Outrage at the press

Outrage at the press

Last week, Twitter was alight with let’s-burn-them tweets targeted at the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM).

The school, run by self-styled management guru Arindam Chaudhuri, isn’t entirely unknown to me. In a different life, starting almost a decade-and-half ago, I headed, for 10 years, a project that sought to rank B-schools for one of India’s largest business magazines. It is difficult to do this and not get drawn into controversy and drama: I have had student-reps from the Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata, get hysterical in my office; I have been accused of enjoying the hospitality of the director of the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow, on campus, in return for a favourable rating (for the record, I have never been to Lucknow); I have had stressful telephone conversations with the director of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad; and I have seen Chaudhuri break down and cry in my editor’s room (he was unhappy with the way his school was treated).

I don’t meet students who have graduated from IIPM in the course of my work. Since I am a business journalist, I usually meet executives from large multinationals and Indian companies and most of these people are from the Indian Institutes of Technology, the Indian Institutes of Management, Ivy League colleges in the US, and other engineering and business schools whose names aren’t entirely unknown to me. Still, I am willing to accept that this is a function of the very limited circle in which I move and the relatively recent vintage of IIPM. My impression of the school has, perhaps, also been coloured by what I have read in the media. The school has had the misfortune of attracting the attention of some redoubtable journalists and from time to time, reports have surfaced on how not all the claims made by IIPM in its high-decibel advertising (yes, the school is a prolific advertiser) are entirely accurate.

Maybe because of our personal history, or maybe because two of Mint’s columnists made uncomplimentary references to the school in their articles, Chaudhuri and IIPM do not advertise in Mint, but before this piece (or at least this part of it) gets categorized as a case of sour grapes, I must add that I do not know whether all of IIPM’s ads will satisfy Mint’s stringent ad rules that have a thing or two to say about false claims (the paper recently refused to carry an ad from DB Realty for this reason).

But back to IIPM and Twitter:

Given its tendency to come down hard on critics using all the means at its disposal, IIPM has always been a favourite whipping boy of the Internet. Several critical blog posts have been written about the school. Last week, after it came to light that Chaudhuri had, back in April, sued Penguin India, Google India, The Caravan magazine (and its publisher Delhi Press), and author Siddhartha Deb whose profile of Chaudhuri in a book released by Penguin in the UK (and to be released here soon) was extracted by the magazine in its February edition, the Twitterati was outraged. The refrain of choice was (and I paraphrase): They can’t do this; surely, there must be something we can do about this?

Unfortunately, there isn’t. A candle-light vigil or a fast-unto-death is unlikely to have any impact in this instance. And, unlike other pet peeves originally highlighted by a feeling of outrage on Twitter, this one wasn’t picked up by mainstream media starved for content, probably because IIPM is a big advertiser (or maybe because IIPM suing someone isn’t news; I wanted a story, but my media reporter took forever to file it). As a result, Delhi Press and the others sued for defamation will have to fight the case on their own—which is only fair.

Threats of legal action and lawsuits filed in remote corners of the country (Chaudhuri’s was in Silchar, Assam) are common in the media business. People and companies that believe they have been unfairly portrayed in print (or TV) have the right to legal recourse. And media companies that are brave enough to do hard stories are usually prepared to fight them. Delhi Press is, as is Mint. This paper, for instance, was recently slapped with a defamation suit (in a court in Patna, where the paper doesn’t have an edition) by the Sahara Group. It’s a case Mint is contesting because we believe there was nothing inaccurate or defamatory in our coverage of Sahara. You won’t find us getting outraged about this though; the lawsuit is business-as-usual. Outrage eventually results in loss of objectivity and that could colour the paper’s coverage.

Write to sukumar.r@livemint.com