No Place to Hide

Editorial: January
Hardnews Bureau Delhi

One of the inadvertent fallouts of the leakage of lobbyist Niira Radia's tapes has been the exposure of Indian media as gullible, malleable and compromised. Radia, who was lobbying for Tatas, first, and later for Mukesh Ambani, was obviously good at her job and gauged the worth of many of the people who belonged to the influential set in the media and government. She was obviously an expert in manipulating the media and ensured that its so-called icons follow exactly what she tells them to. While the Radia tapes do not reveal as yet any tangible quid pro quo between her and the journalists, these messy interceptions taken during unguarded moments show the media in pathetic light. It is an unedifying spectacle where senior journalists seem to bend backwards to please the aggressive woman lobbyist and her big-business mentors. A senior columnist in a national daily writes his weekly column on the lines instructed by Radia. Similarly, a TV news anchor is willing to do errands and carry messages to Congress bosses to ensure continuance of the tainted telecom minister when the new council of ministers was being constituted in 2004. And there are many more business journalists who are willing to do chores on behalf of Radia. So, if anyone wants to hammer the visual media for fall in values then the Radia tapes would make him wiser. The truth is that no form of media is immune from such a precipitous fall in professional and ethical standards. What makes the conduct more criminal is the state of denial in which many of our editors live. This is despite the fact that social media and bloggers have become keen watchers of the Indian media and they are quick to point out flawed reporting, manifest conflict of interest and unethical behaviour of journalists. Radia tapes' leakage has also highlighted the simmering discontent among working journalists and media practitioners towards celebrity editors who have accumulated unexplained riches in recent times.

Those who watch the media and its ownership pattern would explain how a channel, a magazine and a newspaper became extremely shrill after a large corporate house, engaged in a bitter battle with another company, picked up a large stake in this media company. One needs to ask the worthies in these outfits whether they would have been equally hysterical about the Radia tapes if they were not controlled by a corporate house that is seriously involved in telecom imbroglio etc.

Media freedom has got further compromised as more dirty money from mining mafias, real estate sector and miscellaneous dubious sources has begun to sustain some media companies. Increasingly, they would use the media to settle political disputes or seek protection from the enforcement agencies for their crimes. Editors usually are their errand boys who will fix support from political bosses or the government. State capitals and many of the small towns of our country are rife with stories of how editors/journalists are bought, sold and used. For long the editorial leadership of important national newspapers as well as a robust working journalists movement served as beacon of hope for all those who strived for press freedom to lend meaning to our nascent democracy. The most damaging fallout of the leakage of Radia tapes is the collapse of the myth: these sleazy anchors and columnists used to sit on judgement over the corrupt political establishment and provided catharsis in a rotten system. The ugly truth is that they are no better than many amoral journalists in small towns and elsewhere who get into the profession for influence-peddling and getting rich through blackmail or by resorting to paid news. 

If the media refuses to introspect now and clean the filth which has come to parasite upon its integrity, then it will be too late. We will then stand thoroughly exposed with no place to hide.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JANUARY 2011