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There May Be Vindictive Action Like Denying Advertisement: N Ram on The Hindu’s Rafale Investigation

In an exclusive interview, the chairman of The Hindu Group speaks to NewsCentral24x7 on Rafale and more.

The Hindu that had once laid bare the Bofors scam in the late 1980s, carries forward its legacy with a slew of exclusive reports on the Rafale deal. In an exclusive conversation with NewsCentral24x7, N Ram, chairman of The Hindu Group speaks candidly on their investigations, the state of news media and journalism today, the parallels between Bofors and Rafale and much more.

Dushyant: Today I have the honour of being in conversation with the great N Ram, who needs no introduction. Sir, thank you so much for taking out time to talk to us. I know you are very busy, especially these days.

Sir, your reports are like Bob Woodward coming back and doing a Watergate 2 or a Firegate or something. I can’t help but start with asking: We live in times of extraordinary attacks on freedom of speech; apprehensions of surveillance et cetera. Was there any moment when you felt worried or concerned that these reports or these stories may result in some sort of a vindictive backlash or threats or raids… all sorts of… was there ever a time when you were worried during the Rafale stories?

N Ram: I was not worried at any point… any more than we were during the Bofors investigation. But yes, we know they won’t like it. There may be some vindictive actions like denying advertisements and so on. We’re watching the situation. But beyond that… I mean that’s something that’s part of the game. And probably it’ll be illegal if they do that sort of thing. It happened during Bofors also. But beyond that, nothing. I don’t feel…

Dushyant: Before, advertisements were…?

N Ram: Yes, in 1989. We learnt from some public sector organisations… But now I think it may be more brazen. We have some information. But we are verifying it. DAVP and all that. But I have no anxiety for myself. Personal security and all that.

If I may add, you refer to this suppression of free speech, the fear that’s created — that is absolutely true. India now… just look at the rankings.

Dushyant: Press rankings have been dropping.

N Ram: Yes, they’ve been dropping. And they’re very bad, including this Global Impunity Index for journalists. Journalists are killed. India has been a permanent member of hat can only be called the “club of shame”. Journalists are killed, and no justice is rendered so far. In all those cases where these journalists have been killed, I think they’ve been tracking it… The Committee to Protect Journalists — CPJ — I follow it closely. Here I think its the overarching fear of the government of Mr Narendra Modi that has created this environment but I can’t believe… I have not been in active journalism for a while. I’ve been doing other things. I’m the chairman of the group. So, I thought journalism was behind me… I’ve done some other writing… Books and so on.

Dushyant: They say, “Once a journalist, always a…”

N Ram: The surprise is that others did not get it. Some of the stuff has been floating around, and they are unable to publish it. Why? This was not the case… That’s the striking difference between the media environment now and what it was during the Bofors days — to be precise, the late eighties, the 1980s. There was real competition. There was a race. The India Express led by Arun Shourie, The Statesman, The Hindu of course, And India Today… Magazines like India Today. They were all in it, as much as we were. Sometimes I say we got lucky. Chitra Subramaniam struck gold, and we were able to follow it. It was not one person’s effort. But I can vouch for the fact that the Indian Express of those days and The Statesman and maybe some others were as keen as us to get to it. And so today, sometimes it looks like a one-horse race.

But there are nuances here. DIgital publications like The Wire, Scroll, and also Caravan — I must make particular mention of the Caravan, which has been doing an outstanding job in long-form journalism including investigations. That sort of compensates for it. But it’s not the same thing as having legacy newspapers (if you like) or established newspapers… And today you should have TV channels doing what you do because while you want to have exclusives and scoops, you also want others to contribute. We did that on Bofors. India Today did an interview with General Sundarji, I remember, which gave us further material — a tip — and then you take off from there. They don’t know what you have. But we make connections. And that kind of… you have to have many people working on it. That doesn’t seem to be the case today. Although, I know that some of the stuff has been floating around.

Dushyant: And if I may, sir, why do you think is that?

N Ram: The overarching fear and the corruption and degrading of journalism in India, I think. Many of them feel vulnerable. I’ll give you an example in my state Tamil Nadu. The state government was blocking TV news channels. It didn’t touch the print media — it certainly didn’t touch us. Whenever they had the coverage of a live demonstration against the government or put out something that the government didn’t like, they would adopt tricks to… you know… I think there’s a term for it… but they have technicians in each room and they block it or make it unwatchable. They also push you down. Nobody complained openly. They were talking to us. Finally, we formed the Alliance for Media Freedom — of which, I’m the president now — where we took up, the print media, the cause of news television. Because many of them feel vulnerable. They are as committed to free speech, in the sense they want it. But they’re unable to because they have other businesses. Some of them had been raided. An income tax case would be filed, or enforcement (directorate) and so on… So, as the media developed, they got more commercialised, and there’s also hyper-commercialisation and then, in terms, vulnerability. In short, the threat to freedom of speech and expression comes not just from the government but from the whole system and often from within.

Dushyant: Sir, a fair bit of your stories point a direct finger at the Prime Minister and his office — in terms of India’s negotiating position being weakened; in terms of the price of the (Rafele) jets being increased; anti-corruption clauses being waived and so forth. In a modern democracy, what is the duty of the executive in light of such revelations? Do you think Prime Minister Narendra Modi should have stepped down?

N Ram: I wouldn’t rush to that conclusion yet. But they certainly have to answer. The typical response, then as well as now — false, baseless, mischievous. And now you have the trolls; although I am not bothered with that. Because you can see those guys and often if you block them they get furious. It’s worse than… yeah but they are in denial mode. So I worked on a model on Bofors, which applies to this case also, but there are differences: one, you know, if you look at the modes of action long as the decision-making is correct — that’s the commonality between the two… clear… you bypass procedures, you violate them, you do parallel track negotiations, parallel negotiations — we had a story on that. Those words were used. and then-defence secretary now says “no no they’re not parallel negotiations,” but he… he has written there you know, “They’ll undermine seriously our negotiating position,” in his own hand.

Dushyant: His words contradict himself.

N Ram: And even Mr Parrikar — we didn’t have that document initially. I think it was entered, perhaps, later and he’s very non-committal there, although today may sing a different tune. The process of decision-making is… does that have integrity? Because corruption is not just bribes or… you know… kickbacks. Corruption is a whole series of things. Even under the Prevention of Corruption Act. As a lawyer you would know that.

Dushyant: Gratification of any sort. In kind…

N Ram: I think this… this is part of it. that’s the common thing… they’re very similar, and now I think this is even worse because I don’t think that these kinds of violations in Bofors. There the differences were between the Army, the choice, and what the Prime Minister wanted. And nobody questions the quality of the Bofors gun or the Rafale aircraft. Nor would I question the quality of the Eurofighter — Typhoon — at that time. It would have been equally good. So these are close things. So the decision-making… so what happens when there’s a decision… if something is wrong. And then the second track… the second mode here would be the transaction itself. Contracts… you know the… there’s a quid pro quo involved. That’s the money trail. Bofors started with discovering some of that and then it went on, incrementally. That needs to be checked out here. Then there is denial. it’s a Pavlovian response… it’s… you can expect it all the time. You know before you do a story, they’re going to deny it.

Dushyant: And also accusations of anti-nationalism.. and this, that and the other…

N Ram: We heard that at that time. I did another one on the International Monetary Fund in the eighties, and the same thing… so it’s an anti-national you know. Just the conditionalities of the arrangement of the… an external fund facility with the… The government of India, the IMF — the International Monetary Fund — the same thing. So you know, that it’s a sensitive area, and you got something that’s not revealed, which is covered up, which raises controversial and damaging questions or gives information, then there’s bound to be denial. So that’s one.

Then becomes the investigation. Now, here the problem is who is going to do the investigation? the same thing there. The CBI will not do it. If there’s an allegation they went straight to the Supreme Court and we’ll have to see what happens to the review petition because the majority was so…

Dushyant: A kind of a JPC that happened in Bofors but not this time…

N Ram: The JPC in Bofors was a bit of a whitewash. Because the majority was so strong; now the case is different. But what I leant from it was since one or two members — particularly one ally had turned hostile to the government — we were able to get a lot of material; they have access to official documents. I don’t think this government will release over even to the JPC the pricing details…

Dushyant: Something about national security risk…

N Ram: That’s completely bogus. Because if you see… How sensitive is pricing? Everything is out in the background briefings on the India specific enhancements. I have the whole
list. We have chosen not to publish it yet because we don’t want to invite… take this down another direction. But we have it and others have it. So they won’t give pricing information and that was very suspicious for me to start with. Why on earth are they denying… We’ve had, also, informal discussions with… you know… ministers and so on, and the government, earlier. Before they knew we were getting into this investigation. And so I was always puzzled: Why on earth are they denying this simple information? That is they’r giving the overall package price — 7.87 billion euros — and why are they refusing to disclose the per unit per aircraft price? Because they said all these enhancements-specific things are a secret. ANd our enemies would come to all of… All bogus. So I think from that, it led to all this. “Why can’t we get the pricing?” We know the total package; you know the number of aircrafts. So what accounts for… what’s the actual price and what’s the hidden factor there… and that we describe as the “design and development of India specific enhancements” which was the… negotiating team found too high.

Initially, the three domain experts reported on documents, consistently said that there’s some various other issues so: no sovereign guarantee, no government, guarantee no… and now we know from the CAG’s report, but also from the other note we published where the three domain experts. That… that’s loaded. Mohan Kumar recently said that these discussions, what we call, what is called parallel negotiations in the note, had nothing to do with anything else. Price, it’s only to do with the sovereign guarantee et cetera.

Dushyant: As if the sovereign guarantee is a trivial matter.

N Ram: We know now, that bank guarantees, as an option, they have factored in the price. One of the glaring holes in the CAG’s conclusion: it comes to moreover for same thing as the INT, including the dissenters… If they did that, that would be worse. Why are they covering up? institutions also covered up and… Actually, the CAG report is very informative in many respects. The background information. And I think astute journalists have already seen what’s the problem with it — because it gives you some new information, at least by way of background. But on the main, the punch line it delivers is that “No no, this is slightly better,”

Dushyant: 2.86 per cent they say. Without including the…

N Ram: It’s the same thing in that domain experts. But then if you factor in the… because the request for proposal asked for it… specifically that you factor in the bank guarantees. And earlier they did. So we do that now… there are no done guarantees… It will go way over the aligned cost.

Dushyant: You also reported on the arbitration… that the Indian government seems to have given up on an arbitration clause, which are of held the France government accountable. And now they’ll have to agitate it with the private vendor instead of the…

N Ram: First they will have to exhaust all remedies with the private vendor and then you go for… you go to the government. What do they do? What kind of pressure… you know… the letter of comfort, as a lawyer you know it’s not legally binding and enforceable. Anyway it’s a political thing, and Prime Ministers will change, so it’s just the… Why they’re not given a government guarantee? Or why have they not asked the supplier to give a bank guarantee?

Dushyant: … Rather common in… all these clauses are very common in the most mundane commercial contracts. Forget about national and defence contracts; it is indeed rather surprising. But said the BJP says like you said, there’s no money trail. And they say the Supreme Court has… you know the waive the Supreme Court judgement as a…. the judgement also relies on CAG report which did not exist at that time. And they also claimed that see the CAG report kind of gives us you know clean chit and I think Mr Jaitley has also tweeted that the CAG report should put an end to everything. And he’s coming with up with all sorts of… he says compulsive contrarian and mahajhoothbandhan and… and all that. BJP says see our defence is the Supreme Court judgement, the CAG report and the absence of a money trail. What do you have to say?

N Ram: I think the Supreme Court looked in it in a very limited and…you know they were not fully convinced on far they could go. It is clear they said that. But we have to we had to look at the role of the Supreme Court in scrutinising it, but I’ve never really… you know… expected the Supreme Court to come out at this stage and say and you know strike down a deal or come up with anything strong. But it is clear that wrong information — false information — was given to it and incomplete investigation. And they made their own errors. Kapil Sibal pointed this out in an article that the Supreme Court is wrong; it’s a real faulty judgment in so far as it went. Yeah you know the terms of reference it gave itself. it’s a flawed judgment. And we don’t know whether the review petition can do, but why are they not hearing it quickly? We heard that they said.., the Chief Justice of India has commented that lawyers also have to cure the defects, and let them do that. But will some of the new information be considered? This is terribly relevant, because if you set up a negotiating team and under a procedure and then you have parallel negotiations — not just parallel but behind the backs of the negotiators — where you take contrary positions? For example, on the sovereign guarantee or government guarantee or bank guarantees, and you have an only hear from the head of the French negotiating team that they’ve been in touch with the Prime Minister’s office under instruction. I don’t want to blame him. The foreign service officer he’s been given instructions. Why did they not inform the Indian negotiating team? Because they wanted a cover-up. And why was Mr Ajit Doval involved in this? The NSA has no role of any kind in this. But so there they have taken cover under the inter-governmental agreement. But look at look at that also. I’ll give you an example on the on the waiving the anti-corruption clauses. That is there should be an integrity pact. This is not to do with the IGA. These are supply protocols executed by the two companies. If you remove the anti-corruption classes that are standard, then I think you’ve got a lot to answer. Why be afraid that had they had Commission agents… have they were paid Commission’s or kickbacks? This company has had problems. A few years ago the owner was convicted in Belgium for bribing doing a suspended sentence for bribing the legislators. That’s right, and it’s got problems. I’m not saying everything is you have to look specifically.

But if you take out anti-corruption clauses, presumably because the other side is objecting to it, then I think there is something very wrong and that’s something for the Supreme Court to look into..if it’s look into this “parallel negotiations” and waiver of this (anti-corruption clauses). They say “With Russia and US”,  it’s totally different. With Russia, it’s a state-owned company. In the US, you have, by law, there are very strong legislations, not so in France. They’re more afraid of the Prevention of Corruption Act in India than they seem to be of their own anti-corruption laws, it seems. But these are things that need to be looked at.

Dushyant: And do you expect Sir that, I mean one of the most striking things is that The Hindu has published document after document, which perhaps should have formed a part of the Supreme Court record initially and perhaps, one would think that in the interest of transparency, it’s the government itself which should have made those disclosures but clearly, they were never before the Supreme Court. Do you think.. do you expect that the Supreme Court will.. that all these revelations will lead to perhaps a relook, or do you think the Supreme Court should open the matter once again.

N Ram: I think this there is a big gap between what should be done and what we realistically expect. My approach is to not to have very high expectation otherwise

Dushyant: What is the ideal..What do you think should ideally be done?

N Ram: Ideally, they should look at the procedure. They have to work out what they want to look at but certainly, if these are the allegations and these are based on documents, as you say, or there is new information, they should certainly look at it. And the laws for the.. for those who’ve gone.. for review should certainly be allowed to argue the case based on this information to demand this.

Dushyant: So that is the ideal.

N Ram: Look at the notes given to the parties which were published in The Wire and elsewhere, you know, the early parts, sanitised but nowhere does it mention the Prime Minister’s Office and so on. There, you think everything is perfect.. run along these lines. And they’ve not indicated that what the route that IGA (Inter-governmental Agreement between India and France) takes is different from what is taken..

Dushyant: And that the defence secretaries were objecting and those objections were

N Ram: Yeah they didn’t reveal any of it.. doesn’t seem to have been revealed to the Supreme Court. They withheld information from the Supreme Court, no question about it. Maybe n pricing, they gave something in a sealed cover. I saw a tweet that something wrong with sealed cover jurisprudence.. a lawyer presumably.. and it’s a problem. If two parties fight and you say “oh this is so sensitive and I can’t share it with the other” then there is something wrong with your…

Dushyant: With great respect sir, I don’t think the… I don’t think at least in the constitutional mechanisms, Supreme Court has any greater right over information that the public or the government or the CAG or the authorities or the Parliament, I mean first and foremost. But I am sure, in their wisdom, something must have perhaps..

N Ram: They’ll look at it in new light and at least modify their order, whether you can do anything about it or not, set the record straight.

Dushyant: You’re saying that they should at least consider it.

N Ram: Yes, and set the record straight. That errors are made in the judgement, the flaws and the gaps that caused the errors to be made in the judgement, otherwise it’s been pre-judged, without a proper application of mind. If you’re very reluctant to go in the matter then don’t admit it.

Dushyant: True

N Ram: And we’ve seen this before, and, you know, you go and sometimes they act with great dispatch, the higher courts, they get into all kinds of areas, I think they should take a look at this, what’s the role of the..

Dushyant: For example, a court-appointed committee is running the BCCI and

N Ram: Yes now they don’t know what to do with it because the Supreme Court says it’s all over, you sort it out, it’s a complete mess. And the Committee of Administrators, its prolonged, they go on and on, when are they going to finish their work, what’s their task? A lot of people are saying let’s have the BCCi back, for its faults.

Dushyant: There are some jokes doing the rounds that perhaps the BCCI should be allowed to run the Supreme Court, but also there is a glaring contrast in that, in these accusations of terrible phrases love jihad.. and… you know allegations of national security are made in the court… only to ultimately kind of say.. you know.. “two adults getting married what can we do about it”. And yet, here is a case where there are actual real national security issues involved and like you said, there seems to be… one hopes that at least now, in light of these documents, the court will take a… but courts aside, sir do you think all these stories about Rafale are going to have an impact on the General Elections, will it have an electoral impact?

N Ram: It’s a good question and here’s my thinking on it, based on observation, and you know, and the longer term also. Let’s start with the recent survey by India Today, where it showed corruption to be number three, corruption I think in this case is largely Rafale. At least the campaign would make it the Rafale Scandal as Rahul Gandhi is making allegations about Rs 30,000 crores and all that so…. Let’s take that as a benchmark for the Opposition. I think, in all cases, livelihood issues will be at the top. Unemployment, farmers’ distress, depending on the actual situation, or there is high inflation.. price rise.. essential commodities. But unemployment would I think be at the top of the list, because that is a huge problem, and the damage caused by demonetisation. It has destroyed livelihoods and everybody’s talking about it.. “big mistake”, “calamitous” and so on. Initially it seemed to deliver results, for U.P. elections.

Dushyant: At least on TV channels it seems to be delivering results but then all the data that’s been released, Raghuram Rajan recently said that it completely wiped out the, you know, the unorganised sector completely.

N Ram: And the money is back, that’s the best part.

Dushyant: And the money is back and perhaps I think one of the concerns is that more currency may have got into the system than was originally existing..

N Ram: Having said that, that’s a real point, I think a powerful corruption narrative acts as a catalyst in the way others don’t because it provides good focus to a campaign. We saw that with V.P. Singh, nobody I know has done better.. Bofors.. took it to the masses. We don’t.. how many people read The Hindu in Hindi speaking areas at that time, very few except in Delhi.

Dushyant: But sir your stories have allowed even Hindi papers and websites to, you know, report that The Hindu has done so and so stories, and translated and so on.

N Ram: I think that fear has been broken to some extent, the overarching fear..

Dushyant: That nobody can point a finger at the emperor.

N Ram: A lot of young journalists have reached out to us. I’m part of the Asian College of Journalism where also you can see, people from all over the country. I think, it’s given them some expectation, if not hope, that “we can also do it”, they’re asking “why are we not doing it”, younger journalists….because.. We are not claiming that we are some talent to do it but you must have the mind to do it and the guts to do it, I must say,  the willingness… Then people will come. And there is lot of information. If four or five major organisations work simultaneously, even in competition and sometimes in cooperation also.    

Dushyant: Something like.. which one hears that is happening with the NYT (New York Times) and Washington Post in some cases, for instance. 

N ram: They share a common antipathy to Trump (Donald Trump). Therefore, corruption acts as a catalyst in the sense, it provides focus and emotional power, you saw that with Bofors. Bofors became.. in various Indian languages including Hindi..and there is powerful impact of that, which we do not get from even a livelihood issue and so on..

Dushyant: Mr. Gandhi (Rahul Gandhi) is continuously saying “Chowkiaar Chor hai” and yesterday some video was floating around, I can’t vouch of its credibility etc, that he’s entering the stage to some rally and people are chanting “Chowkidar chor hai” etc., it does seem to have a bit (of an impact). Whether it lasts in the elections.. which brings me to the point that..

N Ram: It will last.

Dushyant: It will last? But is there, are there more stories in the pipeline? I know you can’t give a yes or no answer, is there more?

N Ram: I think there is. This is not the end to the story and I think there will be more. It’s not that we’re consciously withholding anything, people think that. And my answer to that is, that there are few things that you have to wait to provide context when you’re researching it. I’d be a fool if I had the material and don’t use it as soon as possible. In this case, it was virtually the same day. On the first story, you know, I had to get back… it took several days once we got the material. But take my word for it on the big four stories on Rafale — R-2, R-3, R-4 you could say — the same day, we got the material and we worked on it, I worked on it. Then you have some doubts, you go back to your sources and others. Nobody holds stories for long, but others suspect the timing.

Dushyant: But that’s not the case you’re saying.

N Ram: No. The CAG report on Rafale, there was speculation that it will come out on Monday. Whether it will not come out on Monday, I don’t know. But Tuesday… We published it before the CAG report not because we planned it that way but it happens. I think they must have been a bit concerned about this..this note that we published. We decided to decided to carry it in print. We could have could have easily carried it only online but there are people who read only print, there still are print readers. And they can make up their own minds. So I think there are these opportunities, so I think there is more. And the thing is, this waiver of the anti-corruption clauses, refusal to ..

Dushyant: What do you think is the most damning part of all these stories, these four stories.

N Ram: I think it’s the very suspicious decision-making. Whether its just a blunder or something deeper, is where the story is going. But there’s no sensible, reasonable explanation, in a minimum sense, has come for why they.. other than the cover-up version in the IGA. They’re pointing the finger at Russia..

Dushyant: The only thing they’re saying is that you’ve not found a money trail

N Ram: That I said right in the first story, about the difference between

Dushyant: But sir, I also think…

N Ram: What happened in the 2G scam, the so-called 2G scam?

Dushyant: There was no money trail.

N Ram: And all the accused were not just acquitted but honourably acquitted.

Dushyant: And the trial court judgement was particularly damning, the judge almost said, “What the hell was happening?”

N Ram:  He said I waited day after day..

Dushyant: waiting for something to come up..

N Ram: But nothing turned up. If that’s the state of your law, so be it.

Dushyant: But I also, I don’t know whether you’ll agree with it, I also think that in the way how modern finance operates, especially you know these opaque electoral bonds, perhaps, you know this idea that it is only a money trail that can finally clinch the case of there being a scam or a scandal is perhaps not reasonable because it is so easy to hide money these days, whether in terms of round-tripping and now electoral bonds which are absolutely opaque and you..

N Ram: I’ve written about it in a book, electoral bonds are a way to pay kickbacks legally. You can pay through an account.. kickbacks.  Because you make a donation and nobody knows who you are and you are not required to disclose in your P/L (Profit and Loss) that to which party you are making the account because in the journal everything is kept together, and later after the elections… It (electoral bonds scheme) was designed for kickbacks. Why would a government which claims that anti-corruption is a central part of its agenda, rush it through, remember the Finance Act of 2017. So many changes involving so many institutions, the RBI, were made   

Dushyant: Are you saying, perhaps if there is a money trail it is perhaps to be found in..

N Ram: Yeah, it (electoral bonds) is a good place to find and look for it.

Dushyant: If it all it’s ever made transparent.

N Ram: Yes, which party got what. You know that the bulge is for BJP.

Dushyant: But where is it coming from?

N Ram: And you know the other places.. they’re spending money in the elections.. a lot in cash, black money. Black money is back with a vengeance but the distribution of black money has been changed now, in favour of those in power. This we observe everywhere and the press has been reporting it. I mean, I’m not saying it’s going to come through that but if the finances of party A, B is burgeoning then there is something going on. It may not be related to Rafale or maybe, but electoral bonds as you say, that’s a place to look. I think there’s a good case for striking down this arrangement, to go to court.. I think if I was a lawyer, I’m not, I’d look at it seriously.. what’s the justification for electoral bonds.

Dushyant: It’s absolutely scandalous. In any, again, modern democracy, I don’t think something like electoral bonds should be allowed to stand.

N Ram: They talk about transparency, this is the opposite — going back in time.

Dushyant: Sir, finally, for the countless young journalists who will be watching this, if you had one piece of advice you could share with them. When they’re back in such times, when they face such times, like you pointed out — when there is suppression and fear…any advice for (young journalists)?

N Ram: My advice would be, thinking about what they should do or what they could do, because I meet a lot of young journalists at the Asian College of Journalism. They set up a foundation and my friend Shashi Kumar is the chairman and I am a founding trustee and there are a few others. They (young journalists) learn things in that place but when they go to the workplace, they get a feedback.. many of them find it quite different. They are not able to do what we teach them in J-school. And many bright people come, plenty of them are women. I think what they can do is this — be professional but do your best in anyway you can to undermine the propaganda role that is thrust on you, and sometimes the suppression that takes place in the newsroom. 

Professionalism doesn’t mean that you always have to take the conventional route that “I work only for my newspaper” and so on. So I think, they should find ingenious ways to make sure the story is out, or even create an opposition in the media organisation if necessary. Not just to create trouble, but I think you need that kind of.. you know if you read the elements of journalism book..exercising your conscience is part of it, it has to be exercised.

Too often, when they talk about professionalism, it seems that it’s a very straight or conventional path, “I’m not political”, “I don’t reveal my  political preferences as a citizen, which party I’ll vote for because it will affect the image of my news”. All that is bogus, because everybody has preferences. So I think, they should do their best to undermine this climate of fear, the climate of self-censorship, the chilling effect that comes with it. That’s the best they can do — on the one hand, professional in terms of training and rigorous evidence. I don’t like mixing up news reporting with opinions. It’s different for magazines, or when you cover a cricket match, in print, I’d done a whole series, India vs West Indies, ’74-’75. You express your opinion but even then, if you’re too preachy or judgemental, it detracts from your journalism.You keep your opinion relatively separate. You can’t do in a magazine. Too often on TV news channels, I see reporters being asked to opinionate and often they’re not equipped to do it so I think that there are things that come out.. professional judgement that, you know.. you can’t have a clear line between news and views but you try to keep them relatively, say, you know in a different part..you have an editorial columns, they can argue.

So I think, be professional because journalism, as is well known, is primarily a discipline of verification which I think we have done in this case if we didn’t, you won’t have credibility. But beyond that, if you find that they’re not willing to publish this or let you investigate further then you go to do something about it, to make sure that this information will come out. It’s not easy to do for a young reporter but I think that’s the outlook that..

Dushyant: I doubt it’s easy for anyone, I mean much as you say you’re not anxious about, you know, vindictive action, I still, I believe, as new as I may be that it takes a great deal of courage especially in these times for even the most senior reporters, forget about young reporters, who do this because if it didn’t, everyone would be doing it. Like you yourself said that if there’s so much information floating around, why aren’t others doing it. It takes a great deal of courage and dignity to step out and do what’s required. Thank you so much for taking out time to speak sir, it’s an honour.

N Ram: Thank you, it’s my pleasure.

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