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Questions that the mainstream media ignored in 2013

While news channels are outraged about something or the other every weeknight, here are some of the issues the media ignored in 2013

We have an aam aadmi sitting in the chief minister’s chair in Delhi, after having shocked the capital’s power-brokers as well as Mumbai’s moneybags. Everybody is talking about a new wind blowing in the country. Middle-class awakening, helped by the social media, which, when translated to a significant increase in voter turnout, upset the Delhi electoral math and threw up game-changing results. Will the story be repeated elsewhere? Is there really a new intolerance for corruption among people and a willingness to fight for their rights? Well, the 2014 elections will provide an answer. But a dispassionate analysis will show that, in 2013, the rich and powerful got away with the same old machinations and they also dictated what is fit to be published or debated at super prime time.

The Watchdog that Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism, recently excerpted by Columbia Journalism Review, says, “The US business press failed to investigate and hold accountable Wall Street banks and major mortgage lenders in the years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008. That’s why the crisis came as such a shock to the public and to the press itself. And that’s the news about the news.” It also mentions how “some journalists, mostly outside the mainstream, were able to produce work that in fact did reflect the radical changes overtaking the financial system while the vast majority in the mainstream did not.”
Doesn’t this ring true of India today? There are questions that nobody asks; stories that die because they are simply not followed up or buried by hysterical and motivated pursuit of select and, often inconsequential, issues. The best example, in recent times. is that report of the speeding Aston Martin that was completely destroyed, after it crashed into two cars on the road where Mukesh Ambani lives in his billion-dollar home. Initial reports said that the driver of the Aston Martin was bundled into a security car and whisked away.

Later, a driver turned up to accept responsibility for the rash driving. There was no arrest. The owners of the damaged cars suddenly acquired new and more expensive cars, which may have induced haziness in their recollection of events. This is bound to happen, when the driver is rumoured to be the son of the richest Indian.

The expensive, customised Rs4.3-crore Aston Martin belongs to Reliance Ports and Terminals, which the media reports variously say is a Reliance group company or a subsidiary of Reliance Industries Limited (RIL). In that case, shouldn’t shareholders of RIL be asking why the company owns such an expensive car, rather than the chairman who takes home over Rs200 crore annually as dividend? Sure, Reliance is a giant company and its board of directors is not expected to look into trifling expenses like a Rs4.3-crore Aston Martin. But that is not the reason why they are not asking the questions.
Reliance Ports & Terminals (RPTL) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Reliance Industries Holding Private Limited, which owns all personal companies of Mukesh Ambani, built on large fund transfers from the publicly-listed RIL to these private entities. All this was in the public domain when brothers Anil and Mukesh were at loggerheads.

In fact, Firstpost wrote a hard-hitting article (Reliance funnels money and business to Mukesh Ambani’s private companies) about how RIL was “paying Mukesh Ambani Rs4,300 crore for bankrolling his private companies for fuel, transport, power, water and gas distribution”, in 2011. RPTL received Rs2,600 crore from RIL that year, says the Firstpost report. They have a guaranteed business from RIL and enjoy a triple AAA rating from CRISIL (whose report is silent about the peculiar funding and ownership).

In its unaudited results for June 2013, the company continues to report a net loss (carried forward) of about Rs4 crore. That figure is lower than the cost of the Aston Martin, used by the Ambanis, from money ‘funneled’ from the listed company. So what has Firstpost written this time on the Aston Martin scandal? Well, not much. You see, its parent, the TV18 group, is owned by Mukesh Ambani, in a complex deal, which saw a mammoth Rs3,500 crore injected into the loss-making media empire, to save it from imploding, about two years ago.

Let’s look at another example. The year-enders of every publication agree that Tarun Tejpal’s fall from grace was one of the biggest shockers of 2013. The fact is that Tejpal’s power did not emanate merely from his brilliance and brash confidence, but was owed, in no small measure, to the firm public conviction that he has the protection of the Congress high command.

How come Tehelka’s own investigative teams didn’t notice that the math behind their salary cheques, advertisements and spending did not add up? How did the tax authorities studiously look away, even when they saw large injection of funds from KD Singh of the Alchemist group and the shady Ponty Chadda (who was dramatically shot by his brother at their farm house) to set up an exclusive club called Pruffrock?

It wasn’t until the media-feeding frenzy that followed Tarun Tejpal’s sexual assault on a young colleague, and his subsequent arrest, that triggered a ‘probe’ by the tax authorities. Consider the irony. At a time when the government claims that our every foreign trip or purchase above Rs20,000 is tracked and reported to the taxman, the tax authorities will start investigating Tehelka’s unusual 2006 transaction now. On one day, the Tejpal family transferred 25,758 shares at a whopping premium, while Tarun Tejpal acquired 4,125 shares from Shankar Sharma and Devina Mehra of First Global, the original financiers of Tehelka, at just Rs10 each. The Indian Express says Tehelka issued such exorbitantly priced shares in 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2011-12 without the taxmen ever noticing these egregious deals.  

From the media perspective, the bigger question is: Who were these investors and what were they paying for? Celebrities and intellectuals, who have supported Tehelka’s sting journalism, continue to sing paeans to its investigative work without asking how it enriched the Tejpal family instead of isolating it.

Finally, the more frightening story that is rarely discussed, except in a manner that makes no sense to ordinary people, is the sharp growth in bad loans or non-performing assets (NPAs) of Indian banks. The Congress-led government has allowed bad loans to balloon to a point where they are threatening the stability of the banking system. The mammoth All India Bank Employees Federation (AIBEA) has blown the whistle, named wilful defaulters and given a call to ‘stop the loot of public funds’ and start recovery of bad loans.

But the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) paints a more frightening picture. RBI’s financial stability report, released on 30th December says, “Failure of a major corporate or a major corporate group could trigger a contagion in the banking system due to exposures of a large number of banks to such corporates. The analysis shows that interconnectedness in the banking sector could cause losses due to contagion, over and above the direct losses on account of the failure of large corporate groups.” Bluntly speaking, it means that your safe fixed deposits in nationalised banks may no longer be as safe; when crisis grips the country, those too will be affected.

None of these issues is systematically pursued by India’s mainstream media (MSM). Loss-making MSM, desperate for advertising or capital infusion, do not have the luxury of editorial freedom. The most profitable media house openly puts advertising far above journalism. But the fault lies mainly with the reader, who cannot distinguish between outrage expressed on blogs and social media, and serious, unbiased investigation that requires organisation, funds and paid subscribers. Like the politicians, we get the press we deserve.

Sucheta Dalal is the managing editor of Moneylife. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 2006 for her outstanding contribution to journalism. She can be reached at [email protected]

User

COMMENTS

Anil Agashe

3 years ago

Most company owners cars on company name to claim depreciation and to debit all expenses to co accounts. Reliance is doing the same thing. I would be surprised if there are any directors in other companies who buy their own cars. Even the cars used by family must be on co books!

patanjali

3 years ago

Nice!
It was also very good to see that I can post a comment on this site without going through other sites (including Twitter, Gmail, Facebook, etc. etc) AND signing up by acepting thier condition of viewing my personal data, as well as that of all my contacts!
I am sure, all that is also "paid"!
That said, on the article itself my comment is as follows: in the end the only credible news will be the ones we "subscribe" to - such as this private website. All "public" channels, like newspapaers and TV news, will need to get money from sponsors.

R P SHIVKUMAR

3 years ago

Detailed investigation is required of public sector NPAs and the companies names who have defaulted should be published. Also no update is available on the unpaid salaries of Kingfisher employees and if no effort is made to make mallya pay them thier dues

CHILUKURI K R L RAO

3 years ago

I couldn't agree more with Ms.Sucheta Dalal when she says, "Like the politicians, we get the press we deserve".

Himanshu Gandhi

3 years ago

The greatest challenge to India’s future is not dwindling natural resources, or corruption, or divisively fractured political establishment, but deeply pervasive abject indifference of a wide swath of masses.

Those at one end of the pole with capacity and resources to make a change continue to maroon the trust and fabric of nation for their own unashamed lustful greed, scheming with corrupt bureaucratic setup for means unto themselves with abject disregard for morality, ethics and making of a capable nation.

While, for those at the other end of the same pole, daily struggle to cope with hyper inflation can barely make them ponder about the road ahead.

And, the growing glorified middle remains gruesomely detached from inner circles of power, almost scared to pit their head in the smoldering pit of ever growing underground economy with well entrenched politico-goons connections wielding control at local government establishments.

If there is only one area that we have failed miserably, as an individual and as a nation... it is, not living by our virtues. As, how can a nocturnal enlighten anyone in his/her circle of influence on beauty of a rainbow?

In India, like any developing/developed places, intellect has mostly gone awry to service fear or greed, or has succumbed to avarice. Culture of sympathy, tolerance, forgiveness and notion of for-the-greater-good need be taught, learned and practiced afresh. There is no other alternative.

Can we... all who care to see our nation free from corruption... resolve to not pay up into the demands of a bribe, and… resolve not to make way for our gain by aiding or abetting any corrupt practices, and… resolve not to engage in any transactions that cause or involve black money, or that are helped by seeking or giving undue underhand favors?

Can we... all who care to see our nation respect women... resolve to not pay up into the demands of a dowry, and… resolve not to engage in barter of dowry, which remains a root cause for female foeticide and female infanticide, and… resolve not to be entertained by sounds and images stocking carnal thoughts and insidious behavior?

Can we… all who care to see our nation clean and green… resolve to start with clean up of our own building, street, and neighborhood, and… resolve to grow and save vegetation in our sphere of influence?

Can we... all who care to see our nation lead into better governance… resolve to be more involved in public policy making institutions, processes and be willing to cross to the other side to face the music?

Can we... all who care to see our nation succeed... resolve not to disparage it and be part of the solution, and… resolve to pitch in with volunteering hours and any resources that we can spare... to work on common good?

Unless, we are honest with ourselves and care to start with self... we would have failed all of those that have sacrificed their lives to make this nation. And more regretfully, failed our children to leave behind a legacy to call their place a home… no matter where we live.

Extortion or any corrupt practices are a chase of those that feed on their greed, and our fear. We cannot curb their greed… but can work on our fear.

What we can certainly not do is to stoke those tendencies by essentially practicing in the same circle, for our own benefit... for instance:

1. Corrupt practices are rife not only in public sector, but widely prevalent today in private sector. Each and every honest businessperson in our nation will recount the magnitude and stifling hold of common place norms of deceit, vogue of black money and deeply ingrained culture of favoritism.
2. Large majority of transactions from real estate to purchase of goods & services are facilitated by, or engender, unaccounted or black money.
3. Very few make deliberate and conscious efforts to distance themselves from corrupt practices. In effect, make hay of them for own benefit, or surrendering their plight without honest efforts to resist.

Diminutive forces drowning our nation will become fearful once challenge to them becomes strong. Start inadvertently needs to be from somewhere where we are most uncomfortable with... our self. Only then will foundation of our challenge be strong enough to sustain long drawn on struggle... for real independence, and reverting to our heritage, as a virtuous nation.

Himanshu Gandhi

3 years ago

There are multiple outlets for paid "news" and corrupted "views"...

Sanity with a cause for true public service was long "voted down" for "print worthiness".

Indian Ears

3 years ago

EXCELLENT and Hard Hitting Article.

CONGRATS !

Dayananda Kamath k

3 years ago

another big story ignored by inidan media is gold imports by private jewellers and bullian traders on third party lc in the name of nominated agencies in violation of import export policy, banking norms,and rabi regulations.after 5 years rbi woke up but did not bothered to initiate action against bankers importers, and the nominated agencies executive who by giving letters for which they do not have authority. matter not refered to enforcement directorate by rbi nor banks who are supposed to do it as per fema.matter brought to the notice of pti. moneylife, zee news.but they also ignored it.

Indian Ears

3 years ago

SUPERB !

REPLY

Sucheta Dalal

In Reply to Indian Ears 3 years ago

Many thanks

Jyoti Dua

3 years ago

Very thought provoking article. Today we need my more Journalists to come up with true stories into public domain.Congrats Suchita

REPLY

Sucheta Dalal

In Reply to Jyoti Dua 3 years ago

Many thanks

Vinay Joshi

3 years ago

This is pertaining to Aston Martin accident only.

In my city, Bombay, the said St. Nicholas - 'Santa Clause', got THE 'ASTON MARTIN' victims for X'mas - 'ALL THE GOODIES'.!? THEY NEVER MAY HAVE IMAGINED!?

Owners / victims of two crashed cars, smashed by 'Aston Martin Rapid','SANTA CHEERED THEM WITH TWO UPGRADED CARS!?

So Santa Clause does deliver X'mas goodies, is proved!
Goodies delivered on Tues, 24.

Ms. Ruparel got upgrade Audi-6, [damaged Audi-4] Mr. Mehta got upgrade Skoda Superb [damaged car Hyundai Elentra, -COMPENSATION FOR ONLY BOOT & BUMPER DAMAGE -
FALLACY - both can retrieve their damaged cars, refurbished & keep it!?

Mr. Tushar Ruparel, father of Ms. Ruparel claimed, 25th, people from RIL were in touch with both families to discuss settlement.

Monday, 23, both the complainants have withdrawn their 'police complaint', one complainant had testified in front of Magistrate, u/s 164 as evidence, [i.e Ms Ruparel, student, age 25] second was Vikram Mehta, a pharma Exec.

Another twist in the story, only Ruparel family later denied getting any compensation to replace Audi-4 with Audi-6.
Audi-6 costs 4mn INR, no compensation by insurance co, can any claim be settled within twenty days? Dichotomy - Mrs. Ruparel says we have purchased it with our own money!? No RIL compensation involved! 4.5mn, said car in your house 'garlanded'!?

The licence plate of the new car bearing a fancy number - MH03 BJ 6666, trigger from RTO which highlighted & a show cause notice issued, 26th.
The special number cost, RESERVE PRICE, 70K & taxes 40K!

Further as per RTO record the L/P no purchased yet not allotted by Wadala RTO, AS THE CAR IS NOT YET REGISTERED!?

Oohh! Ruparel family said they wanted to register it only on Jan 4!?

SO FIXING NUMBER PLATE BEFORE REGISTRATION IS ILLEGAL & POSSIBLY SANTA MADE IT DONE!?
SANTA WILL ALSO QUASH THE LEGAL RTO NOTICE!

Hello but now it's to be determined how legally SANTA can play!

FIR lodged, u/s 164 st, police investigation - standstill- & obviously the case will be heard by the magistrate court, 'GAMDEVI POLICE' present - "NOTHING THEY WILL HAVE TO STATE"!!?? One need not wait for the court order for case withdrawal!

SANTA Claus, St. Nicholoas, HAS BLESSED HIMSELF WITH THIS GIVINGS, CALLED HAPPENINGS!?

NOT TO BE CONSTRUED AS GIVER 'SANTA' ALSO TAKES FROM HIS GIVER'S!?
SANTA's SANTA KEEP ON SHOWERING GIFTS UPON HIM ROUND THE YEAR AS HAS BEEN AS THIS SANTA AROUND!?

Who is prosecuted in the said accident? What is the latest as on Jan 8,2014 on this? SUBLIMED!

THIS IS CALLED GOVERNANCE. 'PATHBREAKING'. Pathbreakers.

Regards,

Vinay Joshi

3 years ago

Hello Ms. Sucheta,

Pathbreakers! Why any aspect now?

Regards,

REPLY

Vinay Joshi

In Reply to Vinay Joshi 3 years ago

Hello Ms. Sucheta,

No comments!? 'Pathbreakers - Pathbreaking!

Have you read Hamish McDonald's biography of Dhirubhai Ambani 'Polyester Prince'? It was banned in India some years ago? Can we conduct a forensic audit of entire 'episode'? Their empire! AS OF NOW? ALSO!?

Today Subrata Roy has got injunction against the publication of 'Regulators v/s Sahara' The Untold Story. The book by Tamal Bandopadhyay.
Sucheta you want me to introduce to you who Mr. Tamal is? You know him. One of the days he will grace your forum.

So is so.

Regards,

Sucheta Dalal

In Reply to Vinay Joshi 3 years ago

Mr Joshi
Greetings.
1. Do read Hamish MacDonald's book. You will see an acknowledgement to me and Debashis.
I also had the honour of releasing his second book, which includes the brothers fight! So don't understand your point at all!

2. As for Sahara, forget the book read our articles - we have done plenty of writing on it. Also, do attend the talk on corporate frauds by Mr Arvind Datar tomorrow. You may like to know that Adv Arvind Datar, a man of rare honesty, has fought the sahara case for SEBI in the Supreme Court doing a lot of his own research. And we have been in touch throughout.
So again.. what is your point, if any??

Vinay Joshi

In Reply to Vinay Joshi 3 years ago

Hello Ms. Sucheta,

No comments!? 'Pathbreakers - Pathbreaking!

Have you read Hamish McDonald's biography of Dhirubhai Ambani 'Polyester Prince'? It was banned in India some years ago? Can we conduct a forensic audit of entire 'episode'? Their empire! AS OF NOW? ALSO!?

Today Subrata Roy has got injunction against the publication of 'Regulators v/s Sahara' The Untold Story. The book by Tamal Bandopadhyay.
Sucheta you want me to introduce to you who Mr. Tamal is? You know him. One of the days he will grace your forum.

So is so.

Regards,

Anil Agashe

In Reply to Vinay Joshi 3 years ago

Dear Mr Joshi,
Pathbreakers has nothing to do with the present case. It is to be noted that Debashish ans Sucheta have written fearlessly when things are going wrong even about people covered in that book. That is the sign of independent journalism.

nilesh prabhu

3 years ago

what will happen to our F.D in case banks fail?

REPLY

Siddharth Varma

In Reply to nilesh prabhu 3 years ago

ur bank deposits are insured upto 1 lac

sathyacumaran

In Reply to nilesh prabhu 3 years ago

sathya cumaran
operational head india
singapore media and channel group
The RBi would come to rescue like Global trust bank was bankrupt adn immedaitely without any delay the RBi rose up and took the responsibility but still we can be sure that justice is there and morale is there inspite our PM is corrupt Pm but above all there is GOD is protecting our country

Vinay Joshi

In Reply to sathyacumaran 3 years ago

It denigrates you & not the PM!
You profess to be [of unknown] media.

Kindly do not respond to this post of mine, whatsoever, learn before posting in MLF.

Regards,

MOHAN SIROYA

3 years ago

Thank you for this information article.

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