Confession: Until last Thursday, I never appreciated Niira Radia. Shocking, but true. I work for a lifestyle publication and we have a lot to do with one of Radia’s PR firms. It’s usually a waste of time. For which I apologise. I didn’t realise Radia was running the country.
I’m so embarrassed! I mean, now I think about it, compared to that guy, you know—the greasy eminence behind the lifestyle publication The Free Lunch—I should have offered to coach Mukesh Ambani, or carry secret messages to the Congress. The kind of things that real journalists do. And then, maybe Niira would have told me, “That was really great. Thanks. Thanks to you!”
But did I once offer her a quid or even a quo? Did I ever ask, “What do you want me to say?” Or “What should I tell them?” Noooo! I expected all those press releases for free. As Niira says, “the media is very, very, greedy”. Niira is so right. Niira is an oracle. But one thing Niira is not, as any real journalist knows, is news. There’s a reason for that.
Back in ’03, the leading newspaper in this land threw many worthy journalists into a spin with a shining line called Medianet. Today it’s prosaically called ‘paid content’ and ‘edvertorials’. Their reasoning was silky: “The role we envision for Medianet is that of a conscience-keeper, auditor and watchdog, regulating the media’s burgeoning interaction with the PR sector.” It sounds like the devil himself. But they were onto something. And they knew you’d object: “Those who are apoplectic about the perceived invasion of the ‘message’ into the domain of ‘content’ may want to consider that the two have long since ceased to be strangers, and are sharing an increasingly symbiotic relationship. Marshall McLuhan famously declared that the medium was the message. In all humility, we’d like to say, Medianet is the messenger—heralding a brave new world of innovation.”
Isn’t that brilliant? Especially the bit where they gloss McLuhan, Huxley’s dystopia and ‘innovation’—a term of art for advertising in editorial places. The old lady of Boribunder is an oracle too. That’s journalism: Tomorrow’s news, yesterday. So when some has-been journalists whine that the leading newspapers and TV channels have been silent on the Radia tapes, just tell them. Of course they’re silent. Have you offered to pay them? I didn’t think so!
Unfortunately, there are alternatives to the dignified, business-like silence of real journalism. There are greedy magazines like this one, and hungry ones like Open. Worst of all there’s the internet, which as you know hasn’t even been properly monetised yet. That’s not journalism!
And yet, sometimes, mostly late at night, I hear a still, small voice telling me something is rotten in Indian journalism. It’s a small voice. Actually it’s not so still. But I know it’s not about conscience-keeping or the national interest, because Medianet and Niira Radia have got that covered. It goes on though, with a catalogue of petty complaints, scandal and mean-spirited remarks. Let me share it with you, it’ll just take one cathartic paragraph.
How can TV anchor-journalists pretend the Radia tapes aren’t viral on the net and then repair to their nightly orgies of Twitterlicking and Facebukkake? How do you go from the indignant maven of We the People to “Okie. Gnite tweeple”? Why does Rajdeep Sardesai describe his own monogrammed opinions on CNN IBN as “our editor’s take”? Why does he shout so much? Why wasn’t it bigger news when the son of a famous newsmagazine editor was apprehended for passing a Rs 10 lakh bribe from a newspaper to the Company Law Board? Why is plagiarism not a firing offence for newspaper film reviewers? How can the editor-in-chief of a newsmagazine explain his plagiarised editorial by telling us it was ghostwritten? How can an editor describe her own prose as ‘searing’ on the cover of The Halka? Is the copy desk just the workstation where you concoct the ‘Letter for the Editor’? What is wrong with Arnab Goswami? Why is every story an ‘exclusive’, even if it’s not? Are TV anchors journalists, or entertainers? And aren’t newspapers supposed to have front-page news instead of one big ad—sorry, edvertorial?
Phew! I have no idea where that came from. A twisted, hypertext-linked, projection of the collective unconscious most likely. My still, small voice is full of Freudulent theories. It tells me that the mainstream media in this country are the untrammeled ego, driven by the compulsions of grand narcissism and greed. That the internet is the id, a bacchanal of schadenfreude, voyeurism, logorrhea and porn. What’s missing is the critical morality of a super-ego. Something like a uniform code of ethics. For journalism. The small voice says, in conclusion, it’s no wonder our multimedia media stars have raving personality disorders.
I know, I know. I’m the one with the personality disorder. Oh god! There it goes again. My still, small voice. It says the headline should read ‘The media are the message’.
Good piece by Kai Friese (The Media is the Message). I liked the word-play in Freudulent and elsewhere. Internet Id vs mainstream media ego?
Birju Mahavir, Lucknow
Sermonising comes naturally to the leading lights of mainstream media, but only when directed at others. It is remarkable that our 24/7 news channels, for whom even an elopement is “breaking” news, have suddenly discovered the virtues of the right to privacy!
Ajay Tyagi, Mumbai
The bubble was waiting to burst. No surprise that ‘media glitterati’ like Barkha Dutt are deep in the rabbit hole. But Outlook should beware of claiming to be the torchbearer of integrity. That pedestal is fraught with pitfalls.
Richa Prakash, Riyadh
Many of these self-righteous TV journalists are more corrupt than the most corrupt politicians they love to bash on their channels. And they don’t even have to face the people, or ask them for votes.
Pradip Singh, Stafford, UK
Mr Mehta, what were you doing posing as the wisest of ’em all on the idiot box? It seems you can’t even influence your dog Editor.
N. Kunju, Delhi
Vir Sanghvi has slithered down from writing his flattering food and leisure columns to being fed juicy morsels by lobbyists for his column.
Jawid Laiq, Delhi
To be fair to Vir, he does make sense sometimes, though it would be better if he shed the pretence of being “unbiased”.
Amit, Tucson, US
From the tapes themselves, there is no proof that Barkha Dutt was actively lobbying. However, both her and Vir Sanghvi’s defence of ‘finding information’ doesn’t hold much water, because both should have broken the story instantly—of how an ordinary citizen is in possession of information that is mostly classified.
Rahul Mudholkar, Pune
Once upon a time, I would swear by ndtv. Barkha Dutt has shaken my faith forever. Her defence has been no better than that of, say, a Lalit Modi or a Suresh Kalmadi.
Shaan Roy, Delhi
How does the cliche go Barkha, ‘offence is the best defence’? Or how about, ‘you can fool some people some of the time but not all of the people all the time’?
G. Bulkogi, Madurai
Now we have to find out how Barkha got a Padmashri so early even as long-standing senior, more competent journalists (including Mr Mehta) have not been honoured so far. Who lobbied for her?
R.G. Seshachalam, Bangalore
They should now ask Barkha’s favourite question, ‘Aap scam mein involved hain. Aapko kaisa lag raha hai?’
Akbar Shah, Dubai
Barkha’s been presenting The Buck Stops Here. We now know its final resting place.
R.S. Bist, Dehradun
Barkha has to go like Raja. Will Dr Roy do the needful?
Pradeep, Newark, US
Everybody is going after Barkha, what about the likes of Ratan Tata? Why is this man put on a pedestal?
Simon, New York
The controversy over the 2G scam and the leaked Niira Radia tapes won’t die down because it has exposed lobbying by the Tata group. The business house’s reputation of not lobbying had always seemed doubtful, given the country’s corrupt system. For example, Tata’s takeover of vsnl for a mere consideration of Rs 900 crore should also be probed. Why, the real estate values of vsnl properties all over India run into thousands of crores.
Deendayal M. Lulla, on e-mail
Some time back, Ratan Tata said he dropped the idea of starting a domestic airline because a certain unnamed minister asked for a Rs 15 crore bribe. But the Radia tapes reveal that Tata may have benefited from A. Raja being made the telecom minister, for which his lobbyist worked, so there might be a connection.
B.N. Roy, Jabalpur
This story of corruption will probably help some political party score over another, some business house get the better of another, some media outlet snatch better readership numbers. At the end of the day, however, politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen and big media will come together to cover up this massive loot of the country’s resources.
R. Srinivasan, Chennai
Sitting in your office in New Delhi, the city of political pulls and pressures, as the chief editor of Outlook, I can imagine the thinking you must have done before publishing excerpts of the Radia tapes. But you did it. And for that alone, I am willing to forgive your transgressions like giving space to Arundhati Roy’s prosaic views or silly updates on your canine.
Ram Yeggina, on e-mail
Mr Mehta, you have earned my subscription of Outlook with your last two issues. The Nov 29 issue with the Scam Raja’s picture was nearly sold out in north Bangalore. I finally found it in a none-too-popular chain grocery store. Why don’t the Barkha-Vir types join the Congress and ‘serve the nation’ openly, leaving the journalistic space to people like Vinod Mehta who have opinions that many disagree with but whose souls are not for sale?
I am an Indian, a teacher and a taxpayer. Will someone tell me how angry I should be when my money is eaten away by the likes of A. Raja?
Thomas Kunnath, on e-mail
Good work on the Radia tapes, Outlook. This is the reason why I continue to put up with your delivery delays, non-deliveries, sex surveys, professional and management college surveys and other painful stuff.
Siva, on e-mail
Thanks, Outlook, for bringing this to light. But will you continue to pursue it till the culprits are penalised? Or will it be another episode in the entertainment show that is Indian media nowadays?
Asadul Gaba, Riyadh
It is indeed a triumph of true, unbiased and dedicated journalism. Thank you Outlook.
Upendra, Winnipeg, Canada
I do not think that anyone is really surprised by all these revelations. Nevertheless, tapped transcripts which ought to be used as evidence in the courts of law should not have been placed in the public domain. Crime must be punished but the right to privacy of the individual must also be respected; for example, why should Raja’s alleged crush be leaked out?
D.L. Narayan, Visakhapatnam
Outlook was right in showing how two top journalists—Vir Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt—have breached the ethics of the profession. But I must criticise it for publishing conversations with M.K. Venu, who just gossips, nothing more.
Arvind Abraham, on e-mail
Outlook’s publishing transcripts of the tapes was extremely irresponsible and in bad taste. And by refusing to appear on TV debates on the issue, Mr Mehta has hurt his credibility.
D.P. Poddar, on e-mail
Sex, sleaze, slush money, sweat equity, Swiss bank accounts—and now scribes—are the ingredients of lobbying, which allows scamdog millionaires to flourish at the cost of the simple, servile, subjugated public.
Ranjini Raipet, Secunderabad
In a 2006 interview on journalism ethics, the legendary Ben Bradlee, Washington Post editor for 26 years, had a word of caution for celeb journos: Middle age is when broadness of mind and narrowness of waist trade places.
T.M. Mathews, on e-mail
As N. Ram said in a TV debate, can the real souls of the fourth estate evolve a ‘laxman rekha’ and ensure it is never crossed?
S.S. Retnam, Bangalore
'Why does Rajdeep Sardesai describe his own monogrammed opinions on CNN IBN as “our editor’s takethats really hilarious and obnoxious at the same time.i noticed it at the only time i have tuned into the rubbish channel but unfortunately in india we do not have anybody scrutinising the performance of dummy anchors
though the best part is when it is displayed onto the screens and then read its aloud as if his public are illiterate,shameless,devoid of any self respect and are dying to ear his croaky voice and see his scary face which they actually are cause like adeprived lot some of them tune in regularly
Another news you will not find on Outlook wires
Like a dog's tail,which will never straighten out.
Another news you will not find on Outlook wires:
SIT clears Narendra Modi of wilfully allowing post-Godhra riots
SC ticks off Teesta for going global
An interesting program on NDTV where Barkha is grilled by many other senior journalists:
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