In the famous blog by Chetanya Kunte after the 26/11 attacks which Barkha Dutt and NDTV decided was “appropriate” for legal action for defamation, NDTV managed to suppress Kunte’s voice, but made his blog and his message a phenomenal success on the net. They are now set to popularise the so far relatively unknown Open Magazine (OM). So not surprisingly, in response to the Barkha Dutt-Nira Radia tapes NDTV has once again chosen to play “victim” by using the D word. Defamation? It must be the primary education for any journalist or public figure that “truth” does not constitute defamation. It Exposes. And truth is the best defence against defamatory action. In the response to the expose NDTV has threatened to take “appropriate action”. (One has to wonder what that appropriate action would be – Mud-slinging? Legal action? Conducting a sting on Manu Joseph? Digging up juicy tit-bits from Joseph’s past? What could that possibly mean?)
NDTV’s response here.
Now then, NDTV has perhaps forgotten all the sting operations it carried against various people. Filming and recording people without their knowledge to be used against them as investigative journalism and as evidence in their reports. It is Barkha’s singular misfortune that she was trapped in the phone-tapping by government agencies when the primary target of investigation would appear to be Nira Radia. Let’s examine the NDTV response to the Open Magazine (OM) expose: (NDTV responses are in Red)
First, Barkha and NDTV have nowhere in their response questioned the authenticity of the tapes itself. Therefore, one must proceed with the belief that they accept the tapes to be authentic and accurate (unless they question it in future statements)
“In response to the Open Magazine cover story dated 20th November, 2010 NDTV would like to object in the strongest terms to the clear misrepresentation of conversations between Barkha Dutt and Ms. Nira Radia, that took place in May 2009.”
What exactly was the misrepresentation? The report was the tape and the transcript. So where exactly did Barkha find misrepresentation? On the contrary, I wonder if such an explosive tape about some other people had landed in the hands of NDTV how would Barkha handle it. It would have been with extraordinary cacophony and screaming headlines and even conviction of the people involved as guilty by Barkha herself.
“In the pursuit of news and information, journalists talk to an array of people from all professional backgrounds; this case being an unfolding political story on cabinet formation, after the general elections.”
Sure, we expect journalists to talk to a lot of people from all walks of life. Journalists talk to politicians, businessmen, lobbyists, terrorists, criminals, maoists. And they should in the interest of fair reporting. However, it is not just WHO you talk to but WHAT you talk about that is also significant. If the Barka-Radia conversation was one where a journalist was seeking inputs or even inside information on political formations that would be perfectly legitimate. Is that the case here? My interpretation is different and each person hearing that may have a different interpretation. But what would be the inference made by a “reasonable” man? Laws are made on the assumptions of people behaving and acting reasonably. In the case of this conversation it doesn’t seem reasonably convincing that it was merely journalistic pursuit in an unfolding political story. All the more so since it appears that it is the “person” calling the journalist frequently when normally it would have been the other way around.
“The fact that the very editor of the magazine that has published this story accepts the distortion in the story's caption and goes on to say that there is nothing "remarkable" in the content speaks for itself.”
No where in the NDTV response does Manu Joseph say anything of that sort. Also, I am sure Joseph will respond to NDTV’s stand in due course in his own magazine under a response in his name. Interpreting private communication between Barkha and Joseph does not constitute anything. The word “distortion” also does not appear to be one used by Manu Joseph, it is clearly NDTVs interpretation.
“NDTV believes the magazine should first verify and corroborate facts before participating in a defamatory smear campaign.”
I completely agree. Only, this is fundamentally no smear campaign against NDTV. It is just co-incidence that in exposing lobbyists like Nira Radia, Barkha Dutt happened to be one she communicated with. However, who should OM verify with? With NDTV or Nira Radia or Barkha Dutt? NDTV forgets that the expose is not primarily to tarnish NDTV or Barkha but a report that adds to the fire that is the 2G Spectrum scandal. Such noble thoughts do not seem to occur to NDTV or Barkha in their own reporting. Let me just quote a few examples: Where was corroboration for all the ranting of Teesta Setalvad against Narendra Modi or NDTV’s own ranting against Modi? Where was all the corroboration for the humiliation heaped on Arushi’s parents in that infamous murder case? Where is all the corroboration for the explosive “saffron terror” syndrome?
It doesn’t seem to be apparent to Barkha Dutt and NDTV that the phone conversations were tapped by a government agency investigating serious economic offences or criminal activities. The target of the investigation obviously seems to be Nira Radia. In all of Radia’s conversations anyone else could have been at the other end of the telephone line. A politician, a corrupt businessman, a criminal, a money-launderer. But the fact remains that it happened to be journalists in this particular expose. In this case Barkha Dutt and in another Vir Sanghvi. If anything, this has only served to strengthen the public belief that our journalists are no different from our politicians.And there is no reason to believe that the government agencies do not possess tapes of Radia's conversation with many other people too.
Barkha is also extremely fortunate that NDTV has chosen to respond to this expose in her support. Does it mean the conversations Barkha was having with Nira Radia was approved by or in knowledge of NDTV? Any major organisation would have typically stated that the conversation Barkha was having was in her “individual and private” capacity. This is also a warning for all media channels not to have their brand names be so heavily associated with "personalities". A media channel needs to be bigger than personalities. Else, one flawed celebrity would be enough to bring the house down.