They show strategy of planting, killing stories, and blacklisting agency
The contents of a fresh set of leaked phone conversations involving Niira Radia and her associates paint an alarming picture of the extent to which the influential lobbyist — whose clients include Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata — sought to influence, use, manipulate and even browbeat the media in pursuit of her corporate agendas. Apart from highlighting the use of journalists to plant stories and columns or as intermediaries with politicians, the latest tapes released by the news magazine, Outlook, suggest more strong-arm lobbying techniques were also used or considered, including the possibility of blacklisting the national news agency, PTI.
Outlook, which had earlier published 140 conversations originally intercepted by the Income Tax department as part of its ongoing surveillance of Ms. Radia, now says it has 800 more conversations in its possession. Nineteen of those audio tapes, with partial summaries, were published on its website by Sunday evening. Editor Vinod Mehta said that all the tapes were being vetted, and eventually would be put in the public domain, except for those which were purely private conversations.
In one tape, HT Media advisor Vir Sanghvi has a follow-up conversation with Ms. Radia regarding his June 21, 2009 column in the Hindustan Times on the tussle between the Ambani brothers over gas pricing, framed as an article about oligarchs taking over natural resources.
“Wrote it… I've dressed it up as a piece about how the public will not stand for resources being cornered, how we're creating a new list of oligarchs,” Mr. Sanghvi tells Ms. Radia. “Very nice, lovely, thank you, Vir,” she says, while he adds: “It's dressed up as a plea to Manmohan Singh, so it won't look like an inter-Ambani battle except to people in the know.”
Confronted with this tape, Mr. Sanghvi still insists he was just stringing her along, “sweet-talking” a news source. In an interview to TheHindu, he claims the final published column included elements that Ms. Radia was unhappy about, proof that he was not exclusively pandering to her agenda.
While this particular column seemed to have elements taken word-for-word from a previous conversation with Ms. Radia, the lobbyist's efforts to ensure the publication of favourable articles took various other forms.
In other tapes, she is heard instructing an IAS officer to do an interview with a journalist for a story critical of Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, and telling a subordinate to compile questions for Mr. Sanghvi's interviews with Mr. Mukesh Ambani or Mr. Tata, both of whom are represented by Ms. Radia.
In another conversation, she seems to be directing the entire restructuring of the channel News X, which raises questions about her editorial influence there as well.
She does not hesitate to take negative action either, the most striking example of which is the discussion of a communication plan for the Reliance Industries group, which includes a proposal to “blacklist” news agency PTI, possibly in cooperation with the Tata group.
Ms. Radia's conversations include an attempt to manipulate the media and the police into providing bad publicity for rival Anil Ambani's Reliance Communications in Jammu. She also discusses “incorrect edits” and “a serious problem with [ET's] desk in Delhi”, and gloats about shifting a Noel Tata interview from a resistant Businessworld to a seemingly more cooperative Business Today magazine. However, the final laugh seemed to be on her in that particular case, with Business Today's former editor, Rohit Saran, pointing out that he went ahead with his own editorial agenda in the final published version of the interview, much to Ms. Radia's chagrin.