P Sainath needs no introduction. The man who is considered the leading proponent of development journalism in India and one who has his feet firmly grounded in rural India with as much ease as he is seen interacting with the intellectual giants around the globe, Sainath is a Magsaysay award winner and has many more recognitions to his credit.
I had an opportunity to attend one of his lecturers at Sangeet Natak Academy, Lucknow on 22/12/2010 where he had come to speak on the topic of “Planned Corruption and its dangers to Indian democracy- With reference to paid news in Indian media”. Here he spoke on the phenomenon of Paid News in its holistic context. But before speaking on the main topic, he spoke about the Radia tapes. According to him, there are two parts of this issue. One is that related to the 2G scam and the corporate world while the other is related to the journalistic conversations. He said that there was nothing wrong with a journalist talking to other people, including any middleman. Journalists shall talk to all, in fact if a journalist wants to write a true story on match fixing, he might as well talk to Dawood Ibrahim. So, what really matters is the way one is using such conversations. He specifically named Rajdeep Sardesai whom he thought as being completely professional in his conversations with Nira.
But he also believes that journalists did cross boundaries. He called it serious impropriety. There are journalists who were asking from Radia what they could do as if they were waiters in the Hotel asking for orders. He called it a very sad story. He also mentioned about journalists advising Mukesh Ambani about what to in the Supreme Court. He said that part of this behaviour was because the journalists have grand delusion about themselves, as if they are running the entire State. There are others who use it as some kind of tactics and deliberately exaggerate their proximity so as to gain further closeness. He called the entire thing as criminality, stupidity and unethical impropriety.
He said that in the Radia tapes the main story is that of corporate power. He asked a question how much might have been Nira Radia’s 5800 phone bill because she talked for hours through long-distance calls ranging from Bahamas to Canada. He said that if one made a film with Nira Radia as its heroine (just as a film had come with Amar Singh as a hero), then the characters of the film might be divided into lead actors, major villains, supporting castes, comic relief, jokers, makeup artists and junior staff. In this division of characters, the journalists are not at all in the first three categories. At best they can be called as minor villains or as comic relief. Most of the time they were heard saying- Yes Boss.
He mentioned the fact that the entire Indian Press is not at all critical of Ratan Tata just because he is a corporate giant. As an example, he quoted the TV program Walk the Talk where the person interviewing him did not ask a single difficult question.
About invasion of privacy, as protested by Ratan Tata, Sainath said that it was the invasion of privacy but there can be need of such acts in many situations.
He also said that Nira Radia is a perfect corporate lobbyist but we must always remember that her power emanated from people like Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani. In fact she comes as the most professional person in the tapes while all others come as Yes men and jokers.
He congratulated all those media groups that took up this cause excellently and with great vigour but particularly disagreed with the way many media groups were presenting Tatas and Ambanis are poor victims of these Tapes. The fact was that Radia would never have succeeded in her work if she would not be working for such powerful corporate houses like the Tatas and the Ambanis. Hence to call these people as helpless victims of the tape and to heap all the misdeeds upon Nira Radia was nothing but hypocrisy. He calls these people not the victims but the real villains.
Sainath feels that the Radia tapes are about the power struggle of India. It just shows who is ruling the country. It also shows how the media industry is now itself a big corporate industry. But all said and done Radia tapes is something to do with individual misdemeanor and is not a corporate crime while Paid news is a corporate crime.
Amitabh Thakur, IPS officer from Uttar Pradesh, currently at IIM Lucknow