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Those living in glass houses…

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In silentmode…
In silentmode…
RASHEEDA BHAGAT

The Radia tapes reveal a murky aspect of journalism, where the journalist crosses ethical boundaries.

Readers of the print media and television viewers are strange creatures. Most of them are generous in heaping encomiums on their favourite reporters, columnists or anchors. Despite growing cynicism and scepticism about the media, unfortunately, most people in India tend to take the written or broadcast word as gospel truth. So, any journalist with good articulation skills, flamboyance and a dash of glamour — oh yes, glamour is important in the electronic media, ask the plain Janes and they'll tell you horror stories on this aspect — can catch the fancy or admiration of thousands of followers.

All of us have, at some time or the other in our journalistic careers, lapped up words of admiration, be it praise for our writing skills, clarity of thought, balanced views, independent opinion, investigative skills, and such other welcome encomiums. Of course when we get brickbats, it is ever so easy to ascribe them to people with a different ideology, followers of a particular political party, etc.

A permanent grouse of readers or viewers with views different from those expressed by journalists in the print or electronic media is that the media is stingy about giving them a fair representation. But with the advent of blogs and social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, etc., readers and viewers now have ample opportunity to trash journalists. And, when their heroes or heroines fall from grace, or display feet of clay, the dressing down can be severe.

Cause for discomfort

Hence, for much of the media that has been shouting itself hoarse about corruption in public life, and has recently been given enough fodder by the UPA-II government in the form of one scam after another — the Commonwealth Games, the Adarsh Housing Society and the mother of all scams perpetrated in the allotment rather than auction of 2G — the unearthing of the Niira Radia tapes has caused much discomfort.

Our TV channel debates are infamous for their high decibel levels and, on some channels, the anchors out-shout everybody else on the show.

But all these channels, their anchors and expert commentators have gone into silent mode since the Radia tapes have aired in public the participation of some top-notch media personalities in animated conversations pertaining to the formation of the UPA-II government. The main hitch then, it may be recalled, pertained to the DMK demanding more than what the Congress was willing to offer. There were also issues pertaining to internal wrangles within the first family of the Dravidian party.

The audio tapes, which can be accessed on the websites of both Outlook and Open magazines, as well as on YouTube, reveal a murky aspect of journalism…. the journalist crossing ethical boundaries.

Of course, in defence, those journalists have said that, in the course of their work, they talk to all kinds of sources to gather as much information as possible to know what is going on within political parties, etc.

The power game

But now the readers and viewers, many of whom have listened to all the audio tapes available in the public domain, are demanding some answers. They want the media to explain the role of those journalists who, without any qualms, offer to talk to this political leader or that, across parties, to break the “impasse” in the formation of government.

The manner in which politicians are described and discussed, the name-dropping that goes on, is amusing, though disturbing too, because it clearly shows that it is not only the politicians who get high on the power game. “Ok, I will talk to so and so” or “I will convey your message to the party”, etc, raises disturbing questions on journalists crossing the Lakshman Rekha.

Media blackout

But if you thought that, over the last couple of days, since the audio tapes exploded in the cyber world, the TV channels whose journalists are mentioned in these tapes, would air programmes to give some kind of explanation or justification to their viewers, think again. Of course, individually, some of the journalists have tweeted their indignation and annoyance, but their TV channels have remained silent.

But not the bloggers, who are wondering why our TV channels and most newspapers have refrained from discussing the murky involvement of journalists in this affair. One of them says it is quite possible that the journalists on the tapes “never lobbied for (former Communications Minister) Mr A. 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 (from most of the media)?”

Another blogger says the tapes reveal “all sorts of shenanigans that show they are not dispassionate, disinterested journalist observers, but active connivers in fraud. Did you guys notice how the entire Indian mainstream media has been totally silent about the revelations…? They take care of their own, obviously. (But) citizen journalism is blowing their cover.” 

Related Stories:
Raising their voice
Preventing public sector corruption

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated November 23, 2010)
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