Et tu Barkha Dutt!

“There are two kinds of journalists. One kind are journalists, the other are stenographers.”

 — P. Sainath 
In last sixty years, overall degradation of public institutes in India have been quite troublesome. It is remarkable that a generation which was 70% illiterate could built up such kind of institutes which were among the best in the world. May be, degradation of institutions have a lot to do with degradation of public life and degradation of public life, in turn, is due to degradation of public education. Police, Bureaucracy, and Politics are our prominent rotten systems, not probably in the same order. Out of these three, only politicians can suffer directly from influenced public opinion. Bureaucrats and Police generally have a lot of resources at their disposal to defend themselves. Besides, our media never give them kind of attention they really deserve. This make their task of defending themselves rather easy. Poor Politicians! They are the only one who always make front page, mostly for bad reasons. As one politician was joking about it once, “If we let the proceeding run, we do not make news. If we disrupt it, we make the front page.” Then we have judiciary. We are not saying that our judiciary is free from corruption and reforms are not needed. Over the last 60 years, there have been a degradation of judiciary also and previous record have been patchy.
Who tells us all of this? What is happening around us? Its the media, right? And even sometimes, they claim to know why something is happening around us.  Neither, one have time, nor resources, like Agent Skully and Moulder to look out for truth which surely is out there. Now, if one needs to believe in someone, one  has to put trust in him/her. Barkha Dutt is one the journalist. A lot of people, especially form my generation, have put their trust in her. Thus she deserves our scrutiny, our anger and our frustration and sometimes even our judgments.

Talking bad about rotten people is not something I write my blog for. I generally devote my time and energy reflecting upon those whom I admire. But this has been a special case. Point is, when someone like her does something disgraceful, it propagates a wrong message and weakens people trust. It becomes harder for those who believe that honesty do exists. This belief is necessary till one gets mature enough to have his own sense of existence. Second, it strengthen those who already have the view ‘Well, who is not corrupt (mostly followed by a chuckle)’. Others may be worse than her, but they do not have a respectful place in my conscious. If one capitalizes socially on one’s clean image like Shashi Tharoor, then its natural for public expecting their heads for wrongdoings. This is a double edge sword. If ‘holier than thou’ wrongdoer loose respect and their credibility, their supporters get disillusioned.

Great journalist? I really don’t understand her circus on NDTV. 10-15 people suppose to debate something over there. Most of her chosen contenders were as knowledgeable about the subject as anyone else who watches it. They have not done any work. Mostly, they start thinking when they enter in the studio and, for worse, they end up beating around the bush. Even one or two dedicated people who come to make a point get lost in hooliganism. And the cause is lost. Three Indians can not debate properly and she has the galls to bring about 10-15. I never know what she has on her mind. She could have done much better by inviting one or two. But for TRP, circus is needed. Isn’t it?

Let me tell you my biases first. Was I a big fan of her? No! I never liked her. She made her career out of people misery. In Kargil. Brave? If she was one she could not have done this deed. She has  not built her reputation shred by shred. She is the classic example how people get famous these days. No one can become genius/intelligent/authority in subject in 6 months. She did! More than that, especially her constant hobnobbing with Congress upper brass irritates me. Can I put my trust in some-one who is so power hungry. She awarded Manmohan ‘Leader of the year or something’ award and got a “Padma Shree” in return. Perfect example of cooperative games. Second, I have learnt to be paranoid. Well, if one is doing ‘verification’ of designed VLSI hardware, one has to be paranoid. To detect a fault in a perfect looking piece of hardware or software is not possible unless one is paranoid to the very core. I admire people who are paranoid though avoid their company, and respect those who are dissident (wants to write about them). Anything significant ever came into this world, came through these two kind of people. And she is none of them. So my chances of liking her is zero. And I do not even want to comment about Vir Sanghvi. I never knew him. First time I saw his picture, he looked like a porn star to me.
Ok, the deed is, probably you’ll never know [PS : now the issue is in mainstream]. As outlook magazine goes on to say, “Now, If you depend on just the Times of India or Hindustan Times for your daily news fix, chances are you have missed the story that has put Indian journalism under its fiercest gaze ever. For it turns out that a majority of Indian journalism censors news about its own indiscretions.” This episode is known as Radia Tapes, telephone conversation between Barkha Dutt, Vir Shanghvi and corporate lobbyist Niira Radia (of two eyes) published by Outlook and Open Magazine. Interestingly, no newspaper covered this for first three days. Only some South Indian newspapers (first comment on this blog provides link) were graceful enough to make a story out of it. And guess, who asked serious question first. 4000 miles away, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Had it not been for internet, they could have killed it. But the news was too big to kill, so after 5-6 days even Times of India published it. And it made it to its most shared list where only soft porn could be found till date. 

Sivanti Ninan was not surprised at all. Writing in Hoot, she laments,

Not a story that three prominent journalists were trying to help a lobbyist get A Raja a ministerial berth in the second UPA government? The same A Raja currently at the centre of the 2G scam that all these papers have been covering every day? Not even news by association with the most newsworthy person of the week? ” 

The list of those who took no note is long and illustrious: The Indian Express, always quick off the mark on sensational disclosures. The Hindu, till Monday, though some heard that the paper was working on a story. The Times of India and theHindustan Times. India Today magazine, which had a cover story on the 2G scam. All those Hindi news channels forever reconstructing sensational events. Times Now! No pained sermons on the subject from dear Arnab!

 Vidya Subramaniam, another hight profile journalist have this to say about tapes (this one is my favorite),

Hearing the tapes is like looking at the x-ray plates of a diseased patient. From the outside, you see a person, rollickingly healthy and perfumed to boot. But the insides have been so badly corroded, you don’t know how he lives. The most shocking aspect of the tapes is what they have to say about the state of business journalism in this country. Undoubtedly there are exceptions and these must be named. Papers like The Business Standard, Business Line and Mint have conducted themselves with a degree of dignity. Yet they occupy a small share of the market. In the larger bazaar of the biggies, it is almost as if every story is a plant, every headline is pre-determined and every placement is up for sale. The lobbyist dictates lines to be written in a column, and if the journalist concerned is too daft even to take dictation, not to worry. A written script will be passed on which can be faithfully reproduced. In one of many conversations between Niira Radia (was it the numerologically-inspired double “i” that took her to such great heights? If so, what about the fall? ) and a Mukesh Dhirubhai Ambani (hereinafter MDA) groupie, they both chuckle at the susceptibility of the journo they have collectively fooled.

Here is the tapes, if you want to listen by yourself.

Now one likes to give benefits of doubts to their loved one. Even then, her position is not defendable. Vidya continues, “Agreed, the tapes establish no quid-pro-quo. But they do establish connections between conversations and columns. Within a week of Radia offering the “national interest” line, one column after another appears parroting the same line. If this sounds incredible, just go to the Outlook website, hear out the tapes and match the conversations with the columns that followed.” What Radiia wants to do, one can understand. That she does not care about society around her is probably natural. People who make less investment in humanity, ends up finding a meaning of life in money and power. A pretty picture for some!

It is not just that financial news and views were slanted in favour of MDA. Journos deliberately turned a blind eye to the MDA camp’s misdoings, among them a sudden upward revision in the expenditure costs of exploring gas to the tune of Rs. 30,000 crore. No less than Prashant Bhushan described this as a scam but for the majority of the financial media this was not even news.

Now its not the first time that something so bad happened. We have seen paid news in which so many media houses were involved.  The news was broken by Sainath, The Hindu. He then wrote this on Seminar Magazine,

In itself, the game is simple. Political parties and candidates in electoral contests have to cough up very large sums of money if they hope to get covered at all in newspapers and channels running a paid news racket. You pay to print. Decline, and you’re obliterated. If your rival has paid up, you might even cop a lot of nasty flak in those media.

It was not the ‘maligned and dirty’ politician who used media to mislead people, it was, ‘Large and very powerful sections of the media went out and actively solicited, often extorted money from poll candidates.’ If they paid, they ‘received coverage that would have embarrassed the court soothsayers of medieval kingdoms.’ And as usual, ‘The advertisements and propaganda were presented to readers as ‘news’. If out of poverty and or out of ethics one did not pay them the bribe then they found ‘their names were never once mentioned.’ No wonder 60% of M.P. are multi-millionaire who represent a nation which has 770 million people who lives below Rs. 20 a day. But this paradox never makes a news.

How much coverage did you see of this. Even report of Press Council of India, was reduced to a joke. To quote Sainath, 

The sub-committee finds passing mention in the “final” report. Its outstanding effort stands reduced to a footnote (yes, a footnote) in that report. The footnote says the sub-committee’s report “may remain on the record of the Council as a reference document.” That’s right. It goes to the archive. There is no sign of this “reference document” on the website of the Press Council. This is the standard the PCI sets for the Indian media?And so a “full” drafting committee got to work on a “final” report.

Problem with this report was that it was pointing the fingers at people. So these people of PCI – mainly those representing media owners, ‘worked to scuttle the explosive original report.’ They were asking, ‘Why name names? Why get into the ugliness of that? Fascinating, at a time when the media are baying for names and blood on the corruption in the Commonwealth Games scam. So first, we now have a double standard: exposure for corruption in the Games, privacy for it within the media. Secondly, they fiercely opposed any reference to the Working Journalists Act. In this, they acted as owners and employers. Not as members of the PCI guarding the integrity of the press and its standards.” Its exactly what she is doing. Double standards!

And one after another, this new scandal hit the fan. And this time these are the holy cows of Indian Journalism. Interestingly, both of them have done stories on 2-G scam and A. Raja. What a fucking joke. They are the makers of Raja. They are not denying the conversation, neither coming out in public to defend themselves (PS: They have come out with a ridiculous defense. Barkha has nothing much to offer. Only crocodile tears and ‘blame everyone else for what I have done.’ ).
As they say in Hindi, “Ek gandi machli pure talab ko ganda kar deti hai.”(one dirty fish can turn whole pond dirty.) This might be correct politically but I refuse to believe it. If we have India Today, Times of India, HT, India T.V., Aaj Tak etc on one hand, on the other hand we have Outlook, Economic and Political Weekly, Seminar, India Together, Hoot, Frontline, Counter Current and  even Guardian Newspaper which publishes a lot of material about India. Even NDTV have been cleaner than most of the news channels. Indian media has been fair by most of standards. One can extend one’s sympathy  towards them since media is a rather new kid and will take time to get mature. Let’s hope like most of the Indians, it don’t get wise prematurely. Meanwhile one can ask, was it necessary for her to be on the Niira’s payroll? This reminds me of Khushwant Singh and that lumpen despot Sanjay Gandhi. History will not be kind to her! There are even report that she has forced a blogger to take down blog post and apologize. Too much from the protectors of free speech!

But again, India have this ironic history that the it’s her famous among the general public and the most successful, who are the most corrupt. This has been a rule of thumb. The other peaks which India produces, which no one can match, are mostly unknown to ever tweeting public. Have you heard about P. Sainath, Sachin Chaudhary, K. N. Raj, and Seminar, Economic and Political Weekly?

In VLSI there is Moore law, which says that in 16 (you can change this number though) months, the number of transistors on  chip doubles. Now I propose a similar law for Indian media, “In 16 (you can change this too) months, truth in Indian newspapers halves!” And this has been in effect since the privatization of souls and intellect started in Indian media.

UPDATE :
[1] Writing in Hindu, Siddarth Vardarajan

As squeamish schoolchildren know only too well, dissection is a messy business. Some instinctively turn away, others become nauseous or scared. Not everyone can stomach first hand the inner workings of an organic system. Ten days ago, a scalpel — in the form of a set of 104 intercepted telephone conversations — cut through the tiniest cross-section of a rotting cadaver known as the Indian Establishment. What got exposed is so unpleasant that several major newspapers and television channels that normally scramble to bring “breaking” and “exclusive” stories have chosen to look the other way. Their silence, though understandable, is unfortunate. Even unforgivable.

We also hear in the tapes an iconic businessman, Ratan Tata, who today makes sanctimonious statements about crony capitalism and the danger of India becoming a banana republic, lobbying through his PR agent, Ms Radia, for A. Raja to be given the Telecom portfolio.

If the allocation of spectrum by the Manmohan Singh government in 2008 and 2009 is one of the biggest scams in independent India, then the involvement of businessmen like Ratan Tata, Sunil Mittal and Mukesh Ambani in lobbying for their choice of telecom minister when the UPA government returned to power in May 2009 is surely a very important part of the back-story. But it is a story none of the journalists who liaised with Ms Radia during this time chose to report. More than the squabble within the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) or between the DMK and the Congress, the involvement of India’s biggest companies in the process of cabinet formation was the story that should have been headlined. Ms Radia talks of Sunil Mittal and AT&T using Times Now to push out stories about Dayanidhi Maran being the frontrunner for telecom and Mr. Raja being in disfavour. Her own strategy appears to have been to use her relationship with Barkha Dutt and Shankar Aiyar to get the opposite message out onto news channels like NDTV and Headlines Today. 

Dilawar

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Author: Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.

4 thoughts on “Et tu Barkha Dutt!”

  1. I like …ur blogs……..but do u think….By blogging …..u can change India…..it seems u are preparing for I.A.S…. writing skills…..its nice to see some …still did not give up … but ….IIT people are not such that important that they can transform the nation…… Nation is huge system…neither can be destroy or build by anyone action……/who cares …… do not mind ..my views… my IIT enthu IIT was give up after IITb mtech……..i just listen news for improve GK… ..

  2. HeyExcellent piece. Very piognant, thought-provoking, comes close to putting my feelings into words.This latest 'scam' to hit our nation is probably the most murky of all, and it makes me more cynical than any other. I feel helpless, lost. When will all this end? Is there an end at all?Or is the only end going to be of our nation?

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