T N Ninan Demands Apology from Barakha & Vir Sanghvi

Just say sorry!

At a time when many publishers are doing things to destroy the credibility of media, that is what Vir Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt owe to their profession


T N Ninan

Oscar Wilde observed that journalists are always apologising in private for what they write about you in public. After the Radia tapes, you could say the opposite: that some journalists are being forced to explain (not apologise, though) in public for what they said or did in private. Wilde was talking of journalists who wrote against the movers and shakers but still tried to maintain relationships with them; now, it would seem, some leading journalists write or act on behalf of the movers and shakers.
One shouldn’t get too moralistic, perhaps, since every profession has always had its share of bad eggs, and journalism is no exception. But the rule for A Raja and Ashok Chavan, just as much for those in any profession, has to be that if you get caught, you should pay the price, or at least do penance. What breeds cynicism about any system or profession is when that does not happen. That cynicism is the danger in which Indian journalism now finds itself.

Those who have featured in the tapes (and been handled with kid gloves by the rest of the profession) have put out their defence. To most reasonably-minded people, the defence must sound less than convincing. Here you have a lobbyist, trying her damnedest to plant back in the communications ministry the same Mr Raja who is guilty of the greatest scam in India’s history, while representing a reputed client like Tata (who, admittedly, had good reason for not wanting to see Dayanidhi Maran there instead), and you have star journalists apparently taking instructions from the lobbyist, carrying messages to politicos…

This is not to defend the indiscriminate reproduction of private conversations. Barkha Dutt, for instance, is entirely right to complain that Open magazine did not seek her comments before reprinting her conversations with Ms Radia; Vir Sanghvi would be right to make the same complaint. Others who are in the tapes and who were displayed on the cover of Outlook that featured the 2G scam, had nothing at all to do with the scam; they too have a valid complaint. And since gossip and the airing of loose judgements in casual conversation are indulged in by almost all journalists, those who are not on the tapes should be saying to themselves: There but for the grace of God…

Nor should one overstate the case against Mr Sanghvi and Ms Dutt, since neither is accused of being on the take. What they seem to have done is fall into the trap that beguiles well-known journalists, of thinking that they are important players rather than observers on behalf of their readers/viewers. It is also important to recognise that no one has accused Ms Dutt of tailoring her telecasts to suit Ms Radia, and she declares that she has not. Mr Sanghvi, who is by far the most gifted journalist of his generation, is in a trickier spot because his writing matches what he promised to do in his taped conversations, and you could be forgiven for raising an eyebrow when he argues now that they were his opinions anyway.

If both could bring themselves to admitting that they crossed a line, apologise and declare that it won’t happen again, the entire journalist community would breathe easier and hold its head up a little higher. So would a generation of young journalism students and new entrants into the profession, who have grown up idealising Ms Dutt and others. As leading lights of their profession, at a time when far too many publishers are doing things to destroy the credibility of the media, that is what Mr Sanghvi and Ms Dutt owe to their profession and to their colleagues.

November 27, 2010, Business Standard

The author is the Editor and Publisher of Business Standard

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