It is well known that information is power and the democratization of it will surely cause irk among those who enjoy benefits from being informed at the expense of the ill-formed general public.
The entire media scenario has been abuzz with the perception of ‘civil society’ being persecuted and the main propagators of this idea are claiming to be torch-bearers of neutrality and constitutional values. Some of them are journalists of repute. Controversial journalist Rajdeep Sardesai is one of them. Now, Rajdeep has been trying to better his public perception by using a mouthful and deceiving title ‘Newsman’.
Perpetuating the same manufactured perception, Rajdeep Sardesai gave an interview to the news portal, The Quint. The entire interview reads like a tactfully curated PR release to showcase Rajdeep in a kinder light. The interview goes to the extent of making Rajdeep a victim as opposed to the fact that he himself has been the aggressor on multiple occasions, which is dealt with in details in the latter part of this article.
The Quint interview starts with –
“Rajdeep Sardesai, veteran journalist, has been propped as PM Modi’s biggest nemesis. His coverage of the 2002 Gujarat riots, the cash-for-votes controversy, and a ‘soft’ Sonia Gandhi interview has given enough ammunition to the supporters of PM Modi and the BJP to brand him as a Modi-hater.”
To insinuate that there was no agenda behind this and Rajdeep was just a ‘newsman’ is fallacious on so many levels, that this seems like a PR exercise is evidenced by the fact that none of Rajdeep’s answers was countered. For example, when asked about his soft stance on Sonia Gandhi and Laloo Prasad, Rajdeep simply states that he like the ‘underdog’ Laloo but fails to answer why he continued with his soft stand even after the ‘underdog’ became convicted of syphoning of funds while holding a union minister portfolio.
In his answer about Sonia Gandhi, he claims that the lack of time forced him to ask ‘soft’ questions. Rajdeep claims whenever he tried to ask a different question, Sonia shut him down. Now, for a self-righteous newsman, it is a very revealing statement, as this exposes the inability of having the guts to not bow down to power and maintain the strict line of questioning.
This was, however, in complete contradiction to Rajdeep’s answer to the question of being anti-Modi, where he states:
“I do believe that it is important for a journalist to show the mirror to the politicians to be able to say like it is. That’s what I’ve tried to do. And, I think, if that leaves me vulnerable to the charge of being anti or pro-Modi. It’s unfortunate but I’m willing to live with it now. I have no problems with it, my conscience is clean. And we have to be anti-establishment at one level.”
This is a clear indication of the duplicity that is synonymous with Rajdeep. The newsman may like to share a bottle of beer with Jyoti Basu and Bal Thackrey but the temperature will differ according to the ‘newsman’.
According to Merriam-Webster the term ‘Newsman’ denotes – ‘A person who gathers, reports and comments on the news.’ There is no mention of suppression or manipulation of news. The extraordinary thing about the internet is that this newsman, no matter how hard he tries, can never deny that he himself has indulged and been a part of the politically motivated dissemination of information or in his case suppression of a particular ‘sting’ to save the face of his then found new friends in a political party.
It is hard to remember something which happened nearly ten years ago, especially in today’s world of ‘information overload’. Rajdeep was at that time the Editor-in-Chief’ of CNN-IBN and his channel had done a sting on ‘cash-for-votes’. The sting was to be aired on the very critical date of July 22nd, 2008 the day of the no-confidence motion in the parliament. The motion was triggered by a split in the government due to an Indo-US nuclear deal.
As Rajdeep stood outside the parliament on that eventful day announcing the impending telecast of the scoop, three MP’s from the Bharatiya Janata Party on July 22, 2008, rushed into the well of the Lok Sabha displaying the Rs 1 crore to show they had been bribed. They then deposited the cash in the office of the Speaker Somnath Chatterjee. Interestingly, the sting focused on the serial number of the notes given to the MP’s. The reason behind this was that it can be confirmed if one is to claim that those notes were not the ones in the video, the serial number can be used as markings of reference.
The sting claimed to show Amar Singh, Rajya Sabha MP, had promised them Rs 3 crore each to go against the BJP whip and vote for the motion triggered by a split in the government over the Indo-US nuclear deal. The BJP MPs also said that Sanjeev Saxena, who worked for Amar Singh, told them that they would be given a total advance of Rs 1 crore. They added Saxena had also been filmed handing over cash to MPs. The MP’s also claimed that the entire operation was planned by the then leader of the opposition and now the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and executed by L.K.Advani’s former aide Sudheendra Kulkarni.
In a typical Rajdeep way, the sting was not shown that day and in the evening Rajdeep appeared on his channel citing “National interest” for the cause of withdrawal of Broadcasting. He sat on it for 10 whole days as the public and the politicians grew restless and on 30th July 2018, Rajdeep wrote a very superfluous article stating his defence which in summary amount to –“The sting was not complete”.
The very first question that anyone would ask is why would Rajdeep announce on TV that the tapes would be telecasted very shortly and right after that announcement say that his channel has chosen not to showcase the tape?
In his article he states:
“Quite simply, we have chosen not to telecast the story yet because we did not feel that the story was complete. Credible journalism is based on accuracy not speed, facts not sensationalism, reportage not allegations and assumptions.”
By his own admission, he was certain of the fact that the story was good to go when he was standing outside the parliament but then suddenly after only a few hours and an epiphany he came to the conclusion that the story was not yet complete.
To cover up, this attempt to safeguard vested interest Rajdeep argues that he has submitted all the un-edited tapes and footage to the speaker:
“All the raw, unedited footage was placed before the Speaker within 24 hours of the parliament fracas. Not a single frame has been edited in any form. The Speaker has subsequently ordered an inquiry, which media reports suggest, is to be completed by the 11th of August.”
Going back to the unfinished business of Rajdeep, if one person feels that the sting is inconclusive how can the same person turn around and say this is and can be used as evidence. It seems like the main intention here was to keep the sting off the public domain. One wonders if by disposing the entire tape to the Speaker, Rajdeep very astutely made sure that certain people’s integrity was not questioned and then backed by video evidence.
Sudheendra Kulkarni, one of the key persons in this whole fiasco in his column in The Indian Express newspaper, writes that he was “with the CNN-IBN team almost from the beginning to the end of its sting operation and have witnessed the recording of its operation”.
The above-stated statement is in stark contrast with the high-headed moralistic view of his channel that Rajdeep mentioned in his article.
In this article, Rajdeep writes:
“We would like to reiterate that at CNN-IBN we remain committed to quality and independent journalism. Our commitment is to the truth. Truth that cannot be partial, inconclusive or sensational, but one that must adhere to exacting standards of fairness and accuracy.”
In this case, the truth was partial. It was evident that there was an outside influence at play here. Kulkarni also alleges that not all tapes were submitted to the speaker Somnath Chatterjee on 26th July 2008. He states –
“In their statement, the CNN-IBN reporters talk about recording the cash being placed on the table by the BJP MPs. They even said on camera that they have proof of cash being paid to win votes. But the panel did not get those tapes”
In the end, the sting was aired 20 days later and the sting had no mention of Amar Singh or anyone conclusive, there was just a footage of a person calling someone stating – “Kam ho gaya”. The eight-member committee, headed by V. Kishore Chandra Singh Deo, completed its probe in 11 sittings and submitted its report on November 12, 2008. It said there was no case against Patel and no “clinching evidence against Amar Singh”. It said the role of BJP worker Suhail Hindustani, Saxena and Kulkarni should be investigated at length by “an appropriate investigating agency.
However, the question of how public interest got served by withholding a sting in order to minimize damage to certain individual’s reputation is still unanswered.