ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Journalists on Call

The media ignores issues of ethics and credibility at great risk to its own sustainability.

The exposes contained in the taped telephone conversations of corporate lobbyist Nira Radia have dented the credibility of leading journalists and undermined the public standing of the journalist profession. The recorded conversations show leading journalists promising to run political errands for Radia as she works the levers of power to influence ministry formation in the union cabinet after the 2009 general elections. The tapes also show them taking dictation from her about what to write and giving her detailed advice about how Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries, one of her leading clients, should fight his case in court. The conversations also have Radia scolding journalists about news placements and her boasting to others about how she got some of these worthies to do jobs for her.

The journalists named are some of the senior-most in the profession and are mostly gatekeepers of news in their publications. The conversations seem to suggest that these journalists were not only getting information but were, on the contrary, on very familiar terms with Nira Radia. There is no sense of distance between the work of the journalists and that of Radia, but rather, they seem to merge into one. From hearing the conversations of the senior journalists with Radia one gets the feeling that they do not know where news-gathering ends and lobbying begins. Some of the journalists have defended themselves by arguing that they were merely “stringing along” sources; and did not actually carry messages or change what they wrote as they were promising to do in the recorded conversations. This defence beggars belief since it assumes that a sharp corporate lobbyist like Radia would continue to “use” these journalists for lobbying even when they were not “delivering” for her. In fact, the senior journalist Vir Sanghvi reproduced in his column exactly what he was ordered to by Radia the previous day, while the TV journalist Barkha Dutt has been unable to explain why she did not make a news story out of something as sensational as a corporate lobbyist, who was representing the Tatas and Ambanis, meddling in cabinet formation. Evidence does not get any thicker than this.

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