Journos and indiscretions
Mannika Chopra

Mannika Chopra

This week was all about making and breaking icons. Journalistic icons like Vir Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt, private sector icons like Ratan Tata and parental icons like the Godhekars appeared in the Big Switch-Season 2. In case you missed the story last fortnight, stories about the taped conversations of Niira Radia (a PR person who represents the Tata and Mukesh Ambani group) with leading journalists began to be aired. Till the point last week’s column was written, though Radia’s name was being bandied about freely in various discussions and reports on TV, no channel thought it newsworthy to identify the names of the journos who had been at the receiving end of Radia’s sweet, sweet talk.

Media outrage was generally missing and it was almost as if the story had been blacked out. That was last week. This week, TV journalism, as we mostly know it, was turned upside down. The ongoing Radia story was full of heroes and villains, actually mostly villains. Anchors began asking pointed questions, threatening the reputations of the identified journalists. Some names, basically two, were labelled as go-betweens of the powerful, and as, witting or unwitting, brokers between the lobbyists and law makers. The remaining journalists, some of whom who had really super-creepy conversations with Radia, somehow disappeared into some kind of a black TV hole.

CNN-IBN’s Karan Thapar, the prince of bait and beguile, in his media programme, Last Word, and then later in Devil’s Advocate, in an interview with Arun Shourie, referred continuously to Vir Sanghvi’s and Barkha Dutt’s conversations with Radia. He questioned their willingness to act as go-betweens, the damage to their journalistic credentials and to that of the news organisations they represent. Arnab Goswami in Newshour (Times Now) also asked sharp questions on the appropriateness of the members of the media having cozy conversations with Radia, an acknowledged whiz corporate communication expert, who apparently has patented the concept of Access Journalism.

Though I applaud the fact that at least some TV news shows ended up calling a spade a spade, there has, I feel, been a certain below-the-belt quality about the coverage and analysis. While there has been a belated charge of the media brigade, I wonder whether, an injustice of another kind is being carried out now. Just as society drives myths, so does the media. By the end of the week, Sanghvi and Dutt, both journalists who the media gods had embraced, were definitely persona non grata.

In today’s bottom-up media culture, thanks to tools like Twitter and Facebook, both used by news channels in order to enhance interactivity, it’s easy to become a target for a technologically-savvy mob. To clear the air, NDTV 24x7 aired a special programme in which Dutt gave her side of the story, perhaps to air some hidden truth or an inner rationalisation, to four senior journalists — Dileep Padgaonakr; Sanjaya Baru, Manu Joseph and Swapan Dasgupta. This was not friendly fire. It was rapid fire. They all quizzed her on blurring lines between journalism and power brokering. With admirable sangfroid, Dutt pleaded guilty to an “error in judgement” but not to charges of corruption.

Corporate giant Ratan Tata was also at the receiving end of Radia’s indiscretions. He was given a chance to explain his position through a one-hour exclusive Walk The Talk with Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24x7. Only it was not really a WTT; it was more like a very respectful, sedentary conversation among two friends about placing private conversations in the public domain.

And now on to more innocuous icons, like the Godhekars who appeared in Big Switch-2. It’s all about a widening generation gap. The not-so-traditional Godhekars are parents to a pair of wilful, frankly badly bought up sisters, Puja and Junaki. The siblings want to wear skimpy clothes, chat with boys all the time and generally want to do everything without any parental control. Not allowed, say mom and pop, and so the sisters are paired up with another set of parents who are worse then the originals. In the meantime, the shell- shocked Godhekars are dumped with a punkish, guitar- strumming, foul-mouthed DJ as a replacement daughter. But all is well when in the end both parents and children realise that they are better off with what they have.