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Last Updated: Friday, 10 October, 2003, 12:32 GMT 13:32 UK
Scandal website reinvents itself

By Navdip Dhariwal
BBC correspondent in Madras

Tarun Tejpal
Mr Tejpal says his website has been under a political assault
An Indian news website brought to its knees by two years of tax raids and government investigations is now planning to relaunch as a weekend newspaper.

The website, Tehelka.com, caused a furore in 2001 when it secretly filmed member's of India's defence establishment allegedly accepting bribes.

The exposure shook the government and led to the resignations of the presidents of two main parties in the ruling coalition and the defence minister, as well as some senior bureaucrats.

But in a surprise twist, an enquiry into the affair also turned its attention on Tehelka in what its staff saw as an act of government revenge.

As a result, Tehelka's editor, Tarun Tejpal, has been too busy dealing with the crises arising from those investigations to cover any stories.

But now Mr Tejpal - probably India's most famous journalist - is planning to put the sting back into Indian journalism.


Two years on and the enquiry has been disbanded. No-one in the government has been charged but Tehelka has virtually shut down.

You can have... 3,000 people killed as in Gujarat last year, but there's zero accountability
Tarun Tejpal

It used to have an office with 120 journalists, that has now been reduced to just three.

It had been forced to give up a three-storey office block and borrow office space from supporters.

"In the last two-and-a-half to three years, we've been at the receiving end of this completely extra-constitutional assault," says Mr Tejpal.

Tehelka is promising a comeback as a "people's paper".

The campaign is taking an eight-city tour across India promoting what it claims is "Free, Fair and Fearless Press" - India's latest addition to a media which Mr Tejpal says has lost its courage.

No scam or outrage of over the past 15 years has led to any kind of accountability, he says.

"You can have 10 people killed, 100 people killed, 3,000 people killed as in Gujarat last year. But there's zero accountability.

N Ram, editor-in-chief of The Hindu
Hindu editor-in-chief N Ram says the press rallied round Tehelka

The level of harassment Tarun Tejpal says he has endured is unprecedented.

"In these circumstances you should have journalists digging in their heels and getting tougher and tougher, but on the other hand what we find is actually journalists are becoming softer," he says.

N Ram is the editor-in-chief of one of India's most famous newspapers, the Hindu, which is now in its 125th year.

He denies the Indian press has gone soft and lost its independence.

"We admire the Tehelka for standing up and the investigative job that it did. But I think much of the press rallied around him for that matter," Mr Ram says.

Mr Ram says there are market pressures on editors - "But I think a large degree of independence exists, a lot of space exists in the Indian press.".


Tehelka has become a crusade - for what its supporters say is - the truth.

Tarun Tejpal
Mr Tejpal continues to believe in the value of "sting" journalism

The new Tehelka newspaper still has to meet its launch target of $3m, so it is looking for founder subscribers.

Among the eminent Indians who have signed up is VS Naipaul, the Nobel prize-winning novelist, Mira Nair, the award-winning director of Monsoon Wedding, and Khushwant Singh, the famous Indian writer and columnist.

Tarun Tejpal says he believes 'sting' journalism - where someone is set up and shown committing an offence - is a legitimate form of journalism.

"I think in a country like India where we've lost our ability to shame our public figures, we need to be ingenious, we need to be courageous, we need to use the sting to shame people.

"I think if there were a thousand journalists in India employing sting journalism to catch out people in public office, misusing public money and public power... that will be a great deterrent," he says.

If exposing scams and corruption is the editorial line - then Tehelka will certainly be keenly read in India.

For a country that fought hard for its press freedom - any new addition that promotes democratic debate can only be a good thing.

Indian website faces crackdown
26 Jun 02  |  South Asia
Heads roll in India bribery scandal
14 Mar 01  |  South Asia
The Tehelka tapes
14 Mar 01  |  South Asia
Indian website breaks the mould
14 Mar 01  |  South Asia
Hindujas asked for Bofors details
09 Mar 01  |  South Asia
Website under fire for tactics
24 Aug 01  |  South Asia

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