Express, NDTV, Tehelka, HT & the Bhushans

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Three weeks ago, Tehelka magazine ran a profile on the father and son lawyer-pair, Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan, who are on the Lokpal drafting committee.

Authored by Rohini Mohan, the piece inter alia repeated the canard that had been artfully spread about the Bhushans: that they had been allotted two prime farm-house plots by Mayawati “for a song”; that they had evaded paying stamp duty on a mansion purchased in Allahabad; that a CD involving Amar Singh hinted at their dark dealings, and so on.

The following week, Tehelka set the record straight, running a two-page clarification by the author of the original article, acknowledging that the magazine had got “some things wrong” on three key counts (see the Bhushans’ 11-page, point-by-point rebuttal here).

The Tehelka clarification has elicited a response from prime minister Manmohan Singh‘s media advisor, Harish Khare, in the latest issue of the magazine:

“Please permit me to put on record my appreciation of your decision to print a detailed clarification about the excellent cover story on the Bhushans. The clarification in no way distracts from Tehelka‘s commitment to responsible and rigorous journalism but it certainly is a welcome departure from the self-serving arrogance that has regrettably become the preferred style among many media practitioners.”

Tehelka is not alone in the course correction.

# The Times of India which first carried a page one story stating that the CD was genuine—a day after the Hindustan TimesVinod Sharma had dished out the same line on the basis of some unknown laboratory report—soon carried a story stating that the central forensic science laboratory (CFSL) had concluded that the CD was doctored.

# NDTV 24×7, which played no small part in the Bhushan smear campaign, asking repeatedly if the Bhushans should stay on the Lokpal panel despite the “evidence” against them, too, did an about-turn this week.

After the Supreme Court lifted a gag order on an earlier Amar Singh CD, correspondent Vishnu Som used the occasion to join the dots and show the verbatim lines in the two CDs to establish the point that the new CD had been cut and pasted from the old one, a point the Bhushans had been making from day one.

However, the key players in the “crude and disgusting character assassination” of the Bhushans (as Express columnist Soli Sorabjee termed the orchestrated campaign) continue to pretend as if nothing happened.

There has not been so much as a squeak from the Hindustan Times‘after the Chandigarh CFSL report showed the CD was doctored unlike its own prognosis.

For his part, Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta uses the assembly victories of Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalitha in today’s paper, to explain his paper’s visceral opposition to what he calls the Armani-Jimmy Choo “Revolution” of Jantar Mantar”, which resulted in the formation of the Lokpal panel with the Bhushans on it.

Gupta’s piece has a Freudian line in the first paragraph:

“Your best friends would catch you in five-star hotel lobbies and chide: ‘You defending the system? What’s wrong with you, you were such a nice guy?'”

Notwithstanding his Tehelka letter, let the record state that Harish Khare, a deputy editor at The Hindu before he joined Team Manmohan, has been at the receiving end of Express‘ barbs (here and here).

Also read: Because when dog bites dog, it’s news—I

Because when dog bites dog, it’s news—II

How well is the PM’s media advisor advising him?


  1. I completely agree with the message that comes out from this post of Sans Serif. The media needs to do more homework before they start broadcasting their news.

    The character assassination of the Bhusans, if it was indeed character assassination then it was in extremely bad taste. There should be laws against this kind of bad reporting.

    But I would also like to point out that all sides in this ideological battle have been using character assassination as a tool. Why are the Civil Society advocates claiming that they have support of entire nation – when they do not. There has also been the unfortunate attempt to call everyone who is opposed to Lok Pal as a crony of corrupt political system.

    Frankly speaking, this fight over corruption has become totally confusing for a quintessential “aam admi” like me. I can’t make out who stands for what. Everyone seems to have a hidden agenda.

    It is not necessary that corruption should only be financial, it can also be ideological.

    Some people are opposing the movement because they think that it will lead to the emergence of some hardline leftist forces who will go on to devalue our democracy. This is a frightening prospect that we can’t afford to ignore.

    Personally speaking, my opposition to this Jantar Mantra type of fight against corruption is purely ideological, it has nothing to do with any person. I know that economic reform is the one and only way of ridding this country of corruption and mis-governance.

  2. PRS

    >> “The self-serving arrogance that has regrettably become the preferred style among many media practitioners” <<

    Touche, Harish Khare.

    After all the tendentious reporting, the Indian Express did some 'prayaschit' by running the full text of Arundhati Roy's speech at a gathering to support the Bhushans on the op-ed pages. But even in that brief moment of contrition, it could not avoid sticking a sad, pathetic knife. The front-page lead that morning was about Prashant Bhushan pointing a finger at liberalisation for the spurt in corruption, as if some cardinal sin had been committed in saying so.

    Little wonder the only people who seem to chide Shekhar Gupta are his "best friends" in "five-star hotel lobbies". Does he ever emerge out of five-star hotel lobbies?

    Jimmy Choo at Jantar Mantar?


    Let us just blame the perils of empowering Haryanvi farmers for such literary excesses.

  3. This refers to your earlier article, “Is Indian Express a pro-establishment paper?” and to this one. One wonders whether Shekhar Gupta is repaying his quid pro quo for the ‘Padma Sri’ that the establishment conferred on him. Earlier too there were murmurs that the ‘Padma’ awards conferred on two electronic media journalists, were indeed a payback for skewing the Gujarat riots coverage (in 2002) thereby providing the Congress party an unfair “secular” advantage in subsequent elections. These journalists would have done well to reject the awards, when there is every likelihood, in public perception, of a linkage between their professional conduct and official patronage. In the case of official recognition too, Britain’s virtuous practice is worthy of emulation. The ‘mother of democracy’ confers such awards usually when the awardees are about to ‘sign-off’ from their profession. To cite an example of a British-Indian journalist we can all relate to, Mark Tully was knighted after he virtually hung up his boots. Never mind his occasional appearance on Indian television chat shows, for we have a penchant for indulging ‘gora-sahebs’, although we hate to admit it. The healthy practice that Britain established would obviate any mis-perception in the public mind. In the final analysis Edmund Burke’s famed ‘fourth estate’ is expected to provide healthy checks and balances to executive excesses and not be reflective of the ideology of the party in power. In this connection, may I invite readers’ attention to the following article: “MEDIA & ETHICS IN BRITAIN & INDIA” accessible from

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