Monthly Archives: November 2010

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

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

Everybody loves a nice mutual admiration club

Ratan Tata, the bossman of Tata Sons in the middle of the 2G spectrum allocation scam following the outing of the tapes of the conversations of his chief lobbyist Niira Radia, has given an interview to Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of The Indian Express and host of NDTV’s interview programme, Walk the Talk.

The text of the interview—played endlessly on the weekend by NDTV channels in the run-up to Tata moving the Supreme Court pleading for a gag order on the media, citing his privacy—has been carried on three broadsheet pages on two consecutive days by the Express.

It concludes in the paper today with these paragraphs:

Shekhar Gupta:  Having this conversation with you is always such a privilege because besides everything else one learns so much.

Ratan Tata: Thank you.

SG: Always inspirational talking to you.

RT: Let me just tell you that you come to be somebody that I really respect because of the fact that you stand for, what you believe in and I have enjoyed every moment we have been able to share together, I hope that friendship will grow as we go forward.

SG: Insha’allah. Thank you so much.

RT: It’s something I’ll cherish. Thank you.

Cartoon: courtesy Mail Today

Also read: How to get tomorrow’s news today. An example.

‘Credibility is like virginity and it has been lost’

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

How to get tomorrow’s news today: an example

The Indian Express, Ramnath Goenka‘s bludgeon that once drove fear through the hearts of the high and mighty, the corrupt and the crooked, has emerged as a key player in drumming up the defence for Ratan Tata, the chairman of Tata Sons, whose conversations with the group’s chief lobbyist Niira Radia, revealed by Outlook* and Open magazines, have put the Tatas’ clean image under a question mark.

The paper’s editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta did a deferential “Walk the Talk” show with Tata sitting in a hotel room in Bombay, an episode that was played endlessly on NDTV 24×7 and NDTV Profit on Sunday, besides giving the interview a two-page spread in the Express (to be continued tomorrow).

On its website, the paper reports that the battered Ratan Tata has moved the Supreme Court against the leak and unauthorised publication of tapes of his conversation, citing right to privacy.

The time the Express report was posted online: 3.20 am.

The time the Supreme Court of India opens: 10.30 am.

* Disclosures apply

Also read: Has Ratan Tata ruined the Tatas’ brand image?

External reading: The Niira Radia tapes and transcripts

Lessons for Vir & Barkha from Prem & Nikhilda

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

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

Bangalore journos named in site allotment scam

It’s raining scams across the country—and the media is increasingly getting caught in the downpour with its pants down. In just the last few weeks, newspapers, magazines and TV stations have stood accused of conflict of interest, outright plagiarism, questionable business practices, and equally questionable journalistic practices.

In the backdrop of the Adarsh scam in Bombay which claimed the head of Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, the preferential allotment of vacant plots and houses to media houses and mavens as a form of favouritism, if not subtle bribery, has drawn attention too.

Last week, in Tehelka magazine, the BJP’s Ravi Shankar Prasad raised the issue of media houses pontificating on ethics while sitting on land leased at one rupee (yes, Re 1).

Hundreds of plots around the country have been given to big media houses in Delhi, Noida and Greater Noida on Re. 1 lease. What about them? If you want to raise a question on discretionary quota, then please check every allotment.

In its latest issue, Tehelka runs a cover story titled “Land Scam 2.0“, in which it carries a “partial list” of Karnataka journalists who have been allotted expensive house plots in Bangalore under the controversial “G” category of the chief minister. And if the buzz is to be believed, one of those on the list has already had to pay a price for his apparent indiscretion with his job.

If Ashok Chavan’s relatives and B.S. Yediyurappa‘s could return their allotments after being caught, will the journalists?

Screenshot: courtesy Tehelka

Also read: ‘Media houses are sitting on plots leased at Re 1’