Why an editor took two empty suitcases to Libya

There is little doubt, as the Niira Radia tapes showed, that journalistic integrity in India is at an all-time low—despite the manifold increase in salaries—especially since the liberalisation process began in 1991 and the notional capital of the media moved from Bombay to Delhi.

Whispers of editors who own power plants and mines, of reporters who are joint venture partners in shopping complexes and apartment blocks, of honchos who buy helicopters, fix arms deals, etc, are now so common that it barely registers on the shock-o-meter these days.

Worse, the epidemic has spread far and wide, from beyond Bombay and Delhi to the hinterland, to the State capitals and big cities, where journalists, cutting across language barriers, have mastered the art of “monetising” their positions and visiting cards.

But, no names!

Working under the Khushwant Singh motto that dead men can’t sue, and using the ongoing eruption in the Middle East as the peg, Outlook editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta drops a couple of names in the latest issue of the weekly newsmagazine:

“Now that Muammar Gaddafi is the flavour of the month, let me recount the story of two flamboyant Indian editors, R.K. Karanjia (Blitz) and Ayub Syed (Current) who, alas, are no longer with us. Both made annual visits to Gaddafi’s tent in Tripoli.

“Ayub, who could be disarmingly candid, once mentioned to me that he was off to Libya to meet the great leader. “I never forget to take two empty suitcases with me when I meet him and on the way back I always stay for one day at Zurich.”

“Russi was much more cunning and made no such admission, but he also went on his annual pilgrimage and came back loaded. At that time these were the only two journalists/editors who had direct contact with Gaddafi.

“Incidentally, it was one of these gentlemen who came back with the offer Gaddafi made to Indira Gandhi: sell me the bomb technology and India will never be short of oil.

“One afternoon Ayub was buying me lunch. He looked relaxed and seemed in no hurry to get back to the office. I was. When I asked him to call for the bill, he said, “What is your hurry? For the next two weeks I have no work. My issues are full of The Green Book.” (This was a Gaddafi-authored manual on how to run a country undergoing a perpetual people’s revolution). And then he laughed uproariously.”

Also read: Russy K. Karanjia: rest in peace

Sudheendra Kulkarni: ‘A creative, courageous, commited editor’


  1. Journalists and onions have one thing in common – both of them have layers. The more rich, famous, powerful and well-connected a journalist is, the more layers he will have.

    In the case of an onion, it is difficult for us to know how good or bad the onion is until well have peeled a sufficient number of layers. Similarly, in case of a super-senior editor or journalist it is not possible for us to judge his true nature (to find out how easy it is for him to sell his soul for a few $$$$ dictators or lobbyists) until we have peeled the myriad layers of his personality.

    But the thing is that the super-senior journalists and editors are very good at hiding their layers and so it is impossible for the public to realise their true nature until it is too late. By the time the journalists get exposed, he has already made his billions and after that he hardly gives a damn about whatever the “smaller guys in media” say about him.

  2. sanjeevirao

    It is very long since Journalism/Journalists had integrity and consciousness. Now they are available for sale to the highest bidder.

  3. Mahesh Vijapurkar

    The malice has spread and is spreading further. But money for news has been a common feature in small towns where the journalist only wants an ID and a visiting card from a publication and an occasionally, some space.

    Now, journalists are fixers too. And better paid by both the publications and the powers that be and the biggest victims in the con game are the readers and viewers. Poor suckers.

  4. Mysore Peshva

    Journalists acting as power brokers may not be ethical, but it is hardly a new phenomenon. Today we might label that phenomenon as “civic journalism,” but for hundreds of years it has existed without a label.

    For example, in 1830, Raja Rammohun Roy, then an editor with the Bengali weekly Sambad Kaumudi, acted as the Mughal emperor’s messenger to the Royals in London in 1830 — Roy lobbied to increase the Mughal emperor’s sops.

  5. Goldstar

    Quoting “Outlook”. No disclosures apply? Job changed :-)?

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