleman and Company Ltd, which owns the newspapers, remained unanswered at the time of publication of this story.
The information about Shah’s assets and the latest iteration of Irani’s controversial educational qualifications was acquired from public affidavits filed by Shah and Irani, who are contesting for the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat.
In a sign that TOI pulled the Shah-Irani story in response to external ‘stimulus’ and not internal review, similar news item published on July 29 by DNA‘s print edition was also deleted from its website.
The story is, however, still available in DNA’s e-paper:
This isn’t the first instance of the Times Group deleting stories without informing its readers of the reasons. Ironically, a report on India’s low ranking on the World Press Freedom index was pulled down from the TOI and ET websites in May. When News Laundry contacted the then TOI.in editor, Prasad Sanyal, to know why they decided to pull down the article, they were informed that it was the media house’s ‘editorial prerogative’.
The Wire has also learned that TOI decided to delete its tweets and Facebook posts alerting readers to another story involving Smriti Irani: ‘PIL accuses Smriti Irani of fraud in MPLAD funds’. Irani is believed to have objected to the story, which appeared on July 27, 2019.
Last week, the Hindustan Times took down an opinion piece published on its website by one of its highly-regarded columnists, Sushil Aaron. The article, which was sharply critical of the effect the Modi government has had on India’s ability to deal with pressure from China, was restored after a social media backlash. A query from The Wire to the newspaper’s owner-editor, Shobhana Bhartia, on the day the article was deleted went unanswered.
Note: An earlier version of this story mentioned that Outlook India’s Hindi website has also removed their story on Amit Shah’s assets. The story still displays on the phone via Google’s accelerated media pages (AMP) but searching for a string of text from the AMP version generates a headline in Google News and a link to the Outlook site which displays an error.