Editorial. L H Naqvi - II.VII. XI
Radia tapes and the media
By LH Naqvi
Socialite and lobbyist Niira Radia has given journalists an ugly image. Official agencies looking for leads in the 2G and other scams tapped Radia’s phone. Some juicy parts of the tapes were leaked. They carried her sensational chit chat with journalists of the stature of Vir Sanghvi, Prabhu Chawla and Barkha Dutt. Not surprisingly all three of them claimed they were merely “humouring” their contact and that a mountain was being made out of a mole-hill.
Who put the controversial tapes in the public domain? The media did it. That is supposed to be the silver lining. Indeed, journalists could have closed rank and no one would have got to know about the unprofessional conduct of the “tarnished trio”. However, the self-proclaimed good guys of Indian journalism chose to publish the transcripts of Radia’s conversation with some of the biggest names in the media. In simple language the good guys of the media were doing what journalists are trained to do – report without fear or favour or bias. They, much like Shashi Kapoor in Deewar had no option but to whip out a gun to tell his wayward brother Amitabh Bachchan, that no one was above the law.
Don’t expect the “news-breakers” to admit that the media is now primarily used for promoting and protecting corporate interests; for fighting corporate wars. Nothing personal about it mates.
Who owns the publications that carried the transcripts of Radia’s conversations with journalists? And who owns the media the “tarnished trio” represent? The answer to both the questions is the same – most of the media is controlled directly or through proxies by the corporate world. These corporate houses have not one but many Niira Radias at their beck and call. If one gets exposed, there are others doing the job for them. It was obviously another Niira Radia who put the controversial tapes in the hands of the “good journalists”.
Let us stop kidding ourselves. The media is not what is used to be or what it ought to be. Its credibility as an objective and honest purveyor of news was never as suspect as it is now. Having given 40 years to this profession I feel both sad and depressed at our collective fall from grace.
At a personal level I could not have bargained for a better deal than what I received as a journalist. I must be the only one to have had the privilege of working with four outstanding editors – M Chalapathi Rau, B G Verghese, Khushwant Singh and Prem Bhatia in that order.
My first editor was the legendary M Chalapathi Rau, considered to be the father of Indian journalism in post-Independence India. When The National Herald was published from Lucknow, MC, as he was known, ran into Jawaharlal Nehru during a visit to Delhi. Nehru asked why MC never bothered to look him up during these visits. The first Prime Minister of India was told by the tallest editor of that era that he (MC) visited Delhi in connection with office work and “calling on the Prime Minister was not part of it”.
I have heard a similar story about Kalinath Ray, editor of The Tribune, published from Lahore in undivided India. He gave just five minutes to Sir Sikndar Hayat Khan, because the Prime Minister of undivided Punjab insisted on making a courtesy call.
This is the kind of distance we were taught to keep while dealing with our contacts for the purpose of news gathering. The editor who is gloating about having published the Radia tapes has evidently forgotten what he was caught doing in Agra. He and some other Indian editors were tricked into a live telecast to audiences in Pakistan of what was supposed to be a private chit chat with President Pervez Musharraf during the failed Agra Summit.
My second editor, B G Verghese, was sacked because he refused Indira Gandhi the right to dictate editorial policy for The Hindustan Times. Indira Gandhi thought since Verghese had worked as her Press Secretary, she would have no problem making him eat out of her hand. Neither MC nor Verghese ever doubled up as a reporter. Now you see them all over – reporting, interviewing and accompanying the Prime Minister on foreign tours.
I was not lucky only in getting the right editors, I was lucky in leaving the profession just when the rot had begun to set in. All my editors were fiercely independent and did not allow the management to dictate. I used to be amused when Prem Bhatia would have an ad pulled out of the front page of The Tribune for his signed editorials. The management now decides editorial policy and reporters are answerable, as are the editors, to Shobhana Bharatiya in The Hindustan Times and Sameer Jain in The Times of India. It is the same story elsewhere.
I was a great votary of the editor running the show. Not any more. There is not one editor today who would pass the MC test or the Verghese test or even the Deepak Razdan test. Razdan’s story is worth telling. He joined The Hindustan Times in 1972 and was promptly assigned to cover the 3rd Asian International Trade Fair (Asia-72) at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi.
The first day he came back looking aghast because more than the invited number of journalists had turned up for an electronic item as a freebie. The next day he left all the gifts he had received while covering different stalls with a chowkidar because he felt his integrity as a journalist would be compromised. He refused to do the fair. He was not sacked. His probation was waived and he was confirmed as a reporter within a week of joining!