The Radia Tapes debate: working journalists introspect

Every hack covering government formation in May 2009 knew the PM didn't want Raja and TR Baalu because they were "tainted". Were Sanghvi and Barkha--the former gave the impression he had a hot line to the Gandhis--unaware of this?
POORNIMA JOSHI, RADHIKA RAMASESHAN, AMMU JOSEPH AND FARAZ AHMED join the debate

I am glad Sadanand Menon has raised the issue of individual privacy. Anyone with some basic understanding of the concepts of freedom, democracy and the functioning of the state will be opposed to state invasion of privacy. Having said that, let us not obfuscate the issue at hand which is contents of the tapes that raise serious questions about ethics and credibility of the media. We can have a separate debate on individual privacy. Just wanted to place on record the fact that the tapping of Radia’s phone was cleared by the home secretary for the purpose of an Income Tax investigation into her business dealings. Radia has since been interrogated by the Enforcement Directorate to explain her role in Spectrum 2G allocation.

I honestly do not understand what the problem is in the media "turning against" media. In any case, I do not find anything common between the way most of us do journalism and the way the characters in the tapes are clearly used to doing. And let us be very clear that the intention behind raising issues of ethics and credibility was not to "gloat" over what Sadanand says is "temporary nemesis" of some of the actors in the tapes.

The intention was to fight the undeclared gag order on discussing the contents of the tapes. The intention was to educate ourselves afresh about how not to do journalism. The intention was to tell ourselves again that no matter what the allure " money, exclusive stories or a chance to sit at the high table " you do not use the access you have with the powers-that-be to lobby for big corporate houses.

I feel no satisfaction in seeing the best among us being exposed as fixers and lobbyists. It is depressing and degrading. And I hope we can take the opportunity to become better. And that can happen only if we understand the issues thrown up by the taped conversations, much as I am opposed to the way they were tapped.

Poornima Joshi
New Delhi
November 25, 2010 


                                                       *       *      *       

First of all, I am glad the muck is out. The only thing that surprised and shocked me is why "serious" political journalists--at least that how's Vir Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt have projected themselves, although I always noted the alacrity with which Sanghvi changes his political stand depending on which party is in power--have to hob-nob with power-brokers to coax information. Most leaders are directly accessible, especially when they are in Opposition. Those in power, including central ministers, CMs and state ministers, can be accessed through their press or personal secretaries. I haven't come across a single politician--and I have dealt with hundreds through my career in Maharashtra, the north-east, Uttar Pradesh and now Delhi--who hires a lobbyist or a PR person to deal with journos. If indeed Kanimozhi or A Raja loaned one to pitch their case for the telecom ministry, it says something about the state of their party, the DMK and their ally, the Congress. And of their understanding about how the dynamics of political negotiations work. Every hack covering government formation in May 2009 knew the PM didn't want Raja and TR Baalu because they were "tainted". Were Sanghvi and Barkha--the former gave the impression he had a hot line to the Gandhis--unware of this? Because it's unlikely that the PM would not have kept the Gandhis in the loop and vice versa. Why were they willing to put themselves out and root for Raja? Because he suited the interests of particular corporate conglomerates? And since when did a PR person become a "source"? By definition, the veracity of the information a PR person purveys cannot be trusted obviously because she represents interest groups.

"Frontline" (June 6-19, '09) pieced together the events of those days comprehensively after speaking to a range of political sources from the government, the Congress and the DMK and revealed that it was Karunanidhi's reference to Quattrochi in a conversation with a PMO official that clinched the Raja dilemma. He asked the official whether his nominees were more "tainted" than the businessman whose links went back to Bofors. It is unlikely that Karunanidhi would have shared details of this conversation with Kanimozhi, much less Radia. In the end this is what good, old-fashioned political reporting is about: get the information from the primary players, don't depend on secondary
sources, much less PR persons. Because that makes your intention suspect.

Radhika Ramaseshan
New Delhi
November 25, 2010

                                                              *       *      *      

The Radia Tapes remind me of two familiar old maxims: power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely; (and) people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.
With regard to the former, I think it’s important to recognise that corruption is not necessarily related to the abuse of public power or position and that the personal/professional advantage sought to be gained through such abuse (in the public or private sector) is not necessarily monetary. Power and influence ??" however temporary and illusory ??" can be just as heady as pelf.
As for the latter, while breathing fire over corruption in the organisation of the Commonwealth Games and the allotment of 2G spectrum, nepotism in the allotment of denotified land in Karnataka, etc., few in the media have been as vociferous in condemning the institutionalised system of "paid news" now practiced by quite a few media houses, not to mention the many other less than ethical practices that are increasingly common and decreasingly questioned within the profession. And that reminds me of yet another adage: silence is compliance.
The Radia Tapes could serve a constructive purpose if the disclosures catalyse an open, widespread and ongoing discussion on journalistic ethics and standards ??" especially within media houses, professional organisations, institutes of media/journalism education, etc. As Roy Peter Clark wrote on Poynter Online some years ago, "Ethics springs from scandal. Too often, it takes disaster or tragedy to reform a system."
Perhaps this is a timely wake-up call to journalists to subject media institutions and professionals to the same level of scrutiny they use (or should use) for other fields/industries. Instead of treating the revelations in the Radia transcripts and other questionable practices as unrelated episodes and/or individual mistakes/failures, maybe it’s time to see them as symptoms of a more widespread disease that demands and deserves serious and sustained treatment. This may turn out to be a valuable opportunity to examine the entire system, identify the weak links and do some course correction.
Since journalism as a profession is generally believed to be critical to the survival of democracy, periodic checks of journalistic systems and practices will not only serve the profession but also the public interest.
Ammu Joseph
 Bangalalore
November 25, 2010

                                                                *       *      *

Comments on Nira Radia tapes

The Nira Radia tapes have done a great service to journalism. It’s not that it has exposed all the hacks who leverage their professional position for personal aggrandizement and self-promotion. Actually it is just the tip of the iceberg. That is not to say that there are only rotten eggs in this basket. But there are enough raising a stink all over for long. The fraternity knows about this. It is aware, for instance that there are regulars from the Ambani camp,. For years there was only one Ambani camp. Since the death of Papa Ambani now the camp too is divided into two. There are the Mukesh Ambani groupies, some prominent among whom have been exposed through these tapes. There are also those from the Anil Ambani camp, with loyalty to Tony Jesudasan and their names are equally well known in journalist circles. Then there are the Intelligence Bureau planters who put out stories with élan about so and so terrorists going to so and so shop at such and such market, at a specific time in a specified vehicle all with registration numbers et al, as if the reporter concerned was a personal eye witness and these stories come in handy for a political party to quote as gospel truth. And of course add to that those more than aligned with one or the other political party. For instance some years back soon as a new dispensation came to occupy the Delhi Darbar, a group of journos acquired Cherry Red Maruti 800 Deluxe cars. The story is endless, the names would make an unending list, specially if we include the hacks of various Metropolises. For instance in one Metropolis the switching of jobs and rise in profession by any number of prominent hacks can be traced to just one journalist/politician. And mind you there are no free lunches. Nobody would oblige you or me unless I am of some use to him and ready to pay a price at the time he needs me. In effect I would be a plant of the big boss who has facilitated my securing that position. And if you are game for that, sky is the limit. You can scale any heights, can switch jobs, even change profession mid-way and again return to be a journalist, with nobody batting an eyelid.

I have been saying for long, that of the four pillars of democracy, for all the fun and ridicule we poke at our politicians, they are men of greater personal and professional integrity than the other three. The executive is naturally the worst because it can indulge in unbridled corruption and misuse of position, simply because their jobs are by and large secure. I have lived for 16 years in a high profile bureaucrats’ colony and seen from close quarters their total disdain for any accountability.

It is difficult to say whether the judiciary is less or more corrupt and by corruption I don’t just mean taking money but even giving out judgments and verdicts which clearly smack of caste, class or even communal bias. All for lack of accountability. In their case they may even put you behind bars because they argue that truth is no defence against contempt and brazenly get away with it.

The fourth estate is actually third on the ladder. Our malik’s sole concern is moolah and power, if your writing helps him in prospering and you are at his beck and call to fix the requisite appointment with the minister then you are the man he has been looking for all these years. This way you will also keep your immediate boss from breathing down your neck. You may put out an honest report or some cock and bull story. That stuff will surely see the front page of your journal. When you go for an interview the first thing they ask is "So who all do you know?" Or the other refrain from the big boss is, "Oh, you are such a senior man, why can’t you get so and so on the phone? Why do you have to go every time to meet these guys?" In effect you are no good.

I say if I have to make money and do liaison work for my editor or employer why would I not do it for myself first. Sometime back when I was working for a very well-known editor he sacked a journalist for planting a story ostensibly at someone’s behest, apparently for some consideration. The whole office got talking about it. I then asked my colleagues, the same question, if day in and day out I am planting stories and doing rackets for my bosses, why would I not do it for myself first? It’s a never ending story. Perhaps the best way out is to make it mandatory and legally binding as for politicians, for journalists as well to declare their assets and not just once but every year, and subject these to proper scrutiny. That may help some bit though I am not sure how much?

Faraz Ahmad
The Tribune
 Nov 25, 2010

I am glad Sadanand Menon has raised the issue of individual privacy. Anyone with some basic understanding of the concepts of freedom, democracy and the functioning of the state will be opposed to state invasion of privacy. Having said that, let us not obfuscate the issue at hand which is contents of the tapes that raise serious questions about ethics and credibility of the media. We can have a separate debate on individual privacy. Just wanted to place on record the fact that the tapping of Radia’s phone was cleared by the home secretary for the purpose of an Income Tax investigation into her business dealings. Radia has since been interrogated by the Enforcement Directorate to explain her role in Spectrum 2G allocation.

I honestly do not understand what the problem is in the media "turning against" media. In any case, I do not find anything common between the way most of us do journalism and the way the characters in the tapes are clearly used to doing. And let us be very clear that the intention behind raising issues of ethics and credibility was not to "gloat" over what Sadanand says is "temporary nemesis" of some of the actors in the tapes.

The intention was to fight the undeclared gag order on discussing the contents of the tapes. The intention was to educate ourselves afresh about how not to do journalism. The intention was to tell ourselves again that no matter what the allure ??" money, exclusive stories or a chance to sit at the high table ??" you do not use the access you have with the powers-that-be to lobby for big corporate houses.

I feel no satisfaction in seeing the best among us being exposed as fixers and lobbyists. It is depressing and degrading. And I hope we can take the opportunity to become better. And that can happen only if we understand the issues thrown up by the taped conversations, much as I am opposed to the way they were tapped.

Poornima Joshi
New Delhi
November 25, 2010 


                                                       *       *      *       

First of all, I am glad the muck is out. The only thing that surprised and shocked me is why "serious" political journalists--at least that how's Vir Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt have projected themselves, although I always noted the alacrity with which Sanghvi changes his political stand depending on which party is in power--have to hob-nob with power-brokers to coax information. Most leaders are directly accessible, especially when they are in Opposition. Those in power, including central ministers, CMs and state ministers, can be accessed through their press or personal secretaries. I haven't come across a single politician--and I have dealt with hundreds through my career in Maharashtra, the north-east, Uttar Pradesh and now Delhi--who hires a lobbyist or a PR person to deal with journos. If indeed Kanimozhi or A Raja loaned one to pitch their case for the telecom ministry, it says something about the state of their party, the DMK and their ally, the Congress. And of their understanding about how the dynamics of political negotiations work. Every hack covering government formation in May 2009 knew the PM didn't want Raja and TR Baalu because they were "tainted". Were Sanghvi and Barkha--the former gave the impression he had a hot line to the Gandhis--unware of this? Because it's unlikely that the PM would not have kept the Gandhis in the loop and vice versa. Why were they willing to put themselves out and root for Raja? Because he suited the interests of particular corporate conglomerates? And since when did a PR person become a "source"? By definition, the veracity of the information a PR person purveys cannot be trusted obviously because she represents interest groups.

"Frontline" (June 6-19, '09) pieced together the events of those days comprehensively after speaking to a range of political sources from the government, the Congress and the DMK and revealed that it was Karunanidhi's reference to Quattrochi in a conversation with a PMO official that clinched the Raja dilemma. He asked the official whether his nominees were more "tainted" than the businessman whose links went back to Bofors. It is unlikely that Karunanidhi would have shared details of this conversation with Kanimozhi, much less Radia. In the end this is what good, old-fashioned political reporting is about: get the information from the primary players, don't depend on secondary
sources, much less PR persons. Because that makes your intention suspect.

Radhika Ramaseshan
New Delhi
November 25, 2010

                                                              *       *      *      

The Radia Tapes remind me of two familiar old maxims: power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely; (and) people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.
With regard to the former, I think it’s important to recognise that corruption is not necessarily related to the abuse of public power or position and that the personal/professional advantage sought to be gained through such abuse (in the public or private sector) is not necessarily monetary. Power and influence ??" however temporary and illusory ??" can be just as heady as pelf.
As for the latter, while breathing fire over corruption in the organisation of the Commonwealth Games and the allotment of 2G spectrum, nepotism in the allotment of denotified land in Karnataka, etc., few in the media have been as vociferous in condemning the institutionalised system of "paid news" now practiced by quite a few media houses, not to mention the many other less than ethical practices that are increasingly common and decreasingly questioned within the profession. And that reminds me of yet another adage: silence is compliance.
The Radia Tapes could serve a constructive purpose if the disclosures catalyse an open, widespread and ongoing discussion on journalistic ethics and standards ??" especially within media houses, professional organisations, institutes of media/journalism education, etc. As Roy Peter Clark wrote on Poynter Online some years ago, "Ethics springs from scandal. Too often, it takes disaster or tragedy to reform a system."
Perhaps this is a timely wake-up call to journalists to subject media institutions and professionals to the same level of scrutiny they use (or should use) for other fields/industries. Instead of treating the revelations in the Radia transcripts and other questionable practices as unrelated episodes and/or individual mistakes/failures, maybe it’s time to see them as symptoms of a more widespread disease that demands and deserves serious and sustained treatment. This may turn out to be a valuable opportunity to examine the entire system, identify the weak links and do some course correction.
Since journalism as a profession is generally believed to be critical to the survival of democracy, periodic checks of journalistic systems and practices will not only serve the profession but also the public interest.
Ammu Joseph
 Bangalalore
November 25, 2010

                                                                *       *      *

Comments on Nira Radia tapes

The Nira Radia tapes have done a great service to journalism. It’s not that it has exposed all the hacks who leverage their professional position for personal aggrandizement and self-promotion. Actually it is just the tip of the iceberg. That is not to say that there are only rotten eggs in this basket. But there are enough raising a stink all over for long. The fraternity knows about this. It is aware, for instance that there are regulars from the Ambani camp,. For years there was only one Ambani camp. Since the death of Papa Ambani now the camp too is divided into two. There are the Mukesh Ambani groupies, some prominent among whom have been exposed through these tapes. There are also those from the Anil Ambani camp, with loyalty to Tony Jesudasan and their names are equally well known in journalist circles. Then there are the Intelligence Bureau planters who put out stories with élan about so and so terrorists going to so and so shop at such and such market, at a specific time in a specified vehicle all with registration numbers et al, as if the reporter concerned was a personal eye witness and these stories come in handy for a political party to quote as gospel truth. And of course add to that those more than aligned with one or the other political party. For instance some years back soon as a new dispensation came to occupy the Delhi Darbar, a group of journos acquired Cherry Red Maruti 800 Deluxe cars. The story is endless, the names would make an unending list, specially if we include the hacks of various Metropolises. For instance in one Metropolis the switching of jobs and rise in profession by any number of prominent hacks can be traced to just one journalist/politician. And mind you there are no free lunches. Nobody would oblige you or me unless I am of some use to him and ready to pay a price at the time he needs me. In effect I would be a plant of the big boss who has facilitated my securing that position. And if you are game for that, sky is the limit. You can scale any heights, can switch jobs, even change profession mid-way and again return to be a journalist, with nobody batting an eyelid.

I have been saying for long, that of the four pillars of democracy, for all the fun and ridicule we poke at our politicians, they are men of greater personal and professional integrity than the other three. The executive is naturally the worst because it can indulge in unbridled corruption and misuse of position, simply because their jobs are by and large secure. I have lived for 16 years in a high profile bureaucrats’ colony and seen from close quarters their total disdain for any accountability.

It is difficult to say whether the judiciary is less or more corrupt and by corruption I don’t just mean taking money but even giving out judgments and verdicts which clearly smack of caste, class or even communal bias. All for lack of accountability. In their case they may even put you behind bars because they argue that truth is no defence against contempt and brazenly get away with it.

The fourth estate is actually third on the ladder. Our malik’s sole concern is moolah and power, if your writing helps him in prospering and you are at his beck and call to fix the requisite appointment with the minister then you are the man he has been looking for all these years. This way you will also keep your immediate boss from breathing down your neck. You may put out an honest report or some cock and bull story. That stuff will surely see the front page of your journal. When you go for an interview the first thing they ask is "So who all do you know?" Or the other refrain from the big boss is, "Oh, you are such a senior man, why can’t you get so and so on the phone? Why do you have to go every time to meet these guys?" In effect you are no good.

I say if I have to make money and do liaison work for my editor or employer why would I not do it for myself first. Sometime back when I was working for a very well-known editor he sacked a journalist for planting a story ostensibly at someone’s behest, apparently for some consideration. The whole office got talking about it. I then asked my colleagues, the same question, if day in and day out I am planting stories and doing rackets for my bosses, why would I not do it for myself first? It’s a never ending story. Perhaps the best way out is to make it mandatory and legally binding as for politicians, for journalists as well to declare their assets and not just once but every year, and subject these to proper scrutiny. That may help some bit though I am not sure how much?

Faraz Ahmad
The Tribune
 Nov 25, 2010

Relevant Links

The Radia Tapes debate: swallowing the bait

 

The Radia Tapes debate: journalists and others write in

 

Radia Tapes:Media ethics at the crossroads

 

Oh what a lovely blackout

 

Merging estates

 

 

 

 

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