In the end, no one can fool ‘We, the People’

By T.J.S. GEORGE

Journalism started going astray with the birth of financial dailies in the 1960s. With full-fledged newspapers devoted exclusively to business, corporate houses became hyperactive. The next thing we knew was press conferences ending with gifts of expensive sarees and suitlengths to reporters.

That was innocent child play compared to what has hit the headlines now: charges of celebrity journalists working hand in hand with a professional lobbyist to fix things like cabinet appointments and big-ticket business deals.

Excerpts from taped conversations between the star journalists and corporate lobbyist Niira Radia have been published. Radia was promoting the prospects of some DMK personalities as well as the gas interests of one Ambani brother and the spectrum interests of the Tatas.

The journalists became her tools.

Lobbying is a recognised activity in democracies. But it is a tricky line of work because sometimes unconventional methods might become necessary to secure the case of a client. Given Niira Radia’s experience and efficiency, acknowledged by companies like Tatas, we must assume that she took care not to cross the line. Anyway we can leave it to the enforcement directorate which is looking into the matter.

Journalism is as different from lobbying as nariel paani is from singlemalt. Any crossing of the line may be a tribute to the power of singlemalt, but never justifiable.

Unfortunately the journalists show themselves as amenable to doing the unjustifiable. They agree to convey messages favouring A.Raja to the Congress bosses. They agree to take the side of the Ambani brother Radia was promoting as against the other brother.

The moment the tapes were published, the journalists mentioned in it rushed to rebut all insinuations. The arguments were that journalists had to talk to all sorts of people, that “stringing” along with a source was no crime, that promises had to be made sometimes to get information from a source. The employer of one journalist said that it was preposterous to “caricature the professional sourcing of information to ‘lobbying’”.

The question is whether the journalists carry credibility. Of course drunks and murderers have been among the valued contacts of journalists. And of course journalists have moved very closely with political leaders.

Few people were closer to Jawaharlal Nehru than B. Shiva Rao of The Hindu. Prem Bhatia of The Statesman used to walk the corridors of Delhi as if he owned them. The hardest nuts in the power circle cracked happily before Nikhil Chakravartty on his morning rounds.

Not once did these men ask for a favour or recommend a businessman friend. They were not social celebrities, but they did their profession proud by keeping the highest possible credibility level.

Today’s celebrities assume they can win credibility by simply saying that they talked to Radia only as a source and that they never kept promises made to her anyway. Is a veteran networker like Radia so easily fooled? Obviously she is close to her journalist contacts and must have had promises from them before. She wouldn’t waste her time if she knew that they were promises not meant to be followed up.

At one point she actually tells another contact that “I made [the journalist] call up Congress and get a statement”. This is Radia speaking, not a naïve greenhorn. To say that this kind of work on behalf of a lobbyist is legitimate journalism is like B.S. Yediyurappa saying that all he has ever done is development work.

To say that they promised to talk to the likes of Sonia and Rahul only to outsmart a war-horse is like the BJP high command saying it has outsmarted Yeddyurappa.

The glamour of celebrityhood has a way of going to one’s head. Delusions of grandeur are never a journalistic virtue. The real virtue is the mind’s ability to maintain a degree of detachment. When the game is played at the 5-star level, one can never be sure of who is fooling whom.

It will be good for everyone to remember that there is one lot that can never be fooled: The people.

Full coverage:

Vir Sanghvi suspends Hindustan Times column

‘Quantitative growth versus qualitative improvement’

Has media credibility suffered a body-blow?

‘Go to bed knowing you haven’t succumbed’

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9 Responses to “In the end, no one can fool ‘We, the People’”

  1. Abhi Says:

    “It will be good for everyone to remember that there is one lot that can never be fooled: The people.”

    A joke? People have “I am stupid” written all over them. Remember, politicians are mediocre. Public is stupid. It’s mediocrity that impresses dumb people.

  2. Anonymous Guy Says:

    Which people is this guy talking about?

    Majority of Indian public cant read/write and are malnourished. Their daily life is a joke – they are being made a fool of every day of their lives.

    This is just one expose which happened, which will go away. There will be 1000s of Nira Radia like fixers and 1000s of politicians/bureaucrats/journalists/professionals/educated people who will keep playing games in India.

  3. Curry Hurry Says:

    AG you got that one right. In TN, ThiruKa promised cheap rice and free TV and bought the votes with some friendly EVMs and CEC also thrown in. The UPA cabinet is a family affair as far as DMK is concerned. TV channels are the source of news for the people who still can’t read. Most of the TV channels are official mouthpieces (not that english print media is neutral).
    The way the media censored the media-broker(lobbyist)-neta nexus is evidence of the rot.

  4. OneF9Day Says:

    If Mr. T.J.S. GEORGE has not already read the famous poem “I AM the people–the mob”

    here it is for him

    I AM the people–the mob–the crowd–the mass.
    Do you know that all the great work of the world is
    done through me?
    I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the
    world’s food and clothes.
    I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons
    come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And
    then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.
    I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand
    for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me.
    I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted.
    I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and
    makes me work and give up what I have. And I forget.
    Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red
    drops for history to remember. Then–I forget.
    When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the
    People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer
    forget who robbed me last year, who played me for
    a fool–then there will be no speaker in all the world
    say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a
    sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.
    The mob–the crowd–the mass–will arrive then.

    T.J.S. GEORGEgaru do you think “We, the People” will remember it????

  5. Doddi Buddi Says:

    I thought TJS George was brilliant! That is why we the people who aren’t fooled are debating here.

  6. twistleton Says:

    These people have been fooling us for so long, the leak also did not come due to the efforts of an enlightened citizen. It came about again because some one probably wanted to make a quick buck.

    Every body likes short-cuts, media is no exception.

  7. Sanjay Says:

    Brilliant piece. TJS knows what he is talking about. Credible journalism in this country died quite sometime ago.

  8. Dr Kiran Acharya Says:

    Whether it is breaking traffic rules, neglecting the ethical guidelines, violating privacy of an individual…
    mediamen take liberty in the name of “Freedom of the Press”

    as long as they have a toothless press council to bless them/ non existent regulatory body for visual media, they continue to behave this way, into a false claim of being the “fourth estate”

  9. Hosa Belaku Says:

    Journalism has come to such a pass. When news reports, opinions, editorials and columns sing the same tune, “We the People’ can safely bet that an effective PR person is on the prowl! The Radiagate tapes reveal this is happening and is a fact. The journos who open their mouths in defence only confirm it is happening routinely. Sourceism is the other name of journalism, be it in politics or business.

    The truth is every subject/sector is getting complicated and “We the People” are already well-informed, better educated and asking probing questions on different issues. So if journos have to churn out good readable pieces, they have to keep abreast of issues. Most don’t take the trouble to read. They only rely on other professionals to get second-hand knowledge. They are hence at the mercy of sources to file their daily reports. Talking to someone for a quote or confirmation or correction is different from asking for the entire story –info, analysis, background data, and what have you!
    Even some of the editors appear to be losing out in the rat race. While some seek refuge by not writing at all, those who do, need to tap sources through the beat correspondent. It is okay to meet, talk, discuss, but it is not okay to stop reading books, literature, government policies and so on. It is not okay to stop thinking. IT IS NOT OKAY TO MAKE A COUPLE OF CALLS JUST WHEN THE COLUMN IS DUE. Opinion piece writers should make it a habit to think, think and think original.
    As for TV journos, whatever happened to the all important sound byte? If one sticks to the basic principle of the medium, all “plants” can be weeded out!

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