NYT, WSJ weigh in on Tehelka’s Goa controversy

11 November 2011

The controversy surrounding Tehelka magazine’s Goa conference, ThinkFest, had so far been largely confined to sections of blogosphere, which used an editorial page piece in Hindustan Times by the theatreperson Hartman de Souza, and Tehelka editor Tarun J. Tejpal‘s response to it, as a trigger.

Only Deccan Herald among the large English dailies gave any play to the kerfuffle kicked up by remarks reportedly made by Tejpal at the end of the first day of the conference, that since they were in Goa, they could eat, drink, be merry and “sleep with whomever you want.” (Also see “Crusader turns Collector“)

Possibly because Tehelka‘s conference had international backers in Tina Brown‘s Newsweek and its sister website, The Daily Beast, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have both found the controversy over the location and sponsorship juicy enough to put out stories today.

***

Lydia Polgreen in NYT:

The slick and well-attended conference led some in the Twitterverse and blogosphere to wonder: had Tehelka sold out to India’s mining barons and real estate tycoons?

The festival was sponsored by some of India’s top corporations and held at a hotel allegedly owned by men in jail awaiting charges involving the 2G telecommunications scam.

Potentially even more damaging, Tehelka faced accusations that it withheld an investigative story about illegal mining in Goa in exchange for the Goa state government’s support for the festival, an allegation the magazine’s editors strenuously deny. A version of the article was later published by Firstpost, a news Web site….

Tarun J. Tejpal, Tehelka’s editor, said that he was unaware of who owned the hotel or any environmental violations in its construction when his staff scouted the location months ago.

“When we looked for a hotel that could accommodate the scale we wanted, we couldn’t find a single hotel that could find a hall that could accommodate 600 to 700 people,” until they found the Grand Hyatt, which was still under construction. “Much later on the virtual eve of the fest we began to hear of these other issues.”

By then it was too late to shift to another location, he said.

Essar, one of the corporations sponsoring the festival, runs huge mines in Chhatisgarh and elsewhere, and some press critics have accused Tehelka of softening its criticism of the mining giant in exchange for sponsorship.

Tejpal flatly denied this, and said it was spurious to claim that his magazine’s journalism was somehow suspect, arguing that no publication has done more to highlight the plight of India’s dispossessed than Tehelkha, which frequently runs exposés of corporate and political misdeeds.

“There is a kind of absurdity for these arguments,” Tejpal fumed. “At the end of the day, by that count, virtually everything in India is suspect.”

Lucy Archibald in the WSJ:

However, some of the controversy merits a closer look. Most contentiously, writing in the Hindustan Times, Hartman De Souza, the sexagenarian theatre veteran and activist, accused the Tehelka editor of compromising a story about Goa’s illegal mining in order to get a green light for the festival.

According to De Souza, Tehelka reporter Raman Kirpal visited the state in March and discovered the illegal mining of iron ore at several times the environmentally cleared rate. This allegedly amounted to an illegal profit of Rs 8 billion ($163.5 million). Subsequently, the state-appointed Public Accounts Committee reportedly put the figure lost by the state exchequer closer to Rs 3,000 crore.

De Souza contends that Tejpal delayed the publication of the story just when he was in talks with Goa’s Chief Minister Digambar Kamat about approval and sponsorship for the event. And so far no such story on Goa’s illegal mining has run in Tehelka.

The reporter has since left the magazine and published his story on Firstpost.com, where he has now taken up a staff position. Coverage of the mining scandal followed in various local media outlets.

Several Goan government officials, including Kamat, were allegedly castigated in the committee’s report…. As a result of all this, De Souza objects to the inclusion of the Goan government as a sponsor of the ThinkFest event.

Tejpal published a strong riposte pointing out that the reporter in question was fired by Tehelka “on account of poor performance.” He strongly rejected De Souza’s version of events, calling his article “bizarre and baseless” and its author “full of rage at the world, but no facts.”

He also pointed out that they “actively refused sponsorship from all the Goan mining companies.” The festival was partly sponsored by companies including Aircel, Essar and Tata Steel.

Photograph: courtesy Newsweek

Also read: A magazine, a scam, an owner and his Goan house

Tarun J. Tejpal: “We haven’t bent or violated any rule”

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6 Responses to “NYT, WSJ weigh in on Tehelka’s Goa controversy”

  1. Binoo Says:

    It is about time that all dirty laundry got some attention…. The only surprise is that these stories did not come out in the open sooner.

  2. Law of Omerta Says:

    Everyone has a price. As the famous Don Corleone has said,”Behind every fortune there is a crime.”

    So to put the Don’s words into Indian context, “behind every fast rising magazine, there are a number of mining barons.”

    Why should we be so surprised about the fact that the famous Mr. Tehelka has feet made out of “wet clay.”

    He is what he is…. he always was what we know him to be today… it is disgusting, it is frustrating, but we have to bear the facts…

    The bottom line is that every famous person in this country is a cheat.


  3. Whoa!

    Good that International media is critically but fairly looking at the Indian media and about time. In India, the media does not report about itself.

  4. d c dias Says:

    once you organize such events you need government support and that’s when you become vulnerable.Sponsors don’t throw away money it comes with a price .They want their pound of flesh . Their pound of flesh lands up in your mouth , it chokes you so that you can no longer speak!

  5. Krishna Kumar Says:

    The raison d’etre of a news magazine is to report news. Why should Tehelka hold such talk-shops?

  6. EastEnd Says:

    http://www.deccanherald.com/content/204473/a-crusader-turns-collector.html

    Tehelka armtwisted Goa govt into funding its literary fest
    A crusader turns collector
    Devika Sequeira, Nov 12, Panaji:

    After several preliminaries and high-power calls—some of them from Sonia Gandhi’s political adviser Ahmed Patel —”Tehelka” publisher and chief operating officer Neena Tejpal met Chief Minister Digambar Kamat in Goa weeks ahead of ”Think 2011”, the magazine’s ‘festival of ideas’ that was held here from November 4 to 6.

    “She came with a few other people to meet me and asked us to associate with the event. Since prominent people, including central ministers were coming, we agreed to help them,” Kamat told Deccan Herald on Saturday.

    He denied there had been pressure from Delhi for him to support the festival, which has been shadowed by a controversy, or that a deal had been struck for “Tehelka” to hold off an expose on illegal mining in Goa. “No, no, that’s not true at all,” he said.
    Also present at the meeting with the “Tehelka” representatives were Chief Secretary Sanjay Srivastava, former tourism secretary D C Sahoo, Finance Secretary S Kumaraswamy, Director (tourism) Swapnil Naik and others.

    Neena Tejpal, sister of “Tehelka” editor Tarun Tejpal, was business-like and downright arrogant with the Goa chief minister, leaving his aides quite stunned. “If Tarun was here, he would have asked for Rs 1.5 crore. How much are you willing to give?” she asked Kamat quite bluntly, a government source told Deccan Herald. The source expressed shock at Neena’s tone and tenor, considering she was talking to the chief minister of a state. An embarrassed Kamat asked his aides to see which departments could be tapped for funding the fest and the chief secretary finally came up with a figure of Rs 50 lakh for the magazine’s event.

    “Tehelka”, which prides itself for its investigative and public interest journalism, has been accused by theatre personality Hartman De Souza of burying a report on mining in Goa by its former correspondent Raman Kirpal because of the negotiations with the Goa government on “Thinkfest”. Tejpal has strongly denied the charges.

    But a government aide said after the meeting with Neena Tejpal there was a strong buzz in the secretariat that Kamat was keen to ob


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