First, someone called Sten Lindstrom comes out with supposedly new revelations about the Bofors scandal. Chitra Subramaniam, who originally broke the whole story and followed it for long also surfaced after all these years to talk about it. Some in the Indian media were quick to dub Lindstrom the Swedish ‘Deep Throat’, after the famous Watergate Deep Throat (William Mark Felt). On a lighter side, they do share something in common though. The Watergate deep throat was named after a controversial porn movie titled ‘DeepThroat’ which was released in the same year as the Watergate burglary and the Swedish DeepThroat comes after the infamous Abhishek Manu Singhvi sex tapes. The remote similarity ends there. There’s just one small difference: the original DeepThroat led to a dozen or so convictions leading up to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. The so-called Swedish DeepThroat is still where Bofors is – Zero convictions. Of the 64 crores of bribes in Bofors not a single rupee has been recovered, not a single conviction has happened and some of the players are dead. In contrast, by strange coincidence, another case of bribery involving Bangaru Laxman, former president of BJP, in a sting operation by Tehelka came to a conclusion. Today Bangaru was sentenced to four years in prison and a fine of Rs.1 Lakh, the same amount of bribe he has been convicted of taking.
The CBI court judge, sentencing Bangaru Laxman, said it is time to "shun" the "sab chalta hai" (It's OK, whatsoever!) attitude and courts should deal strictly with persons found guilty of corruption. With all due respects, your honour, most corruption cases don’t end up in courts, they are washed up by our govt and our media. Worse, in my belief the Bangaru Laxman case was one of a fake operation and more of ‘entrapment’ by a journal seeking ‘instant’ fame rather than genuine investigative journalism. It’s a classic case of journalism by ‘script writing’ rather than investigating actual events and wrong-doings. But that is not even the issue here.
Within hours of Laxman’s conviction our media was clamouring to equate Bofors with Bangaru. Rajdeep Sardesai, who called the 64 crores of Bofors scam “loose change” in comparison to current scams like 2G, suddenly found the 1 lakh bribe case similar to Bofors. He’s not the only one though. Arnab Goswami, who runs his own private court on TV, actually ran a debate “Bofors V Bangaru” on TimesNow on the night of Friday, April 27. The debate involved Meenakshi Lekhi (BJP), Vinod Sharma (Smirk Times), Manish Tewari (Head to Toe fame) and a couple more people. In the melee the discussion ended up in a question by Arnab to Lekhi: “Are journalists being accused of blackmailing?” (In the context of the Tehelka type spurious sting operations). Hmmm! Arnab shot that without thinking too much.
Long back I had narrated how media outlets approach corporate entities to get their share of ads that were released with a competitor. Nothing wrong with that, except that where companies were reluctant, the second-rung media threatened them with exposure of various misdeeds by the company. Not unusual considering most companies are in the practice of avoiding excise, customs or other taxes. The journals and journalists keep a dossier on the misdeeds of such companies and use it to blackmail them into running campaigns in their journals similar to the ones run in other media. This gets even better when the media outlet has juicy tidbits of the private lives of the CEOs or owners of businesses. Don’t be surprised if you even find govt officials or police officials under payroll of a media outlet. Once such officials are ‘sanitised’ they then remain obligated to leak news and confidential reports. Else!
One of the most glaring cases of journalists blackmailing a businessman comes from the house of Arnab’s own group – The Times Group. Sure, Arnab wasn’t associated with the group then but he’s seriously mistaken to imagine journalists don’t indulge in extortion and blackmailing. Here’s the interesting story:
“Such spurious news has included gushing endorsements of flop movies, fashion and lifestyle products and the promotion of hotels and restaurants that enter into a payment arrangement with the organisation. The reader has no clue that the adulatory report is nothing but a paid advertisement masquerading as objective reportage or opinion. Even while the debate over the ethics of a newspaper 'selling news' was hotting up into a regular war of words between two of the country's top-selling English dailies, journalism was dealt another stunning blow. 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”. There! That’s an extract from a report by Sucheta Dalal titled “Selling news or buying silence?” in March 2003. Do read the whole article, it truly exposes pathetic journalistic practices of Arnab’s group. Have these practices ended? Let Arnab verify and confirm they have.
In the post “India’s Biggest Mafia” I had written: "Look deep into our media.You will find extortion, blackmail, murder, connections with anti-national elements, black money. Everything you can associate with a regular mafia you will find in equal measure in the media too. But since they claim to be ‘God’s own messengers’ they will never expose their own mafia". Blackmailing is just a small part of our media’s operations even if Arnab finds it amusing.