By Nishtha and Ishan Kukreti
Senior sports journalist Padampati Sharma started his career in the 1970s. Having worked with media organizations such as Hindi Daily Aaj, Dainik Jagran, Amar Ujala, Hindustan, News Nation among others, Sharma, is a known face in the world of Hindi journalism. In an exclusive interview with NewsGram, Sharma talks about his career, sting operations, rotten journalism and how the profession has deteriorated in the last three decades. Excerpts from the interview:
Tell us about your journey in the field of Sports Journalism, and what impelled you to join it.
Padampati Sharma: When I came into this profession, the situation of sports journalism in India was in a bad state. We didn’t have even one permanent sub-editor, let alone country heads. I had studied English and that had ignited a passion in me. I was well aware of people like K.N Prabhu and M.S Ramaswamy and understood what they wrote. I wanted to be like them, but lack of means served as an impediment. But I did not let that deter me.
I used to listen to Australia Broadcasting Corporation’s commentary at 4 in the morning, and by the lunchtime, I would be ready with a story based on a detailed critical analysis of the radio commentary. Gradually, it began receiving heavy readership and by 1978 I had become the first Hindi Sports Journalist to have covered Cricket spontaneously.
How did you manage to introduce spontaneous coverage of matches?
PS: Earlier, match updates were sent through Telegram, which was a delayed means of communication. People were unaware about Telex (a telecommunications programme) through which immediate coverage was possible. When I was sent to Pakistan, I was told to relax and write the story late at night, after which they’d edit and modify it the next day. But I had a plan in mind. I used Telex to send my story in Roman and it came out at 4:30 PM on the same day.
How did the Editors react to this essential development that you brought about in terms of coverage?
PS: The General Manager saw the story and ran to show it to our boss. Impressed, our boss gave the peon Rs 100 to offer ‘bhog’ at the nearby Bada Ganesha temple. Later, sweets were distributed in the entire office. Next morning, the front page of the newspaper (Hindi Daily Aaj) was seen carrying a byline in the name of special correspondent Padampati Sharma from Faisalabad, and the next line read in brackets, “Today’s special Telex service.”
There was no turning back after that. Day in and day out, detailed coverage and analyses of matches were sent. Taxis would be called at 5:30 in the morning to send newspapers. But no one complained. People were receiving updates of matches that would get over at 4:30 AM (India time), the same day around 7:30 AM. They were happy.
You have levied strong allegations against your former employer, News Nation and another company called, Oxxy International. Can you explain the matter?
PS: Sting operations were conducted on diagnostic centres and labs in July by News Nation. While footage of about 12 to 14 centres was shot, only seven centres were shown on air. On December 18, a girl named Sheetal Kapoor, representative of Oxxy International approached the director of a diagnostic centre and claimed that there is a second part of the sting. She further added that she can get rid of the footage, if the director pays her Rs 36 lakhs. Through this money, the diagnostic centre will receive positive marketing and publicity. But this money will be valid only for six months and this same agreement will be renewed after that. She stressed on the fact that after taking their commission, the company will send the rest of the money to the top management of the news channel.
The police with the help of the doctor laid down a trap for her. On December 23, Sheetal Kapoor visited the diagnostic centre and the doctor gave her a cheque for Rs 6 lakhs. While she was filling the details of the company on the cheque, the police conducted a raid and detained her.
After an FIR was lodged against her, she named three people who were conducting the sting – one person was from a different news channel and the other two were from News Nation.
After her bail plea was rejected by the court, in the second week of January, Hindustan Times and Navbharat Times had published the news about the money extortion and the police’s role.
The case has now been transferred to the crime branch. But neither Sheetal of Oxxy International nor the news channel have been implicated till now.
You have been a journalist for more than three decades now, how do you think journalism as a profession has evolved since the time of independence?
PS: The truth is that currently journalism is at its lowest surface. When I had joined the profession in the late 1970s, it was different. The editors were respected and respectful. The editors used to be like teachers and used to groom the journalists.
To be honest, paid media started developing around the time of India’s independence. Despite being a democratic country, we were following economic policies based on the Soviet pattern. The media was also included in this category. Newspapers who had helped in the freedom struggle were given land by the government to set up their business for nominal rates. The media houses located on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg (New Delhi) have got their lands in the similar manner.
The government has never spoken against the newspaper lobby. Instead, they have given them advertisements, supplements, land for use and newspaper import license among others.
The government has turned a blind eye towards these issues as long as the media does not question their moves. I had joined News Nation on the insistence of Shailesh Kumar (former editor-in-chief and CEO of News Nation) but I was not aware that even he will be asked to leave. My contract was not renewed and several others were asked to leave. But that day, I realized that the news channels are working for money and the TRPs. The ethics of this profession are lost.
Are you aware if any other news channels are indulging in stings and extortion? What can be done to prevent such unethical practices in journalism?
PS: Government intervention is needed at the earliest. I have been informed that these sort of incidents have been taking place in several other news channels. I have heard about money laundering, but this systematic way of obtaining money is shocking.
Journalism is dying. Earlier, we had editors but now we have managers who work on the orders of the owner. There are editors who speak against corruption on news channels while they have themselves indulged in corrupt practices.
Earlier, when stings were conducted to inform people about the corrupt practices in the country. But do you think these stings are motivated for high viewership and the channel’s own vested interests?
PS: I agree that stings should be done in the interest of the country and its people. But the stings today are being conducted for the interest of the news channels. I ask, why stings are being conducted on furniture market or on Snapdeal?
There are such cases where promos are being shown for two days and then those shows are never telecasted. This has been happening repeatedly.
‘Kala Akshaar’, a sting on fake university degrees was never broadcasted. Around 13 universities were involved in the sting. There is an industry for fake degrees where you can purchase a BTech degree for Rs 1.80 lakhs and an MBBS degree for Rs 15-18 lakhs. Eventually, the sting was axed. I am not alleging that money was involved, but I want to know why the sting never made it to television?
Journalism is supposed to be the fourth estate but in India, journalism is turning out to be the weakest profession. I am still hopeful that things will change. I want to see the corruption being wiped out from the media. Either the government steps up or a crusader in the form of an NGO or a journalist tries to make a difference.