Digital media and broadcasting company Vice Media has created a name for being ‘edgy’, and targeted itself towards millennials. Vice’s India launch was announced in 2016, in a venture with Times Group. The company has already faltered from keeping up with its own pro-LGBTQ editorial principles, as it shot down a story by former staff writer Kunal Majumder on a gay ABVP member.
Kunal Majumder and managing editor Rishi Majumder resigned from Vice, citing editorial interference. CEO Chanpreet Arora and chief of content Samira Kanwar emailed the editorial team, saying ‘we cannot get a call from Amit Shah’. The gay ABVP member had given his consent for the story. The only problem here was that the RSS is the parent organisation for ABVP as well as ruling party BJP (of which Amit Shah is currently president), and has consistently opposed homosexuality.
What could have in fact been a positive coverage for the BJP for being inclusive instead turned out to be a demonstration of the intense self-policing that the media is subjecting itself to.
A report by The Wire included the resignations of both the Majumders (who are not related). The story also includes conversations with Vice’s legal team, which quotes section 377 as the reason for not publishing the story. “Gay ABVP: The headline is required to be changed since the same may be considered defamatory. The piece discloses the commission of an offence under S. 377 of the IPC which is a cognizable offence and thus you may be required to reveal your source for the same (whatever name has been disclosed to you,” says the quote from their legal team.
Section 377 poses a blanket ban on any form of intercourse that is not peno-vaginal penetration. ‘Being gay’ is not mentioned at all in this law. Moreover, Indian media from broadcast channels to national newspapers have openly discussed issues regarding homosexuality.
Kunal’s resignation letter mentions Vice India’s decision to set up a ‘Political and Cultural’ sensitivity committee, to vet stories on this topic that have been approved by the editorial. India’s position has dropped to 136 on the press freedom index. This week itself, Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani tried to impose a controversial directive to tackle fake news, which was retracted within 24 hours by PM Modi. However, this is not the issue in case of Vice India, which, forgetting all its global editorial policies, has decided to pander to the ruling party.
The shooting down of the story about the gay ABVP member serves no purpose, other than as a symbol of an over-cautious editorial policy. In this bid, a voice from the community has been subdued not by government censorship, but by self-policing of a media outlet.