The Radia Tapes debate: journalists and others write in

So let us build a "What If?" argument here. What if, I am a journalist covering the ministry of defence? What if, an arms dealer (or lobbyist) becomes one of my "legitimate sources" for news?
SAIKAT DATTA, ANURADHA RAMAN, SADANAND MENON, ANAND BALA respond.
Hear the Radia tapes. It is the cacophony of the powerful. 
But also listen to the messengers. They are the media which reports, and at times, doesn’t report on this cacophony.
 
 Both are worrying.
 
So let us build a "What If?" argument here.
 
1. What if, I am a journalist covering the ministry of defence?
2. What if, an arms dealer (or lobbyist) becomes one of my "legitimate sources" for news?
3. What if, I regularly start taking the information from him?
4. What if, I promise him that I will pass on his inputs to the powers that be?
5. What if he suggests that his backers are lobbying for a particular person to be appointed as the defence minister/ minister of state for defence?
6. What if, I promise him that I will speak to the powers that be that I claim to know and have in the past claimed proximity to?
7. What if, I get some scraps of information in exchange for these promises?
8. What if, I go ahead and put out this information as "news"?
9. What if, I fail to state in my story/article/programme that the information came from an arms dealer (lobbyist)?
10. What if, the arms dealers (lobbyists) efforts bear fruit and the deal -- appointment of a person under cloud -- actually goes through?
 
   Now let us examine the facts as available to us in the "What If" context.
 
 Fact # 1: Niira Radia and her firms handle two major corporate houses with huge stakes in major sectors.
 
Fact # 2: Niira Radia is heard on the tapes stating that A Raja should be the telecom minister.
 
Fact # 3: Journalists are heard stating that they will write their columns/stories in a certain manner; they offer to pass on Radiia’s message(s) to the politicians as soon as they get out of the Prime Minister’s residence; they offer to set up meetings between politicians and/or between Radiia and a prominent politician.
 
Fact # 4: A Raja comes back as a cabinet minister in the Telecom ministry in UPA-2.
 
 The very fact that Raja did come back to the same ministry where he was under a cloud for an earlier scam (2G spectrum was a scam in the UPA-1) speaks volumes for itself.
 
So now come back to the arms dealer’s story. The arms dealer is now lobbying for a particular deal/contract.
 
 I agree to write in favour of the deal; I offer to take his word/proposal to the people who matter; I offer to set up meetings for him with people who matter.
 
Finally even the proposed arms deal does come through for him.
 
Now let me ask you these questions:
 
• Does that make me complicity in the now successfully concluded arms deal?
• Does that make my journalism and the reporting of the arms deal as "legitimate news gathering"?
• Does that make my work as a journalist credible?
• Does that mean that I need not do a report stating that the known arms dealer lobbied for this person to be appointed the defence minister and also lobbied for this particular deal?
 
Also, now perhaps because I am privy to a lot that's going on, and because my legitimate sources have their person as the defence minister,
 
I am able to "scoop" many:
• many news stories
• hard-to-get interviews
• wrong-doings and details of when exactly due process was not followed by my the competitors of my "legitimate sources" 
 
I even "appear" knowledgeable to my readers/viewers because I can throw the titbits in (7) above at them.
 
Life is good.
 
I even routinely exchange gup-shup with my legitimate source about who should be the next army chief, or how someone else is not fit enough to lead the air force.
 
I am suitably patriotic so perhaps I can even take along a film-star for a song and dance show to some border area for my infotainment programmes around
 
• My readers and viewers are happy
• My editors are happy 
As a result I get more
• "credibility"
• promotions
• increments
• perks
• junkets
• privileges etc 
 
Surely, none of these are "quid-pro-quos".
Then someone -- perhaps the government -- perhaps someone else -- anyone -- manages to tap the phone of my "legitimate source" -- legitimately or illegally.
My conversations with my "source" of are released. I am outraged. My integrity is being questioned?
I don't know who exactly is responsible. It is possible that my "legitimate source" has many legitimate competitors.
Or even those who have serious dirty tricks department. Or perhaps someone is just trying to deflect attention from someone else. It could even be someone just jealous of me (it doesn't matter that hundreds of recordings of others are also released and made public). 
The possibilities are immense. Don't you think I have been wronged? Shouldn't my editors defend me? After all they too gained from my "exclusive" stories and "scoops"?
Even if the world now knows that we had not let it be known that the arms-dealer was a "source" for some of my stories? After all my work is "effective journalism (that) involves engagement with a multitude of characters in the process of gathering news and information"?
This is not the only "legitimate source" I have for all my stories. I have many more.
It is easy to be quick to pass judgement. But one also needs to understand that there are pressures to perform, beat the competition and scoop the news. In the end, it all depends on the choices we make.

What would you do?
Saikat Datta
Assistant Editor,
Outlook
November 24, 2010
 
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Can we have answers to these questions?.
Do the journalists mentioned in the Radia Tapes deny chatting up the PR representative lobbying for big business houses in the country?
Do they deny knowledge of her professional standing?
Do they deny promising to fix appointments for politicians at the request of the PR representative?
Do they deny promising to place stories and write it in the manner the PR representative wanted
At any stage was there any doubt about who the PR representative was plugging for--in this case Mr Raja as Telecom Minister--in the minds of the journalists?
A point made by a journalist on television, worth a mention. Didn’t the journalists miss the news about a PR representative lobbying for a cabinet berth, for a politician tarred by charges of corruption, of her choice (read clients’ choice). Isn’t that news?
Is it the "job" of the journalist to act as mediator in cabinet formations ---it it their job to ferry scraps of information between political parties? Isn’t that the job of managers in political parties to act as mediators?
Is this a part of news gathering and if it is, how much of it is put out on public domain? After all journalists demand accountability and transparency from the government, exposing the same when they are not there? Do the rules apply to journalists?
Is there a disclosure that this news has come from a PR representative representative business houses?
It is interesting that the said journalists do not deny that they ever chatted up Ms Radia. They do not deny that they traded bits of information for the larger story. They do not deny not carping about their colleagues with an outsider or deny that they wrote what she wanted them to do?
What they have asserted, quite vociferously is that this was part of news gathering--stringing along sources for information and more. If that be the case, how much of that news or the big story came in public domain? Was there ever a news put on air or written in print about how a powerful lobby wanted spectrum Raja to be there where it mattered. If my memory serves me right there was much news about DMK exerting pressure on a hapless Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi.
Anuradha Raman
Delhi
November 24, 2010
 
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The debate is absolutely crucial and The Hoot has done a great service - but even as we get hyper ethical with ethics please let's not obscure a political issue we seem to be ignoring - the issue of such massive state-sponsored invasion of privacy and its selective and strategic private deployment. Haven't read a single voice of indignation against it. There will be other opportunities to gloat over the temporary nemesis of those who wield power in the media - but if we abandon right now the opportunity to interrogate the state on its surreptitious strategy of setting the media against the media, we might not get many other opportunities - am quite sure half [if not more] people on this very bulk mail have been tapped - i'm quite sure any of my conversations with just about anybody [particularly my plumber] can be easily used against me if used out of context - so lets also be clear about what we are arguing against.
Sadanand Menon
Chennai
November 23, 2010
 
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Dear Editor:
While your call for a debate was specifically for journalists, I would like to try my hand at getting my response published. I believe that readers and viewers have a right to participate in this debate as much as journalists. We need a forum to ask journalists some tough questions and there is no place better than the TheHoot.
Verdict: Guilty as Hell
Let’s not hide the fact that electronic media is very much about advertising revenue.
When you work for a listed media company and have a share holding in the company, it is in your personal interest to promote advertising revenue. If you do not take calls from the lead publicist of one of your largest advertisers, you are likely to harm your own ESOP. In this scenario ??" I believe, there is an indirect Quid Pro Quo.
I rest my case.
A way forward?
There is an umbilical chord between sources of advertising and editorial content. This needs to be cut. Organisations that see themselves as "profit centres" and not "news" organisations will be unable to snap the umbilical. This is a conflict of interest that can not be balanced, and if somebody thinks they can ??" they are fooling themselves or are ignorant.
We seriously need to consider alternative media. We need media houses that are driven purely by subscriber contributions. A network of such alternative media outlets should be able to (between them) provide holistic reportage from across the country by exchanging stories and columns. More importantly they will be able to maintain their independence.
Questions to the Mainstream Media
Media houses regularly use the power of RTI to expose corruption. Allow me to use this forum to file an RTI application at and to Media houses (particularly ??" NDTV, TV18, Bennett & Coleman, Hindustan Times and The Hindu). Please publish your answers on The Hoot.
Requesting specific and tabulated information on the following:
1) Month by month, for the last 36 months ??" how much revenue did you realise for Telecom companies. Please provide a listing for each company in the telecom space.
2) Please list your 10 largest advertisers, for each quarter, for the last 12 quarters, with revenue realised in each quarter from each advertiser.
Thanks,
Anand Bala
Bangalore
November 23, 2010
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