Shameful cover up of the 2G scam
We had occasion to raise The Hindu’s shameful collaboration in the publicity campaign of A. Raja in the 2G scam at the meeting of the Board in January and in the subsequent Board meetings. However, our remarks were totally blacked out from the minutes by N. Ram who abused his position as the chairman of the meeting to shut out any criticism of his role in the cover up of the scam. We wish to place before you an account of the coverage of the 2G scam in The Hindu which is nothing less than a scam in itself.
The coverage of the scam from the beginning was desultory and designed to protect A. Raja from blame and from charges of corruption. Until he resigned, there was no attempt to get information from the investigation agencies that were looking into the scam. On the other hand, The Hindu functioned as an apologist for Raja, with Ram meeting him often to discuss the scam coverage. Even on the day of his resignation, on November 4, 2010, The Hindu carried an interview with him on the front page, with the transcript published inside. In this interview as well as the one on May 22, 2010, there were no hard questions but only the obvious ones designed to elicit ready, scripted answers. For instance, while the real issue was that new telecom companies that had nothing but the licence and the spectrum sold stakes at valuations that were many times the price set by the Ministry, proving that there had been a gross undervaluation by the Ministry, Raja was allowed to sidetrack the issue from valuation to whether the investments had been approved by the ministries concerned. The entire coverage up to the point of his resignation was tailored to make him look good. The interviews were similar to the ones carried by Tamil magazines such as Nakkeeran and represented the standard Raja line.
Even more telling was the choice of the correspondent for both the interviews of May 22, 2010 and November 14, 2010. Instead of the correspondent in New Delhi who covers the Telecommunications Ministry, R. K. Radhakrishnan who was not following the telecommunications issues on a day to day basis was specially flown to Delhi for the interviews. Radhakrishnan’s main qualification was that he was close to the DMK leaders and his choice was a special dispensation shown to Raja. Unusually, the last interview was published on November 14 which was a Sunday because Raja wanted it to be published immediately.
While Raja was in office, even as evidence was mounting and there were widespread calls for his resignation, The Hindu did not demand his resignation. This unexplained softness towards Raja contrasted sharply with the coverage and editorial stand on other scams including those relating to the Commonwealth Games, Adarsh Society and land allotment in Karnataka. In those instances, The Hindu was quick to demand the resignations of Suresh Kalmadi, Ashok Chavan and Yeddyurappa even at a stage when the evidence was far less compelling than the material that was in the public domain on the 2G scam before Raja resigned. All the editorial outrage was reserved for the period after Raja’s resignation.
When the telecom controversy broke out around May, 2010, Raja was keen to get his version published in The Hindu. He moved to obtain quick and special clearance for a full page colour advertisement for The Hindu that was also given to some other newspapers. This advertisement was published on the same day as his interview on May 22, 2010. Records in the Central Government, particularly in the Ministry of Telecommunications relating to the clearance of this particular advertisement and of some others would go to establish by whom and how this advertisement was cleared. Of all the newspapers that are said to have carried the advertisement, only The Hindu published a friendly interview and not the others. People in the media are aware that promotional advertisements of this type unrelated to any occasion or to any specific announcements are issued as much as rewards to the media as for publicity for the Minister. The Minister’s intention to handsomely reward The Hindu that had been so friendly to him in its coverage was obvious. Publication in other newspapers was just a cover, it would have been untenable for any Ministry to have issued an advertisement to just one newspaper.
While Ram published the report on his press conference in New Delhi where he defended The Hindu’s coverage, he refused to publish Ravi’s account, abusing his editorial position and grossly violating the standards of fair journalism.
Most of the directors on the editorial side, and certainly the two of us, were kept off totally from anything relating to the 2G coverage and all the decisions on the editorial stand and on coverage were taken solely by N. Ram. We were not even aware of the decision to depute Radhakrishnan twice to interview Raja and saw the interviews only in print on the day of publication.
In our view, the coverage of the 2G scam and of A. Raja represents the lowest point for The Hindu in the recent period and raises serious ethical issues that need to be addressed without delay. We would be seeking a thorough enquiry and the fixing of accountability for this shameful episode.