Radia tapes: Journalists in slugfest over media ethics

Last Updated: Friday, December 3, 2010 - 18:35

New Delhi: Tempers ran high and heated
exchanges were witnessed as journalists on Friday debated the
issue of media ethics in the background of lobbyist Niira
Radia`s tapped conversation with leading scribes, published by
two weekly magazines.

A suggestion by Editors` Guild President Rajdeep
Sardesai that the magazines had violated principles of
journalism by publishing raw data and his comment that the
journalists concerned were guilty of "professional
misjudgement" rather than "professional misconduct" came under
attack from media persons gathered in the jam-packed lawns of
the Press Club here.
The basic principle of seeking a reaction of the
journalists concerned was ignored which is "shock and awe" and
"bad" journalism by the magazines in question, said Sardesai,
also Editor-in-Chief of a leading TV Channel.

Sardesai`s comments evoked sharp reaction from several
journalists, one of whom Poornima Joshi of Mail Today, told
him, "I find it absolutely disturbing and disheartening that
the President of Editors` Guild is not only condoning but also
justifying carrying of messages from a corporate to Congress."

Sardesai said he was not making any such attempts.

Among those who participated in the discussion were
Outlook Editor-in-Chief Vinod Mehta, Prasar Bharti Chairperson
Mrinal Pande, veteran journalist Kuldip Nayyar, Sunil Jain of
Financial Express.

Mehta, whose magazine also published part of the
transcripts of the tapes, replied to Sardesai saying in major
exposes like Watergate and Bofors, response is not taken
because evidence in the raw material is "so compelling".

"The journalist is being gullible if he ignores such
evidence," he said. On the question of quid pro quo, Mehta
said it will be "completely bogus" to believe that the
journalist were "stringing on" their source.

"Why will she (Radia) keep on giving information knowing
that her instructions were not followed?" Mehta asked.

Veteran journalist Kuldip Nayyar took a dig at
employment norms adopted by media houses saying Working
Journalist Act insulated reporters from pulls and pressures
but that is now being circumvented through prevalent contract
system which prevents them from speaking their mind.

Prasar Bharti Chairperson Mrinal Pande said cases of
language journalists wielding their influence in the
appointment of local officials are rampant across the country.

She blamed ownership patterns in media house as one of
the reasons for such happenings in media.

"In English medium, Editors are becoming owners while in
other languages owners are becoming editors. The
corporatisation of media is making it profit driven which is
one of the root causes of such issues," she said.

Sardesai said that there was no proven case of quid pro
quo by the journalists whose conversed with Radia regarding
cabinet formation in UPA-II.
Sardesai said he was talking about bigger question of
how corporates have managed to subvert the system and growing
proximity between journalists, corporates and politicians.

Neena Vyas of The Hindu cited an incident where a senior
BJP leader had asked her to be soft on him in her coverage in
exchange for information on happenings in the party.

She also said some senior leaders were using their
stakes in television channels to settle their political
scores.

"I did not ring him up again," she said adding that
tapping that source would have made her life easy but she
chose the hard way to get news.

The debate was organised by Editors` Guild, The Press
Association, Indian Womens` Press Corps and Press Club of
India.

Sunil Jain of Financial Express said the best way of
curbing such tendencies among journalists is to "name and
shame" them than discussing questions of ethics.

"You need to use your sources and not let the sources
use you. These are the first lessons one gets in a journalism
school," said Mehta towards the end.

Referring to the defence of one of the journalists
justifying her conversations with Radia, he said the claim
that political journalists have a special mandate and
responsibility compared to "travel journalists", was
ridiculous.

He said he did not agree with the suggestion that the
episode involved complex and delicate issues saying these were
simple and even a beginner in journalism will know that these
violated basic tenets of the profession.
Editors` Guild to discuss assets disclosure by editors

The Editors` Guild will take up
the issue of assets disclosure by its members in its meet
scheduled on December 24, President of the body Rajdeep
Sardesai said today.

The issue came up during a discussion on media ethics
organised by the Editors` Guild, The Press Association, Press
Club of India and Indian Women`s Press Corps here in the
background of tapped conversations of corporate lobbyist Niira
Radia with some senior journalists.

During the heated debate, several scribes questioned the
sources of income of journalists who managed to launch their
own television channels.

"How did they manage to start these channels? Nobody asks
them. The editors must now contemplate placing their assets in
public domain," said one of the participants during the
question-answer session of the debate.

Sardesai, who is also the Editor-in-Chief of a leading
news channel, said he has no problem in making his assets
public but he is not sure about others.
"Please send all your suggestions like this and I assure
you that these will be discussed during the meeting of the
Guild on December 24," he said.

He, however, said many editors do not bite the bullet
when it comes to issues like this. Sardesai cited the issue of
paid news when a "pledge" circulated by the Guild was not
signed by majority of editors.

"Only 18 to 20 editors signed that pledge," he said
stressing on the need for stock-taking by the editors.

PTI



First Published: Friday, December 3, 2010 - 18:35

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