Not much raaz in Razdan’s phishing yarn

Professional journalists normally avoid airing in public the doings of other journalists, especially for reasons other than their journalism. None are worth discussing given the premium they put on their own self-worth. Their bloated egos, petty envies, pet peeves, hypocrisies, influence peddling, sowing seeds of doubt and distrust, casting aspersions, and efforts to foist their personal agenda on the gullible has demeaned the profession beyond redemption.

The dominance of TV journalism with its natural scope for self-aggrandizement is largely responsible for the systematic degradation of the upright urgings which brought people into the profession.

The confession of former NDTV executive editor, Nidhi Razdan, that her associate professorship at the hub of scholar aspirants, Harvard, was an elaborate piece of fiction put me in mind of my early years in journalism in the Statesman of the early eighties. The first thing that superiors ingrained in us was that if anything banged out on our Olivetti/Remington portable aroused the interest of readers, word on the writer’s identity would get around even if the author’s name lay in wraps. Credits were neither expected nor requested. A pat on the back from your senior(s) was enough to keep your batteries charged for the next several days.

The British weekly, the Economist, appends no bylines even after 154 years since it was founded. Working for the magazine (which calls itself a newspaper since it began as one) is recognition enough. Traditionally, the editor is given the liberty of penning his thoughts in a signed edit in the last issue of his tenure. It is his swan song.

Anonymity had its singular pleasures in an era when a journalist’s job was strictly behind the scenes, not in the forefront. His role or contribution never figured in the credits. There can be no greater pleasure for a journalist than to hear one of his pieces being discussed in company blissfully unaware of the writer’s presence in their midst.

Time was when good journalism was regarded as literature in a hurry. To give the reader a ringside picture of the truth with utmost sincerity was the sole aim of a journalist. To reveal art and hide the artist is art’s aim, said Oscar Wilde. The aim of journalism is no different. It is quite another matter that this basic tenet was cast aside long ago.

What has any of this got to do with Ms Razdan’s discomfiture? Nothing on the face of it, but in the quest for self-importance, yes. Those who believe she spoke the unalloyed truth and that in the words of her lawyer who “read all the emails and realized that this was a massive phishing exercise…aimed at stealing my money and taking my personal data to misuse it” are welcome to befool themselves. Since she voluntarily confirmed in the January 16 blog titled “I am Nidhi Razdan, not a Harvard Professor, but…” that no money ever changed hands, why in the world would anyone go through the paces of engaging her for a full year to filch her personal details only to fail.

The dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences who disabused her of the fraud in January 2021 could have been contacted before she decided to quit her job in June 2020. All it required was pressing a few keys of her mobile phone to talk to someone on the faculty of the Harvard Extension School which offers graduate and undergraduate degrees in journalism. It is astonishing she never thought of doing something so simple and obvious in all these months even as she kept accepting lecture invites in the capacity of associated professor.

Of all the logical chinks in her armor, this is one which neither she nor her liberal sympathizers care to explain. Ripping people off their savings is the sole objective of any phishing attack just as destroying a computer network is the purpose of any hacking endeavor. Ms Razdan could also have consulted the illustrious father of her journo friend Suhasini Haidar. The Rajya Sabha MP holds a doctorate from Harvard and even taught there for a while as an assistant professor in the 1960s. No prizes for guessing his name.

Which brings us to the central question: what made Ms Razdan think she could try for a senior position in one of the world’s top varsities without the requisite qualification or experience? A professorship in any recognized varsity is a position for which educators struggle for decades. Success eludes most. And here you have an executive editor of an English TV channel armed with nothing more than a post-graduate diploma in radio and journalism bamboozled into believing she was fit to take up a professorial calling of an Ivy League constituent.

Ms Razdan’s career in NDTV, the only employer she worked for, inculcated in her the belief of being a cut above the rest. Anyone familiar with the appointments criteria at the channel would know that selections are not necessarily based on merit. Bluishness of blood, upper crust connections, and a non-Hindu worldview are given more weightage – attributes which fly in the face of a profession like journalism where intimate familiarity with the bitter realities of everyday life are de rigeur.

A job with NDTV in the 1990s and early 2000s was a passport to Delhi’s crème de la crème. This is what the brand manager of the Times of India told me on being informed that the channel’s CEO, KVL Narayana Rao, a former journalist and a member of the Indian Revenue Service had granted me an interview. NDTV’s swish image reflected the public profile of the channel’s upper-class proprietors, Prannoy Lal and Radhika Roy.

Born of an Irish mother and a Bengali Hindu father, Prannoy’s father, P L (Hurricane) Roy, was a collector during the days of the British Raj. He held a British passport and was in later life associated with the one-time blue chip, General Electric. Prannoy, on his part, is a Doon School product and a professionally qualified chartered accountant from London. He also holds a doctorate from the Delhi School of Economics. Passion for psephology made him a media person and a media baron.

Exclusivity was always writ large on Prannoy’s persona, and with varying degrees on those he selectively employed. The same exclusivity, however, did not extend to the network’s ethics, something evident from the financial troubles faced by NDTV since 1998. The Radia tapes exposed NDTV’s best known anchor, Barkha Dutt. The Harvard fiasco compelled Ms Razdan, the poor man’s @bdutt, to rip her own mask before others found what sooner or later would have tumbled out of her closet.

It is possible Ms Razdan was looking for options when the “Harvard offer” came her way. NDTV has seen quite a few exits in recent years. The channel is a shadow of its former self. Getting a decent assignment would not have been unduly difficult for her. Many anti-Modi media outfits would have been glad to have her on their rolls. But she plumbed for the Harvard bait because she thought it would enable her to leave in a trail of glory and the claps of colleagues. Posterity would refer to her as a Harvard professor, a delusion which was destined to go bust.

Ms Razdan got her career on a platter. She never had to struggle to make a mark. Identity and recognition mattered more to her than the need to be grounded.

Vanity and pride, wrote Jane Austen, are different things…Pride relates more often to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us. Happiness to Ms Razdan was a Harvard job she never deserved. Vanity got the better of her wisdom which it usually does.


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About the Author

Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh is an independent journalist who has worked in senior editorial positions in the Times Of India, Asian Age, Pioneer, and the Statesman. Also a sometime stage and film actor who has worked with iconic directors like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha. He writes regularly for the HinduPost as consulting editor.