Today nearly every literate person must be familiar with Wikileaks website and its founder Julian Assange. In the last few months, Assange gained fame as well as notoriety when he started exposing state secrets and classified information from around the world on its Wikileaks website. This had a few countries naming him as their top public enemy. But it didn’t deter a lot of people around the world who saw him more of a messenger and a hero.
Some of the governments hit by the leakage on Wikileaks including the United States are considering taking legal actions against Assange for leaking diplomatic, confidential as well as secret classified cables that came in his possession. While some may argue that everyone’s got the right to the freedom of expression, there are those who believe in following the ethics of journalism and towing a line well within the limits of journalistic freedom.
Back in India, Nira Radia, head of a public relations firm as well as a corporate lobbyist became an overnight sensation recently when a couple of media (including Outlook magazine) published transcripts of her telephonic conversations with other senior media scribes as well as politicians and corporate czars. Over a period of time between 2008-2009, these telephonic conversations were taped by the investigative department of the central government to find out if any tax evasions were happening. What they got was a much bigger and sensitive picture involving the 2G spectrum scam which they had not bargained for. This new finds implicated a wide range of people from various disciplines right from politicians to bureaucrats, ace journalists to business heads suddenly throwing them in the media and public glare.
That a couple of media professionals could have the courage to publish some of these transcripts that not only exposed a wide range of people but also their counterparts, their fellow scribes speaks volume of the journalist integrity. But it also highlights the fact that today, a lot of such scribes have either vulnerable or have already succumbed to the lure of the corporate demands and now there’s a thin line between the corporate world and the media. The distance between the two is just a blur.
With whatever transcripts of Nira Radia tapes that has been exposed so far, one thing is clear that Nira Radia has tremendous pull in the publishing world, strong enough to get her planted stories published and this does not acumen well for the media and journalism in particular. Further, it also exposes the fact that at times, it’s powerful people like Radia who acts as a catalyst between the business houses they represent and the politicians who controls the industries sector that these business houses belong to. This three way business-politics-media nexus too doesn’t augment well for the common man who now feels betrayed by the very journalist in whom he placed his trust not so long ago. What is fact and what is fiction if such a scribe bows down in front of his corporate master?
It’s a common fact that among other corporate clients, Nira Radia also handles corporate communications for the Tata as well as the Reliance Group which figure prominently in some of the taped conversations. How will these negative stories in the media affect the images of these two colossal business groups? And what about the aam aadmi who believes in these powerful brands and is a stakeholder? And what about those media houses who stood by their tainted fellow scribes and blacked out the news about the Nira
tapes? Are they simply following their journalistic ethics by waiting for the March 2011 deadline for the government agencies to complete their investigation of these whole murky world of Radia tapes and 2G spectrum scan before coming to some conclusion or have they stopped believing in the very fact that they as journalists had the right to pick on anyone for the wrong doings and now standing by their tainted scribes as mute spectators?
According to some of these conversations, it becomes evident that some of the so called lobbyists go to any extent to plant stories of the companies they represent in the media with the help of some of its scribes. The very basis of journalistic ethics goes for a toss. With the social outcry over some of the conversations that have been exposed, a couple of the tainted scribes as well as Nira Radia have cried foul saying that the tapes and the transcripts have been doctored. How far it is true, only time will tell.
Just a couple of days ago, the Supreme Court directed the media to avoid mentioning the names of any person who finds a mention in the Radia tapes till the investigation by the government agencies is over. This has been ordered by the Supreme Court so that the media acts with responsibility and malign the names of prominent men who might feature in the conversation. Is it a case of presumed innocent until proven guilty? While some section of the media might accept the judgment with an open mind, there are those media people who strive on sensational journalism in the form of breaking news and big bold headlines. And then there are those who are lured by the opposite camps and easily tempted to carry the news irrespective of whether they have complete information or not. One way or the other, journalism takes a beating.
Irrespective of what the outcome will be of the Radia tapes leakage to the media, whether the investigations will implicate any of the people involved or mentioned in the conversations with Radia and their role in the 2G spectrum scam, a journalist and the media at large has to understand that the media is considered a watchdog of the society. Investigative journalism stands for giving clear and precise news coverage, without distorting the facts in any form and sans any prejudice. Only then journalism will survive in its true form and journalistic ethics will once again become the norm of the day.
Today, the Radia tapes and the furor it has created in the media has just fragmentized the India’s growth story which was at one time, the cynosure of the world’s eyes. This is surely going to effect business and economy in the days to come unless the media plays its role responsibly. No doubt, pen is mightier then the sword!