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.

The Pak Banker - - Editorial5 - B.V. Rao

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.

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