Friday, December 3, 2010

Ethical Journalism and The Niira Radia Tapes Fallout

I reacted slowly to this Niira Radia controversy as I do to all such which confuse me. Who was she? What was she doing that raises such a furore? And why is Ratan Tata moving the supreme court for intrusion of privacy? I latched on to a new channel the other day when all journalistic bigwigs were present - Vir Sanghvi gave his version of what happened - then M.J.Akbar, Cherian, Prabhu Chawla, N. Ram spoke after. A day before that I heard Barkha Dutt, fighting like a wildcat in another panel discussion. I pieced the two and figured some parts of this controversy.

It appears that Ms. Radia is a corporate communications manager who handles some of the biggest corporate accounts in India - Reliance, Tata and so on. It is no secret that media houses depend much on the revenue from advertisements from corporate houses for their sustenance. It is also no secret that the media houses, and some of their more visible faces, do have access or some personal equation with several politicians and other bigwigs in the country due to their profession. And so a corporate communications expert representing these corporates did what she thought was fair game, speak to the media people she could, get them to speak or write an article that would in some way benefit her clients, the slant of the interviews, articles and so on. And that is where the whole thing hit the fan.

Th tapes had everything from Radia asking direct favours of the journos, asking them to contact some people in the Congress to get some people in the cabinet, and even putting words and ideas into their heads. The journos, were playing along or in their terms 'stringing along' their source which they claimed in their defence was not unknown to the profession and they had not really done anything that Ms. Radia asked them to. In his remarks N. Ram categorically said that they have transgressed the line of ethics and the others in the panel seemed to agree.

The media in our country has evolved rapidly in the past few years. From being a source of information and entertainment, it is now a major tool for political parties. Several regional channels go far beyond merely subtly stating their agenda, they are open about their intentions. It is no secret that most media houses have some political affiliation and they try their best to show programs in the light they want their viewers or readers to see. That in itself is probably transgressing the line because most people believe rather naively that newspapers are speaking the truth. But then over the years, in their ambition to get to the top, these channels are going over the top, in a way that most viewers can figure out. Media houses are also now, after a few minor perceived victories, good stories, which I might add is also their job, started to believe, specially in the recent past that they can control pretty much everything. From politics, to creating and destroying public and private personalities, values, beliefs, actions, institutions and whatever they feel makes most sense, they are now at a stage when they probably have reason to believe that they can control most outcomes. Something that senior journalists, wise men would always be wary about.

There comes a time in everyone's life when they feel that they have absolute power. Every person, from the ordinary man on the road who feels like he has power over his wife or children to a teacher who feels power over his students, to a politician who feels he has power over the people and the system, everyone feels at some point that nothing can stop them. They are riding so high, important people at their beck and call, ordinary people looking at them in awe, a wave of their hand, a gesture enough to send all sorts of signals that they believe that nothing can go wrong. It is in these times that most people enter the web of corruption - physical, material or spiritual. It is at these times that crimes are committed, when they feel that they might not get caught, that they can get away with anything. And they think, that just because they have been fortunate for a while, they are bigger than the system. And that, is precisely when they start to fall.

The wiser ones, the ones who are there for the long haul know that they are made by the system. They exist as part of the system. And as long as they live within that system and contribute to that system in the way they can, they are seen as the champions. They do what they can do best and help society by being true and honest to it. But the day the individual thinks that he or she has created the system, that he has done much for the system, or even thinks that the system is because of me, then the end is neigh. Be it the richest, the most powerful, a politician, a businessman, a media house, a writer, a banker, a sportsman - this is the test. And unless one is clear about one's first principles, what one is there to do, what one's role in the system is, where one's first loyalties lie and how they must go about it, they will always have been the 'ones with potential but the ones who never got there'. And from there, the fall is rather swift as the system, patient but unrelenting, takes back every thing, pitilessly cutting away its pound of flesh when the other is down and out.

For a champion cricketer, the game is always above him. he is never bigger. Look at all the champions and they are the first to acknowledge that. So it is for any other professional. Your job is to merely let yourself express fully through whatever medium you are good at, honestly. But the day you feel that you control it all, you find a huge vacuum inside. It is back to the basics again. To primary school again.


Diwakar B R said...

Hey Hari, you are bang on target. Every field / sector has its share of experts and it should never be forgotten that they are mere players in this 'karma' game and performing their roles. Alas, media (it is now mainly TV medium) has perhaps fallen the most in the rapid degeneration that has taken place in ethics. Today's TV anchors play to the gallery every second to 'make' and 'break' news. Restraint is perhaps a forgotten word and irresponsibility is the norm.

Harimohan said...

Hi Diwakar, I suspect all of us fall prey to that feeling of being all powerful, at one point or another. It takes a lot of character to resist the temptation, to be true to one's first principles, to understand that the end does not justify the means to champion the cause. Lessons to be learnt for everyone of course, to get clarity of the what, why and how they are doing things. The larger picture is important.

Rajendra said...

One of the differences between tinpot dictatorships and democracies is the freedom of speech, and the media in India have done well in the past, in exposing others' misdeeds. Now, they need to redeem themselves.