A petition was filed in the Supreme Court last Tuesday January 3, by an eminent journalist, Hari Jaisingh, asking for the
constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) for a court-monitored probe against some journalists who wrote in favour of the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal of the earlier Congress government,
Jaisingh alleged that journalists were paid Rs. 50 crores to support the scandalous deal in connection with which the former Indian Air Force chief, S. P. Tyagi and some others were arrested. The scandal was unearthed by foreign newspapers.
Aircraft purchase and journalists looks like an unlikely connection. Hari Jaisingh is not one of those so-called journalists editing sensational rags. He was editor of mainstream dailies including those of The Tribune group and author of several books including bestsellers. He won several national and international awards and has wide interests including yoga and theatre. So it is evidently not one of those frivolous petitions filed by publicity seekers.
The news of the petition brought to my mind my days as a Special Correspondent in Delhi in the pre-Emergency days. The ‘specials’ go to the Press Information Bureau daily to follow events of the ministries allotted to them or dig up ‘stories’ in those fields. I was surprised one day when another ‘special’ with whom I hardly knew invited me to a press get-together organised by a multinational aircraft manufacturer.
Those were the days when both Boeing and Airbus were lobbying in India for government orders (there were hardly any private airlines then). The journalist not only invited some others too but also followed up with us to make sure we were at the event, which was nothing more than a cocktail party. No statements, no questions answered. Only drinks and chitchat.
A little follow-up revealed that he (and perhaps a few other ‘specials’) agreed to to ensure that the cocktail was largely attended by accredited correspondents (some of whom hardly ever wrote). Obviously they were paid depending on the number of people they brought to the party.
A few years later it came out in the Enron scandal, that the company spent several crores of rupees to ‘educate’ the Indian people. It was believed that the amount was paid to Indian scribes to write in favour of the American power company which was believed to have also bribed politicians.
Proximity to politicians tempts some journalists to use their influence to favour private enterprises. It is an open secret that both in New Delhi and State capitals some people manage to get accreditations for non-existing newspapers or some two or four-page publications that come out only occasionally. Their political contacts get recognition for these newspapers, some of which are brought out only for blackmail or to get the sops which are doled out to journalists.
Decades ago the wooing of journalists was limited to parties with lots of eats and drinks. Some freebies were also doled out. Over 50 years ago, when I was staff reporter of an English daily in central India I started a “Reporters Guild’ of young reporters who refused to accept anything more than a cup of tea at press conferences.
In my book about Indian journalism scene I mention how some journalists’ organisations have more of such so-called journalists as members than real ones. At the National Police Academy when I was to speak on police role in disaster management, most of the officers asked about fake journalists, blackmailing and yellow journalism.
Also in the book were references to ‘envelope journalism’ and paid news which were later phenomenon. Not just the fakes but some regular journalists too started ‘following up ‘ files, especially of payments due, with government officials to whom they have easy access. The Radia tapes scandal showed that the influence went as high as cabinet making.
Corruption has become a “universal phenomenon” and poor journalists cannot remain untouched by it. Scribes write or edit for print or broadcast. Some pretend to be scribes but are ‘Dalals’.