Indian business journalism in crisis

Raksha Kumar

Adani Watch is a unique news organisation. Its only goal is keeping tabs on an Indian conglomerate from outside the country. There are three reasons for this. The first one is the crisis in business journalism. “Business journalism in India is not investigative. It is mostly reliant on information leaks,” says Seshu from the Free Speech Collective. Moreover, since news organisations are so reliant on advertising, they do not want to antagonise companies that advertise on their sites. News articles often become PR pieces for certain companies. Hard hitting questions in public interest are rarely raised.

The second reason is that most Indian news outlets do not allocate enough money for investigative work. In addition, there is a chilling effect caused by several legal cases. “As a journalist, I would prefer to publish my stories in Indian publications so they gain maximum traction, but who will publish them?” asks Nair. 

The third reason why Adani Watch’s work matters is more practical: although India is facing a democratic backsliding, there are still avenues to unearth information. “We would not have been able to run a website that would keep tabs on a Chinese conglomerate or Russian oligarchs,” says Law. 

When Adani Watch began in 2019, Law received many pitches for stories from India, but as time passed journalists have become more reluctant to put their byline on them. “Despite this,” he says, “there is still some rule of law in India and it’s possible for journalists to do stories from inside the country.”

Law, who joined the environmental movement in Australia in the early 1980s, compares the work of his publication with David’s fight against Goliath. However, he says, he and his colleagues are used to battling big corporations. He was a part of the 2004 $6.5m lawsuit by Australian timber company Gunns against environmentalists who opposed its logging operations.

Nine years after filing it, Gunns was forced into liquidation. Law says that the aim of Adani Watch is a bit different. “We are only focused on uncovering the misdeeds of Adani Group, and not aiming for any specific outcome,” he says.

However, he said, if he were to name one thing he wants to see change as a result of his work at Adani Watch, it’s this: “I would want the Indian government and the Adani Group to realise the importance of Hasdeo forest,” referring to the largest contiguous dense forest in central India where Adani Mining is fighting to expand a coal mine. “I would urge them to withdraw from the area and protect the Adivasis (indigenous peoples),” he says….