NDTV Exposes NDTV?

Last night I did not watch ‘The Buck Stops Here’ on NDTV. I caught it on the Net today. The video showed an image with the words, “This is not an envelope.” I geared up for the expose. It happened to be an ad for DHL couriers. Then began the show. First thought: what were they thinking? It does not take long to figure out that what I had expected has happened: The ‘lynch mob’ is now the ‘give-the-benefit-of-doubt mob’. I had avoided taking specific names in an earlier article here because it was taking away from the issue and it would have only confirmed my point about buffering a cult.

Now, things are different. Barkha Dutt came on her own show to answer questions by an independent panel on a channel in which she is the group editor. The host, Sonia Singh, started by saying that they had earlier wanted someone else to ask Barkha because they believed in a level-playing field. They should have continued with that belief. This show was a farce not because of the emotions, which are natural, but because of several other reasons:

1. It was an unedited version. This does not mean an objective one. No one, not even Manu Joseph the whistle-blower, could make a logical argument.

2. What does independent panelists mean? Are they independent of the channel? Are they independent in their views? Are they independent of any association with any of the people involved in the controversy? Are they independent of their own organisations? All of them are from the media.

Dileep Padgaongar went into his intellectual foreplay and he does seem far better equipped to discuss the finer aspects of French cuisine.

Swapan Dasgupta first talked about how he was always pre-judged, which sort of sent out a little message of empathy, but since he had to be independent he made some noises; this man has been a hardcore Hindutva supporter and now in his role as a TOI person he has gone soft overtly. Independent?

Sanjaya Baru of Business Standard tried to discuss the Radia tapes but insisted that ethics was a different issue. Huh?

This brings us to Manu Joseph of Open Magazine that was the first to carry the transcripts of the tapes. His insistence that Barkha should answer the question about why she did not do a story based on the conversations began to sound extremely churlish. It is a valid poser that has been raised by quite a few people, so there was nothing new. She responded that no one can decide about what story should be covered by whom. This is her opinion and there were several other subsidiaries that could have been asked to pin down this same point.

3. Barkha Dutt said that all she can be accused of is ‘an error of judgment’ and ‘naivete’. Yet, she told Manu Joseph that he did not know about political journalism! If we take her word for it, then why did she trust Nira Radia again and again? Politicians are mentioned. The possibility of talking to them is clearly stated. If she was just listening to Radia’s appeals and playing along, then she is not naïve at all. The error of judgment is not realising that these things would backfire.

4. This brings us to Open Magazine. It has brought out some dirt. What does it plan to do next? Does anyone know? When there is a lot of noise about the mainstream media, on what grounds is Open considered non-mainstream? Here is what the magazine’s site says about itself:

The clean, vibrant packaging and uncluttered presentation adds to the international look. And it comes in a new size—more than an inch wider than the standard A4 size of most magazines—giving the reader more content and the advertiser more ad space.

It is also “boredom-proof”.

All this make it essential to have content that sells. There is no need to be apologetic about that, but Open is owned by RPG Enterprises. Here are some details:

The RPG group is one of India’s fastest growing-conglomerates, owning premium brands like Ceat Tyres, SareGaMa and Spencer’s, with a turnover touching Rs 14,000 crore. The group has diverse business interests, owning more than twenty companies in areas like tyre manufacture, power transmission, IT, retail, entertainment, carbon black and life sciences.

No mobile phones and 2G dreams? What if…?

Is that the reason why the editor insisted that he has not accused Barkha Dutt of corruption? Then what is the tamasha about? Lobbying? Media ethics? He did not accuse her of these. He just wanted to know why it was not covered on NDTV when Barkha Dutt was privy to so much information.

Did any of the panelists believe that they would get an answer? By becoming a part of the show they have in fact lost at least partially any independent thinking. Vinod Mehta declined to be on the show. Manu Joseph should have done the same. If you believe in the material you have, then use your own forum and the processes that civil society grants you. If need be, file a suit in the courts.

Nira Radia is being questioned by the authorities. Let us see what she will squeal. She is more likely to defend her corporate employers than the media people. The corporate guys won’t care about individuals; they can start a media company anytime. The politicians are used to horse-trading.

And the media? How many media-propped celebrities who fight against the corporate lobbies have come forward and spoken about this particular issue? What about their silence – those who know they need the media for their ‘war against big guns’? The same coteries will be back on the panels discussing other people’s ethics. Everyone has a story to sell.

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Also published in Countercurrents. They have uploaded the video.


  1. FV,
    The fact of the matter is that first time the "no one dare touch me , I am a journo " category of folks have been caught with their pants down. I heard all the tapes myself , Barkha wasnt being Naive..no way. She knew what she was doing exactly , she was "congress's Authorised Deal maker" ...in one tape she said "all my cong sources are not answering phones" ...well ..The buck stops here ..she is not cotton kurta , thaila type journalist, she went to modern school, studied in st stephens , got sponsorship for media studies in US ...she knows the game ..the 1A seat bookings dont come for free, she leveraged specially on the middle class mindset ...look humble do whatever. She earned her strips with Capt Vikram Batra's interview while she was happily stage managing Media shows for pockets of corporates and politicians ...even KJo and SRK.
    the show was clear ..she wanted to make just one point ...i am not wrong ..you just got me wrong ...
    I think time to read Thaila type journos again ...

  2. Among all this chaos I only have one simple question.
    When all these neo rich, tech-savvy, high-flying journos & their
    mentor media houses are thriving leaps n bound on material media please read money media, than why all these farce about ethics ?
    money & ethics are opposit phenomena.
    Ethics dont make millionaires
    Millionares are often un-ethical
    You can't practise one & preach another ?
    I enjoyed M J Akbar on centre stage
    and amused by frustrated Prabhu.

  3. Manish:

    :) Just a word of warning: The 'Thalla type journalists' are sometimes synthetic in khadi clothing.

    Btw, do you think I should chuck my neat strappy sandals and invest in kolhapuris?

    - - -


    I agree with you in principle about ethics, but millionaires can have ethics in how they use the money and acquire it. You did enjoy and were amused by millionaires, weren't you?!

    Ethics is larger subject that goes beyond money.

  4. That Goenka vs. Ambanis is pretty old war; if you remember they days of S Gurumurthy at Indian Express.

    The Marwari mafias out of east have been battling the Ambanis of Gujarat (where I am from) for more than a generation now and you can think of them as Korean Chaebols or Japanese conglomerates and the battle will go on.

    and I think it is good thing we have some natural competition otherwise Ambanis would have buried the Indian democracy under their palace a long time ago.


  5. Hitesh:

    I seem to have missed this. The 'natural' war can have unnatural consequences. While the Ambanis are not known to be scrupulous, how do we assume the others are? In the war with the Goenkas, the other players were Nusli Wadia...hardly a Marwari/bania (unless you think of grandpa Jinnah!), and then the media heroes who became part of the war.

    The competition is really about the top few; the rest are flotsam.


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