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Radiagate part-II: Time to come to the point

From no news to national debate Radiatapes have come a long way in three weeks.

Braving an almost entire media blackout the first time around and generating hi octane sentiments with the media fraternity when Open Magazine took the lid off the Pandora’s box revealing select conversations between lobbyist Niira Radia and some journalists, the tapes managed to stir a national debate when Outlook magazine managed to do a desi Wikileaks second time around.

Outlook managed to add 800 tape conversations to Radiagate episode I inturn widening the array actors involved, provided enough spice for everyone to fuel their food for thought.

This time around few corporate, politicians were added and thankfully or not no new casualties on the Journalistic front except for couple of reaffirmation. Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi again made their way to Radiagate episode two.

This little breathing space provided enough space for media to beat around the bush, hold debates claim themselves to be the guardians of fourth pillar of democracy and go on calming first to report, whatever it takes.

Headlines like:

Taps unavoidable, but need utmost care: PM

Judge puts ex-CJI in dock over Raja

Was ex-CJI Balakrishnan aware of Raja influencing judge?

Radia tapes hurting India story: HDFC chairman

Corporate concern over phone tapping justified?

Nira Radia’s web: wider than we thought

What about the bigger question, SO WHAT?

We now know this is how the cookie crumbles, what next? Is Radia being charged, any action being taken on those trying to influence policy matters? Have any of the media outlets and editor cum owners cum custodians of truth come and shed light on the bigger issue of ethics?

All the new entrants in the media fray barring Mail Today, The Hindu and Outlook (open almost closed after kick starting the debate) are busy asking corporate India/politicians/ judiciary to look inwards, but what about walking the talk themselves.

Headlines are being blown out of proportions to push the big allegation on the fraternity under the carpet.

We know how politicos function in our country, how businessmen arm twist system for larger gains, but we only heard whispers saying journalism too are corrupt and when this whisper is being reinforced by a strong backing of tapes, time journalists accept where they faltered and try restoring some faith back in people.

High time the media houses adhere to the iconic motto line they boast.

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Time to walk the talk

The Niira Radia tapes interestingly are still being debated. The matter is far from over and marks a new page for me in the way Indian media functions or will function in the days to come.

The blog by Rajdeep Sardesai, editor in chief, CNN-IBN brought the ‘sting stung’ expose involving journalists back to mind.

Sardesai who doubles up as president, Editor’s guild of India, though late in putting his views across on the debate makes few candid points.

I quote few of his points which struck me:

1.       In recent times, the media has lived by the dictum of guilty till proven innocent. Guess the concept of trial by media has now come back to sting the media itself!

2.       At one level, the ethical decline is a consequence of changing market realities?

3.       In a highly competitive news universe, access is the key, a privilege which is often dependent on building personal equations.

4.       When was the last time corporate corruption was exposed with rigour in the media? Most business interviews are soft focus profiles, designed as image-building exercises rather than genuinely inquisitorial.

All valid and ironically dangerous questions concerning the way media market is booming in India.

The questions are for real, but what surprises me is the media apathy to the subject, and whatever has been coming out has largely been acquisitions and counter cleansing exercises or mere pressure cum need based debates.

NDTV ran an hour long unedited show to give a chance to Barkha Dutt to put her point across, CNN IBN too did a shown where the anchor said, the issue has set websites on fire and hence the debate. Vir Sanghvi posted his views in his column and website and few discussions on who is to be questioned and basics not being followed was the end of the issue.

Why are editors not coming forward on a collective forum to address the larger issues? Why when Sardesai says when was the last time corporate corruption was exposed with vigour he does not provides an alternative or a way out? Why the dependence of advertisements and advertorials not being debated? Why is the issue of leading media houses(The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Indian Express to name some) abstaining from the debate not being discussed.

Two very senior editors Dileep Padgaonkar and N. Ram on two different platforms raised similar thoughts. While Padgaonkar on NDTV said: “In my times we would not allow PR guys to come near the editorial section.” Ram on CNN-IBN said, “I don’t believe in the theory of stringing sources to get information.” He added, “Has this been the BBC, the NYT or WSJ, the careers of those involved would have been over.”

I feel the controversy provides a unique opportunity for media as a whole to come together and set the rules straight for the new breed and established lot of journalists to follow.

Time for editors and media organisations to walk the talk.

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Where will this lead Journalism in India?

At last the debate on the ‘Journogate’ (popularly being called Barkhagate) has begun to gain some momentum in India.

Ever since the tapes involving some leading names in Indian journalism in debatable conversation with a high-profile public relation executive Niira Radia have been made public by two news magazines, some platforms have started discussion.

The credit to this late yet timely development goes to the bloggers and social networking sites where the issue is a hot debate.

Journalist Karan Thapar who debated the issue on The Last Word a prime time news debate show on CNN IBN started saying that the topic ‘has set the websites aflame’ despite the issue being ignored by media houses.

The debate for me was a step forward, but it added a few more questions to the already complex scenario.

Panelists debated that why did those involved in the tapes not report that a publicist for the leading business houses (Tata and Mukesh Ambani) with Tata’s having a sizeable presence in telecom sector was acting as a power broker for DMK.

It also justified the stand of Open Magazine and Outlook to go ahead with the story sans versions of those involved. N. Ram, editor, The Hindu said: “it’s a part of journalistic practise, did we (journalists) asked Vin Chadda before publishing the Bofors expose?”

What was missing from the engaging session was that neither Barkha Dutt nor Vir Sanghvi participated despite being called for the show. This was predictable.

However both have tweeted and posted their explanations for one last time to set the record straight.  Dutt has published her argument on NDTV website giving links to the stories that she did against A Raja and Sanghvi too after putting a letter last week on his website has explained his stance in his weekly column Counterpoint, which appears in Hindustan Times on Sundays.

Interestingly, Sanghvi has made it clear that battered by the allegations he will discontinue his column in for the time being.

He writes on his website and I quote “I have no desire to subject counterpoint to this filth. It deserves better. So, Counterpoint will be taking a break. When life returns to normal, so will counterpoint.”

It seems the controversy has hit hard.

The debate was also discussed at Foundation for Media Professionals, in New Delhi.

Some question the debate arises are firstly is it alright to go ahead with an expose despite the tapes not being officially and secondly is it fine to go ahead without securing the views of those questioned?

While Ram answered the latter for the first I feel if something is there for a larger public interest the journalists are well within their rights to bring it out.

Will this bloodletting improve journalism standards in India? The question looms large over the fraternity.

I would quote N.Ram from the CNN IBN debate that had this happened at the BBC, the New York Times or the Financial Times, such behaviour would not have been tolerated and the career would have been over.

Will the media houses come clean on this issue is a big question for future of Journalism in India?

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Unfair Media Trial

A media trial in the real sense of word is underway in India. Media is under trail, those in question are some of the leading brand names in the world of Indian journalism.

The list of those featured in the infamous tapes in question are Barkha Dutt and Prabhu Chawla, group editors of NDTV and India Today respectively, Vir Sanghvi, editorial director of Hindustan Times, M. K Venu, senior business journalist and the managing editor of Financial Express are there to name some.

While most of the leading dailies and broadcasters have stayed away from publishing (owing to complexities of their names in some way or the other being associated with those who feature in the list) or airing the debate, some magazines and tabloids have kept their focus on the trial.

But there are some inherent similarities in all these none of them dialled these people involved in the tapes for their takes and they were selective.

There are close to over 100 tape conversation according to the Outlook report and have doyens of the industrialist like Ratan Tata featuring in it, but its only two Dutt and Sanghvi who are being portrayed as villains in most reports.

Their responses are nowhere to be quoted making it a one-sided report. Though Outlook is carrying Dutt’s tweets and letters from NDTV and Open magazine on its website, it still misses the simple quote from the duo under spot.

Barkha Dutt tweets: “Question for Mail Today’s so called “campaign.” Why doesnt it mention journalists from its own group who are on the tapes? Convenient.” She raises a valid question, as names of Prabhu Chawla and Shankar Aiyar (then with India Today Group) are also featured.

In the Ratan Tata conversation Radia observes the media has become very greedy and it won’t give someone who advertises heavily bad publicity.

This is a very serious allegation and a harsh reality in some media outlets. The tape scam gives the fraternity to come out clean and ensure that the sanctity of the profession remains intact in public eye.

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Half baked truth served

The media onslaught on the 2G scam tapes continue though selectively.

Weekly magazine Outlook came with the story on their cover day after Open magazine put it out.

So far so good, but I have an issue with the way reports have come out.

They reveal conversations, and whole lot of them but they just give one side of the story; calls made.

There is no trace of what the journalists have to say, though outlook on its website has posted the letter by NDTV and provided a link to Barkha Dutts twitter, but that does not serve the purpose. From a seasoned editor like Vinod Mehta this wasn’t expected.

They also have more conversations including other journalists, Nira Radia, bureaucrats, industrialists etc. If they had a story as big as this they should have allowed a chance for these people to make their point.

I can understand Open magazine worrying about reports being curbed, but with outlook that looks unlikely?

Mail Today, too dedicated a page to the 2G tapes, but same issue no voice of Dutt, Sanghvi or Radia.

Credit does go to these media outlets for taking the issue up and pointing fingers towards fellow journalists, but a few more calls from tem would have held them in better position.

How will the ‘Phone a friend saga’ unfold is anyone’s guess, chances of it dying the slow death are high, but I feel media houses should participate and clean the rut in the system.

This looks unlikely for there are far too many skeletons in every closet.

However a good change to see, how those who pose allegations face them now.

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T(r)apped!!!

A phone taping incident has rocked the media circles in India.

Barkhagate as it is popularly tweeted across is an incident which points a finger at those who act as custodians of free speech.

Journalists despite all marketing tactics being applied by media houses to maximise profits are a respected lot in India, who are (and are perceived to be) noble individuals constituting the fourth pillar of democracy.

Having said that and living by the principles as a journalist myself, the exposes made by Open magazine against two prominent Indian Editors, Vir Sanghvi(senior journalist with The Hindustan Times, who I believe is also on their editorial board) and Barkha Dutt( Group Editor, NDTV) put journalists on back foot.

Prima facie the magazine seems to have got some meat and not merely tarnishing the image of two senior journalists. They put the transcripts involving the two online and those who watch and listen these people on air can make out that the voices sound familiar.

Making the conversation public, for me puts the journalist in a dock.

What is interesting is that those who pitch bodyline questions on similar lines to politicians are on a sticky wicket.

The NDTV have come out with an open letter backing their group editor and mentioning why Barkha Dutt’s version was not sought in the report. To this the magazine editor said, they were short of time and had they gone ahead and made contacts with Dutt, they feared that their reports might never see the light of the day.

That is a ridiculous justification by Open magazine, they could have called Dutt at the last hour and went ahead.

Past Imperfect

However, one should also bear in mind the clout senior journos like Dutt and Sanghvi carry.

Dutt’s infamous standoff with a blogger Chatinya Kunte whose blog it’s perceived widely she got of the net is an example. The magazine might have feared similar fate.

What is interesting and of no surprise is the fact that the incident hasn’t been played up by other media houses. Dutt and Sanghvi get a benefit of doubt from the fraternity so far.

How long will they get this support is a matter of how the scoop is dealt with.

This also reminds me of an incident wherein a senior bureaucrat in Rajsathan assembly told me in May this year that he has reports stating someone from state’s bureaucratic circle along with these two journalists was working for Nira Radia, whom I till then knew as a director of a public relations firm.

He showed me a report which he was reading and also shared that the website www.bhasdaas4media.com was carrying similar reports. I thought for a moment it might be a case of rivalry among bureaucrats, but later going through the website and speaking to other journalists in Delhi came to know similar things are doing rounds in Dilli Durbar.

While Dutt apart from the letter by NDTV CEO has tweeted in her defence saying , “Accused of favouring a man I have never met(Raja) and have always attacked in print and TV.” Sanghvi well has not commented.

But if the transcripts and their timings are something t go by, one fail to understand why so many calls to a PR person who is nowhere related to politics on the face of it? The talks (more with Sanghvi) smell a rat.

Will be interesting to see how it unfolds. But is certainly a charge difficult to disown.

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