As soon as the first edition of the much hyped ‘Tolley Times’ reached protesters at Delhi borders last week, it was caught in a controversy over an editorial that made many label it pro-government on social media.
The reason was an editorial by Sukhpreet Singh Udoke, and such was the trolling that ‘Trolley Times’ issued a clarification that the writer was not part of their team, but an independent contributor.
The incident has brought into focus the information channels, particularly on social media, that claim to be speaking for farmers and how they are walking on eggshells to avoid controversy. At least one such platform even said that they get farmer unions to approve their content before publishing it.
‘Tractor to Twitter’, the first such initiative in support of farmers on social media, is careful about not making any mistakes while publishing its content online. ‘Tractor to Twitter’ has already set rules for its social media handles to keep the controversy away.
“We don’t want to make it personality based platform. We never accepted any donation. We decided to not make any hate speech on the basis of religion, caste or language. We decided not to target any group from not joining protest. We wanted to keep it positive. We avoid opinion in posts. These are unwritten rules. The feedback keeps us on track,” said Bhavjit Singh, an IT professional running platform from Ludhiana.
He said, “We know how Trolley Times was criticised by a union leader. It was their right to criticise and then people also criticised that leader for criticising Trolley Times. We want to remain away from any such controversy.”
On controversy over their first edition, ‘Trolley Times’ founder member Surmeet Mavi said, “It is our editorial policy that left and right both will remain in our paper. I regret that Sukhpreet Singh Udoke had to face such opposition. These things happen in the moment of pressure. But we are thankful to the Udoke.”
He added: “Farmer union leaders have said in the press conference that newspaper is not their mouth piece and they neither support it nor oppose it….”
“We have a team of four persons to decide on editorial content. Controversy was due to communication gap. There was nothing wrong with editorial. Some people had objected over Udoke, who had written the editorial. But later we clarified that he was not in our editorial team. He just wrote editorial,” said Ajaypal Natt, another member of ‘Trolley Times’ team and son of a farmer union leader Sukhdarshan Natt.
Sukhpreet Udoke said, “No one could explain to me what was wrong with editorial. My opposition was only due to one reason that I am seen as Sikh writer and activist. Farmer unions are mostly Left and they are not able to tolerate diversity in this agitation. They are in fix as decision making is no more in their hands due to massive size of this agitation and it is the reason that they are searching for scapegoats.”
Controversy had started after, Rajinder Singh Deep of Kirti Kisan Union, a Left leaning farmer union, had said in Facebook post, “Trolley Times is not a spokesperson of farmer unions. It has attacked farmer leaders in the editorial.”
Targeting Udoke, he said, “He is spreading false propaganda against farmer leaders since the launch of the agitation.”
“It has become clear newspaper is in interest of whom. It is to attack farmer union leaders,” said Rajinder Deep in another post on ‘Trolley Times’.
It’s interesting that ‘Tractor to Twitter’ or ‘Trolley Times’ teams were never actually appreciated or recognised by the farmer unions, while they launched their own online platforms and channels last week.
“We had no front to counter the propaganda of the government. It was the main reason that we had to launch IT cell,” said Baljit Singh of Majha Kisan Union, who is running the IT cell for farmer unions.
He said, “We send every post to the farmer union leaders before publishing it. We publish posts only after approving from all unions. So far it has not happened but even if only one of all unions would object to any post, we won’t publish it.”
According to Baljit, “It is impact of our IT cell that our Facebook page was ‘unpublished’. It shows that how much government is afraid of it. Tractors to Twitter or Trolley Times are not related to us. We don’t know who are the people running it. It is good that other people are contributing too.”
Unions to address queries via webinar
The newly-formed social media cell of the farmers’ collective announced on Tuesday that a web conference would be conducted to address all queries regarding the three new farm laws and the protest against it.
The webinar, to be hosted on video conference platform Zoom on Thursday noon, will be open for the first “10,000 people” registering on the link, which they would disclose. Those who cannot make it to the first 10,000 can watch the webinar on social media platforms, it said.
“Senior farmer union leaders who are key members of the movement will be answering all sorts of queries during the webinar — be it on the farm laws or the ongoing agitation,” Baljeet Singh Sandhu, social media cell head and Majha Kisan committee vice president, said at a press conference at the Singhu border.
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