This year hasn’t been a particularly bright one for many across the seas. In India, the year seems to have been particularly filled with foreboding and gloom, and not for read-and-you-forget reasons. Even as the 2G scam and the media’s role in it spilled over from the past years, Coalgate brought to light involvement of media houses in the scam – The Hindu reported on September 7 that “even as the Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG) held its first meeting on Thursday (September 6) to listen to 10 of the companies that have been issued showcause notices, investigation into Coalgate is pointing to at least four media houses being beneficiaries of the coal blocks allocation”.
Then came Vadragate. R Jagannathan wrote in firstpost.com, “Vadragate is an indictment of the Indian media too,” and that “if the media needs an Aamir Khan to take up issues like sex-specific abortions and domestic abuse, and if it needs a Kejriwal to rake up the issue of corruption in high places (for his own political purposes), it cannot but be complicit in these crimes. Not directly, maybe, but certainly by failing to blow the lid on scams on its own.” Indeed. For the first report of the deals between infrastructure and real estate company DLF and Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra was reported in the Press as early as March 2011, but no follow-up was done. It is common knowledge in the media that many journalists did know of the deals, but chose to keep quiet. There are also allegations that some of these journalists in the know even filed their reports which were promptly spiked.
For now, my grouse is with the slap on the face of the Indian media – the arrest of editorial heads of Zee news and Zee business channels by the Delhi Police’s crime branch, on a complaint by Congress MP Naveen Jindal accusing the two journalists of trying to extort Rs 100 crore worth of advertisements from his company in return for dropping stories linking the Jindal group with Coalgate.
The police said “prima facie evidence of criminal conspiracy and extortion has been found against the two leading to their arrest” after forensic experts submitted a report stating the CD submitted by Jindal – it contained audio and video recording of conversations between the Zee editors and Jindal’s officials -- was “not doctored”.
The Congress MP had claimed to have done a “reverse sting” on the two senior journalists to expose them. Zee had denied the accusations of an extortion bid and had made it clear that the Jindal group tried to bribe its journalists and put pressure on the police.
On November 29, Delhi Police sent notices to five top officials of the Zee group – sources say the five include Zee group chairman Subhash Chandra and MD Punit Goenka - to join the investigation.
So that’s where we rest today – the police having arrested top journalists of a respected TV channel on the complaints of a Congress MP whose company, Jindal Steel and Power, stands accused of being favoured in the coal blocks allocation scam.
According to English-news channel CNN-IBN, documents accessed by it reveal how Jindal Steel and Power got a coal block. The channel quoted Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Hansraj Ahir as alleging that the coal block was given to Jindal in violation of government guidelines.
One would think that given the facts on the ground – with or without the authenticity of CDs in question, since such evidences have often been faked on the editing table in the past – the Jindal versus Zee journalists case is very much open, with benefit of doubt resting with both the parties. One would want to believe that we all have the highest regard for the law of the land and justice will prevail, when it goes to court, if it goes to court.
But unfortunately for the democratic set-up of the country, the trial has already begun. And sadly, by the media itself.
Worse, the media – the system on which the public bestows highest faith and confidence – is split wide open by the controversy. You have those reporting the Jindals’ version for headlines while others report Zee’s name in headline. So much so, that a section of the media has begun pushing the Jindal versus Zee story to Page 1; others, obviously Zee’s rivals, are now reporting how the media shares have taken a beating over the controversy.
The journalists have been given 14 days judicial remand for further interrogation and so that they cannot tamper with evidence. What evidence will they tamper with, when the tapes are with Jindal and the police?
As the Daily News & Analysis (DNA) newspaper, owned by Subhash Chandra, writes, “A person is not liable to arrest merely on the suspicion of complicity in an offence. There must be some reasonable justification in the opinion of the officer that such arrest is necessary and justified.” The newspaper also points to the 1978 landmark judgement by then Supreme Court Justice VR Krishna Iyer, by which “bail is the rule” in cases where the offence isn’t grave like murder or rape.
Legal experts argue that no one can be arrested in a routine manner merely on an allegation, and even if so, bail is his or her right.
Media and TV anchors are doing a disservice by playing up this news beyond what is necessary. The media is running down its own credibility, playing up berating as anti media elements laugh. Media should instead be rallying around to get justice done through bail and a free trial.
Who is guilty and who is not in the Naveen Jindal versus Zee case is for the law to decide. For now, I wish better sense prevails and better, factual reporting is seen on the issue. After all, the two journalists are senior enough to have reached their position by dint of merit. And business houses will remain business houses. In the Indian context, for them, all’s good in war and business. Same goes with politics. It’s just anyone’s guess where the blame is likely to lie.