Posts Tagged ‘Vidya Subrahmaniam’

How the ‘bribe bomb’ landed at ‘The Hindu’

2 April 2012

The chief of the Army staff, Gen V.K. Singh‘s interview to The Hindu on March 26, in which he accused a former army officer of making a Rs 14 crore bribe offer, stirred the proverbial hornet’s nest last Monday.

The timing of the charge, on the eve of the BRICS summit in Delhi, set tongues wagging.

The paper’s interviewer, Vidya Subrahmaniam, provides some perspective in today’s issue:

“I met the General at his official residence in Delhi for an hour-long taped interview a few days before its eventual publication on March 26. This time was required to fill in some gaps in information as well as to transcribe the long, meandering content of the conversation.

“It wasn’t as if the chief was bursting with unspilled secrets.

“The interview, I assumed, was about the age controversy and the state of the army, and so it was for the large part…. Half way into the questioning, when he was specifically asked who was behind the controversy, he mentioned “the Adarsh lobby and some equipment lobbyists.”

“Then suddenly he dropped the bombshell about the bribe attempt. I absorbed the information trying not to show too much excitement, and quizzed him on the details. He said it was for clearing the purchase of a tranche of overpriced trucks that had no proper facility for “maintenance and service.”

“Also that he was so enraged by the brazenness of it all that he took it up with Union Defence Minister A.K. Antony. But Gen. Singh simply wouldn’t part with more information, nor explain what action he or the Minister had taken.

“‘Leave it,’ he said.

“Journalists know when they have a scoop and they also know how far to push their source. I do not know if the General knowingly concealed the scoop in a maze of information, I do not know if his intention all along was only to disclose the bribe attempt, but at that point, my overwhelming concern was that he shouldn’t retract….

“I emerged out of Gen.Singh’s home with the BRICS summit, still many days away, hardly in my consciousness.”

Illustration: Keshav/ The Hindu

Read the full article: Sack the general, did you say?

When Rajdeep Sardesai got it left, right & centre

3 December 2010

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: There were two “key takeaways”—as TV anchors remind us every night, two “key takeaways”—from the post-Niira Radia chintan baithak organised by  the Editors Guild of India, the Press Club of India, and the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) in New Delhi on Friday.

The first takeaway is what the mainstream media (MSM) will report happily. Which is that senior editors in India (as the BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder who attended the meeting reports) are “considering putting in place systems to ensure ethical practices in journalism”.

Meaning: aal iz well.

In other words, the grey hairs bowing before their Old Monk™ have fully grasped the import of the scandal that has enveloped the profession, following the publication of tapes and transcripts of conversations Radia had with Barkha Dut, Vir Sanghvi, Prabhu Chawla et al, and are poised to act.

The other takeaway is what only the tabloids would waste ink on (feel free to stop right here if your choice is broadsheet or berliner).

Which is that the president of the Editors’ Guild of India, Rajdeep Sardesai—whose favourite offline excuse for  ethical concerns in the profession is “Hamaam mein sab nange hain (everybody is naked in the public bathroom)”—actually had to stand unprotected under a very heavy downpour on a winter afternoon in Delhi today, for an hour if not more.

A downpour of criticism, that is.

The joint EGI-PCI-IWPC meeting started off well, as most introspection meetings do, with Outlook* chief editor Vinod Mehta not taking the names of the accused (because the matter is now in court and also because “my wife told me to be careful”) and striking the right balance of common sense and pragmatism, two commodities that have generally been in short supply.

“I keep hearing that this issue is sensitive and complicated, that it is not a black and white issue. I can’t understand what is so complex here. It doesn’t require an Albert Einstein or a rocket scientist.

“If you are talking to a hotel PRO and he tells you, ‘our hotel is the no.1 hotel in Asia’, it doesn’t mean you come and write that his hotel is the no.1 hotel in Asia. You check and verify before you report.

“The claim that they [Barkha and Vir] were stringing along their sources is complete bullshit. Do you think somebody like Radia would keep on giving information knowing that her instructions weren’t being followed?”

Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN, who took the mike next, rightly spoke of the dichotomous times we live in—when the media which has been behind some of the most impactful stories this year stands accused in the public eye of betraying their trust, a point he had made in his HT column earlier in the day.

Sardesai’s sage wisdom would have earned a few plaudits had he stopped right there.

But, as the cameras rolled, he launched into what seemed like a set piece, enlightening the captive audience comprising largely of journalists of his “problems” with the Outlook* expose—not contacting Barkha and Vir and giving them a chance to reply; running raw footage on the website (which also incidentally features his name a couple of times); the use of pictures of journalists not connected with the 2G scam on the cover and so on.

“This is shock and awe journalism… This is bad journalism inverting the principles of basic journalism…. This rot is not new, it has been around for three decades…. In this competitive age, access is information….”

“There is no proven quid pro quo…. The concerned journalists are guilty of professional misjudgement not professional misconduct… Reputations have been damaged…,” said Sardesai in a thinly disguised defence of his former NDTV colleague Barkha Dutt.

“I think what Outlook and Open have done is completely unethical…. A lot of criticism, let us admit, is also because of a certain envy.”

Hardly had Sardesai placed the mike on the table than Poornima Joshi of Mail Today was on her belligerent feet, urging him to spare the audience his pontification.

“I find it absolutely disturbing and disheartening that the president of editors’ guild is not only condoning but also justifying carrying of messages from a corporate to Congress,” Joshi, a former Outlook staffer, said.

Radhika Ramaseshan of The Telegraph [where Sardesai worked before he joined NDTV], took objection to Sardesai’s claim that this was all old hat, that there was nothing new in what was happening, that this has been happening, so why bother.

Neena Vyas [of The Hindu] has been covering BJP for 30 years. Nobody ever accused her of misusing her access. Likewise, there are a number of journalists who have never succumbed,” she said to applause.

Vyas, daughter of former Times of India editor Sham Lal, contradicted Sardesai in his face of  a statement he attributed to her of a BJP politician’s tacit condition that he would go soft on him in exchange for information.

When Vyas regaled the audience of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi “blackmailing” BJP bosses to throw RSS leader Sanjay Joshi out—after a sting operation of Joshi in a sexual act was shown on India TV (which Vyas alleged was owned by Narendra Modi),—CNN-IBN cameras telecast her allegation “live”.

“If Rajdeep Sardesai is so concerned about the raw footage of the Radia conversations being shown or reported, without giving the other side the chance to reply, how come he is showing this,” hissed a member of the audience audibly.

Vidya Subrahmaniam, also of The Hindu, contested Sardesai’s claim that there was no quid pro quo. The tapes, she said, carried enough evidence of quid pro quo since the journalists appeared to be doing exactly what they promised.

From that point on, it was downhill at top speed all the way for Sardesai, in front of several of his senior colleagues, including Bhupendra Chaubey, Vivian Fernandes and Ashutosh who had assembled in the front rows for what they had presumed would be a champagne show by their boss.

# One unidentified voice from the back rows asked, “How can you hold forth on ethics after CNN-IBN’s dubious role in the infamous cash-for-votes scandal [when it reportedly went back on a promise to telecast a sting operation commissioned by the BJP during the vote on the civilian nuclear bill].”

# Another demanded mandatory declaration of assets and liabilities by editors. “How do journalists manage to become owners of channels,” shouted the young voice, echoing former Hindustan Times‘ editor and Prasar Bharati chief Mrinal Pande‘s call for greater transparency in ownership.

# “Amitabh Bachchan read the news on your channel when he was trying to promote his film Rann, without CNN-IBN ever revealing that it was a promo for his film. You should have just said no, if you want to take the high moral ground on ethics,” said Akshay Mukul of The Times of India.

The restive audience wanted more time to question Sardesai but he beat a hasty exit before the meeting ended, citing lack of time and a prior engagement. And as he left, another voice shouted, within earshot of his wife Sagarika Ghose, “Did we just hear the president of the editors guild of India, or the editors’ guilt of India?”

Inside, at the bar, as the old residents reassembled, a young reporter chipped in: “Twitter and Facebook and all the social media have been delivering a simple message to old media in India: look within. Looks like someone’s just too happy listening to his own loud voice.”

Also read: Rajdeep Sardesai heckled over defending Vir, Barkha

The Hindu coverage of the Editors’ Guild debate

The New Indian Express: Heated debate

‘I couldn’t go to the US as my name is Zia Haq’

4 September 2010

In October 2009, Siddharth Varadarajan of The Hindu reported that three Muslim journalists who were part of prime minister Manmohan Singh‘s official media delegation to the G-20 summit Pittsburgh were denied US visas.

The passports of all three were returned with yellow slips stating they had been found ineligible to receive a visa and that their applications needed “additional administrative processing”.

Now, in September 2010, Vidya Subrahmaniam reports in the same newspaper that Zia Haq, an assistant editor of Hindustan Times, has found that his application needs similar additional administrative processing.

Part of a seven-member journalist delegation invited to participate in a week-long technology and farm show that began on August 28 at Iowa in the United States, the US embassay suspended processing of Haq’s visa and he had to drop out of the tour at the last minute.

Haq writes on his blog:

“all other journalists in the delegation were promptly granted visas…What prompted this? My religion? My faith? My views? [But] I have never been a consistent, rabid or vocal opponent of America…”

The other journalists who were invited—bearing the names M.J. Prabhu (The Hindu), Sitanshu Swain (Financial Express), Vivek Giridhari (Lokmat), U. Pandey (Dainik Jagran), Sudhakara Reddy (Sakshi) and Uma Sudhir (NDTV)—were able to reach the US for the show.

For the record, Zia Haq’s blog says this about himself in case US embassy officials haven’t noticed:

“Zia Haq, as a five-year-old, refused to take Arabic lessons from a maulvi hired by his mother because the alphabet book wasn’t colourful enough. He revisited the Quran only as an adult, just after 9/11 to be precise, to find out if his faith was inherently violent. The ‘need to know’ soon grew into a ‘need to tell’ — that Islam needs to be understood not feared. Haq reports on minority affairs but likes to believe he’s destined for bigger things, like taking the phobia out of Islamophobia.”

Photograph: courtesy Hindustan Times

Read Zia Haq’s full blog: They call me Muslim

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