Posts Tagged ‘Barkhagate’

Should Prabhu Chawla edit New Indian Express?

14 December 2010

Editors, anchors, columnists, correspondents… tens of media personnel have been badly mauled in the eyes of news consumers, in the Niira Radia scandal.

But do the proprietors and managers really care?

Vir Sanghvi has suspended his weekly column in the Hindustan Times while merrily writing on food. The buck still stops at Barkha Dutt‘s table at 10 pm on NDTV while she fights a lonely battle from the trenches of Twitter.

Now, Manoj Kumar Sonthalia, grandson of the mighty Ramnath Goenka who is in charge of the southern editions of the paper, has reportedly decided to hire former India Today editor Prabhu Chawla, as the new editor of  The New Indian Express (TNIE), despite the thick smog of scandal hanging over the latter’s underprotected head.

Chawla, who got a most perplexing certificate of merit from The Hindu‘s editor-in-chief N. Ram, on the India Today-owned TV station Headlines Today, however, has had a slightly inauspicious entry. The outgoing TNIE team of Aditya Sinha has carried this brief excerpt involving Chawla from the second tranche of the Radia tapes.

Listen: Prabhu Chawla in conversation with Niira Radia

Also read: Prabhu Chawla‘s son named in media bribery case

“Accused” Ankur Chawla is now “investigator” Chawla

In the New Indian Express, old hands get the sack

SMS IPUB4 to 51818* for Journalist of the Year

4 December 2010

The Pioneer's special correspondent, J. Gopikrishnan (second from left, with mike in hand), who brought the 2G scam-tainted telecom minister A. Raja to book, at a colloquium at the Asian College of Journalism in Madras on Wednesday, 1 December 2010 (photo courtesy: The Hindu)

 

The publication of the Niira Radia tapes by Outlook* and Open magazines has seen the usual clutch of usual suspects—and “suspects” many of them truly are—hog the limelight and shine in reflected glory.

All, except J. Gopikrishnan of The Pioneer, the journalist who (aside from Paranjoy Guha Thakurta) kept pegging away at the 2G spectrum allocation scam, story after story, eventually bringing about the resignation of the telecom minister, A. Raja.

Thankfully, a small correction is on the way.

On Wednesday, Gopikrishnan took part in a colloquium on the Radia tapes organised by the Asian college of journalism (ACJ) in Madras, where he lamented that he had been on the 2G case for nearly two years with very little response, before the tapes burst on the scene and grabbed the attention of the entire nation.

Gopikrishnan has also been nominated for the CNN-IBN “Indian of the Year” in the “public service” category. To vote for him, sms IPUB4 to 51818. Conditions apply!

* Conditions apply

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Image: courtesy IBNLive.com

Also read: The Pioneer journo who brought A. Raja to book

Everybody loves (to claim credit for) an expose

When Rajdeep Sardesai got it left, right & centre

3 December 2010

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: There were two “key takeaways”—as TV anchors remind us every night, two “key takeaways”—from the post-Niira Radia chintan baithak organised by  the Editors Guild of India, the Press Club of India, and the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) in New Delhi on Friday.

The first takeaway is what the mainstream media (MSM) will report happily. Which is that senior editors in India (as the BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder who attended the meeting reports) are “considering putting in place systems to ensure ethical practices in journalism”.

Meaning: aal iz well.

In other words, the grey hairs bowing before their Old Monk™ have fully grasped the import of the scandal that has enveloped the profession, following the publication of tapes and transcripts of conversations Radia had with Barkha Dut, Vir Sanghvi, Prabhu Chawla et al, and are poised to act.

The other takeaway is what only the tabloids would waste ink on (feel free to stop right here if your choice is broadsheet or berliner).

Which is that the president of the Editors’ Guild of India, Rajdeep Sardesai—whose favourite offline excuse for  ethical concerns in the profession is “Hamaam mein sab nange hain (everybody is naked in the public bathroom)”—actually had to stand unprotected under a very heavy downpour on a winter afternoon in Delhi today, for an hour if not more.

A downpour of criticism, that is.

The joint EGI-PCI-IWPC meeting started off well, as most introspection meetings do, with Outlook* chief editor Vinod Mehta not taking the names of the accused (because the matter is now in court and also because “my wife told me to be careful”) and striking the right balance of common sense and pragmatism, two commodities that have generally been in short supply.

“I keep hearing that this issue is sensitive and complicated, that it is not a black and white issue. I can’t understand what is so complex here. It doesn’t require an Albert Einstein or a rocket scientist.

“If you are talking to a hotel PRO and he tells you, ‘our hotel is the no.1 hotel in Asia’, it doesn’t mean you come and write that his hotel is the no.1 hotel in Asia. You check and verify before you report.

“The claim that they [Barkha and Vir] were stringing along their sources is complete bullshit. Do you think somebody like Radia would keep on giving information knowing that her instructions weren’t being followed?”

Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN, who took the mike next, rightly spoke of the dichotomous times we live in—when the media which has been behind some of the most impactful stories this year stands accused in the public eye of betraying their trust, a point he had made in his HT column earlier in the day.

Sardesai’s sage wisdom would have earned a few plaudits had he stopped right there.

But, as the cameras rolled, he launched into what seemed like a set piece, enlightening the captive audience comprising largely of journalists of his “problems” with the Outlook* expose—not contacting Barkha and Vir and giving them a chance to reply; running raw footage on the website (which also incidentally features his name a couple of times); the use of pictures of journalists not connected with the 2G scam on the cover and so on.

“This is shock and awe journalism… This is bad journalism inverting the principles of basic journalism…. This rot is not new, it has been around for three decades…. In this competitive age, access is information….”

“There is no proven quid pro quo…. The concerned journalists are guilty of professional misjudgement not professional misconduct… Reputations have been damaged…,” said Sardesai in a thinly disguised defence of his former NDTV colleague Barkha Dutt.

“I think what Outlook and Open have done is completely unethical…. A lot of criticism, let us admit, is also because of a certain envy.”

Hardly had Sardesai placed the mike on the table than Poornima Joshi of Mail Today was on her belligerent feet, urging him to spare the audience his pontification.

“I find it absolutely disturbing and disheartening that the president of editors’ guild is not only condoning but also justifying carrying of messages from a corporate to Congress,” Joshi, a former Outlook staffer, said.

Radhika Ramaseshan of The Telegraph [where Sardesai worked before he joined NDTV], took objection to Sardesai’s claim that this was all old hat, that there was nothing new in what was happening, that this has been happening, so why bother.

Neena Vyas [of The Hindu] has been covering BJP for 30 years. Nobody ever accused her of misusing her access. Likewise, there are a number of journalists who have never succumbed,” she said to applause.

Vyas, daughter of former Times of India editor Sham Lal, contradicted Sardesai in his face of  a statement he attributed to her of a BJP politician’s tacit condition that he would go soft on him in exchange for information.

When Vyas regaled the audience of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi “blackmailing” BJP bosses to throw RSS leader Sanjay Joshi out—after a sting operation of Joshi in a sexual act was shown on India TV (which Vyas alleged was owned by Narendra Modi),—CNN-IBN cameras telecast her allegation “live”.

“If Rajdeep Sardesai is so concerned about the raw footage of the Radia conversations being shown or reported, without giving the other side the chance to reply, how come he is showing this,” hissed a member of the audience audibly.

Vidya Subrahmaniam, also of The Hindu, contested Sardesai’s claim that there was no quid pro quo. The tapes, she said, carried enough evidence of quid pro quo since the journalists appeared to be doing exactly what they promised.

From that point on, it was downhill at top speed all the way for Sardesai, in front of several of his senior colleagues, including Bhupendra Chaubey, Vivian Fernandes and Ashutosh who had assembled in the front rows for what they had presumed would be a champagne show by their boss.

# One unidentified voice from the back rows asked, “How can you hold forth on ethics after CNN-IBN’s dubious role in the infamous cash-for-votes scandal [when it reportedly went back on a promise to telecast a sting operation commissioned by the BJP during the vote on the civilian nuclear bill].”

# Another demanded mandatory declaration of assets and liabilities by editors. “How do journalists manage to become owners of channels,” shouted the young voice, echoing former Hindustan Times‘ editor and Prasar Bharati chief Mrinal Pande‘s call for greater transparency in ownership.

# “Amitabh Bachchan read the news on your channel when he was trying to promote his film Rann, without CNN-IBN ever revealing that it was a promo for his film. You should have just said no, if you want to take the high moral ground on ethics,” said Akshay Mukul of The Times of India.

The restive audience wanted more time to question Sardesai but he beat a hasty exit before the meeting ended, citing lack of time and a prior engagement. And as he left, another voice shouted, within earshot of his wife Sagarika Ghose, “Did we just hear the president of the editors guild of India, or the editors’ guilt of India?”

Inside, at the bar, as the old residents reassembled, a young reporter chipped in: “Twitter and Facebook and all the social media have been delivering a simple message to old media in India: look within. Looks like someone’s just too happy listening to his own loud voice.”

Also read: Rajdeep Sardesai heckled over defending Vir, Barkha

The Hindu coverage of the Editors’ Guild debate

The New Indian Express: Heated debate

HT strips Vir Sanghvi of editorial advisory role

3 December 2010

Have the Niira Radia tapes claimed their first journalistic victim?

Last Sunday, columnist and anchor Vir Sanghvi announced that his weekly ‘Counterpoint’ point in the Hindustan Times would be taking a breather. Today, Archna Shukla of the Indian Express reports that his designation as “Advisory Editorial Director, HT Media” has been changed to “Advisor, HT Media”.

However, as if to underline the old adage that we should never believe anything until it is officially denied, the CEO of HT Media, Rajiv Verma has clarified that the redesignation had nothing to do with the recent controversy. Sanghvi too claims that the move was decided upon 4-5 months ago.

On his Twitter account, Sanghvi, currently in Bangkok, has posted a link to his latest food piece: The magic of the Snickers bar and the old Cadbury slabs.

Facsimile: courtesy The Indian Express

‘A too-argumentative Barkha squanders chance’

1 December 2010

Barkha Dutt, the “massively influential but ethically embattled” NDTV anchor subjected herself to an inquisition last night in a bid to extricate her credibility after the Niira Radia tapes were outed by Outlook* and Open magazines.

Unlike her well-lit Buck Stops Here set, NDTV situated the interrogation in a dark and spooky set, and the usually boisterous Dutt (“pretty” in the words of one editor) appeared sans her usual makeup, lending a mournful air to a rather morose affair.

In the words of the Wall Street Journal, she squandered her chance by being “too-argumentative”:

“Barkha Dutt sometimes gets flak for her interviewing style, with people saying she interrupts her interlocutors and doesn’t give them enough of a chance to speak.

“And unfortunately—especially for her, given this was a chance for her to win back alienated viewers—she was no different last night.”

BBC online correspondent Soutik Biswas writes:

“Indian journalists are fixers!” shouted a young lady in the audience during a play I attended in Mumbai last week. She even took the name of one of the country’s leading news presenters to demonstrate her point. The play was about to begin, and one of the actors was engaging in casual banter with the audience. “Do you think news is unbiased in our country?” he asked.

“Many in the audience guffawed, and the lady spoke up in outrage. At that moment it struck me how much the controversy over leaked phone conversations between some senior Indian journalists and a prominent lobbyist had enraged people. It is, clearly, the Indian media’s biggest crisis of credibility.”

* Disclosures apply

Scrrenshots: courtesy NDTV

Read the full story: A too-argumentative Barkha squanders chance

Also read: Indian media’s credibility crisis

86% feel let down by ‘CD baat’ of top journalists

30 November 2010

Impact, the marketing journal from the exchange4media group, has conducted a five-city poll on the mood of the nation after the Niira Radia tapes stung Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi, Prabhu Chawla and eight other media stars. And the results are revealing.

# 86% of respondents feel let down by the thought of journalists as “fixers”. That feeling is palpably higher in Madras (95%) and Calcutta (92%) but Bangalore (73%) seems to be the most pragmatic of the five cities.

# 66% say media is protecting its own, although 43% think so in Madras, where the 2G scam is headquartered more or less (A. Raja, Kanimozhi, Dayanidhi Maran, M. Karunanidhi) and where the only coverage in The Hindu has been by way of comment.

The poll has been conducted by Synovate, but the sample size or the dates of the poll is not known.

Anurag Batra, the chairman and editor-in-chief of exchange4media, clearly has an opinion different from the 86% per cent. Batra who recently called this “the golden era of Indian media”—despite paid news, private treaties, medianet, etc—writes in his latest column:

“What disturbs me of late is the way different media have taken on each other, trying to reduce journalism into a sham and journalists into a caricature! My sense and submission is that some vested interests are trying to paint journalists and journalism as negative and tainted and I believe these vested interests are being fulfilled even if unknowingly by the media itself! Raising questions basis this episode on other senior journalists is like a self goal for the whole media community. It’s sad to see that when the whole nation should be questioning the government about squandering of so much money belonging to the tax payer, we have forgotten all that and focusing on what few people from media did.”

Read the full survey: What does the nation think?

Also read: If you trust polls, trust in media dips

How much do readers distrust us? Not much

‘Credibility is like virginity and it has been lost’

29 November 2010

The veteran journalist, columnist and author Kuldip Nayar in The Sunday Guardian:

“Credibility is like virginity. It exists or it does not. Unfortunately, some top names in Indian journalism have lost their credibility…. They behaved like power brokers and crossed the Lakshman rekha between legitimate news gathering and lobbying. It is like the fence eating the crop.

“How they will extricate themselves from the mire is difficult to say. The sad part is that they have brought a bad name to the profession. Politicians are jubilant because they can now say, ‘Physician, heal thyself’…. With what face can the profession point a finger at those who are found wanting in integrity?”

Read the full column: When journalists turn brokers

Also read: Hindu and HT were the worst offenders in 1975

External reading: The Niira Radia tapes and transcripts

Lessons for Vir & Barkha from Prem & Nikhilda

28 November 2010

By T.J.S. GEORGE

Journalism started going astray with the birth of financial dailies in the 1960s. With full-fledged newspapers devoted exclusively to business, corporate houses became hyperactive. The next thing we knew was press conferences ending with gifts of expensive sarees and suitlengths to reporters.

That was innocent child play compared to what has hit the headlines now: charges of celebrity journalists working hand in hand with a professional lobbyist to fix things like cabinet appointments and big-ticket business deals.

Excerpts from taped conversations between the star journalists and corporate lobbyist Niira Radia have been published. 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.

The journalists became her tools.

Lobbying is a recognised activity in democracies. But it is a tricky line of work because sometimes unconventional methods might become necessary to secure the case of a client. Given Niira Radia’s experience and efficiency, acknowledged by companies like Tatas, we must assume that she took care not to cross the line. Anyway we can leave it to the enforcement directorate which is looking into the matter.

Journalism is as different from lobbying as nariel paani is from singlemalt. Any crossing of the line may be a tribute to the power of singlemalt, but never justifiable.

Unfortunately the journalists show themselves as amenable to doing the unjustifiable. They agree to convey messages favouring A.Raja to the Congress bosses. They agree to take the side of the Ambani brother Radia was promoting as against the other brother.

The moment the tapes were published, the journalists mentioned in it rushed to rebut all insinuations. The arguments were that journalists had to talk to all sorts of people, that “stringing” along with a source was no crime, that promises had to be made sometimes to get information from a source. The employer of one journalist said that it was preposterous to “caricature the professional sourcing of information to ‘lobbying’”.

The question is whether the journalists carry credibility. Of course drunks and murderers have been among the valued contacts of journalists. And of course journalists have moved very closely with political leaders.

Few people were closer to Jawaharlal Nehru than B. Shiva Rao of The Hindu. Prem Bhatia of The Statesman used to walk the corridors of Delhi as if he owned them. The hardest nuts in the power circle cracked happily before Nikhil Chakravartty on his morning rounds.

Not once did these men ask for a favour or recommend a businessman friend. They were not social celebrities, but they did their profession proud by keeping the highest possible credibility level.

Today’s celebrities assume they can win credibility by simply saying that they talked to Radia only as a source and that they never kept promises made to her anyway. Is a veteran networker like Radia so easily fooled? Obviously she is close to her journalist contacts and must have had promises from them before. She wouldn’t waste her time if she knew that they were promises not meant to be followed up.

At one point she actually tells another contact that “I made [the journalist] call up Congress and get a statement”. This is Radia speaking, not a naïve greenhorn. To say that this kind of work on behalf of a lobbyist is legitimate journalism is like B.S. Yediyurappa saying that all he has ever done is development work.

To say that they promised to talk to the likes of Sonia and Rahul only to outsmart a war-horse is like the BJP high command saying it has outsmarted Yeddyurappa.

The glamour of celebrityhood has a way of going to one’s head. Delusions of grandeur are never a journalistic virtue. The real virtue is the mind’s ability to maintain a degree of detachment. When the game is played at the 5-star level, one can never be sure of who is fooling whom.

It will be good for everyone to remember that there is one lot that can never be fooled: The people.

External reading: The Niira Radia tapes and transcripts

Vir Sanghvi “suspends” Hindustan Times column

27 November 2010

Vir Sanghvi‘s weekly Hindustan Times column Counterpoint will not appear from next Sunday, after tapes of his alleged conversations with the lobbyist Niira Radia surfaced in Outlook* and Open magazines last week.

The column which will appear tomorrow, 28 November 2010, will be his last, although Sanghvi claims on his website, a) that he is merely taking a break and will be back soon, and b) that his other work for HT will appear as usual.

“The whole episode has left me feeling battered. Perhaps it will drag on. Perhaps more muck will fly around. I have no desire to subject Counterpoint to this filth. It deserves better. So, Counterpoint will be taking a break. When life returns to normal, so will Counterpoint.

“As for me, I must say in all humility, that I will use the break to do some thinking. Of course, I’ll still be around, both here at the HT and in Brunch and in all the other places your normally find me (TV, books, live events, etc.). Counterpoint has taken a break before (six months in 2000). It returned rested and refreshed. This time around, perhaps a rest will lead to renewal.”

The rumour is that the New Indian Express which, too, runs an exclusive column by Sanghvi has decided to drop him after the tapes’ scandal.

Sanghvi, who happily drops the names of Congress bigwigs Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in his conversations, suffers further public opprobrium in the letters column of Outlook* magazine, where a “clarification” reads thus:

“After Outlook’s disclosure of the 2G scam tapes, sources close to the Congress leadership have said journalist Vir Sanghvi’s references to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in his conversation with Niira Radia were a figment of his imagination. He was neither consulted during the cabinet formation post-2009 election nor given the opportunity to speak to the Congress leadership on the allocation of portfolios.”

Oxford-educated Sanghvi was editor of Bombay magazine of the India Today group, Sunday of Ananda Bazaar Patrika group, and Hindustan Times before being named “advisory editorial director of HT“.

One of the few print journalists to graduate to television with ease, Sanghvi has hosted shows on a number of networks Star and Discovery Travel & Living, and writes a popular food column.

Counterpoint has appeared for over two decades in both Sunday and HT.

* Disclosures apply

Update: An earlier headline for this piece suggested that Hindustan Times had “suspended” the column.

Read the full column: Setting the record straight

External reading: The Niira Radia tapes and transcripts

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