Politics & Journalism: Wearing two hats in Odisha

Prof. Mrinal Chatterjee-

Politicians owning media houses and media house owners joining politics has never been a novel thing in Odisha, like in other states of India. But 2019 is seeing an overdose of this phenomena.

Several Odia newspapers have owner-editors who are active in politics, Bhrartruhari Mahatab (Editor, Prajatantra) and Soumya Ranjan Pattnaik (Editor, Sambad) are presently MPs and contesting general election 2019. Bhrartruhari is a five times MP and contesting from Cuttack Lok Sabha seat on Biju Janata Dal (BJD) ticket. Soumya Ranjan is a Rajya Sabha MP and is contesting from Khandapada assembly seat. Tathagat Satpathy (Editor, Dharitriand Orissa Post) has been representing Dhenkanal parliamentary constituency since 2004, though he will not be contesting the 2019 election. Ranjib Biswal (Managing Editor, Samaya) is also a Rajya Sabha Member and national spokesperson of Congress party. His elder brother Chiranjib Biswal (Chairman, Samaya) is the Deputy Leader of Opposition in Odisha Assembly and member of All India Congress Committee (AICC). It is interesting to note that Sambad, Dharitriand Samayaare among the top five largest circulated dailies in Odisha.

There are many first generation politician-mediapersons as well. Kharabela Swain, had been BJP MP from Balasore and publishing Bishesh Khabar, a weekly since 1990. He fell out with the BJP, floated his own party and recently rejoined BJP. Jagi Mangat Panda, wife of former MP Baijayanta Panda, owns Orteland OTV Network, which enjoy huge command in terms of TV viewership and television distribution. Bijayanta is contesting 2019 election from Kendrapara Lok Sabha seat. Achyuta Samanta, founder of Kalinga TV, presently a Rajya Sabha MP, is contesting from Kandhamal Lok Sabha seat on BJD ticket. Damodar Rout, Editor of Odia daily Sanchar, is contesting from Balikuda Erasama assembly seat on BJP ticket and his son Sambit Routray has been nominated by BJD to contest from Paradip assembly seat. Hrudanand Mallick, founder of SakalaOdia daily was an MLA from Dhamnagar constituency. Later his son Manas Mallick led this newspaper and also became an MLA. Presently his other son Sanjeev Mallick has been nominated by BJD to contest from Bhadrak assembly seat.

Several politicians have either bankrolled media outfits or have control over the editorial content in many newspapers and news channels. It is open secret that BJD MP from Balasore Rabindra Kumar Jena is closely associated with News World Odishaand BJD MLA and former Minister Pranab Prakash Das is often linked with MBC TV. Similarly, former Minister and BJD MLA Sanjay Das Burma owns daily newspaper Sarbasadharan. Rabindra Jena is contesting from Balasore Lok Sabha seat, while Pranab and Sanjay are contesting from Jajpur and Brahmagiri assembly seat, respectively.

There is nothing wrong in politicians publishing newspapers or launching television channels or becoming editors. In fact, history is witness to the great work politicians like Mahatma Gandhi did in the journalism domain. Many of our freedom fighters were actively associated with newspapers either as journalist or writer or editor or publisher. What is of concern is the use of the press under one’s control in furthering narrow, selfish political agendas.

Politicians owning media outfits or media house owners joining politics is not bad per se. But when the entire spectrum is crammed by media owned/managed by political parties or people with paradigm of their own — then it becomes an issue. It becomes difficult to know the fact. When lights of different colours are thrown on an object, it becomes difficult to know the true colour. Then, objectivity becomes a casualty. Balance gets distorted. And that is a big problem.

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