Indian media is not free

Indian Media manipulated by Tata and Ambani

One of the ten most quoted men on the planet, Noam Chomsky says that the Indian media is not free. He complained that the Bharati media is manipulated and concocts stories. Now leaks from within Bharat itself are affirming what Dr. Chomsky has said.
  • India’s feisty media claim to be guardians of national democracy, but a scandal involving high-profile journalists and telephone taps has given the country its own WikiLeaks-style controversy.
  • At the centre of the storm is India’s best-known television journalist, Barkha Dutt, who is accused of acting as a power broker in negotiations involving big business and the government over allocation of cabinet seats.
  • Tapes recorded by the police have emerged as part of a major row over the cut-rate sale of mobile phone licences in 2007-2008 which is estimated to have cost the treasury as much as 40 billion dollars in lost revenues.
  • Radia worked as a lobbyist for two of India’s biggest industrialists: Mukesh Ambani, head of Reliance Industries, and Ratan Tata, whose conglomerate’s interests include phone operator Tata Teleservices.
  • Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who normally manages to stand aloof from India’s political fray, was also drawn into the controversy after he was asked to explain his “alleged inaction” over the licence sales by the Supreme Court. The Himalayan Times
  • Transcripts of the 104 tapes, many of which have been printed by two news magazines, have brought question marks over the reputations of Dutt, veteran newspaper columnist Vir Sanghvi and other big media names.
  • A scandalous collusion involving politicians and the media has exposed India’s ethical deficit. Guardian
  • Fresh set of leaked phone conversations shed light onmassive media maipulation by the likes of Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata.
  • Leaks from India show strategy of planting, killing stories, and blacklisting agency
Pankaj Mishra of The Guardian describes one of the leaked documents:
“What kind of story do you want?” Sanghvi asks Radia, and goes on to offer a “fully scripted” and “rehearsed” television interview to her client,Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man. Another tape has Prabhu Chawla, an editor with India Today – India’s biggest-circulation news magazine in English – explaining to Radia how Ambani might win his supreme court battle against his brother. “Everything is fixed nowadays,” he hints darkly.Barkha Dutt – who hosts a popular TV show called We, the People – can also be heard offering to relay messages from Radia to politicians whom Radia wants to influence in the process of forming a cabinet.

Radia’s candidate – A Raja – did indeed go on to become the telecommunications minister. He now stands accused of depriving the national exchequer of $39bn by selling mobile phone “2G spectrum” bandwidth cheaply to, among other telecom companies, Tata – represented by Radia. Under pressure from opposition parties and the supreme court, Raja resigned last month. The journalists caught on tape have preferred to brazen it out, insisting that they were only squeezing a likely source for information. Guardian. Pankaj Mishra.
The Press Trust of India describes the story of the rotten head of Bharati commerce and currency. They show strategy of planting, killing stories, and blacklisting agency.

The contents of a fresh set of leaked phone conversations involving Niira Radia and her associates paint an alarming picture of the extent to which the influential lobbyist — whose clients include Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata — sought to influence, use, manipulate and even browbeat the media in pursuit of her corporate agendas. Apart from highlighting the use of journalists to plant stories and columns or as intermediaries with politicians, the latest tapes released by the news magazine, Outlook, suggest more strong-arm lobbying techniques were also used or considered, including the possibility of blacklisting the national news agency, PTI.

The PTI story describes the story of the manipulation.

Outlook, which had earlier published 140 conversations originally intercepted by the Income Tax department as part of its ongoing surveillance of Ms. Radia, now says it has 800 more conversations in its possession. Nineteen of those audio tapes, with partial summaries, were published on its website by Sunday evening. Editor Vinod Mehta said that all the tapes were being vetted, and eventually would be put in the public domain, except for those which were purely private conversations.

In one tape, HT Media advisor Vir Sanghvi has a follow-up conversation with Ms. Radia regarding his June 21, 2009 column in the Hindustan Times on the tussle between the Ambani brothers over gas pricing, framed as an article about oligarchs taking over natural resources.

“Wrote it… I’ve dressed it up as a piece about how the public will not stand for resources being cornered, how we’re creating a new list of oligarchs,” Mr. Sanghvi tells Ms. Radia. “Very nice, lovely, thank you, Vir,” she says, while he adds: “It’s dressed up as a plea to Manmohan Singh, so it won’t look like an inter-Ambani battle except to people in the know.”

Confronted with this tape, Mr. Sanghvi still insists he was just stringing her along, “sweet-talking” a news source. In an interview to The Hindu, he claims the final published column included elements that Ms. Radia was unhappy about, proof that he was not exclusively pandering to her agenda. PTI.

Pankaj Mishra in the Guardian reminds the world of the Modi predilection in Bharat.

Indeed, for influential Indians the model of a “great” leader today is provided by Narendra Modi, the business-friendly Hindu nationalist chief minister of Gujarat who is accused of complicity in the murder of more than 2,000 Muslims in 2002. Ratan Tata, one of the most respectable names in Indian business, hails Modi as a “dynamic leader”.

Indeed, for influential Indians the model of a “great” leader today is provided by Narendra Modi, the business-friendly Hindu nationalist chief minister of Gujarat who is accused of complicity in the murder of more than 2,000 Muslims in 2002. Ratan Tata, one of the most respectable names in Indian business, hails Modi as a “dynamic leader”.

It is too easy, however, to focus on the moral obtuseness of a few journalists and businessmen. A broader consensus exists within the middle class beneficiaries of India’s economy, a wider culture of deference to powerful and wealthy people, and intolerance and meanness towards the poor and defenceless, and their few articulate advocates. Mainstream journalists too have succumbed to this political pathology. What the tapes reveal most vividly is not spectacular corruption – not exactly news – so much as why the supposed watchdogs of democracy have assumed the militant aggressiveness and vanity of the very privileged in a wretchedly poor country.

The PTI defines the depths of the denigration.

While this particular column seemed to have elements taken word-for-word from a previous conversation with Ms. Radia, the lobbyist’s efforts to ensure the publication of favourable articles took various other forms.
In other tapes, she is heard instructing an IAS officer to do an interview with a journalist for a story critical of Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, and telling a subordinate to compile questions for Mr. Sanghvi’s interviews with Mr. Mukesh Ambani or Mr. Tata, both of whom are represented by Ms. Radia.

In another conversation, she seems to be directing the entire restructuring of the channel News X, which raises questions about her editorial influence there as well.

She does not hesitate to take negative action either, the most striking example of which is the discussion of a communication plan for the Reliance Industries group, which includes a proposal to “blacklist” news agency PTI, possibly in cooperation with the Tata group.

Ms. Radia’s conversations include an attempt to manipulate the media and the police into providing bad publicity for rival Anil Ambani‘s Reliance Communications in Jammu. She also discusses “incorrect edits” and “a serious problem with [ET's] desk in Delhi”, and gloats about shifting a Noel Tata interview from a resistant Businessworld to a seemingly more cooperative Business Today magazine. However, the final laugh seemed to be on her in that particular case, with Business Today’s former editor, Rohit Saran, pointing out that he went ahead with his own editorial agenda in the final published version of the interview, much to Ms. Radia’s chagrin. In Radia tapes, an alarming picture of media manipulation. PTI. Priscilla Jebaraj

Pankaj Misra defines the corruption of the oligarchs in Bharat.

Ratan Tata, whose conversations with Radia were also recorded, now complains that India is turning into a “banana republic”. But Tata’s own praise of Modi signified the ethical deficit among India’s rich and powerful. Certainly, Sanghvi sounded like a Latin American oligarchist when, criticising the US decision to deny Modi a visa, he argued: “Modi may be a mass murderer. But he is our mass murderer.” Claiming to speak for the “educated Indian middle class”, Sanghvi asserted that “we are entirely justified in being angered” by Arundhati Roy’s recent remarks on India’s military occupation of Kashmir.

Marvelling about a “concept of Indian unity” that endorses extrajudicial execution and torture, the social psychologist Ashis Nandy recently wondered if there was “a large enough section of India’s much-vaunted middle class fully sensitive to the demands of democracy”. Or could it be that, far from upholding progressive values, many exalted Indians, including journalists, will do anything to protect “their new-found social status and political clout”?

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