Blackmail, extortion is not new to the news media. This is one of the reasons I call the media “India’sBiggest Mafia”. Here’s a report from Sucheta Dalal (from 2003) that I quoted in a previous post:
“Last week, the Mumbai police arrested Rishi Chopra of The Economic Times along with an accomplice (a former journalist with another business daily) in an alleged extortion attempt. The duo was trapped accepting a Rs 700,000 bribe which was the second installment of a Rs 2.5 million payoff to kill a report about the shenanigans of one Poonamchand Malu of Malu Financial Services. Worse, the pay-off itself had apparently been haggled down from an initial demand of Rs 10 million to Rs 2.5 million. Although corruption in the media is no longer news, the actual arrest of two scribes and the sums involved, marked a new low in this once honourable profession”.
We now have a new case where Congress MP Naveen Jindal’s company Jindal Steel & Power Ltd. (JSPL), in a reverse sting, has filed an FIR against officials of the Zee News group for blackmailing them to the tune of 100 crores for suppressing news related to their involvement in Coalgate. The FIR includes tapes of recorded conversations between JSPL officials and Zee representatives in at least three meetings. Currently, the blackmail is stated to be in the form of advertisements demanded by Zee. The tapes have been sent for forensic examination according to the latest reports (The Hindu – October 15).
This is what The Hindu states: According to the FIR, the meetings between JSPL officials and Zee representatives took place on September 13, 17 and 19 at a South Delhi hotel. On the first day, the FIR states, three JSPL officials met one of the journalists during which Rs. 20 crore was demanded in the shape of advertisements and in the second meeting the demand was scaled up.
None of this is surprising. I have been a witness to rival groups of publications blackmailing companies and seeking advertisements for many years. One can also safely assume that is a common practice in media. Some media outlets may be brazen and some maybe subtle but gentle arm twisting is a standard wide-spread practice. In this case, the sum being demanded or negotiated was huge (100 crores) and therefore it could seriously hurt a company already ravaged by accusations. The second aspect is that Coalgate is not a local or state issue. It’s a national issue. What I mean is that if there is a similar issue restricted only to Hoshiarpur or Coimbatore for instance, some local/state level newspaper can get away with blackmail for a smaller sum like 10-25 lakhs or thereabouts. In the case of Coalgate, even if JSPL had succumbed to Zee there is no guarantee some other news channel, a future JPC or SIT can suppress any real offences. So for both reasons the option with JSPL was not to succumb to the alleged blackmailing.
Here’s news that’s different from the past though. The Broadcast Editors’ Association (BEA) has quickly conducted an inquiry by 3-man bench. Livemint reports: “According to BEA’s press release, a committee comprising senior broadcast journalists N. K. Singh, Dibang and Rahul Kanwal arrived at the unanimous conclusion “that Mr. Sudhir Chaudhary is found to have acted in a manner that is unbecoming of an editor and in a fashion that is prejudicial to the interest and objects of the BEA”. Predictably, Zee News has stood by its employees and its editor. A legal process will have greater bearing on the end outcome as against the BEA decision. Of course, the BEA decision is absolutely right.
Now, I have some problems with that committee of BEA that conducted the inquiry. But before that here are some rants by a tainted journalist. Haha! Who else could it be? Her tweets are reactions that truly reflect the “Albatross” around her neck that I referred to in the post “Bark in the USA”. Barkha tweets about the Zee incident as if she possesses the “innocence of journalists”. Little does it occur to this media celeb that the crimes alleged against her in Radiagate are far more serious. The allegations of “lobbying and brokering” in cabinet and govt formation are far more serious allegations than the issue of blackmailing a company for advertisements in lieu of suppression of news. She even rants that nobody is talking about it. I wonder what stops NDTV from talking about it? Even channels and newspapers avoided Radiagate till it was inevitable. Worse, in her case (unlike the BEA in this case) the head of Editors’ Guild, Rajdeep Sardesai, even defended her nonsense. It looks like she has also forgotten her own tragic and disgusting program on NDTV when she tried to defend herself. So Barkha would do well to hold her horses. That “Albatross” around her neck is going to stay for a long time.
Barkha quotes The Hindu on the Zee News case. That brings us to another question. Why are all major media outlets absolutely silent in the case of N. Ram of The Hindu and the land related FIR against him? Reports indicated he has even sought anticipatory bail. Would NDTV care to report? Oh hang on, does NDTV have some business tie up with The Hindu? I haven’t seen any tweets from Barkha on this. Never mind! We are selective in our outrage, you see?
Now, the BEA needs to be commended to for action against Sudhir Chaudhary. However, it would have been fair if they had “suspended” him instead of “expelling” him. The final verdict on the tapes is still to be established by the police. They could have waited a bit longer before expelling him. Not very important, but the committee itself could have been differently constituted. It has at least two members who are peers of Chaudhary, Dibang and Kanwal. Instead, they could have chosen a committee of non-media members which would have made their decision even more respectable. Still, considering how deep the media mafia runs this response by the BEA is definitely a welcome change. Before cleaning up corruption in politics and govt, it’s our news media that needs a large broom.