Maheswara Reddy | Apr 4, 2019 | 6 min read
Blackmailing and extortion racket by journalists in Karnataka
Bengaluru: Extortion and blackmail are common practices by media personnel to make a quick buck, in Karnataka’s print and electronic media.
The menace of extortionists has risen to such an extent that Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy was compelled to shift the media centre from Vidhana Soudha to Vartha Soudha (Department of Information and Public Relations) on Infantry Road in Bengaluru. Media personnel interfering in administrative matters was given as the official reason for shifting the centre. Moreover, the CM also ordered the Information and Public Relations Department not to issue entry passes to media persons to the Vidhana Soudha or Vikasa Soudha.
On March 27, six journalists from Vijayapura, North Karnataka, were arrested for extortion of a doctor. Prasanna Deshpande works as a district correspondent, while Sangamesh Kambar works as a cameraman for Suvarna News TV channel. Another journalist, Ravi Bisanalara, works for Sangrama, a weekly Kannada newspaper. The others are currently on the run. The reporters accused the doctor, a sonologist, of carrying out sex-determination tests and threatened to release a manufactured video if he denied a payment of Rs 50 lakh, which after negotiation was brought down to Rs 10 lakh.
According to the first information report (FIR) registered at APMC Police Station in Vijayapura, the accused stuffed Rs 1 lakh into the doctor’s pocket and ordered his partner to start shooting a manufactured scene of the victim bribing the accused.
In a similar incident, on March 19, Hemanth Kashyap, a journalist with Public TV, was arrested for blackmail and extortion. Kashyap allegedly blackmailed Dr Ramana Rao, a well-known Bangalore-based doctor, with a video, threatening to release it if he didn’t make a payment of Rs 50 lakh. Police claim the CCTV footage from Dr Rao’s clinic in Sadashivnagar--a suburban area in the city--that shows Kashyap collecting money across several days. Manjunath, another journalist at Samaya TV, also demanded payment from Dr Rao in exchange of not making the video public.
D Devaraj, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Central Division, Bangalore, said that another accused Manjunath is still at large. "We are pursuing the case," he added.
Kashyap, who is now in judicial custody, was dismissed from his job at Public TV after his arrest. Kashyap was also previously involved in a failed sting operation while working for News 9 TV channel.
These media personnel extend their area of operation beyond the Vidhan Soudha, to private nursing homes, clinics, chit fund companies, film actors, businessmen and corporators who are known for milking civic bodies. They generally prepare a list of potential targets that have deep pockets. Some also work as informers for corrupt politicians. Through these rackets, they earn more than the standard income from media houses. The controversy runs deeper, with allegations coming forward of these reporters sharing the ransom amount with their bosses, or TV channels fixing targets for their correspondents, particularly those who cover crime and politics.
It is known within inner circles that some media representatives lead a luxurious life, despite earning standard industry wages. These individuals own real estate in cities like Bengaluru and several vehicles, including four-wheel drives. A few travel with appointed drivers and pay salaries higher than the amount they receive from their employers (at private TV channels).
For example, some employees at Udaya TV--a regional Kannada news channel--receive around Rs 10,000 or Rs 15,000 as salary per month. Curiously, they pay more than Rs 15,000 to their own drivers. Though Udaya TV shut down its news channel a few months ago, some of its former reporters continue to lead luxurious lives due to their earnings while in service.
Extortion and blackmail has long existed in media in Karnataka.
In July 2015, two journalists and RTI activists, along with Ashwin Rao, son of the then Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Bhaskar Rao, were held on charges of extortion. Rao and others threatened Krishnamurthy, an engineer in Bengaluru city corporation, with Lokayukta raids and demanded Rs 1 crore in exchange.
In April 2017, Lakshmiprasad Vajpaye, Chief Executive Officer of Janasri, a Kannada TV news channel, was arrested by the police for blackmailing and demanding Rs 10 crore from a businessman. The TV channel was owned by mining baron and former minister, Gali Janardhan Reddy.
On April 14, 2018, three journalists were held by Kundapura police station in Udupi, on charges of extortion. The police have identified the accused as Dharmendra (37), Lokesh (35) and Manjunath (42) of Udaya Karnataka, a Kannada tabloid. The police said the accused threatened Koteshwara, a businessman, to publish his “misdeeds” if he refused to pay Rs 1 lakh to them.
“Corruption has become the order of the day among electronic media persons. Their quest in having high-end cars and bungalows is the main reason for corruption. The police have arrested only a few corrupt journalists, there are many yet to be nabbed. Nowadays, it has become a tough task to find sincere and honest journalists,’’ says H Venkatesh, a social activist.
There are several other examples. Instances of some crime reporters persuading private land developers to allocate residential sites to them near Rajankunte on Doddaballapur Road near Bengaluru, at throwaway prices. Another crime reporter, engaged in the popular fake stamp paper scam, escaped justice since he was married to a relative of a top police officer. Some crime reporters in print media have indulged in extortion by threatening to reveal secrets of corrupt police officers and politicians, while political beat reporters take advantage of their political connection and extort officers for transfers and promotions. A reporter of a national daily, involved in facilitating transfers of government officers, demanded more and more money from them for his favours.
Some small newspapers sell press cards to people who are not journalists for a large sum.
A few fake journalists, whose main profession is facilitating the movement of files at Vidhana Soudha and other government offices, have got vehicle pass from a few newspapers after receiving a considerable amount.
When asked about the increasing incidents of journalists blackmailing people and misusing their power, former Karnataka Lokayukta Justice N Santosh Hegde said, “Which section of the society is free from corruption? All sections of the society have become corrupt because society gives prominence and respect people with a lot of money and leading a luxurious life. People respected media and consider it equal to legislature, executive and judiciary. Those were the days when people used to believe the veracity of news published in print media. Now, readers have their own doubts about the news being appeared in the media.”
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