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Lessons for “V d Tweeple” & “We the people” on forging India ahead

“Kuch Kar Guzarne ko khoon chala, koon chala” (The blood stirred to do something), is an immensely inspirational song from the Hindi film “Rang De Basanti”. Over the last few weeks, my blood has boiled, rather than stir, at an immense sense of shame over being a mute spectator to India’s cancerous growth of corruption. Corruption across public institutions and political parties in India is no news, its something we have lived with throughout our history. But the last few months have seen scandals of shocking magnitude been exposed with wide-reaching ramifications. Throughout our history, we have relied on a combination of multiple bodies to make sure that the corruption is kept relatively at check, exposed when out of control, and the guilty are brought to justice even if it is late in the day. These include, but are not limited to: the Central Bureau of investigation (CBI), the judiciary, the Comptroller Audit general (CAG), the Lok Ayukta, and principally the mainstream media (MSM) whom we relied on to give us a relatively accurate picture of what is going on. One by one, the integrity of these bodies itself, has been questioned, but today we face a very dark day when the integrity of the MSM is under immense scrutiny, and thus leaving the average Indians gaping at a cloudy prism of information, without knowing what to believe, and what not to believe. It all started with the leak of tapped conversations between Niira Radia, an influential corporate lobbyist, in the public domain, a few months back, and later by Open & Outlook magazines in mid November, 2010. These magazines exposed her conversations with politician, her corporate clients, and significantly, respected Indian journalists who mould public opinion, and throw a light into the intense behind the scenes activity and lobbying to place the right man in the lucrative telecom ministry of India in 2009, to tap financial benefit from having their man. That man itself, is Mr. A. Raja, who had to quit his post as telecom minister in November 2010, when it was established that the auction of 2G Telecom spectrum to operators, has been rigged by him, and has cost India at least 39 Billion USD (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._Raja). He is from the DMK party, which is a Tamil regional party, which is an ally of the ruling congress party.

It is indeed a tragic irony, that India which has been a strong driver of the “Information age” that we live in, is in danger of being blinded and misled by the MSM, and collectively failed to deal with the truth on time, in what is known as the “Radia tapes” controversy. The controversy itself would not have been known to a majority of Indians, if the social media / twitterati / netizens did not find the courage, drive and intelligence to fight the organized mass media blackout, that was orchestrated to protect a few influential journalists from public scrutiny.

Today, there are many un answered and worrying questions that I attempt to structure and address them in one essay This would be a detailed, candid, deeply introspective, yet solution seeking blog. I would touch upon multiple aspects of the functioning of our media, corporate, political system and civil society, but cannot claim insider knowledge on many topics, and hence would leave you with probably more questions than answers.

First up, since this is going to be a very political and controversial subject, I need to add a disclaimer here. I write this, and all my blogs as a private citizen, and a common Indian. I do not represent any company, group, party, ideology or internet activism group on my blogs. There are multiple vested stakeholders and average citizens engaging in shrill discussions online with the mass media, and I do not support or oppose any particular view point. Rather, I believe each person is more than capable of speaking for himself, as I am doing now. For a further understanding of my identity to those who do know me, kindly read the section “About me” before you proceed further.

The big questions in our minds:

1. What are undisputed the facts of the matter, as established news publications, and as acknowledged by the public figures involved? What exactly are the accusations? Has any financial undoing been established, directly or indirectly? If, not why are some of us making such a big deal out of it?

2. Who are the broad constituents of MSM; those are relevant to this discussion? Is the state of affairs in regional / vernacular / not so big media houses, the same as MSM, better, or worse? How has the MSM reaction, coverage, and analysis evolved over the course of last few weeks? Are we saying that the entire MSM is rotten, or are there still very respectable voices we listen to? Now that the MSM has finally discussed the journalists’ names on print and T.V, is it necessary to air these tapes to the general public?

3. What are hashtags like #barkhagate and who created these terms? Are they by any means affiliated to any religious, political group, or informal entity such as #internethindus? If not, why is this categorization by the MSM dangerous to the civil society?

4. Why is internet community so shrill in seeking the sacking of specific journalists, and are they behaving like a “lynch mob”? What is the historical context towards the immense hostility shown by thousands of netizens towards the MSM? Why is one particular journalist, Barkha Dutt the face of the debate, when so many more people are involved? Don’t we know that everywhere in the world, journalists are bound to be ideologically biased, and seeking to further interests of corporate that have stake in their media houses? Are we netizens naive, or is there a reason in asking for a utopian level of ethics from our MSM?

5. What lays beyond the tapes, in terms of corporate – political – public institution corrupt practices? Isn’t the corruption and nexus cutting across the political parties Is a smoke screen being created by some to divert public attention to the Radia tapes, and ignore the massive government scandals?

6. Is the 4th estate completely compromised, or is there hope for it to emerge stronger? How can the MSM co-exist with the ever growing clout of the informal internet based social media activists (5th estate) , and is it possible to look at this as mutually beneficial and healthy relationship? What is the tremendous positive opportunity that this historic moment in our country presenting to the average citizen as well as the mainstream media? Should, and how should the so called or informal internet based social media co-exist with the organized media? In the age of wiki leaks, is it possible for traditional and informal media to live in isolation?

What are undisputed the facts of the matter, as established news publications, and as acknowledged by the public figures involved? What exactly are the accusations? Has any financial undoing been established, directly or indirectly? If, not why are some of us making such a big deal out of it?

Here, is a brief summary of what started off as a small story of leaked Radia tapes a few months back, and what spiraled into a fire known as #Barkhagate. The wikipedia page on the Radia tapes controversy captures the summary quite accurately “The Radia tapes controversy relates to the telephonic conversations between Nira Radia, a professional lobbyist and an acquaintance of the (then) Indian telecom minister A. Raja, with senior journalists, politicians, and corporate houses, taped by the Indian Income Tax Department in 2008-09. The tapes led to accusations of misconduct by many of these people. Nira Radia runs a public relations firm named Vaishnavi Communications, whose clients include Ratan Tata’s Tata Group and Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries”.

The people whom Radia interacted with in the course of her work, and whose voices have featured on the tapes available in the public domain so far, read like a “Who is who” of Indian public life:

Politicians: Raja, former Telecommunication and IT Minister; Kanimozhi, Rajya Sabha MP; N.K. Singh, Rajya Sabha MP

Journalists: Barkha Dutt, Group editor, English news, NDTV; M.K. Venu, senior business journalist ; Prabhu Chawla, editor of India Today magazine; Rajdeep Sardesai; Shankar Aiyar, then with India Today Group; Vir Sanghvi, HT advisory editorial director

Industry Heads: Ratan Tata, Tata Group; Tarun Das, former CII head; (Mention of) Mukesh Ambani, Reliance Industries; Manoj Modi, Reliance Industries

Others: Ranjan Bhattacharya (foster son-in-law of former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee); Suhel Seth, management guru and columnist

It has to be said here, that from what has been leaked to the public domain of the 5,000 odd conversations that are available with the IT department, most conversations are not of journalistic, public value. These are everyday conversations X or Y could have. Some of the conversations show a strong degree of lobbying, while in some it is very mild innuendo, and cannot be taken as any gesture of wrong doing.

These tapes were first published in the Open Magazine, and then the Outlook magazine, in Mid November: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/nation/some-telephone-conversations

http://outlookindia.com/article.aspx?268069

Outlook and the Wall Street Journal are the few publications of repute that have covered these conversations, view points, in great detail, and have sections of their online portals dedicated to this topic. There is a treasure trove of information on these sites, that I request you to read, and there is no way I can repeat them here. I salute the editors of these publications along with my social media friends, for contributing facts and views to this debate.

None of the people named in the tapes, originally disputed the conversations were authentic, or the voice was not theirs. As the public outrage grew, some of the journalists maintained that though the voices were indeed theirs, selective parts of the conversations were strong together to present a not so faithful account.

Here are examples of some of the late clarifications, after intense to very valuable critical view points for more than a week, a sufficient time to prepare a strong defense:

http://www.ndtv.com/page/?type=barkha-statement

http://www.virsanghvi.com/CounterPoint-ArticleDetail.aspx?ID=582

http://outlookindia.com/article.aspx?268162

The Congress party initially claimed these tapes cannot be verified, in a shocking statement of denial, and hasn’t followed that up with a more updated version of the truth, the last time I checked. The BJP made mild noises in the parliament on the tapes, but the fact that it hasn’t made as much noise as you would expect from the leading opposition parties, is probably a function of its house not being in order on corruption scandals and the anxiety that the other tapes, may feature potentially embarrassing conversations for its parties. More worryingly, it may not want to antagonize its already poor relations with the MSM. The BJP did however make a demand that the JPC probe into the 2G scam should feature the Radia tapes. We may probably never know the truth on why the BJP is so quiet on this and failing tactically and morally as an opposition.

Ratan Tata, has moved the courts to block the tapes from being accessible to the public, and gave an interview to Shekhar Gupta of Indian expressing discussing how potentially this was a ploy to divert attention from the bigger 2G scam: http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/news/walk-the-talk-with-ratan-tata/178312by

NONE of the conversations I have heard so far prove any direct financial mal practice or a quid pro quo, material wise. But most of the conversations reveal a broad agenda of Ms Radia to ensure that her clients benefited by having the right ministers in the right places, by having the journalists echo her clients’ view point in their columns or stories, and by using the journalists as go-betweeners or conduits between her corporate interests and the political party in power, the congress.

The broad issues that the critics of the journalists and MSM have pointed out, can be summarized as follows:

A. The journalists, have long been suspected of a strong left-liberal, pro congress bias, which by itself is perfectly fine, but something they have denied all along. These conversations indicate how close the journalists are to the ruling congress. Or at least, how close they claim to be.

B. As a journalist who was privy to an in depth understanding of how corporate were trying to lobby for ministries, favoring terms, this should have been the biggest journalistic story of their lives. Yet, none of them have published these stories, or hinted to the general public of the behind the scenes affairs. Thus even if they did absolutely nothing wrong, they failed massively in their duties as journalists of repute.

C. They promised acts that went way beyond their bounds as journalists. Thus, they misused the power of access that their employer gave them, for their personal agenda.

D. Once the tapes were leaked, by refusing to discuss them in their news channels, by refusing to air them on their channels or publish the transcripts on their papers, and by denying the critical public a credible explanation, until absolutely forced to by the social media activism, they have made what was a fleeting suspicion of wrongdoing, look like an attempt to bury the truth. There is absolutely no way to explain this attempted full black out, which is presently an attempt to massage the discussion in their favor

Who are the broad constituents of MSM relevant to this discussion? Is the state of affairs in regional / vernacular / not so big media houses, the same as MSM, better, or worse? How has the MSM reaction, coverage, and analysis evolved over the course of last few weeks? Are we saying that the entire MSM is rotten, or are there still very respectable voices we listen to? Now that the MSM has finally discussed the journalists’ names on print and T.V, is it necessary to air these tapes to the general public?

For the sake of discussion, I would refer to the large English newspapers, T.V channels, and their regional affiliates as the MSM. It is not possible for me to discuss the role of every regional news channel or newspaper, and hence the discussion would focus purely on the response, reactions of the MSM.

At the same time, I have to convey my inference from the few public debates I have heard on this debate, which the mess in regional and small news channels / papers is far worse, and there is a worrying lack of strong media guidelines being created, let alone enforced. The mess in Indian media, was captured wonderfully in the movie that satirized Indian media “Peepli Live”, and is India’s official entry to this years Oscars as the foreign film.

Outlook was one of the few credible MSM groups that ran the story with detailed follow-ups. Subsequently the only coverage it received (in rough chronological order) was from Washington post, Wall Street Journal, Deccan Herald, Express Buzz, The Hindu, Times Now, and CNN-IBN.

This is not to say that all of the Indian media is dumb and un ethical. Across the political spectrum of viewpoints, we still have active journalists like P. Sainath of the Hindu just to take an example, who remain loyal to their profession’s soul and write about topics we tend to ignore in a lucid, intelligent way. But, to the vast majority of the public, the NDTVs, CNN IBNS, Times Nows, Indian Expresses, Times of India, and Hindustan Times represent the English MSM

Last Friday, CNN-IBN had a panel show conducted by Karan Thapar, that was the first time that any news channel I follow, referred to Barkha, Vir, Venu, and Chawla’s names on air.

Sagarika Ghose of IBN, acknowledged the social media pressure that made her news channel take this up more seriously that it initially did on twitter, when she tweeted “OK twitterati please can you stop bombarding me with barkhagate. YES it’s a wake up call, YES we are all looking inward, YES we will all act!”

So, if by the time you read this blog, you have already heard a debate on this topic in public, and wonder why the hell I am making such a noise, please remember that if not for people like us, you wouldn’t have heard this story. I personally tweeted for weeks till my fingers ached, heard stories of people who tweeted and blogged taking leaves form work, and one impressive story of someone who was injured and immobile, and decided this was the most productive and useful thing he could do!

Some of the twitter conversations war filled with hate and rage, and some of the conversations revealed the simple minds of many Indians, but I stood along side all these people in pushing the media to the brink. The voices were shrill and perhaps the battle cries lost a lot of objectivity, but this had to be done, to ensure the media opens up and speaks about their holy cow. I have no sense of pride or shame about my actions. I felt I did what I had to do.

What are hashtags like #barkhagate and who created these terms?  Are they by any means affiliated to any religious, political group, or informal entity such as #internethindus? If not, why is this categorization by the MSM dangerous to the civil society?

#Barkhagate was the first hashtag created on Twitter to open up a social media debate on this topic. A Facebook group, and a blog with the same name was created, that went viral with thousands of people signing up, posting links / discussion, commenting on the same. I cannot say exactly who created #barkhagate (though I have a guess, but don’t want to reveal the person’s name as the MSM has in the past went after normal people to strike fear in the public). But as one of the thousands of people who tweeted day in and day out on the #barkhagate tag, I can only say we are all in it together.

Many of the people who were very critical of Barkha Dutt for multiple reasons (some I would elaborate on in the next section), felt that this was a catchy tag, and it spread rapidly. I am not for or against using that tag, and the strong suggestion that Barkha Dutt was the single person involved in a scandal.

Last week, after the #barkhagte tag trended on top for over a week, the twitter algorithm removed it from the top trending topics. Of the few active tweeters at that particular time there was a debate on whether to continue tagging #barkhagate, or create a replacement. I was of the opinion that a replacement tag would be a good idea and suggested #mediamafia for the following reasons: 1. It removes the suggestion of individual slander, and helps us remember that a larger section of the media is involved in the controversy either by featuring on the tapes, or by colluding with those on the tapes in the black out, 2. From a historical understanding of how I perceive the Indian media, I have no doubts that at times it behaves like a mafia, and is selective on the right to free speech, 3. In case of a proactive move by Barkha Dutt / NDTV to remove the tags associated with her name from Twitter, a generic tag name would not suffer, and the public debate would continue.

Since I floated the idea, the tag has been trending in top 5 for almost another week now, making the discussion of Radia tapes with multiple pseudonyms, the biggest story of the Indian Twitterati. And yet, this was blacked out by the MSM that runs 1 hour stories on 2 minute celebrity tweets, for far too long.

On all of these topics, the greatest positive for me was the coming together of a diverse set of Indians, who shared no common religious, political, ethnic, linguistic common ground. All of us were united in the media scrutiny, but as in a true democratic medium like twitter, deeply divided on our ideologies. I am emphasizing on this, as I was pained to discover the counter strategy by the MSM, and vested interests to paint all of us as a lynch mob of bigoted, right wing Hindus, funded by the Sangh Parivar. That is about the stupidest, most idiotic, and the most irresponsible statement I have ever heard on this subject.

The same applies to the thousands of Christians, Muslim, brothers and sisters who participated in these debates with me. Using divisive tools such as religion has been the way the British colonialists, and political parties have exploited us all along. Now the MSM has joined this deeply polarized, brazen escape route to deflect valid criticism. In the cloud of politically / ideologically / religiously motivated and abusive tweets by some, many of our sensible moderate voices, and highly relevant questions to the media, were almost lost.

Whatever action you may or may not take on the Radia Tapes, I request the MSM not to characterize everyone who questions you as a vested interest or a fringe elements / nuisance in the society. By doing so, you are not achieving any credibility for yourself in the long run, you are deepening the polarization in our society that many of us fight so hard to reduce, and you also reduce any potential chances of mutual trust between the average Indian and your fraternity. I cannot speak for all netizens, as the internet is a true democracy in action in terms of its sensible and ugly voices mingling together. I cannot speak for all, but anyone who searches these hashtags would know that amongst the many right wing Hindus (or #internerthindus as Sagarika Ghose of IBN categorized them) un-necesarily critisicising Barkha’s pro Kashmiri Muslim bias in this debate, there were so many thousands sensible voices of Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike asking very profound intelligent questions to the media

Why is internet community so shrill in seeking the sacking of specific journalists, and are they behaving like a “lynch mob”? What is the historical context towards the immense hostility shown by thousands of netizens towards the MSM?  Why is one particular journalist, Barkha Dutt the face of the debate, when so many more people are involved? Don’t we know that everywhere in the world, journalists are bound to be ideologically biased, and seeking to further interests of corporate that have stake in their media houses? Are we netizens naive, or is there a reason in asking for a utopian level of ethics from our MSM?

Most Indians hate or love Barkha Dutt, and there are very few people I know who were neutral to her. I had a lot of respect for her during the Kargil war coverage, where she made her name and earned her celebrity status. But I do remember thinking, as a naive college kid, if it is a security risk having live T.V coverage when the war was actually happening. I didn’t think much about it at that time, but subsequently understand that her war coverage has been critically analyzed by many public figures including those in the armed forces. I am not taking ay sides here, but would leave her Kargil war coverage as one of the many inflection points when people started getting really upset with her.

Subsequently her championing of many causes such as empathy to Kashmiri separatism, celebrity murder cases such as Jessica Lal (while not spending much air time on not so famous people who were murdered or raped brutally), the Tsunami coverage, and the coverage of the Godhra riots in 2002, left most people polarized. To some, she represented a journalist who told the human suffering angle in every story and that endeared them. To others, who had strong views on these subjects, they saw her as shrill, loud, and in constant belief that her view point was the only opinion that mattered (I personally think her viewpoint on quite a many things are valid, but that doesn’t matter when you don’t let the panel or audience talk when they disagree with you)

But to most, the most shocking incident came during the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Hers was not the only coverage that was shameful, but her T.V channel cannot deny that by revealing sensitive information, and live coverage of a counter terror strategy, they could have POTENTIALLY, UNWITTINGLY helped the terrorists in their mission.

While I was shell shocked, the biggest blow was to come later. A blogger called Chaitanya Kunte wrote a very critical blog after the Mumbai attacks against the T.V coverage of NDTV / Barkha Dutt. Mr. Kunte is a common man like you and me, and was obviously shell shocked and that reflected in the choice of his words, and some bias in his arguments. He is no journalist, and wrote a piece that most bloggers would consider good enough to publish. NDTV acted in a brazen manner, swooped down on him, forced him to remove the blog and issue an apology instead. Kindly Google his name, and check if you can see the original blog. Chances are you won’t, but nevertheless every Indian ought to know his name.

He is the face of the common man, who dares to question a bid media house, and a celebrity journalist, and got punished in the end. This was the symbol of the MSM’s bullying ugly face, and any one who challenges me why we use names like media mafia, would be urged to study this example. A mafia don would have been proud of such an attack on an individual who chooses to question his intelligence or authority. In my mind, he is the icon of our fight for a media soul searching drive.

Barkha has constantly questioned why people have attacked her more than anyone else. Well if she read this blog, she would know, but perhaps so sue me as well? I don’t know and I don’t care if she does. Its about time we stopped making heroes of these average journalists who sensationalize everything for TRPs, violate un-written yet well understood journalistic code of conduct, lose the plot from being a person who covers the story to being the story, wear their political biases so blatantly on their sleeves without ever acknowledging them and mislead the public, bully anyone who dares question them, and most importantly, do not have an ability to “JUST SAY SORRY”.

To me she is has fallen as a public figure, political commentator, and TV celebrity anchor even if no quid pro quo can be established in this episode. It’s for NDTV to decide what to do with her, and they can take the moral high ground, or believe that people can always “watch another channel if they don’t like her”, or that people will forget this fuss in a few months time. Trust me, we will stop watching your news channel, but not forget this episode for a long time to come!

As for Vir Sanghvi, you just need to listen to the tapes, and match it with everything you have read or heard from him. The tapes reveal the extent to which Vir is politically close to power centers, and the extent to which he can distort the truth so as to present his friend’s viewpoints. There is enough evidence to suggest that one his popular counterpoint columns., matches very closely what Radia dictated him to write. It is difficult for me to write any more on his actions without losing my cool, so would stop here. But, please do listen to the tapes featuring him.

As far as media ethics itself is concerned, none of us are living in a fairy tale land where all news is true. We do acknowledge that media houses are run by cooperates, and media interacts on a daily basis with the good and bad people, and there is no utopian world.

But here is why, in spite of working in a corporate myself and acknowledging the pressure the media houses may face, I still seek a soul searching amongst the fraternity:

A. The Indian media, probably has the most preachy, “holier than thou”, and wise tone when attacking political, or advising the public, or jumping to conclusions about political / public leaders in a jiffy. The choice I am asking you to make is to tone down the preachiness, or be subject to the debate yourself. You can’t have the cake and eat it too!

B. Most Americans or Europeans are smart enough to understand the political and corporate connection between each media house. Most Indians do not understand these subtleties. Most Republican voters would watch Fox News, and Democratic left-liberals would watch MSNBC, and it’s accepted as part of the game. Apart from Pioneer, and Outlook, none of the media houses I know of accept their political ideology and are categorical about it. In, short you can quote honestly that you are pro congress before you play 200 propaganda stories of Rahul Gandhi in a poor man’s house, or taking a train, or you maintain you are neutral and keep the news un biased. You are well within your right to be pro party, as long as you can explain your stance in a well informed and intelligent manner. I am not a left winger, but I admire Vinod Mehta of Outlook for always being categorical about his ideological bias. If you for example, love Rahul Gandhi so much or hate Narendra Modi , you owe the country a credible explanation in terms of books, documentary shows, etc that describe why. Today I may not vote for Rahul, but if I watch a T.V show that presents a critical study of his achievements, I may be inclined to. (I am just kidding, I know he has done nothing worthwhile so far, but still if he is the media darling., I’d like to know why)

C. You cannot have different rules for different people. In your TRP wars you play tapes of sex scandals involving god men, exposes of corrupt politicians, hate speeches, and seditious speeches again and again, but you have collectively blacked out airing the Radia Tapes. You can collectively brainstorm on how to be more responsible as a MSM in airing sensitive tapes, or you can say we will air all tapes immediately without verification. You need to have one consistent rule book in your game

What lays beyond the tapes, in terms of corporate – political – public institution corrupt practices? Isn’t the corruption and nexus cutting across the political parties? Is a smoke screen being created by some to divert public attention to the Radia tapes, and ignore the massive government scandals?

Most tweeters, bloggers would probably just seek Barkha or Vir’s resignation, and forget the rest of the people involved. That doesn’t apply to people like me, for in spite of whatever strong views I may have on these journalists, I know that they are very small fish in a large ocean of sharks and killer whales.

Every public institution in the country is under the scanner, and as Ratan Tata mentioned, it is quite possible that the tapes were leaked by vested interests in power to deflect the attention from the corruption scandals. I have tremendous respect for Ratan Tata to understand that he was seeking a level playing field in the political decisions of the telecom spectrum allocation, but by not allowing the common man to hear all the tapes and make up their minds, he is not helping us clear the air. Rather, the air has started becoming murkier.

There is long way to go before, India can achieve social an economic development that is good enough for it to be classified as a developed nation, leave alone superpower status. As discussed in my previous blogs on challenges facing India, having an ethical, intelligent, modern, and pro active media that gets its house in order is the critical first step in our long and painful journey to progress.

The media is the prism through which we view the society, nation, and the world, and today the prism is extremely distorted. Fixing the prism may not fix all the problems, and neither would breaking it altogether. But we need to collaborate in ensuring the media comes out of this dark episode in a healthier shape.

Is the 4th estate completely compromised, or is there hope for it to emerge stronger? How can the MSM co-exist with the ever growing clout of the informal internet based social media activists (5th estate) , and is it possible to look at this as mutually beneficial and healthy relationship? What is the tremendous positive opportunity that this historic moment in our country presenting to the average citizen as well as the mainstream media? Should, and how should the so called or informal internet based social media co-exist with the organized media? In the age of wiki leaks, is it possible for traditional and informal media to live in isolation?

Ayushmedh, a friend of mine, wrote a blog a while back wondering of the traditional MSM as we know would and shouuld be replaced by a 5th estate of informal netizens discussing news: http://jindagi-ek-pathshala.blogspot.com/2009/03/fifth-estate.html

He is not the first one with the idea, and neither would he be the last. We live in the age of Twitter, Facebook, Wiki leaks, Google, Blogs, YouTube etc, where it is possible to make news reach people in no time. It’s called “going viral” and more often than not it happens to bad news or ugly sensationalistic trash. But every now and then, such as the Mumbai Terror attacks, the IPL scandal, and now the Radia Tapes controversy, the 5th estate has shown its tremendous positive value to the society

But I live in no illusions of self grandeur, dreaming that I would run an internet based news agency one day that makes NDTV feel like an extinct dinosaur. I know that when the dust settles on this all of us would get back to our busy careers and personal live.  On the contrary, I strongly believe its time for both sides to acknowledge how they can compliment each other and make sure that in the Information era, credible, intelligent, ethical, and quick dissemination of information prevails.

Here are some rough thoughts, on how this should pan out in the long run:

A. Educate everyone you know to use traditional and social media pro actively. When a simpleton drinking tea and reading news in rural Tamilnadu, develops the intelligence to verify what he read in his Dina Thanthi news paper, by checking it on the latest internet connection he got at his home, you have forced the traditional media to improve its standards

B. The internet empowered generation can serve as a powerful conscience keeper, by constantly forcing the media to develop better standards and accuracy

C. The social media guys who do not get to interact with the news makers, can benefit from hearing what journalists who have that power access, say on social media forums

D. The fact that we literally FORCED CNN-IBN to have a panel discussion on this topic, is a positive sign for me that while the MSM can be very selective in its hearing, it is not fully deaf. Every intelligent person with international exposure, or curiosity to look beyond traditional media, that I know of, would vouch for you that the quality of shows, documentaries, panel discussions, and topics on channels like BBC, Discovery, National Geographic / History channel, even Al Jazeera, is far better than most Indian channels. I would personally blog about topics I would love to see discussed on Indian T.V, and when this sort of feedback is slowly but surely addressed, you have a winning formula

E. Public figures, especially politicians should be aware that if they were living in the west, they cannot get away from being silent on so many topics of national interest. I would love to see a panel show debate on topics like the NREGA, the Gujarat / Bihar development story (are these true, or are these illusions?), check back on previous corruption scams, India’s defense strategy, India’s approach to counter Maoism threat and ensure development in the tribal areas. Imagine if you could get Arundhati Roy and Chidambaram to spar at each other on the Maoism topic. Too many of our leaders and ministers get away from not airing publicly what their approach to any topic is, and I think that’s because they do not have any approach at all in the first place. The modern 4th / 5th estate can help us separate the wheat from the chaff and tell us who the credible leaders are across party lines. In fact one of the tweets, I shared, ran something like this” I dream 4 D day, when I can watch a pre election T.V debate b/w Mayawati, Sonia, Modi, Nitish moderated by Karan Thapar”

F. How many books have you read by our MSM celebrities? How many of them are capable of writing one on the topics they love to shout loudly about? How many of them have the ability to present a policy paper on engaging with China? How many people can tell you what REALLY happened during J.P Narayan’s socialistic movement, without living in the 1970s themselves? The answer is quite a few, but none that you and I may have heard of. There are like I said, many credible journalists, and perhaps it is time the MSM brought them to the fore, and the average social media geek read them first before jumping into a lets bomb China first discussion on Twitter

Like I mentioned earlier, this blog would perhaps have more questions than answers. But the very fact that many common men like me have these questions, and would eventually find an answer, leaves me with hope. In fact, I can state without doubt this rather dark blot in our history as a free speaking democracy, has actually given us a tremendous opportunity; It has given us a historic chance to blend the voice of the different India, and evolve a society that can discuss freely, critically yet non abusively about topics we had no clue about earlier; It has also given us the opportunity to wake up the middle class from its long slumber of indifference to the society, and placed in their hands, a chance to make up for days when we slept; It has given a chance for Hindus and Muslims to walk side by side in asking for more from its public figures; It ha s given a chance for the credible journalists to emerge even stronger in public view, while the tainted ones can either acknowledge their mistakes and improve, or live in denial and fade away; It has given a chance for the day when a villager in U.P or Rajasthan, would vote for a particular party or leader based on a well informed decision, and not because party X paid channel Y to make a hero out of leader Z.

This is not a dream, but a statement of hope. I pledge to make this hope come true for my future generation, would you care to join me?

Cheers!

Vasu

20 Comments Post a comment
  1. Barkha has great bosses,who have bkaced her despite the allegations.At its core,Good Journalism is a science..a search for truth without blinkers,biases or ulterior motives and ‘above suspicion’.As a viewer,its difficult not to question Roy’s ethical standards in not taking stricter action.At the end of the day,guilty or not She is within her rights to deny the charges…its not her call(if the allegations are true then she doesnt suffer from a conscience!)At the same time there are more powerful people with more sinister allegations and deeds to answer for…and who refuse to resign.So if a toxic journo stays on and irritates a few million TV viewers,it just shows that the buck doesnt stop, with her with NDTV it does.

    February 17, 2013
  2. I’m going through that period of self-introspection that you talk about in this article. It was good to mull over the issues again by reading through this post. I’ve taken a step back on twitter, because I was not sure if I wanted to be part of some of the dirt-throwing going around.

    Hope all is going well with you, and let us catch up again sometime, either via twitter or email.

    January 28, 2011
    • I totally understand you, and I am at a similar level of thinking. But I do feel that if I have to get down to the mud pit and get my hands dirty when the occasion demands it, I would brace myself to do it for the greater good. Look what happened in Egypt today!
      And yes, we will be in touch.
      Many thanks for that insightful note!

      Vasu

      February 11, 2011
  3. Prashanth K.P. #

    Vasuji, your blog is nothing less but a simply brilliant exposition of failures after failures we are faced with in the web called corporate-political-media nexus. This jargon has sort of become the ‘in’ thing now and all vye for it, both the print and visual media. That Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi are but two moles of a larger segment of this nexus is obvious. That their popularity brought the stick down upon them is true. That the media houses they represented were predominantly international in nature was another reason. That their personal political leanings influenced their work output is evident. Whether a quid pro quo was behind the lobbying is yet to be established. Nevertheless, one would be foolishly naive to understand otherwise. That some sort of personal benefit has been bestowed upon these two eminent (earlier) journalists from some quarters of news givers is imperative. An inquiry into their personal wealth should be conducted to measure the pros & cons of their life style. Regardless of who all are dragged into this scam, it surely needs to be brought into the limelight. To this extent, as a common citizen who has been cheated by a handful, I am obliged to pursue the matter through whichever means we are reciprocated.

    Jai Hind!

    December 4, 2010
    • Prashanth Ji,
      Many thanks for that well thought out and passionate comment.
      Its important for all of us to not forger this easily and move on as we are wont to!
      So, hoping we all do our two paisas worth of activism to do set a few things right.

      Cheers!
      Vasu

      December 6, 2010
  4. Asok #

    Vasuji,

    I was frustrated for days to vent out my anger on the Burkhagate isse. Then I saw your blog and it has provided me with lot of mind stirring questions and answers. Well done and hope you will keep it up!!

    Regards,

    Asok

    December 1, 2010
    • Asok Ji,
      I am really glad I could offer you some positive ideas in these dark times!

      To me, that represents the power of what we all can acheive together. Just imagine the possibilites: It is possible to make an interactive DVD or a web portal that has all the facts, tapes, responses, t.v shows, managzine artciles for and against, blogs, comments, and tweets in once place, so that we know the truth.

      I hope we can leave the next generation with things like these as historical artefacts, rather than our ideologically biased history books!

      The possibilities of what we normal citizens can do together, and blend with the main stream media, is tremendous. That is IF the MSM is serious about collaboration with us.

      I am trying to take only the positives out and spread the same :)

      Cheers!
      Vasu

      December 1, 2010
  5. Sukanyadevi #

    Brilliant analysis Vasu!
    And this ‘blot’ as u sense, is a blessing in disguise.It will force the MSM and we the tweeples to introspect not only what constitutes valid journalism or astute viewership but also the value of integrity and ethics in whatever we do or achieve. hope that taking professions takes priority over making professions

    with u in this cause always ..your twitter follower
    Sukanya Devi

    December 1, 2010
    • Thanks so much Sukanya.

      You are one of the saner and smarter voices I have noticed on Twitterati, always urging people to keep religious and ideological bigotry out, and keep the discussions abuse free. And for those who think the attack on barkha is sexist nature, they just need to see the tweets of thousands of women like you!

      Appreciate your comment on “astute viewership”, one of the things I missed out mentioning in my blog. The audience has to mature and be far more intelligent, before demanding the same from their media.

      Cheers!
      Vasu

      December 1, 2010
  6. Update 1: December 1, 2010:

    For those who missed the show, here is the update: Last night Sonia Singh of NDTV was the anointed moderator for a 2 week late panel discussion on this topic featuring Barkha Dutt, Manu Joseph of the Open magazine, Sanjay Baru, Swapan Dasgupta, and Dileep Padgaonkar – all big names in journalism.

    In reality, Barkha’s late and lame show purely intended to brazenly bully Manu Joseph, is just a reminder why so many Indians would not be able to move beyond Barkha Dutt in the Radia tapes scandal, until she can at the very least sound apologetic, and not so holier than thou.

    She did not answer properly the one question Manu had, did not let any of the other eminent panelists or even the moderator speak, and did not even the humility to acknowledge Sanjay Baru’s pleas to at least say sorry now. She was so condescending of Manu purely on the basis that she is a celebrity journalists, while Manu is a sincere up coming media person.

    Dileep, Swapan, and Sanjay got hardly 5 minutes air time each, and were just decent but in effective participants in a vain, Barkha is supreme propaganda show. They sat there watching like imminently decent and likeable Dr. Manmohan Singh sitting and watching helplessly as the rot grows around his government.

    This ranks right up there as the worst performance along with the 26/11 coverage.

    WSJ India real time ran a commentary and a poll on this topic and over 70% indicated they fell less convinced about Barkha after the show. WSJ’s headline was apt “A Too-Argumentative Barkha Dutt Squanders Chance”

    Watch the NDTV show here:

    http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/ndtv-special-ndtv-24×7/barkha-dutt-other-editors-on-radia-tapes-controversy/178964?hp

    And, please do follow WSJ’s coverage here:

    http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/tag/Niira-Radia/

    It is a solace for now that WSJ is covering it intelligently and honestly, but in the long run its a national shame if I have to really on an American publication for authentic news on India :(

    Cheers!
    Vasu

    December 1, 2010
  7. ash_dubey #

    hey… fantastic coverage by you!! On twitter, too its going supreme!

    December 1, 2010
    • Thanks for your support as well. We are all in it together :_
      Cheers!
      Vasu

      December 1, 2010
  8. an excellent analysis on the current state of affairs with the MSM and the power that “we the Tweeple” have , I always felt the day some of the MSM actually play out the tapes will be the first sign of victory, with yesterdays NDTV discussion we have had partial success where atleast one of the “least controversial” tapes was played before the debate… I think they deliberately left the tapes with more direct references to “RCR” and “Spoke to Ahmed” and “Spoke to Ghulam” but still … they were forced to talk ! ..

    18 months back when i had written the piece you have referred , blogs like these were the only medium of our fight with the MSM , twitter was still nascent and we were probably evaluating how to make best use of those 140 character space that was offered.

    Today we have moved another step forward , and as you have correctly spelt out how this is going to work forward … i belive this is revolution waiting to happen and whose time has come .. there is no doubt that for the next few years there will be many more such battles and eventually a true 5th estate will emerge much stronger

    December 1, 2010
    • Yes Ayush, that we forced CNN IBN and NDTV to cover this topic, even as an eye wash, is a great victory. Blending of old school journos with the direct democracy movement of social media activists, is an idea whose time has come!
      But having said that, its easier to raise a war cry and expose the problems, than to actually fix them. Our jobs have just begun, and we have miles to go before we sleep :)
      Cheers!
      Vasu

      December 1, 2010
  9. Thanks Naveen, i am aware this is long, and appreciate your feedback. But such are the times that an instant 2 minute maggi solution of “fire barkha” or “you guys shouting at barkha are paid lynch mobs” are both wrong. I am attemting to provide the details and strike a balance.
    Thanks so much once again.
    Vasu

    November 30, 2010
    • For once when I was saying the post is a bit too long, I had this in my mind too, that the topic demands the length and on that note, I should say this one has covered pretty much of it all, and I wasn’t aware of all the facts, which i got & understood from this article. Nice one again.

      A Journey to the Unknown Spaces

      December 1, 2010
      • Thanks Naveen, and I am really glad you read something here that you have’nt heard of before. I am pretty sure I would pick up somethings I don’t know from your blogs as well!
        That’s the power we have, but need to harness and channelize.
        Cheers!
        Vasu

        December 1, 2010
  10. Hmm..interesting article. The part that i liked the most is

    “The media is the prism through which we view the society, nation, and the world, and today the prism is extremely distorted. Fixing the prism may not fix all the problems, and neither would breaking it altogether. But we need to collaborate in ensuring the media comes out of this dark episode in a healthier shape.”

    It was a bit too long, quite a time consuming article to read. What it does is people could be a bit reluctant to read a article of this size, even if the topics under discussion are of immense interest. Its just a suggestion though!

    Having read through it, even i do have the hope of a brighter tomorrow.

    November 30, 2010

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  1. Blogging year 2010 in review | Journeys across a pathless land
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