Cardinal rule media forgets
Mannika Chopra
Mannika Chopra

With so many scandals erupting these days, no TV news bulletin goes by without saying something nasty about politicians and their money-grabbing ways. But when the media does something, if not nasty but certainly questionable, the story is almost blanked out. Almost, but not quite.

CNN-IBN on its Monday night edition of Face The Nation ruminated over the role of the media and its presence in lobbyist Niira Radia conversations, which had been taped by the Income Tax Department, and whether it crossed the professional Rubicon. For those who came in late, Niira Radia is apparently the all-powerful manipulator whose connections have been able to give DMK politician A. Raja the telecommunications portfolio.

Using leading journalists to do so was part of the Radia gameplan. In the media, Radia has been painted as a deeply evil figure, Lucifer, according to Dilip Cherian in the FTN discussion, with the ability to pull strings; a shadowy marionette manipulator of amazing propensity and a king maker par excellence.

Interestingly, even Karan Thapar’s The Last Word, a media watchdog programme that airs every Friday on CNN-IBN, preferred to tackle the issue of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting asking for two programmes — Rakhi Ka Insaf on Imagine and Bigg Boss on Colors, CNN-IBN’s sister channel — to be shifted from the primetime nine o’ clock spot to the 11 pm slot rather than these certainly momentous developments in the media. The programme kept harping on role of the “censorious” I&B Ministry, and when panellist Madhu Kishwar wanted to make a point on the banal quality of Bigg Boss, Thapar quickly cut her off, saying they were not there to discuss the quality of the programme. Really?

So despite the Radia tapes being in the pubic domain for some time, the electronic media, which conventionally picks up any story, however unworthy, decided to lie low on this one. It was as if it saw nothing, heard nothing. Except for NDTV’s stout defence of Barkha Dutt, one of the journalists who figured in the taped conversations, all channels ignored the development.

NDTV’s explanation put out by their CEO by Narayan Rao spoke of how journalists, in their pursuit of news, tend to meet all types of people and that Dutt’s conversation with Radia was taken out of context. But all other networks buried the story. The print media gave lavish coverage to the topic. For TV this was a non-story. Even Times Now, famous for wanting an answer for the nation, was sotto voce. Was the presence of leading media figures in the tapes not newsworthy, or was it a question of protecting one’s own?

FTN anchor Sagarika Ghose on Monday night tried to delve into the issue but, to use one of her many clichés, “without naming the gorilla in the room.”

While Radia was named endlessly, and criticised for actually doing her job as a corporate lobbyist, interestingly, the journalists were not. In lieu of that, covers of the two weekly news magazines that carried the taped conversations in detail were flashed continuously along with the picture of journalists on their covers. Perhaps the hesitation stemmed from the fact that one of figures named was Dutt, a group editor of a rival channel, NDTV, and CNN-IBN didn’t want to — to use a Ghose-ism again — appear to be on a “witch hunt.”

But surely in the interest of clarifying the divisions between propaganda and partisanship between newsgathering and cronyism, an element of transparency was needed. It is enough to say that journalists, when they move around with the powers that be, tend to get on a high; they get trapped into such delusions of grandeur that the rules they taught you in journalism school are forgotten. As the FTN poll showed, the media credibility is at stake. The media cannot be so full of itself that it starts to be used as a vehicle of political expression and as a conduit for passing political messages. Though it is dangerous to see the past as perfect when the media occupied a more dignified position, sadly, the present is showing the Fourth Estate in a shabby light.

At last some one has won Rs 1 crore on Kaun Banega Crorepati. Rahat Taslim, a homemaker and housewife from Giridh in Jharkhand, had all the answers to many difficult questions. She had used all her lifelines by the time she came to the magic figure.

The woman, who wanted to become a teacher but was stopped in her tracks by her husband because of his outstation job and the need for her to look after their two children, was simply ecstatic, but also cool. After pocketing the Rs 1 crore check, with its many zeros, she was game enough to try the Rs 5 crore question but went into quit mode, as she didn’t know the answer. Who would except a GK junkie who collects trivia on heart surgeries?