WHILE the role of politicians in the “cash for vote” scandal has been discussed at some length – if not in depth – on the floor of the Parliament and in the media, enough attention has not been paid about how sections of media contributed to the Congress-led Government’s cover up operations to shield the guilty. It is a sordid tale of a “respected” TV channel that conducted a sting operation in collaboration with whistle blowers but failed to telecast it at the stipulated hour as clinching evidence of the murky deals the politicians struck behind closed doors. Sting is a powerful instrument to expose corruption – purchase of people’s representatives to save a minority government, in this case. The news channel concerned failed to perform its social responsibility and betrayed the confidence of the whistle blowers by its failure to telecast the sting on the lame excuse that the operation was “incomplete”. The entire episode comprising striking the deal, whistle blowers being taken to the moneybag’s residence, handing over money to MPs that posed as if they were “for sale” were all on tapes. In what respect was the operation incomplete? The channel can’t get away by making untenable excuses.
The narrative of the channel – CNN-IBN – is that it first decided to investigate rumours of horse-trading in the wake of CPI secretary AP Bhardhan’s assertion that the going rate for an MP was Rs 25 crore. It maintains that its investigation across parties didn’t show up any lead. It was on the eve of the trust vote that the BJP alerted it that three BJP MPs had been approached by the ruling alliance to swing for money and that the MPs concerned were willing to be whistle blowers. It was in this context, the channel says, that it decided to do the string in collaboration with the BJP to expose horse-trading. CNN-IBN reporter Sidharth Gautam was asked by his superiors in the channel to contact BJP and do the string. BJP says it was flabbergasted when the channel failed to telecast the sting during the debate on the trust vote. It accused the channel of betraying its confidence to protect Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel and Amar Singh, both of whom, according to the party, were on the tapes. Channel’s chief Rajdeep Sardesai blamed the BJP for “jumping the gun” and insisted that it would have been journalistically “unsound and unethical” to telecast an “incomplete” investigation. The sting the channel telecast weeks later carried for less information that the BJP says the channel had on tapes. Were crucial segments on the tapes deleted to protect certain political leaders? This calls for a thorough credible enquiry by an independent agency.
Weekly magazine Tehelka claims that during its investigation into the cover up has revealed disturbing information. It quotes CNN-IBN (former) reporter Sidharth Gautam to say that he was tutored by his superiors to blunt the impact of his own story by saying on air that he didn’t see the whistle blowers in the car that went into Amar Singh’s residence on the morning of the trust vote. The magazine goes on to allege that the said correspondent’s responses to the Parliamentary panel’s questions and that the channel held back a key segment of footage which showed the BJP MPs driving from Argal’s residence to Amar Singh’s place in Lodhi Estate. Tehelka further insists that this footage would have nailed Amar Singh who was given an escape route by instructing Gautam to say that he couldn’t see the whistle blowers were sitting in the white Zen that entered Singh’s residence. The magazine claims that Sidhartha had exposed the “falsehood” the channel indulged in. If the Tehelka’s version of events is true the Channel is also guilty of misleading the Parliamentary panel headed by Congress leader V K Chander Deo. The fact that the FIR lodged on the recommendation of the House Committee on the “cash for vote” scandal was not followed up by the Government raise certain pertinent questions. Why did it not get the matter investigated to find out the source of the money that BJP MPs alleged was paid to them? Why this cover up by the UPA Government? Who is it trying to protect?
Although Tehelka has brought out the truth about the unprofessional conduct of CNN-IBN, the magazine’s bias for the Congress and against the BJP is too loud to be ignored. It castigated BJP for launching a sting operation to trap Congress and SP leaders in collaboration with the channel on the premise that it is not what political parties should be doing. And it went out of its way to suggest that Congress Party had been unduly maligned for the bribery. Be honest, Tehelka. You say Amar Singh was involved but was given an escape route by CNN-IBN but you conclude that Congress Party – that was the biggest beneficiary of “cash for vote” scandal – is innocent. Even if one accepts for argument sake that no Congress leader was involved in bribing MPs, can any one deny that it was the ruling party on whose behalf Amar Singh was operating. SP came out in support of the UPA after left parties withdrew support to the Government on the issue of Indo-US nuclear deal and Amar Singh went round boasting that he would ensure that the Congress-led alliance win the trust vote. In a recent debate on Times Now a BJP spokesperson acutely embarrassed a Tehelka Correspondent by alleging that the magazine had been paid by the Congress to plead its case. Tehelka’s track record lends credence to the allegation. Its close links with the ruling party are well known. Tehelka’s expose of fake defence deals was nothing but trapping of loud-mouth politicians and army officials. It brought shame to the profession by offering money and even girls to officers to entrap them. And the magazine now pontificates against entrapments! If Tehelka entrap some one it is moral but it is against ethics if some one else does it. The magazine took double standards to ridiculous level.
To suggest that the sting was stage-managed is to deny the fact that national capital was thick with rumours that money was playing a big role in winning over MPs. If party MPs complained that money was offered to them, the BJP had little option but to collaborate with a news channel to conduct a sting operation to expose the bribery. BJP can be faulted for choosing a channel that turned out to be untrustworthy. Of course, Tehelka deserves credit for its investigative stories in recent years but one regrets to say that it suffers from trust-deficit. Its objectivity is suspect and credibility low.