2G Scam Tapes: Media Coverage
The Hoot Editorial: Merging estates, Nov 19, 2010
Then some sanctimonious idiot suggests it is not a journalist's job to do all this. Sigh. Now which planet is he living on?
Sukumar Ranganathan: Editor’s note: Why we are quiet on the Open magazine story, Mint, Nov 19, 2010
The mere submission of a more detailed set of transcripts in the court doesn’t, at least to my mind, make the documents any better as “source” for a newspaper article. They could be authentic, but there’s a chance that they could be forged.
My reporters and editors had no way of finding out, which (and believe me, we tried) I think is the responsibility of an honest newspaper to do. A few weeks back, we decided not to carry a report by a government agency against an industrialist past his prime simply because it was full of holes — far from damning the subject of the investigation, the report made the agencylook foolish. Still, its appearance in a paper like Mint would have itself bestowed it with some credibility
Aditya Sinha: Cleanest PM, dirtiest scam, The New Indian Express, Nov 20, 2010:
Things are going so badly for the Congress that princeling Rahul Gandhi this week in UP announced he was finally getting married. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is rumoured to have considered quitting once the Supreme Court asked why he sat on his hands while A Raja was looting the country. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is rumoured to be irritated by the varying degrees of incompetence displayed by her government in defending itself in the 2G spectrum allocation scam. Pranab Mukherjee, attending a marriage in Madurai, said the alliance with the DMK was strong despite potential ally Vijayakanth’s open calls to dump Mr Kalaignar; but he said this only after he was told that if Raja is named as prime accused in the 2G chargesheet then Raja would ensure the PM is the second accused. Journalists close to the royal dynasty, including Barkha Dutt and others, have been recorded on telephone with public relations specialist Niira Radia, Dutt seemingly negotiating berths with the DMK after last year’s Lok Sabha elections; the transcripts of these tele-conversations have dealt a huge blow to the Congress’s media machine. Tonight, TV channels will show exit polls from the Bihar assembly elections, and it won’t be good news for the Congress. What a mess. Rahul, you have my blessings.
Yet it is this column’s view, today, that the prime minister should not resign.
G Sampath: When Radia killed the media star, DNA Blogs, Nov 20, 2010:
It is quite possible that Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi never lobbied for Raja or for anyone else. But it is quite clear from the tapes that they were by no means practising journalism in their conversations with Radia. What they were doing, is acting as liaison officers for political parties and business houses. In fact, if all those conversations were merely in the course of 'journalistic duty', why this strange black-out?
But what is really scary is that, despite living in a 'democracy' that boasts of a 'free press', if you were dependant only on TV and the big newspapers for the biggest news developments of the day, you would never have known about the Niira Radia tapes, and the murky role of mediapersons as political power brokers. Indeed, the main source of information on this scandal has been online media, such as newspostindia.com, various bloggers, and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and of course, the websites of Outlook and Open magazines.
Betwa Sharma in the Huffington Post: Indian Media Where Art Thou on Media Scandal, Nov 20, 2010
A shadow has been cast over the Indian media -- the bastion of the nation's democracy. A telecom and political scandal rocking the country has now sucked in top journalists but the media coverage of this new twist is timid -- a simple Google search shows that.
A few bloggers and publications have got the word out but twittering and blogging isn't the staple diet in a country where the majority of its 1.2 billion people are more likely to be reached through mainstream news.
Sagarika Ghose: Is corporate lobbying undermining democracy?, CNN-IBN, Nov 22, 2010
Discussion with Suhel Seth, Dilip Cherian, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Siddharth Varadarajan, the last named later tweeted about the programme:
As I said on IBN, story in May 2009 wasn't DMK-Cong tussle but why Radia, and thus Reliance and Tata, were so interested in DMK portfolios
Twas Suhel who said lobbyists don't decide. I disagreed, said lobbyists exert inordinate influence on policy, polity
V Sudarshan: DMK, shaken, but not stirred, The New Indian Express, Nov 22, 2010:
Now of course the word filtering out of Fort Gopalapuram is that the DMK is shaken, nonplussed. Totally. The Radia tapes — which this newspaper carried at some length and which other newspapers in this part of the world, including a ‘national’ newspaper that A Raja curiously keeps citing in his defence, completely ignored — shed some light on the state of affairs in the first family of Tamil Nadu. They establish beyond a reasonable doubt that there exists, if nothing else, a certain political intimacy between Kanimozhi and Raja, discernible from the way she keeps plugging away for Raja and wants good PR for him with the Kalaignar. It is also clear that her mother’s intercession with her husband may not always have predictable results (“Please don’t tell this to mom, she will mess it up and go tell some rubbish”). It is clear that Maran and Stalin have some kind of rapport which Raja and Niira tacitly acknowledge (“That he and Stalin tomorrow will be the only ones left to run the party because the old man is senile and he is not going to be around any longer and therefore the Congress will be happy doing business with him because it will be him.. him eventually and he controls Stalin.”)
John MacLithon: India can get rid of corruption through reform, The New Indian Express, Nov 22, 2010:
What is staggering is that so far, even though there are thousands (64,000) of tweets and posts on this scandal on the Internet, the mainstream press and television channels have chosen to sit tight on this story. It is a real conspiracy of silence.
The Deccan Herald Editorial: Anchored in Mire, Nov 22, 2010:
The content and tenor of the conversations go beyond the normal relationship between journalists and their sources and contacts. There was also an indication of tailoring news to suit the interests represented by the lobbyist... If they become players in the events the credibility of the profession will be lost.
Emily Wax: Indian journalists accused of secretly helping politicians, businesses, The Washington Post, Nov 22, 2010:
Those who defend Dutt and Sanghvi argue that many journalists around the world say things to encourage people to open up about their views and elicit information, building their confidence, even if they don't fulfill their promises.
Many of India's newspapers and TV stations have kept away from the issue, saying the story had too many holes and was vague. Some critics have accused the mainstream media of a seemingly orchestrated blackout.
...Several media experts say that the good news is that the incident will inspire some soul-searching about guidelines for acceptable behavior in the growing Indian media, whose stated goal is to be a pillar of truth in the country's vibrant democracy.
"We are actually happy that these practices have come out in the open," Mitta said. "It forces us to address the problem. We as journalists sit in judgment of others all the time. We should hold ourselves to a higher standard."
Paul Beckett: Oh Vir, What Can the Matter Be?, WSJ, Nov 22, 2010
As I pointed out on Twitter the same day, what the WSJ article misses about Mr Sanghvi's response is this:
Tripti Lahiri: Does the Buck Stop with Barkha Dutt?, WSJ, Nov 22, 2010
Rasheeda Bhagat: Those living in glass houses… , The Hindu Business Line, Nov 23, 2010:
But it is quite clear from the tapes that they were by no means practising journalism in their conversations with Radia. What they were doing is acting as liaison officers for political parties and business-houses. In fact, if all those conversations were merely in the course of ‘journalistic duty', why this strange black-out (from most of the media)?”
Sevanti Ninan: Oh what a lovely blackout, The Hoot, Nov 23, 2010
The great media blackout on the Radia tapes is finally ending. Maybe editors and others who said that they could not use the tapes or transcripts for lack of authentication are waking up to the the fact that there have been no statements of denial from the principals, except for Barkha Dutt saying the conversation was misrepresented. She does not say it did not take place. Neera Radia has now issued a belligerent statement, but she is not denying the conversations either.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta: Beware the single brush, The Indian Express, Nov 23, 2010:
The fact that all this purported evidence is published in the name of transparency, without context, without any institutional mediation at all, should worry us. We should worry that under the guise of promoting transparency we now promote a prurient interest in private conversations of people, irrespective of whether or not they are relevant to establishing guilt or innocence. Whether particular individuals are guilty or not should be investigated by proper means. But society exhibits a deeper form of corruption and corrosion of principles when all procedures and values are made instrumental to some external mission. What is now being revealed in the name of “anti-corruption” has echoes of totalitarian surveillance: the erasure of privacy, everyone is a snitch on everyone else, and every act other than it seems. The quest for justice becomes a rhetorical cloak for other vices: prurience, settling of private scores, or merely promotion of one’s own virtue.
Admittedly, it is hard to disguise the glee in some quarters that this has happened to the media; what goes around comes around. The philosopher Harry Frankfurt once wrote a great essay on how democracy was subverted more by “bullshit” than by “lies”. A liar at least acknowledges the distinction between a truth and a lie; he just wants to hide the truth. A “bull-shitter” is more dangerous because he does not care for the distinction between a truth and a lie: all subtle distinctions between innuendo and fact, speculation and reality, higher and lower values, relevant and irrelevant facts, are done away with. This is the point where you cannot tell the distinction between a lie and a truth; or rather even truth is simply a weapon for some other extraneous goal. All discourse operates at the same level. The danger is that in our democracy if there are no credible mediating institutions left, this is exactly the position where we end up: discourse without a sense of judgment and discrimination. Whether or not the media will now produce more measured discussions is an open question, but the corruption of discourse is hard to reverse.
Business Standard editorial: A bonfire of vanities, Nov 23, 2010:
In the recent case of telephone conversations involving a PR professional and senior journalists, transcripts of which have been published in the latest issue of two news magazines — Outlook and Open Magazine — the conversations suggest that professional journalists were going beyond the call of duty...
...Equally important would be the role played by professional organisations that enforce codes of conduct on media organisations and professionals. If the media does not correct itself and improve its own ways, it can hardly inspire public confidence when it turns the spotlight on wrongdoing in other walks of life. Moreover, if the media will not reform itself, some other institution — the judiciary, the executive or the legislature — may step in to do so. That would be a sad day for the media and a bad one for Indian democracy.
Santosh Desai: The silence of the hacks, TOI blogs, Nov 23, 2010:
There is a Soviet silence on television these days. Beneath the noise of the 2G scam and the chaotic cacophony of Parliament lurks a deeper silence that haunts every minute of every channel. The decision to blank out the murky goings-on involving some of India's top names in journalism is a staggeringly significant one. To be sure, the silence pervades most of mainstream media but leaps out of television strikingly because of its tendency to pounce on stories of this kind. For television channels, otherwise willing to go to any lengths for the sake of eyeballs to collaborate with each other in this way is quite unprecedented, and therefore particularly revealing.
It is impossible to deny that the issues raised by the recordings are very serious and merit deep introspection and public debate. It is equally important that we refrain from passing sweeping instant judgments on the people involved. It is important to underline the fact that there is no evidence of any improper consideration being offered or accepted as it is to acknowledge that private conversations between any two people are likely to reveal facets of their persona we are unlikely to see in their public postures. If any of our phone conversations were made public, there would be, in most cases, more than enough ground for embarrassment. Also, some of the conversations have nothing to do with any scam; any pleasure we derive out of them is purely voyeuristic.
Sadanand Dhume: Dragging India Out of the Muck, WSJ, Nov 23, 2010:
Much of the outrage is exaggerated. Virtually all journalists sweet-talk their sources; just how much is a matter of degree. Moreover, there's no evidence that any of the journalists in the Radia tapes profited from their conversations, much less had a direct hand in landing Mr. Raja the coveted telecom portfolio that led to the spectrum scam. Indeed, Ms. Dutt and Mr. Sanghvi have been sharply critical of the tainted minister.
Many of those who attack them also forget to point out that the magazines that published the transcripts invaded the privacy of private citizens accused of no crime. The din of the Twitterverse appears to have swallowed an important distinction between the unseemly and the illegal.
And the Indian public seems to want to have it both ways: lauding journalists for their access to power while simultaneously expecting them to keep a dignified distance from power's murk. Simply put, it's naïve to expect a country's political journalism to be entirely insulated from its political culture.
Sevanti Ninan, Vidya Subrahmaniam, Poornima Joshi: Radia Tapes: Media ethics at the crossroads, The Hoot, Nov 23, 2010
The implications of these taped conversations in at least three cases are that the journalists concerned are actively involved in helping a lobbyist who is trying to fix ministerial berths for DMK MPs, among them for A. Raja. For reasons which will help the companies which employ her.
All these journalists are at the top of the profession and were leading teams of journalists at least at the time when these conversations took place. Did they do anything wrong? Should these conversation have been published without giving them a chance to be heard? Are notions of what constitutes ethical professional behavior changing?
Priscilla Jabaraj: "The spotlight is on the media now", The Hindu, Nov 24, 2010:
Perhaps because of the large number of journalists involved in the controversy, most Indian newspapers and TV channels have not covered the Radia tapes at all, even though they include conversations with Mr. Raja himself and Ratan Tata, head of the Tata group. This despite foreign newspapers like Wall Street Journal and Washington Post taking note of them and none of the protagonists denying the genuineness of the recorded conversations.
Though the blogosphere has been filled with outrage over the seemingly cosy relationship between the media and corporate lobbyists (one website has spoken sarcastically of ‘All India Radia'), questions have also been raised about privacy issues, especially since some of the conversations seem to be personal, with no direct news linkage. “I don't agree that tapes of private individuals not breaking law should be aired,” Ms Dutt said on Twitter.
Outlook editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta defended his publication of the tapes, but declined to comment on the recorded conversations or answer further questions. “We printed the story because it was hugely in the public interest,” he told The Hindu. “Our purpose is not to pass judgment, but to put information in the public domain.”
Postscript: Edited to add some more entries I had missed out on earlier.
Salil Tripathi: Over the thin red line, Mint, Nov 24, 2010:
To state the obvious first: This is not Barkhagate or Sanghvigate—it is Rajagate, or Radiagate.
After you read the transcripts printed in the magazines Open or Outlook and listen to the recordings of the astonishing and entertaining conversations between the formidable lobbyist Niira Radia and some of India’s leading businesspeople, politicians and journalists, it should be clear that the real story is about the collusion of business and politics. Journalists who appear larger than life in their media profile play a small part here—as willing go-betweens, ferrying messages between politicians at Radia’s (and in effect her powerful corporate clients’) request. That isn’t illegal, nor is it necessarily corrupt. But it shows careless judgement and weakens the media’s credibility.
Farzana Varsey: The Media as Middle Man, Counterpunch, Nov 24, 2010:
The sudden interest in the involvement of some Indian media persons in what appears to be lobbying has posed the question about ethics, but it has a lot more to do with the cult of icons. Readers and viewers tend to blindly believe in taglines about ‘truth’ prevailing and ‘we were the first to go there’ with high-profile columnists and anchors; the audience now feels let down and covertly awkward for having propped up these news-bearers.
There is also anger that the exposure was not covered by news channels and only by some print publications. The media is a tightly-knit incestuous lot in India. They know that if they allow one head to fall, theirs will be next on the chopping block.
And finally, the TOI on its website: 2G scam sideshow: Netizens lambast high-profile journalists, The Times of India, Nov 25, 2010:
According to media observers, while most of the conversations between the lobbyist and journalists are nothing more than just conversations that take place in the course of a day, a few - particularly those around the 2G scam - appear to hint at attempts at power brokering and lobbying.
Says one observer, "On any given day, we all say things - about people in public life, colleagues, possibly even friends and family - that would embarrass us if such conversations were made public. But that doesn't make it incriminating. And you needn't even be a journalist, or anyone of consequence, to say such things. If anything, making such conversations public constitutes invasion of privacy and is unethical.
The fear is that this could divert attention from what's really wrong."
At the same time, he adds, "If the media can defend sting operations and say the public have a right to know, then the public too has a right to know if journalists are indulging in extra-journalistic practices such as fixing deals and meetings - particularly if money has changed hands. It shouldn't misuse the access it enjoys. The media needs to measure up to the same standards it expects of people in public life."
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