WHAT is interviewing all about? To get at facts, obviously. There are, roughly speaking, two kinds of interviews: one, the sort Doordarshan staffers carry out on the Aaj Savere channel, soft, gentle, understanding, seeking to bring out the best from the interviewee, which is done brilliantly. The other, for which Karan Thapar is famous, a bit aggressive, pushy, smart and aiming at bringing out the ‘truth’ from the interviewee whether by crook or by hook. That is the kind of cross examination a good lawyer may indulge in to get at facts from a witness unwilling to make some revelations. It is not always easy to be a reporter, who is out to collect information to write a good story. Courtesy helps at times; there are times when one has to be grossly aggressive; there are times when one has to be subtle in posing questions.
Recently Thapar had occasion to get Farooq Abdullah speak on what the latter thought about Shashi Tharoor. As Tharoor saw it, Thapar was “bullying” Abdullah. He was, of course, doing nothing of that sort. He was merely doing his job, as an interviewer is supposed to do. Thapar has tried to explain his role in his column in Hindustan Times (April 25). As he put it: “Journalism often involves coaxing people into saying things they might prefer to be silent about. That’s what makes news. Second, an offer to interview someone doesn’t preclude questioning a third party about them. Third, if you’re upset by what they say, don’t blame the interviewer.” Incidentally, Farooq Abdullah was also interviewed by The Asian Age (April 25) but one doesn’t see any effort to push him to the wall. The questions are straightforward and the replies seem to come from the heart and the interviewer Rashme Sehgal did a good job. Abdullah came through as frank, fair and objective in the matter of Lalit Modi’s role in the IPL. Sehgal was obviously not out to harass Abdullah to get him say things he had no desire to say.
Meanwhile, Outlook has done a splendid job at ferreting out phone tapping indulged in by government sources. One will remember that a former Chief Minister of Karnataka, Shri Ramakrishna Hegde was forced, at one stage, to resign. Today technology has reached a stage when tapping communication instrument is easy. It would seem that just before the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, a technician at Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) was monitoring satellite transmissions emanating from the Arabian Sea that seemed to be coming from a dhow heading for Mumbai. What subsequently happened is history. The point is that in a world full of power-seekers, communication tapping has become all but inevitable. Shouldn’t all bureaucrats be tapped considering that so many have been found to be corrupt? Shouldn’t MPs be tapped and, for that matter, ministers themselves?
We are living in an age where trust is at a low premium. Sad, but true. Then there is the question of what is commonly known as “Media trial”. Where does media responsibility begin and where does it end? On May 23, at a function in New Delhi, a former Chief Justice of India, Shri AS Anand made the point that “when the media conducts trial, it denies the basic right of individuals to fair trial, insisting that the media has no rights to pre-judge an issue”. It is significant that Justice Anand’s criticism of trial by media did not get the support of HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, who is reported to have said that media trial serves the public interest in certain cases when the course of justice is thwarted or blocked. What is media trial? Sibal answered the question himself. He said: “Those who are obliged by law to speak but choose not to speak, those who are obliged by law to investigate but choose not to investigate, those who are to take action choose not to do so, in those circumstances when the course of justice is thwarted or blocked, the public have the right to know the facts. When media does that it is perceived as media trial.” Maintaining that such trials could at times do injustice to an individual concerned, Sibal said each newspaper needs to decide what public interest it needs to serve. If media knows more than what the defence would like for the public not to know, isn’t it the responsibility of the media to place suppressed information before the public? That is not trial by media. It is simply media’s contribution to the dispensation of justice.
Take the simple story of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s support to the UPA government on the cut motion moved in Lok Sabha. Why did she support the government? The Telegraph (April 28 ) made the point that the CBI was breathing down her neck in the disproportionate assets and Taj corridor cases and that while “legal matters may eventually take their own course in the courts, the Bahujan Samaj Party leader hopes to reap many political benefits by supporting the UPA over the cut motion”. Letting off Mayawati so easily is a disgrace. She can get away with murder because Hindus, especially Brahmins, have an enormous guilt complex so far as Dalits are concerned. Mayawati exploits it fully. The picture of her being garlanded with thousands of currency notes is a show of vulgarity seldom seen in the country. It rightly invited loud laughter, if not downright condemnation and a generally bad press for which her aide, Vijay Shankar Pandey was demoted. Pandey was her Principal Secretary, as well as Information Secretary. But what else but contempt did Mayawati expect from the public?
We only have mediocre leaders as Deccan Herald (April 28) rightly pointed out, of whom Mayawati is an excellent example. “Is India becoming a country of mediocrities?” asked two writers (Joseph Rasquinha and Mohammad Zaheer Hussain), who are promoters of Truemen Management Consultancy Services. Yes, it is. In the next twenty years, according to them “we will start going backward because of the arrogance of our low expectations…” With ‘leaders’ like Mayawati and Shibu Soren what else can one expect of India when political leaders hobnob, as The Hitavada (April 10) pointed out, “with criminals and murderers”? Anything goes. Literally, thousands of crores of rupees were wasted in getting statues of her guru sculpted; those statues are apparently lying unused in some godown where, one suspects, they really belong. But think of the wastage of public money and the loss to the state!