Sunday, December 05, 2010

Scripture of deceit

Scripture of deceit
By M J Akbar

Third Eye : In India Today

The stench from the media cesspool has turned toxic, and there are still drama queens who believe that they can preen their way across the stage, noses delicately ensconced in a heroic lace handkerchief, till the troublesome citizens eventually tire of even the Radia drama. Since journalists always demand more fairness and balance in the reportage of their woes than they offer their victims, it will perhaps take some more time, and probably more tapes, before we can confirm whether prima donnas were also corrupt. But there is already sufficient evidence to indicate that they were stupid.

I am continuously amazed by how little journalists understand politicians. Perhaps it hurts their sensitive and inflated egos to get the simple fact that politicians treat most media with disdain, precisely because they understand how it works. And they have nothing but contempt for cozy collaborators who think they have arrived because they were invited to the parlour for cocktails, although they were never permitted into the dining room for dinner. A few of them indulged the hallucination that they were enjoying the intimacies of the residential bedroom. You could hear the sound of hearts being broken when the tapes revealed that it was only a transactional exchange rather than true love.

That purr in the ear isn't the music of your back being scratched, darling; it's the crackle of your slim wallet being emptied of ethics.

The politician's menu for media starts with the watery soup of flattery. Temptation is as old as the Garden of Eden, and the self important editor's worst weakness is actually a vigorous massage of the ego. Money may or may not come a close second, but ego is a genetic disease. Moreover, flattery costs nothing but a string of lies, and lies were never an accounting problem in Delhi. The journalist can even console himself, or herself, that it is an honest equation since the sin of money never stained hands.

The main course is harder stuff: pressure, sweet or sour. Obviously pressure is best coated in saccharine, and surrounded by the subtle fragrance of quality gifts which can range from mobile phone access and VIP friendly travel to the rather more serious business of corporate funding. If this does not work, and in many cases it does not (a cynic described half the editors as corrupt, which still leaves the other half all right), then the slow process of twisting your arm begins. Only medieval fools and Guantanamo honchos thought torture should be on public display; in Delhi they can twist your limbs without being in the same room. In the "worst case scenario", when you refuse to recognise "good sense", you lose your job for reasons that can never be attributed to the establishment. Don't make the mistake of protesting. The easiest way to make a grim room in government burst into cackles is the sight of a journalist being kicked downstairs.

By the time dessert is served the dinner party has become completely exclusive, for it is offered only to a chosen few. That is why Prime Ministers, of all parties, and super Prime Ministers like Mrs Sonia Gandhi, take a personal interest in selecting which journalists are given Padma awards and what is the pecking order of the deemed honour. These are personal grace-and-favour anointments.

The other great mystery is the naïveté of successful businessmen. They simply do not understand the labyrinths through which political power travels towards a decision, and hence their endless quest for either a presence or a guide through the maze. They are bewildered by the systems of Delhi's crime and punishment, reward and banishment, and frustrated by the numerous Chinese walls that block their approach. They deploy cash, but are uncertain about what they have purchased. A few think that the Rajya Sabha opens the door to Delhi, and discover that it was constituted for something quite outside their requirements. This is why the allure of a corporate lobbyist becomes irresistible.

Niira Radia was the perfect wheeler-dealer; she sold a mix of 20 per cent reality and 80 per cent illusion to her clients. Her hi-buy relationship with the ruling class included those journalists she believed were close to the powerful. There was nothing personal, just in case you got fooled by the ooziness of the recorded conversations. Ratan Tata would have been far better served if he had invested in media with a reputation for a value that his family used to cherish, independence. Jamsetji Tata held shares in The Statesman and no one ever questioned his integrity. Ratan Tata banked instead on Radia. The consequences of a poor investment have been heavy.

The script of the Niira Radia tapes is the scripture of today's political immorality.


Anoop Verma said...

The rise of TV news has been of great benefit to the nation, but it has also lead to a situation where some journalists, who appear on TV everyday, have turned into celebrities. Since they are hobnobbing with celebrities, filmstars and politicians day after day in front of the TV cameras, they can’t help but become like them. So TV news over a period of time becomes like Page 3 gossip on newspapers.

Some TV channels have actually been able to avoid the lure of celebrity-hood. For instance, there is Headlines Today. This channel was the first to break the spectrum scam. I heard about the A Raja tapes for the first time in a 9 PM show on this channel. But there are other TV channels (one in which the lady journalist at the heart of Radia tapes controversy is working) who seem to be soft on corruption.

The thing is that even if some big media organisations try to stifle a story, the other channels and Internet based outlets are going to pick it up. News has now started travelling through may different routes. India has already become an “information society”. Tapes and documents are going to get leaked, and people are eventually going to find out by one way or other.

The biggest losers in this case will be people who have compromised on their integrity. They will be exposed. And next time when they have anything to say, their viewers will take their words with a pinch of salt. I must once again say that without Headlines Today, the 2G scam story would never have become so big. Headlines Today is doing a great service to the nation.

Barry O'Toole said...

I certainly agree that the journalists involved are probably not corrupt, if you define corruption only when money changes hands. However, their behavior is more than stupid; it is outright unethical and immoral. Perhaps the hindi word adharm is more appropriate.

For me, these journalists have lost their credibility, for I do not trust their opinion any more. I am also sad to see some papers which I held in high regard, like the Asian Age and The Hindu, lose their standing with me because of the delay in reporting that involved fellow journalists.

I would not fault Ms Radia or Mr. Tata. She is a known lobbyist, dedicated to the welfare of her client. India is a democracy, after all, and she has the freedom to promote the interests of her clients with any and all institutions, including the government. However, if it is proven that she bribed officials, or had a hand in such a venture, she has committed a crime and should be punished accordingly.

The same goes for Mr. Tata. He is only guilty if he approved the bribes. Mr. Tata and Ms. Radia may lose face in the court of public opinion as being immoral, unethical and stupid, but are not guilty in the court of law unless they transferred money knowingly to achieve their goals.

Mr. Raja, on the other hand, is a public official, and the bar of ethics and morality is higher for him, and if it is proven that he has taken gifts of money or materials, is also guilty of corruption.