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Radia Tapes: Shady Journalism

Nikhil Pahwa (of Medianama) tweeted a link at Outlook – one of the Radia tapes, where she seems talking to “Shrinath”, who in the context of the discussion of refuting claims on undersea stuff, seems to be the MD of Tata Comm. (This is a guess, of course. And you’ll notice he’s not said anything damning anyways)

I transcribed one relevant piece with “S” and “NR” (from 17:10) – a discussion on how journalists might be doing a little more than just journalism:

S: …about the CNBC angle, as to why…are they punting the market, by any chance?

NR: Yes, they’re punting the market. There’s an investigation with SEBI on, along…SEBI’s already looking at Udayan, they’re already looking at (unclear) like Siddharth, they’re already watching Sajid(?) and gang. They’re all into this profiteering…What does Amitabh Jhunjhunwala do? He has a style. His style is – ‘I will tell you where you can buy…you know, where you can make money.’ So these guys get their wives involved, in trading in stock.

S: Oh, wow.

NR: What they end up doing is, so Amitabh Jhunjhunwala tells them, if you don’t have money, I’ll give you margin. He gives them a lakh and he says, oh you can return it to me because if you don’t have money…or he’ll give them five lakhs, or he’ll give them ten lakhs. And then they make money on profit, and then they give it back to him. This is a scam that’s going on right now, and its…I know at least about 40 journalists who are involved in this through the ADAG camp.

S: This is crazy. I mean, they must realize that the consequences are ridiculous.

NR: No but you see, what happens Shrinath, is that these guys are involved in SEBI, they’ve got good relationships with SEBI, at the lower levels they don’t allow the files to move. You know, Bhave can order whatever investigation he wants. What happens at the lower level is that the guy finds that I didn’t find anything. Because Bhave doesn’t do the investigation personally. Unless someone does this inves…and I think they’re on it, they’ve already done a lot of investigations on Pyramid Saimira which you saw that, again, ET got caught in. You know, that guy, Unnikrishnan.

S: Right.

NR: So I have a sense that this is….Unless your stock’s being played or there are multiple stocks that are being played…I know that it happened with Unitech.

S: Okay?

NR: They brought the stock down to 30 rupees, and then made the journalists buy it. R-Capital bought 150 crores worth of stock that day, and then took 3% ownership of the company. They literally hammered the stock so much that they brought it right down to 30 rupees. And Unitech had to go to the cops! To demand an enquiry. They went to SEBI. Sri, there is a play…it’s a terrible thing and CNBC is on the forefront. Udayan Mukherjee is known to have…he files the highest tax returns amongst journalists. 

S: Wow!

NR: I’m told his last return is 6 crores, is what he paid in taxes. I mean, he doesn’t earn that.

S: Not bad.

(Emphasis mine)

I don’t know how true the above is, and you have to understand that if it’s Radia here, she represents the Mukesh Ambani camp and therefore will be biased against R-Cap and ADAG. Also TataComm on the other end surely doesn’t like RComm or ADAG that much. Finally, since this is a private conversation, there is a lot of random anecdotal stuff that everyone likes to spew. Basically, she could be making it up – and there’s nothing illegal about that, since she’s not speaking publicly.

The only thing this brings out is this – was the Unitech price manipulated down to 30 rupees through TV news, and did RCap actually buy 150 cr. of stock? Did TV anchors and journalists buy Unitech in their family accounts? Did R-Capital or AJ give TV anchors’ wives money – as margin or capital – to buy and sell stocks? An investigation by SEBI – on the lines of the probe into Saimira – can reveal this and a lot more.

Other than that, there’s not much in the conversation really – in the stock market business you hear rumours backed with fantastic stories, conspiracy theories and racy by-lines every day. I wouldn’t deny that something like this happens, just that you need solid proof and the power to nail at least one journalist. The Rajesh Unnikrishnan story was too small – must catch someone big. The media must learn to crucify their own sinners.