Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mad As Hell - A Slap In Time, Saves Nine

It’s not just politicians who are out of touch with people. The men and women who are supposed to be journalists are equally out of touch. I sometimes wonder if some of our media celebs have ever interacted with tiny tots at any school. One thing I can tell you for sure is that these little kids do not like sermons. It’s the same reason why little kids don’t like going to church or to a ceremony at a temple. They simply can’t stand all the mumbo-jumbo being hurled at them. So what makes TV celebs like Barkha Dutt or Rajdeep Sardesai or Arnab Goswami believe that people want sermons from them? On Sunday, November 27, on another edition of ‘We the people’ on NDTV Barkha played the pontificator. All over a slap! The question? “Are we changing from the argumentative Indian to the intolerant Indian?” All because someone named Harvinder Singh slapped Union minister Sharad Pawar. Moralising over the issue she had some good-thinking panellists. Everybody condemns the violent act of the slap. Not enough! So Barkha, in the later part of the programme, throws in a foreigner, writer William Dalrymple, to weigh his mind on it. A day prior some other channel ran a montage of all the famous slaps from Indian movies, including the famous scene of Dr.Dang (Anupam Kher), and called it ‘Ab Tak Thappad'.

The usual sermon contains sound pieces of advice like argue your case (Barkha’s own words), negotiate, discuss, speak up, have civilised debate. Did I leave out any? Okay, now I am reminded by a friend with whom I argue often that if civilised debates could solve everything we wouldn’t have wars at all. Imagine, the Navy Seals land at that Abottabad mansion and the commander says to Osama Bin Laden: “Sir, we are here to capture you and bring you to trial for all your crimes, would you please step out and get into our vehicle?” If love, compassion are emotions that are valued, so is anger. At some point tolerating the intolerant is equally a crime. So the question is should we keep on tolerating our intolerant politicians and media celebs? Alright! So how does the ordinary man communicate, discuss, debate or argue anything with the politicians. One would have to go to the very extreme step of Anna Hazares of the world to do that. And even that doesn’t guarantee you could get a dialogue if you were Irom Sharmila. A swami died fasting in protest of the pollution of Ganga. Did they care? There’s no shortage of examples of the voices of the common man being ignored. So why is slapping Sharad Pawar raising so much debate? I am quite positive that Pawar would have learned a lot more from that single slap than he has from all the dialogues and discussions he’s ever had. Is a slap all that violent? In a way yes, it is act of anger and violence but more than that it’s an act of humiliation. If it comes to a choice I am also sure most people would prefer their ass spanked than being slapped on the cheek.

So are we becoming intolerant? Let’s see, we have criminals in the parliament, we have journalists involved in bribes and crimes, we have scams of gigantic proportions, we have corruption at every level of governance, we even have a tainted judiciary, we have a corrupt news media and paid news. There you go, the common man is supposed to tolerate all that. Has anyone been killed yet for all this? Except for Sadiq Batcha of the 2G scam supposedly a suicide there have been no mass scale violence or killings against all of this. And then the politicians find unanimity in parliament to condemn the slapping and sympathise with Pawar. A slap on one of us is a slap on all of us. That is the message they clearly sent. What about politicians frequently slapping people and even senior govt officers? We’ve never seen anyone apologising or going to jail. Barkha’s colleague, Sonia Singh, has a husband called RPN Singh a Congress member, who was seen kicking and beating up a protester at the Phulpur rally of Rahul Gandhi on November 14. I wonder if she would carry a similar programme about him. If acts of violence were a measure then almost every political party in this country would have to be declared  terrorist organisations. The number of times they have called bandhs, indulged in violence, damaged public property, causing deaths of ordinary people is now hard to list even. For all the frequent invoking of 'Gandhi', Sharad Pawar didn't exactly turn the other cheek. Instead, his party went on an orgy of violence which he neither stopped nor condemned. Take that!

I guess it all started with Muntazer Al-Zaidi throwing his shoes at GW Bush in 2008 as his farewell salute. The shoes didn’t hit Bush, but the humiliation was admired throughout the Arab world and also in parts of India. The Arab world wanted to preserve his shoes in a museum but the American army destroyed those. But wait, forget the Arabs and the peaceful Egyptians and Iraqis. Who paid the greatest tribute to Muntazer? Our very own Mullah Mahesh Bhatt. He and his group organised a play called ‘The last salute” as a tribute to the shoe-thrower. On 14th May, stars attended the event. Did the media find it necessary to condemn the play? So why so worked up over Harvinder Singh, who is now in jail. I may sound unkind but I do wonder how Barkha Dutt and the media would have reacted if Narendra Modi were to be slapped instead of Sharad Pawar. Your guess is as good as mine.

I read somewhere that former PM Morarji Desai and his cabinet colleagues when taking up office made a statement to the effect “if we fail in our promises feel free to wring our ears”. Politicians do make statements like that. I wonder if wringing the ears of politicians would be  a more acceptable punishment for politicians and the media mullahs. Mind you, wringing someone’s ears in public can be as humiliating as a slap.

People are mad as hell over various issues, especially those that directly affect their daily lives. The trend of uncivilised behaviour has been brought about not by ordinary citizens but by uncivilised, uncouth politicians fuelled by an outrageously insensitive media. What you are about to see is a video of a media man himself. Being sacked from his job Howard Beale is to slotted to go on air for a last time. Frustrated with his own life, society, politicians and everything, he lets out a rant that has since come to be known as the “Howard Beale moment”. Every single day the common man feels this moment, every single day the media plays out this moment in defence of politicians and their wayward behaviour. (The transcript of the video is pasted alongside the video)

 I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, God damn it! My life has VALUE!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!' I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: "I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!"

(Howard Beale is a character from the movie ‘NETWORK’ (1976) about the skullduggery in the media. For his performance, Peter Finch who played Beale won an Oscar posthumously.)

"I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!" That is precisely the message Harvinder Singh and others are sending to our politicians. A summary of public reactions in support of Harvinder is listed by India Today that should be an eye opener. That is precisely the message this blog sends to our media in a much more polite and civilised manner. Is the media listening? If the media, for a change, ranted against the politicians things would not come to such a pass. Well, who knows, this might be a wake-up slap that might save nine!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

NDTV - Malice Is Back

So after lying low for quite a while Alice is back. And I suppose there is no one better who could explain the violence or chaos in our modern times. Well, that’s not me but Barkha Dutt talking. In her latest post in Hindustan Times she gets Alice from wonderland to explain ‘Why this Kolaveri Di’. I would have thought the popular Tanglish song Kolaveri would have explained the slap that Sharad Pawar got from Harvinder Singh. Not enough, maybe! So Kolaveri and Alice collaborate for the first time to explain the growing intolerance in our society. This man who slapped Pawar is the cause of all this pain in her. Of course, Barkha does not find it worth lamenting that a few days ago some politicians violently kicked some men at the Phulpur rally of Rahul Gandhi. That group of politicians also had a man who is the spouse of a co-worker of Barkha at NDTV. I call it all “experience truth, my way”! But let me not make it all about Alice and our intolerance because this one is about malice in a maze of the financial blunderland called NDTV. Barkha usually relies on Alice to explain the toughest of issues so I wonder if Alice will be handy to take NDTV through its latest blunderland. Well, anyone alleging anything against NDTV is nothing but Malice, that distant cousin of Alice.

On November 25 news broke online about an affidavit filed by an IT Commissioner, S.K. Shrivastava,  in the special CBI court of Judge O.P. Saini. This application sought to make him a prosecution witness in the 2G scam trial. Among many other contentions, one that deserves attention is the allegation he makes that NDTV and group companies were involved in laundering over 2000 crores of bribe money from the 2G scam. The application also mentions attempts by then Finance Minister P. Chidambaram to block investigations into the financial dealings of NDTV and group companies. That’s really the long and short of it. Should you wish to go into the entire 32 page affidavit you can find it HERE. It does make sorry reading to say the least.

But the story of NDTV's financial stories started a long time ago. Read the post "NDTV- We the poodles, Crime pays" to refresh an old case from the 1990s. How that case got buried is a mystery of sorts.

Ever since Radiagate broke in November 2010 NDTV has been under a scanner. In an article titled “NDTV juggles funds, shares abroad, avoids tax” (Dec 2010) The Sunday Guardian explains how a number of subsidiaries were set up abroad and used to violate Indian corporate and tax laws. Here’s an excerpt:

“…To trace the financial jugglery involved in the whole process light must be shed on how these companies have been operating. In 2006-07, New Delhi Television Limited set up a legal entity in the Netherlands under the name NDTV BV, which in turn set up the NDTV Network Plc in the UK. The Indian company invested around Rs 57.45 lakh in the shares of NDTV Networks BV, thus making it its 100% subsidiary. NDTV BV, in turn, set up Plc as an indirect subsidiary…..The UK subsidiary also raised $100 million by issuing convertible bonds through private placements. NDTV's annual report of 2007-08, under the category of "contingent liabilities not provided in respect of"…..Mention must also be made of a November 2010 report that says US based Scripps Networks is acquiring 69% stakes in NDTV Lifestyle for $55 million. NDTV Lifestyle is held by NDTV Network Plc, UK. Take another November 2010 report, which says, shares of NDTV shot up by over 7% after the company announced that NDTV Networks Plc, has repurchased the $100 million coupon bonds due 2012….Is wealth being created and retained abroad without any benefit to NDTV shareholders?

That was after the same Sunday Guardian carried a previous story (Dec 2010): “NDTV-ICICI loan chicanery saved Roys”. “NDTV Limited and associate companies in which Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy have a majority stake have indulged in financial misdemeanours and malpractices in connivance with ICICI Bank, and raised funds by misdeclaration of the value of shares in NDTV. These shares were held by a company called RRPR Holding Private Limited. The deal took place between July and October 2008 during a "buyback" of shares from the stock market announced by NDTV Limited at the price of Rs 439 per share”. A lot more has been written and Sunday Guardian sent NDTV nine questions to respond to. NDTV CEO KVL Narayana Rao responded thus: “Your fax of 3rd December 2010, is riddled with innuendos and false accusations. While we have answered all your questions, we reserve the rights under civil and criminal law both against your publication and against any individuals in your organisation”. He then goes on with further explanation which doesn’t really seem convincing except for inferring malicious accusations. But threat of criminal defamation? Why is it that NDTV is so trigger happy with such threats? And while Barkha Dutt mentions there is a case in the courts I am yet to find any defamation case filed by NDTV against Sunday Guardian anywhere. That story rested there.

How does Alice find her way through such a maze of financial blunderland? One might even wonder what does an ordinary news and entertainment company, like NDTV, from India do with so many companies established abroad. There’s even mention of a subsidiary in Holland that has just a postal address with no office, employees or any operations. Surely, this maze of wonderland must have some purpose. Mystery! Even more intriguing is the fact that since NDTV went public it has consistently been making losses and its share prices have hit new lows frequently. Moneylife, a financial site managed by Sucheta Dalal, has a stinging report on its performance. Here are some excerpts from “Glamour stocks, ugly returns” (August 2011):

NDTV got listed in 2004 and is trading below its listed price after seven years. It has given a negative return of 19% compounded in the past five years and a total shareholder return (TSR) of negative 66% for the same period…..Its credibility is at a nadir (after the recent phone-tapping controversy) and its finances are in a mess. NDTV has rarely made money from operations. For the past few years, its consolidated operations have been making cash losses and it has been running on money made by selling loss-making subsidiaries to strategic investors. But capitalism is not at work in India. NDTV won’t fade away in a hurry. Indeed, every few months, the financially-beleaguered NDTV manages to get ‘strategic’ investors with deep pockets and top-flight private equity investors to step in and pick up big chunks of its equity at fancy valuations. In the 3rd week of June, DE Shaw, a $20-billion hedge fund which prefers to call itself an ‘investment and technology development company’, picked up a 14.2% stake in NDTV providing an exit to Goldman Sachs, another blue-chip investor that probably exited at a loss. NDTV’s stock was listed at Rs100 in 2004; the stock rose to Rs511 in January 2008 on the promise of a financial performance which has never materialised. It is now at Rs63—down 32% even from the issue price, after seven years of listing—and down a whopping 86% from its peak. Interestingly, despite the DE Shaw acquisition, the stock has barely moved. Maybe, the market doesn’t quite trust this information. That says a lot about not just NDTV but DE Shaw as well. As happens with glamour stocks, DE Shaw could be a front for someone else. Coincidentally, DE Shaw has a tie-up in India with Reliance Industries to sell financial services”.

To on ordinary blogger accusing NDTV of shoddy journalism they issued a legal notice charging him with libel. NDTV threatened those who leaked the Radia tapes with defamatory action. NDTV threatened Sunday Guardian with legal action for defamation and false accusations. In the last two cases we have seen no record of any legal cases being filed by NDTV. To the current petition by S.K. Shrivastava, the IT Commissioner, NDTV has once again alleged malice and defamation. Their CEO Vikram Chandra, has tweeted that NDTV has filed a defamation suit against the man on November 25. A detailed report about such a case was not available anywhere, including their website, at the time of writing. To the Moneylife article one doesn’t know if there was ever a response. Vikram also stated that a previously similar petition of Shrivastava was dismissed with fines. But that was about other IT officers and this one need not meet the same fate. Charges for laundering 2G Scam money are not about some IT officers alone, it involves black money and a national issue.

Bankers and lenders usually have a 1000-day test for a business to break even or even make profits. Normally a business would find it difficult to survive otherwise. NDTV seems to survive regardless of all business failures and financial losses. Does it make sense? And whenever someone questions their financial dealings it’s either false accusations or worse, MALICE! The options are for NDTV to come clean against all the allegations and state their position in a detailed document. The allegations in Shrivastava’s petition are serious enough to send many people to prison. Time will tell! And that may certainly not be a wonderland Alice might want to explore.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Vanity Of The Defamers

The media is up in arms against the Supreme Court decision not to interfere in the proceedings of a defamation case against TimesNow by former Justice P.B. Sawant. The ruling requires TimesNow to deposit an amount of 20crores and a bank guarantee of 80crores with the Bombay High Court to hear an appeal against a lower court’s order in Pune which awarded the 100crore defamation to Justice Sawant.

Lately, the media has been under fire from various quarters, particularly the new PCI chairman Justice Katju. He is in favour of newer and stronger regular regulations, including punitive measures for infringements by the media. In the present case TimesNow argues that showing the picture of Justice Sawant in the report of a scam was a genuine, unintentional mistake without malice. All other media organisations like Editors’ Guild, BEA, NBA and others have criticised the SC ruling. Oh well, I’m not surprised even politicians like Abhishek Singhvi, Arun Jaitley and Ravishankar Prasad have also joined the chorus. In a few days this might even become a human rights issue and the NHRC might also make a statement. Wait, who knows even the UN and UNSC come out in support of our media since the eminent Lord Meghnad Desai seems to have said the “court order was tantamount to an intimidating attack on the freedom of the press”. An attack? On freedom of the Press? The SC simply ruled it won’t intervene.

There has been a trend lately to rush to the SC with SLPs to either stay or quash proceedings in lower courts. Sanjeev Bhatt’s is another case where the SC has declined to quash proceedings against him. There is a consistency now in SC rulings which appears not so keen in interfering with lower courts except in stray cases. That is the message that the media should have drawn instead of protesting the SC ruling so severely. After all, the Bombay HC still hearing the TimesNow appeal and if their order is unfavourable then going to the SC remains an option. As for 100 crores, does it seem excessive? Well, on the face of it for 15 seconds of infamy it does seem excessive. So let’s look at another case. The “Rahul Gandhi-Sukanya case – Amazing media silence” is an older post on this blog that still remains on top. So what happened in that case?

Indian Express (March 8): A former MLA of the Samajwadi Party, Kishor Samrite, filed a petition in UP against Rahul Gandhi’s alleged illegal detention of a woman named Sukanya. “The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court…slapped a penalty of Rs 50 lakh on…. who had filed a habeas corpus petition, alleging that Rahul Gandhi had raped a girl from Amethi and was keeping her and her parents in illegal detention since 2007. While dismissing the petition of Kishor Samrite, the court also ordered CBI to register a case against him.

Mind you, when the case was filed it was just a few stray newspapers that reported it. When the HC dismissed the case and ordered the penalty of 50 lakhs it was all over the place and the news channels carried the report over and over again. No one really asked the question if 50 lakhs was fair and justified. For one, the petitioner went to a court of law and statements in courts cannot be considered defamation. So Samrite files a petition in the SC which stays the penalty. And who rushes to the SC to get into the case? The CBI! Oh yeah, the CBI which is usually reluctant to investigate certain scams and politicians showed unusual enthusiasm to be a party to the case in SC. Here’s what ET (August 26) reported:

CBI rushes to SC to becomeparty in case against Rahul: In an unusual move, the Central Bureau of Investigation has rushed to the Supreme Court wanting to be a party in an appeal filed by Kishore Samrite against whom a probe was ordered by the Allahabad high court for levelling false charges against Congress general secretary and MP Rahul Gandhi. The HC had asked for the CBI probe against Samrite on March 7. The CBI had lodged a case under Indian Penal Code Sections — 120b (criminal conspiracy), 181 (false statement on oath), 211 (false charges to cause injury ) and 499-500 (defamation). The HC had imposed a fine of Rs 50 lakh on Samrite.

Look at the all the penal codes under which CBI wants to prosecute Samrite. His motivation for the case against Rahul Gandhi may be suspect but not one newspaper or news channel, I repeat NOT ONE, ever questioned whether the 50 lakh penalty was justified. Well, obviously that is not an attack on freedom of speech for media. After all, it concerns the first family. Mind you, not just that, not one single media outlet even questioned why the CBI was so enthusiastic to be a party in the appeal by Samrite. Not one!  

Recently  Sudheendra Kulkarni and few BJP MLAs and others were arrested and jailed for their involvement in the Cash4Votes scam. This time, it’s the Delhi Police who were acting on SC orders to investigate the scam. These were the ‘whistleblowers’ in the scam and their arrest was shocking to most people. Once again, they were bailed out by the High Court which observed that none of them seemed to have taken any bribes and there appears to be no prima-face against them. Yet, apart from sensationalising their arrests not one media outlet questioned the conduct of Delhi Police and the validity of their actions. How is it that ordinary people are able to see through the acts of DP and yet the wise ones in the media are not. It’s an extraordinary event where the guilty are roaming free and apparently innocent ones were being prosecuted. Did the media stand up for their freedom? Not one! Not one media retailer even asked if Kulkarni and others were actually being “framed” in the whole case. Alright, never mind!

What about frequently calling Narendra Modi a ‘mass muderer’. Does the media have any evidence? I suppose that is not defamation. Should he have desired, NaMo could have sued Vir Sanghvi, Rajdeep Sardesai and others for a 100 crores too. How do they shamlessly carry on such a campaign and yet claim defence for themselves? How do they allow a rogue cop to call NaMo a ‘Common Criminal’ on their news channels and yet not black out that comment. Instead, the media played out that comment over and over again. That is willful defamation many times over. Well, I guess it’s fair game when it comes to others. Did the media plug these horrible utterances?

Roll back to another case, again by none other than the CBI. This was against former Home Minister of Gujarat, Amit Shah. I now don’t even remember how many charges were packed against Shah. Involvement in extortion, Sohrabuddin case, the list might go on. When the news broke, the news channels were up shouting and hollering how the ‘right-hand man’ and ‘aide’ of Narendra Modi was screwed. They clearly implied that because Shah was charged and arrested it was an indictment of Modi and there were those who even demanded Modi’s resignation. Again, not one, I repeat not one, media retailer even bothered to ask if the CBI’s case had any merits or what was the basis on which the charges and arrest were made. The CBI not only opposed bail but even sought Amit Shah to be kept out of the state of Gujarat. This is a plumbing job! The media simply went overboard in using the case to hurl further accusations at the Narendra Modi govt. Defamation, Slander, Libel anybody? The order by the Supreme Court in this particular is not only shocking but exposes the outrageous act of the CBI. Here’s what the TOI (November 18) reported on the SC order:

The bench indicated its agreement with Jethmalani's (Amit Shah’s lawyer) submissions and told additional solicitor general Vivek Tankha, who appeared for CBI, that "the complaints appears to be absolute trash". "Mr Tankha, you (the CBI) are supposed to be the finest investigating agency. You have to respond to all these lapses and deficiencies. The insinuations (against Shah) were wholly unwarranted and totally unfair," the bench said.

Apart from some minor reporting of the SC order and some in the scrolls at the bottom of the TV screen most news outlets buried the item. They were happy to have found the sensational allegations of Vinod Kambli about match-fixing pretty handy.

TimesNow frequently claims to base their reports on secret documents of IB, Home Ministry that they somehow come to access. Other news channels also often claim to possess secret letters and documents of the govt. in their reporting. Yet, not one newspaper or newschannel has ever reported on Sonia Gandhi’s reported illness, her surgery or her the state of her health. Why? No leaks or are the media plumbers doing a good job of plugging it all. But they find enough leaks to do hit jobs on detractors of the govt. Not even the CAG is spared. The 100 crore defamation award is still in the appeal court. There is no denying the severity of the order but is there any sympathy lost for the news channel? The only thing hurt seems to be the media’s collective vanity.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Hundred Crores Not Enough, File A Suit A day...

The said Article carries baseless allegations/comments about our channel TIMES NOW and also targets our Editor-in-Chief Mr. Arnab Goswami with comments that are derogatory and disparaging in nature. These comments are written and published with a malicious intent against both TIMES NOW and Mr. Arnab Goswami. Under the garb of providing a platform for freedom of expression, you have permitted the publication of such a highly disparaging article that not only reduces our esteem in the eyes of our viewers but also casts baseless aspersions on our credibility as a news broadcaster and thereby seriously damaging and diluting the goodwill and image we have built over the years......While we are certain that you are fully entitled to write or publish any article on the subject of media and its role, this freedom does not clothe you with the right to publish defamatory, disparaging or demeaning remarks against TIMES NOW or any of its representatives. An organization such as yours, which encourages and invites comments from readers, including journalists, and is believed to have been set up to uphold and provide a platform for free expression, ought to have been doubly careful whilst publishing any article/remark against a reputable news channel and its editor”. 

I didn’t write any of the above. That was written by Times in response to an article published by Nupur Basu on ‘The Hoot’ website. “This freedom does not clothe you with the right to publish defamatory, disparaging or demeaning remarks against TIMES NOW or any of its representatives.” It’s like that? Okay! So TV channels have all the right to make or allow disparaging statements or pictures about individuals but not others. In response, The Hoot pulled the article they had written about Times Now’s gory coverage of the attack on Prashant Bhushan. You can’t read the original article by The Hoot since it’s pulled but you can imagine what they must have written. Talk about getting lucky! TimesNow was doing an interview with Prashant Bhushan when the attack happened and spared no effort to play it over and over again.

Isn’t it amazing that the most self-righteous notes and defences usually come from the media? Almost every single day the media gets someone to mouth rubbish about someone else and then they play the victim. Lately, for every sentence that any politician utters the theme is he or she "Takes on"! Takes on? Every statement is like a wrestling match? Don’t shoot the messenger they tell you. Shoot? I think we should shoot them, kill them and bury them in an unmarked grave. That’s as far as the media has gone. So why is there sympathy for the TOI group when someone throws at it a hundred crore defamation suit?

TimesNow has been slapped with a 100-Crore defamation order by a court. Appeal goes to High Court of Bombay and TOI tries to stall it through the Supreme Court. The SC refuses to stay the proceedings. So the Bombay High Court has ordered TOI to deposit 20Crores and furnish a bank guarantee of 80Crores. The cause for this whole episode is the wrongful inclusion of a picture of Justice P.B. Sawant along with other offenders in the Ghaziabad PF scam. The so called ‘Editors Guild’ is naturally very concerned at the turn of events. Here is what their statement said:

"While recognising that the law of defamation is an important qualification of the fundamental right to freedom of expression, the Guild believes that the law of defamation has to be construed in such a manner that it does not constrain the normal functioning of the media," the Editors Guild said in a statement. It added, "An unintentional error because of a technical mix-up is in a different category from malicious or intentional libel. If inadvertent errors were to be met with punitive fines, it would make it difficult and indeed hazardous for journalists and media organisations to carry out their professional duties."

Unintentional error? Alright! And then what exactly are the professional duties of journalists and media organisations. They have the absolute right to peddle nonsense and lies about people and issues and when their ass gets kicked they talk about professional duties. This very TOI once sued a blogger called ‘Mediaah’ and forced it to shut up just because it carried satirical notes about the organisation. This very TOI has even carried silly fake articles about Aishwarya Rai being on a Jerry Springer show on its readers. As for Arnab Goswami…how can the man be possibly defamed? He defames himself every night on TV with his unwarranted kicking and screaming. And yet The Hoot has to shut up because it offends the TOI group. Who can forget the recent episode of misuse of an interview of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar by Sagarika Ghose on CNN-IBN? And they conveniently call it LookLive or SIMSAT and that all channels do it. Pay the price for it!

Does the name Uma Khurana ring a bell? Live India news channel ran a story on her in 2007. “The undercover operation, aired Aug 30, showed Uma Khurana, a mathematics teacher at Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya in central Delhi, running a prostitution racket involving students. Immediately after the channel aired the video footage of the sting, 41-year-old Khurana was arrested on charges of immoral trafficking, was badly abused and assaulted by a mob, and later was dismissed from the government service. A week later, the sting was found to be a hoax as the woman shown as a student and a prostitution racket victim turned out to be an aspiring journalist. The channel's reporter Prakash Singh, who carried out the operation, was also arrested Sep 8 last year. A trial court later absolved Khurana of all charges. Khurana filed a defamation suit against Live India, holding it responsible for putting her through “mental agony, humiliation and harassment”.
Well, later on Uma Khurana withdrew the defamation case. Maybe there was an out of court settlement and so be it. Since when did the media possess the moral right to defame people and carry absurd stories? Quite recently both TimesNow and CNN-IBN provided a platform to the notorious Sanjiv Bhatt and allowed him to call a Chief Minister a “common criminal”. Sensational stuff, but did they stop to think that the man was actually defaming a person without any reason or rhyme? No! The media derives immense joy and pleasure in airing such statements and bringing on people of dubious characters on their debates. Do they really care about their viewers or readers?

The Broadcast Editors Association (BEA) is concerned against the orders being passed against the TOI group. Even some stray jerks like Foundation for Media Professionals is concerned and they issued a statement: "If defamation is presumed even in mistakes honestly made without malicious intent the news media will be crippled with fear..” Why not? The rogues in the media must be crippled with FEAR! They have so far been fortunate to get away with a lot. It is not so much as genuine mistakes that offend viewers but it’s the general trash and biased coverage of events that offend viewers. Some channels need to shut down. Channels like NDTV and CNN-IBN are fountains of biased and deliberate mischief that need to be served with such suits almost on a daily basis. Hiding behind such spurious terms as SIMSAT and LookLive is as good as perpetrating a fraud on viewers. Even Justice Markandeya Katju who has rapped the media severely has been sympathetic to the plight of TOI and the 100Crore fine. Have we also forgotten how Barkha Dutt and NDTV tried to browbeat an ordinary blogger? Who or what gives these people the right to constantly molest and outrage the intelligence of the viewers?

Let the hundred crores just be a start. There are no journalists running the TV channels anymore. There are celebrities like Arnab Goswami, Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt, Sagarika Ghose and many more who seem to believe they have the divine right to peddle nonsense every night. Justice Sawant may be a prominent individual who has pulled up TimesNow but that will be the day when ordinary viewers start filing cases against the media. A case a day will keep them on their toes. A hundred crores is really not enough!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Fearless Extortionists

Truth! One used to say “Experience truth first” and the other used to say “Get paid for telling the truth”, and still probably does. Yes indeed, that’s that tag team of NDTV and Tehelka. NDTV, of course, has dumped that tag line of experiencing truth and I really don’t know what Tehelka’s latest tag line is. But they were both together at a recent event. The ‘Tehelka Thinkfest’ in Goa (November 4-6). It is somewhat like the Jaipur Literary festival except that in this event people were supposed to THINK!

The extinct tagline!
Let’s give a thought to Tehelka first. This is a tabloid, much like the extinct News of the World (NOTW) with all the masala minus the tits. Its greatest accomplishment? The sting operation it carried out on army personnel and politicians exposing corruption through use of prostitutes and money. In any other mature democracy Tarun Tejpal and his actors would be in jail for invasion of privacy, secretly filming and recording people and maybe even entrapment. Since then they have also called themselves ‘free and fearless’! That was during the NDA regime around the year 2001. Following that sting operation Tehelka faced govt ire and a string of legal cases that nearly sunk it. It took an election in 2004 for the Congress to come to power and a letter from the UPA head Sonia Gandhi to rehabilitate this tabloid.

Yes, it was a letter from Sonia Gandhi that may have resurrected this fearless tabloid that speaks the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Well, as long as it is about others mostly and sometimes you do have to take their truths with generous buckets of salt. Recently,  allegations about Tehelka’s Tarun Tejpal acquiring a property in Goa has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Never mind that! Haven’t we heard similar stories about Prannoy Roy and his properties in Goa? There you go, again something that Tehelka and NDTV share in common. But what should concern us how Tehelka arm twists even a Chief Minister of a state to fund its THINKfest! Here’s an excerpt from a report in the Deccan Herald which makes horrible reading:

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……..

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……
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 oblige the “Tehelka” people because they have some “explosive material” on him.

Tejpal is on record stating that the reporter, Raman Kirpal, was actually fired for ‘non-performance”. Maybe Kirpal himself was expected to negotiate with the Goa CM on funding of the Thinkfest with his unpublished report and didn’t get anywhere. Otherwise, it’s hard to explain the firing of a reporter who seemed to have an explosive report on the mining scam in Goa.  So far there is also no news of any response from Tejpal on the Deccan Herald report. Couple of years ago Tehelka also published an article about the 26/11 attacks by one Raveena Hansa which supported conspiracy theories similar to the ones that Digvijay Singh supported with the book “26/11 An RSS Conspiracy” by Aziz Burney. In that case, Tehelka pulled that article from their site and claimed never to have carried it. That’s as truthful and as fearless as a tabloid can get. So just like the shady undertakings of the NOTW the fearless Tehelka is now up to dirty tricks that characterises much of our media outlets. It is surprising that Deccan Herald stopped short of calling Tehelka’s dirty tricks outright ‘blackmail’.

The participants at the Thinkfest may or may not be aware of the shady dealings behind the event and its funding. However, it’s always good to have a TV channel as a media partner for such an event. And who better for such a partnership than NDTV.  Amazingly, if it was indeed a Thinkfest I cannot see any sense why rest of the electronic media needs to be excluded unless, of course, you need any more convincing that the best thinksters or thinktankers come from the stable of NDTV. So you had Barkha Dutt, the queen of telly trolls, conducting interviews, debates and what not.

Why NDTV? That has something to do with history. Way back in 1998 the CBI had filed a case against Prannoy Roy for defrauding Doordarshan to the tune of 5 Crores. It is not clear till today what exactly happened to that case and how it got buried. Never mind that. One thing is pretty clear that there is a way to make merry and have your thinkfests and parties at the cost of govt funds. Are we expecting media that owes its existence and activities to the funds of govt. to be really reporting the truth? Will they be fair and fearless? Fat chance!

Fact is, the media has moved on from being as corrupt as the govt. to organised racketeering. Time will tell whether Tehelka will respond to the report by Deccan Herald but so far there has only been silence from the free, fair and fearless one. This one has come out in the open. Should you plan to be a journalist you might even want to read the Dummy’s guide to extortion. One will never know how many fearless extortionists in the media are out there.