Somehow, that story of B.S. Chandrashekhar on his tour of New Zealand keeps coming back. After being repeatedly frustrated at a biased umpire turning down his genuine appeals when he finally clean-bowls the batsman he couldn’t help telling the umpire “Almost got him, didn’t I”? Another version of that story suggests he told the umpire “He’s bowled, but is he out”? So what do news outlets or media celebs do when they are clean-bowled or caught with their pants down? They shout “they didn’t check with us first and didn’t give us a chance to respond”. Oops! Get caught with pants down and then claim they weren’t naked. Remember Radiagate? Barkha Dutt wailed that the tapes were published without seeking her response first. I wonder if that would have altered anything at all since the “error of dodgement” would have been the same and there wasn’t any chance she was going to say “sorry, I screwed up”. This time around it’s a member of the unholy trinity that’s been caught and called.
Last month the Press Council of India (PCI) an otherwise toothless, colourless, spineless body released a report which recommended the censure of a few newspapers for indulging in “paid news”. After an investigation their Inquiry Committee cleared one newspaper and indicted several others, including Hindustan Times. It’s fair to believe the Inquiry Committee would have given HT a chance to respond and would have heard them too before the final report in December 2012. P. Sainath, of The Hindu, wrote a report on this on January 29 and HT was upset The Hindu didn’t check for their response before publishing his story. I guess if HT were to be asked, they would have responded with the same crap that they published on February 1 claiming “HT brings you real news, not paid news”.
Do you buy that? Does anybody buy that? Do note that the HT is not so much against the PCI report but is upset with The Hindu publishing a story without checking with them first. HT was indicted for “paid news” during the Bihar elections in 2010 in not one but four separate incidents or stories according to the PCI. Here’s what Sainath actually wrote:
Note that he quotes PCI: “in all other cases, the candidates accepted they had purchased news”. So the confirmation comes from even the candidates who may have paid HT for the insertions. There is a fair chance that HT’s big bosses in Delhi and their top management do not indulge in these practices but that doesn’t automatically imply that branches of newspapers and local journalists do not indulge in it. HT surely has bigger fish to fry than small time candidates paying money for news. They have much bigger events like HT Summit through which they can get the “Mota Maal” from sponsors. There’s also DAVP that the govt can use to dole out heavy amounts of unessential ads. There are govt companies that can dole out money as sponsorship for mega events that include characters who have waged war against this country. The PCI though is quite confident and clear in their findings. Here’s a screen grab from the PCI report (Thanks to @sureshnakhua) which doesn’t need any further explanation:
Far from apologising for their conduct or stating they have made an appeal, if any, HT prefers to brazen it out with self-righteous wailing. We are by now used to that kind of behaviour, aren’t we? The tragedy is not what the PCI has discovered but what it hasn’t uncovered so far. HT has a family outlet called LiveMint. Like angels, LiveMint states in an article titled “Election Commission pegs paid news market at Rs.500 crore”. Nice, eh? Can the HT group explain where that kind of money goes? Any idea? LiveMint adds: “Of the total amount paid to media firms (around 40% of the poll expenses of parties), the EC estimates half to be towards paid news”. And the good news for every media outlet is that a major election is just around the corner. Not just the general elections but also simultaneous Assembly elections in a few states. Lots of opportunities, let’s make money.
It’s not just B.S. Chandrashekhar that I’m reminded of. Remember those extraordinary deductive powers of Sherlock Holmes? Sitting on his chair and smoking his pipe, Holmes heard a knock and in came his friend Dr. Watson. “Ah, good morning, Watson” said Holmes adding “don’t you find it a bit warm to be wearing your red flannel underwear”? Astonished at this stroke of genius by Holmes, Watson asked “how on earth did you guess I was wearing my red flannel underwear”? Holmes typically replied “Elementary, my dear Watson, you forgot to put your pants on”. Elementary, dear HT, your red underwear is showing, because you were caught with your pants down.