All Talk and No Action Sunday, December 12, 2010

There has been much ado about the Niira Radia tapes and the politico-corporate-journalist nexus. Amidst daily breaking news, one point of view that caught my attention has been freedom of an individual and his rights to privacy.

While I am all for an individual's privacy, I don't quite get the point of using this argument for the Radia tapes. The tapes are neither voyeuristic in nature nor do they spill out any personal chats and/or corporate secrets of the companies involved.

What they do bring to the fore is how our journalists blinked, and became brokers between the ruling political party and private enterprises.

Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi, like us, can be favourably disposed towards certain individuals and/or political parties. But if the fourth estate became an agent for the powerful, then there is almost nobody one can trust. (Here, I feel vindicated - I have always opined that the English print and television media in India is extremely biased. However, even I am surprised at the complete lack of scruples in this scandal.)

Now, if you are still keen to become a torch bearer for privacy rights, please be my guest. However, to save you some time and heart burn, I suggest you start from here

According to Kushan Mitra
And just a small bit of information to everybody, Government security agencies tap each and every phone call and text message you make in India. Thats right, each and every call. So next time you talk to your pimp/drug dealer/gun runner please know that Big Brother (Sister?) is listening to your every word. OK, so only if you use certain key words does the system get alerted, but everyday in those bunch of buildings behind Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium every call is recorded and stored for over a month. Detective Agency my ass!
 And, if you still feel zealous about the cause, I will also ask you to bear in mind that in India :
No 'secret' government document has been declassified since 1947. Well, that's not technically true. The Ministry of External Affairs did declassify more than 120 files dating from the 1950s and 1960s, but these are stored in the foreign office's records management section - not in the National Archives of India - and out of bounds for the aam janta, journalists included.
So whether it's the Henderson-Brooks Committee report on the performance of the Indian Army in the 1962 India-China war, or the LP Singh Committee report on the misuse of intelligence agencies and the CBI by Indira Gandhi in 1975-1977 during the Emergency, it's a strict no-go area, all in the name of that jelly bean called 'national security'.
And here's the clincher: the rules that deal with India's policy for declassification itself are classified.
I quite agree with Indrajit Hazra when he says
Let many more taps and leaks and creaks and groans lead to official and unofficial secrets tumbling out of the dingy attic. Because they're certainly not going to come out on their own.
What our journalists did was certainly not illegal.

But how about unethical?

I suggest you also read Shoma Chaudhary's take on the Tata's moving the Supreme Court on this subject.

A few days back I watched The Insider and couldn't help drawing parallels with the Indian media.

A powerful movie with compelling performances - The Insider is a real life account of a whistle blower and how he is (almost) short-changed by Corporate America and Media Moghuls.

While Jeffrey Wigand deserves every bit of applause for his heroism, I couldn't help feeling awe for Lowell Bergman. The walkout in the climax has been playing on my mind ever since I watched the movie.

I jogged my memory through all my years of learning and searched for Indian journalists who had everything going for them, and yet had walked out on their venal employers.

Only for a tiny principle.

If you know of such people, please write back.


Moonbeam said...

You echoed my thoughts!

I don't know if we have journalists. We have only shrill reporters.

I believe any government body cannot crib about 'right to privacy'. They exist to work for us, the public. We have every right to demand transparency in their functioning.

I don't buy into the argument that 'we were humouring a news source'. after listening to the tapes, it soudned more like the journalists in question were taking down instructions.

All Talk and No Action said...

Dear Moonbeam - Thanks for stopping by. I am not against privacy laws at all. Hell, I would be outraged if this were to happen to me. So an individual, Radia and the journalists have every right to protect their privacy.

However, in a country like ours, I don't think playing by the books helps.

About humouring the source - don't even get me started. While Barkha could still salvage her position, Vir Sangavi took the scandal to a new level! His Op-Ed the day after was scary, once I went through the transcripts.