By Girish Nikam
What are the issues and questions which bother all of us the most, from what has emanated from the Radia Tapes? For the last two weeks since the whole issue blew up with the publishing of the Radia Tapes, debate has centred largely around the well known journalists like Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi and to a lesser extent on Prabhu Chawla. However there is more to it than just these three, and it is time to get an overall perspective on different aspects of these explosive revealations, which exposes the insidious relations between the corporates, media, politics. This is the first of a series, which will look at the various issues raised and questions which need to be answered concerning the Journalists specifically and the media groups involved in it. It is unfortunate that though it is two weeks now since the expose’, none of the owners of these media groups, be it Dr.Prannoy Roy of NDTV, Shobhna Bhartia of Hindustan Times, Aroon Poorie of India Today group, Sameer or Vineet Jain or the amorphous management of the Times Group, or CNBC TV 18 Managing Director, Raghav Behl, have come out with any statement on the issues concerning their media houses, which has been thrown up by these tapes.
As media organisations and professionals, in newspapers and TV channels, who never lets an opportunity go to pull up the politicians, bureaucrats and even the judiciary, is it not their duty as part of the fourth estate, to follow the dictum of accountability to their readers and viewers. Should they not come out with what they have to say to the charges and allegations against their employees, and how they intend to curb such unprofessional behavior in their organisations? Are they not as accountable as Sonia Gandhi or Dr.Manmohan Singh is, whom we are now asking why the 2G scam took place, or why A. Raja was not being removed, or a Nitin Gadkari who has to answer why he is allowing B.S.Yeddyurappa to continue?
After sifting through the dozens of hours of conversation, the following analysis of all the tapes which are now out in the public domain, about 140 of them, have raised the following key issues and questions, which need answers from the media persons as well as their employers.There can be no let up in keeping up the pressure to find these answers, if the Indian media has to cleanse itself.
1.The silence of the media houses and its owners, about their employees, Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi, Prabhu Chawla, M.K.Venu, Ganapathy Subramaniam and Shankar Aiyar, who have all been found offering themselves to broker on behalf of corporate houses and be a go-between the corporates and political parties and judiciary even, apart from tilting their articles and their newspapers towards one corporate or the other.
2. When Niira Radia calls up Rajdeep Sardesai, Editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN on July 7,2009, and wants to meet him along with Manoj Modi, the right hand man of Mukesh Ambani, to apparently discuss the gas pricing issue, why does he ask her to meet the Joint Managing Director of his TV channel, Samir Manchanda? “—- but I want Manoj(Modi) to meet Samir Manchanda(Joint Managing Director of TV 18) , because Samir and Manoj had a long chat between on several things. So I will make sure that he —– so I will make sure”( http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?268439). Is Manchanda a journalist who should be briefed on the gas pricing issue? Is there more to this suggestion? What is that Rajdeep want Manchanda and Modi to discuss?
3. What does the Economic Times management have to say, about what M.K.Venu, then senior editor of ET, tells Niira Radia that ET wants to host a global brainstorming meet, and says, “ET does not want to spend money on such things, it is always looking for sponsorships”? (http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?268403). Also is Venu within his journalistic limits when he says, “ I told(RIL People) much before you(Radia) took over RIL account—why do you expose him(Mukesh Ambani to the media) so much—he is too big he should not be seeking the media—- they said, anil(ambani) kar raha hai, I said, you should do the opposite, — it’s a great strategy—theeek hai—newspaper fellows will be upset—but you cant please all the time”. What does the management of Economic Times, his former employer and Shekhar Gupta, his present employer (Venu is presently the Managing Editor of Financial Express) have to say on such obvious breach of journalistic ethics? How can the readers of Financial Express now have faith in what is published in that paper now?
4. What does Raghav Behl, the Managing Director of TV 18(CNBC TV 18 and its sister companies including CNN-IBN), have to say about Manoj Modi(right hand man of Mukesh Ambani) claiming (on June 10,2009) in his conversation with Niira Radia that he told(threatened) him(Raghav) “your organisation is corrupt…. Even factual stories you don’t print about ADAG and you will work for us. I want to know who is the source, Mukesh(Ambani) ko personally attack karega toh main manoj modi hoon, chodega nahin kisiko.——-Raghav said in order to put pressure on me(Raghav himself)— send me(raghav) a legal notice”( http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?268368) . Did Raghav Behl protest against such obviously strong-arm tactics? Is what Modi claiming true? Did Raghav Behl ask Modi to send him a legal notice? If not true, did Raghav Behl get a letter from Modi, making such threats, as Modi claims in this tape and repeatedly asks Niira Radia not to disclose about it to anyone?
5. In one of the conversations(on June 13,2009) between Niira Radia and Srinath(his status not known) where they discuss a story on CNBC TV 18 which is obviously not in their(Mukesh Ambani group) favour, Niira Radia remarks that “Sebi investigations is on against Siddharth(Zarabi, Economic Policy Editor, CNBC TV 18), Udayan(mukherjee, anchor and Managing Director CNBC TV 18) and Sajjid whose identity could not be established) — they are getting their wives involved in the (stock) market), and the SEBI investigation is on”. She also goes on to say that Udayan Mukherjee “files the highest tax returns among journalists…… he pays Rs.6 crore as income tax, and he doesn’t even earn that much”( http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?268373). Now what has Raghav Behl and his colleagues named here done about these obviously serious charges? Is what she is saying true? If not what action are they contemplating or have taken?
6. What does the management of Economic Times have to say to the conversation Rahul Joshi( Executive Editor of Economic Times) , had with Niira Radia on June 16,2009, in which he tells Radia about the coverage in his paper (Economic Times) of the Bombay High court judgement about the Gas pricing issue, a day before, which was obviously in favour of Anil Ambani and against Mukesh Ambani. He says, “ I didn’t want to say ‘setback for Mukesh’— you will appreciate I haven’t done it”, and then goes on to say, that as Mukesh Ambani has made it clear, “— this long standing thing of (Mukesh) Ambani, don’t put us(Anil and Mukesh) together.—– So we kept the tone neutral”. He later goes on to promise Radia that in future too, “we will be sensitive(to Mukesh Ambani’s needs), we will not go over the top”. (http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?268388) Now does the management of Economic Times subscribe to the stand of its Executive Editor to play down the stories against Mukesh Ambani? Is this part of their overall editorial policy? If not is Rahul Joshi playing into the hands of Niira Radia and her charms?
7. What does the management of India Today group has to say about what Prabhu Chawla tells Niira Radia in his conversations with her on June 20,2009, when he tells her, “— convey to Mukesh that the way he is going about the supreme court, is not the right thing”. And then he goes on to say, The way he(Mukesh Ambani) is going to the SC, I wont tell you more than that. The people he is using are not the kind of people who can be trusted for keeping it to themselves. Bol dete hain, ab London mein baithke kuch bhi bolo. Achcha nahin lagta na, it gets back. London is not so far, it’s just a phone call away. Political system….People may be projecting he is close to Sonia, he is close to Rahul. Mukesh has got access, but he can’t influence anybody. Collective jyada ho gaya na,. Kamalnath can decide one thing but he can be overruled by Pranab Mukherjee. So ye saara loose ends ko tighten karna hain na?”( http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?268406). Don’t they think that he is trying to offer himself to Mukesh Ambani to help him “fix the Supreme court as well as the Government ”? If not will the management of India Today come out and tell their readers and viewers that they have given a clean chit to Prabhu Chawla?
8. Can the management of NDTV explain a conversation between M.K.Venu and Niira Radia on July 9, 2009, “Venu to Radia—-Is Manoj(Modi) in town today? Radia to Venu— Yeah he is here, he will leave this evening. We are meeting Prannoy(roy of NDTV) today. You know we need to support Prannoy” (http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?268457) . An explanation is necessary especially in the context of what Barkha Dutt tells Manoj Modi during a conversation the same evening “Manoj to Barkha— no, no,no, you know I never come to Delhi, but I came only for this(?) last night, only for this purpose I have come. Barkha to Manoj—- It was very helpful Manoj, it was really very helpful. But then maybe main aapke saath—-( gets disconnected)” (http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?268460).It is important for the millions of viewers of NDTV to know, if and how, Manoj Modi offered help to NDTV and why does Barkha tell Manoj Modi,it was very helpful. Will Prannoy Roy break his silence?
9. As far as Hindustan Times is concerned, In more than one conversations which Niira Radia has with different people, including N.K.Singh, Ganapathy Subramaniam(of ET Now),( http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?268420) she keeps mentioning that the Editor of Hindustan Times, Sanjoy Narayan is an Anil Ambani man, and he keeps pushing his(Anil Ambani) angle in the newspaper and she even claims she has complained to the Chairman of the HT group Shobhana Bhartia, about it, and that Ms.Bhartia had even warned Narayan about it, and wanted him to take Mukesh Ambani’s side on the gas pricing issue and so on. She also complains to N.K.Singh(http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?268459) about Sanjoy Narayan, and he even promises her that he will talk to her. Does Ms.Bhartia endorse what Niira Radia claims about Sanjoy Narayan? If not will she break her silence and give a clean chit to her editor? Is it not her duty towards the lakhs of readers of her newspaper that she clarifies her stand on the entire issue, as her top most editor is involved?
10. Finally, Vir Sanghvi has claimed that he has “voluntarily” stopped his column, “Counterpoint” in Hindustan Times and taken a break. Will Ms. Bhartia clarify if what he claims is true? If true, does it mean that Ms.Bhartia has no objection to Vir Sanghvi’s conversations with Niira Radia nor him continuing to write his columns, if he wishes to? Don’t the readers of Hindustan Times deserve her response on the entire issue?
The answers to these questions and issues raised have to be found, sooner than later.