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Geek by profession, thinker/writer/artist by passion. Part-time blogger,social media enthusiast and a tramp by nature :) A Man Of Mud


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Trial By Social Media

Television Journalism is a funny business indeed, it pays even when you are being burnt at the stake. NDTV might have gained a record TRP tonight as Barkha Dutt hosted a debate on the Radia Tapes controversy in which she herself is at the center and which also explains why it has been dubbed/hashed #barkhagate!

Lately, I have been bit preoccupied to keep track of the latest buzz on the social web. But I must admit to having listened to the audio tapes on Youtube yet being the simpleton that I am, I couldn't see the connection of the conversation with the scam. I presumed there was more and I was simply unaware...may be I am still ignorant because I still don't see the connection. Of course, I don't mean to say that Barkha Dutt is absolutely innocent, but at the same time it would be wrong on my part to go on a condemnation spree simply because everyone else is. I do want to criticize and deride every person who is in that tape but I am also looking for a reason to fully justify it! Despite my best mental efforts I was unable to link these people with the current telecom scam and other cases of corruption.  

However,the reaction of the people, mostly on the Internet, had me wondering. It was Manu Joseph's "killer question" on last night's show that helped me get a glimpse of the alternative perception. His question to Barkha was that if she was interacting as a journalist, why did she not take the story to the public, how the corporate lobbyists trying to influence the distribution of portfolios and Niira Radia was lobbying for getting the telecom portfolio to  somebody,from whom she and her clients can rely on for lucrative deals.

Now this raises several interesting questions starting with, if lobbying itself is an illegitimate activity ? Sure,the idea that corporate leaders and their agents should influence the formation of ministries sounds deplorable but is it unthinkable ? Lobbies exist to influence governments in such ways that benefit their corporate clients and there are enough legitimate means to pursue them. The connection between corporate houses and politicians has existed even during the "socialist" era, in free market era it seems integral part of the polity. Where do the various political parties get the funding to spend on such extravagant campaigns? The moolah they stole in the last term would now be sitting in some dark cellar in Bahamas or Singapore, it is the business organizations that pump in  money necessary for greasing the campaign machinery.

Why would private companies invest such large sums of money in a blackhole of sorts if they did not expect any return on investment ?  The answer is, the return of investment in these investments are usually huge, but they are in the form of contracts,waivers etc. In fact, it may not require bending the laws.  Influencing the formation of the Union Cabinet is not something lobbyists should have the capability of but one should not forget the circumstances in the back-drop of which the conservations in the Radia tapes leaks were taking place.

India is a functional democracy but the people chose representatives, ministers are chosen by the leaders of the political party with the majority of seats in the parliament. However, the last two decades, have seen coalition governments only with no single political party commanding majority in the House. Key portfolios are no longer distributed on the basis of merit of individual candidates but as shares of the constituents of the coalition. The coalition partners with the critical numbers get the tastiest slices of the pie. This too sounds despicable but is it if we look at it keeping in mind the basic principles of democracy ?

In the last two decades Indian politics has undergone massive transformation,in terms of power distribution. A large part of India no longer votes for a Prime Minister or government at Delhi, instead it empowers local leaders and groups that they identify themselves with, be it on the  basis of region,caste,religion,class,ethnicity or linguistic identity.  Whether we like it or not,these groups do represent a segment of Indian citizenry. More seats that a regional party occupies in the parliament,more power at the center it is entitled to. But these things are not clearly marked, in event of fractured mandate there is genuine confusion,fueled by all sorts of speculations and unverified reports in the media.

The scenario presents a lot of scope for diplomacy and negotiations between different parties irrespective of ideologies and aspirations. This is something seen in international politics,not domestic but then the trend cannot be wished away. In back-channel negotiations journalists make excellent emissaries as by virtue of profession they have access to the highest levels of commands, are presumed neutral  in case of failure the prefect alibi and if successful they get to cover the story,which is what the modern media reporter probably lives for. They parties in turn retain the scope of plausible deniability.

Coming back to the tapes, I have gone through the transcripts of the conversations between Niira Radia with Barkha Dutt and with Ratan Tata only and in both cases I don't find enough substance to call for lynching them. Niira was trying to send a message to the DMK that Raja was acceptable to the Congress. Presuming, Barkha did pass on the message and Raja became the Telecom Minister, how does this connect her to the scam which took place 3 years later., unless has a time machine hidden in her basement or crystal-gazes under moonlight! As much as I know her coverage has not been partial in this 2G spectrum scam, neither has she portrayed herself sympathetic to Raja or anyone else. However, given the contempt with which politicians, especially corrupt politicians are held Barkha Dutt is guilty of  sullying her reputation to extract her pound of flesh- breaking news. Lately,media reporters have been showing willingness to go to any length to get a saleable news story. Ethics, morality, people's safety,national security seem to be of no consequence to them when there is a story to be sold, even if it includes connivance with mischief-makers.
After the recent mob attack on Arundhati Roy's residence,the writer/activist, in an open statement, asked about  the nexus  between media and the hooligans,since the OB vans (of NDTV, TimesNow,News24)  arrived before the mob did. In fact the police advised them to report if they found any OB vans around since they viewed it as an indication that the mob was on the way! A proof of media's lack of scruples damaging national security can be found in cable released by WikiLeaks. In the immediate aftermath of 26/11 attack, almost all embassy cables1 mention Pakistan's decision of sending ISI chief to India for investigation,a decision which according to the US interpretation, could have helped India view Pakistan's sincerity. But the offer was quickly withdrawn after the Indian media went overboard..
Obsession with sensationalism,insensitivity, trial by media are few of the malaise that India now suffers from because of irresponsible and unscrupulous media. Barkha Dutt is as guilty as her fraternity members, and that includes Manu Joseph. More than the content itself it is the nature of content that has caught the imagination of the public, leaked video, audio tapes titillate us all the time no matter what the content is. Traditionally we are a bit more voyeuristic than others. If Big Boss is the most watched show because we get to peep and eavesdrop on the most intimate moments and discussions of a group of people, one can imagine the attention that a relatively new magazine can grab using "leaked tapes" of conversations between well known public personalities. Take Ratan Tata recorded conversation for instance, he has hardly said anything that was not expected of him, yet he has been dragged into this controversy simply because he had a tele-conversation with his PR consultant. No wonder, he is now mad with rage and has gone to the Supreme Court alleging violation of privacy rights.

Finally, I must say there is an element of poetic justice in all that has transpired, all the major television news agencies including Aaj Tak, NDTV, CNN IBN, Times Now, (need I say India TV :P) have been using every legal, illegal means to stay ahead in the trade. There are people from all sections whose lives have been turned upside down after having fallen into the trap of the media, some of these people probably deserved it but some may just have been innocent victims, not unlike victims of fake encounters. But life and nature go round in circles,like the mythical Ouroboros, the hunters are now hunted but make no mistake, hunters are hunters.

And by the way, even I forgot to add, this thing helps take focus of the actual 2G spectrum scam investigation!

Caveat: I don't have any material interest in writing this :P 
1. I don't write for money, this blog is not monetized
2. Don't write for recognition, nobody reads it !
3. Placing this caveat for the above cited reason ;)