Sunday, December 05, 2010

Dutt's Defence Derailed

In her botched debate with a panel of editors [Harini has the video], it was interesting to watch Barkha Dutt deploy lying ("fibbing" and "stringing Radia along" are the phrases of choice) as a legitimate defence of her role in the Radia-media controversy. It should make us wonder if she wasn't trying to string us along ...

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A few links on Radia-tainted media:

  • Paul Beckett at India Real Time: Oh, Vir, What Can The Matter Be?. A good primer on what Vir Sanghvi said, and (at least) two ways of interpreting what he said. Tripti Lahiri follows up with a similar effort on Barkha Dutt's conversation with Radia.

  • Hartosh Singh Bal in Open has a great article that distills those bits in the Radia tapes that are particularly damaging to Dutt and Sanghvi: "... [T]here is reason to go beyond the voice of public opinion and reflect on what the Radia transcripts, which neither Barkha Dutt nor Vir Sanghvi has denied, actually say about the journalism they practise."

  • Outlook editor Vinod Mehta: "...I have been mocking the pomposity and pretensions of editors who not only think they are infallible but believe they set the national agenda. It is a pathetic fantasy. All we journalists have are the best seats in the tournament: we are privileged spectators, not players."

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Dutt didn't have a convincing answer to Open editor Manu Joseph's pointed question about why she did not find Radia's overtures worth reporting. Here's Joseph:

It is not surprising that both Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi have responded to the Open story by claiming that their conversations were part of a ‘journalistic process’. But then journalistic process must result in journalism —- if not immediately, at some point. Dutt is speaking to a corporate PR person who very obviously wants A Raja as Telecom Minister. And in their conversations, Dutt is clearly promising to use her access to pass on information to the Congress and give them greater clarity on what was happening inside the DMK. Why this is not journalistic process is clearly explained in our Political Editor Hartosh Singh Bal’s piece, ‘This is not journalism as we know it’. As he points out, we have a situation where a corporate PR person, representing two companies with interests in telecom, is mediating between the Congress and its ally when a battle is on for the telecom portfolio. This is the kind of story any journalist would love to report. How could Dutt miss that? Dutt’s situation reminds me of a magic realism novel that a friend had written, in which a lowly journalist is in search of a great story. Every day, when he comes home defeated, he speaks to his talking lizard. I find this novel absurd because any journalist would know that a talking lizard is the greatest story ever in the history of journalism. [Bold emphasis added]

And she went reckless on the offence with Joseph -- given how explosive the contents of the Radia tapes have proved to be, it was silly to question Joseph's judgment in outing the tapes [Joseph's answer is here.] Moreover, wasn't this show about defending her journalistic record in the light of Radia-active disclosures? Wasn't it about redeeming her reputation? What was she trying to accomplish by accusing others, questioning their motives, and seeking to 'broaden the debate'?

Worse, Dutt tried to enlist the help of the other panelists in condemning Joseph's actions (in the name of 'broadening' the debate) -- which led an exasperated Sanjaya Baru to remind her that he was invited by NDTV to specifically discuss Dutt's journalism, and that broadening the debate was for some other time. I'm very impressed by his patience -- he stopped short of saying, "Cut the crap, will you?"

All in all, Dutt ended up with even less credibility than she started with.


  1. Pratik Ray said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  2. Pratik Ray said...

    This is the same Barkha Dutt who asked for an apology from a blogger who blogged about her reporting during the Mumbai attacks. After all, she was trying to do her "job", i.e. report stuff to the public about whatever was happening.

    Wouldn't someone outing the tapes be entitled to the same defense?