Mail Today Editor Sandeep Bamzai and Hindustan Times Energy Editor Anupama Airy step down.
Two senior journalists have resigned from their publications after they were named in a public interest litigation related to the Essar Group allegedly cultivating people in positions of power by showering them with favours to forward its business interests.
It was confirmed that Sandeep Bamzai has stepped down as Editor of Mail Today because of the allegations, as has the Hindustan Times’ s Energy Editor Anupama Airy.
Nicholas Dawes, Chief Editorial and Content Officer of the Hindustan Times, told Scroll.in: “We came to know in the afternoon that she [Anupama Airy] was the journalist named in the PIL. We confronted her with the allegation. She confirmed it. Since there was prima facie evidence of a violation of our ethical standards, we decided to suspend her until a full disciplinary enquiry could take place. She chose to put in her papers following the conversation. We decided to act firmly and openly.”
Bamzai said: “Propriety demands that I resign and I did so.”
The resignations came hours after the Indian Express reported that a whistleblower had leaked internal communications of the Essar Group, showing how the company had plied politicians and journalists with favours and gifts in the hope of quid pro quo. The leaked documents are now part of a public interest litigation that is to be filed in the Supreme Court.
The PIL asserts that “the conduct of the journalists and media companies in taking favours from corporates and in carrying out planted stories is in violation of journalistic norms and ethics”. It adds, “The Government of India is obligated to withdraw the privileges like subsidized land, newsprint, houses etc. that have been extended to media organisations and journalists who are indulging in paid news, or publishing news reports to favour corporates, or who are taking favours from corporate.”
Emails mention journalists
The PIL cites two emails that mention Airy and Bamzai. One of these is dated October 26, 2012, and says, “Kindly arrange car for Ms Anupama Airy. She needs the car from 9th Nov till 11 th Nov.” The other dated November 23, 2012, says, “Request you to arrange a car for Mr Sandeep Bamzai from 20th Nov to 24th Nov.” A subsequent email adds, “Please note Mr Sandeep Bamzai would like to continue the car till 1st December 2012.”
The litigation makes references to other journalists as well.
It includes an email dated October 5, 2012, that says, “Kindly arrange a car today for Ms Meetu Jain. She needs the car for local use.” Jain was employed with CNN-IBN around the time of that email and now works as Deputy News Editor at Times Now.
On Friday, Jain told Scroll.in : “I would like to out rightly deny any allegations that I took a favour, such as a taxi, from the Essar Group of companies while working at my previous organisation. Meanwhile, I would like to add that my Editor in Chief, Arnab Goswami, and the management of Times Now have sought an official explanation from me as of this evening which I shall be giving. Pending that, I am off my official duties with the organisation.”
Another email included in the PIL and dated October 26, 2012, states: “request you to book South Extension guest house for lunch tomorrow for Mayur Shekhar Jha. There will be a get together of 15 guests.”
Jha told Scroll.in that he was in between jobs when the “lunch” took place: he left NDTV Profit in January 2012 and joined Headlines Today as associate editor. Jha maintained that he left Headlines Today on October 1, 2012, to set up his own digital company.
“I used the guest house for a small family lunch,” Jha said. “I paid up for the food and beverage. I used this facility because Prashant Ruia is a personal friend. I used the facility when I was on a sabbatical.”
Arguing that “some of the material is fabricated”, Essar told the Indian Express that this is part of an attempt to blackmail the company for money.