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|August 25, 2001||
The Rediff Interview/Tarun Tejpal
Tarun Tejpal, tehelka.com's editor in chief, admitted the web site's two investigating reporters did not consult him when they hired prostitutes to lure senior army officers to get more information for the March scoop on alleged corruption in defence deals.
Shaken by the current controversy, Tejpal told rediff.com's Onkar Singh, "I am going to put some checks and balances in place so that nobody from tehelka.com ever tries to do this sort of thing again."
Was it necessary to use prostitutes to get information on corruption in defence deals?
This is judgement called in on hindsight. It is a judgement that the two reporters -- Anirudha Bahal and Samuel Mathew -- made on the spot during the course of the investigation. They must have taken the decision keeping in mind whether this would keep the story going.
As far as I am concerned, I would say this was not at all bad judgement because it exposes the fact that corruption in defence is so rampant that the officers could even make demands of having fun with women.
When you assess the situation today you should be a little more charitable to the reporters. You should realise they were working under extremely dangerous conditions.
Did the reporters feel the story would get stalled if they did not comply with the alleged demands?
They thought the story would not move forward if they did not take the decision that they took. They also had an element of enthusiasm. They might have thought, 'Alright, this is another indictment of these guys.' That is why the tapes were given to the Indian army and the Venkataswami Commission. This is another aspect of the corruption of the army officers who after spending a couple of hours with women are willing to do defence deals.
Did you take legal advice before using the prostitutes?
No, we did not. Like I said these boys took the decision on the spot. They too were uncomfortable when they were going through it. We as a company and I individually are very uncomfortable about what happened. At the same time I am saying again and again that a charitable view should be taken of what they did on the spur of the moment. They were working under very difficult conditions. They were working on a very big story.
I admit there was a trangression. But look at the whole context. If we look at the overall picture I would say it was a minor transgression to reveal something really big.
Were you aware that prostitutes were used by your reporters to get the story?
As head of the organisation I take moral responsibility for what happened. Did I make the call? I don't want to say anything. I do not want to talk about it. I take moral reponsibility.
Taking moral responsibility is one thing, but taking a decision is another thing altogether. Were you aware that prostitutes had been used?
I said I take moral responsibility. The decision was taken by the boys working in the field.
In other words, you did not know about it.
I did not know then, but eventually I knew about it. When my reporters are working on a story they work on their own and I am updated periodically.
Were the girls flown in from Mumbai?
I would not know. You would have to check it with Anirudha Bahal.
Were the girls paid for their services?
Again, this question can be answered by Anirudha.
When you first broke the story many said you were the doyen of Indian investigative journalism. But after the prostitutes report was broken by the Indian Express, many journalists have started joking about your credentials and criticised your reporters.
I think this is highly unfair to the two boys who worked hard to uncover a big scam in defence. We are essentially into investigative journalism. I am very uncomfortable with what happened. These kinds of allegations serve the purpose of those who want to divert attention from the main story.
You should be a little more charitable to the two journalists.
Why did you hold back this information?
No, we did not hold back any information. If you saw the first show (of the tehelka tapes) we clearly said in the commentary there were demands for money, whisky and even girls from the army officers. Besides, we have given all the tapes and transcripts to the Venkataswami Commission and the defence ministry. We did not hold back any information.
Who leaked out the information to the Indian Express?
I don't know, but I have a feeling this was the handiwork of George Fernandes who is desperate to get back into the Union Cabinet.
What do you plan to do next?
I have told you I am very uncomfortable with the whole thing. I am now going to put some checks and balances in place so that this sort of thing is never ever repeated in future.
COMPLETE COVERAGE: The Great Defence Scandal
Design: Dominic Xavier
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