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.