Tehelka shames us all

Tarun Tejpal was good at promoting himself, and has been for at least a decade the darling of Lutyens liberals.

Tehelka going down has evoked more schadenfreude than sorrow in media circles because many of us have long seen fraudulence in the high moral tone that the magazine has always taken. Personally I have no tears to shed at the squalid demise of Tehelka because for me even its first sting operation was entrapment and not investigative journalism. When the BJP government foolishly tried to punish Tehelka's first investors, I stood with them, but noticed soon after that there was something mysterious about the magazine's finances and something hypocritical about its politics.

There is no harm in a newspaper openly supporting a political party, but to do it under the guise of "investigative journalism" that targets only the other side is wrong. It is equally wrong, in my view, to build a business empire with money taken from dodgy businessmen under the cloak of righteous journalism. But Tarun Tejpal was good at promoting himself, and has been for at least a decade the darling of Lutyens liberals. His closeness to the Gandhi family helped him acquire a large collection of friends and followers. So, to his THiNK Fest, would duly trot some of the most powerful politicians in the land. Having attended the first of these events I can report that thinking was less on people's minds than partying.

What the whole sordid story gives us though is a chance to talk about how badly the Indian media has been damaged by the collusion between journalists, politicians and rich businessmen. Tarun is far from being the only journalist to have become a powerbroker in Lutyens Delhi. There are many, many others. They are mostly men and women from small towns who are bedazzled by the access they get to political power once they become famous editors or columnists. Nearly all of them make a lot of money very quickly in unexplained ways. And because they have such access to political power, their newly acquired wealth is never investigated. So they go from strength to strength, from high national awards to the Rajya Sabha, and end up betraying the profession that gave them their fame and power.

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