Journalist Rakesh Krishnan Simha, whom the India Today magazine had employed in 1999, has posted on Twitter a series of tweets, exposing the allegedly unscrupulous acts of his former colleagues and of a few scribes who joined the media house later. “I worked at India Today for nearly two years as an assistant copy editor. By the time I joined in 1999, it had degenerated into a racket, with editors who were fixers rather than writers,” Simha begins the story.
In India Today, Simha claims to have seen many editors use “their power to blackmail politicians. Stories by honest investigative journalists were killed to protect corrupt judges such as Sumit Mukherjee”.
The former assistant copy editor with India Today says, “Justice Mukherjee not only took bribes from property developers, he would also ask for calls girls. The code word for girls was ‘leg piece’. Despite CBI giving the case (including tapes of the judge talking to dalals) as an exclusive to India Today, the story was killed.”
Simha, revealing how opinion and exit polls are fixed in India Today, writes, “These were fixed from the get-go to suit their narrative. Once I met the head of one of these polling firms. I said, ‘You guys are complete fakes. Why do you do this?’ He replied: ‘India Today pays us and we give them the results they ask for. Simple economics!’”
Simha claims further that the magazine hardly sells but the figures published are greatly inflated. He says, “India Today at one point claimed they had a circulation of 2,50,000. Or maybe 4,00,000. I was quite proud to be a part of this magazine. I was so pure! An insider told me their paid subscription was no more than 25,000. In fact, their print run was 40,000 tops.”
“This guy worked at Thompson Press which is owned by Living Media. Only the people at Thompson Press knew the real story. The circulation was inflated to hoodwink advertisers. But there’s another indication of abysmally low circulation,” Simha explains, adding, “Every week, the copy editor used to ask the desk team to create fake ‘Letters to the Editor’. The reason was that for a magazine with a claimed circulation of 2-4 lakh and a readership in the millions, we got at most 5-6 letters. Sometimes zero! You just can’t make this up.”
Exposing the fake ‘letters to the editor’ column further, Simha writes, “Even those five or six letters were from nutcases. We suspected that two or three of these letters were by the same person. Anyway, I really enjoyed writing these fake letters and would give funny names such as ‘Toofan Ghosh, Calcutta’ or ‘Banduk Chatterjee, Asansol’. Also, family and exes.”
Simha says he is making the point of fraudulence that he witnessed in Living Media. “IndiaToday became a catalogue of articles to sell art displayed at Art Today, owned by Living Media. Editors hired were those who could influence the government so the company could get FM and satellite TV licences.”
He says even surveys declaring the best performing states and institutions were fabricated. “These annual surveys were a sham. The chief minister who bought the biggest chunk of advertising supplements would be the best CM and his state would get ranked at the top. We used to laugh even as we edited these pages,” the former employee of India Today writes.
The literature section was or is as much of balderdash according to Simha. About the section Books Today, he writes, “One editor Raj Chengappa wrote a book which was touted as a best seller. Books Today couldn’t hide the figures from us — the book had sold 900 copies. Chengapppa claimed he was India’s leading strategist. Again, lots of mirth for us lowly copy editors.”
The narrator laments the magazine’s decline from its exalted status in the bygone era. Simha says, “I had grown up reading India Today when it had giants like Inderjit Badhwar. But by the time I got in, it was a place where fixers ruled.”
“It is, therefore, not surprising that Rajdeep Sardesai was hired by Living Media because he fits the description of what they need,” the journalist, who is now a veteran, thus reaches a contemporary context.
“Sardesai has no morals or scruples. The fact that he danced on screen when the INC won a state election shows he does not even pretend to have scruples,” Simha says about the son of a former cricketer who climbed the ladder of his career in journalism due to the benevolence of his father-in-law Bhaskar Ghose who was the secretary in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in the period 1993-1995, and the director-general of Doordarshan 1986-1988.
Ghose allegedly helped Sardesai’s first employer NDTV raise bills for footage shown on the weekly bulletin “The World This Week”, which were actually clips lifted from Doordarshan‘s own videos. Thus, with Ghose at the helm, the government paid a private company for a product that was its own!
Writing further about the high-profile anchor whom Raghav Behl had employed for IBN in 2005 on a reported salary of Rs 10 lakh a month, a bungalow in the upmarket Panchsheel Enclave of Delhi, a premium Mercedes car and other perks, Simha writes Sardesai’s interview with Sonia Gandhi, in which the hardest question he asked was about her cooking, shows he is ideal for hatchet jobs like the Rhea interview. He is no journalist. He is just a dalla, fixer of whom there are hundreds in Delhi.”
“Similarly, outfits like Living Media are not media companies any more than Osama is a Buddhist monk. They are influencer peddlers and fixers. They don’t care about the truth or justice or creating a better world. They just want cash at all costs,” reads Simha’s epilogue.
“Who knows how much money changed hands for the Rhea interview. Only time will tell,” Simha concludes.