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Barkhagate will not go unnoticed

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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