Ranjona Banerji: Drama when the world was snoozing

15 Oct,2012

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The most dramatic recent television event took place on a Sunday afternoon at 3pm when most except the most avid news junkies were likely enjoying a well-deserved afternoon snooze. Union law minister Salman Khurshid held a press conference to defend himself, his wife Louise Khurshid and his family trust, the Dr Zakir Hussain Memorial Trust against allegations of misappropriation of government given funds to provide the handicapped with aids, prosthetics and equipment.

 

The matter had blown into a scandal after a special investigation done by Aaj Tak and Headlines Today – both part of the TV Today group, the TV wing of Aroon Purie’s media empire – had shown discrepancies in camps there were supposed to be held in various districts of Uttar Pradesh and money received. The channels based their investigations on letters written by the UP government to the Central government.

 

Former anti-corruption crusader and aspiring politician Arvind Kejriwal jumped into the fray with his own documents about wrongdoing by the law minister and demanded his resignation.

 

Khurshid of course was very vociferous in his criticism of Kejriwal in the former income tax officer’s earlier avatar in the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement. His press conference was a fiery affair: the minister was sarcastic and often visibly angry and the journalists from TV Today were very aggressive. However, the minister did provide proof – photographs, witnesses, letters, audited accounts – that some of the charges at least were incorrect.

 

The TV Today journalists were quick to jump on to the other allegations – forged signatures, fake affidavits – which the minister deflected by saying a probe was on. There was a lot of confusion over dates, which the average viewer could not always fathom in the ongoing ruckus.

 

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There can be some questions raised about the TV Today probe however. Without a doubt, the reporters at the press conference were very angry that their work was being mocked at and their proof being countered. But an investigation of this nature needs to work on more than passion and zeal. It needs some hard, cold evidence and some considered sifting of allegation from fact.

 

What seems evident from the outside is that the story has been fed by another NGO which also works with the physically handicapped and had filed an RTI application about the Khurshid trust’s camps. Kejriwal who has distanced himself from the TV Today story is basing his own campaign against Khurshid against the RTI answers.

 

There is no problem with accepting a story from vested interests. But it is worthwhile to check and corroborate a rival’s allegations – in order for a media group to maintain its objectivity. Even if the Khurshids refused to respond, it is possible to check the facts with others involved.

 

As matters stand today, there are loopholes in the TV Today investigation as well as in the Khurshuds’ defence. There are too many backtracking on their claims and too many leads which don’t seem to have been followed through. Some problem seems to exist in the UP government, which remains uncovered. Nor is there sufficient evidence that the Khurshids personally benefited from the Rs 68 lakh or 72 lakh grant which was given to them by the Central government through apparently fraudulent means.

 

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Arnab Goswami held a special edition of the News Hour on Sunday night, with interviews with Salman Khurshid and Arvind Kejriwal followed by a discussion between Louise Khurshid, Mahesh Jethamalani and an India Against Corruption member to try and shine some light on the issues for the nation.

 

However, although Goswami was in fine form in his search for clarity and asked all the right questions, the bottom of the matter remained murky.

 

Headlines Today, which held some discussions on the news conference early in the evening, by the night was showing other set programmes.

 

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Meanwhile it is unclear just who called this story a sting operation. Salman Khurshid said this was a sourced story – his wife used to be a journalist – and the TV Today journalists said that they had only recorded people.

 

A media sting requires some entrapment of people who do not know that they are being recorded by journalists.

 

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