In a sensational revelation, The Caravan Magazine‘s new investigative piece has accused journalist Rajat Sharma of India TV of indulging in several unethical practices including being a go-between between warring political factions and manufacturing audience inside the studio.
In an exhaustive article, the Caravan’s lead story casts a detailed look at Sharma’s journey from an ABVP (the RSS’s student wing) leader to a media tycoon that he is today.
The article also sheds light on the allegedly questionable investment into Sharma’s company Independent News Service including by a Mauritius-based company.
Here are some excerpts
TOWARDS THE END OF 2013, as campaigning for the 2014 general election gathered intensity, India TV turned its guns on the BJP’s opponents—particularly the Congress and Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party. “They were showing Muslim discontent with the Congress—half-an-hour stories without a single soundbite,” a former colleague of Sharma’s told us.
“Rajat Sharma’s own show had totally manufactured crowds. They would behave in a certain way when Kejriwal came to Aap Ki Adalat, and another when [it was] someone from the BJP. The mood of the show was completely manufactured.”
Kejriwal appeared on Aap Ki Adalat in October 2013, while preparing for an upcoming Delhi legislative-assembly election that delivered the AAP to power in the capital. Kejriwal had come to prominence as the leader of an anti-corruption campaign, and Sharma pressed him hard on allegations of past malfeasance by some AAP leaders. Kejriwal replied that the allegations were untrue, and were fabricated by his party’s rivals. Sharma started quoting from a complaint filed with the Delhi lokayukta, or anti-corruption ombudsman. When Kejriwal said that the complaint had been filed by a BJP leader and was being investigated, Sharma accused him of being evasive. “First you asked for papers,” he said. “When I show papers, you say they are not correct. How are you the only standard of correctness?” The audience applauded. Sharma did not let Kejriwal respond.
Kejriwal’s treatment, it appeared, departed from a common Aap Ki Adalat practice. Jawahar Goel told us that even during Sharma’s time at Zee TV, his interviewees usually screened the questions that would be posed to them. “This is a format for an entertainment-news show. Aap Ki Adalat ka ye matlab nahi hai ki bulake logon ki pant utarenge” (Aap Ki Adalat does not mean that you call people on and pull their pants down), he said. “So the people who appeared on the show more or less knew in advance the questions that will be asked by Rajat.”
At 9 pm on 12 March 2014, less than a month before the general election, Sharma began Aaj Ki Baat by saying to his audience, “I want to tell you something from my heart.” He had a sore throat and was feeling unwell, he said, but this was important. “Arvind Kejriwal and his team, once again, have tried to threaten the media,” Sharma said. “Arvind Kejriwal and his team had the audacity to point fingers at India TV.”
By this point, Kejriwal had stepped down as the chief minister of Delhi and dissolved his government following a torrid 49-day reign. Recently, at a private gathering of AAP members, Kejriwal had claimed that several news channels, including India TV, were biased against the party. A video of his remarks was leaked to the media.
The entire hour of Sharma’s show that night was dedicated to taking apart Kejriwal’s claim. Several AAP members had by then tried to downplay their leader’s remarks, saying that he had confused India TV with another channel, India News. But Sharma was not placated. He said that this backtracking was evidence of the duplicity of Kejriwal and the AAP, of a habit of saying one thing in private and something completely different in public. He reminded viewers of Kejriwal’s grand promises during his anti-corruption campaign, then showed him moving into a big house after being elected chief minister. Clips from Kejriwal’s Aap Ki Adalat interview were also thrown in.
“I have to say something to Kejriwal and his team,” Sharma said to the camera as the show neared its end. “Mr Kejriwal, you have not been in public life for four days, you do not understand what struggle is. To fight for the right to speak, I had to spend time in jail during the Emergency. I was tortured in a police station for two days.” In his 32-year career as a journalist, Sharma said, no one had ever been able to so much as point a finger at his integrity.
Afterwards, the News Broadcasters Association, a body of private news broadcasters that has Sharma as its director, issued a press release threatening to stop coverage of the AAP if Kejriwal did not stop maligning news channels.
A month later, on 12 April, Sharma presented a special episode of Aap Ki Adalat. During the BJP’s election campaign, India TV was granted special access to the party, and its leaders often chose to be interviewed by Sharma’s channel above all others. Now, Sharma announced a coup. His guest that night—in the middle of multiple-phase polling that began on 7 April and ran on for over a month—was the BJP’s prime-ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi. This was the second of only two interviews that Modi gave to Hindi news channels during the campaign.
Sharma opened the interview with a comment rather than a question. All the country’s top politicians were worried, he said, because everywhere they went all they heard was Modi’s campaign slogan, “Ab ki bar, Modi sarkar” (This time, a Modi government). The audience cheered. Several of Sharma’s prompts to his interviewee sounded like compliments. Every once in a while, the audience broke into chants of “Modi, Modi, Modi.” Sharma read out some messages he had seen online: “Twinkle twinkle little star, ab ki baar Modi sarkar.” “Rahul Gandhi ne khai chocolate bar, ab ki baar Modi sarkar.” Modi laughed. The show went on in this vein for over an hour.
“When the ratings came in,” Sharma told the 2014 conference, “we couldn’t believe our eyes.”
In journalistic circles, the interview drew widespread ire. “It wasn’t an interview, it was a rally for Modi,” a veteran news editor told us. A journalist who earlier worked with NDTV described it as “shameful.” Qamar Waheed Naqvi, who had left Aaj Tak to join India TV as its executive director just months before the interview aired, quit after it was broadcast, reportedly saying that the whole thing was scripted.
You can read the full article here