The Tehelka story and its version of events regarding CNN IBN’s role is getting curiouser. It is fast becoming a question of whom to believe. Do we believe Tehelka’s assertions based on what the former CNN IBN reporter is supposed to have told them? They have chosen to go on record with what he told them though he says he did not speak to them on record. And the story by Ashish Khetan asserts that CNN IBN held back crucial footage which would have nailed Amar Singh but Gautam says that he does not believe this was the case. He told Headlines Today that, and the Hoot as well.
Tehelka managing editor Shoma Choudhury however says that the sequence Gautam says they shot on open camera – of the BJP men and Hindustani starting from Argal’s house and driving non-stop to Amar Singh’s residence was a really clinching and crucial bit of footage and evidence because it conclusively proved and closed the loop about the two BJP MPs having met Amar Singh as Reoti Raman Singh had urged them to do the night before. Why did the channel not broadcast it or share it with the Parliamentary panel, she asks. Adding, that one can only assume they held it back. (See, ‘Tehelka responds’)
Do we believe CNN IBN’s protests of innocence? Wednesday night saw shouting matches on the three English news channels, with Times Now and Headlines Today describing events and putting CNN IBN in the dock without naming them, and CNN IBN strenuously asserting its fly on the wall role.
Questions were raised a few days ago about Outlook’s cover story on the VSNL disinvestment serving to deflect the post Wikileaks heat from the Government and ruling party, to the BJP. Similar questions are being raised about the Tehelka story’s role is helping the Congress fight back in Parliament yesterday.
As disclosures follow other disclosures throughout this politically stormy period, the media began with being a player only in terms of procuring and releasing some evidence in the shape of Wikileaks cables. The Hindu was releasing a cable day, causing fresh tremors each day. But now CNN IBN finds its role in July 2008 being questioned. And that makes it a player of a different kind. And the timing of Tehlka’s story makes it a player too.
Where CNN IBN is concerned here is the damaging bit, quoted from the Tehelka story:
Strangely, when CNN-IBN ran the story later and also when their team deposed before the probe panel, they suppressed the extent of the involvement of Sudheendra Kulkanri in the entire sting operation. They misled the panel about several crucial events during the sting operation and gave a false chain of events in their bid to downplay the role of Kulkarni, Advani and Jaitley. They also seem to have lied about a crucial link which could have closed the circle of circumstantial evidence linking the money with Amar Singh.
Disturbingly, Gautam told Tehelka that not only was he tutored by his superiors to blunt the impact of his own story when it was broadcast, by claiming that he did not know whether the men sitting in the tinted car were the BJP MPs, but that the channel also tutored his responses to the parliamentary panel and held back a key fragment of footage which showed the BJP MPs driving from Argal's residence to Lodhi Estate situated Amar Singh residence into the car. This footage would have nailed Amar Singh, who was given an escape clause when Gautam was made to say that he could not see if the BJP Mps had indeed been sitting in the white Zen.
Incidentally, a key Delhi Police officer told Tehelka, off the record, that he too suspected that the reporter had been tutored by the channel to put out only parts of the story.
But on Wednesday evening we heard a lot of shouting from Sardesai about why the Delhi Police has not completed the investigation, why it has not followed the money trail, and how everyone, including CNN IBN wants the truth to come out. The channel also says that it did not hold back any footage, all of it was with the Parliamentary Committee which like the Delhi Police has had enough time to take the inquiry to its conclusion.
Taking what Tehelka is telling us at face value, even if it is a PC leak (the reference is to P Chidambaram), as Chandan Mitra alleged on the CNN IBN panel, (with some snide swipes being made about Tehelka being a favourite media organization of the Congress party) it would seem that what happened with CNN IBN was that it set out to participate in a sting operation, but discovered when it was well into it that there was no genuine sting, and it was evolving into a clumsy and desperate effort at entrapment.
They got involved it would seem at Sudheendra Kukarni’s behest. Sudheendra Kulkarni’s assertions on different channels that he was a whistleblower begs for a distinction to be made between straight whistleblowing, and the kind of strenuous efforts that went into the BJP securing the ‘sale’ of its MPs. If Tehelka’s version is true.
Sidhartha Gautam on Headlines Today on Wednesday made some damaging statements about how desperately the BJP MPs who were going to be bought, allegedly by the Congress, were trying to find someone to buy them. And here is what Tehelka says he told them:
On the way to Argal’s residence, Siddharth said Hindustani kept trying to line up buyers.After reaching Argal’s place, the CNN-IBN team fixed the two spy-cameras in the drawing room. While the reporter and camerapersons were bugging the room,Hindustani kept pacing outside making calls to people in his bid to line up someone who could come and offer the BJP MPs money to defect.
At the other end, Argal too kept trying to find some buyer. He made several phone calls to different people, telling them that he and two more MPs were ready to sell themselves for a good price. In all these recorded conversations, Argal can be heard luring people into the trap by announcing that he and two more BJP MPs were ready to sell themselves for a price.Tehelka has in its possession now ten such telephone conversations that Argal made to unidentified middlemen.
Back in 2008 CNN IBN had not telecast whatever happened on July 22, and Sidhartha Gautam resigned from the channel the same day, he says. He though the entire investigation was conclusive enough to expose the murky side of political horse trading, he told the Hoot. But his channel did not think so and had said at that time that they were not telecasting anything because the investigation was inconclusive.
The magazine’s story underlines more than once that the BJP was more guilty of trying to sell MPs than the Congress guilty of trying to buy them. Like the Raadia tapes, the latest developments raise questions about media houses collaborating with political parties. (It is also more than a little ironical, that Tehelka, the original champion of stings, is doing a story discrediting a sting.)