File photo of Karan Thapar | YouTube
File photo of Karan Thapar | YouTube
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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.

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.

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14 Comments Share Your Views

14 COMMENTS

  1. Maneesh Chhibber, I happened to read your rubbish today on 26/05/20, while digging some research on the Indian media. You’ve written this being on the payroll of a portal whose founder is himself an infamous member of the Liberandu gang and infamously called in social media as Mr. Coupta. Anything related to him lacks any ounce of credibility, this piece sounds hypocritical to me.

  2. It is not only Mr. Thapar who feels entitled, it is also “The Wire .In” that is complicity in the this brazen violations of ethical norms.

    On 21 July, I posted the following comment on The Wire website relating to Karan Thapar’s book excerpt focussing on why BJP is boycotting him. The moderator is conveniently keeping it pending while posting other friendly comments. It makes me suspect that “The Wire.in” is one another hub of narcissistic Delhi elite echo chamber whose members hear only friendly voices, sponsor or support only particular ideology and promote individual/corporate interests or the interests of particular party despite their claims to doing good/independent journalism. Or is it an exhibit to how polarised we are? My comments are pasted below:

    [Posted 21 hours ago]

    “Karan Thapar is a senior and well respected journalist, one would expect certain professional judgement, care and ethical concern. Instead what we have is a story riddled with breach of trust (implicit/explicit), sensationalism and resentment (poorly masked). Attributions to public figures without their consent, suggesting if your interlocutor did not make a disclaimer when speaking in a private context it is fine to go public makes for unethical journalism and eventually harm the public interest. These short cuts to excitement will undermine faith in the profession of journalism and deter potential sources of goodwill. Hopefully, younger journalists will not take a lead from this story. Will see this as an error of judgement by journalist otherwise of exceptional calibre (even the best sometime commit error!). I would dread talking to a journalist if this becomes a norm. Good on story, short on ethics that’s how I see this episode. I suspect this is partly an outcome of an emerging norm of playing fluid identities i.e. journalists acting like political ideologues, academics becoming apologists to party in power so on so forth.
    This is said without prejudice to the merits of the story, veracity of his facts and the immediate (and legitimate) public interest implicated in it.”

  3. I have always doubted the credibility of Karan Thapar. He embarks on a ship like a captain and makes mockery of the interviewee and put him in difficult situations. Those like him who fly high on other’s wings, fall down and get killed. I never saw any good substance in his journalistic forays. Revealing of source is a grave mistake and his credibility is now down. He should leave active journalism and take to book writing.

  4. Karan Thapar is a lackey of the dynasty. He present set of interviews consists of periodically latching on to disgruntled elements like Arun Shourie and Yaswant Sinha and making them criticise the present government. You can expect an interview with the latest ex BJP MP, Chandan Mitra anyday. His his subjects, Shri Thapar has passed his sell by date. Hence his desperation to thrust himself into limelight somehow.

  5. I am pleased to know that such a journalist exists in these times (in India).
    Journalism is being seen nowadays as a means to build access and reach. It is great skill and even a deep professional outlook how one uses his or her access or reach to bring out that has been willingly buried.
    Journalists need courage to face the odds which in my opinion is nowhere visible today….Anyway….Please be focussed, you can lead others to your visiin of Journalism. Kudos.

  6. So basically, what you are saying is that everyone should fall in line and kick this sarkars ass ?
    Plz go learn some ethics and morals before you start talking about a moral code of ethics for journalists. There is no such thing anyways – Look at Arnab. And why should Thapar apologise to Modi ? For what ? For doing his job by asking questions which aren’t ore scripted ? Jesus …

  7. Yes, it’s cardinals principle in public life, not to disclose d source of information. Even court is not allowed to it. India evidence act also supports it. It’s like conversations between spouses which even courts r banned to get disclosed. KT did encroached upon it.

  8. In the day and age when almost whole media is comprised and sold out you’ve the audacity to write this stupid story! What cardinal rule are you talking about? The editor of this portal SG (in)famously refused to comment on the great story of media taking money to follow agenda of an organisation saying he doesn’t believe in sting operations. Although he has tweeted (taking cognizance of) sting operations in the past he remains tight lipped when tables are turned on him and many of his fellows in this sold out. So please concentrate on real issues and stories rather than picking on KT. The likes of you and SG can never reach where KT is and history will be a testimony of that.

  9. You just disclosed your source too! The OSD who told that the minister doesn’t give interviews to IE. Its not difficult to find out who was the OSD to this particular minister at that time. Stop writing fake stories. KT is a fine journalist who has the guts to speak truth to power unlike many!

  10. Karan Thapar was not just entitled but also arrogant and egoistic. Remember the way he attacked jayalalitha of jethmalani. He was elite as he was an army chief son who got oug of turn promotion because his father was married to a relative of Nehru/Gandhi family. Poor Karan was given cambridge education and sides with congress till date

  11. There is another facet, one would submit. True, no minister or secretary would give away a tidbit which embarrasses the government. That requires the sort of painstaking effort which the columnist alludes to. However, in a democracy, the government can only be responsible / accountable to the people in a meaningful, 24 / 7 sense through the media. Clamming up, either by blackballing an individual journalist or a media outlet or the media more generally is curtailing the people’s right to know. Taken to an extreme, it creates an echo chamber. To begin with, the narrative is tightly controlled, moves in a desirable direction, and then, as concomitant delivery and performance begin to founder, a sense of unrealism, delusion begins to take over. We have seen so many morning after programmes on TV, when the results start pouring in and ashen faced party spokespersons say, Oh, we did so much good work, it is just that we failed to communicate it effectively to the people. Coupled with that breakfast cereal, We will analyse the results deeply, introspect where we went wrong.

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