MEDIA deserves full credit for exposing three major scams – Adarsh Housing Society in Mumbai, Commonwealth Games in Delhi and the worst of all, the dirt-cheap sale of second generation (2G) spectrums. But for the explosive disclosures by sections of the media, the looters of public funds would have gone scot free. Delayed action against those involved in these scams by the Prime Minister and the Congress president has besmirched India’s image. Resurgent India is now being perceived by the international community as a Republic of mega scams. The “clean” Prime Minister didn’t dare to move his little finger to bring the guilty in the 2G scam to justice till he was forced to act by the media’s dogged persistence and the BJP-led opposition’s determination not to allow the Parliament to function till the Government agreed to constitute a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to enquire into the scam. Mark Tully has put it quite bluntly, “As a man of action, the PM’s image has been not only battered but (also) damaged. Still in the people’s mind he is a clean man”. The Supreme Court of India was constrained to ask as to why the Prime Minister took so long to respond to the complaints about the scam lodged by former Union Minister Dr Subramanian Swamy. The Prime Minister’s inability to act in the second generation spectrum scam has justified L K Advani’s description of Dr Manmohan Singh as a “weak” Prime Minister. Dr Singh looked the other way as the corrupt minister, bureaucrats and greedy big businessmen looted the nation of the startling sum of Rs 1.74 lakh crore.
Former Telecom Minister, A Raja’s forced resignation from the cabinet is the result of media’s credible exposure of the grave irregularities committed by the-then Minister and the huge public outcry against him. The disgusting episode has shown the Prime Minister and the UPA in a very poor light. The PM is perceived to be a man who is inept in handling cases of mega corruption. His mysterious silence over a long period is a testimony of Dr Singh’s lack of resolve to act against the politically powerful corrupt ministers. An English language daily from the capital – The Pioneer – ran more than 100 stories giving details and names of persons, including A Raja’s wife and other relatives, who got money from companies that benefited from the discounted spectrum sale that left no one in doubt about the Raja’s malfeasance. If the PM is not to blame for the Government’s blind eye to the scam, will he please take the nation into confidence about the identity of the authority or institution responsible for it. It would be naïve to expect a straight answer from the Prime Minister to this simple question. In a letter to the Editor of a news magazine, a correspondent has put it succinctly, “If Manmohan Singh is squarely clean, as the Congress makes him to be, then the blame for the 2G scam should definitely go up”.
While one is all praise for sections of media that unearthed these mega scams, the conduct of some big guns in the media has raised questions about blurring of professional barriers by these worthies. This has severely undermined their credibility. Although the entire media can’t be blamed for indiscretion of a half a dozen famous journalists, their indefensible conduct is a big blow to media as an institution that is yet to recover from paid news syndrome that sullied its image. Niira Radia tapes have revealed several disturbing trends, including deep corporate penetration of political parties, the dirty games big business plays in manipulating government policies and certain famous, not necessarily ethical, media persons getting involved in the murky affairs of influencing government policies on behalf of corporate India. Publication of transcripts of some of the tapes of Radia’s conversation with half a dozen media persons have confirmed what we in the media suspected for long. The explanations, clarifications and rebuttals issued by those caught on the tapes are amusing and unconvincing. Their attempt is to obfuscate the issue by raising “larger issues” like one’s right to privacy and publishing transcripts of “private” conversations without getting their take on the issue. A large number of distinguished public figures have questioned this approach. Arun Shourie, speaks for many of them, when he says, “These tapes don’t deal with personal details but affect policy and governance. There was nothing personal in them”. It is universally accepted that privacy laws are subservient to public interest. It is not a sting operation done by a private party. These conversations were taped by the Income Tax Department with the written permission of the Union Home Secretary for the purpose of identifying money trail of suspected companies. And no one has challenged their authenticity.
Transcripts of tapes that are now freely available on the Internet, show that some of these famous media persons show off their links with the mighty “I will speak to Ghulam (Ghulam Nabi Azad) after I leave RCR (Prime Minister’s residence)” and willingly offering to be couriers of messages from the lobbyists to political bosses, “Tell me what should I tell them”. Another big gun can be heard saying, “I was going to meet Sonia today, but I have been stuck up here, so now it is becoming tomorrow. I have been meeting with Rahul ….” and seeking instructions about the content of the column he would be writing that week. His explanation for arguing in his column the manner in which the lobbyist wished is that his views on the gas dispute between Ambani brothers were similar to that of Radia. How simple! We are all impressed!! These celebrities shouldn’t talk about their privacy rights for they were discussing policy formulations and appointment of ministers with the lobbyist. Supreme Court lawyer Kamini Jaiswal says, “People have a right to know even if these talks took place inside the bedrooms. There was nothing personal about them”.
How and why these tapes found their way to the media is another story. These conversations were taped in the process of investigation into certain suspected crimes and their disclosure to media was unauthorized. Having said that, let us do some introspection. How many of us can truthfully state that they never used stolen documents to expose misdeeds of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen? This is routinely done by almost all working journalists and can’t be used to derail the debate about some editors and senior journalists behaving like couriers and stenos. One is reluctant to use more appropriate expressions as these are rather crude. An apology is due to professional couriers and stenos for comparing them with these worthies.
Corporate media’s deafening silence on the conduct of these journalists is most disturbing. They thundered when Tehlka tapes were released and never bothered to find out if the “deal” they talked about was fictitious or real. Corporate media didn’t give any opportunity to those who were caught on hidden cameras to explain their conduct and took what they saw and heard on the tapes as gospel truth. When it comes to their own, NDTV defends and justify Barkha Dutt’s conduct. She demands an apology from Outlook for accusing her of “lobbying and corruption” and explains away her conduct as an “inadvertent error”. Hindustan Times is more sensitive to public outrage. It eased out Vir Sanghvi’s column “counterpoint” and changed his designation from Advisory Editorial Director to Adviser HT media. Does it mean he would no longer be adviser for the editorial content? Sanghvi, on his part, says the change of his designation is not linked to the controversy and that his column is taking a break. It would be futile to expect these worthies to accept their guilt and resign.