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Moneylife – fighting a lone battle against NSE, with no support from media

Readers of are aware of the lies and spins propagated by the mainstream media to support their ideologies and/or political parties. A section of media has a cosy club and we know them as the Lutyens club; this just being an euphemism for a “newstrader” or a “presstitute“. If any member of this group is shown the mirror, their comrades jump into defend them – however absurd the charge may be. However, one news organization, which does not seem to belong to this club is – Moneylife.

Moneylife magazine published a copy of the letter it received from one of its patrons from Singapore about potential issues in “algorithmic trading” at the National Stock Exchange, the NSE (this letter was originally written to SEBI). You can read the letter here. Moneylife’s founder Sucheta Dalal wrote a piece with the title “Blowing the Whistle on Manipulation in NSE“, where this issue was highlighted. Algorithmic trading is a pre-defined software based trading strategy, where a tool analyses market dynamics, processes the information and deploys trading bets in stocks and/or in indices. This leads to sudden changes in dynamics in a counter, where unexpected liquidity can lead to increased volatility. Algorithmic trading, per se, is a well established practice across the world. However, in this case, the whistleblower alleged NSE of “market manipulation, which allowed certain vested brokers to get market price information ahead of the rest of the market”.

Following this story, the good people at NSE were clearly shaken by how a small magazine can question their credibility. NSE promptly slapped a Rs 100 cr defamation lawsuit against Moneylife magazine. Luckily for Moneylife, the Bombay High Court chided NSE by saying “NSE cannot use defamation to gag the press. How is it defamation when Ms Dalal sent you questions before publishing the article and you (NSE) chose not to respond to the query?” Moneylife has also agreed not to republish the report till the verdict is out. As per news on social media, Subramaniam Swamy has agreed to fight for Moneylife in this case.

There are two areas of concern in this case. Firstly, NSE’s high-handedness and secondly, mainstream media leaving Moneylife to fend for itself.

NSE has been notorious in silencing writers when something negative is written on them – through lawsuits or through sheer force. Here is another example. In November 2014, had written a piece on how NSE bullied big media houses like Economic Times and Mint to drop their stories on BSE complaining to SEBI about NSE’s malpractice. In this piece, NSE’s Divya Malik Lahiri accepted that NSE forced Mint to drop the story against NSE and at the same time, threatened mumbaiwalla to take down the story or face legal consequences. In that instance too, Sucheta Dalal questioned Mint editor Sukumar Ranganathan about the dropping of story. He accepted that Mint had dropped the story, but was not convincing in the reasons for doing so. Interestingly, there was also a historical link to this – Ira Dugal, who headed the Mumbai bureau of Mint and Divya Malik Lahiri, who was NSE spokeswoman – both broke their bread together at NDTV, earlier in their career. Whatever the background, it was evident that NSE’s high-handed approach had worked and Mint had removed the story.

One may wonder why NSE has to resort to these legal fights. One easy answer is that they are mighty scared of skeletons falling out of their cupboard, if they acknowledge something is amiss. However, let us not get carried away. Another answer to this may be its “brand value”. NSE is certainly the biggest bourse in India in terms of turnover and it also has many trading products to its credit. However, as Times rightly says, they lag behind the BSE’s “Sensex” in terms of brand value. So, any negative story will hurt their credibility further and hence, NSE tries to silence voices that question. It is time for NSE to “decline politely” or “rubbish allegations” or “clarify later”- than to be in news for wrong reasons.

Now, let us see the list of mainstream journalists who have expressed support to Moneylife in its fight against NSE – after all, this is about “free press” – a favorite subject for the liberal media. If you are expecting an exhaustive list, you are in for a surprise. Sucheta Dalal herself tweeted that she hasn’t received any support whatsoever from her colleagues.

She also gives the reason why she may not be getting that support in the near future:

It is not that this Gang of 37 do not meddle in others’ affairs – even in vain. Here is an example:

When Rajdeep Sardesai showed his bravado at the Madison Square Garden, Shekhar Gupta was out of the blocks in a flash.

Any apology for this tweet, when truth came out? You must be kidding…

Now we do not wish to reproduce all the tweets where MSM has come out in support of one of their own. However, as folks who look up to free and honest media for our news, we would be delighted to see the journalistic fraternity and others come out in support of Moneylife magazine in its fight against NSE. Our journalists and other eminent personalities are quick to stand up even if some celebrities are trolled by abusive handles, yet when a media organization is facing a Rs 100 crore lawsuit, no one comes ahead!

Mind you! We are NOT for a moment saying that Moneylife cannot fight its battles and Moneylife has NOT sought our help either. We think it is only appropriate to support honest and true journalism. If anyone of you think, Moneylife does not deserve OpIndia’s support, do let us know. We will consider your views.

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