The following is a guest post by Kisholoy Mukherjee.
The phrase deafening silence could not possibly have been better exemplified than by the situation of stalemate that gripped the world of media soon after the Nira Radia tapes were leaked into the public domain. Whether it was CNN or NDTV, HT or Times Now, every single channel seemed to play it safe by ignoring this bit of news as if it did not exist. Yet, newspapers and news channels including the ones above started accusing the ‘media’ (presumably other media bodies) for remaining silent, thereby showing a tremendous amount of hypocrisy. Anyway, it took Ratan Tata’s moving Supreme court against the leaking of his conversations with Nira Radia to make the news agencies to wake up. This action by Ratan, an iconic public figure, gave them the right pretext to finally discuss this ‘sensitive’ issue. The double standards was hardly concealable – when it comes to other issues, not involving the media (and what interests them perhaps) they are always very quick to react and hold debates and ‘bashing’ sessions in no time (like the Newshour with Arnab Goswami). But it was too ‘sensitive an issue with a possibility of hitting grey areas’ when it came to the exposure of their own misadventures. Come on now, who are you fooling, guys??
In fact, such was the humiliation and the nervousness at the face of an unprecedented adversity and times of crisis for the world of media, that top honchos in the media biz like Sagarika of CNN iBN, Karan Thapar of Ndtv and Arnab of Times Now were found visibly (and audibly of course!) showing signs of the immense pressure that they were reeling under. That they have completely lost the plot, and that they have been exposed and that their credibility as professionals is now going to be questioned more than ever is beyond doubt. They can deny it in our face but they know it damn well.
Consider Cnn Ibn’s “Radia tapes: Has Tata’s right to privacy been violated?” discussion last night. The host, Sagarika, clearly was seen trying to push the agenda that privacy must not be compromised in the name of war of corruption. The pressure on her from her seniors and the team in general was so apparent that she was finding it hard to even conceal the way she was panicking. Firstly, she was hardly allowing the guest panel or rather the Supreme Court advocates to speak their minds. Especially, Prashant Bhushan who gave a fantastic explanation of the situation. But of course it did not suit her and CNN’s agenda-which was clear as a whistle – that they were taking Ratan Tata’s side, lest their own dirty secrets get revealed in subsequent leakages. Apart hearing the tapes, I am inclined to think Ratan Tata and several other media people had engaged in a joint discussion on how to proceed on the matter, given they all shared a common interest.
What is the big fuss about this issue? Two questions are being raised:
1. When can phones be tapped??
2. When does the publication of recorded conversations become justifiable?
The party against the publications are citing Article 21 of the constitution to justify their stand. Article 21 of the constitution says “21. No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” Now, I really do not understand how this has been a case of violation of personal liberty. No one has suggested that he cannot talk. No one has suggested that he cannot talk to so and so persons. As Supreme Court Advocate Prashan Bhusan aptly put it: the phones can be and in this case were tapped because there was prima facie evidence of a crime (precisely, tax evasion). Hence, the government was well within its rights to ask the Income Tax dept. to tap Nira Radia’s phones as it was her PR company that was under the scanner. However, and this was beautifully put by Prashant Bhusan and my personal favorite in the whole argument, if during the course of the investigation by the concerned agency, some other elements or hints of crimes are revealed in the conversations, which include bribing, links to scams, subversion of public policy etc. then it is not only that the investigative body has the right but it is also its duty to publish such material in the larger interest of the public, as long as those conversations do not compromise national security in some way. I don’t think anything can beat this argument. I can’t find any counter argument that can stand up to the aforementioned one and a supreme court judge, who is well intentioned and just should rule in favor of the parties involved in releasing these conversations.
What was most shocking was that Sagarika was constantly trying to interfere when the two advocates were speaking and were pointing out the obvious loopholes in her argument. She and her buddy journalist from Financial express were making ridiculous arguments like: 1. The conversations were entirely private 2. There were no evidences of criminality in the conversations 3. Anybody could ask the govt./an investigative agency to tap a rival’s phone and 4. In the mahol of corruption, privacy needs to take a back seat
The first point is absolutely ludicrous. Throughout the entire program, Sagarika, her buddy and Amar Singh just kept mentioning the only one private and entirely irrelevant part of the conversation between Tata and Radia – the brazen discussions on some stupid black gown. That alone was enough to brand the entire conversation private, whoa, what an argument!! Gimme a frigging break!! Just going through the transcript is enough to see how much (or should I say how little) was private in nature.
As for the second conversation, well, what can I say…how could one overlook the link of the 2G scam in that conversation is simply beyond me….
The third point was smartly refuted again by the advocate, by saying that there was need of enough prima facie evidence to take such an action.
The last point is another great example of how media has seriously send a wrong, a deliberately convoluted and adulterated message. None of the two advocates were suggesting that. Privacy is definitely important but how on earth can we give importance to privacy of wrongdoers?? Then the same explanation can be used in the case where the telephonic conversations of terrorists were intercepted during the 26/11 attacks – perhaps those terrorists will get this bright idea from Ratan Tata and will move court for invasion of privacy!!!
She saved her worst for the last: she ended by saying “the final results…60% say yes, thank you for watching”. The “yes” people in the poll had voted in her favor of Ratan Tata’s petition. Now, while the poll results as shown by the channel are themselves doubtful, the way she rounded off was clearly trying to suggest that the pro-privacy walas had ‘won’. It was like she had to have the last laugh, but Sagarika, it was not you who had the last word, since you and your channel’s hollowness, its immoral stand in the issue and the hypocrisy and efforts at pushing the agenda instead of honestly debating were conspicuous.
The media, has lost this battle, irrespective of what happens in the court over the Ratan Tata case.