Radia’s uncomfortably cosy ties with media mavens, more than evident in the first tranche of 140 conversations released by Outlook, get further reinforced.
The 800 new conversations now in the magazine’s possession rip apart the artfully constructed façade over the last three weeks that the mediapersons were merely and innocently “stringing Radia along”.
Two examples should suffice:
- A month later, the columnist Vir Sanghvi recites to Radia (a lobbyist for Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries), the tone and tenor of his Sunday Hindustan Times column on the gas dispute.
“I’ve dressed it up as a piece about how public will not stand for resources being cornered, how we’re creating a new list of oligarchs,” says Sanghvi.
“Very nice, lovely, thank you, Vir,” responds Radia.
Sanghvi goes on to say, “It’s dressed up as a plea to Manmohan Singh, so it won’t look like an inter-Ambani battle except to people in the know.”
As a media meister, Radia is justly seen spending time and effort in the various tapes to positively manage the public perceptions of her clients and their companies through the media.
But two things stand out in numerous conversations contained in the 800 conversations:
The first is Radia’s close and direct involvement in the setting up and running of INX, the company that runs the news channel NewsX.
And the second is the ease with which she hops on either side of the lakshman rekha between what is kosher and what is not.
So, while her comment to an associate, "The ‘Society’ [magazine] article on Nita Ambani will have zero impact," may sound harmless in hindsight, but there are plenty of others which sound less so.
- In a conversation with her aide Manoj Warrier, Radia gives an indication of getting her main clients, the Tatas and Ambanis, to blacklist the news agency PTI. She then goes on to instruct Warrier not to put this on paper, so as not to give the impression that she is batting for rival news agency UNI.
- In a June 2009 conversation with Noel Tata, discussing media plans for Tata subsidiary Trent, she says: “Which is why I stopped the ‘BusinessWorld’ story and shifted it to ‘Business Today’ because I got the questions I wanted and not the questions that they wanted.”
“Jehangir… is cleared...Raja is cleared, Raja is cleared,” a distracted Radia purrs to Jehangir Pocha, head of the news channel, NewsX, announcing the inclusion of A. Raja in the UPA-team in a different tape. NewsX's first headman was Vir Sanghvi.
“She’s got Chaya Mamaya or whatever her name is. She hasn’t told her the truth that she has been buying ‘Bombay Times’ at a price for her. She is under the impression that Chaya is doing all the great stuff for her which is not true. You tell me how you position ‘Nita Ambani’, let’s move from Bombay Times and Mid-Day”
- In another tape, she issues instructions to an employee on how to manipulate the media in Jammu to generate bad press. When a local official fails to mention the name of the Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Communications in a official release, she says, "Press must put pressure on the SSP to name the telecom operator".
- “He [Vir Sanghvi] has a series of interviews lined up and he has agreed to ask the questions we asked him to ask. The first one is with Mukesh [Ambani] and Ratan [Tata],” she says in different conversation with an associate.
In the end, the charitable view is that Niira Radia was merely doing her job in working the media to suit her ends. But was the media doing its job?
Check out the audios we have put up and watch out for more transcripts and analyses as they get updated
Outlook Team: Ajith Pillai, Amba Batra Bakshi, Anuradha Raman, Arindam Mukherjee, Chandrani Banerjee, Debarshi Dasgupta, Pragya Singh, Prarthna Gahilote, Sunit Arora