How the media conspires to work against India

Most of the Indian media is honest and upright. However, there is a tiny co-opted minority of journalists, who are in bed with politicians, foreign agents and corporates, and are a huge problem.

Recently, Arnab Goswami managed, within just four minutes, to focus the attention of the entire nation on the compromised and unethical journalism practiced by certain journalists, who continue to peddle an anti-Indian narrative. Often it is hard to know whether such compromised journalists are working for India or Pakistan. For instance, on the Kashmir issue, even the Pakistani media does not attack India as much as these left-liberal ‘Indian’ journalists do.

Goswami rightly said: “Pseudo-liberals should ask themselves, whether they have a right to comment, to speak or to write one word on the Kargil bravehearts…”

He continued: “Vested interests in some parts of the media have been openly and shockingly trying to echo the Pakistani line. In the guise of backing Kashmiris, these sections – including sections of the media – are doing everything possible to support Pakistan, sitting here in India… Directly or indirectly, they are supporting the ISI, supporting Rawalpindi, they are supporting Hafiz Saeed.”

Journalists such as Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai and Prannoy Roy, who had ganged up to attack the A.B. Vajpayee government, ignoring all its positive contributions, are now doing exactly the same to Narendra Modi. Strangely, they do not even do a token attack on the Gandhi family. Despite the mountain of corruption charges against it, the dynasty is always spared by these so-called journalists, who are in reality influence peddlers and brokers – or to use a more appropriate Hindi word, dalals.

You may have wondered how these shady individuals operate. Well, here’s a peek at what goes on behind the scenes in the nation’s newsrooms.

Case Study 1: Fuelling the Communal Cauldron

One of my earliest encounters with such unethical journalists happened during the 2002 Gujarat riots. I was the chief copy editor at a leading Delhi-based National daily, and what you’re about to read is straight from the trenches.

The daily had a Gujarat bureau with an experienced and well-connected local reporter, but for some inexplicable reason, it dispatched a crime reporter based in New Delhi to cover such a major communal clash. From reporting on court matters, this 20-something reporter, whom I’ll call Vinod, suddenly found himself in the middle of a riot.

One of the stories that Vinod filed and which made it to the paper’s front page was an incendiary – and unsubstantiated – piece about a “Muslim cyclist”, who was “passing through a Hindu majority residential area” and got lynched by a “Gujarati mob”. The mob, he claimed, grabbed “loose concrete blocks from the footpath to crack open his skull, resulting in his brains spilling on the ground”.

The shocking thing was that we were just two hours from publishing this rabble-rousing report – not backed up by any official statement – on the front page. At a sensitive time, when the media needed to be extremely cautious about what it published, the reporter and the editors were dumping more fuel into the communal cauldron.

Now at this daily – which in 2002 had a print run of 900,000 copies – speed rather than accuracy was all that mattered. During a presentation before us journalists, the printing division’s head had told us – perhaps with a bit of an exaggeration – that each half hour delay meant the paper would print 25,000 fewer copies. Minor errors, therefore, did not warrant delays. In fact, if there was a delay of more than 5 minutes past 11.00pm, the following morning we had to provide a pretty good reason why we overshot the deadline. Needless to say, the heart stopping deadlines had caused frequent burnouts of journalists.

Despite such pressures, I decided to call up the reporter and get the story sorted. Here’s how the phone call went:

Delhi Bureau: Did you see the man being killed?

Vinod: No. But I have reliable sources who did.

Delhi Bureau: So, who is your source?

Vinod: There was a group of people outside this housing society, who showed me the exact spot where the mob killed the man.

Delhi Bureau: How do you know for sure that the man was a Muslim?

Vinod: According to the same group of people, the man had a long beard. In fact, these people wanted to kill me too because they thought I was a Muslim.

Delhi Bureau: What was a Muslim man doing, cycling through a Hindu majority area on the third day of a major Hindu-Muslim riot?

Vinod: Maybe he was lost.

Delhi Bureau: How do you know his brains spilled out?

Vinod: The same group of people showed me bloodstains on the footpath.

Delhi Bureau: And you believe they are telling the truth?

Vinod: Yes.

Delhi Bureau: So, the group that you claimed threatened to kill you is now your authentic source?

Vinod: (Stammering) Look, all of them couldn’t lie.

Despite the winter chill, I could sense Vinod loosening his tie (he often wore ties, even in summer). In all those years at the paper, he was not used to being questioned like this. However, being a glib operator, he thanked me for calling him and said he would try and clear all my doubts.

My biggest worry at that point was that the following day, the graphic details would inflame people in other parts of Gujarat and India and spark more violence.

There was no point appealing to my line editor’s journalistic ethics or his concern – if any – for India’s image. The hole in the story that I had just discovered would not matter, when the deadline trumped everything. Plus, this was a pro-Congress newspaper. So, there was the possibility that Vinod was the management’s hitman, in which case I would be victimised too.

There was only one way out. I told the line editor that such a gory piece could either spark riots in Delhi or would lead to a lawsuit. Personal safety and career being existential matters, he quickly asked me to find a replacement story. A couple of hard core communist journalists protested, but were overruled.

Unlike NDTV, which was deliberately inciting violence by broadcasting news from the riot-affected areas in a slanted way, the daily probably wasn’t doing it as official policy. It was just a bunch of leftists gone berserk. However, Vinod wasn’t wedded to any ideology. He was just a fake news manufacturer.

Years later, I mentioned the riot story to one of his former bosses, who told me: “Vinod is a complete fraud and I would not for a second doubt, if he himself concocted the Gujarat story. Once under pressure to do a major story for the Sunday magazine, he just didn’t show up and sent a message, saying he wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t come to the office.”

Vinod is now a corporate consultant at a Mumbai-based headhunting firm and no doubt peddling snake oil.

Case Study 2: Taking stock

Vinod was not the first news peddler that I encountered. That happened at a Delhi-based reputable business daily, where I did not work. Sometime in 1999, Business World (BW) magazine’s corporate bureau asked me to write about a Gurgaon-based IT firm (let’s call it LMH Systems), which was about to acquire a US-based software company. Here was a pocket-sized Indian company acquiring an American company that was four times bigger. Frankly, it was quite exciting to be able to write about the deal.

Since, I had zero experience in writing a corporate story, the corporate bureau head suggested, I contact Aruna (name changed) a seasoned corporate reporter. Aruna had recently joined BW after quitting her job at the Delhi-based business daily I mentioned above and had written extensively about LMH Systems. She was very nice to me and said I should speak directly to the owner of LMH Systems, who in her opinion was an extremely friendly guy and would provide me any information that I wanted about the deal.

Curiously, she revealed that she owned LMH stock and had made a profit of Rs 60,000, which in 1999 was a tidy amount. She made no effort to hide that it was inside information, which had allowed her to buy the shares, as the company was on the upswing.

But first, Aruna suggested, I read up older stories covered by the business daily’s Mumbai bureau. So I went to the newspaper office and after a couple of hours of manual search (not much on the internet those days) found a bunch of stories that had no bylines, but were datelined Mumbai.

I called the business daily’s Mumbai office and asked them, if they could identify the reporter, who had written those stories. After a few minutes, they came back and told me the stories were written by the Delhi bureau. It was all very confusing to me. If the story was written by the Delhi bureau, then why publish it under a Mumbai dateline?

Having hit a roadblock, I called Aruna, who insisted it was written by the Mumbai bureau. Not being a hard-boiled reporter, I was hesitant about bothering the Mumbai team again. So, I called the newspaper’s Delhi office and told them the whole story. Plus, that I didn’t want to bother the Mumbai bureau again and would really appreciate, if they could tell me who wrote the story from Delhi. This time the person at the other end consulted one of his colleagues and said, “It’s Aruna.”

Not being completely stupid, I now realised what was going on. Since Aruna – or her husband – had acquired shares in the company against the business daily’s policies that no reporter should have a conflict of interest, she had found a neat way of skirting the issue. She was writing stories in LMH’s favour, but publishing them from Mumbai – as a hedge against any investigation.

My suspicions were confirmed a few days later, when I met LMH’s owner at his plush Gurgaon office. He told me that he had met Aruna in the US, where she had a wonderful time travelling all around the country. Perhaps, this disclosure about Aruna’s US trip – most likely a junket – was intended as a signal to me that if I cooperated like her, I too could join the ranks of the jet setters.

Case Study 3: Ganging up against Rao

This case study involves one of India’s finest Prime Ministers. A year after P.V. Narasimha Rao died, one of his sons – I don’t remember which one – visited a close friend of mine at his Greater Kailash office in New Delhi. This friend was a former colleague, who had started his own publishing company.

After Rao’s death, the Congress – or rather the Gandhi dynasty – had started to airbrush Rao’s key role in India’s economic reforms. It was Rao, who had encouraged the unsure and wavering Manmohan Singh to go ahead with liberalisation. Had there been no Rao, we’d still be having waiting list of several years to buy Maruti cars, for example.

But, as the first anniversary of Rao’s death approached, there was a complete blackout by the Congress. To borrow George Orwell’s term from the novel “1984”, Rao was now an ‘unperson’.

To set right the record, Rao’s son tried to buy a full page ad in a two of the leading New Delhi newspapers, to showcase the late PM’s contributions to the nation. But, for some reason, his cash wasn’t good enough and neither of the two newspapers would touch the ad.

It was only after he was stonewalled by the media that Rao’s son came to my friend and sought his help in buying ad space. The point is not whether he succeeded or not in getting the space. The point is the Indian media – in this case the owners – ganged up against the legacy of a late prime minister.

See how deep is the rot?

Case Study 4: The television salesman

This happened during my stint at a leading newsmagazine, where I was an assistant copy editor. Every year, the magazine had a Diwali special, which had a feel good cover story on the mega deals available for the middle class.

For Diwali 2000, when the nearly 3000-word story landed in my inbox, it didn’t take me long to edit as it was a well-written story by a senior writer. However, one paragraph struck me as rather odd as it mentioned the prices of two flat screen televisions being introduced by a leading company. Not only was the pesky para not germane to the story, it looked like a 200-word thumbs up to the stock market punters. It made the entire article look like a paid advertorial. I deleted the sentences and ran it past the writer, who re-inserted it before sending me the approved copy.

I again got rid of the para and sent it for production. When the layout proofs were sent to the writer, he called me up and asked me to add that paragraph again. I said, maybe he was just being helpful to the reader, but some would look at it as a plug. He hung up and called the copy editor, my boss, demanding that he reintroduce the para.

Finally, a compromise was arrived at. The para was retained, but with some of the more blatant plugs removed. I remember a senior colleague commenting: “Either a brand new TV or a large amount of cash has changed locations in Mumbai.”

They call themselves journalists

You get the picture. Rajdeep Sardesai, Shobhaa De and Barkha Dutt can rail all they want, but they are no role models.

Dutt was caught on tape scheming with Nira Radia on how she could help broker political deals. During the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, her live telecasts were helping the terrorists move around and target Indian commandos. Last month, she revealed in a Tweet that India was rushing forces to Kashmir on Air India flights. What if the terrorists had blown up the aircraft?

Shobhaa De is a soft porn writer; to call her a journalist would be a crime. Rajdeep Sardesai’s shameless provocation of a pro-Modi crowd should be a textbook study on how to get lynched on the sidewalks of New York.

Now check out this list of ‘eminent’ journalists – Dileep Padgaonkar, ex editor of Times of India; Harish Khare, the media adviser to the last prime minister; Ved Bhasin, editor, Kashmir Times; Harinder Baweja, former India Today writer; Praful Bidwai, experienced columnist with communist leanings.

All of them were regular guests of Ghulam Nabi Fai, who was arrested in the US in 2011 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for acting as the front man of Pakistan’s Inter-Services-Intelligence (ISI). The Pakistani spy was arrested in a suspected influence-peddling scheme to funnel millions of dollars from Pakistan to US lawmakers.

According to the FBI, Fai “took dictation from his masters” in Pakistan. He received at least $4 million to manipulate the Kashmir debate in favour of Pakistan. These Indian liberals and media figures had been attending conclaves and meets organised by Fai, at the ISI’s instance, to oust India from Kashmir. You be the judge. What would you call them for acting against India’s interest?

Don’t get me wrong. Most of us journalists are kosher and just want to do a good job, be acknowledged for our work, and hope that our work will make a difference to the country. Many of us routinely turn down bribes and won’t accept junkets or even a token gift.

I know this senior editor, who in my presence banged down the phone on Mulayam Singh Yadav, because the UP chief minister had dared to invite him for a “cup of tea”. (Unfortunately, he has become a communist apologist today.) There is a Rediff writer, who prefers to live in a one-bedroom apartment, because that is preferable to taking bribes from political parties. “Can you imagine how soundly I sleep,” he said with a wink.

There is a close friend, who doesn’t mind that all he has to show after 30 years of journalism is a two-bedroom flat in a DDA enclave in Delhi. He refused to be part of his editor’s plan to blackmail political leaders by using his amazing investigative skills.

In 2002, while working at a leading Delhi-based daily, I turned down a Rs 50,000 bribe from a family friend, who is now a builder. He had said: “All you have to do is get a one column article published in your business pages.” I kept my phone off the hook for a week.

What I did was no big deal. Most of the Indian media is honest and upright. However, there is a tiny co-opted minority of journalists, who are in bed with politicians, foreign agents and corporates, and are a huge problem. In 2014 when General V.K. Singh talked about presstitutes, he was on the money.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.