An indispensable part of news in the digital age is “riding the trend”. Which, put simply, is to churn out quick copies that are in some way or the other linked to the day’s big story. The rationale is simple: plug the story using the biggest hashtag of the day and show up on search results. Milk the trend while it lasts, if you may. (I admit, I am guilty of it too.)
So when the much-anticipated Salman Khan verdict came out last week, most news organisations went all out to produce quick stories that had some – actually, any – connection to Bollywood and hit-and-run cases.
Tehelka’s website perhaps tried doing the same when it published a story headlined “Did Mukesh Ambani’s Son Do A Salman Khan?” on May 8. The story was about a car accident that had taken place on December 8, 2013 in Mumbai. Newslaundry had reported on the incident then and pointed out an apparent reluctance on the part of most mainstream media organisations to report the story.
Tehelka’s story is no longer available on the website. In fact, it appears that the story did not even stay online for a full day. The cached copy can’t come down so fast though.
When we enquired with Matthew Samuel, Managing Editor of Tehelka, about the reason behind the disappearance of the story, he told us that it was owing to a “technical” issue. He said the story would be back online soon. However, the technical glitch to which Samuel has attributed the sudden disappearance of the story seems to be rather serious since the story is still not back up.
Also, these “technical glitches” happen often in stories that have an air of controversy to them, especially if someone super powerful is involved. Tehelka’s headline – though search engine-optimised with all the key words – was misleading in all fairness.
What perhaps did warrant a discussion was the hesitance shown by the media to even report the facts of the case. Both The Hindustan Times and The Times of India had then refrained from naming Reliance or the Ambani name in their reports in spite of Reliance releasing a press statement saying the vehicle involved in the accident was Reliance-owned.
During The Big Fight on NDTV, dissecting the Salman Khan judgment, Nikhil Wagle claimed he was trying to do exactly that, but the channel edited out his remarks.
Speaking to Newslaundry, Wagle said as part of his concluding comments on the show, he suggested that the media should investigate all high-profile cases with the same intensity. “I simply said that if we were discussing the Salman Khan case, we should discuss all high-profile cases including the Ambani case,” he said.
He stated that he had told the host of the show, Vikram Chandra, on camera to not edit his comments.
Chandra, in a tweet, later clarified that he couldn’t carry allegations without any substantiation and voice from the other side.
Wagle claims that the December 8, 2013 case, that involved a Reliance-owned car, was “blatantly hushed up” by everyone from the press to the police.
Incidentally, Wagle was editor at IBN-Lokmat at the time of the accident. IBN-Lokmat is part of Network 18, which is now owned by Reliance Industries Limited (RIL). In December 2013, too, RIL had considerable interests in the group. So was there any pressure to not report the story? Wagle says though there were no direct instructions, it was made clear that they were supposed to go slow on the story.
While Chandra’s concern about carrying allegations without representation of the other side sounds legitimate, Wagle in this case didn’t seem to be levying an allegation as such. He simply seemed to be calling for the same standards in critically examining all cases that involve powerful personalities. Also, as is the format of The Big Fight – a debate essentially – it is highly unlikely that no one had before made a contention without the other side getting to make a counter-claim immediately. So then did NDTV overreact because of other reasons? When you have an Ambani involved, established convention in mainstream media extends a courtesy to the Ambani concerned that is not extended to others.
As this story is being uploaded Tehelka’s “technical glitch” is still not resolved.