Conflict of Interest?

Did CNN-IBN manage to strike the balance between fair reportage and being loyal to the powers that be?

Arvind Kejriwal’s press conference began and there were moans of “we already knew that” and “what’s new” by various journalists across publications and news channels. What was interesting to watch was whether the media house which has a large investment from Reliance India Limited – Network 18 – and which owns one of India’s most-watched English news channels (CNN-IBN) and English business news channel (CNBC TV18) and the news website, Firstpost would manage to report and analyse the allegations in a fair manner. Or would they have to troop out their defence through panelists who would denounce Kejriwal and his charges?

CNN-IBN did commendably strive for objectivity while reporting the press conference, with very balanced headlines and tickers. Unlike Times Now who for some reason peppered their tickers with adjectives like “alleged”, “claims” and some such. A courtesy not extended when “allegations” and “claims” are made against the less powerful.

After the press conference though, while the other English news channels were carrying the day’s news bulletins and“exclusive” interviews of Sunanda Tharoor, the reportage on CNN-IBN took a slight turn. They had an hour-long discussion on the Ambani exposé chaired by Bhupendra Chaubey at 5 pm. Shereen Bhan (Executive Editor – CNBC TV18) put up a worthy defence of Ambani and RIL, poking holes in the Kejriwal allegations with a lot of economic jargon. Chaubey tried to position the Ambani exposé as just another tactic by Kejriwal to gain a political foothold. There was a sensible and restrained comment from R Jagannathan (Editor-in-Chief, Firstpost) who stated that the corporate lobby is a stark reality today and something we should start to look at.

But if you thought that was the end of the CNN-IBN defence, think again. On India at 9 with Rajdeep, the balancing act began again. Obviously effected by Diwali, Rajdeep questioned whether the exposé was a bomb or phuljari (fire-cracker). A few minutes into the show, Paranjoy Guhathakurta did burst a little bit of a bomb by mentioning that we should take into account that CNN-IBN is part of Network 18, a company which Mukesh Ambani has invested in. A disclaimer which hadn’t been mentioned in the earlier panel discussion on the channel. Suffice it to say, the look on Rajdeep’s face was priceless. He dished out the age old defence of there being no direct investment by Mukesh Ambani into the network and therefore, no conflict of interest. Okay then.

The Last Word with Karan Thapar which was titled “What does Kejriwal’s Third Exposé Really Amount to?” also used the Diwali allusion. And mentioned the “Is this a bomb or a pataka?” line. A soberly-attired Thapar – this was no time for bow-ties – set the tone for the show right at the beginning by calling the Mukesh Ambani exposé an “old dish”. The panelists included A K Bhattacharya, Prem Shankar Jha, R Jagannathan and S Zarabi (Economic Policy Editor – CNBC).

Thapar began by asking –“Is it a fresh new exciting story, or is it a recycled story?”. Even the ticker said – “Are the Kejriwal allegations new?”. Which seemed to miss the point that Kejriwal isn’t trying to make it as a cub reporter, and therefore the newness of his story is not what needs to be evaluated. What needs to be evaluated is whether the allegations are based on fact or not. Bhattacharya did say that Kejriwal has collated the facts and presented them and the newness of the story did not matter.

The seeming witness to the defence, Zarabi, argued that the government was in fact sitting on RIL’s capital expenditure and development plan approvals and was therefore leading to a loss for the company. Bhattacharya used Thapar’s Diwali metaphor – much to the latter’s visible joy – and said that Kejriwal had indeed lit a phuljhari which would end up lighting a bomb, and the government has brought this situation upon itself by not taking transparent decisions. Things were simply not going as planned for Thapar. Every time a statement was made against the government and thereby by default against RIL, Thapar would bring the discussion back to whether the story was a new one or not. Prem Shankar Jha saved the day for him, by saying that Kejriwal’s allegations were tantamount to “muck-raking” and that he was “delegitimising the political system”. Which was the“sober note” which Thapar ended his show on, and censoriously said he hopes “that Arvind Kejriwal is listening to even if he doesn’t agree with it”.

It’s not an easy task to appear objective in a situation like this. And definitely not an enviable position to be in. CNN-IBN put up a worthy effort, calling out the troops with all the big boys appearing on the panel discussions – from Rajdeep to Bhupendra Chaubey to Zarabi and Shereen Bhan and R Jagannathan. (Sagarika was the only one who was missing, but then she was spending time with Sunanda Tharoor.) Bomb or pataka, where there’s smoke there’s always fire. Diwali is indeed nigh.



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  • gaurav86

    Both vadra and ambani’s expose speaks volume about the dishonesty and frauds having cozy existence in media. Media people are so dumb that in chance of becoming easy learner, they openly said that awareness on vadra and ambanis existed for years. I ask them- Then why didn’t you report either of them ( or many more to come). Aren’t you indirectly saying that we are Selective about choosing what to present and what to hide depending upon what should we do with our food pipes. As deepak sharma said in another interview- kejriwal is filling both the vacuums- political as well as journalistic. The whole of media is unethical to the core. And only idiots can trust likes of rajdeep, karan and sagarika (her interview with sunanda was like chat with your friend on the sidelines of page 3 party with expressions on sagarika’s face as if pakistan has invaded india., Why didn’t she interview someone’s wife when prakash jaiswal said-purani biwi mein vo maja nahi aata. Where was then this “modern bhartiya naari” which she was claiming through out interview. What modi said was wrong, but then you have such modis in your party as well. Don’t we understand who supply blood into her and rajdeep’s life? Bloody hypocrites). Rajdeep was so swift to defend that no direct investment is there from ambanis in his channel. Did we ask for that. I have huge respect for pranjoy guha thakurata and it increased when he put that disclaimer before starting. Talking about karan thapar is futile investment of brain so nothing on him. Can say so many things but even i have limitations of criticizing some immoral person like him unlike their endless race behind kejriwal. Kejriwal is the last hope for younger generation of mine and i wish him all the best. And these peons of govt who called themselves journalists can get lost where ever they want.

    • sameer

      on spot gaurav.

    • Bharat

      The other day Sagarika was interviewing 2 young central ministers. She appeared to be asking tough and embarassing questions. You should have seen her face of gratification when the boys replied really well.The secret of the matter was the question paper was leaked intentionally. What a great balancing Media?

      • gaurav86

        yes, i have seen the said interview. Its such a startle exhibition of malignant submission which can even put donkeys to shame. Come what may, this specie of karans, rajdesais and ghosh of the world has to defend the culprits. RV’s case is crystal clear in its category of corruption, still they went beyond every erstwhile established loyalty customs. I sometime wonder is it that much impossible to live in india with your morals, ethics and soul intact or it has to be put on sale for survival. If later is the case then its better to leave this country.

  • I saw the Thapar program…..its time we award him with yellow journalist of the year award!

  • Tej

    Media is on one hand showing 18-19 episodes of GADKARI EXPOSE but on the other hand not a word is now coming out for Vadra……Why???

    Why is media silent when there are expose by other people on congress e.g. Subramanian Swamy, YP Singh, Hansraj Ahir?

    Why is Media so affraid or compliant of asking questions to Gandhi family?

    Why does the media only remembers the morality and ettiquetes for Sunanda Pushkar and not when “maut ka saudagar” is called?? Why there are no questions asked about Shashi Tharoor’s sweat equity???

    • Sandeep

      Why is no-one raising Vadra having free pass thru airport security? When Karan Thapar says to Kejriwal that he is an individual and talks in length about his privacy, says he is separate from the government, this precise point should prove him wrong.

  • Bharat Dangi

    I live outside India so watch these debates over the internet and only see debate moderated by Thapar when in jolly mood. I always know before any debate starts where he going to incline towards.
    I love Madhu Trehan only for one thing she humiliated this ‘fake accent’ in her interview and love to see that video again and again !!
    Do people really like to see Thapar or just for fun like me ?
    Madhu please bring him once more and this time take him with hocky stick. ha ha…

  • Troll

    even a blind man would be able to tell that the Thappar charade was biased towards Reliance but having said that you are being unfairly critical on Sardesai. Except for the initial disclaimer hiccup, the rest of the Sardesai show was surprisingly unbiased & objective.

    NL please make a note of all those media houses which are in a hurry to remove the Reliance exposé from it’s front pages without any further follow ups which would then tell a story of it’s own.

  • Sandeep

    I watched some pieces Sunanda Tharoor’s interview by Sagarika. Sounded like 2 bored housewives talking. Sagarika was putting words in her mouth. Typical Sagarika.

  • Sandeep

    I had lots of respect for Karan Thapar’s style when I saw him destroying Musharraf and doing a very balanced argument with Abhishek Manu Singhvi (his CD was not out then) and Arun Jaitly simultaneously. But starting with his interview with Kapil Sibbal on censorship on social media issue, he has started destroying himself. He is stooping to a lower level everyday.

    Good bye … Karan Thapar.

  • Konark Bisht

    NL should also comment on DD news, LSTV & RSTV and other regional press.