BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. This week the leaders of India's government took back what they said last week about a news operation called Tahelka [sp?] which means sensation. The government had condemned the web-based news service that by means of a sting operation caught leaders of India's military on the take in virtually every office. In the last two weeks the nation has watched hours of videotape gathered by Tahelka reporters of money passed across desks and stuffed in drawers and greed so widespread it threatened to bring down the government. This was regarded as the most stable government India had had in years, and now because of Tahelka, six ministers have resigned and the Prime Minister, A. B. Vajpi [sp?] is left to clean up the mess and rebuild his shrunken majority.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Tarun Tejpal is the publisher of Tahelka.com and over a nearly 20 year career he's reported for some of India's most highly regarded newspapers and magazines. Mr. Tejpal, on the face of it the plan seems crazy! Two young reporters with new suits and about 20 grand in bribe money faking their way to the top of India's military food chain! How did the idea come together and what made you think you could pull it off?
TARUN TEJPAL: There is a background to all this. India has been convulsed by controversies about defense deals since the mid-80s; for the last 15 years we've had problems about defense deals, and in 1989 the Indian government actually banned defense middlemen. The truth is anybody who lives in Delhi and moves in a particular set knows that Delhi is full of very, very wealthy defense middlemen, so the idea was to actually just start at the bottom, go with a dummy product, a dummy company, and see how far you could take it and what was the scale of corruption. The very, they are very fine reporters but they're complete novices when it comes to military hardware and financial sort of skulduggery, and they made several gaffes, but the greed was so blinding that none of these guys who we ran the sting on could even catch on.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Let's talk about couple of those gaffes that you referred to. I mean some of them are actually kind of funny. When one of them was asked where he stayed in London he replied -because he'd never been out of India -Manchester United - and that didn't even set off any alarm bells.
TARUN TEJPAL: That's right. That's right. That is really hysterical, yeah. But I think - I think the funniest was when one of them asked this fellow, he said well what is the range of your hand-held camera, and he said unlimited. [LAUGHTER] So, so this guy was a little puzzled. He said oh well I made [blur ?] after a point. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Let's talk about the fallout in India. I mean India had a government that looked pretty stable, pretty clean - this was after decades of what is now the opposition party in office. Describe the political moment in India and what the fallout has been from this scandal.
TARUN TEJPAL: The fallout has been basically all hell has broken loose, yeah. The one thing I made sure we didn't do and I particularly didn't do was I did not think about what the fallout of the story would be - who would gain, who would lose, who would leverage it how, because if we'd done that we would have never finished the story. We are not really concerned with the politics of it, because I knew what would happen. And exactly that and worse has happened, because every political party actually has jumped onto the bandwagon and tried to leverage the story in any which way they could, not just political parties --individuals, groups, everyone. The government has also behaved badly. I mean they ran a slander campaign against us. They called it a national conspiracy, an international conspiracy, all kinds of things. You know?
BROOKE GLADSTONE:No major American news organization would ever have done anything like this. Do you think this kind of gotcha journalism or entrapment is appropriate?
TARUN TEJPAL: You have to remember that there's a great thick skin operating here. I mean all I keep saying is suppose the story had been a print story in a newspaper, nobody would have even bothered to reply! I mean this was hard core audio/video visual evidence, getting wall to wall sort of coverage in the networks, and even then they brazened it out. There's a kind of hierarchy of corruption and if it's so high here at the moment the only way to combat it is with extraordinary means.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Is it okay to use certain journalistic techniques in one place and not in another?
TARUN TEJPAL:Like I keep saying - I mean I didn't have a shadow of doubt about the ethics of the investigation because we didn't get into anyone's private lives! Nothing! I, I - the entire investigation concerned people in public offices abusing public trust and public money! And people like this need to be nailed in what would be [...?...] for me - that is the core job of journalism to actually, you know, keep an eye on governments. All I'm saying is there is a difference between the climate in say in the United States and the climate in India. A lot of what people get away with here, people would not get away with there. You know? The systems are sort of-- accountability and policing -- it seems to me from a distance mostly Hollywood movies, of course, is [LAUGHS] far more efficient than they are in India.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Perhaps. Tarun Tejpal, editor of Tahelka, thank you very much!
TARUN TEJPAL: Thank you. Bye, bye.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Tarun Tejpal spoke to us from Delhi.