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Whose line is it anyway?

December 6, 2010

Over the past few weeks, an astonishing story has emerged. Open Magazine and Outlook have published the tapes and transcripts of telephone calls between Nira Radia and prominent politicians, journalists and industrialists.

Nira Radia is a PR representative of the Tatas and Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance. During May 2009, an interesting scenario was unfolding in Delhi. UPA garnered a clear majority, but was facing problems from DMK. The bone of contention was allocating of the ministerial berths, and there was a virtual deadlock in the talks between Congress and UPA. Enter Nira Radia, a PR of two of the biggest companies of modern India, who also have an interest in the Telecom industry, and were particularly interested in the telecom ministry being given to A Raja.

Among the transcripts which surfaced, two prominent journalists who figured in them are Vir Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt. (Open magazine listed a series of conversations on its website.)

Let me first begin with Vir Sanghvi. He faces a more serious charge of scripting an interview, and writing his counterpoint article favouring Mukesh Ambani, and even offering to do a mock-interview before recording. Now, it might seem innocuous. We know many journalists who write with an open bias and mock-interviews are almost a norm these days. But, what is a matter of much chagrin is, the blatant influence which corporates have on the news being fed onto us. What is the guarantee that the news we come across every day is not fabricated, or planted by some corporate? Why, for that matter, even the KGB managed to plant about 300 articles in our newspapers (Mitrokhin Archives).

In his defence, Sanghvi wrote on his website, that he heard both sides out before writing the article, and wrote about what he felt was the taking for him. He also appeared on a live TV debate on Headlines Today, and did not give a convincing reply to any of the questions asked before slipping off.

Transcripts of Sanghvi’s recordings| Article which Sanghvi wrote in favour of Mukesh Ambani


Moving on to Barkha Dutt. Dutt is the Group Editor of NDTV, and a TV journalist/performer. She has been accused of lobbying for the induction of A Raja into the cabinet after the 2009 elections, while the UPA-DMK impasse was happening. Nira Radia approached Dutt to convey the message that Congress was talking to the wrong people in DMK, and asked her to relay it to people in the Congress that Kanimozhi is the person Congress should deal with. Dutt,during the conversation agrees to do the same, and offers to talk to Ghulam Nabi Azad.

After these transcripts came into public domain, Dutt has vehemently denied of any wrongdoing. Infact, she has gone on to justify what she did. Her stand is that Radia was a source of information for her, and she was just ‘stringing’ along and humoring Radia. Dutt knew all along that Radia represents the Tatas and Mukesh Ambani. When Manu Joseph (Editor, Open Magazine) asked Dutt if she didn’t find it worthy enough to report that a PR of two companies with interests in telecom are openly lobbying for A Raja, she replied in the negative. She also maintains that it is ‘valid journalism’ and she can go to any extent for ‘khabar’.

She tried to portray herself as a martyr in a political battle by answering the questions from a panel. It was moderated by Sonia Singh, and aired (obviously) on NDTV 24×7. The tone and tenor of Dutt while lashing out puts any parliamentarian to shame. She comes across as a spoilt brat who has been wronged, and with no trace of guilt or shame. Far from being sorry, she even went on to say that a member of the panel ‘does not understand political journalism’. Whatever scant respect I had for Dutt, was lost after watching those 40 minutes of self-designed propaganda. She did not have the courage to appear on Karan Thapar’s show aired on CNN-IBN, nor Headlines Today’s show on the Radia Tapes.

That Dutt is not a saint is a known fact. She is famous for her shrill and over the top reportage with a clear bias towards a certain political party. The fact that Radia chose Dutt to convey the message across to Congress itself proves that Dutt is an acknowledged cog in the wheel of the Congress Party. Her 26/11 reporting from the action scene is a handbook for future reporters of ‘how-not-to-report-news’. There are also many allegations against her, that her reporting of the Kargil War helped the Pakistani Army in knowing the locations of the bunkers of the Indian Army. She portrays herself as a messiah of free speech, and when Chyetanya Kunte wrote a blog criticising Dutt, she promptly moved the court and got the blog removed.

I read a random tweet somewhere, that the very people who are commending Open Magazine for breaking this story, will be first to launch a hate tirade against Open Magazine if they decide to write an article on Ayodhya. That is by far the most frivolous, dumb, appalling comment anyone has made with respect to this controversy so far. By making this a Right-Wing v/s Rest affair, whosoever said that surely demonstrates that he/she has a lot growing up in the mental aspect to do. I am not a Right-Winger, nor a Centrist, nor a Leftist. People like them must understand, that at times to look at issues in detail, the tint of politics has to be removed.

Transcripts of Dutt’s recordings | Dutt answering questions about Radia tapes | Radia’s conversation with A Raja mentioning Dutt

Not surprisingly, there was a virtual blackout of this piece of news in the Electronic Media for nearly two weeks. There was a huge outcry on the Internet, particularly Twitter and Blogs, that the E-Media report on this issue. There were a few random editorials in news papers here and there, but none took up this issue with the alacrity with which they would otherwise do while breaking a news about a moviestar/politician/scandal. This expose has just taken the lid off the murky nexus between corporates-media-politicians, and it is only the tip of the iceberg. Who knows for how long has this unholy marriage between these three parties has been in place.

N Ram (Editor, The Hindu) very aptly summed it up. If it were the BBC or The Financial Times, Dutt and Sanghvi would have been fired by now. The fact that Dutt and Sanghvi are still around says a lot about the credibility of Indian Media.

So, Ms Dutt and Mr Sanghvi, all those articles and interviews you did till date, could you just tell us, to whom were you acting as stenographers all this while? Whose line is it anyway?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Srikar Damaraju permalink
    December 7, 2010 1:27 pm

    Shocking facts.! It’s hard to digest that top media enterprises like NDTV, are fabricating NEWS to advocate certain political parties. How on Earth, would we to trust our lobbying media in future.?

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