On December 8, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a surprise move declared his decision to demonetize Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes in an effort to fight corruption, black money and in turn poverty and terrorism. This move resulted in widespread chaos among millions of working class Indians and anybody who deals with liquid cash daily. Top bank chiefs like Chanda Kochhar, CEO, ICICI Bank and Arundhati Bhattacharya, SBI Chairperson have hailed the move as “a bold and revolutionary” step, and affirmed their commitment to smoothen the transition.
At this point, the critical question to ask is: how did the media portray this move? We take a look at how some of the prominent digital news portals reported the demonetization initiative and analyze their coverage in detail here:
Firstpost like others, tracks every move of government including Modi’s survey on his official app and has even tried to assess its impact in rural, semi-urban and peri-urban areas in Maharashtra through its investigation. It concluded that ‘a majority of people in Greater Mumbai hailed the step, and showed optimism in the future, while people in the other four districts largely spoke of how the move is affecting their day-to-day lives.’ It also looked at how demonetization has hit various sectors including alcohol sales and Tamil film industry. It has also looked at the political elements including Modi’s avoidance of Parliament, other parties’ and opposition’s frustration and protests in Lok Sabha. There are also articles on how the government is dealing with rural cash crunch, the struggles of small businesses and crackdown by IT sleuths. The news portal also looked at the benefits of demonetization which includes inevitable reduction in lending rates. Overall, the news portal so far has a neutral take on this step.
Thewire.in has been reporting on the negative impact of demonetization on ordinary classes like plumbers, domestic helps and local traders. It strongly pointed out that the step has brought in new contempt for the poor and weak. It also looked at the certain occurrences that it triggered in the north east like shut down of newspapers in Manipur, paper as an alternate currency in a village in Mizoram and Bhutanese currency coming to the rescue to villagers along the Indo-Bhutan border in Assam. It even speculated on the effectiveness of the Centre’s move and the nature of black business through demonetization through its interview of renowned economist Prabhat Patnaik. It even reported that demonetization plan will make the economy suffer in the immediate months according to industry experts and equity analysts. Overall it is apparent that this step definitely doesn’t have the support of Siddharth Varadarajan’s news portal and it’s not likely to change.
Scroll.in looked at how demonetization has left an Adivasi village in Maharashtra with no option but to only have rice. It also reported on how billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates contradicted his opinion on the step saying it was an ‘important step away from a shadow economy’, only to later emphasise the need for a digitised economy. The digital daily covered the plight of factory workers whose employers owe them salaries in credit, sufferings of the farmers as co-operative banks are barred from exchanging old notes, the income tax department who’s handed this herculean task of investigating accounts with deposits over Rs 2.5 lakhs, and its impact on the upcoming wedding season and the market. One of its latest articles headlined West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s view of Centre reintroducing the ‘feudal landlord system’ by demonetizing Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. Again the negative tonality can be felt across most of the stories except few which wrote on service charges being waved off in debit card transactions and IRCTC’s online booking.
TheQuint.com talked about lot of aspects of demonetization including Rs 10 crore spent on the ad campaign, to tech-savvy Bangalore tackling this issue through cashless methods, its impact on those without bank accounts, cash being seized, problems caused by senior citizens, government’s execution lapses and journalist P Sainath’s study of the impact of this move in rural India where ‘farmers, landless labourers and daily wage workers have been rendered helpless and cashless.’ It also busted few myths related with demonetization which includes eradication of black money. The Quint even investigated if banks are allowing ‘marriage withdrawals’ where families who have marriages coming up can withdraw up to Rs 2.5 lakhs as ordered by the government as a relief. With the exception of few articles, Raghav Behl’s news portal showed a grim picture of the country highlighting the helplessness of ordinary citizens and the disarray within the government on the note ban.
Huffington Post India
This new portal again had a negative outlook on the note ban, putting out on articles on how it’s bringing out the worst form of elitism, the death tolls across the country and problem of malfunctioning credit card servers. One of the articles even looked at how it will ‘hit the war chests of his rivals before a key state election next year, sparking accusations that his strike against "black cash" will unfairly boost his party's chances’. There was also a piece which termed the move to be ‘an unmitigated political disaster’ with reasons. But on the other hand, an opinion piece looked at the agricultural sector, emphasizing on the adoption of digital payments, which needs to begin ‘with easy documentation, quick and hassle-free KYC norms to incentivise utilisation of financial services in rural areas’. There was one particular piece which wrote on government’s plan with invalid Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes. Interestingly it came out with an article about how black money owners are looking for ways to save their wealth. The news portal also studied commentaries on the issue by famous journalists and academicians including Manu Joseph, Swapan Dasgupta and Parikshit Ghosh across different publications and portals dissecting demonetisation and its aftermath.
The News Minute
TheNewsminute.com carried stories on how it has affected the daily lives of commoners including migrant workers. It looked at the tourism sector with story on foreign exchange agencies in Puducherry being badly affected by demonetization. While other news sites point out the problems with demonetization, this digital news platform looked at how some see it as good move, terming the inconvenience a temporary difficulty. But then one of its pieces speculated the timing of the move, analyzing write-ups of mainstream publications like Business Line and Economic Times and other digital platforms like Scroll . One of the articles took a look at how it caused a dent of 10-15 per cent in liquor sales across Tamil Nadu. The news portal took a neutral stand with its coverage of different spectrums from online wallets bombarding front page ads on newspapers to IT raids on jewellery shops, socially vulnerable groups like transgender struggling with the move and donation boxes in temples not coming under the tax scanner.
The news website has taken an unconventional route during its reportage on demonetization. For starters, it pointed out how some of the reports in the media were spreading rumours about ATM causing STDs and busted it with facts. It also wrote about how sensationalist media obfuscated the truth about terrorists having Rs. 2000 notes. One of its articles showed there’s ‘no credible casual link’ between demonetization and the death tolls that Huffington Post India claimed in one of its pieces on death tolls. It blatantly points out that the latter ‘doesn’t like demonetization.’ It also looked at the positive outcomes of the demonetization and its strengths and weaknesses. It also did a story on the new Rs 2000 currency notes of bleeding colour.
From the above reports it’s clear apart from Opindia, none of the other digital news platform appears to be confident or positive about the demonetization and this is likely to continue till December 30, the day till which government has directed people to deposit or exchange old notes in banks across the country.