At a panel discussion held at the Delhi Press Club on December 3, 2010, the Editors’ Guild mulled over the Radia tapes case and journalistic ethics. The panelists included Rajdeep Sardesai, Editor-in-Chief, CNN-IBN and President, Editors’ Guild of India; Vinod Mehta, Editor, Outlook magazine (which along with Open magazine had brought the Radia tapes story out in the open); Mrinal Pandey, Chairperson, Prasar Bharati; and Sunil Jain, business journalist with The Financial Express.
Speaking for the first time on the issue to the press, Vinod Mehta admitted that he had avoided commenting on this issue, but there was no way to avoid the Editor’s Guild because it was a professional association.
Mehta said that the Editor’s Guild was where the issue of this nature needed to be discussed and resolved. He added that since much of the matter in the Radia tapes case was in court, so he would be careful of what he said. “I will also avoid talking about the individual journalists, because some of them are responding on what they did and why they did. Some others have taken corrective actions too,” he added.
Stating that he didn’t see any complexity in this whole matter, Mehta added, “I don’t see any grey areas in this matter. Obviously, we have to interact with politicians and lobbyists, but we should have sense. We should trust, but verify, especially when we deal with a PR person. We should listen, but not write without cross-checking.”
Rajdeep Sardesai took a strong stance when he said, “Magazines had violated all journalistic norms while dealing with this story. Assumptions are taken over from the fact.”
He strongly urged for a quid pro quo in this case. “Magazines have done ‘shock and awe journalism’ as we do in TV. We pronounce people guilty and then look at various ways to nail them. That is bad journalism. Magazines took selective parts of the conversation and didn’t see the track record of the journalists they had named.”
He further remarked, “Corporate war has subverted the entire democratic system. It has subverted politicians, bureaucrats and, possibly, journalists.”
Sardesai questioned the proximities as well and expressed his apprehension about the proximity between corporates, politicians and journalists. He added, “Editors who were responsible for the rot are now coming on channels with self-righteous indignation.”
Meanwhile, Mrinal Pandey raised the pertinent issue of ownership in media. She noted, “Editors are becoming owners and owners are editors. The owner-editor separation is gone. In some cases, the ownership of the media is in political hands.”
She added that the involved journalist should have said mea culpa and added that conscience was important for journalists. “Cyber media is almost out of control. Lots of wrong things are being written in some of the Hindi websites, which is absolutely unethical. For all media, there should be a level playing field,” she stressed.
Sunil Jain, on the other hand, said that he was less shocked from this entire controversy. “The Times of India and many TV channels have business treaties. Paid news has also been around. We can’t just condone all this. Codified law should be there about lobbyists. Whether it’s Arun Purie’s plagiarism issue or anything else, we don’t try to solve. Name and shame is the only solution for it,” he said.
Jain further said, “Some journalist may take money, but the proportion of journalists that don’t indulge in such activities is higher.”
Neena Vyas, a political reporter with The Hindu, raked up the Sanjay Joshi sex tapes case and how the BJP had succumbed to blackmail. She also narrated a personal anecdote about how a certain politician had offered her a deal. “Had I struck the deal, my work could have been easier,” she said.
Veteran journalist and former editor of The Indian Express, Kuldeep Nayyar, also put forward his views in this whole debate of media ethics.
In the nearly two-hour long fierce debate among journalists and panelists, various relevant issues were also raised, including that all editors and journalists should disclose their assets. Responding to this, Sardesai promptly said that he was ready to declare his assets. He also promised an immediate intervention by the Guild in formulating a code of ethics for journalists, including for editors.
The annual meeting of the Editors’ Guild will be held on December 24, 2010, where further issues related to the Radia tapes controversy and journalistic ethics are expected to be discussed at length.