Barkha Dutt allowed herself to be grilled by four peers on November 30.
BV Rao | December 1, 2010
At 10 pm on November 30, Barkha Dutt, embattled TV news diva and editor of NDTV 24x7, subjected herself to grilling by four editors on her conduct as exposed by the Niira Radia tapes.
As prime time news shows go, this was unprecedented, a future course material for media ethics in journalism schools.
Barkha's interrogators were senior editors Dileep Padgaonkar, Sanjaya Baru, Swapan Dasgupta and Manu Joseph (editor of Open magazine which opened the can of worms on November 18 by going public with the Radia tapes).
The grilling lasted nearly an hour and to her credit, Barkha took some hard punches straight in the jaw.
By agreeing to play courier girl for a corporate lobbyist who wished to broker deals between two political parties, Barkha admitted, she was wrong. " I was gullible, I was silly, I may have been innocent, I made an error of judgement. I am sorry for that but that's all, I'm not apologising for anything else."
So from what she admitted to, let's get this clear. She is gullible, she was too innocent to not recognise the machinations of a corporate lobbyist, she did not think there was a story in Radia (and her corporate clients) trying to fix Cabinet appointments and she made "an error of judgement" in playing courier girl.
Just about all the right qualifications for the job of Group Editor of India's first and foremost English news channel, eh?
Barkha made the point that inasmuch as the debate was about journalistic ethics and professional conduct, she was willing to engage in the debate. She took strong objection to Outlook magazine trying to connect her with the 2G spectrum scam. She said she would draw the line there. A fair point, because as of now we don't know if there was any quid pro quo. Barkha says there was none.
The problem is, as of now, we only have a gullible editor's word for it and would need more. Like an inquiry by a few veteran journalists of integrity.
The other point she made repeatedly and strongly was about the high moral and ethical standards of her group, NDTV. "Even if these tapes had come to us without me on them, NDTV would not have run them. We do not run raw material without corroboration."
No quarrel, that's a good ground rule. But what about Tehelka's Operation Westend? Those tapes were raw material. Nobody asked Bangaru Laxman for his reaction before putting them on TV? And do you think the media checked with Hansie Cronje before they plastered transcripts of his conversations with bookies? Did NDTV ignore all these stories? Somebody, jog my memory, please.
Didn't they say, long, long ago, what's good for the geese is good for the gander?
Barkha pointed out, more than once, that the Radia tapes had at least 30 journalists saying all kinds of inappropriate things, but she had somehow become the face of the scandal. "Why only me," she remonstrated. Once again, a fair question with a simple answer. For the same reason that she has notched up about 230,000 followers on Twitter. Like one Tweet said last night: She didn't ask 'why me' when she got the Padma Shri!"
And towards the very end, helped along by colleague and managing editor Sonia (who was moderating the debate) she turned it into a "sexist" issue. "Anyway, there's been a lot of misogyny here today," she hissed. Misogyny?
Barkha's show of her lifetime left me unimpressed because it did not answer some key questions. Where is her apology to her viewers (she did not look into the camera, address her viewers and say "sorry" even when prompted, I think, by Baru). Where is Prannoy Roy? Why did NDTV duck the issue for close to a fortnight? Why has he not set up an inquiry into Barkha's conduct and taken her off air for the duration of that inquiry?
For all we know, that inquiry might find Barkha guilty of only gullibility and nothing more.
In the end, I tend to agree with Kajal Basu, who said on Facebook yesterday, before the debate: She'll talk right over the opposition. She'll be what she always has been-- a tsunami of self-belief. I'm going to be watching 'Lie to Me' on Star World. Prophetic. Barkha said she was picked by Radia may be because she was the "best" there was and that she was a "good political correspondent" and also that Manu Joseph has no clue about political reporting.
I wish I didn't miss Lie To Me either. Or maybe, I didn't?
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