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HVK Archives: So tell me, is this journalism? Part 1 of 2

So tell me, is this journalism? Part 1 of 2 - The Free Press Journal

M V Kamath ()
July 18, 1998

Title: So tell me, is this journalism?
Author: M V Kamath
Publication: The Free Press Journal
Date: July 18, 1998

First it was an exclusive interview with Mr Strobe Talbott, the
US Deputy Secretary of State (4 July 1998). Three days later The
Hindu carries an interview with Mr Zhon Gang, China's ambassador
to Delhi. Both are exclusives. It is interesting, even
significant that Mr Talbott gave his interview to Malini
Parthasarathy, The Hindu's senior editor from Chennai, and not to
the paper's resident correspondent in Washington. Evidently Mr
Talbott wanted to highlight the c of the interview which must
have been thought out and planned to the last letter. The usual
custom is to ask for questions to be submitted before hand and
for the replies to be carefully worded, so that every word is
intended to carry its fullest weight. For example, talking about
his discussions with Jaswant Singh, Vajpayee's special
representative, Mr Talbott went out of his way to say that he was
honoured on a personal basis to be speaking with someone of his
(Singh's) intellectual stature, experience and diplomatic
skills", adding: "I think he and I have begun a genuinely
strategic dialogue with a small 's' and a small 'd'. Whether we
can return to the strategic dialogue with a capital 's' and a
capital 'd' depends on how much we do over the coming months..."

Mr Zhon Gang, of course, does not carry the status of Mr Talbott,
hi it he is his country's ambassador in Delhi and speaks with
authority interview his with The Hindu's two senior
correspondents K K Katyal and C Raja Mohan is also not without
significance. According to Mr Zhon, the Chinese will do "whatever
is beneficial for the improvement of Indo-Pak relations and peace
and stability in South Asia, but will never do otherwise."
Questionable as that is, comes Mr Zhon's acerbic remark: "Sino-
Pakistani relations are nothing but normal state relations
between two sovereign countries. Other countries have no right to
make irresponsible remarks against them". Oh, really? Not even if
friendly China passes on nuclear technology and assistance to
India's sovereign and unfriendly neighbour? Mr Zhon has strange
ideas about friendship.

Question: how come The Hindu got two excellent and exclusive
interviews, one after another, one with Mr Talbott and one with
Mr Zhon? Didn't any other newspaper try to get similar
interviews? Or can it be that both the United States and China
wanted to award The Hindu for taking up a strongly anti-nuclear

The Times of India continues to make news, but for the wrong

The chairman of Bennett Coleman & Co, Ashok Jain has been
arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with FERA
regulation violations. Now questions are being asked whether Mr
Jain has committed contempt of court by approaching a "certain
section of the press" to publish a fact sheet of the case.

According to The Free Press Journal "some of the senior scribes
of The Times of India had been behind the distribution of this
fact sheet on the case to a selected few newspapers." It is
somewhat tragic that senior scribes should be put on the job as
acting as Jain's couriers.

It is for fighting this tendency that H K Dua was eased out of
his position as Editorial Adviser some weeks ago. The Free Press
Journal noted that "there has been a Delhi High Court Order
passed on March 10, 1997, by a Division Bench comprising of the
then Chief Justice M J Rao and Justice Manmohan Sarin which
restrains the ED and Jain from discussing details to the press on
Jain's alleged FERA violation case."

By distributing a fact sheet to some newspapers, has Mr Jain
flouted the Court Directive?

Then there is the defamation case filed by Pramod Mahajan against
the editor of Aapla Mahanagar, Nikhil Wagle, for allegedly giving
false information about Mahajan, now a Rajya Sabha MP. Various
allegations, according to Mahajan, had been made against him by
the Marathi tabloid "with an intention of character assassination
on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections", and no doubt considered
the allegations as factors contributing to his defeat. The case
is now in Mumbai's Esplanade Court.

Incidentally, The Times of India had its own little scoop when it
revealed (10 July) that the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had
contacted the Head of Cardiology Department of the J J Hospital,
Dr Lekha Pathak "several times" on the Sunday before, "in a
desperate effort to prevent her from giving her professional
opinion on the cardiac constitution of noted industrialist Ashok
lain." In a frontpage report the paper said that "in a brazen
move aimed at obstructing justice, ED officials repeatedly called
her over the telephone, claiming to be her wellwishers and asking
her to cooperate.

However, the paper said, "Dr Pathak declined to be coerced and
issued a report strictly based on the medical condition of Dr
Jain." The paper was quoting sources close to Dr Pathak. The
Times of India added: the sources said the ED had a well-
established track record of brow beating government servants and
others into toeing the line." (emphasis added.)

It would interesting to know who are the sources "close to" Dr
Pathak. Why would these sources talk to The Times of India?
Surely, Dr Pathak herself could well have talked to the paper? If
Dr Pathak felt that she was being "coerced", surely she could
have called up the police? Did she inform the Dean of J J
Hospital where Mr Jain was confined?

The Times report describes Ashok Jain as Dr Jain. When did he get
a doctorate? Consider the language used by The Times report to
influence public opinion in favour of Jain. What are words such
as desperate, brazen, professional, repeatedly and noted intended
to convey?

When a doctor gives an opinion, are there two aspects of it, one
professional and the other non-professional? The case against
Ashok Jain is sought to be tried in the pages of The Times of
India and not in a court of law where the ED is charged with
having a well-established record of browbeating government
servants and others into 'toeing its line."

The question may well he asked: is this journalism?

Meanwhile, Pramod Mahajan has also been in conflict with The
Statesman (12 June). On that day, the paper's editor-in-chief, Mr
C R Irani, in his usual caveat had made certain remarks to which
Mahajan had objected in a letter to the editor. (He hasn't sued
the editor, though). Claiming that Irani has been "most
uncharitable in the use of adjectives", Mahajan said that 'the
most disturbing part comes ... where you have linked me with the
ongoing investigations against Ashok Jain of The Times of India
by the ED." Mahajan said that he is "extremely pained" to see his
name being dragged and his reputation being marred by "imaginary

He added for good measure: "I would have hoped that the veracity
of the facts could have been checked with me before such an
important frontpage article was penned so that the truth, and
only the truth, could have prevailed."

The Statesman published the letter (24 June), with the Editor's
lengthy reply which said at the end:

"... There is no damage to his reputation, in fact or intended.
He was in the PMO to do a job and from the point of view of those
who put him there, he did it well. It is in the relevance to the
public interest that I differ with the correspondent."

There has evidently been no further correspondence in this
matter. It is wisdom in some cases never to push a point too far.

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