Seldom has media challenged the integrity of media itself, pin-pointing the ‘black-sheep’ amongst them. The conversation of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia with Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi, among others, has taken the industry by surprise. Although many leading newspapers and television channels have shied away from reporting on the alleged conversation between lobbyist Niira Radia and senior journalists, there has been much debate on the issue of media ethics on Twitter and social networks.
Priscilla Jebaraj in her opinion column in The Hindu on November 24, 2010, wrote, “The Nira Radia episode raises questions about the boundary between legitimate news gathering, lobbying and influence peddling.”
Several newspapers gave this story a miss, but there were several publications that carried this story forward. ‘Open’ magazine was one of the first publications to carry a detailed story on this. Outlook, too, did a story on this issue. Apart from that, Mail Today, The New Indian Express, mid-day.com, several regional papers and TV channels carried this story. Internationally, the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post websites had blogs on the story that has started an intriguing debate on journalistic ethics.
‘Open’ magazine, which carried this report, saw a surge of traffic on their website. R Rajmohan, Publisher, ‘Open’, said, “We released the magazine in the morning on November 18, and the tapes were up before lunch time. News spread like wild fire and the website crashed because of the unprecedented and huge surge in traffic. We kept the momentum going with our Facebook and Twitter pages, which, as you must have noticed, was all abuzz with the X-Tapes expose.”
If sources are to be believed, ‘Open’ magazine was third in Google India trends on Friday night. When asked whether the story had spiked their circulation, Suresh Balakrishnan, COO, Mail Today, said, “The point to note here is that we did not go to town with the story – we didn’t even promote the story on page-one. Instead, we reported the matter in a fair and balanced manner, so though we have got a great response on Twitter and among journalists, I don’t think it has caused a spike in circulation.”
Though Outlook officials were not available for comments, sources in the magazine said that Outlook did pick up the issue, but it did not advertise its content. “Circulation is secondary,” the sources added.
Also, the web space (especially social media) has been abuzz ever since the videos were released, debating and discussing the controversial issue.
Bharat Bhushan, Editor, Mail Today, articulated his views to exchange4media, and said, “There was a news story that ‘Open’ magazine had done, which talked about ‘black sheep’ in the media and talked about ethics. We took it as any other news story and drew the attention of our readers to it. We have been courageous to take this story forward and we hope we have been able to start a debate. Since media has spoken about the unethical practice going on within media and no one has prompted the media to do so, I think this is a positive stride. I think this process of introspection of media is very good.”
Clarifying its stand on the issue, NDTV had come out with an online article titled ‘NDTV on defamatory remarks against Barkha Dutt’, which said “In the pursuit of news and information, journalists talk to an array of people from all professional backgrounds; this case being an unfolding political story on Cabinet formation, after the General Elections. To caricature the professional sourcing of information as ‘lobbying’ is not just baseless, but preposterous.”
In one of her tweets Barkha Dutt wrote: “Radia was a valid news source for DMK camp. She gave info on Karunanidhi, and sought my analysis on what Cong may do next. Valid journalism.”
It is indeed a subjective question where the thin line between legal and illegal ends. The issue is still hot and further developments are unfolding. Unfortunately, the quintessential question on where to draw the line of journalistic ethics remains unanswered…