Exposing Corruption?

Truth Behind Sting

Ankush Vats

Yesterday [march 16], a sting came out in the media exposing the corrupt leaders of Trinamool Congress. If what is shown in the sting is true, the guilty should be punished. But, I, personally, have serious doubts over the credibility of the man, Mathew Samuels, behind the sting. Of all the parties and states in India, why did he zero in on West Bengal ruled by TMC.

Interestingly, Tehelka is owned by K D Singh, who is also a TMC MP in Rajya Sabha. Did he help Mathew in fixing his meeting with the leaders of the TMC? The sting was conducted during Mathew's tenure at Tehelka. Did he use Tehelka's resources to conduct this sting?

I have worked with Mathew in Tehelka. During my last one year at Tehelka, there have been various instances where he has compromised the 'editorial freedom' that he so openly boasts of.

Around a month before the Bihar assembly polls, he announced in the editorial meeting that they had done a sting on some big leaders of the state. Later, in every successive meetings he would say that they had got the footage and release it soon. However, till date those 'big leaders' have not been exposed.

He stopped talking about that sting during the editorial meetings as well. Why did he not release it even after claiming before everyone so publicly to have got the footage? I leave it to the judgement of the readers.

In another instance, a colleague of mine had gone to Jharkhand to do a story on land scam worth thousands of crores in which a senior political leader was involved.

The colleague filed the story and it was discussed to be a potential cover for the next edition. But Mathew stalled it for one month saying he was collecting some more documents on it. Later, he scrapped the story altogether without giving any reasons for it.

When our bureau chief questioned it, he was asked to leave Tehelka. Why was the story not published when it had all the contents of being a cover story?

In a similar case with me, he asked me to do a story on rubber plantation happening illegally around Maharashtra-Goa border. I asked him for some contacts for the story, but he said he had none. Even then I went to Maharashtra-Goa border areas, talked to locals and filed the story.

He stalled the story for two weeks, again on the pretext of collecting some 'documents'. The story was later carried because I had not targeted any particular individual or a company which was involved in rubber plantation there. There were many companies which were doing it, so I couldn't pin point a particular company.

I wonder what documents did he collect when he didn't even have a single contact to give me to go ahead with the story. There have been many instances like this in Tehelka.

The manner in which he left Tehelka was also very suspicious. He announced that he was going to leave the magazine and start a new website (Narada News) with KD Singh. He said that Tehelka was struggling to pay salaries to its employees. The only link we had with the management was Mathew. So when he announced his decision to leave, everyone was wondering what would happen to their pay.

But, he fooled everyone in the office by saying that the new venture will be a sister concern of Tehelka and its profits will be diverted to the magazine to convert the ailing magazine into a profitable one.

Sadly, some people in the office believed him. I told my colleagues that why would KD Singh invest in a new news venture when a established brand like Tehelka was not profitable for him. Now, on his website he claims that the project was shelved three years hack.

Mathew also exploited Tehelka resources for Narada. People in the web team of Tehelka were asked to write stories for Narada. They would do it thinking that it was a joint venture between him and KD Singh.

There were two or three "trusted lieutenants" of Mathew in the office. They would come to office with him and leave with him. Everyone in the office would ask about their job responsibilities but no one had any answer. They were drawing salary from Tehelka, and much more than some journalist there. The only job they did honestly was to arrange for food and alcohol during the office parties.

In his introductory note for Narada, Mathew has written that he left Tehelka when he was convinced that it was in the hands of 'young and vibrant' leadership. Little does he know that the magazine was turned from weekly to fortnightly and then recently to monthly.

He systematically weakened Tehelka by firing three of the best journalists I know, who would work for countless hours at stretch, even when we were not paid. Currently, Tehelka is on the verge of shutting down. I feel sad to say this but this is the harsh reality.

We have not been paid salaries for January and February. The salary for December we got in mid-January. When the employees repeatedly asked about their salaries, the management threatened to fire half of them saying the magazine was over staffed. When we told them that we were willing to leave soon after our salaries were cleared, the management played one of its cheapest tricks. It is now harassing employees by saying that they owe money to the company for the professional trips made by them in the past.

Some of us had gone for outstation trips for work purpose, for which we would get some advance. After the trip we would file our expense with one of the trusted lieutenants of Mathew and get our reimbursements (if it exceeded) after two-three months. However, now the management denies ever receiving any bills and is threatening to deduct the amount from our salaries, which have been pending for two months.

I, in particular, was told that I owed Tehelka Rs 17,000, another colleague of mine was told he owed over Rs 40,000.

There are times when there is no money with Tehelka employees to even travel to office. Because most of us are young and don't have enough savings to survive on. Some of us have resigned and left Delhi because it was very difficult to make ends meet there. While there are some who are still struggling at Tehelka, hoping their dues will be cleared and they will be paid.

Mathew also offered jobs to most of us, including me, in his new venture, that too at a higher salary. We are all looking for a job, desperately. But not even a single person has accepted Mathew's offer even during this desperate time. Such is the trust and respect he has earned with his colleagues at Tehelka. We are all struggling to make ends meet but don't want to be cheated again, that's what we all feel.

On a lighter note: How Narada News Facebook page got over 3 lakh likes within hours of its launch?

Narada News was launched just yesterday. But it's Facebook page has over 3 lakh Followers. I was surprised to see it. I thought the sting has worked for Narada. While it is very likely for a Facebook page to get 3 lakh likes in hours.

However it is close to impossible to get around 2400 people to review the page. When I went through the reviews of the page I found that the page already existed with some other name. They have changed the name of an existing group which had 3 lakh followers to Narada News. All previous posts of the page have been deleted

[The author is an employee with Tehelka and views expressed here are his own.]
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Vol. 48, No. 41, Apr 17 - 23, 2016