Saturday, June 18, 2016

How Essar Tried To Manage The Media


 The Essar emails leaked by a whistle-blower, in some cases, refer to reporters specifically by name, and to newspapers and magazines in other cases. The email exchanges speak of being “favourable” to those in the news media — from editors in Delhi to local journalists in Chhattisgarh.

Below are excerpts extracted from the emails:

Emails mentioning specific journalists

“He is an influential journalist and can be a big help to us…”

In an email dated June 7, 2012, Essar executives discuss the need to “oblige” a journalist, Dev Sharan Tiwari, bureau chief of Deshbandhu newspaper in Jagdalpur in Bastar district of Chhattisgarh.

The mail stated that the executive had met Tiwari.

“Mr Tiwari had certain issues about he being discriminated and bypassed in contracts for last two years. He is an influential journalist and can be a big help to us in terms of information and opinion building, if we encash him to our advantage and at the same time will be great nuisance value if we ignore him.”

It is further said that Tiwari should be obliged “with a small quantity of business”.

“He will be a great resource for us in the Kirandul, Dantewada and Jagdalpur”.

An email dated November 4, 2012, states that Dev Sharan Tiwari was given “transportation contract so that he can be favourable to us”.

When Newslaundry contacted Tiwari, he categorically denied meeting any Essar executive or asking for any favours: “Yeh bilkul galat hai [this is absolutely incorrect].”

Tiwari’s brother is Bharatiya Janata Party District President (Bastar) Vidya Sharan Tiwari.

 “Plz arrange two black label for the party.”

Freebies and favours to journalists evidently went beyond cab rides. An email sent by an Essar executive on October 26, 2012, details arrangement for a lunch that was hosted by journalist Mayur Shekhar Jha for 15 people. The email has an Essar executive asking two employees to get in touch with Jha for the “lunch menu” and arranging two bottles of Black Label whisky.

“Request you to book south extension guest house for lunch tomorrow for Mayur Shekhar Jha.

There will be a get together of 15 guests. The guests will start arriving from 12:30 onwards.

Nikhil: Plz get in touch with Mr. Mayur [phone number] for lunch Menu.

Amit: Plz arrange two black label for the party.”

Jha, however, said he was not affiliated to any organisation then and had left his job at Headlines Today the previous month. “I had paid for the food and booze and had only requested for the venue as my house is too small to accommodate 15 people,” said Jha. He stated that he is not working with any media organisation currently.

In another intra-office email sent out in May, 2012, an accommodation request for Raghavendra, Dainik Bhaskar Resident Editor, is forwarded by an official in Essar’s Ranchi office to the Delhi office.

The email has the officer from Ranchi describing Raghavendra as “very much supportive as far as our work is concerned”.

“He will arrive there by 7:00 Pm and require an accommodation for 20th night and 21st day. He will depart on 21st evening for Ranchi.”

Newslaundry’s calls and messages to Raghavendra went unanswered.

There was also, in May 2012, a “media get-together” arranged for 30 people, the cost of which was estimated at Rs “50000 to 60000”. No names are mentioned, though.

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 Emails mentioning media organisations and not journalists in particular

“…coordinated following stories with the journalist…”

In December 12, 2011, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a chargesheet against Angshuman and Ravi Ruia, promoters of the Essar Group, in connection with the 2G spectrum allocation scam.

The other people mentioned in the chargesheet were Essar Group director (Strategy and Planning) Vikas Saraf, Loop Telecom promoters Kiran Khaitan and her husband I P Khaitan. The CBI alleged the Ruias and Khaitan of having entered a criminal conspiracy with the intention of cheating the government during the allocation of second-generation (2G) spectrum and licences in 2008.

The CBI contended that the Essar Group did, in fact, own more than 10 per cent equity in Loop Communications, contrary to Essar’s official declarations. According to rules, a company with a telecom licence cannot hold more than 10 per cent equity in another firm with a telecom licence in the same area of operations (Essar had 33 per cent stakes in Vodafone Essar Limited then).

An email exchange dated January 6, 2012, between Essar executives mentions stories that were “coordinated with the journalist” in December, 2011, by one of the executives.

“CCD Delhi coordinated following story with the journalist

Story on Essar Ports in Hindu Business Line

Story on Essar-Loop in Hindustan Times and Mail Today

Story on Essar-Loop in Tehalka and Business Today”

Hindu Business Line carried a story pertaining to Indian ports with no quotes from Essar (“Essar Ports also did not comment”). Hindustan Times and Mail Today only carried agency copies or stories without bylines on the Essar-Loop story during the period. Tehelka carried one story and Business Today carried multiple agency copies and one byline copy.

The Tehelka story was headlined “The Madness In The CBI’s Method”. You can read it here. The story was reported by Ashish Khetan, who is now a member of the Aam Aadmi Party.

In November, 2011, Tehelka held its first “ThinkFest. The Essar Group happened to be the fest’s  principal sponsor.

Newslaundry contacted the author of the story. Khetan’s response is produced verbatim below:

There is just one story that in which Essar finds mention and it was an investigative story on the overall approach of the CBI in the 2G scam investigation. I would like to make the following points in response to your mail:

The story based on internal government documents, legal opinions by top law officers in the government and the controversial role of the then attorney general Ghulam Vahanvati in different aspects of the 2G scam. This story was part of a series of stories I had done on the 2G scam and the same can be easily ascertained from the archives of the Tehelka magazine. All these stories were investigative in nature and all of them were based on hard facts, government documents and detailed research.

This story too was based on meticulous research and brought out the conflicting government records to show how the CBI was adopting different yardsticks for different accused thus making a mockery of a sensitive investigation like 2g scam.

The story was about how top government functionaries like law minister, CBI director, CBI director of legal prosecution and AG were giving diagonally opposite legal opinions on the role of different corporates in 2g scam and making a mockery of the whole case.

The gist of the story was the hijacking of the probe by vested interests. My point in this story was to show that the CBI was being selective and inconsistent in their approach, depending on who the accused were, in the sense that their actions seemed to depend upon who they were investigating. The story concluded with the following para:

 “The Capital’s grapevine is abuzz with the innuendos that the corporate agendas have hijacked the 2G probe. If one contrasts the approach of the CBI towards different telecom players, many would argue that the only logical inference one could draw is that the agency has adopted different yardsticks for different accused.”

 My story was investigative in nature and was mentioned on tehelka’s cover. It was a hard story taking on the powerful people in the government and was above all in public interest.

I would like to know the exact content of the mail referred by you. Have you reproduced the verbatim text of the mail in your questionnaire? I would also like to know the exact nature of the allegation leveled against me in the mails mentioned by you and the exact point of your story Does it say that I had taken any favor of any kind from anybody to do this story? Is there any evidence to show that there was any kind of impropriety in my conduct as a journalist? Is there any evidence to show that I did this story under any undue influence? Does the mail mention my name as a beneficiary of any material benefit? Is there any evidence to show that there was any factual inaccuracy in my story? Would like to know which other stories you are referring to in the mail?

 I hope you will understand my shock at this baseless and outrageous allegation. I welcome any kind of scrutiny of my work and am open to critical questioning.

In another text message to Newslaundry, Khetan also denied having met any Essar representative in person.

Business Today’s story was titled “Confused signals”. The story was reported by Sunny Sen. When Newslaundry contacted Sen, he said that he hadn’t met any Essar executive in the process of doing the story. However, Sen said he might have had email or “verbal” conversations.

The same email also mentions a list of journalists with whom the Corporate Communications Director of Essar Group had a “series of meetings” during December, 2011. It is a fairly common practice for beat journalists to meet representatives of the companies they cover.

“…we need to be more careful in future in planting stories.”

In emails exchanged on July 23, 2012, Essar executives discuss a story that came out on the news wire, Press Trust of India (PTI). The PTI reporter is not mentioned by name and referred to as “she”.

It is stated in one of the emails that Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) Chairman CS Verma accused Essar of “planting stories thru media on NMDC [National Mineral Development Corporation] pricing which was not in good taste”.

The executives speculate that the PTI reporter who was in touch with Essar executives for the story could have “partly divulged info” for a quote from SAIL chairman.

One of the executives states, though, that the PTI correspondent is dependable.

“The correspondent is trustworthy and known to me for years.

She has also said while talking to u that she would take quotes from Mr C S Verma! Who is acting chairman of NMDC…

I would, knowing her, would vouch for the pti correspondent.” (sic)

To this, it is stated that they need to be more careful in “planting” stories.

“Point of care is totally accepted and we had the same approach. Again I would at she has done numerous stories for us and we have not had any problem. I will still reiterate that she divulging the source is impossible”

Newslaundry was not able to the find the PTI story the executives referred to in the email. But it appears from the email exchange that it was about NMDC charging “high prices” for iron ore.

According to the Public Interest Litigation filed pertaining to Essar Leaks, the company’s Monthly Information System report stated: “Planted stories…about the arbitrary pricing mechanism of NDMC”.

“…catch hold of desk guys across publications…”

In an email dated July 9, 2012, an Essar executive reached out to people working in the public relations firm, Adfactors PR, to discuss news reports following Gujarat government’s decision to attach the bank accounts of Essar Oil. Essar had put out a  press release on the issue on July 9, 2012.

The subject of the email reads: “Re: Worth finding out who will carry what tomorrow if possible?”

“…catch hold of desk guys across publications to ensure that headlines for tomorrow’s news on this issue is in our favour or at least neutral.”

“Mint could be carrying a negative headline we can try to get it mild.”

The headline of Mint’s  story was: “Gujarat govt seizes Essar Oil’s bank accounts”.

“I am planning to get a story done by Indian Express favouring Steel Sector”

In an email detailed October 3, 2012, Essar executives discuss giving a quote for a story to appear in The Indian Express “favouring” the steel sector. “Ministry of Mines has asked Finance Ministry to immediately lower the export duty by 15 per cent. I am planning to get a story done by Indian Express…”

The Indian Express has published their explanation of references  to their organisation.

Source- Newslaundry

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