A couple of days back, it was reported that chargesheet in AgustaWestland scam mentioned names of some journalists. Soon it was revealed that one of the journalists named was Shekhar Gupta, whom arms dealer Christian Michel is supposed to have ‘influenced’ to tone down articles about AgustaWestland deal.
Michel, the middleman in the deal, was extradited in December 2018 from Dubai and is currently in custody. Investigative agencies have been grilling him about kickbacks and how the deal to buy the VVIP helicopters was sealed. Michel has reportedly revealed many names, some directly and some in code names like Fam, AP, RG, etc. Shekhar Gupta’s name was mentioned directly in parts of chargesheet accessed by media outlets.
Once the news spread, Shekhar Gupta issued a statement, via his news portal ThePrint, declaring that “The claim in the Enforcement Directorate chargesheet against Christian Michel, a key suspect in the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal scam, that Michel had admitted to hiring the services of a person named Guy Douglas to influence Shekhar Gupta to tone down an article in The Indian Express, is 100% unruth, laughable, and utterly preposterous.”
In the same statement, Gupta further claimed that he was actually at the forefront of media investigation into the chopper scam and the story was broken first by The Indian Express under his leadership. He also raised suspicion over ‘timing’ of this reported revelation by Christian Michel.
Post this statement by Shekhar Gupta, not much has been talked about the incident. However, this is not for the first time Shekhar Gupta’s name has come up while talking about foreign companies indulged in defence deals.
Around 4 years back in October 2014, a controversy had erupted, especially online, when NDTV abruptly took down an interview of former Navy Chief Admiral DK Joshi, which was titled “Ex-Navy Chief’s Explosive Disclosures”.
One wondered why would a media outlet delete something that was “exclusive” and “explosive” by its own admission. Such an interview will be something a media organisation will flaunt, not hide.
In February 2014, Admiral Devendra Kumar Joshi became the first Indian Navy Chief to resign from his post taking responsibility of a series of naval accidents. The accident that triggered his resignation was fire at INS Sindhuratna on 26th February 2014 off Mumbai coast, leading to death of two officers. Admiral Joshi resigned the same day and his resignation was accepted within a couple of hours, which many felt was unceremonious towards a decorated officer.
Few months later, NDTV’s senior defence journalist Nitin Gokhale could get an exclusive interview with Admiral Joshi where he tried to find out under what circumstances the former Navy Chief had to resign. Admiral Joshi, in the interview, lamented about a dysfunctional and inefficient model armed forces were saddled with. He said that the system needed reforms, but vested interests were stalling such reforms.
The former Navy Chief said that such vested interests had authority but no accountability, while armed forces have accountability – due to which he resigned – but no authority. The interview was indeed explosive as it revealed how the UPA regime neglected issues around national security.
“Exclusive: Former Navy Chief blasts UPA govt” and “Scathing appraisal of Anthony years by Ex-Navy Chief” were some of the sub-headlines NDTV used for the interview.
However, within a couple of days, this exclusive and explosive interview was deleted by NDTV. The video recording of the interview was pulled down, and even the report with the transcript of the interview was gone.
Could it be pressure from Congress leaders that made NDTV delete the interview? After all, it has been claimed that NDTV took editorial lines from the Prime Minister’s Office when Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister. But that possibility is mostly ruled out because the portion of the interview where Admiral Joshi blasts the UPA government is still available on NDTV’s website as part of a show of Barkha Dutt, who was then with NDTV.
So if not pressure from the Congress party, why was the interview deleted?
The mystery was solved to a large extent three years later in October 2017, when Nitin Gokhale spoke about it in a Facebook post. He revealed the circumstances around which the interview was pulled down, due to which he resigned from NDTV within a month as he thought such censorship could happen again.
“After its telecast at least five times in both Hindi and English, NDTV management deemed contents of the interview with Adm DK Joshi to be defamatory and decided to drop it. My suspicion was more than being defamatory, Admiral Joshi’s barbs hit some old NDTV associates and friends hard and therefore the decision to remove the interview and its full transcript. All the high sounding principles of supporting and protecting everyone’s freedom of expression, went out of the window the moment one of the own NDTV insiders was attacked. There was no regard for the Admiral’s FoE.” – Nitin Gokhale wrote on Facebook.
So what were these barbs by Admiral Joshi that is supposed to have hit some ‘old NDTV associates’?
In the interview, Admiral Joshi was not only critical of the UPA regime, he also criticised some parts of media for immature and malicious reporting on defence matters. The following statement by Admiral Joshi gives a hint about the ‘old NDTV associate’ Nitin Gokhale hinted at in his Facebook post.
“There were these two newspapers, one of which had invented the coup theory; this reporter was the darling of foreign vendors, and to show his importance he would author articles like ‘the reporter is in country abc at the invitation of vendor xyz’,” Admiral DK Joshi had said in the interview.
It requires no special knowledge or decoding to understand that Shekhar Gupta and Indian Express are being referred to when anyone talks about the “coup theory”. Another allusion to Shekhar Gupta can be inferred from the latter part of the sentence, because Gupta once said that it’s fine for journalists to go on foreign trips if this fact is mentioned in the article.
However, Admiral did not name Shekhar Gupta directly. OpIndia asked Nitin Gokhale if he was ever told directly or indirectly that Shekhar Gupta was unhappy with the interview and wanted it pulled down.
“I was never told directly that Shekhar Gupta was unhappy with the interview or wanted it pulled down, but it was pretty clear from the newsroom conversations that the management had been spoken to by someone who was close to them. So the management took a stance that the content was defamatory and pulled down the interview,” Nitin Gokhale told OpIndia.
Whether Shekhar Gupta actually called up anyone at NDTV to express his displeasure or whether someone in top management of NDTV voluntarily realised that the vague references to Shekhar Gupta was ‘defamatory’ is known only to Sekhar Gupta and NDTV top management, but the references in the interview and the circumstances mentioned in Nitin Gokhale’s Facebook post don’t leave much to imagination.
Nitin Gokhale doesn’t regret having resigned from NDTV after this incident. He had written:
“I thought it’s time to move on and leave behind a place which outwardly is suave, sophisticated and ‘liberal,’ but in reality is full of nepotism, favouritism and clannish, designed to protect and promote PLUs (for the uninitiated, People Like Us—public school educated, residents of tony neighbourhoods, children of wealthy and/or people in high positions). To be fair, a plebeian like me had been allowed to enter the world of NDTV not because any favour was being done but because that was the need of the time in 2006. To be fair, I enjoyed the stint and gained a higher profile because I proved my worth but an unseen glass ceiling always existed for us ‘outsiders’.”
The deleted interview was backed up and uploaded on YouTube by a user and can be seen below. Readers can ascertain for themselves if there could be some other reason why NDTV deleted the interview: