There is little doubt, as the Niira Radia tapes showed, that journalistic integrity in India is at an all-time low—despite the manifold increase in salaries—especially since the liberalisation process began in 1991 and the notional capital of the media moved from Bombay to Delhi.
Whispers of editors who own power plants and mines, of reporters who are joint venture partners in shopping complexes and apartment blocks, of honchos who buy helicopters, fix arms deals, etc, are now so common that it barely registers on the shock-o-meter these days.
Worse, the epidemic has spread far and wide, from beyond Bombay and Delhi to the hinterland, to the State capitals and big cities, where journalists, cutting across language barriers, have mastered the art of “monetising” their positions and visiting cards.
But, no names!
Working under the Khushwant Singh motto that dead men can’t sue, and using the ongoing eruption in the Middle East as the peg, Outlook editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta drops a couple of names in the latest issue of the weekly newsmagazine:
“Now that Muammar Gaddafi is the flavour of the month, let me recount the story of two flamboyant Indian editors, R.K. Karanjia (Blitz) and Ayub Syed (Current) who, alas, are no longer with us. Both made annual visits to Gaddafi’s tent in Tripoli.
“Ayub, who could be disarmingly candid, once mentioned to me that he was off to Libya to meet the great leader. “I never forget to take two empty suitcases with me when I meet him and on the way back I always stay for one day at Zurich.”
“Russi was much more cunning and made no such admission, but he also went on his annual pilgrimage and came back loaded. At that time these were the only two journalists/editors who had direct contact with Gaddafi.
“Incidentally, it was one of these gentlemen who came back with the offer Gaddafi made to Indira Gandhi: sell me the bomb technology and India will never be short of oil.
“One afternoon Ayub was buying me lunch. He looked relaxed and seemed in no hurry to get back to the office. I was. When I asked him to call for the bill, he said, “What is your hurry? For the next two weeks I have no work. My issues are full of The Green Book.” (This was a Gaddafi-authored manual on how to run a country undergoing a perpetual people’s revolution). And then he laughed uproariously.”
Also read: Russy K. Karanjia: rest in peace
Sudheendra Kulkarni: ‘A creative, courageous, commited editor’