Now that he has done it, the only way for Thapar to redeem his lost prestige is by apologising to those he has wronged.
I don’t know Karan Thapar well enough to understand why he did what he did: Break the cardinal rule that every young journalist is taught—which is to never disclose a source whatever be the price.
If access, or the lack of access, could define a journalist, a majority of the journalists in India today would be out of their cushy jobs. Access, especially in these times, gets one only plants or the news that the government wants to be published.
Give me one instance of an anti-government story that a minister in the current government will give a journalist. Yes, the fact that the Narendra Modi government has constructed ‘x’ number of toilets is a story. But, the bigger story is how many of these toilets remain un-operational due to the absence of water or electricity. The second story is what every journalist should be looking for and that is where their sources could point them in the right direction.
Journalism, for Thapar, seems to be all about getting the interview. He revealed his source, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra, who Thapar says, told him things in confidence. Patra asked him if he “could keep a secret” and Thapar “gave him the necessary assurance”. Thapar also outed politician and former diplomat Pavan K. Varma, who had told him something (I presume) in confidence.
Pavan K. Varma has denied having had any conversation on the issue with Thapar.
Surprised to see Karan Thapar quoting me, and citing Prashant Kishor, in his book ‘The Devil’s Advocate’. Such a conversation with me did not take place as Karan recalls it, nor has Prashant ever spoken to me about Karan. The record must be set straight.
— Pavan K. Varma (@PavanK_Varma) July 21, 2018
Thapar appears churlish. It is simply not done.
Now that he has done it, the only way for him to redeem his lost prestige is by apologising to those he has wronged. Even if they pardon him, fans like me, who have watched him grill his guests in his excellent Cambridge English, may not.
As a young reporter with Hindustan Times, I got embroiled in a contempt of court case when the Punjab and Haryana high court judges asked me (through my lawyer) on at least two occasions who my source was.
I refused point-blank, a decision that was backed unequivocally by my editor Kanwar Sandhu as well as the HT proprietor Shobhana Bhartia. I got away even though I refused to apologise unconditionally asserting that I had not done anything wrong. But for over two years, it proved to be a difficult period for me. It was made worse because my counsel told me to stay away from the high court – my beat – till the pendency of the case.
But, never once did the thought of giving away my source arise in my mind.
It is not the government’s job – be it a BJP-led government or a Congress-led government – to give scoops to journalists. We have to make our own rounds, cultivate sources, get information, cross-check the same and then, if there is a report worth writing, write it. Even after all this rigour, the editor may not see merit in the report and choose not to publish it.
When Thapar bemoans the loss of access (BJP ministers and spokespersons refusing to appear on his show) and also offers to apologise to Prime Minister Narendra Modi “if I [Thapar] had unwittingly done something to upset” him, he shows that he is, after all, just a wonderful interviewer.
Here’s another tid-bit from my own journey as a journalist.
In 2007, I was transferred to New Delhi from Chandigarh and assigned to cover the law ministry.
I couldn’t have been happier since I knew the law minister H.R. Bhardwaj at that time from my Chandigarh days and immediately sought an appointment. He told his officer on special duty (OSD) to call me for ‘breakfast’. After waiting for over a week for the breakfast invitation, which never came, I called the OSD. “Mantriji”, I was told, “doesn’t speak to The Indian Express (my newspaper then)”.
I asked why.
“Mujhe pata nahin (I don’t know),” was the cryptic response.
I checked and soon enough got the answer: Bhardwaj was upset with the newspaper for some unsavoury references to him in its coverage of the Bofors case.
When I apprised my editors about the constraint, their response was: find a way to beat the ban.
Three months later, I got my first big story from the law ministry, and it hasn’t stopped yet.
I chose at that time not to grovel but learned an important lesson along the way. Access is key but not at any cost.