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Journalists Body Condemns Karnataka Govt ‘Attempt’ to Bribe Journos

The Indian Journalists Union has demanded an inquiry by the Lokayukta and wants the Press Council of India to take suo moto notice and take appropriate action.
Journalist bodies

New Delhi: The Indian Journalists Union (IJU) is shocked and strongly condemns the reported attempt by Karnataka Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) to bribe around 12 journalists with cash gifts ranging between Rs 1 lakh and 2.5 lakh on Diwali.

The News Minute (TNM) reported last Friday that CM Basavaraj Bommai’s media coordinator had tried to bribe reporters and editors with cash amounts in the guise of Diwali hampers.

Bengaluru-based anti-corruption campaign group Janadhikara Sangharsha Parishat filed a complaint with the Karnataka Lokayukta police on the same day seeking an investigation under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, against Bommai’s media adviser for allegedly trying to bribe the journalists, who are with prominent newspapers in the state capital.

Three journalists confirmed to TNM that hampers with cash were distributed and two of them claimed to have given it back to the CMO. Another journalist said that they had not received the hamper but knew of others who had.

Hailing the journalists who returned the gifts, the IJU has demanded an “inquiry by the Lokayukta” and wants the “Press Council of India (PCI) to take suo moto notice and take appropriate action”.  

In a press release issued on Sunday, the IJU said that while “Bommai has denied knowledge of any ‘cash’ gifts being given”, his media adviser “clearly wouldn’t have acted on his own”. 

IJU president and former PCI member Geetartha Pathak and secretary general and Federation of Asia-Pacific Journalists president Sabina Inderjit said that the “brazen bribe being offered to journalists through Diwali hampers was shocking and unheard of”.

Alleging that the Karnataka government has “misused Diwali, a festival of exchanging gifts, to bribe journalists”, Pathak and Inderjit said, “It is unethical and the government must be made unanswerable. The PCI must take suo moto notice.”

There are also reports that a “minister in the Bommai government is said to have distributed gold coins to select journalists”, the IJU added.

The Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) demanded Bommai’s resignation and a judicial inquiry into what it called the CMO’s “sweet box bribe” to journalists” on Saturday.

Congress national spokesperson and All India Congress Committee’s Karnataka general secretary leader Randeep Surjewala told the media in the national capital that the Bommai government’s “bribegate is now out in the open and this time, the responsibility lies at the doorstep of the chief minister himself”.

One of the two journalists who returned the hamper told TNM, “Yes, they sent the money. But I didn’t see how much money they sent. I immediately sent it back as soon as it came to my notice. “I picked it up and when I opened it, I saw an envelope with cash in it. I did not count it but I made sure the amount was returned,” the journalist said adding that he sent a written letter to Bommai expressing serious dissatisfaction. “I have been a political reporter for years. This has never happened with me before.”

Another journalist with a famous publication told TNM that he was offered a similar hamper and he discovered Rs 1 lakh in cash inside it. “I reported it to my editors. I told the CMO official that I cannot accept this and that this is wrong,” the journalist said.

The third journalist, a leading editor with a TV channel, said that he knew hampers had been distributed. “I asked the CM’s office to come clean with this but they did not."

According to the journalists, the cash amount differed for chief reporters and editorial heads with one saying the range was between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 3 lakh. It is unclear how many journalists received the hampers and how many returned them.

However, Bommai has claimed to be have been “unaware” of cash being sent to the journalists and has “apologised”, according to an editor of a Bengaluru daily.

The editor told TNM that two editors had written to Bommai about the hampers expressing “disapproval and condemnation”. “The chief minister had called after receiving the mail and said that he was not aware of the money sent and apologised,” the editor said.

The KPCC tweeted that the journalist “returning a Rs 2.5 lakh bribe given by the chief minister’s office .. is proof that Karnataka journalists will not allow the sanctity of journalism to be threatened. The chief minister must answer why journalists were given a bribe.”

Surjewala alleged that Bommai has “surreptitiously, overtly and in a conspiratorial fashion tried to bribe the entire journalistic fraternity by sending Rs 1 lakh cash to every journalist in Karnataka. Hats off to our journalist friends who openly exposed the bribegate”, the PTI reported.

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