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Rage Against The Media

Rage Against The Media

December 03, 2010

Radia tapes and WikiLeaks - where is the media heading?

Recently India witnessed two issues where the ethics and integrity of political journalism was called into question.

The first was the Radia tapes affair where a corporate Public Relations Officer (PRO) was witnessed speaking to Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi and many other prominent editors of Indian media. The topic of discussion was DMK's role in formation of the Congress led government in 2009. The Corporate PRO, representing Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani, seemed to be keen in pushing A Raja as the Telecom Minister of the Union Cabinet. Radia was promoting the prospects of some DMK personalities as well as the gas interests of one Ambani brother and the spectrum interests of the Tatas. What if the 2-G scam is related to it!

The second issue was when WikiLeaks published a series of unedited documents that have brought almost every major authority of this world into question. Much debate has ensued on the issues related to publishing unedited documents without prior permission and followups.

These issues are more than ethical. They are legal. Ethics take a backseat when the law comes into the picture. This is why both these issues are debated in courts. As a freelance writer who claims to be unbiased, I really don't want to add another obvious comment here. Rather, I would like to take up a larger issue that has gone unnoticed - that of unbiased journalism.

Let us examine the roots of journalism. Consider a situation when a journalist is covering a riot. People are dying around him and he has a dilemma. He can drop his camera, jump in and save a few lives. But a real journalist will just cover the episode, however ironic it may sound. He will report the real situation. That is his job. However, he will strive towards a greater objective - that the masses get to know about what has happened so that such riots may stop altogether.

What I am getting at is, a journalist has to be unbiased in his reporting. He cannot take sides and make emotional choices, not even politically. Well, according to one of my favorite journalists, Swapan Dasgupta (da), a political journalist often has to do a trade off here.Let me elaborate:

Swapan da elaborates the importance of political 'contacts'. Journalists rely on these 'contacts' for stories. Establishing these 'contacts' requires the building of long term relationships. The relationships, however, are based on understandings. The 'source' may tell you everything that has transpired in a crucial, closed-door meeting. But if he tells you that you can't write a word about it, you are obliged to respect his wishes. The price of violating the understanding is future exclusion. To survive in political journalism you can't spit and run.

Very often political journalist develop cosy relationships with sources. This is the price journalists often pay for knowing the truth. These sources can end up as friends and these personal attachments potentially jeopardize journalistic independence.

I strongly believe that a journalist's primary focus should be knowing and bringing out the truth. He should never lose sight of his motives. Personality or ideology driven journalism is still acceptable (and often interesting). But journalism driven by material favours is pure corruption.

Swapan da himself is considered close to the BJP. But I can not think of an incident when he has not criticized BJP when the need arose. However, the case with Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi was different. Vir Sanghvi referred to congress as 'we'. Barkha Dutt was never far behind in going gaga over everything congress did. She was even accused of sensationalizing the coverage of the Mumbai Terrorist Attacks. Her broadcasts were used by terrorist handlers in Pakistan to relay orders back to their team in Mumbai. The credibility of Ms. Dutt and Mr. Sanghvi was always in question. The day the media had to confront the crisis was long overdue. This day in Indian media was inevitable!

I see it as a success of my nation that we read of a controversy which is being driven by the media against the media. As the nation progresses, the rotten eggs will crack. The question of Outlookpublishing unedited data is as elementary as that of Wikileaks, and debate will never cease on the matter. But the greater question on the impartiality and objectivity of the media needs to be answered as soon as  possible. The sooner we do that, the better it will be for us.


  • nithin
    11.12.10 12:09 PM
    i think Wikileaks is doing a great service, we would never have known US has killed millions of civilians in the name of fight against terrorism.

    do India really deserve a permanent seat in UNSC?
    ratan tata is not jrd tata. the time, tata being socially and morally responsibel is long over. it also follows the ultimate ethics of corporate world " profit ".
  • pdkamath
    07.12.10 09:14 PM
    Hi friend, visiting via Indiblogger network. I feel the selected topic is worth debating at various levels because Indian media is crossing all boundaries while reporting news and often seen biased.Some journalists conducts media trails and decides who is right and who is wrong. Even some times journalists keep national interests aside while reporting new stories. I remember the disciplined American media role when World trade center was blasted and also role of Indian media during Indian plane was hijacked to Kandahar. I still believe that the pressure tactics adopted by Indian media ended up with release of our Country's enemy Maulana Azar Masood.
  • Ranjini
    06.12.10 12:04 PM
    Finally.....I'm so glad to know that I'm not the only one who thinks Farah Khan is a bad director! I totally agree with Aditya. On one side, there's so much undue inportance given to the personal lives of the 'rich & famous' and the so-called 'Page 3' socialites. But on the other hand, there are so many people amongst us who take up a newspaper and turn to such gossip columns right away, just to know what's happening in their favourite celeb's love life and other similar news. So I feel that such people are to blame, as the media only feeds their appetite for such 'sensational' news & gossip.
  • Sourav Roy
    Sourav Roy
    05.12.10 10:39 PM
    @ Pankaj
    After Radia and Wikileaks, let's not create a mood viciously hostile to entrepreneurship- the force that has propelled India's growth story. This is a tradeoff we have to commit! Its time to fight the cancer, and not join the lynch mob, as Swapan da says.

    @ Aditya
    That is true. The worst thing that has happened in the past 15 years in India is that media figures have become celebrities. And they have started to takes sides, and pose around. Farah Khan is indeed a horrible director and media unnecessarily is going gaga over her...
  • Aditya
    05.12.10 09:47 PM
    A honest write up. I always dont understand why th media gives undue importance to certain people. A cheap yet simple example, Farah Khan. A director who has just directed her third film with her first two being silly ones, is given so much prominence in the media, whereby everyone are going ga ga over her skills of making a great song with Kaif. Sad really because in real she doesn't deserve it when there are better directors in the industry. Gives us food for thought whether every things is paid news?
  • Pankaj
    05.12.10 12:07 PM
    There are tones of scams in India..although only few have got uncovered.. I hope more indian scams leak on wikileaks as that will put international pressure on our this article about wikileaks...
  • Sourav Roy
    Sourav Roy
    04.12.10 12:44 PM
    On the face of it, the documents leaked by WikiLeaks and the Radia tapes may appear unrelated but there is a strong link as the game plan of the corporates across the globe is concerned, which is to economically conquer the world by controlling governments. It hurts that the strong foundation of a nation has shifted from patriotism to money!

    While washing international dirty linen in public, it has also brought out the amusing hypocrisy in world politics. Who would have thought that the Saudi King wanted Iran's nuclear plants eliminated? Or that Ratan Tata wanted A. Raja as Telecom Minister?

    It is evident that many conferences, summit meetings and visits are only facades, under which lies a labyrinth of deception, double-dealing and cunningness.

    Hillary Clinton recently described India as a “self-appointed front runner” for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council is disturbing. It hurts that our government is making tall and false claims of progress. Let us clean up the mess within before thinking of a greater role in world politics. It is high time the government pulled its socks up and worked towards making India a genuine front runner.

    Jai Hind!
  • nalini hebbar
    nalini hebbar
    04.12.10 09:58 AM
    Let the scams reg politicians and the media hit the fan...much needed and timely too...the globe has shrunk and people will learn to be more honest.
  • Sourav Roy
    Sourav Roy
    03.12.10 11:34 PM
    @ Shyam

    Thanks for the compliment :)
  • shyam
    03.12.10 10:59 PM
    dnt know wat to comment now.
  • Sourav Roy
    Sourav Roy
    03.12.10 09:05 PM
    @ Nice

    Agreed! The good shift that is happening is that media is awakening. Red tapism and corruption was always there. But in the past one year media has successfully exposed them!
  • Nice
    03.12.10 05:18 PM
    Nice article. In India's case the exposure of these corrupt parasites is actually a beneficial public service. The sooner these people are exposed and ousted, the sooner India will achieve its true greatness.

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