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Reporter’s Diary: The Radia tapes case – some yet unanswered questions

06-December-2010
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Reporter’s Diary: The Radia tapes case – some yet unanswered questions

The controversy around the leaked Niira Radia tapes and involvement of perceived media celebrities has been the talk of the town for the last few weeks, but the recent week turned out to be a ‘trial’ week for the involved journalists in the Radia tapes case. While at the beginning of the week we witnessed clarifications by Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi and Prabhu Chawla through TV, Twitter and Facebook platforms on their alleged involvement in the controversial matter, the week ended with some deep contemplation and heated debate among top journalists and editors on the Radia tapes issue at the Press Club in Delhi.

While the telephonic conversations between corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and senior journalists have revealed the ‘unethical’ proximity between journalists and PR professionals, this entire controversy has also raised a few pertinent questions regarding ethics in journalism. How can a journalist intervene in government formation? How can, on the brief given by the PR person, veteran columnists promise to write his weekly write-up? And, how can a well-known TV journalist claim that the judgment of the Supreme Court can also be influenced?

While it’s been almost two weeks since this controversy erupted, there are various kinds of talks doing the rounds on the corridors of the industry. Many said that targeting a few journalists through the Radia tapes leak case has only showed the lynch mob mentality of some envious journos, while others seem less surprised – stating this has always been a part of journalistic life. In debates on various media, the question was also raised on the two magazines that first published the news of journalists becoming ‘power brokers’. The first question was that was the sense of skepticism missing while they (magazines) were maligning the reputation of the well-known journalists without even talking to them and believing the raw taped data? Why did they (magazines) target only a few journalists and used only a part of the telephonic conversation?

Apart from social media platforms, for the first time Barkha Dutt appeared in front of four editors in an NDTV debate to take on the questions related to this whole debate of her involvement in lobbying for a political party after the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. On the other hand, Vir Sanghvi and Prabhu Chawla had also appeared on the news channel Headlines Today and were grilled by eminent editors. But is a TV debate or a trial a real solution to this whole controversy? Or was this just an attempt to create a new kind of ‘News Reality Show’?

In a nearly 50-minute long debate on NDTV, Manu Joseph, Editor, Open magazine (the first magazine to carry the Radia tapes story), had only one question – why did NDTV not air the news, as Barkha knew, that a lobbyist was trying to intervene in the government formation? Meanwhile, Vinod Mehta, Editor of Outlook, (another magazine that carried the story of the lobbyist-journos nexus) maintained distance by not attending the TV debate on NDTV.

While, in their clarifications Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi had repeatedly pointed out that they were trying to thread along the source in these conversations to have access to information, here is the question for them – while talking to Radia, were both of them in this belief that Niira Radia, a veteran PR lady, was a novice and didn’t know that they were attempting to thread her along in the conversation? And even if one were to go along with their clarifications, why would a PR pro like Radia allow herself to be ‘threaded’ on more than one occasion?

The one very significant question that still remains unanswered is – where is the proof of quid pro quo in this whole issue? No magazine or any media has yet come up with any such evidence that says that there was some kind of monetary exchange or any such thing.

However, in the scenario of business treaties and paid news in media, the Radia tapes controversy and involvement of journalists obviously came as a shock to many, including me. Yet few were still phlegmatic and not disturbed whatsoever. They are, perhaps, the real veterans in the Indian media industry.

 

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