Tag Archives: Anant Goenka

18 factoids in ‘Caravan’ profile of Shekhar Gupta

shekhar The December “media issue” of Caravan magazine has a 20-page profile of former Indian Express editor-in-chief and shortlived India Today editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta.

Authored by Krishn Kaushik, the profile is titled “Capital Reporter”, with the strapline “How profit and principle shaped the journalism of Shekhar Gupta”.

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# The son of a minor bureaucrat from Haryana, Shekhar Gupta‘s annual salary at The Indian Express sometimes exceeded Rs 10 crore ($1.6 million) per year. Current chief editor Raj Kamal Jha got Rs 1.25 crore, Jaideep “Jojo” Bose of The Times of India was paid under Rs 2 crore.

# Shekhar Gupta made Rs 36.67 crore in “capital gains” in 2009-10, through the demerger of the Indian Express‘s real estate wing and the newspapers, which resulted in the sale of the iconic Express Towers at Nariman Point in Bombay.

# Gupta is not too bothered with his exit from The Indian Express or his even hurried exit from India Today: “Look, I am a bit of a big fish right now for these factors to bother me now.”

# A senior television journalist is quoted as saying: “He is a social terrorist. He will look at you for five seconds, then look at the next person coming in.” Congressman Mani Shankar Aiyar says Gupta once “cut me dead and walked away” at a party.

# Paranjoy Guha Thakurta: “He looks down upon you [if you are unable to make use of the opportunities the free market throws up, work hard and make it to the top].”

# After interviewing over 50 people, the reporter Krishn Kaushik writes that “detractors of the ‘Shekhar Gupta phenomenon’ contended that Gupta’s wealth compromised the “Journalism of Courage” he promoted at the Indian Express.

# Gupta categorically says: “Nobody can ever find a paisa which will be a surprise to my taxman or to any of my employers.”

# Fallen Tehelka editor Tarun J. Tejpal who is quoted several times in the story, says: “If in reviving the Express he made money, not just the lala, I don’t know what the problem is.”

# When an Indian Express report on the alleged violations in the acqusition of land for Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani‘s Antilla tower was to appear in the Bombay edition, he called resident editor Samar Halarnkar “from a train in Italy” although in fairness, he did not block the story.

# Krishn Kaushik writes that at least half-a-dozen current and former members of the Express news team gave the reporter “specific instances” of stories being killed, allegedly without discussion with those reporting them—stories that went against a top industrialist, a cabinet minister, a real-estate group.

# One journalist described how Gupta once had him debrief a foreign government agency, which seemed irrelevant to any of the stories he was working on.

# Former Union home and finance minister P. Chidambaram was the ‘holy cow’ in the Express newsroom. “You could not criticise him.” The Express staff “sort of had the feeling that the Ambanis were untouchable.”

# Around the time Shekhar Gupta became CEO of Express, a gentleman called B.S. Raman would come to Express Towers in Bombay for a few hours every day from the nearby Reliance Industries’ office at Maker Chambers. Raman tells the reporter he was asked by his office to help Viveck Goenka‘s company.

# A Express staffer told the reporter that the C-story  “The January night Raisina Hill was spooked” had been pushed by P. Chidambaram, who was then the home minister, and Nehchal Sandhu, then the director of the intelligence bureau.

# Kaushik writes that Chidambaram pushed for Shekhar Gupta to be nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 2009, which was eventually given to former Tribune, Express, TOI and Hindustan Tims editor, H.K. Dua. However, both Gupta and Chidambaram deny the claim.

# “Ashutosh Rais” was the pen name of former Business Standard editor T.N. Ninan, for pieces which he wrote for Democratic World, where Shekhar Gupta held his first formal journalism job as an assistant editor.

# Shekhar Gupta had been in touch with Aroon Purie of India Today from around the time he relinquished the CEO role at The Indian Express in August 2013.

# Gupta’s mentor Arun Shourie said the jump to India Today as vice-chairman and editor-in-chief was a mismatch: “Yeh shaadi galat ho gayi hai.”

Anant Goenka, the son of Viveck Goenka who heads Express‘ online push and whose arrival in 2010 is widely seen as propelling Shekhar Gupta’s exit, did not speak to the Caravan reporter, saying he did not want to discuss an “ex-employee.”

Also read: Shekhar Gupta gives up his managerial role

To all Express employees. From: Shekhar Gupta

From Viveck Goenka. To: Indian Express employees

The Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta, Gen V.K. Singh

The Indian Express, Reliance and Shekhar Gupta

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‘Media freedom bleaker with Ambani domination’

The takeover of Network 18 group with its myriad news, business and entertainment channels has received scant review in the Indian media, but the author Pankaj Mishra bells the cat in Bloomberg View:

“There is no denying that the future of media freedom in India looks even bleaker than ever after Mukesh Ambani’s Silvio Berlusconi-style domination of both news and entertainment content and delivery mechanisms.

“At the very least, such violation of the rules of the free market should be exposed to intense public scrutiny, even criticism, of the kind the deal between Comcast and Time Warner has provoked in the U.S.

“But a near-total silence from politicians and the mainstream media greeted the extraordinary doubling of gas prices in India.

“When Reliance attempted to throttle the book [by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta] about it, those columnists who had denounced Penguin for agreeing to withdraw Wendy Doniger’s “The Hindus: An Alternative History” went oddly quiet.

“And given the “toadification” of large parts of the Indian media, to paraphrase Salman Rushdie, it may even croak out some malicious joy as more independent-minded journalists depart what does look increasingly like a toad-breeding swamp.”

Infographic: courtesy Outlook*

Read the full article: India’s newest media baron embraces censorship

* Disclosures apply

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Also read: Will RIL-TV18-ETV deal win CCI approval?

Rajya Sabha TV tears into Reliance-TV18 deal

EPW on the Reliance-ETV-RIL deal within a deal

Anant Goenka: WaPo, Amazon, HT and the Reliance-TV18 deal

Indian Express, India Today teach NYT a lesson

To say that the Indian media is in a tizzy of seismic proportions would qualify as the understatement of the year. So far.

Editors are quitting, being sacked, or finding ever new ways of being quietly eased out. Promoters are exiting their dream projects after acquiescing to giant business houses. Reporters are making discreet enquiries. Etcetera.

Still, in the midst of all the bloodbath, there has been a palpable sense of grace in the manner in which Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of the Indian Express has been sent off by his organisation, and the manner in which he has been welcomed to his new port of calling, the India Today group.

Despite Gupta’s exit being in the air for nearly a year, the Express went out of its way to promote his new book, and Express chairman Viveck Goenka (to whom Gupta dedicated his collection of columns) was at hand at the book’s launch. Gupta’s last columns for the paper have been given pride of place on page one.

Goenka’s graceful letter below announcing Gupta’s exit—and Aroon Purie‘s dignified letter welcoming him back into the fold—are a lesson, in an era when even the supposedly great New York Times removed the name of its first woman editor Jill Abramson in a matter of hours.

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EXHIBIT A: VIVECK GOENKA, Chairman, The Indian Express

My dear colleagues

With much regret, I accept Shekhar Gupta’s resignation as Editor-in-Chief of The Indian Express. I truly​ appreciate his letter to all of us and I wish him the very best.

Shekhar leaves on June 15, just a year short of his 20 years here — another moment of transition in the long history of this ​great institution.

When I chose him for the position of Editor​ in 1995, I was taking no leap in the dark. I was absolutely convinced that Shekhar, then 38, was the best person to guide this newspaper into the future. And I feel more than vindicated today.

So many news breaks (I have happily lost count) delivered by the finest reporters, editors, sub editors, designers and photographers, a team I am very proud of,  team which is the envy of every newspaper publisher: three International Press Institute Awards for Excellence in Journalism; the most questioning opinion section in the business and the most generous, too, given how it welcomes dissenting voices; a renewal of talent each year by the youngest and the brightest from our campuses – Shekhar leaves the newspaper stronger than ever.

Key to each one of these achievements has been the consistently stellar work of the Express team under the leadership of Editor Raj Kamal Jha.

Raj’s leadership is grounded in his commitment to professional excellence and uncompromising integrity. He brings to the newsroom creativity, clarity and depth, three qualities increasingly rare in our business. This not only inspires his colleagues, it powers them to realize their best potential.

Raj could not have a stronger partner in the newsroom than Managing Editor Unni Rajen Shanker.

Unni has been a reporter, an Editor, a Resident Editor (Mumbai) and Editor of the Express News Service. He brings to his leadership a deep understanding of all the different roles in the changing newsroom and an unrivalled sense of fairness and empathy. It’s this that enables him attract the finest talent and then nurture them. Unni is one of the pillars of the Express.

Since they joined in 1996, both have steered change and are, therefore, ideally placed to help guide the paper into the future. That is why, to facilitate a seamless transition, I am proud to repose my faith in them and redesignate them for their new roles.

Raj will be Chief Editor and will report to me. Unni will be Editor.

I look forward to working closely with them. They will find me every bit as supportive as all their predecessors, including Shekhar did, as we plan and implement exciting new upgrades to all our news brands.

There is​ work to do.

We have witnessed a remarkable election and an even​ more remarkable victory that bring with it challenges for all of us in the news business whose mission is to question, to report, to interpret and to analyse.

I firmly believe and, more so, given the changes in the media landscape, that these are challenges best suited for The Indian Express given how strongly independence and courage are wired in our ​genes​.

I believe that the present news media environment in India offers us an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to what we do best: faithful and courageous journalism.

With all the shrill voices on TV, the paid news in print and the corporate funded or politician backed news organizations, The Indian Express must be the voice India can turn to and trust.

Speaking truth to power is hard wired in the genes of our editorial teams. The “Express” commitment to this legacy, mine and that of the future generation, will certainly endure. The newsroom is and will be the most sacred space in our institution.

I am committed to raising the bar and instilling a fresh new energy in our editorial teams. In addition to revamped content, I  look forward to closely integrating all our news operating systems because our growth is now across platforms. This​ was evident last month, during Verdict 2014.

We had print editions that were reported and produced to the finest standards and a digital edition that broke all our records with over 52 million page views, more than 100,000 active users for eight hours, a live video news stream from the Express newsroom, all of this making us among the five most visited news sites in the country.

Looking ahead, that’s the road we take. Not only reporting the news first but also being the first to understand it and​ question its assumptions. This means better stories, better analyses, better pictures, better everything and ensuring that The Indian Express journalism of courage reaches the reader wherever she is, whenever she wants it, whichever device she wants to receive it on.

Shekhar, whether he is at the Express or not, will always be a part of this journey.​ For, he leaves us with a sense of determination and purpose. And a wonderful tool-kit of ideas and values that we will use and keep adding to.

Please join me in wishing him, once again, the best of luck as he scales what I am sure will be a new professional summit.

And, Raj and Unni, let us​  get to work. I wish you and your teams my very best.

Best always

Viveck Goenka

***

EXHIBIT B: AROON PURIE, Chairman, India Today group

Dear Colleagues

I am delighted to announce the appointment of Shekhar Gupta as Vice Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of all news properties of the India Today Group. It includes all our news and business publications, news TV brands and all related news and business digital brands. This comes into effect July 1, 2014.

This is a homecoming for Shekhar. He joined India Today in 1983 and was here for 12 eventful years during which he was an outstanding journalist. He broke many exclusive stories and covered world changing international events like the fall of the Soviet Union, the first Gulf War, Afghan Jehad and the Tiananmen Square uprising.

In 1995, he took charge of The Indian Express group steering it into a position of editorial leadership and financial strength.

Shekhar is a reporter’s Editor, thinker, author, mentor and active on the international speaking circuit. He typically is an “all sleeves rolled up” hands-on professional who not only leads from the front but works collaboratively and believes in action.

He literally “Walks the Talk”! He is highly regarded  in the profession for his integrity independence and knowledge. That’s why he attracts, inspires and builds fine talent.

As I mentioned in my Founders Day speech I would like us to be the best media group in every which way by our 40th birthday which is two years from now. I believe Shekhar joining us would be a force multiplier in achieving this goal.

He will report to me and will be responsible for the editorial quality of all our news and business brands, and our overall expansion and profitability. He will work closely with Ashish Bagga, Group CEO, and enable him to effectively grow the readership and viewership of our brands, profitably.

Anil Mehra will step down as Vice-Chairman but will continue as consultant to advise the Group on matters of strategic importance.

At a personal level, Shekhar’s return is a moment of deep satisfaction and vindication of my belief, our shared belief, in the power of good journalism to reveal and to inform, to question the unquestioned, to help make sense of the noise rather than to add to it.

We need to work relentlessly to prove our essential belief that there is no contradiction between good journalism and the marketplace.

I have always believed: create good content and money will follow. That will be the principle behind another project that I greatly look forward to with Shekhar’s arrival: the launch of some new editorial offerings that will uniquely blend the best of reporting and analysis.

In his new role, Shekhar has promised to liberate me from day-to-day operations so that I can work to guiding the group into a future of great promise, growth and excitement.

Shekhar, welcome back.

Aroon

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Also read: An Aroon Purie tribute worthy of emulation

Aroon Purie: how to say goodbye to a departing editor

Shekhar Gupta’s farewell letter to Express staff

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Shekhar Gupta, left, holds up a drawing by illustrator Prakash Shetty, after addressing the editorial staff of the Bangalore-based newspapers Praja Vani and Deccan Herald, last week

The following is the full text of the letter sent by Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of The Indian Express, to his colleagues, announcing his exit from the paper he helmed for 19 years.

Gupta’s resignation as editor comes 10 months after he relinquished his corporate duties as CEO at the paper—and a week after the Narendra Modi-led BJP government came to power in the 2014 general elections.

Gupta’s no.2 Raj Kamal Jha had been elevated as editor of Express in the middle of 2013.

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Goodbye notes can be heartwarming or heartbreaking. On a rare occasion they can be both. This is one such.

It is time for me to say goodbyes at the Express — for the second time. The first was exactly at the same time of the year in 1983 when most of you were not born yet.

I say goodbye now with joy because I leave behind a wonderfully vibrant newsroom with very good hands of home-grown leaders. And a newspaper that defines its value and power in terms of its depth, credibility and respect. There is no higher currency, no fairer denominator of a newspaper’s stature.

And also a wrench precisely because we are such a fun gang, topped by a large-hearted proprietor who pretty much distributes all that the company earns back to us. As generous compensations, great working conditions, never a resource spared in pursuit of a story. No call ever to kill a story once it passes our highest and the most exacting editorial bars and filters.

I can do no better than paraphrase what Gen Krishnaswamy Sundarji, my friend and mentor in an area of journalism that fascinated me, had said at his farewell parade when cameras caught a hint of mist in his ever-smiling eyes.

He said he didn’t know whether to sob or smile. Because he was leaving behind the world’s finest army that God gave any human the gift of leading.

There isn’t a daily newspaper in India greater than the Express. Or a greater gift that a journalist can ask for than to lead it.

I have been doubly blessed. I started at the same paper as a reporter in 1977 and worked here for a full 25 years in two innings.

Leadership is its own teacher. In fact, the finest. It gives you an opportunity to learn from the many brilliant people that you have been given the honour to lead. I know, many of you by now would be tired of my three-example rule in editorial writing. Yet, here are my three leadership lessons.

First, you must have a big heart. You can be a competent manager, a powerful boss, the wealthiest owner. But never a leader without a big heart. Because there is an essential moral dimension to leadership.

Second, always connect with the universe of those you lead. In our case, it is exhilarating as, across our teams, we trawl the worlds of politics, government, economics, science, culture, cinema and sports. Even markets and advertising, our roti-dal and EMIs.

And third, find that instinct to choose the most talented and diligent, give them space, and then trust them. I confess this defies conventional logic. Or advice on your usual leadership manual’s back-flap. But trust with your heart and not merely, clinically with your head. This is the one gift I take away from Viveck through a two-decade professional relationship, and a friendship that endures.

This concludes my farewell sermon. So back to myself.

When life becomes cosy for too long, you need to disrupt it. Smugness is the beginning of old age, even if you are in your teens, which I, regrettably, am not.

I am embarrassed to lean on the wisdom of Neale Donald Walsh, a contemporary pop-spiritualist/philosopher so juvenile that had he been born in India, he would be a star on Aastha channel with his nutty Conversations with God. Life, he said, begins at the end of your comfort zone. I am checking him out.

In any case, I am an incorrigible reporter and thereby a terminal adventure junkie. By the way, even at the risk of being charged with crass tribalism, I shall write something more specifically for my fellow reporters at the Express. But a bit later.

I had said at my book release by Arun Shourie in Mumbai earlier this month that he taught me many things, but never to write anything short, an article, a letter, even a farewell note. So I can continue to indulge myself today as well. But you have to bring out tomorrow’s paper.

And I must write my first in this series — my last at the Express — of First Person/Second Draft — on time. Heard that before?

I so love you all, friends, colleagues, much younger, brighter and with a great future. I am proud of you and cherish the time we spent together. I will be generally in my office until June 15. There is a fair bit of pending writing. So please be forewarned: you will still have to endure the corridor addas on my compulsive breaks from spells of writing, bare feet and all.

Postscript: One antidote to compulsive rambling is to steal a poet’s lines. Let me sign off, therefore, with Gulzar, whom we all so adore…

Din dhale jahan, raat paas ho,
Zindagi ki lau, oonchi kar chalo,
Yaad aaye gar kabhi, jee udaas ho,
Meri awaz hi pehchan hai,
Gar yaad rahe…

We will always be in touch….

Shekhar

***

Photograph: courtesy K.S.N. Kumar

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Also read: Shekhar Gupta gives up his managerial role

To all Express employees. From: Shekhar Gupta

From Viveck Goenka. To: Indian Express employees

The Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta, Gen V.K. Singh

The media Marwari who’s a ‘proper Tam-Brahm’

goenka

After a long period away from the arclights, Viveck Goenka, the scion of one of India’s most influential newspapers, The Indian Express, is slowly bouncing into the main frame.

He is now playing an increasingly hand’s-on role at his own paper, making key decisions; is seen at media events, is making his presence felt on industry bodies—and is starting to give interviews.

In his first formal powwow in 20 years, in a special issue on Marwaris in the business magazine Forbes India, the chairman of the Express group, talks fondly of his grandfather, the late Ramnath Goenka, and even poses with his son Anant Goenka in a photograph (above) in the paper’s presses.

Viveck Goenka tells Forbes India:

# “Ramnathji taught us never to compromise on editorial values and freedom… to be fearless and not to be aligned to any political party. I have had a whole lot of people threatening me.”

# “There was one thing clear about Ramnathji. ‘If I have an end-goal, I don’t care how I reach that…’ I agree with him but not everyone does.”

# “I see myself as a proper Tamilian Brahmin [Goenka grew up in Tamil Nadu], that’s my upbringing.”

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The chairperson and editorial director of Hindustan Times, Shobhana Bhartia; Subhash Chandra and his son Punit Goenka of Zee; Gulab Kothari and his sons Nihar Kothari and Siddharth Kothari of Rajasthan Patrika, are the other media Marwaris featured.

The interviews give an inside view of the austere and conservative business and management ethic of the original media Marwaris, which later generations are eagerly dismantling.

# Shobhana Bhartia: “When we started innovative advertisements, my father [K.K. Birla] was taken aback. ‘No, we can’t do this. You can’t affect page one, can’t place something in the middle of it.’ I can understand that his generation was not used to these things. He felt colour pages would be more like a comic book.”

# Anant Goenka: “[As a Marwari, I have] an inherent drive to spend wisely and to build wealth. Whether large or small, [the 2,500 sq ft bachelor pad he bought after running up hefty hotel bills] is our own. It’s a Marwari thing. We are obsessed with appreciation.”

# Punit Goenka: “It is clear that we are in the business to make money; we are not here for charity or for building power or influence.”

# Gulab Kothari: “If you borrow money for growth, I believe you can’t reverse that decision. The question is, do I give my children 100 per cent of the business or leave them to deal with an outsider who I sold a stake to? My view is, expand less and gradually… we don’t need to jump the gun by taking debt.”

The Marwaris who own The Times of India group, Dainik Bhaskar and Dainik Jagran “did not participate in the story or were not available”.

Photograph: courtesy Forbes India

Also readWhen Samir served a thali, Vineet served a scoop

‘Zee is the only news channel making money’

In a family-owned paper, only furniture is fixed

sv

Nothing is what it appears to be in the thicker-than-water but funnier-than-fill-your-metaphor-here world of family-owned newspapers.

Siddharth Varadarajan, installed as editor of The Hindu in a G.Kasturi-N.Ram putsch in 2011, ostensibly to professionalise the paper but allegedly to prevent Malini Parthasarathy from ascending the throne, has resigned dramatically via a Twitter announcement.

“With The Hindu‘s owners deciding to revert to being a family run and edited newspaper, I am resigning from The Hindu with immediate effect.”

The resignation came after a meeting of the board of Kasturi & Sons removed Arun Anant as CEO, and redesignated editor Varadarajan as “Contributing Editor and Senior Columnist”.

Only two days ago, on 19 October 2013, the well-regarded Varadarajan had posted a picture of his renovated office in Madras, in what seemed likely a preparation for the long haul.

At 3.40 pm, roughly two hours before Varadarajan announced his decision to quit, the Janata Party-turned-BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, whose petition on Varadarajan, an American passport holder, helming a newspaper is hanging fire, tweeted:

“Will US citizen turned Naxal survive as editor. Just read Company law which states even NRI editor is FDI for a newspaper.”

The reactions were mixed.

Siddharth’s elder brother, former Newsweek International editor Tunku Varadarajan, who called thambithe best journalist in India” in a recent magazine interview, tweeted on his brother’s exit:

“The only decent editor The Hindu has had in nearly a decade has been ousted in a squalid boardroom putsch. Hey Ram!”

In contrast, Anant Goenka, the scion of the family-owned Indian Express, tweeted:

“Happy the family seems to be sorting their issues out—stability at The Hindu, especially before elections, will benefit India.”

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A statement put out by N. Ram, who was appointed chairman of Kasturi & Sons Limited at Monday’s board meeting, read:

N. Ravi has taken over as Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, and Malini Parthasarathy as Editor of The Hindu. Arun Anant is no longer the Chief Executive Officer of Kasturi & Sons Limited, the company that owns and publishes The Hindu Group of publications. N. Ram has become Chairman of KSL and Publisher of The Hindu and Group publications; and N. Murali, Co-Chairman of the company. These decisions were taken by the Board of Directors of the Company at its meeting on Monday.

“In consequence, Siddharth Varadarajan, who was made Contributing Editor and Senior Columnist, The Hindu, has submitted his resignation.

“The Board also decided to allocate specific responsibilities to other Directors.

“The decision to make deep-going changes was made chiefly on the ground that there were recurrent violations and defiance of the framework of the institution’s longstanding values on the business side, and recurrent violations and defiance of ‘Living Our Values’, the mandatory Code of Editorial Values applicable to The Hindu. The whole effort is to restore employee morale, good industrial relations, and the trust of this newspaper’s more than two million readers.

“The existing editorial arrangements for Business Line, Frontline, Sportstar, and The Hindu (Tamil) will continue unchanged and the process of professionalisation, now involving a mix of shareholder-Directors and other professionals, will continue.

“The 135-year-old institution reaffirms its commitment to its core editorial and business values, and excellence in journalism.”

Below are the facsimiles of the board resolution:

20131022-122128 AM.jpg

20131022-122811 AM.jpg

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For the record, G. Kasturi, who played a pivotal role in the last round of blood-letting in the paper (several members of the family including N. Ram’s brothers N. Murali and N. Ravi, and cousins Malini Parathasarathy and Nirmala Lakshman resigned at Varadarajan’s appointment), passed away in September 2012.

At the time of quitting, Malini Parathasarathy (who now runs The Hindu centre for policy and public policy) had tweeted:

Siddharth [Varadarajan] far junior to me appointed as Editor makes it untenable to continue“… “Tremendous family jealousy and misogyny

Kasturi’s sons—K. Balaji and K. Venugopal—have, among others, reportedly put on record their opposition to the latest changes.

Also, for the record, the Bangalore-based family-owned newspapers Deccan Herald and Praja Vani have seen a similar rearrangement of the editor, depending on board-room dynamics, but all within the family.

First, the eldest of the three brothers K.N. Hari Kumar was ousted as editor after his younger brothers K.N. Tilak Kumar and K.N. Shanth Kumar joined hands. Then the first and second joined hands to remove the third. Eventually, the second and the third joined hands to restore status quo ante.

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Photograph: via Facebook

Also read: N. Murali: Hindu is run like a banana republic

N. Ravi: Why I quit The Hindu

Malini Parathsarathy: Why I quit The Hindu

Nirmala Lakshman: Why I quit The Hindu

Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta & Gen V.K. Singh

For the second time in 18 months, the northern edition of Viveck Goenka‘s Indian Express (sold in the south as The National Standard) has been drawn into a blazing row between the Congress-led UPA government and the then (and now retired) chief of the Army staff, General V.K. Singh.

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In April 2012, the Express put out a front-page, full-page, eight-column, triple-decker banner-headlined story that on the day Gen Singh’s petition before the Supreme Court on his date of birth was coming up on January 16, 2012, two units of the Indian Army had moved towards Delhi

In effect, that Express story—bylined “by Shekhar Gupta, Ritu Sarin, Pranab Dhal Samanta, with Ajmer Singh“—was making the thinly disguised insinuation that the general had tried to stage a coup in the national capital but without using the dreaded “C” word.

The Express story was denied by defence minister A.K. Antony, and most newspapers punched holes in the Express story, but the paper stuck to its guns.

express

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Last Friday, September 20—five days after Gen Singh had shared the dais with the BJP’s “prime ministerial candidate” Narendra Damodardas Modi—the Express front-paged an eight-column, double-decker, half-page story, by Ritu Sarin, that a unit set up by Gen Singh had, among other things, tried to topple the Jammu & Kashmir government headed by Omar Abdullah.

In effect, a “C” minor.

But unlike the first occasion, when the General was still in his uniform and constrained from speaking out on its veracity, this time he has let loose a volley of personal criticism on Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta, who has a demonstrated record of top-flight reporting on defence matters, both at Express and his previous port of call, India Today magazine.

First, on Twitter, General Singh called Shekhar Gupta a “UPA stooge” and gave oxygen to a number of unsubstantiated charges on his assets and income-tax returns, even drawing Gupta’s spouse, Neelam Jolly, into the picture.

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Then, on the 9 pm news on television, after he had filed an application under the right to information seeking the Army report on which Express said it had based its story, General Singh went for the jugular, both against Express and its editor.

In an interview with Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of Times Now, Gen Singh said:

“This paper first accuses me of trying to topple the government in Delhi, now it accuses me of trying to topple the government in J&K…. How did Indian Express know about it? If there is a leak (of the Army report) to a paper, why can’t it be made available to me?

“I don’t consider Indian Express a newspaper which can be believed. Sorry. A paper which can dub a movement of two units on simple mobilization as a ‘coup’ should be thrown out into the wastepaper basket.”

Express reported the latter criticism in its editions today, quoting Times Now, but conveniently excised the middle portion, which questioned the veracity of its April 2012 “C” report.

***

Then, in an interview Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN, Gen Singh answered a few questions:

Who is behind this ‘motivated report’?

When I say motivated, I am only going by what the Indian Express has reported. With my previous experience of their putting out a ‘coup’ story, I feel it is highly motivated…. If a newspaper can have this report or parts of this report, I think I as a person directly affected must have a copy.

Sir, you have also today on social media made comments about the editor of the Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta.

I don’t know if it is a personal battle for him. If a person comes to my house, has a meal, understands the situation, then goes and does a banner headline on spooking the government, and a coup, based on two units that moved, what was the agenda?

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In an interview with Nitin A. Gokhale, NDTV‘s defence editor, 17 days before the Express report, Gen Singh said:

(M)isunderstandings are created deliberately by people who hobnob with certain journalists, who seem to be having an axe to grind and there are some of them very prominent ones. Why the axe is there to grind, whether it is because they have been bought over or something else I really can’t comment on. But it appears quite obvious.

In this particular instance there was, you know, banner headlines. Army is spying, Army is bugging, Army is doing A, B and C…

I have tried to clarify it once earlier.  But I find same reports keep coming up. In fact this great paper called Indian Express had done the same report with just a minor variation of figure by the same reporter couple of months back. He has brought it up again, same thing no change in it, just a minor variation. So much for the journalistic talent that this paper has….

For a paper to say Rs 8 crore is missing, have they seen the logbooks? Have they gone through the details?  They haven’t. No, I think lot of things that this paper has been doing is totally wrong.

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While the rest of mainstream media stayed silent on the Twitter war between Gen Singh and Shekhar Gupta, it briefly popped up as a news item on NewsX, the news channel.

But, on social media, as the paper’s reputation was taking a pounding, the Indian Express scion Anant Goenka felt it fit to enter the debate (here, here).

#”To the haters: you can allege a variety of vested interests but our history shows we take up issues that no one else has the courage….

#”Fact is that Express is and has always been feared because we don’t care who hates us…I think our readers expect nothing less from us.”

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Update: NewsX, which put out a news report on V.K. Singh’s allegations against Shekhar Gupta, issued a clarification on 14 October 2013:

“News X would like to clarify that its report of September 23 in no capacity an endorsement of the claim or reflects the editorial view held by the channel with regard to Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekha Gupta. News X was only reporting the Tweets as put out by the General on his individual account.”

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Also read: What they are saying about Express ‘sue’ report

Adolf Hitler reacts to Indian Express ‘C’ report

Is the Indian Express a pro-establishment newspaper?