Beyond one-sided ‘truths’

Salman Khurshid,like any other accused,has the right to present his side of the story

Written by Jaya Jaitly | Published: October 16, 2012 2:57 am

Salman Khurshid,like any other accused,has the right to present his side of the story

It is déjà vu with just a change in the cast of characters. I am aware that writing about issues that may be sub judice is not done,but this is an extraordinary situation. The Union law minister is in the dock and I,an accused in a case of corruption through the machinations of his party,need to speak out despite being opposed to said ruling party. I am not pleading my case,but merely pointing out how it feels when the shoe is on the other foot. I am also questioning those in the media who don political roles because politicians have failed to do so effectively. What is lost in the melee is the truth,which the media is duty bound to investigate fairly and objectively,without hyperbole or mischief.

Salman Khurshid and his wife Louise’s defence against Arvind Kejriwal and India Today’s accusations before an unsparing and highly biased media brought back memories of the media attack on George Fernandes and this writer after the Tehelka journalists’ so-called expose of corruption in defence deals in 2001. Press conferences are for asking sharp questions,but they must also allow persons calling them an opportunity to lay out whatever facts they have to explain themselves. Instead,journalists have become politicians performing before their constituents and the cameras. At the press conference on October 14,the “poor of the nation” were invoked,diversionary accusations were hurled,the hapless Khurshid was interrupted as if in Parliament and a collective buzz of impatience rent the air whenever documents were presented to tell the Khurshid side of the story.

The technique in television studios of just creating a rumble to mock the person in the hot seat,rather than allowing the public to hear a full answer and judge for themselves,makes the media look like petty bullies. This technique is now being applied to press conferences. It was clear at the Khurshid press conference that the media had no intention of allowing the truth to come out.

The truth about various scams could be worse than what the headlines convey. However,we seem to want to establish this as fact without allowing individuals to provide evidence to the contrary. This is neither fair on an individual,nor on the truth.

In late 2004,I met the CBI director to officially request that the foreign forensic expert’s report on the tapes presented during the Justice S.N. Phukan Commission’s inquiry into the allegations be made available to the Central Forensic Laboratory. I mentioned that since the Tehelka people had branded me a “suitcase woman”,I was grateful to him for agreeing to meet at all. I was shocked to hear him respond sarcastically,“Madam,don’t worry,suitcases are now flying in the air in hundreds!” He retired soon after. The current UPA has been one of the more corrupt governments; however,if we allow ourselves to accuse all and sundry,without giving anyone the right to reply,debate or explain,we are nothing but a lynch mob.

I am not defending Salman Khurshid. I am instead reminding the Congress and major sections of the media to look back to the period between 2001 and 2004. The afternoon the Tehelka attack took place,George Fernandes wanted to resign from his position as defence minister as a matter of propriety. He was not being directly accused,but the connection to this writer was established and he was “indicted beyond redemption”. Prime Minister Vajpayee was persuaded to accept his resignation only four days later. Fernandes wanted to explain the truth to the nation. He went to Doordarshan and gave a detailed statement of the facts pertaining to the deals mentioned in the so-called expose. Questions were immediately raised on how the minister (now former) was allowed to use Doordarshan. Later came 9/11. The security of this region became tricky and Fernandes was asked to resume his job. Then the coffin/ casket attack took place. Despite a pile of official papers being presented to the media demonstrating that Fernandes had nothing to do with it,neither the media nor the Congress were satisfied. Eventually,Fernandes’ decisions were found to be without flaw. However,this writer has a case foisted on her. No complaints; that comes with the territory we have created for ourselves.

When the NDA asked the commission dealing with the Tehelka issue to examine how the tapes were made and journalistic investigation conducted,the journalists concerned walked out of the commission. Today,Khurshid wants India Today to be investigated along with his trust,since he says they have misrepresented facts.

Allegations in a democracy do not mean one-sided “truths” and inquiries. It does not mean journalists playing politics and it means that if people are to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty,they must be given an opportunity to provide the evidence before dragging their name through mud and to courtrooms as semi-convicts.

Watching Khurshid and his wife defend the integrity of the trust serving the handicapped and watching a media ready to condemn them irrespective of what they were trying to say was déjà vu. The Congress can thank themselves for this.

The writer is a former president of the Samata Party

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