Rajdeep Sardesai Exposed

published on December 7, 2010

There was a programme organized by the Press Club of India, a body of  journalists, on December 3, 2010, titled “Media Ethics”. On it, for the  first time, Vinod Mehta, the editor of Outlook, which has put all the  tapes relating to Nira Radia, on its website, and printed quite  extensive transcripts in the printed version, spoke.  The other speakers were Mrinal Pandey, the chairperson of Prasar Bharati, Sunil Jain of Financial Express, and Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN-IBN.

 Except for Vinodji, who spoke first, the others tried to obfuscate and  divert the issue from the role of the journalist.  Amongst these others, the one who was belligerent, and arrogant, was Rajdeepji.  I am giving below the various points that he made.  It was a rambling presentation,  going from one point to another to yet another, and then coming back to  the first point, then making a fourth point, etc.  I have grouped the  points , so that there is some coherence in his presentation.

 I offer my comments, after his presentation.

 Ashok Chowgule

 Rajdeep Sardesai on the Radia tapes

 General comments

  a.. Basic skepticism NOT shown by the editors of Open and Outlook magazines prior to publishing the transcpripts and putting the tapes on their websites.  Not checked the authenticity of the tapes.
  b.. Tapes do not show any quid-pro-quo on part of the journalists.
  c.. Tapes show corporate wars have subverted they system.  They subvert the politicians, the bureaucrats, and POSSIBLY the journalists.
  d.. Tapes show worrying proximity between journalists, government and  corporate class.
  e.. Tapes are REALLY about the subversion of parliamentary democracy  and POSSIBLE coption of journalists by the corporates.
  f.. Find nailing a couple of journalists (Vir Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt)  as part of a conspiracy, to be libelous and defamatory.
  g.. In the last two weeks, I have seen a lynch mob.

 On editors

  a.. Surprised about the self-righteousness of the editors, whose track  record we all know.
  b.. We all know that editors are carried away by their grandeur,  wealth and want to be power brokers.
  c.. In the 90s there was an editor who said that the had the second  most important job in the nation, in the 80s editors advised the prime minister, in the 70s editors sat in the lawns of Indira Gandhi’s  residence and gave advice. All the self-righteousness today is hog-wash.
  d.. In the TV era, vanity has crept in.  Vanity comes because of  access to power brokers.
  e.. Most editors believe that they are larger than life.  Those with  lower moral quotient have become fixers.  Those with better moral  quotient have come vain.
  f.. Editors, with rare exceptions, are compromised.  They are  responsible for the rot that has set in since the last twenty years.
  g.. Editor who called for resignations, will never publish an  anti-left article in his paper.
  h.. Another publishes ONLY right-wing articles, because of personal  ambition.

 On journalists

  a.. On TV, we do shock-and-awe journalism.  We pronounce a person  guilty and then find out ways and means to nail him.  That is bad  journalism.
  b.. Originally, people came into journalism with a belief to see  powerful and famous people being brought down.
  c.. Now journalists have been coopted by the powerful.  Example of  Shoba De writing about the Mukesh Ambani house, on the front page of The  Times of India without a note of skepticism.

 On non-political journalists

  a.. Life style journalism is sponsored deals, where the journalist is  an extension of the larger PR machinery.
  b.. Film reviewers are given special treatment and taken to Dubai for  a preview show, and so give 5 star rating to all movies.
  c.. Business journalists interview the businessman in a supplicant  way, and makes the latter an inspiring figure.
  d.. The last time corporate corruption was exposed was in the Harshad  Metha case.

 Other points

  a.. Netizens do not know how journalism is practiced.
  b.. If you want to interview the Home Minister, you better be nice to  him, or he will not come to your studio.
  c.. Do you seriously believe that Karunanidhi, Sonia and Manomohan  would decide their cabinets on the basis of journalistic conversation?
  d.. Focused discussion should look at not only the tapes, but blanking  out news because of ideological reasons.
  e.. The only quid-pro-quo that is seen on the tapes is where a speaker  in Parliament has been changed in a discussion on the budget.  Does not  concern a journalist.
  f.. Corporate India will do anything to subvert the system.


 Comments from Ashok Chowgule

 At the very beginning, Rajdeepji questions the authenticity of the tape,  and criticized the editors of the two publications for making them  public.  He also said that the tapes no quid-pro-quo on part of the  journalists.  Having said this, Rajdeepji really has nothing further to  say.  All the other points that he has made are valid ONLY if he accepts  the genuineness of the tapes.  So, it is puzzling why he went on to  making his speech!

 Having made the points, I trust Rajdeepji does not object me from making  comments on them.

 He says that the corporates have subverted the system.  However, as he  has said at another place, the real way to look at the tapes is to view  it as a battle between two sets of corporates, which were trying to have  a person more favourable to each as the concerned minister in the  telecommunication sector.

 While he says that the the subversion was DEFINITELY by corporates and  the politicians, he says that he does not see any evidence that the  journalists were part of the programme.  I think he is being  disingenuous.

 He should also realize that there was a conspiracy on part of the media  as a whole to try and ignore the tapes.  A few days after the tapes were  made public, a number of people did comment that there was a stunning  silence on prt of the media.  However, it was the internet – through  social networking in particular – that kept the pressure up.  And it  took two weeks for the concerned journalists, and their TV channels, to  take cognizance of the tapes in their programmes.  If at all there was a  lynch mob, it was not other journalists, but the netizens all over the  world.

 Rajdeepji makes very sweeping comments on editors and journalists.  In  all honesty, he should answer whether these comments apply to himself  and to his TV channel.  Does he indulge in the strategy of holding a  person guilty and then find how to nail him?  I think the netizens would  say, with a huge justification, that he has indulged in this type of bad  journalism with respect to Narendra Modi, and other members of the  political right.  His wife,Sagrika Ghose, who also works for his  channel, is not any better at making unfounded statements.  In this  particular controversy, she had the following on his twitter: “Nira  Radia typical Guju Daughter-in-law who created good rapport between Tata  and Modi.  Internet Hindus now melting for Niira?”

 His body language exhibits the vanity that he has said is a feature of  editors, particularly of the electronic media.  Rajdeepji should  introspect on what he has said about his colleagues in the profession,  and see how much of it is applicable to himself.

 He complains that Shoba De has written an article on the multi-crore  rupees residence of Mukesh Ambani, and that she did not exhibit any  skepticism.  Will he now commission a story on his own channel where he  will present the skepticism that has been lacking?  He should, don’t you  think?

 On non-political journalists, he contends that they have been co-opted  into their areas of reporting a long time back.  To be credible about  this complaint, he should tell the people about his own attempt to  expose this co-option.  In any case, this really has no relevance in  this case of the Radia tapes.  Surely, two wrongs do not make a right.

 Anyway, having realised the existence of this co-option, it would be  interesting to know what kind of checks and balances he has in his own  channel that it does not happen with those employed by the organization.
 Also, it would be interesting to see whether, in the future, his channel  treats the business people that will be interview in the supplicant  manner that he has found so far.

 His comment on netizens is quite condescending – particularly since it  was the netizens who kept the pressure up, forcing the mainstream media  to take the matter seriously.

 He should say that when he interviews any politician, particularly those  in power, he will no longer treat them nicely, and will ask them probing  questions.  But then, according to him, they will be most unwilling to  come to his studio in the future!  Quite a dilemma, I think.

 He says that it is absurd to believe that journalists will have a role  to play in cabinet formation.  But, if one were to accept the  authenticity of the tapes, then at least there was an attempt to do so.  And the result of at least one ministry was what the lobbyist, Nira  Radia, wanted, and for which she used the services of at least two  journalists.

 He says that the only conversation where he saw a quid-pro-quo was in  case of a politician getting the speaking order within the BJP changed  to suit the requirement of Mukesh Ambani.  I wonder why he accepts this  tape as authentic and not the others.

 I really do not know how many of the journalists at the programme  accepted the points made by Rajdeepji.  The first speaker from the floor  accused him justifying the carrying of messages by the journalists from  the lobbyist to the Congress party.  To this, Rajdeepji said: “I said  that the lines between journalism and source were blurred.  It was a  professional misjudgement, and should not have happened.”  He said no  such thing during his presentation.

 As in case of so many others, Rajpeepji was trying to divert the  attention from the misdeeds of the journalists, to what he calls the  larger issue of subversion of the system by the corporates.  The tapes  show that the journalists were quite happy to lend their services in  this effort.  The various conversations with Niraji show a large level  of comfort with the individual journalists, indicating that there have  been quite a few talks, and even personal meetings, either  professionally or socially.

 Rajdeepji’s conversation with Niraji is available at:

 This is a post-budget (2009) conversation, and given that one Manoj  Modi, a person working for Mukesh Ambani, is going to brief the members  of Rajdeepji’s staff, shows that there is an attempt to influence the  reporting.  Rajdeepji, at the end of the tape, which ends abruptly,  says: “My own, my own sense that I get is that if Shireen is briefed  properly, then we’ll be fine because we’ll take all our stuff from them. But if possible, if one of our guys who is covering it in the court can  also be briefed, nothing like it.”

 Rajdeepji, to the best of my knowledge, has not explained this  conversation.  Nor has he said whether he has heard the other side of  the story and come out with a balanced report.

 Journalists senior to Rajdeepji have expressed a view that at least two  journalists, Burkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi, should be asked to resign from  their respective organizations.  Even the remarks made by Vinod Mehta  prior to Rajdpeeji’s presentation would indicate a disconnect by the  latter to the gravity of the exposure.  And some of the remarks from the  floor would indicate that there was no much buy-in for his theories and  contentions.

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