Kid gloves for Mr Vadra

BY hoot| IN Media Practice | 13/10/2012
The media response to the story has been illuminating. Competing for the top slot in the play-it-down competition were the Indian Express and the Hindustan Times.
A HOOT report. Pix: Arvind Kejriwal
Two axioms were tested over the last seven or eight days. One, everybody is fair game for the media barring the Nehru-Gandhis. And two, increasingly media outlets leave the investigating of alleged wrongdoing to whistleblowers. They are content to be platforms on which charges are traded or rebutted, or eloquent wrap-up story writers. On television they thunder and badger panellists, getting their ammunition from the whistleblowers or the follow up stories in newspapers and websites. That is pretty much what Arnab Goswami and Karan Thapar among others did.
The advent of whistleblowers has seen journalists step back from what used to be a journalistic reponsibility in another age, to becoming platforms where the attacking and the attacked trade charges. Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and company targeted Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra at a press conference on October 5, making revelations about what looked like a sweetheart deal between him and the real estate giant Delhi Land and Finance.  As the coverage unfolded it became clear that this was no ordinary story—it had tossed a direct challenge to an estate which often has trouble subjecting the Congress Party’s first family to the same scrutiny that it subjects others in politics.
Over the past week media outlets fell into two categories: those who thought the accusations levelled against Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law deserved further investigation, and those who were content to simply report what was coming out. And not even particularly prominently. In the latter category the Financial Express took the cake: the morning after the story broke (October 6) they put it on page 15. Even though it was essentially a business story.
Back in March 2011 the Economic Times had reported on Robert Vadra’s real estate forays but had, inexplicably, not pursued the story. Now it has picked up its investigation again over the last week, with a damaging story on October 13 on more DLF-Vadra transactions. Among the other papers that chose to carry the story forward, not just report charges and counter charges, were the Hindu, Firstpost.com, Business Standard and Mail Today. India Today took stock of Robert Vadra’s empire, listing properties in other parts of the country. DNA in Mumbai also did its bit to demystify the transaction and raise questions. The Times of India had a first edit on the subject but did not go much beyond that. Tehelka did a wrap up piece on the charges and commentary, but surprisingly, no investigation of its own, Outlook at least had a cover story examining different angles.
Competing for the top slot in the play-it-down competition were the Indian Express and the Hindustan Times. The Express scored over HT in the loyalty stakes, surprisingly, because when it did write an editorial five days later, it criticised the accuser, Arvind Kejriwal, not Vadra or DLF. It also attributed Vadra’s business gains to his “remarkable luck with real estate.” IE kicked off the coverage on Oct 6 with a five column first lead but after that there was no sign of its famed penchant for investigation surfacing. The truth involves us all, but hey, sometimes we are better off not chasing it.
Finally on Friday October 12 it carred an edit page article by Yogendra Yadav on the reluctant scrutiny that the Nehru-Gandhi’s are subjected to, but nothing on the news pages beyond the regular reporting of the story. On October 13 Shekhar Gupta used his column to attack cabinet ministers for their defence of Vadra, but said little on the allegations themselves.
The Hindustan Times was content to do the Kejriwal-said-DLF-said-Vadra-said routine. It had a modest two column story on page one the day the story broke, and has done no investigation and had no editorial to date on the subject. Cabinet ministers responsible for upholding law and financial probity spring to Robert Vadra’s defence before any investigation has taken place, and newspapers don’t think that is worth commenting on? Its financial paper Mint has carried some commentary that was critical, but has done no investigation of its own. Nor have the Financial Express and Business Line done anyting to write home about.

When a story is worth pursuing to see where it leads, newspapers pick up from each other, carrying the investigation further on someone else’s findings. That has now begun to happen on this story. Then there is Dainik Jagran which hasn’t done much investigating of its own, but being a right wing paper critical of the Congress, has gleefully carried what everybody else is digging out. Plus a cartoon: “Mujhe nahin dena hai sawalon ki jawab. yeh kaam to mom ki team kar rahi hai “ (I am not going to answer any questions. Mom’s team is doing that job.) ”The Pioneer too has done its oppositional bit, but no great investigation of its own.
The Telegraph carried an odd piece called ‘Proof’ against vadra and the ‘pooh pooh’ which listed Kejriwal’s charges and DLF’s rebuttals. Finally, as an example of going to the other extreme, and exhibiting bad taste, FirstPost carried a bitchy piece on Priyanka Gandhi's choice of Robert Vadra.
In its editorial captioned Politics as unusual, The Indian Express has told us what people want from their politicians. “Political parties, old and new, should consider the many things people want, rather than what they despise, and create a platform that seeks more than “yes or no” answers.” It does not venture to speculate on what people want from their media, but let's take a guess. May be a watchdog which does its own investigating and is not selective about whom it calls to account?
Research assistance: Indira Akoijam
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