Salman-Ash tapes: How many had them?

NEW DELHI: Bollywood hero Salman Khan’s alleged dalliances with the underworld, which, reportedly led to an acrimonious separation from his arm candy and former world beauty queen Aishwarya Rai, not only made Hindustan Times’ Mumbai debut much talked about, but also gave TV news channels some spicy stuff to follow up on 14 July.

Even as news channels clamoured to put together a story, which was broken by HT yesterday, at least two of the channels claimed to be first with the news on the small screen, including visuals.

What is more surprising is that some of the news channels also claimed to be in possession of the tape (conversation between Salman and Ash) on the basis of which HT lead with a story in its inaugural Mumbai edition.

"We had the tape for some time, but held it back from airing it as we were doing some more investigation," Jagran TV COO Piyush Jain told today. Ditto for India TV chairman Rajat Sharma, who said, "We anyway have done controversial stories in the past and as usual wanted to verify the veracity of the Salman-Ash tape before putting it out."

The Mumbai police has now gone on record saying the tape would be investigated as also the alleged connection of the underworld with Bollywood. Salman’s lawyer has dubbed the tape a 'doctored’ one as Salman is a “soft target” for people with vested interests.

If, as claimed by two news channels, they had the tape, why did they wait for HT to show them the way? Explained Jain, "We were doing some additional investigations to be 100 per cent sure of the facts. When HT broke the story, we thought we might as well put out the story."

Though by early afternoon most news channels had started running stories on the alleged Salman-Ash-underworld affair, how did the news channels acquire a copy of the tape is itself a mystery. Nobody is ready to admit the source.

"We haven’t given any news channels any tape, though it’s nice of some TV news channels to give us the credit," HT Mumbai resident editor Avirook Sen said.

While Star News acknowledged HT’s contribution in breaking the story even though later in the day doing its “own value additions,” HT’s Sen appeared on a NDTV channel for a programme hosted by Abhigyan Prakash.

Meanwhile, has learnt that the HT correspondent who broke the story actually had been working on the matter for some months when he was, reportedly, working for a TV news channel. The tape was in his possession since then. And, then the journalist hopped over to HT in Mumbai taking along with him the tape and the story that had all the ingredients of a Bollywood potboiler.

The rest, as they say, is history!

Still, what is rather odd about this whole affair is that the "leak" of the tapes has been to more than one media outlet. While answers are not forthcoming at present over why the Mumbai police "sat over" the matter for over four years, it is also clearly evident that more than one party that had access to the tapes have been sitting on it for varying periods of time.

Mumbai eveninger Afternoon Despatch & Courier put forth an interesting point in its Diary column today: "If, indeed, Salman does know the underworld as closely as he claims, and he is truly their main man in Mumbai, then where is the wisdom in letting him run around loose and unchecked? Are the police sitting on the tapes because they want to use them at a later and appropriate date? Perhaps, to their own advantage? Or do the police know that the tapes are not genuine, after all, but are enjoying the tamasha of the media carrying out this witch-hunt against a star they have never really liked?"

Questions, questions...

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