When Rajdeep Sardesai got it left, right & centre

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: There were two “key takeaways”—as TV anchors remind us every night, two “key takeaways”—from the post-Niira Radia chintan baithak organised by  the Editors Guild of India, the Press Club of India, and the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) in New Delhi on Friday.

The first takeaway is what the mainstream media (MSM) will report happily. Which is that senior editors in India (as the BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder who attended the meeting reports) are “considering putting in place systems to ensure ethical practices in journalism”.

Meaning: aal iz well.

In other words, the grey hairs bowing before their Old Monk™ have fully grasped the import of the scandal that has enveloped the profession, following the publication of tapes and transcripts of conversations Radia had with Barkha Dut, Vir Sanghvi, Prabhu Chawla et al, and are poised to act.

The other takeaway is what only the tabloids would waste ink on (feel free to stop right here if your choice is broadsheet or berliner).

Which is that the president of the Editors’ Guild of India, Rajdeep Sardesai—whose favourite offline excuse for  ethical concerns in the profession is “Hamaam mein sab nange hain (everybody is naked in the public bathroom)”—actually had to stand unprotected under a very heavy downpour on a winter afternoon in Delhi today, for an hour if not more.

A downpour of criticism, that is.

The joint EGI-PCI-IWPC meeting started off well, as most introspection meetings do, with Outlook* chief editor Vinod Mehta not taking the names of the accused (because the matter is now in court and also because “my wife told me to be careful”) and striking the right balance of common sense and pragmatism, two commodities that have generally been in short supply.

“I keep hearing that this issue is sensitive and complicated, that it is not a black and white issue. I can’t understand what is so complex here. It doesn’t require an Albert Einstein or a rocket scientist.

“If you are talking to a hotel PRO and he tells you, ‘our hotel is the no.1 hotel in Asia’, it doesn’t mean you come and write that his hotel is the no.1 hotel in Asia. You check and verify before you report.

“The claim that they [Barkha and Vir] were stringing along their sources is complete bullshit. Do you think somebody like Radia would keep on giving information knowing that her instructions weren’t being followed?”

Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN, who took the mike next, rightly spoke of the dichotomous times we live in—when the media which has been behind some of the most impactful stories this year stands accused in the public eye of betraying their trust, a point he had made in his HT column earlier in the day.

Sardesai’s sage wisdom would have earned a few plaudits had he stopped right there.

But, as the cameras rolled, he launched into what seemed like a set piece, enlightening the captive audience comprising largely of journalists of his “problems” with the Outlook* expose—not contacting Barkha and Vir and giving them a chance to reply; running raw footage on the website (which also incidentally features his name a couple of times); the use of pictures of journalists not connected with the 2G scam on the cover and so on.

“This is shock and awe journalism… This is bad journalism inverting the principles of basic journalism…. This rot is not new, it has been around for three decades…. In this competitive age, access is information….”

“There is no proven quid pro quo…. The concerned journalists are guilty of professional misjudgement not professional misconduct… Reputations have been damaged…,” said Sardesai in a thinly disguised defence of his former NDTV colleague Barkha Dutt.

“I think what Outlook and Open have done is completely unethical…. A lot of criticism, let us admit, is also because of a certain envy.”

Hardly had Sardesai placed the mike on the table than Poornima Joshi of Mail Today was on her belligerent feet, urging him to spare the audience his pontification.

“I find it absolutely disturbing and disheartening that the president of editors’ guild is not only condoning but also justifying carrying of messages from a corporate to Congress,” Joshi, a former Outlook staffer, said.

Radhika Ramaseshan of The Telegraph [where Sardesai worked before he joined NDTV], took objection to Sardesai’s claim that this was all old hat, that there was nothing new in what was happening, that this has been happening, so why bother.

Neena Vyas [of The Hindu] has been covering BJP for 30 years. Nobody ever accused her of misusing her access. Likewise, there are a number of journalists who have never succumbed,” she said to applause.

Vyas, daughter of former Times of India editor Sham Lal, contradicted Sardesai in his face of  a statement he attributed to her of a BJP politician’s tacit condition that he would go soft on him in exchange for information.

When Vyas regaled the audience of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi “blackmailing” BJP bosses to throw RSS leader Sanjay Joshi out—after a sting operation of Joshi in a sexual act was shown on India TV (which Vyas alleged was owned by Narendra Modi),—CNN-IBN cameras telecast her allegation “live”.

“If Rajdeep Sardesai is so concerned about the raw footage of the Radia conversations being shown or reported, without giving the other side the chance to reply, how come he is showing this,” hissed a member of the audience audibly.

Vidya Subrahmaniam, also of The Hindu, contested Sardesai’s claim that there was no quid pro quo. The tapes, she said, carried enough evidence of quid pro quo since the journalists appeared to be doing exactly what they promised.

From that point on, it was downhill at top speed all the way for Sardesai, in front of several of his senior colleagues, including Bhupendra Chaubey, Vivian Fernandes and Ashutosh who had assembled in the front rows for what they had presumed would be a champagne show by their boss.

# One unidentified voice from the back rows asked, “How can you hold forth on ethics after CNN-IBN’s dubious role in the infamous cash-for-votes scandal [when it reportedly went back on a promise to telecast a sting operation commissioned by the BJP during the vote on the civilian nuclear bill].”

# Another demanded mandatory declaration of assets and liabilities by editors. “How do journalists manage to become owners of channels,” shouted the young voice, echoing former Hindustan Times‘ editor and Prasar Bharati chief Mrinal Pande‘s call for greater transparency in ownership.

# “Amitabh Bachchan read the news on your channel when he was trying to promote his film Rann, without CNN-IBN ever revealing that it was a promo for his film. You should have just said no, if you want to take the high moral ground on ethics,” said Akshay Mukul of The Times of India.

The restive audience wanted more time to question Sardesai but he beat a hasty exit before the meeting ended, citing lack of time and a prior engagement. And as he left, another voice shouted, within earshot of his wife Sagarika Ghose, “Did we just hear the president of the editors guild of India, or the editors’ guilt of India?”

Inside, at the bar, as the old residents reassembled, a young reporter chipped in: “Twitter and Facebook and all the social media have been delivering a simple message to old media in India: look within. Looks like someone’s just too happy listening to his own loud voice.”

Also read: Rajdeep Sardesai heckled over defending Vir, Barkha

The Hindu coverage of the Editors’ Guild debate

The New Indian Express: Heated debate


  1. Anil Kohli


    This is a much needed reality check for MSM and Rajdeep Sardesai in particular.

    Listen MSM cannot go on like this CNNIBN still has to answer why no action against Sagarika Ghose for calling viewers as Internet Hindus just because they did not agree with her.

    What about her tweet on Lord Ram being a Divine Encroacher. By what standards is this acceptable.

    Till people were limited to your websites their comments did not get published at all because they did not match with your purpose.Now social media is making you nervous.

    Win back the trust of the people by being neutral or state your political affiliation and we will live with it.

    Do not lecture to us.

    I have blogged extensively on role of media this is the link http://www.ioretradingindia.blogspot.com/

    Thank you

  2. Mahesh Vijapurkar

    Years ago my Editor, G Kasturi (The Hindu) told me this: be nice, but politely inquisitive with your source, but do not walk with his hand on your shoulder. Arm’s length is what he meant. It has been useful counsel.

  3. meenakshi

    “If you are talking to a hotel PRO and he tells you, ‘our hotel is the no.1 hotel in Asia’, it doesn’t mean you come and write that his hotel is the no.1 hotel in Asia. You check and verify before you report.”

    If he referring to Vir Sanghvi, he DID CONTACT THE OTHER SIDE (Anil Ambani, that is). Sencondly, Vir does NOT have to verify anything is he doesn’t want to because COUNTERPOINT IS AN OPINION PIECE. Exactly how Vir forms his opinion is up to him. He does not need Vinod Mehta’s preaching on that.

    I feel sorry for people like Vinod Mehta, who will never have the sheer talent and writing skills that Sanghvi has in his little finger. Naturally he is jealous and this is a great opportunity to malign him.


    Another point: interesting how “cheated” this big-talking editors feel on behalf of Anil Ambani. YET ANIL AND VIR HAVE NO PROBLEMS WITH EACH OTHER. They meet socially and agree to differ on their views. Why is all these people so hot and bothered on Anil’s behalf?

  4. Kaalu

    Great stuff… I think Sardesai must be exposed too!

  5. Is there a video of Rajdeep actually being heckled? The Governance Now website only has his speech.

  6. Mysore Peshva

    This is what a Padma Shri does to a journalist.

  7. Akash

    Meenakshi, give it a break please with your constant harping on how great Vir is. Most of us dont give too hoots about how good and awesome he is to you and your fan club. What we do know is he violated every journalistic ethic there is. If he wanted to be a PR hack,he should have been one openly, instead of masquerading as an objective journalist.


    Mysore Peshva,

    How do you think these worthies got all these awards to begin with? I am pretty surprised at the naivete of the general public which never explored this aspect. There have been dime a dozen journalists in this India, how many of them, within a few years of a high profile career, got such national awards. It was clearly done to reward them for their support for a certain political party

  8. Tarlemaga

    Not sure as to why TAX Payers money is being wasted upon individuals like Rajdeep,Barkha etc. Is it it enhance corruption and nepotism ?

    It is a shame that they use ethics as a garb to protect the misdeeds.

    Rajdeep still continues to be President of Editors Guild of India. It is time that bows out. As the popular saying goes “If the head is rotten, what is the use of the Body”


    Individuals like Rajdeep/Prannoy etc, cant be even called out as Journalists. As they run a Corporation or have significant stake in the media corporation. Ultimately this results in sponsored programs called news.

    These folks are worse than politicians as they can be compared to white collar criminals who play with the sentiments of common people who trust them.

    Ego is on account their larger than life portrayal through their profit motivated channels.

  9. Madhusudan Thakkar

    Rajdeep Sardesai lecture on media ethics is motivated and is like devil quoting scriptures.His channel is called Congress News Network.He is the same person who repeatedly showed so-called hate speeches of Varun Gandhi.His channel is blatantly anti-hindu.His colleague Bhupendra Chouby publicly did chamchagiri of MMS during last press conference.People like him should disclose their income and then talk about morality and ethics of others.

  10. msr

    Rajdeep virtually turned the IBN to congress office, he is the biggest liar and big time broker/fixer in murky ocean called MSM.

    look at their shows on IBN how they go after Hindus, Hindu organizations, look at how un happy they were when the land was allocated to Amaranth pilgrims in J&K, how biased reporting they did.

    Rajdeep talking about ethics and proof before they air any news what ethics you followed when you went after Modi and Gujarath and Varun Gandhi.

    look at how he held the tapes of cash for vote scam in 2008 by not playing to just cover up the corrupt congress govt.

    by the way where did Vir Sanghvi got all the mooney as he is holidaying for so many days in Bangkok

  11. Speedy

    It is all very well to get carried away by the heckling of the union-wallahs, but precisely which part of what Rajdeep Sardesai has said can be questionable in the eyes of professional journalists?

    Is it wrong to ask why those who have been slandered weren’t given the chance to respond before the articles were printed? Or why those who have nothing to do with the 2G scam (like M.K. Venu of the Financial Express) were on the Outlook cover? Or whether there is an unspoken tall poppy syndrome among print journalists wanting to clip the wings of TV stars like Barkha Dutt?

    The hecklers are entitled to their view, but so surely is Rajdeep, unless he too, like Ratan Tata, is afraid of what is in the other 5,700 conversations that have still not been released?

  12. ERR

    Rajdeep sardesai is not batting ‘straight’ now which is a pity; this would have certainly upset Dileep Sardesai…

  13. sumit

    Vir Sanghvi was better when he was writing for porn magazine like debonair.He should return to that.Serious journalism is not his cup of tea.I’ll love to read a journalist who make grammatical and spelling errors but have guts to write the truth rather than reading a journalist who may have capability to win the booker for his literary skills but writes sponsored articles.

    some editors are preparing a soft place prior to their fall by counter attacking open and outlook.It’ll be interesting to see what is there in unreleased tapes.We can clearly see some people are really nervous so raising stupid questions against Radia tapes and supporting the tainted reporters so that they can have enough support if something comes against them tomorrow.Only people with not so clear conscience will do that.Rajdeep is right netizens don’t know anything about journalism that’s why they been fooling us for so long and open and outlook exposed the truth that’s why they are bad.If netizens are so dumb people why they have the web site ibnlive.com and why Rajdeep is interacting with dumb netizens through twitter.

  14. Sompal

    “I feel sorry for people like Vinod Mehta, who will never have the sheer talent and writing skills that Sanghvi has in his little finger.”

    Why is “sheer talent and writing skills in his little finger” needed in taking dictations? Even my dog does that (provided he is not listening to music on his iPod). I think you are confusing Ms Radia with Kayar Sanghvi?

  15. KUMAR

    MY HEARTIEST CONGRATULATIONS TO VINOD MEHTA and Joshep for TAKING JOURNALISM AT MUCH HIGHER LEVEL despite interested Journalists and their Chamchas getting UPSET.

    As for Rajdeep when he says why those who have been slandered weren’t given the chance to respond before the articles were printed? – COME ON RAJDEEP STOP THIS DOUBLE STANDARD – ALMOST EVERYDAY ANTI MODI and ANTI BJP STORIES ARE CARRIED BY YOUR CHANNEL WITHOUT VERIFYING WITH THEM – SO FIRST PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH.YOUR CHANNEL IS POPULARLY KNOWN AS “Congress News Network”.
    YOU WERE TOTALLY WRONG IN TAKING SIDES as you are president of the Editors’ Guild of India.

  16. msr

    must read about radia gate and dalals Barkha, Pranoy, Vir, Rajdeep, Sagarika and other MSM dalals


  17. anuradha

    A case of the pot calling the kettle black? Some years ago, may be four or five – Ms Neena Vyas was in the habit of writing ‘opinion’ pieces and passing them off as reportage on the front page of the Hindu. They had by then appointed a ‘readers’ editor’ – the title may be different – some sort of ‘ombudsman’. I had complained to him citing relevant passaes by e-mail. Beynd a machine generated acknowledgement, perhaps, I received no reply whatsoever. I realised from whatever one saw of his efforts that his duties were confined to issuing apologies for spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, wrong caption of photographs and the like.
    After being subjected to more ‘pontificating’ reports of Ms Vyas, and similar ons by others, I stopped reading The Hindu. For her to talk of journalistic ethics and decorum seems a bit much.

    And as for The Hindu, don’t we know the circumstances that led to the migration of Chitra Subrahmaniam’s expose to The Indian Express.

  18. Bharatvasi

    I am surprised that Rajdeep took up for Barkha Dutt (ex-colleague syndrome) and Vir Sanghvi. Does his channel check back with everyone it projects in poor light? The answer is obvious – No. Secondly, if Niira Radia was being strung along then Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani need their heads examined for employing her.

  19. Truth Seeker

    Barkha Dutt,Vir sanghvi and Rajdeep sardesai… don’t present news as News,but as Views. These 3 people should stop Journalism before making much damage to the India’s image, they should Quit.Stop hypocrisy !

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