August 12, 2008

Cash - for - Votes Tapes, At Last in the Open

The TV Channel that participated in the sting operation to expose the murky goings on in the political arena to ensure a victory for the UPA Government in Lok Sabha Trust Vote, finally decided to show the tapes on all its channels on 11th August, 2008। (see the details here)

The Channel, in its wisdom had decided not to show the tapes immediately after the Trust Vote. The political party concerned, BJP, whose MPs had in the first place suggested to IBN7, a sister channel of CNN-IBN to participate in the operation, was obviously upset at the Channel’s decision.

Those who watched the CNN-IBN channel in the afternoon of 22nd July, 2008, where Rajdeep Sardesai strenuously argued with his colleague Ashutosh from IBN7 about why the tapes could not be shown at that time, were surprised at the reasoning put forward by Rajdeep who, amongst other things, said that the channel did not want to appear to be taking sides with any political party. Considering that the tapes were about politics where several political parties were involved, it is strange to suggest that the channel did not wish to take sides because obviously the tapes were bound to show one or more parties in unfavorable light. The viewers also saw him on the screen leaving the studio saying that he was rushing to the Parliament straightaway to hand over the tapes to the Speaker. The Channel also claimed that the tapes were the property of the Lok Sabha and hence it would be improper to telecast them. As it happened, the tapes were inexplicably not handed over on the same day but this was done on the next day. The channel also claimed that the operation was a part of a wider investigation started by it much earlier on its own initiative when rumors about horse trading started floating around. It is a different matter that its own investigation, other than the sting, apparently did not yield anything at all.

Amongst the arguments advanced by the Channel, it said that they could not show the tapes as their investigations were incomplete and that they needed to verify more. Even to lay people such a facile argument did not cut ice because after the Trust Vote, there was hardly any further possibility to continue the investigation and whatever the channel managed to tape till that time was all that it could hope to get. The Channel also claimed that it could not work on a time table of a political party but had to take its own decision on the timing. That is essentially correct but for a news media nothing is more important than bringing the news, particularly on larger issues, to the people in time. It is a hall mark of good news journalism to bring the news as it happens, ‘hot from the oven’ and fresh. So even for the Channel itself, it would be logical to telecast the tapes around the event rather than delay it.

The arguments and logic appeared so weak that people just did not believe that the Channel's decision was genuine. To buttress its stand, the Channel even got a former Solicitor General to give a written opinion in the matter, which basically was more of a subjective view and not strictly a legal opinion.

The Channel, respected for its high credibility and programming quality, and its Chief Rajdeep Sardesai have been roundly criticized by the people. The stand of this major Television channel has brought out important issues on the media’s freedom and its responsibility in the context of the public's right to know. Surprisingly and sadly, the other channels and media in general did not appear to seriously debate the issue of the Channel's stand on a matter of great public importance. It is indeed strange for a channel to say that it wanted a complete investigation before presenting it to the people. The media is certainly not an investigating authority. Sting operations have been done in the past and have been telecast too, but there was no claim that the operations presented a fool proof story. A recent case which comes to mind is that of the sting in the R.K.Anand-Kulkarni episode in the Nanda case.

It is true that media has the right to publish or not to publish a news item and the timing when to publish a news item. However, the freedom and the right has to be exercised considering what is in the larger public interest. As in the instant case, it could hardly be used based on whether the channel will be seen to be favoring one or another political party. The Channel’s decision not to publish (show, in this case) a news of topical and great public interest was also in stark contrast to the media’s actions (particularly Television) in the Aarushi murder case. That matter was very sensitive for the persons concerned but the media did not think twice before hounding the family that was in grief over the loss of their daughter. Not only did they persist in hounding the traumatized family, most of the TV channels gave an almost daily dose of their sick and speculative theories based on their own "investigation" including IBN7 pointing fingers at the family being involved in some way. On a TV current affairs programme, most of the media persons present including Ashutosh of IBN7 vehemently and vociferously justified and defended their actions in the Aarushi murder case, claiming that the people’s right to know was paramount and that they virtually had a legitimate right to invade people’s privacy to the extent that it made normal life practically impossible for them. No one can deny that the media has more than one standard and is fully prepared to defend its actions, howsoever indefensible they be. The Fourth Estate appears to believe that it is always acting responsibly.

In the end, when CNN-IBN finally telecast the tapes, it once again gave unconvincing excuses and in essence said that now that a reasonable time had elapsed after the event, they had decided to show the tapes. It also said that they were not passing any judgment and it was left to the people to come to their own conclusions. THAT, IN ANY CASE WOULD HAVE BEEN SO WHETHER THEY DECIDED TO SHOW THE TAPES ON THE FIRST DAY OR AFTER AN ETERNITY. Rajdeep Sardesai certainly did not have to get the illustrious Soli Sorabjee, Fali Nariman, B.G. Verghese and Harish Salve essentially saying the same thing, to add weight and respectability to his decision. The situation would not have been different even if the tapes were telecast on the 22nd or 23rd of July 2008. Even if they were telecast then, the people would have had to draw their own conclusions.

Dealing with politicians all the time, Rajdeep also appears to see merit in using a bit of politics by defending his position vis-à-vis BJP’s displeasure. However, where he has lost his credibility is in the eyes of the people. Whether or not he gets a reward either in the form of a nomination for the Rajya Sabha or in some other manner for his timely exercise of the media's discretion, remains to be seen.

Incidentally, by a coincidence, possibly to demonstrate CNN-IBN's independence, IBN7 telecast on the 10th Augusut 2008, a programme (see details here and here) giving details of some apparently dubious dealings concerning a senior UPA Minister, Lalu Yadav. CNN-IBN can only hope that its dented credibility will be restored eventually.

सारे जहाँ से अच्छा, हिंदोस्ताँ हमारा


Meenu khare said...

Good predentation and analysis.

Gopinath's "Artickles" said...

Comprehensive coverage of the delayed expose. Great Job, India-awake! Wonder what the channel was doing if they always had the tapes. It will be interesting to see where the tale takes us. Will a rival channel have the tapes in reply? Or do you have your own story to tell?

india-awake said...

Thanks 'artickles'.!

The only conclusion is that the Channel wanted the situation to 'cool down', whatever be their reasons. They were, pehaps, compelled to telecast them now because their position was becoming more untenable by the day.

As to any rival channel having tapes in reply, the answer is 'no', not on the same matter at least.

Khushal said...

Once the trust vote is over, I dont think anything can be done.

If Congress would have lost then the Channel would have started showing the tapes without any delay. Since, Congress is still in power, they choose otherwise to protect themselves,

chatpat said...

khushal is right. it shows there was definitely some deal with the channel.

Praveen said...

Crores of cash was displayed in the parliament.

Is this money BLACK OR WHITE ?

Our finance minister who represents BLACK money culture in India did not order an enquiry. Every rupee in the country might to have a source and target. Unfortunately they did not bother to check this out.

Our country runs of BLACK money while america runs on other people's money.

Corruption is here to stay as the folks in power do not seem to bother.

Peri said...

Well written article.