Posts Tagged ‘NDTV.com’

BARKHA DUTT on the allegations against her

27 November 2010

After lying low for a week following the Outlook* and Open magazine cover stories on her conversations with the lobbyist Niira Radia, the NDTV anchor Barkha Dutt has provided her version of events, rebutting the key charge that she played any role in passing on any message to intercede on behalf of a particular minister or portfolio, or to lobby for the disgraced telecom minister A. Raja.

Below is the full text of her defence, carried on and courtesy of NDTV.com:

***

By BARKHA DUTT

As a journalist, whose work has been consistently hard-hitting and scathingly critical of the ongoing 2G scam and the former telecom minister, I am astonished, angered and hurt to see the baseless allegations against me in sections of the media this week.

While there is no doubt that journalists must be held to the same exacting standards of accountability that we seek from others, the allegations in this instance, as they relate to me, are entirely slanderous and not backed by a shred of evidence.

The edited conversations between PR representative Nira Radia and me have been headlined to suggest that I misused my role as a journalist to “lobby” for A. Raja, a man I have never met.

While this is completely untrue, I can understand the anger and anguish that such a misrepresentation can create, among viewers who rely on me to report honestly and impartially. And I would like to address some of the questions raised by these edited transcripts.

The tapes seem to add up to hundreds of hours of conversations between Nira Radia and people from different backgrounds, including scores of well-known journalists and editors from all the major media organisations (TV and print) in India.

Despite this, much of the commentary has been strangely selective in its focus. And quite often, vindictively personal. Consider, for example, that online it is being dubbed “BarkhaGate.”

I cannot speak on behalf of any other journalist on the tapes. Framed in the backdrop of a larger media debate, every journalist’s conversation on these tapes must, of course, be evaluated on its own merit. So, speaking only for myself, the insinuation made by the magazines are preposterous.

By definition, the insinuation of “lobbying” implies either a quid-pro-quo of some kind or a compromise in how I have reported the story. As anyone who has watched my coverage of the ongoing 2G scam over the past year would know – to suggest either is entirely absurd. (Attached below are links to several shows hosted by me on the 2G scam over the last two years.)

In several different statements, I have already challenged two newsmagazines who first carried the allegations to establish any proof of a quid-pro quo or a bias in reportage.

I know that neither charge stands the test of any scrutiny.

For those perplexed by the ongoing debate, it could be useful to understand the context in which these conversations took place. The few, short conversations took place in the backdrop of cabinet formation in 2009, when the DMK had stormed out of the UPA coalition over portfolio allocation.

In this instance, Nira Radia, was clearly plugged into the inner workings of the DMK, a fact we only discovered when she rang up to tell me that the news flashes running on different news channels were incorrect; the stalemate between the DMK and the Congress had not yet been resolved.

She corroborated her claim by saying she was in direct contact with the DMK chief and was in fact with his daughter, Kanimozhi. We talked about news developments within the DMK and the Congress and nothing I said was different from what I was reporting on TV minute-by-minute.

Ironically, the one sentence being used to damn me, “Oh God, What should I tell them”, is in fact two separate sentences, neither of which are related to A Raja or the telecom portfolio at all. When transcripts are edited and capture neither tone nor context, the message is severely distorted.

The phrase “Oh God,” was nothing more than a response to a long account by Nira Radia on a DMK leader, T.R. Baalu, speaking to the media without sanction from the party. The excerpt, “What should I tell them,” was in response to her repeatedly saying to me over several different phone calls, that if I happened to talk to anyone in the Congress, I should ask them to talk the DMK chief directly.

As a matter of record, I never passed on any message to any Congress leader. But because she was a useful news source, and the message seemed innocuous, I told her I would. Ultimately, I did no more than humour a source who was providing me information during a rapidly changing news story.

AT NO STAGE WAS I EVER ASKED TO PASS ON ANY MESSAGE TO INTERCEDE ON BEHALF OF A PARTICULAR MINISTER OR PORTFOLIO.

NOT ONCE, WAS I ASKED TO “LOBBY” FOR A. RAJA. NOT ONCE WAS I ASKED TO CARRY ANY MESSAGE REGARDING HIM OR ANY OTHER APPOINTMENT.

Anyone who has bothered to read the entire transcript of these conversations instead of just the headline, would notice that the conversation is essentially a journalist soliciting information from one of the many people plugged in – something all journalists do as part of newsgathering. And as journalists, we also often humour our sources without acting on their requests.

The only “benefit” I ever got from talking to Nira Radia was information; information I used to feed the news.

It is important to remember that at this point, in May 2009, none of us were aware of the present investigation against Nira Radia. Like most other journalists in India, I knew Nira Radia professionally as the main PR person for the Tata Group. In this instance, she clearly represented one side of the story.

She was just one of many people I spoke to as is typical in such news stories.

As journalists we deal with different kinds of people, who sometime solicit information and at other times, provide news leads. Unless we believe in only press-conference driven journalism, the need to tap into what’s happening behind-the-scenes in the corridors of power involves dealing with a multitude of voices, and yes, we cannot always vouchsafe for the integrity of all those we use as news sources. We concern ourselves primarily with the accuracy of the information.

But, I must come back to my original objection to what the two magazines have implied.

Strangely, when I complained to the editor of Open magazine about the smear campaign against me, he sent me a text saying , there was “not much remarkable” in my conversations and went on to even say that, “there is one bit in the strap where the word go-between is used that I don’t like myself.”

I have to wonder then, with anger, why he did not pause before using such a defamatory description.

Are there learnings in this for me? Yes, of course there are.

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight and with what we know now, I realise that when we talk to people who represent or belong to the power establishment, there can be a danger in sailing too close to the wind, even for those of us who are experienced and are driven purely by a deep passion for news.

The takeaway from this debate for me pertains to the everyday practice of journalism. I think of how different kinds of people, who could be potential sources of news, call me, and indeed all editors in this country every day, with different requests ranging from complaints about stories to requests for coverage and yes, sometimes we are also asked to pass on innocuous bits of information.

Never have these requests—nor will they—dictate the agenda of my news decisions. But, the calls that we treat with polite friendliness, to keep our channels of news open, clearly need to be handled with more distance. This controversy has made me look at the need to re-draw the lines much more carefully.

There is also another learning. I have always operated by a code of ethics that holds me as accountable to the public as the politicians I grill on my show. The selective and malicious nature of some of the commentary against me has reinforced my awareness of how responsible we ought to be before we level an allegation against another.

While a genuine debate on media ethics is always welcome in the quest for self improvement, I hope this debate will also look at what amounts to character assassination.

* Disclosures apply

**

Text: courtesy NDTV.com

Photograph: courtesy Outlook

External reading: The Niira Radia tapes and transcripts

***

If it catches your eye, surely the ad’s working?

6 May 2009

economist1

A screenshot of The Economist‘s advertising on the Indian TV station NDTV’s relaunched website, NDTV.com.

The other advertisements take the attention away somewhat, but the English headlines in a Russian-looking font (“Journalists stopped by Great Wall of China”, “Indian children increase unemployment in China,” “Russian billionaires in debt to Kremlin”) grab the eye while underlining the magazine’s international appeal.

Also read: How to get from Point B to A

Funny joke from a balding journo-blogger

Will NDTV and Barkha Dutt sue Facebook next?

1 February 2009

If there is anything that l’affaire Barkha Dutt versus Cheytanya Kunte holds a mirror to—besides media hypocrisy, thin skins, forked tongues, and such like—it is: a) the quality of legal advice media behemoths receive and act upon, and b) the mainstream media’s bottomless ignorance of the wired world and how it works.

Even the spitting-image puppets that NDTV hauls out of the cupboard a few times a day to generate a laugh would have counselled Prannoy Roy & Co (for free) against embarking on the petty path of picking on a hapless blogger sitting in The Netherlands.

The bomb-Shell™ (pun intended) had boomerang written all over it, and in more ways than one.

If Dutt and NDTV wanted to protect their fair name, etc, from the slander, what are they proposing to do about Admiral Sureesh Mehta, who repeated the libellous charge of the channel and the correspondent “endangering lives” in Kargil by asking a military officer to trigger the Bofors gun for their cameras, at a media conference?

Has the channel issued the Admiral a notice, like it did to Kunte? Has he clarified/ retracted his comments/ apologised? Why is his response not public?

Secondly, how far is NDTV, which has a “convergence” outfit, from achieving convergence?

Was NDTV unaware that NDTV.com had run excerpts from the blog item that their lawyers were suing Cheytanya Kunte for? And do the “tech” chaps who run NDTV.com have no idea that everything, including everything they remove, is cached by Big Brother at Mountain View?

Scaring a blogger to apologise was the easy part.

What do NDTV, Prannoy Roy and Barkha Dutt propose to do with the Facebook group that has over 4,660 members demanding that she be taken off air? Will they sue Mark Zuckerberg next?

Good luck, NDTV (third-quarter losses: Rs 120.8 crore).

Prem Panicker, the editorial director of India Abroad, the New York weekly newspaper owned and run by rediff.com, asks the best questions about Dutt’s (and NDTV’s) fundamental inability to differentiate between fact and opinion:

***

dsc02758

By PREM PANICKER in Bombay

“But in journalism, we know that, praise and criticism are twins that travel together. And we welcome both and try and listen to both carefully.”

That is Barkha Dutt, writing against the backdrop of pervasive criticism of her conduct, and those of her electronic media confreres, during and in the immediate aftermath of 26/11.

Admirable sentiments, admirably expressed.

One of the many critical voices Dutt and her media parent NDTV listened to was this blog post [From Google cache; scroll down to the post titled ‘Shoddy Journalism’]. And as a result of that careful listening to a critical voice, this happened.

Kunte’s withdrawal and apology, likely the outcome of a threat of legal action by Dutt and NDTV [Parenthetical aside: Can I be sued for saying this? If yes, I the undersigned do hereby, et cetera...], has created an even greater storm than the television media’s hysteria-tinged coverage of 26/11 did.

Here’s a round up of posts: Patrix; a DesiPundit round up; The Comic Project; Venkatesh Sridhar… [There are likely many others, but you get the picture].

The immediate temptation is to wear my blogger’s hat, and blast away at NDTV and Dutt for muscling Kunte—the classic reaction in a David v Goliath face-off.

It is not that simple, though—I also have a journalist’s hat, and with it on my head, some points occur.

My name is my brand—and as with any brand, its equity is built carefully, over time, through much hard work and careful attention to quality. Legitimate criticism of that brand is welcomed [and even if I didn’t like it, there is SFA I can do about it, provided the operational word is ‘legitimate’].  In this case, though, I am not so sure: While respecting Kunte’s right to his opinion, I would suggest that ‘opinion’ needs to be differentiated from ‘fact’.

It is my considered opinion that Barkha Dutt is as a television personality a borderline hysteric; most comical when she is attempting to be most serious; and far too prone to put herself at the center of every story [Among the many moments when, even in the midst of the mayhem, I found myself laughing out loud was the one where Dutt, during the climactic phase of the Taj operation, got into a major flap about a flapping window curtain and alternately spoke to the viewer and to the cameraman on the lines of There, see, look at it, the curtain is flapping… no no, focus on the curtain, zoom in… no, now pan to me… there, see, the curtain is still flapping...].

That is fair comment [and if Barkha doesn’t like it she can do the other thing]. I do not, however, have the right to state as fact that Dutt endangered lives, whether in Kargil or in Mumbai—because the causal chain of Dutt’s admittedly over-the-top reporting and loss of life has not been established.

I’m totally with Kunte when he opines that Dutt and her ilk are insufferable bordering on incompetent [Barkha, note, that is an opinion]; I’m not however able to defend his right to state as fact something that is not demonstrably true [Brief aside: No, it is not a defense to say that I was merely quoting someone else, and to ask why that someone else—in this case, a wiki entry—has not been sued.].

All of that said, the NDTV-Barkha Dutt action leading to Kunte’s retraction leaves a very bad taste in the mouth. In her earlier, lengthy defense, Dutt says two things that IMH opinion are contradictory:

But in journalism, we know that, praise and criticism are twins that travel together. And we welcome both and try and listen to both carefully.

And:

I believe that criticism is what helps us evolve and reinvent ourselves. But when malice and rumour are regarded as feedback, there can be no constructive dialogue. Viewing preferences are highly subjective and always deeply personal choices, and the most fitting rejection of someone who doesn’t appeal to your aesthetics of intelligence, is simply to flick the channel and watch someone else.

How does Barkha Dutt reconcile her stated respect for criticism and her intention to learn from it with the suggestion that those who don’t like what she does and the way she does it can say it with the remote? What the latter statement reveals is the hypocrisy inherent in the former—no more, no less.

A Barkha Dutt who grandly titles her show ‘We the People‘ [That title, factually rendered, should read ‘We the minuscule minority with access to cable TV who haven’t yet dissed you with our remotes], and who sheltering under that inclusive flag assumes the right to criticize the conduct of every politician, businessman, movie star and public figure in this country, needed to have shown more grace in accepting criticism directed her way.

So, we will now add this lack of grace, this intolerance for criticism, this tendency to the notion that you are immune to the searching examination you subject others to, to the already long list of reasons to reach for that remote.

Photograph: courtesy NDTV

Also read: The media is not the message

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