Four Orissa editors in poll fray

BY patnaik| IN Regional Media | 05/04/2004
For the leading vernacular dailies of Orissa, it is only a thin line that divides politics and journalism.

Elisa Patnaik


For the leading vernacular dailies of Orissa it’s only a thin line that divides politics and journalism. Four out of the six leading Oriya dailies are published and owned by political families and their editors too have had several innings at the poll fray. Interestingly, for this year’s elections too, four editors of Oriya dailies are decidedly in the contest. Besides, seven others from other small Oriya newspapers have expressed interest to contest. 

Though all such newspapers — Dharitri, Sambad, Samaya and Prajatantra — claim to be neutral, the political news coverage and the editorial policies have been in favour of their respective political parties and against their political rivals so far. Among the leading Oriya newspapers, The Samaja, one of the highest circulated dailies of the State, and Pragatibadi are the two newspapers without any apparent political affiliations.  

Former Congress chief minister Nandini Satpathy’s father Kalindi Panigrahy, a writer, who had founded the Samajbadi Society, started the Oriya daily Dharitri in 1974 from Orissa’s Capital City Bhubaneswar. The newspaper fell into the hands of Nandini Satpathy’s son Tathagat Satpathy, who unlike his mother joined the then Janata Dal under the leadership of the late Biju Patnaik. Dharitri’s political coverage and analysis of government policies under Tathagat’s tenure as editor were to some extent in favour of the ruling Janata Dal. However, post Biju Patnaik, he soon fell out with the new party, Biju Janata Dal (BJD)’s leadership under Biju Patnaik’s son Naveen Patnaik, and joined the newly formed Orissa Gana Parishad (OGP) as its general secretary.  

Dharitri’s content then changed dramatically against the ruling BJD-BJP establishment. In a recent political development, the editor of Dharitri quit the OGP in protest of its alliance with Congress to once again join the BJD. He is expected to be the candidate from the Dhenkanal Lok Sabha seat. The content, not surprisingly has now changed in favour of the ‘feel good’ factor.   

Ex-chief minister and the present Orissa Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) president J. B. Patnaik’s son-in-law, Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, started another Oriya daily Sambad in the mid 80s. A former MP from the Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha constituency, Soumya Ranjan is now the chief spokesperson of OPCC and is reportedly being recommended for the Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha seat. The editorial policy of Sambad has been mostly in favour of the Congress Party and against the ruling alliance of BJD and BJP. Interestingly, the editor of Sambad had briefly left the Congress to join the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), during which there was a slight change in the editorial content. However, he has rejoined the Congress once again without any fuss, following the recent appointment of J. B. Patnaik as the OPCC president.  

While father and former Congress chief minister Hare Krushna Mahtab was the founder editor of another Oriya daily Prajatantra, son and former editor, Bhatruhari Mahtab is now in the BJD after an initial stint with the Congress. A Congress MLA from Cuttack, he quit the party to join the BJD following which he was elected as the MP of Cuttack Parliamentary constituency. The political leaning of Prajatantra had been somewhat in support of the Congress Party, which later changed to that of the BJD. This former editor of Prajatantra and Cuttack MP is also likely to be the BJP candidate for the LS seat during this year’s elections. 

On the other hand Ranjib Biswal, son of former Congress minister, the late Basant Biswal and the managing editor of Samaya, another Oriya daily started in the 90s will be contesting from Jagatsinghpur Lok Sabha seat on a Congress ticket. Samaya’s coverage under the Ashirbad Prakashan Pvt. Ltd has been distinctly in favour of the then Congress under the senior Biswal, a close ally of J.B. Patnaik. Ranjib’s elder brother Chiranjeeb is also tipped to contest on a Congress ticket for this year’s Assembly elections. Interestingly, besides printing the in-house newspaper and magazines, Ashirbad Publications also prints the Orissa editions of The New Indian Express and The Times of India, two leading English Dailies of the State. It was also the franchisee publisher of The Asian Age, Bhubaneswar edition till a few years ago

With editors of four major Oriya newspapers in the race for a position in the coming elections besides, many other editors and senior journalists expressing interest to contest, a need for a neutral vernacular daily has emerged in Orissa. Even if newspapers edited and backed by political parties claim that they are neutral in their editorial policy, experts opine that one has to be clear whether one wanted to be an editor or a politician. And what the state needs is vernacular dailies that do not toe any party line.

The other two Oriya dailies, which are not backed by any political parties, are The Samaja, and Pragativadi. Founded by Utkalmani Pandit Gopabandhu Das, The Samaja, is being published since 1919 from the Pre-Independence era and is today one of the highest circulated Oriya newspapers. Handed over to the Lok Sevak Mandal, New Delhi through the will of Pandit Das, the newspaper today is being managed by Servants of People Society under the editorship of managing editor Manorama Mahapatra. Though the Pragatativadi has had no political ownership, it’s former editor Praduymna Bala had been a one time MP from the Janata Dal from the Jagatsinghpur parliamentary constituency.

With the race to the Assembly and Parliament polls heating up, it just won’t be a battle on superior election coverage for the major vernacular media houses in Orissa. The fate of their editors and owners would also be significantly at stake. 

Elisa Patnaik is an Orissa-based freelance journalist.  Contact:

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