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 naÃ¯vetÃ© 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.