Media introspection! Self-introspection! This is what Rajdeep Sardesai screamed for the 2016th time on his show on October 25. Here’s what I wrote in the post “Confederation of Indian Agitators”. It was an attempt at a sarcastic look into some NGO operations: “In case you haven't heard, over the last decade or so there are many NGOs created whose job is to just channel funds. They are NGO “fund raisers”. Some are even supported by banks. They collect funds from Indians, NRIs and others and channel those funds to the NGOs of the choice of the donor. Their earnings come from commissions from the funds donated.”.
Last night on Karan (The Tool) Thapar’s show on CNN-IBN they were discussing the conviction of Rajat Gupta for insider trading. Most of our media members are in deep shock over the conviction of such a “good man”. The Social Genius even tweeted she had met him once and he spoke “perfect Bengali” (Mr President, take that warning!). The judge who convicted Gupta told him there are many good men in history who have committed bad deeds. Naturally, during the Tool’s show Ramalinga Raju and his good deeds came up for discussion. Sanjay Baru, former media advisor to PM, mentioned all of Raju’s good deeds. No, he wasn’t defending Raju in any way. None mentioned the difference that Raju is still being “tried” while Gupta’s trial is over and he’s been sentenced. In some part of the democratic world, crimes do get punished and fairly swiftly. In India we should trust Beni Prasad Verma who laughed that Salman Khurshid could even be involved in a scam of 76 lakhs. Yeah, even petty NGOs do better than that.
This here is the pic of the website of Quadriga Art. The site claims it’s a “global leader in direct marketing and creative services. We offer nonprofit organizations, fundraising agencies and commercial brands innovative direct marketing campaign solutions that produce extraordinary results. For more than seventy years, Quadriga Art has helped value-driven clients raise money and create connections”. So you see, as the first para says, this fund-raising broker thing is becoming fairly common in India too. But here’s the surprise as Anderson Cooper reported in a series of NGO frauds that had some connection to Quadriga:
“But here's the problem: Not one dime has gone directly to help disabled veterans. Instead, CNN's Drew Griffin discovered the charity sends free stuff to veterans groups - stuff they say they didn't ask for and don't need. We're talking about thousands of bags of coconut M&Ms, bulk shipments of chef's aprons and military dress shoes. The veterans groups have had to sell the items to raise money so they could buy items vets actually do need. So, where did the nearly $56 million donated by Americans go? Griffin followed the money trail to a company called Quadriga Art, a company that specializes in fundraising. Quadriga Art and its subsidiaries have more than 500 charities on their client list, including DVNF. A source who had first-hand dealings with Quadriga tells us it’s the "financial equivalent of heroin addiction for charities".
Now, the list of NGO frauds that Cooper covered in his series on AC360 is too long to cover in a single post. Just search for “AC360 Charity fund frauds” and you will likely run into a coal mine. No, this coal isn’t in mother earth. What should trouble us is the number of NGOs in India who are similarly receiving a lot of funds but nobody knows where these funds are really going. The US Senate has launched an inquiry into the NGO fraud mess. In sharp contrast some of these Indian NGO operators are celebrated TV panellists, have received Padma Shri awards and some individuals are even on govt bodies. One such person is Binayak Sen who is a ‘convict’ but is on the Planning Commission. Mine is not to wonder if he is really guilty or not. But fact is he has been convicted and his conviction is under appeal. Even before he is cleared by courts the GOI puts him on the Planning Commission. I guess, considering his brilliance, Rajat Gupta too would be welcomed on the Planning Commission by the GOI.
Following the Thapar show Rajdeep Sardesai, the Monk, followed as usual. Following the Jindal-Zee extortion spat he had the same topic on his mind again: “Media introspection”. Following a series of introspections viewers will be convinced nothing will change. Rajdeep’s whole show can be summed up in one sentence of Justice Katju: “You want everybody to be regulated except yourself.. You are what? Lords and Gods”? Following another slap from Katju, Rajdeep will learn nothing. Following…. Never mind! If there was ever true and honest introspection, the news media would have wondered about many panellists they get on their shows that are dubious. Since we are on NGOs, let’s talk about Teesta Setalvad.
The most outrageous decoration ever has to be that of Teesta Setalvad. According to reports she is on ‘anticipatory bail’. Time and again the funding of her NGO, her fake affidavits and complaints from her own colleagues have been reported. In yet another damning report this is what The Pioneer carried today:
“The FCRA permission granted on November 21, 2007 to CJP by the Ministry of Home Affairs mentioned that “The bank account mentioned in your application should be used for receiving foreign contribution and no other amount should be credited to this account”. However, a local donation of Rs 10 Lakh, received from The Chatwal Groups by cheque no376284 dated 26/02/09, was deposited by CJP in this FCRA account… These were in clear violation of condition mentioned in the FCRA registration”. Huh? The Chatwal group? Oh, like Teesta got Padma Shri I recall somebody from The Chatwal Group was also awarded Padma Bhushan despite wide protests. Do read the full report in The Pioneer for the amazing transfer, handling and misuse of funds reported in Teesta’s NGO.
If newspapers are repeatedly carrying so many reports on wrong doings of Teesta how is it that she is such a favourite panellist with our TV channels? It doesn’t stop there. She not only gets a Padma award, she gets to be on Sonia Gandhi’s NAC. This is like a private club that drafts laws for the nation. Rajat Gupta must be regretting his misdeeds weren’t in India. He could have been making laws here. A convict on the Planning Commission, a tainted NGO operator in the NAC! What’s the message to ordinary citizens? Crime Pays? That’s not all Teesta is also on the govt’s Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE). This is a body under the HRD ministry that influences decisions on education in India. No wonder many people joke that we might as well have Ajmal Kasab teaching marketing tactics in business schools.
The serious question is about the Coalgate issue being totally buried in the media. If Zee had, as alleged, blackmailed Naveen Jindal to the tune of 100 crores for silence why are the other channels silent on Jindal and Coalgate? Why shouldn’t one suspect that they have already been silenced through some form or the other? There is another case of payments by a steel company ISPAT to VBS (suggesting Virbhadra Singh of Congress) which has been in the news. The reports are around a page long in most sites and newspapers, including The Hindu (October 22). Buried in the report is one sentence that Rajdeep and others aren’t talking about yet. It says: “Mittal diary for 2006-2010 show routine payoffs to…. Payments to journalists for stopping negative articles and photographs are also listed in these cash accounts”. Why isn’t the media or the BEA or the PCI asking for these names? Shouldn't this raise quite an alarm in the media? Nothing!
The charade of introspection and self-regulation is as big a scam as Coalgate. Last night on Rajdeep’s show he had N. Ram as a panellist to discuss this so called “media introspection”. None of the channels has so far even vaguely reported the land grab case of N. Ram. Nothing! All the NGO representatives and business celebrities who often feature on media panels somehow turn out to be connected to some scam or wrong-doing or the other. That the media is the first line of defence for the corrupt is increasingly coming across as true. Corruption and scams are a nation-wide plague. The more one scams the more the respectability. Scams less than crores seem to have even lost respectability. The day illegal dealings and scams in the media start being punished severely I believe corruption will start diminishing in other spheres too. In the meantime, imagine a battalion of rats trying to protect you from plague.