The Tehelka puzzle

When I began this blog, one of the objectives was to observe the media landscape for interesting trends and key issues. Consider the case of Tehelka. As a self-declared iconoclast, Tehelka seemed to be ready to break all barriers — advertiser pressures and the shadow of politics on newspapers and television.

The recent sting on the Gujarat riots by Tehelka was undoubtedly extraordinary in its courageous approach to unmasking State-sponsored terrorism.

Yet, the last issue of the printed magazine presented a somewhat disturbing picture. It had a huge advertisement spread on Chattisgarh, without even stating clearly that it was paid for by the State administration.  The readers would be justified in feeling cheated, because the entire segment opened with an interview with Chief Minister Raman Singh who patted himself on the back repeatedly.

Strangely, if it was an editorial interview by Tehelka, would they not have asked a question about the arrest and incarceration under draconian laws, without bail,  of the medical doctor, Binayak Sen? Instead, the interview published only self-congratulatory references by Raman Singh and his praise for the work of the Salwa Judum, the vigilante army that rides on the shoulders of the state government to clear people out of mineral rich lands that big corporates are waiting to appropriate.

Is this really Tehelka as we were told it would be?

Perhaps these contradictions have encouraged P.R.Das Munshi, the I and B Minister to order an enquiry into the “deep-rooted conspiracy” that is allegedly behind Tehelka’s sting telecast on the eve of the Gujarat-poll.

The episode seems to reinforce the strengths of painstaking journalism vis-a-vis the expose genre. Investigative journalism is also part of the painstaking variety. Sustained work is necessary to bring about fundamental changes in the system. This is undoubtedly unexciting, unglamorous work that may not be sensational in the immediate sense. Such journalism is like everyday police work. Painstaking evidence gathering, sifting of facts, checking and rechecking, approaching statutory authorities, overcoming bureaucratic stonewalling and persevering until the anti-social activity or governmental failure is corrected. In the process, the journalist may find encouragement or encounter indifferent or even hostile superiors. But that’s the way the process works.

Tarun Tejpal countered a television presenter in the aftermath of the Gujarat sting broadcast, asking whether the meretricious broadcasts of the TRP-oriented TV channels was important. That’s a very valid point.

But what’s the journalistic excellence involved in Tehelka carrying a PR supplement for the Raman Singh government, while a medical doctor whose plight has been highligted by the British Medical Journal, the Wall Street Journal and Indian newspapers languishes in a prison cell in Raipur?

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