Oh what an investigation!

BY ramanujan| IN Media Practice | 12/01/2006
Brinda Karat, Baba Ramdev, NDTV and the politics of family in investigative journalism

From early evening on 11th January, NTDV 24 x 7 started scrolling a "teaser" for its 9-00 PM bulletin presented by the great pioneer of Indian television news, Pranoy Roy, saying "Watch 9 PM bulletin for investigation on Baba Ramdev’s properties". The "investigative" story did appear after two breaks and the anchor, redoubtable Roy, began his intro with a qualification for Baba Ramdev as one who has been mired in controversy for mixing bones and "flesh" in his ayurvedic medicine. As we all know, the controversy was over bones, bovine or human, but for the first time, NDTV also added "flesh" to the controversy. Earlier, they did show some bones as if they were being brought to be added to the medicines prepared at the Baba’s pharmacy, so that there was visual impact, however misleading and mischievous it could be. 

What takes the cake for "inspired" reporting in the name of "investigation" is what was telecast on 11th. The script for the story "Ramdev’s trust mired in property row" was also put on the NDTV’s site. The following is the full text of the report: 

"Divya Jyoti Trust, which is headed by yoga guru Ramdev, is involved in a property dispute. 

In  an auction in August 2004, the trust was the highest bidder for a property in Haridwar.

But without  completing the legal formalities, the trust moved into the premises.

Last month, the auction was set aside by the Debt Recovery Tribunal on the grounds that the trust had committed "fraud on(the)court".

It also said, "A person who had the audacity to take the law in hand and have no respect for court would have managed the auction proceedings". 

Property attached

In fact even before the auction, the property had been attached by the Haridwar district court.

The move came after Ashok Mercantile, which had loaned money to the property’s last owner, said they had not been paid and had taken the matter to court."The land was attached and the auction could not have been conducted. The court has passed this order that Divya Trust committed a fraud", said Rana Ranjit Singh, advocate of the objector.

On December 8, the tribunal ordered the guru’s property in Haridwar’s industrial area be taken over by receiver and kept under lock and key.

In addition to this, the panel directed that rs Rs 75 lakh paid by the trust be returned by the concerned bank.

However, no action has been taken even after a month. The tribunal’s receiver Vijay Koundal, who is supposed to take over the property, refused to comment on the case. On its part, the trust says it will appeal against the order."

First of all, there is no "investigation" for the story. Lack of relevant details in the story makes it clear that the half-baked information was given on a platter so as to create an impression that the Baba is not only an adulterator cheating his disciples, but also one who violates law with impunity. This is especially so as the original story "Bone of contentions" is losing its fizz, though Prannoy Roy chose to comment that the Baba lost some of his sheen because of the controversy.  

The loopholes in the so-called investigation are too many.  

Who conducted the auction in August 2004?
When was the property attached by the Haridwar court?
Who went to the Tribunal and what was the petitioner’s grievance?
When the Trust was the highest bidder and deposited Rs 75 lakhs into the Bank, where is the fraud?
Why did the Tribunal say the trust committed "fraud on the court" and which was the court?
What was the provocation for the Tribunal to say "A person who had the audacity to take the law in hand and have no respect for court…"
If the land was attached, and still auction was conducted, was it the mistake of the Trust?
If the Tribunal gave the order on Dec 8, i..e. full five weeks ago, why did channel wake up now? Is it because Brinda’s original "campaign" misfired and somehow she wanted to keep the controversy over the Baba alive?
If the Bank has not returned the deposit of Rs 75 lakhs to the Trust, and the authorities are not putting lock over the property, is it the fault of the Trust?
On the day of telecast of the story, Baba Ramdev was addressing a press conference in Mumbai and how come, NDTV did not think it fit to seek his clarification, especially when they were doing an "investigative" story. Obviously, the channel cannot say he was not available for comment.

In fact, this story should be a model in Journalism schools as to how not to do an investigative story. Is the competition driving NDTV to lower its standards of journalism? Os, is the agenda of both Brinda Karat and NDTV the same? As it is, the sting operations is posing a big challenge to the professional ethics and NDTV type of investigation, what may be called "motivated journalism", is going to further sully the image of the profession.


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