The Indian Media is strangely silent about the Nira-Barkha-Vir episode, as if nothing of substance has happened. We cannot deny the fact that we have a very large and extremely vibrant media in our country which believes in having a hugely pro-active and somewhat hyper-reactive attitude towards anything sensational. Hence, when the same media starts ignoring news which are otherwise of great significance and also have a huge potential of being eye-catchers then other people start suspending of the entire episode.
The same can be said about the Nira tapes. Yes, it is now known to almost everyone that Nira possibly had very long and numerous conversations with many prominent people in this country, including rich and powerful people from various strata of society belonging to corporate world, political forums and media.
While many of the words spoken by Nira and the speaker on the other end are such which raise many an eyebrows, but for very surprising reasons the Indian media fails to get evoked, provoked or affected by them. They are following the principle of grand silence.
For certain reasons, in this regards, the foreign media seems to be differing from that of our own. That is why at least two major US newspapers have already picked up this news and have discussed it prominently.
The Huffington Post, one of the most respected Internet newspapers of US published an Article “Indian Media Where Art Thou on Media Scandal” by Betwa Sharma who is the New York correspondent of the Press Trust of India.
She says-“ A shadow has been cast over the Indian media — the bastion of the nation’s democracy. A telecom and political scandal rocking the country has now sucked in top journalists but the media coverage of this new twist is timid — a simple Google search shows that.”
But at the same time, she also acknowledges the fact that “a few bloggers and publications have got the word out but twittering and blogging isn’t the staple diet in a country where the majority of its 1.2 billion people are more likely to be reached through mainstream news.”
Here she is saying the same thing that many of us are feeling so deeply when she quotes G Sampath, the deputy editor of the Daily News & Analysis (DNA) published out of Mumbai -“”The complete blackout of the Niira Radia tapes by the entire broadcast media and most of the major English newspapers paints a truer picture of corruption in the country,”.
These words of Sampath are also of great relevance in their own way- “But what is really scary is that, despite living in a ‘democracy’ that boasts of a ‘free press,’ if you were dependent only on TV and the big newspapers for the biggest news developments of the day, you would never have known about the Niira Radia tapes, and the murky role of media as political power brokers,”
Here I personally feel that media channels like Bhadas4media, Outlook India and the Open magazine have played a truly spectacular and wonderful role in persistently taking up this issue and presenting facts before the people, while the majority of the media channels kept their stiff upper lips rather tight, in the old English tradition of deep loyalty. It was also no different to the law of Omerta that the Italian popular attitude and code of honor used by criminal organizations like Mafia to practice where they would not share any information with any outsider, nor would they divulge any of the secrets shared by them. Thus, what belongs to a gang belongs to it and to no one else.
This is the worst and the most dangerous trend that has come so visibly in the aftermath of the Nira Radia tapes getting public.
Have a look at another comment- “The Indian media have clamped down on this story. It is a matter of shame that foreign establishments are publishing stories that Indian media WILL NOT,” reads a comment on India Real Time–the Indian blog of The Wall Street Journal.
Also just look at the reason presented by Live Mint’s editor, Sukumar Ranganathan for not presenting the story- “The publication isn’t running the story because it cannot verify the authenticity of the documents.” He goes ahead to compare his act with that of the New York Times- “My reporters and editors had no way of finding out… (and believe me, we tried)… Just as a point of comparison, the New York Times spent three months vetting the Pentagon papers,”
But Manoj Mitta, founding member of India’s Foundation for Media Professionals, has a different view on this- “It forces us to address the problem. We as journalists sit in judgment of others all the time. We should hold ourselves to a higher standard”.
The Washington Post in the story “Indian journalists accused of secretly helping politicians, businesses” by Emily Wax begins by saying- “India’s fiercely competitive and hungry free press has become the rising nation’s watchdog, unearthing a long list of banking scandals, real-estate scams and most recently, extensive government corruption during Commonwealth. But in recent days, Indian journalists have been accused of wrongdoing, including having inappropriate conversations with a corporate lobbyist and acting more like power brokers in recordings released as part of an investigation into an audacious multibillion swindle – considered the biggest scandal to hit the new India.”
The story also says- “While the journalists never gave or received any bribes, the recorded conversations have raised questions about ethics in the Indian media and its coziness with corporate and political bigwigs, especially at a time of unprecedented economic growth.”
Worst the story is very outspoken and vehement when it openly declares- “The incident suggests India’s free press may not be free from pressure to act as a go-between for India’s government and corporate leaders.”
This story once again praises social media and internet sites like Bhadas4media when it says- “Filling the gap has been the social media, which is proving to be a popular and high-impact venue, even in a country with relatively low Internet usage. Facebook now has a group called “Barkhagate,” referring to Barkha Dutt’s alleged role.”
Summing it up, the matter is such that will not end so fast, for good or for bad. Today or tomorrow it will have to come in open, when the truth, whatever it is, will get unearthed. To say that any of these journo are actually guilty would be too early, but to say that they are innocent would be even more difficult task at this stage.
And if these people are innocent, as they are claiming, then it would only be better for them if the matter comes pout in open, is thoroughly discussed, analyzed and enquired into and truth finally emerges out of this exercise. Instead, if the things are tried to be hidden the way they have so far been, it would only complicate the matter and will make these journalists labeled accused even before the issue has been enquired into.
Thus in this particular episode, we need to emulate the western press which instead of burying itself deep down, always believes in brining the facts in open- for one and all to dissect them and to bring forth their own judgements to the issue in question.
Amitabh Thakur, IPS officer from UP, currently on study leave at IIM Lucknow