The media circus around the Sushant Singh Rajput case reached its nadir today with Republic Bharat editor Pradeep Bhandari getting slapped outside the Narcotics Control Bureau office in Mumbai’s Colaba. This was preceded by Bhandari insulting and “offending” other journalists, some shoving, and then hapless policemen trying to call a truce.
The incident marked yet another chapter in the on the investigation into Rajput’s death in June.
Newslaundry spoke to four journalists who were present at the time. They did not wish to be named but gave us the lowdown on what exactly happened outside the NCB office. Some explained that Bhandari had a history of being “provocative” — but that doesn’t excuse assaulting anyone.
The media had gathered this morning to cover the “drug nexus” that has come up in the context of the SSR death probe. At around 9 am, designer Simone Khambata entered the office to be questioned, and the assembled reporters and camera crews crowded near the gate to get visuals.
“While I was standing there, I saw an NDTV reporter ask a Republic reporter not to enter the frame of his camera,” said one of the journalists, who works with a TV news channel. “I crossed the road to stand opposite the NCB building. While I was talking to some other reporters, I watched the NDTV reporter again request the Republic reporter not to come into his frame.”
The Republic reporter in question was Pradeep Bhandari, who then went live from the spot, the journalist said.
“He generally speaks so loudly that you can hear him even from 25 metres away,” the journalist said. “During his live, he said, ‘Abhi abhi Simone Khambata andar gayin hai aur hum aapko de rahe hain khabar, chai-biscuit wale patrakar aapko khabar nahi denge, hum aapko denge khabar.” (Simone Khambata has just gone inside, tea-biscuit journalists will not give you news. We will give you news.)
Bhandari reportedly gestured towards other journalists as he spoke, and once again intruded into the NDTV journalist’s frame.
“The NDTV reporter walked towards him and told him yet again. Other journalists, who were offended with Bhandari’s ‘chai-biscuit’ comments, thought the NDTV reporter was approaching Bhandari to raise objections to these remarks,” the journalist said. “So, since everybody was offended, all of them walked towards Bhandari.”
Here’s when it got confusing. The journalist told Newslaundry that Bhandari and other journalists began “hurling abuses”, culminating in “one of them” slapping Bhandari. “Then, other journalists like Republic’s Sohail Sayyad, NDTV’s Sunil Singh, and Times Now’s Imran intervened to stop the fight.”
Bhandari thought the NDTV reporter was “charging” towards him, the journalist claimed. The journalist says he’s known the NDTV reporter for the last 12 years, and “he is not a guy who will charge towards someone to assault”. He added that Bhandari should not have been attacked.
But he was quick to add that Bhandari had a history of “insulting” and “taking digs” at journalists in the past.
In a live segment that we watched today on Republic Bharat at around 11 am, you can hear Bhandari refer to journalists as “chai-biscuit” journalists. He goes on to say: “Republic Media ke saath sacchai ka samundar hai, inke saath drugs ka samundar hai...janta ne sacchai ke samundar ko choose kiya hai...yeh fuddu kya bataenge.” (Republic has the ocean of truth with it, and others have an ocean of drugs with them. Viewers have chosen us. What will these morons say.)
Another reporter who was present agreed, saying Bhandari had a habit of “shouting loudly and jumping from here to there while going live”, and had repeatedly intruded into the reporter’s camera frame this morning too.
“Many a time, it disturbs other reporters trying to go live,” the reporter said. “In the past, I have personally asked him to keep his voice down...And today, he started this screaming business and stood right behind the NDTV reporter’s frame.”
When asked to move, the reporter added, Bhandari replied: “You guys cannot do anything. You guys should leave.” The reporter persuaded the NDTV journalist not to get into an altercation, but admitted that he “lost his cool” when he heard Bhandari’s “chai-biscuit” comments.
“He pointed and called us ‘chai-biscuit journalists’ who cannot get TRPs for our own channels,” the reporter said. “I asked him why he’s insulting his own tribe. Other reporters jumped in and the entire thing became very chaotic. Reporters started abusing him. Republic went live. Bhandari was abusing others, and pulled a guy from behind, after which he was attacked...Later, the police also intervened.”
Saurabh Gupta identified himself to Newslaundry as the NDTV reporter who was described by other media personnel at the scene.
"He kept jumping into my frame repeatedly. I told him twice, politely, not to do it," Gupta said. "But he kept doing it...I said: 'We are all working here, don't come into my frame. Behave like all of us are doing. We are all keeping distance...' But he responded quite aggressively and said he was going to do it in his way, and that his channel's reporting is different from mine. He was talking in a provocative way; he called other journalists 'chai-biscuit journalists' which offended many of them."
The journalist who slapped Bhandari also spoke to Newslaundry. His name is Vinod Jagdale, and he is a News24 journalist and the president of the TV Journalists Association. Contrary to social media chatter, Jagdale is neither from ABP News nor NDTV.
“He went live and said the NDTV reporter was frustrated, that he comes here to eat chai-biscuits,” Jagdale said. “I went and asked him to behave, and he began hurling abuses at me. After that, I slapped him.”
Acknowledging his mistake, Jagdale said that Bhandari has been “insulting other reporters” for the past couple of months. “He used objectionable language against other journalists,” he said. “I don’t believe in getting into fights with people of my own fraternity or any helpless person. But he has crossed all limits.”
Pradeep Bhandari did not respond to Newslaundry’s requests for comment. On Twitter, he at “gunda journalists who tried to lynch me”. He journalists from NDTV and ABP News of attacking him in an attempt to stop him from speaking the truth.
Late on Thursday evening, a non-cognizable complaint was filed against Bhandari at Colaba police station. The complaint was submitted by Jagdale, while NDTV's Saurabh Gupta and ABP reporter Manoj Verma were witnesses in the complaint.
The complaint filed at Colaba police station.
The complaint said Bhandari repeatedly came into the camera frames of Jagdale, Gupta and Verma. The complaint claimed that when Jagdale requested Bhandari not to do so, Bhandari allegedly grabbed him by his collar and pushed him, began abusing him, and then slapped him. The complaint also accused Bhandari of pushing Gupta and Verma and abusing them.
Update: This piece has been updated with the NDTV reporter Saurabh Gupta's comments and details of the complaint. It has also identified Vinod Jagdale as the journalist who slapped Bhandari.
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