Has Indian media been shown up
Instead, NDTV put out a cursory, indignant, dismissive and, why, even a condescending clarification on their website as did Vir Sanghvi on his personal website.
This was a fortnight in which the Indian media exposed itself by deciding not to expose itself. It demonstrated that it interprets "free press" as freedom to ignore serious questions about their own conduct and credibility. The biggest acreage of fourth estate prime land in the world's biggest democracy created an embarrassing impasse for itself and gave freedom of the press a whole new meaning. Freedom to fraternise became the overnight byword.
On November 19, integrity died a dreary death. Damning audio tapes of many editors, notably two icons, Vir Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt, were put out by Open and Outlook magazines. In the tapes, both the editors are talking to a corporate lobbyist Niira Radia who is desperately seeking to fix a key appointment in the Manmohan Singh cabinet in May 2009.
Radia is trying to block DMK's Dayanidhi Maran from becoming the telecommunications minister because Maran had rubbed the Tata Group, one of Radia's principal clients, on the wrong side earlier. In his place, Radia is pushing for A Raja, who was the telecommunications minister in the earlier government (during which time he gave the country its biggest financial scam ever).
By clearly agreeing (as it seems from the tapes and as both of them have since admitted) to carry that message to the Congress, the two editors opened themselves up for serious charges of professional impropriety.
Did they cross the acceptable line of keeping ' contacts' sweet, which is part of gathering data in journalism or did they become complicit in a dirty corporate game to fix even the appointments to the country's cabinet?
That was a question that needed to be taken by the scruff of its collar and debated vigorously if only to show that the media is as unsparing of itself as it is of others. Instead, NDTV put out a cursory, indignant, dismissive and, why, even a condescending clarification on their website (and once on air) as did Vir Sanghvi on his personal website. Then the media collectively buried its head in the sand, hoping that its most embarrassing moment would pass quickly. If there were some rotten eggs in its midst, nobody needed to know. Least of all their readers/viewers.
They say awareness of a problem is 50 per cent of the solution. The Indian media obviously thinks ignoring a problem is a complete solution. So, all we got instead was deathly silence. No breaking news, no screaming headlines.
First, the two organisations that Vir and Barkha work and report/write for, Hindustan Times and NDTV (tagline: Experience Truth First). Vir is advisory editorial director of the paper and writes a "most-most read" Sunday column called Counterpoint. In addition to agreeing to carry messages for Radia, two of Vir's past columns (June 21, 2009 and August 15, 2009) concerning the Ambani Brothers' gas wars came to be suspected as plugs for Mukesh Ambani, written to Radia's specifications. Hindustan Times ignored it, issued a wishy-washy clarification only on its website and allowed Vir's next column (Nov 21) to appear unhindered and without explanation. Only the following week (Nov 28) Vir decided to give himself a break from Counterpoint so he could come back "refreshed". NDTV first put out an on-the-go kind of clarification questioning Open more than answering questions. A few days later, Barkha wrote out a longer defence and finally on November 30 she did her "I was gullible, I was innocent, I made an error of judgment, but I'm not corrupt" number on prime time. That was brave of her, but bravado was not under doubt here, an editor's wisdom was. At least, Vir and Barkha tried to say their bit. But their organisations were nowhere in the picture. Hindustan Times star columnist's integrity was under cloud but it neither defended him nor suspended him. thing.