Is Barkha the only issue here?

December 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Over the past two weeks there has been an outcry about the latest development in the 2G spectrum scam. People from various walks of life were united in an attempt to seek penalty against those involved in the scam.

On 20 November, Open Magazine carried news about the Radia tapes controversy unveiling the nexus between businessmen, bureaucrats, politicians and journalists. Two senior journalists, Bakha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi, were alleged to have employed corrupt means while following the instructions of Niira Radia. Niira Radia, known to have a controversial past due to her connections with various politicians, manages public relations for the Tatas and Ambanis.

Post the disclosure and online distribution of the Radia tapes, thousands of netizens have not only accessed the tapes but have also expressed their viewpoints through social media, blogs and online websites. Soon after this, the print and broadcast media, which had previously ignored the news, had to break their silence.

Articles began to appear in the opinion columns and discussions were conducted by various news channels.

From November 22 onwards, The Hindu carried various articles about the controversy surrounding the tapes. Initially, it did not talk about the 30 odd journalists involved. A detailed article of the scam by Priscilla Jebaraj was published on the 24 November: ‘The spotlight is on media now. In another article in the Hindu, Siddharth Vardarajan drew a comparison with the movie ‘Matrix’. According to the article, the Indian media should not be forgiven for the blackout of the tapes “What got exposed is so unpleasant that several major newspapers and television channels that normally scramble to bring ‘breaking’ and ‘exclusive’ stories have chosen to look the other way. Their silence, though understandable, is unfortunate. Even unforgivable.”

On 30 December, Indian Express carried a two page article including an interview with the industrialist Ratan Tata. In the interview, he spoke about how the publication of the Radia tapes infringed on his privacy. He initiated legal proceedings against Open and Outlook magazine for publishing his personal conversations.

Many media agencies such as ‘Mail Today’ have hidden news incriminating their own journalists and have taken the easy way out by cornering Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi.

The activities of netizens were also given prime importance in the publications. Times of India in the article 2G scam sideshow: Netizens lambast high-profile journalists said, ‘The people are showing who the boss is. The weapon in their hands is the internet, which, in the last five days, has seen frantic activism against “power brokering” by journalists in collusion with corporate groups and top government politicians.’

On Twitter the scenario had changed. Joji Philip of economic times tweeted, ‘Amongst journos, this was long known! Just that some publication finally put it out on the record!’ Though Open and Outlook magazine faced the flak for not verifying the data and for publishing raw material from the journalist involved, the social media and the online world praised them for their courage.

During the CNN-IBN discussions, Hindu Editor-in-Chief N.Ram and Business Standard Editor Sanjay Baru agreed that the journalists involved had crossed their limits and their journalistic conduct should be questioned.

In the most awaited discussion on NDTV, Barkha Dutt defended herself by stating that she had made an ‘innocent inadvertent error of judgment’. She also accused Open Magazine editor Manu Joseph for framing her on baseless charges.

Though the mainstream media has broken its silence and has reported the Radia tapes, they have failed to cover the main issue that the tapes have revealed: the combined corruption in India Inc. and the government. They seemingly have taken the easy way out by focusing on just one aspect of the issue i.e. the involvement of journalists in the scam and their corrupt practices.

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Paw prints to double by 2022

November 30, 2010 Leave a comment

The five day international tiger summit held at St. Petersburg has adopted the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP), outlining a 12–year program estimated at 350 million dollars. India along with China is expected to be a key player in the drive to save tigers.

World Bank’s President Robert Zoellick announced that keeping in view that year 2010 is the Year of the Tiger according to the Chinese calendar, ‘we have organized the tiger summit to adopt the Tiger Recovery Program aimed to unite the efforts (of the various nations) and provide for efficient cooperation…The main goal is to make tiger conservation a part of social-economic strategy.’

On 21 November, 13 Tiger Range Countries (TRC) had signed the accord, which aims at doubling the number of the tigers by 2022. They have also agreed to preserve and enhance the tiger habitats and investigate the cases related to poaching and illicit trade in tiger pelts and their body parts.

The money for the program will be allocated from the national budget of the 13 participating nations. Poor nations such as Laos, Bangladesh and Nepal, among the 13 nations may have to depend on sizable donations.

Addressing the workshop, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said, “I welcome the consultative knowledge-based process undertaken by Global Tiger Initiative (GTI) which has brought all Tiger Range Countries on a single platform of knowledge based action… India is happy to share its expertise and work with the Bank on further enhancing the capacity of Indian wildlife institutions working with global leaders on this agenda.”

Russia is at the lead of the 13 TRCs due to their prior successful efforts of increasing the number of big cats in the recent decades. Dr. Efransjah, head of World Wildlife Fund Indonesia, said following the example of Russia, which ‘with strong political will and good implementation increased the tiger population’ by five times ‘from about 100 tigers in the 1960s to 500 tigers [today]’ the aim to double the global tiger population was not out of reach.

Tiger poaching has increased drastically over the years. The number of tigers has plunged approximately 95 percent over the past century from an estimated 100,000. The remaining 3,200 tigers are under threat of extinction. Deforestation and construction of buildings have caused the destruction of a large number of tiger habitats. Moreover, tiger skins and body parts are of great value in traditional medicine across Asia, especially in China.

This news comes as a change in the policies of the World Bank as most of its prior projects have been criticized for the destruction of numerous natural and wildlife habitats and causing damage to the ecosystem.

Organized by Environment Ministry, the workshop was also attended by representatives from TRC such as Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam. These countries were holding discussions for the past two years on the program.

— Swathi A

Barkhagate will not go unnoticed

November 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Chennai: The recent controversy involving Niira Radia and Barkha Dutt has changed the way people view the media. The names of two acclaimed journalists, Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi, have repeatedly appeared in the recent controversy surrounding A.Raja.

In conversations with Niira Radia, now accessible all over the internet, Vir Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt can be clearly heard lobbying for and discussing the allotment of the Union portfolios. There were promises made to Niira Radia by the duo of getting A. Raja- the telecom portfolio again in the UPA 2 government by talking to their Congress contacts.

The tapes came into light when the income tax department tapped Niira Radia’s phone conversations. The tapped phone calls revealed Radia’s (whose clients include two leading telecom companies) involvement in the government formation at the Centre in 2009. These tapes were leaked by lawyer Prashant Bhushan seeking Raja’s prosecution.

The media chose to ignore this revelation incriminating their top two journalists. The blackout of the news by almost the entire Indian mainstream media put a huge question mark over its integrity and credibility.

The social media was crowded with shocked reactions of the netizens. Barkha Dutt immediately put a disclaimer on twitter defending her involvement in the case. She added it was for purely collecting information and gathering news. “Smear campaign astounding. Onus on Open and Outlook to prove quid-pro quo of any kind, before villifying individuals and their work.”

Both the high profile journalists have described their interactions with Radia as legitimate news-gathering activity.

Open Magazine was one of the first to publish the transcripts of the conversations. NDTV in defense of Barkha insists that the transcripts distort the conversations. In response, Open magazine went on record to say that they have not distorted any material.

In print media, few papers have carried out the news. This caused an agitation among the readers as they were highly disappointed by the blackout. Twitter and Facebook were flooded with reactions of people questioning the ethics of media. Every second a new tweet appeared under the topic Barkhagate. Some of the tweets express staunch hatred towards media.

‘Shame on the media for being so insensitive to the people.’ ‘Gonna shun IBN7, NDTV until they discuss issues. Regional channel AsianetNews has reported abt politician-media nexus.’ ‘Tell your cable operator to block news channels and your hawker to stop giving newspaper as they are a money waste.’ ‘Do you know about #BarkhaGate? The biggest blackout of the biggest scam involving corruption in India.’

Apart from this, blogs and news websites had covered the topic extensively. The blogs have termed them the unholy trio. One such blog, IntelliBriefs, questions if Barkha Dutt can retain her position of a celebrity journalist stating that Niira Radia has killed a media star. Csplash, another such blogger comments ‘Not one or two, but FIVE such tapes have so far come into the public realm.’ The website Newindiapost having tracked the case since the beginning, adds that ‘our very own prime time television news channels NDTV, CNN-IBN, TimesNow, Headlines Today etc. launched a cover up of the news from the public in order to protect their own.’

After these reactions, some of the print media has published articles about the Barkha- Radia tapes. Discussions between Sachin Kalbag of Mail today and Barkha Dutt on twitter clearly shows the hesitance of journalists to cover the news. Kalbag responded to one of the queries by saying ‘My debate with @Bdutt is not personal. It is about the larger issue that plagues journalism. And because it involves us all’

EOM (600 words)

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