Dec 2, 2010

Pens For Hire & the Radia Tapes controversy

I spent some time reading the transcripts of some of the Radia tapes. Lot of mudslinging, lot of biggies offering their two cents and lot of experts bemoaning the state of Indian journalism. Now I wonder, didn’t people know before this story broke out that most of Indian journalism is peopled by liberal arts graduates, who in the absence of any talent and viable career opportunities, join a newspaper after graduation and climb the ranks slowly. Having started my career with the one of the prestigious newspapers in Kolkata and then having moved to Mumbai, I was appalled when I started work at the Express in 2001. To say that the editorial quality sucked, would be an understatement. What was more disgusting was the lack of political awareness and any thought-building endeavour which every individual (not just journos) should possess. Reporters covering the hospital or education or BMC beat would saunter in around 4 pm in the evening, file a routine story which lacked any element of journalistic enterprise and demand bylines. Those were early days and I recall the almost daily arguments I’d have with two senior correspondents who used to cover the Dabhol power scam and the Ketan Parekh story. I gradually discovered a world beyond the mediocre environs I was ensconced in. I discovered Joann Hari & Stephen Fry from the Independent, Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman , Stanley Fish from the NYT, Henry Porter from the Observer and several others. I also loved Bhanu Pratap Mehta, Sudheendra Kulkarni, Tavleen Singh, Swapan Dasgupta and MJ Akbar from mainstream Indian media. Oh, Vir Sanghvi too.

And now, Mr Sanghvi has let down fans like me so badly. I don’t have anything original to say beyond what the worthies are talking about, save this – something precious has been irreversibly muddied wrt these columnists whose articles I so looked forward to every week. I followed their views, usually nodding my head vigorously and occasionally even disputing them in the comments section. The disputes never mattered for this was an exercise in learning, in forming opinions and views where an expert perspective was available at hand to guide me. To be told later, ‘Babe, whatever you read was merely a transcript of the views that were fed to him/her from a partisan industry insider solely interested in pushing his/her agenda’ is worse than adulterated liquour in my book. Sounds melodramatic, but true. So pardon me if I sound mad or outraged as Arundhuti Ray usually sounds.

What is also interesting are the clarifications offered by Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt in the face of the controversy. While Barkha claims she didn’t feel the story was important enough (a Sr. NDTV journalist now needs tutoring on what comprises an imp story!), Sanghvi says he has to speak to various sources to gather opinion in his capacity as a columnist. Of course, poor child didn’t know that gathering opinion and then arriving at independent, unbiased conclusions is what a columnist ought to do – not parrot lines fed to him by industry lobbyists.

What is hilarious is the way people are baying for Barkha Dutt’s blood, turning their personal dislike for her into a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to get back at her for all those time she mouthed homilies for the cause of the Naxals or the minority community displaced in Gujarat. I am no fan of Barkha Dutt but I think it’s important that we take note of one small detail here: she is a cog in the wheel of a much bigger cart. Why aren’t we questioning the PMO, or the finance minister who promises probe after probe after much damage has been done or the CBI who has held on to the tapes since 2008. If Radia was under the Income Tax department’s scanner, why weren’t these disclosures investigated before?

And no, I don’t want to end on the desultory note that ‘nothing will come of this’. I still believe in Ratan Tata & I didn’t find anything particularly objectionable in his conversation. He is a paying client and it is only right that he appoint as his PR consultant one of the most well-connected people in the industry. I see no conflict here – a capitalist hiring the services of someone he believes can deliver what he wants at a fair price. The conflict of interest is for journos like Sanghvi and Dutt whose pens are for hire; and the conflict of interest is for those politicians and bureaucrats like Ranjan Bhattacharya who gleefully claims, ‘Ab toh Congress apni dukaan hai.’


Dr B said...

Heard about the policeman who was a murderer? Everybody saw him but nobody saw him? Journos will write what they are paid to write, and may the highest bidder win! The reader has to learn to separate the grain from the chaff!
Which is why I believe in hunting for news rather than have em delivered to me..only wish I could do that consistently!

drift wood said...


Err..even when u 'hunt' for news, ur still depending on newsmakers to supply the feeds, right? Unless you actually go out and interview/have access to top politicians & industrialists. :)

Dr B said...

Welll...there's 'news' for public consumption...and then there's news in 'private circulation'. Networking helps I do in my stock market decisions. It's amazing how much you learn when you just listen intently.