One of the most enduring legacies of George W Bush is the number of words he invented and the number of amusing statements he made. Try these: “Nu-cu-lar” instead of nuclear or “misunderestimate” instead of underestimate. In an interview he once said “I make decisions… I am the decider” in defence of Don Rumsfeld. In his final months of presidency, at the end of a climate meet in Japan in July 2008, he told the G-8 summit members: “Goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter”. Those were silly ones. But GWB, a good friend of India, did leave the stunning and ever-lasting phrase for the world: “Axis of Evil”. Bush was strongly influenced by his Faith and even believed his foreign policy was influenced by God. So it’s a bit of a surprise that he didn’t use the term “Unholy Trinity” instead. But we do have an Unholy Trinity in our media and it’s often hard to tell where one begins and where the other ends; Hindustan Times–NDTV–CNN-IBN. This threesome is easily the most potent propaganda machine. Add to this their little ones like Mint, NDTV Profit, CNBCTV18 and their siblings. The TV18 group does have an online site, Firstpost, through which it tries to balance the propaganda work of its TV channels. But that’s not the point.
In an article titled “The new Ram and Ravan” in Firstpost, Anant Rangaswami explains how HT buried the allegations against Robert Vadra in the inner pages to fool the public. Well, that story still remains buried. Now even the National Herald scam of Congress and Young Indian of the Gandhis remains buried in the media. But this isn’t about any of these. Then there is this extreme obsession of this Unholy Trinity with a guy called Pervez Musharraf. The number of times Barkha Dutt has rushed to interview him is not possible to count. The number of times the media hosts him in their conclaves and summits is not possible to count. I don’t have to run a history of Musharraf which is already known. But that is not the point.
If leadership is what India has to learn from an army guy then there any number of honourable generals in this country to learn from. A recent retired General is quite anti-govt so not acceptable. But hey, someone who is predominantly anti-India is the one to lecture on leadership. While individual interviews are fine, where in the world would you find such disgusting media pampering of someone to whom India is a sworn enemy? Imagine the Washington Post or New York Times hosting seminars on leadership and inviting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to lecture Americans on it. I guess these summits don’t pay unless there is some controversy, some glamour and some comics. Seriously, you need to learn leadership from Katrina Kaif? I guess you’d need to if you want to be in the glamour business or sell mango juice. But that is not the point.
So what exactly is the point? It’s about this Unholy media Trinity that seems to protect and serve the govt and the Congress at all points of time. Focus on tiny issues of other political parties and cover up major issues that concern the govt or the Congress. Who pays for HT’s ego trip with such frivolous summits? YOU DO! How? Let’s do some math. There were 34 speakers invited for HT Summit 2012, most of them from foreign countries. Most of them charge speaking fees and all their travel expenses are paid by the host. So depending on the pecking order you can make your own calculations of how much it would cost to invite 34 speakers, put them up in swank hotels, pay for their travel, pay for all the meals during the 2-day summit. Do you feel lucky? Okay! Now, it is normal for corporate bodies to pay and sponsor such events, get a little media mileage over competitors and maybe even some good display. They could even bargain for precious favourable columns and air time to be used in the future. You know, all those luxury cars, SUVs, high value real estate, consumer goods; any kind of competitive business. Right? Take a look:
Well, what do you see? I admit I was wrong; there’s no car company or real estate company or consumer goods company. Except for a couple there aren’t even regular major advertisers. Instead, we see a host of govt companies. Most of them are oil and power companies! Some of these companies are more or less in some kind of monopoly. The Associate partners are ONGC and LIC, both huge govt companies. Interesting, eh? Now let’s do a count of Summit partners too.
Of the 14 companies listed as HT’s Summit partners you have: 1) ONGC 2) NTPC 3) LIC 4) Petronet LNG 5) Power Grid Corporation of India 6) Oil India Ltd 7) Power Finance Corporation 8) ESIC 9) SAIL 10) BHEL. Simply stunning! Of the 14 companies who are Summit partners, 8 are PSUs/Govt companies or companies in which our govt has a sizeable stake, in addition to ONGC and LIC as Associate partners. Mostly, your money! Does that tell a story? I guess it does and a big one too. So companies that are largely funded by the public or survive on public money are sponsors of a major event of HT Summit, an ego trip for the private media outlet. That’s the first lesson in leadership to learn: How to use your smooth connections with a political party to have govt companies shell out money for your luxury trip. If you were in place of HT would you care to return the favour? And if you were HT and part of the Unholy Trinity, would you care to ensure this nice party stays in power?
I know what you’re thinking. That this maybe a one-off year. Well, can’t tell because I haven’t been able to go into the 10-year record of HT’s Summit sponsors since they aren’t currently available. That might require an RTI inquiry with the govt, DAVP or with these govt companies. But what I can tell you is that this is no isolated case. Back in August 2011 the CAG was reporting certain wrong-doings in the contracts awarded to many parties. By Darth Vader, you will find the Unholy Trinity in there too. Remember how Times Now and the whole TOI group went after the CWG scam and Suresh Kalmadi? Well it was suggested by many that the main motivation for TOI going hammer and tongs at CWG and Kalmadi was not getting certain media contracts from the CWG organising committee. That was estimated at some 12 crores. Not really a big amount considering the size of the event and the size of scams we are used to. But who got the contracts? You get no prizes for guessing – the same Unholy Trinity of HT-NDTV-CNN-IBN.
Most of us are aware of “paid news”. Most of us are also aware of the huge spend on various dynasty ads of the govt. What we may be missing out is on the other leakages that aren’t quite evident to us routinely. I’m no RTI specialist or activist but I’m sure if an RTI is filed with the DAVP and govt companies it could well reveal the amount of ad spend on certain dedicated media outlets. Well, I suppose we shouldn’t complain. After all, Leadership isn’t free to learn! Especially, if it earns a tidy sum for some.