WHO first leaked Dayanand Maran’s letter to Prime Minister that proved so damning? Certainly not the Prime Minister’s Office? And surely, not Maran himself? So many letters have been leaked and the question naturally arises: Was it someone in the government hostile to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh?
That is the question raised by MJ Akbar in a recent article in Deccan Herald (November 22). What is interesting is that the letter was not released by the BJP or any other opposition party. Writes Akbar: “The leak came from someone in government who wanted to weaken Singh. Why? Obviously because he believes that a weakened Prime Minister has become vulnerable, there might be a vacancy at the top soon, Rahul Gandhi is not ready to take the job, and therefore he could become the next PM”. That is a frightening thought. Is there someone in the UPA cabinet who is so ruthless? How come, CNN-IBN and Times Now have been getting copies of intra-ministerial letters that are top secret? Who is behind this all? Who is playing what game?
Now the focus is on journalists. The names of Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi have been mentioned. The Indian Express (November 20) about the lobbyist Nira Radia’s conversations with Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi” said: “The journalist-politician-government nexus is an established one and politicians often do consult journalists, but the Radia tapes have the flavour of lobbying (there are ruder and cruder terms for it) more than anything else. More than reporting the news or getting the background to interpret news, the principals appear to be involved in making or shaping the news, a straightforward conflict of interest. They seem to be not witnesses but major participants.
According to the Express, the Income Tax Department had placed Radia’s phone lines under surveillance. The paper said that the tapes are “prima facie credible” though “it is difficult to be absolutely certain that they are authentic”. It added: “The next time a programme, say like ‘The Buck Stops here’ is aired, how can anyone be sure it is not choregraphed to present a particular point of view”? In the case of print, said the paper, “that question becomes even more urgent because readers tend to believe a respected columnist without question”. What Express has said in conclusion is worth the attention of all reporters, editors and columnists who, in future, may all be under suspicion. Concluded the paper: “It is this erosion of trust that is particularly painful. If unaddressed, it will have serious consequences for a profession that depends so heavily on trust. That is why it is imperative that the light be shone pitilessly on this murkey affair and the truth established, whatever the cost. A society so riddled with corruption simply cannot afford to have its ultimate watchdogs dipping their snouts in the pork barrel”.
In the circumstances it should not surprise any full-time journalist (working whether for the print or television media) if his phone is tapped, as also his or her mobile. Deccan Herald (November 22) itself editorially noted that “the content and tenor of the conversations (between Nira Radia and the two journalists) go beyond the normal relationship between journalists and their sources and contacts. There was also an indication of tailoring news to suit the interests represented by the lobbyist”. Such a charge, coming from a newspaper itself, calls for attention by the entire media. Deccan Herald conceded that journalists surely are expected to be witness and chroniclers of events and they need background information and may sometimes have to interact closely with decision makers or others close to them, to understand events better and to interpret them.
The paper also accepted the fact that the media has also won praise for its activist role in exposing corruption and misconduct. However, it added: “Going beyond the professional line and entering the politicians’ and lobbyists’ worlds produces a conflict of interest for journalists. That amounts to using the profession for wrong purposes. It will lead to loss of people’s trust in them and in the media”.
Meanwhile, even as Karnataka Chief Minister is making the news, the media seems to have forgotten another important corruption charge this one against the Prasar Bharati CEO BS Lalli. The Hindu made reference to this on two days. It will be remembered that Bharatiya Janata Party president Nitin Gadkari had demanded answers to ten questions on the Commonwealth Games and the 2G Spectrum allocation scam. With reference to the Games, Shri Gadkari had asked why no criminal action was initiated so far against Lalli “who over-ruled the objections by the Finance Department and gave Rs 246 crore telecast rights of the Games to an illegal entity which produced a fake registration number and had no service number”.
The Hindu’s Special Correspondent quoted Gadkari as asking: If Lalli, who speedily paid out 80 per cent of the contract fee even before the Games concluded, being shielded because of his high connections? On November 21, writing in The Hindu, the well-known media critic Sevanti Ninan also referred to the same issue. She wrote: “A small but conspicuous current instance of (corruption) is the allegations surrounding Prasar Bharati, the Chief Executive Officer and its other senior officials. The Central Vigilance Commissioner has come up with an incriminating report, the High Court has made observations, the media did a spell of CWG-related investigation in recent weeks, but despite two former Information Broadcasting Ministers being leaders of the Opposition in both houses of Parliament, we don’t see opposition parties demanding action in a persistent sort of way. And the heat has died down. Those accused of wrong-doing have fought back aggressively and bought more time to defend themselves”. What does this say of the Government?