Mr Robert Vadra’s “Are you serious?” seems to have captured the media’s imagination more than the fact that he called the ANI reporter an idiot and nut, demanded the footage be deleted, instructed his guards to delete the footage and that the guards obliged him by dropping their mandate of guarding their protectee and proceeded to detain and harass the reporter to delete the footage. Let us leave the larger issue of the Haryana land deal and/or corruption aside and focus on the incident of Saturday night.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra was an invitee at an event for the launch of “world’s first ever Google glass enabled fitness range from Technogym followed by high voltage musical evening” at the Amatra gym in Ashoka Hotel.

“Robert Vadra repeatedly berated the ANI reporter... “Are you Serious?” (4 times). Mr. Vadra, Yes, We are serious.” Pic/Youtube
“Robert Vadra repeatedly berated the ANI reporter... “Are you Serious?” (4 times). Mr. Vadra, Yes, We are serious.” Pic/Youtube

The ANI team was covering the event for which we had been invited. When the reporter and cameraman spotted Mr. Vadra, the reporter asked him a question on the treadmill being launched at the event. Mr. Vadra answered, but when the second question, which was on the controversial Haryana land deal, was asked he was livid as the footage clearly shows. He called the reporter an idiot and instructed his guards to get the footage deleted, which they tried to do.

If these security personnel are those provided by the government then they certainly went beyond the call of duty in obeying these instructions. Their job profile is to guard the person, not do his bidding and certainly not to intimidate other citizens who are not in any way causing harm to Mr Vadra. It was a bad call, a misjudgment on Mr Vadra’s part.

Robert Vadra repeatedly berated the ANI reporter... “Are you Serious?” (4 times).

Mr. Vadra, Yes, We are serious. ANI, like many other news organisations in this country, has been in the news business for decades. We have been yelled at, humiliated, called agents, bullied and intimidated. Almost all political parties have tried these tactics on us. Most of us are in the business of gathering news and disseminating it as best as we can and in as unbiased a manner as possible. For a news agency like a newspaper, no story is complete unless we have all points of view and we put it forward without editing it out.

For the several decades that we have been in the news business, nobody has forced us to delete any footage. On July 30, 1987 the then Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, was examining a guard of honour at the end of his visit to Sri Lanka. ANI’s Chairman Prem Prakash captured on video, a Sri Lankan sailor later identified as Rohana De Silva raising the butt of his rifle and sending it swinging down on Rajiv Gandhi. The Prime Minister’s reflexes were quick; he ducked a blow that could have been potentially fatal.

Mr Prem Prakash rushed to Air India One to grab his seat for the flight back to Delhi to feed these world exclusive visuals. On board, the Prime Minister’s special flight, the PMO’s media advisor Mr HY Sharada Prasad denied any attempt had been made on the PM’s life. When Mr. Prakash said he had the visuals, Mr. Prasad demanded the tape, which Mr Prakash refused to give saying, “If the PM wants to see the tape, I will play it for him on my camera, I won’t give the tape.” He played the tape for Mr Gandhi and the Prime Minister who was rubbing his elbow where he was hit said, “How can you deny what has been caught on tape?”

Mr TN Seshan who was in charge of PM’s security then asked for the tape for “giving Doordarshan a dub.” Falling for the ploy, Mr Prakash handed him the tape. Mr Seshan then refused to return the tape back to Mr Prakash.

High drama ensued on the PM’s flight when Mr Prakash went on dharna with other reporters who sat on the aisle saying they would not budge till the tape was not returned to the reporter. Rajiv Gandhi entered the media enclosure of Air India One and instructed Mr Seshan to immediately return the tape.

Mr Vadra could perhaps learn a lesson or two from his late father-in-law who was always accessible to the media even when uncomfortable questions on Bofors were thrown at him. Everybody has the option to say “no comments”. Just two words, which are a lot easier than what Vadra said and the Congress has been saying since Saturday night.

Almost every media organisation has had brushes with powerful people who demand that embarrassing or incriminating footage be deleted. It is extremely difficult to withstand the pressures, and very often we falter. Thankfully and hopefully those are aberrations.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash