Tag Archives: Karan Thapar

Jessica Lal, Tehelka, Bina Ramani & the media

bird-in-a-banyan-tree-bina-ramani

It was in South Delhi socialite Bina Ramani‘s Tamarind Court restaurant that Jessica Lall, a “model who worked as a celebrity barmaid”, was shot dead in 1999 by Manu Sharma, the son of Congress politician Venod Sharma.

Initially exonerated of the charges, the case turned full turtle for Sharma following a sting operation by Harinder Baweja, then with Tehelka magazine. Manu Sharma was eventually found guilty.

As the owner of the restaurant which was the scene of the crime, Bina Ramani spent nine days in jail in the case. She has an interview with Tehelka this week following the release of her book Bird in a Banyan Tree:

You have been sharply critical of the role media played in the aftermath of the Jessica Lal trial. Yet, it was a Tehelka investigation that brought out the truth. Do you think media can ensure justice?

It is not a guarantee that the media can ensure justice but it can certainly carve the path to it. Conversely, it can derail justice when it becomes over-zealous about its point of view. The media in India is extremely powerful and can wield a lot of influence—it should therefore be thorough i its investigation.

For the record, the news channel NewsX is now owned by Kartikeya Sharma, brother of Manu Sharma, through his company Information TV.

The Sharma family’s Piccadilly group also now owns M.J. Akbar-founded The Sunday Guardian, whose chairman is Ram Jethmalani, whose interview with Karan Thapar is must-watch television.

Also read: Note to directors: It was Shammy, nor Barkha

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‘People know TV news is just entertainment’

Pratap Bhanu Mehta president of the Delhi-based thinktank, Centre for Policy Research (CPR), in an interview with Karan Thapar for CNN-IBN:

Karan Thapar: How do you view the Indian media? Do you share justice Markandey Katju‘s concern, that by and large it is obsessive, it is narrow-minded, it focuses on middle class – urban concerns, ignoring the real problems that affect India such as poverty, such as joblessness.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta: My concern is not so much the issues it covers. It is that whatever it does, with a few exceptions, it is not bringing sufficient rigour and it is not performing frankly the function of being an honest broker in very, very important debates. The media is failing Indian democracy, I would agree with justice Katju to that extent.

Thapar: I know you are not a participant on television debates but do you watch them or do you find them off putting or irritating?

Mehta: You watch them in the way you would watch an entertainment show. In fact my own sense is that I think people are very wisely making the distinction that news is entertainment. It is not news.

Thapar: But of course it should not be entertainment at all.

Mehta: But of course it should not be. It’s exactly that confusion of roles that is crippling us.

Thapar: So TV debates may be entertaining but in terms of informing, educating, illuminating, they fail.

Mehta: Actually they are quite dangerous because they present a false construction of what public opinion is.

Read the full interview: Pratap Bhanu Mehta

Karan Thapar takes on Shekhar Gupta on credit

Even after a quarter-century or thereabouts of television interviewing, Karan Thapar‘s competitive edge has far from dimmed.

In his weekly column in the Hindustan Times (whose failed TV venture Home TV he helped set up in the 1990s), Thapar takes offence at the Indian Express and Mail Today for not crediting him for an interview with Union minister Kamal Nath; in fact going so far as to accuse them of “unethical practices”.

Briefly, Nath told Thapar for his CNN-IBN show Devil’s Advocate on September 7 that the CBI was well within its rights to question the PM in the coal scam if need be.

The interview, he says was recorded at 1 pm on Saturday; by 3 pm CNN-IBN began running news clips; by 3:15 pm excerpts were placed on IBN Live, the channel’s website; and by 5 pm emailed to the press, including Express and Mail Today.

Thapar writes:

“Imagine my surprise when on Sunday (September 8) I discovered that the Express and Mail Today had done identical interviews, with Kamal Nath making exactly the same point.

“Was this a coincidence? Or was it just conceivable they had seen the news clips and the excerpts and decided to put the same question to Kamal Nath so they could claim he had given the same answer to them as well?

“In other words, had they cleverly converted our interview into their own?

“Curious but also upset, I telephoned the minister. He confirmed my suspicions. Shortly after CNN-IBN began running news clips, the papers contacted him and asked the same questions about the PM and the CBI….

“I felt this was unethical. In fact, to be honest, it felt like ‘theft’. So I smsed a complaint to Shekhar Gupta, the editor of the Express, and Sandeep Bamzai, the editor of Mail Today.

“Shekhar didn’t respond. Sandeep did. He accepted what had happened was “bad form” and promised a clarification on Monday (September 9). It appeared on page 24. If I hadn’t known it was coming, I would have missed it….

“But these days honesty, it seems, is a diminishing virtue. On that count, sadly, journalists can’t claim to be very different from politicians.”

For the record, Thapar acknowledges that Press Trust of India, Business Standard and The Hindu carried Thapar’s interview, duly crediting CNN-IBN.

Also, for the record, Shekhar Gupta hosts the Walk the Talk interview show on NDTV that competes with Thapar’s Devil Advocate.

But the questions are obvious: can a TV interviewer who sends out a press release before an interview is aired claim exclusivity if a newspaper approaches the same interviewee with the same questions? Are Union ministers like Nath really “exclusive” material?

Read the full column: Honesty is a diminishing virtue

Reuters’ Modi interview: “Sensational tokenism”

Reuters‘ scoop interview with Narendra Modi published yesterday by the news agency, but apparently given 17 days ago on June 25, has created headlines for the Gujarat chief minister’s continuing lack of contrition for what happened under his watch in 2002.

And for his faux pas of comparing the victims to “kutte ka bachcha” (puppies).

On Twitter, Sruthi Gottipati, one of the two Reuters‘ journalists who sat down for the powwow has complained of the manner in which the interview has played out on Indian TV and in the newspapers.

But those who have been fighting Modi on the courts of Gujarat and Delhi have bigger problems with Reuters‘ interview than the “kutte ke bachcha” gaffe. They say Reuters “failed to, conspicuously, persist with any accurate, difficult or pinching questions.”

Here, below, is the full text of the press release emailed by the Business India journalist turned activist Teesta Setalvad of Citizens for Justice and Peace.

***

PRESS RELEASE: Seven days before Reuters published its [Narendra Modi] exclusive, a privilege denied by the PM-aspirant to an Indian news agency or channel, we [Citizens for Justice and Peace] had been contacted persistently by a Reuters correspondent.

Not Ross Colvin or Sruthi Gottipati who now carry the journalistic honour of grabbing moments with a man who rarely likes to be questioned, especially if the questions are persistent like say those of Karan Thapar in 2007.

Thapar keen to get to the bottom of what Modi actually felt about 2002, did not  simply casually record – as Reuters has done – Modi’s response but asked, insistently, whether Modi actually regretted the mass reprisal killings that had taken place, post-Godhra, on his watch.

Modi simpered, dithered, glared and admonished…when none of that worked, and Thapar persisted, Modi did what he does best.

He walked out.

Not so with Reuters, that managed its exclusive but failed to, conspicuously, persist with any accurate, difficult or pinching questions.

***

The young man from Reuters who finally tracked me down in the Sahmat office at 29 Ferozeshah Road last week was clueless, he said, about Gujarat 2002. Apologetic about this ineptness, he kept saying that his bosses had asked him to track down the SIT report.

They had not bothered to contact us directly.

We insisted that he, read Reuters, do what fair journalism demands: look at the SIT clean chit in context; examine also the amicus curaie Raju Ramachandran’s report that conflicted seriously with the SIT closure and clean chit (opining that there was material to prosecute Narendra Modi on serious charges).

Both the SIT and the amicus were appointed by the same Supreme Court.

We insisted that Reuters examine the Supreme Court Order of 12.9.2011 that gave us the inalienable right to file a Protest Petition; we pointed out that Reuters must read the Protest Petition itself that we filed in pursuance of this order on 15.4.2013, peruse the arguments that we have been making before the Magistrate since June 25, 2013.

***

We tried, as best as we could,  to communicate that Reuters should read the SIT clean chit in the context of these overall developments.

No, No, said Reuters that had possibly already bagged the interview by then.

Who says a politically important interview should address all developments and facts, in a nutshell, tell the whole and complete story?

Much better to perform a tokenism, throw in a few questions about 2002, not persist with questioning the man charged with conspiracy to commit mass murder and subvert criminal justice with the complexities and gravity of charges and legal procedures that he currently faces – and which are being argued in Open Court in Ahmedabad.

Easier to be glib, grab headlines in all national dailies including by the way the one in Telegraph which is the only newspaper to report that Modi used “kutte ke bacche” not puppy as an analogy for which creatures may inadvertently get crushed when a “road accident happens.”

Never mind that many have been convicted for criminal negligence when they drive and kill.

On business and development, too, while Reuters plugs the man themselves in the first paragraph of the interview, there are no real probing questions on foreign direct investment, the Gujarat government’s back out to solar power companies (reported two days ago in the Economic Times) and so on….

So, quite apart from the more than despicable “kutte ke bacche” comment that Modi reportedly made, quite apart from the fact that he chose Reuters for his debutante mutterings not a national agency or channel, what is truly tragic about the whole exercise is the compliant journalism that it reflects.

The Reuters interview is not a dispassionate or thorough exercise that attempts to genuinely probe opinions and views. It is a sensational tokenism.

Teesta Setalvad, secretary, Citizens for Justice and Peace

Poems on news anchors: this week, Barkha Dutt

In Open magazine this week, Madhavankutty Pillai continues his occasional series of poems on news anchors. This week, the face of NDTV 24×7: Barkha Dutt, the host of We the People and The Buck Stops Here.

Ye destitute widow, acid attack victim

Forgotten spy, despairing cripple

Who was once trapped in rubble

And ye burnt in a stock-market bubble

This comforting hand I lay on your shoulder

Time to the pan of the camera’s girdle

Give me your grief just for a moment

Let us spread it before We The People.

 

Some would say why I would say

Some would say for what I say

But know me You The People

Not by my late tribulations

But by my fine emulations

A career of honed expressions

My hysterics have drowned howitzers

My voice can be louder than bombs

I have a naughty glint to start

The motors of the Bollywood mouth

A furrowed brow for the minister

For every novelist two paras by heart.

 

I am the tallest poppy

Mistress of every beat

Battler of troll and twit

Editor, intellectual, analyst

Anchor, correspondent, critic

And and and and and

Some would say that’s a lot of me

But all ye upstarts

Why don’t you just let me be

Photograph: courtesy Verve

Also read: A poem for Karan Thapar

A poem for Sagarika Ghose

 

Karan Thapar says ‘sorry’ to L.K. Advani (twice)

Karan Thapar (right) with L.K. Advani in happier times at a Hindustan Times leadership summit, in 2011

It isn’t often that journalists, especially the bold-faced names, descend from their ivory towers to admit they may have hurt a politician’s feelings. It’s even rarer to hear them say ‘sorry’ for having done so. But twice in the past week, the interviewer Karan Thapar has found the inner reserves to publicly do so, and on both occasions to the same man: L.K. Advani.

In a profile published in The Hindu, Thapar spoke of the break down of his friendship with the BJP leader and former deputy prime minister, whom he has interviewed a number of times for his BBC and CNN-IBN shows.

“But after one interview, soon after his Jinnah remarks [in 2005], Advani was not happy and wanted Thapar to re-shoot the show. Thapar saw no reason to do so, and despite many requests, chose to be a ‘rigid, honourable journalist’ and telecast the footage.

“‘Since then,’ Thapar says, ‘the trust has gone. We did an interview in 2009 too, but after eight minutes he said he did not want to do it.’

“Looking back, Thapar wistfully says, ‘I saw it purely as a journalist, but the fact is that there was another relationship with him and his family, which I had used for my journalism. I had called his daughter to fix me an interview with him as soon as he took over as home minister. She did it.’

“It was in that backdrop, of past intimacy and informality, that Advani may have made the request. Almost seven years after the incident, Thapar is not sure if he made the right call in hurting a person he respected otherwise, bringing home the dilemmas journalists covering the powerful often face.”

In his weekly column in the Hindustan Times, Thapar went a step further:

“Over the years that followed Mr Advani gave me more interviews than perhaps anyone else. I got his first as home minister and several as deputy prime minister. More than that, I was always welcome when I called. Mrs Advani and [daughter] Pratibha made me feel special.

“Alas, it all unravelled in 2006 when I did an interview Mr Advani didn’t like. He asked if I would re-do it. I refused. I thought journalistic integrity required a firm stand forgetting I’d only got the interview because I was considered a ‘friend’.

“Thereafter our relationship was never the same. Mr Advani continued to take my phone calls and was always courteous but the old link had snapped.

“Today I realise I was wrong. Maybe even arrogant, which is worse. And so it’s my turn to apologise. It’s taken me seven years but the memory of Mr Advani’s phone call, made 22 years ago, has given me the strength to say sorry.

“Alas, I’m aware it’s now too late. This time, however, I’d really like to be wrong.”

With Advani now in the eye of the BJP storm following the elevation of Narendra Modi as the chairman of the BJP’s election campaign committee, the apology couldn’t have come a day too soon.

Photograph: courtesy Hindustan Times

Poems on News Anchors: this week, Karan Thapar

In the latest issue of Open magazine, Madhavankutty Pillai continues his series of poems on news anchors. This time, the TV anchor Karan Thapar gets his attention:

O, obstreperous weasel

Unregenerate blight

Cowering from the shock

Of my hair’s white

Prise your eyes

From my neon necktie

Prepare your deceits

Get ready to fight

 

This is how we will go

I shall ask and you shall lie

I shall tell you not to lie

I shall tell you what to tell

The how and when and why

I shall put it to you thus—

‘Let me put it to you thus’

And you shall put it to me thus

 

This index finger that I stab

Two inches from your face

Is the line I draw for you

Turn neither left nor right

Nor sputter nor stall

Allow me to make you crawl

To that overwhelming question:

What made you come here at all?

Also read: Why Karan Thapar stopped haggling with God

Did Karan Thapar stand a chance with Benazir?

Separated at birth: Karan Thapar and Keith Olbermann

Karan Thapar‘s new year resolution