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Updated: December 14, 2010 20:34 IST

In Radia tapes, an alarming picture of media manipulation

Priscilla Jebaraj
Comment (21)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
A file photo of Niira Radia at the Enforcement Directorate after being questioned on her alleged role in the 2G spectrum allocation case, in New Delhi.
PTI A file photo of Niira Radia at the Enforcement Directorate after being questioned on her alleged role in the 2G spectrum allocation case, in New Delhi.

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.

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Lot of post mortem has been done in this case. Niira Radia had been manoeuvring her skills for personal gains.It has been proven. Can the People in media industry lay down stringent rules so that these glitches do not recur.Do we have some honest and sincere media personnel who can stem this rot.May be No more Radiias.

from:  aju
Posted on: Dec 14, 2010 at 18:30 IST

A few years back I accidentally read Vir Sanghvi's article on a Sunday. I was so impressed by that article that along with TOI every day I also started reading Sunday's edition of HT. I used to hold Vir Sanghvi in very high esteem. But after reading about his conversations with Radia I am shocked and bewildered. With all the money,fame and what not, why should man like him stoop so low. He appears to be not more than an ordinary scoundrel now. If he has even an iota of self respect left in him ,he should resign from HT and apologise to the readers of HT and the nation.I wonder if there are any people of integrity, independece left in the media. Same feelings for Barkha Dutt of NDTV.

from:  R.B.MATHUR
Posted on: Dec 14, 2010 at 17:53 IST

Has the media, print or electronic, in India or elsewhere been totally objective and truthful always? The reaction to the Radia tapes would have us believe that Niira Radia is a new phenomenon. Haven't powerful commercial, financial, religeous and other interests always influenced governmental decision-making? As long as the decision makers can be influenced, vested interests, in the very nature of things, will influence them. It is not Bharka Dutt or Vir Sanghvi who have taken decisions on appointing A.Raja as the Telecom Minister or on allocation of national resources to varios business corporations. Why is it that we talk only about influencers and not the influenced? Maybe the decision-makers are influencing the media? Doesn't governmental lobbying of the media exist in our country?

from:  K.Vijayakumar
Posted on: Dec 14, 2010 at 17:37 IST

While we should not prejudge the integrity of any one involved in these tapes, one cannot overlook the involvement of media persons, in the whole episode. We clamour for free speech, press freedom and ready to raise our voice, for any opposing views or attack on the media. We wonder who will tame the overzealous media personalities whose claim to fame is based on rhetoric and sensationalising the events of the day and conveniently forgetting the issue, when a new headlines hogs the limelight. >Mr Rajiv Gandhi, our former PM, when he was thrust into politics in the 80's, made a famous remark chiding all the coteries and even used a strong term ''power brokers'' to admonish his party loyalists, who are by fate of circumstances have become the power centres today. Media Ethics is given a go by in this modern day journalism. Even while interviewing personalities or discussing on important issues, in the media, there is a growing intolerance or shall we say impatience to listen to the other view. Those who are voicing different opinion are immediately shut down or blacked out. Senior Journalists of reputed newspapers and a TV channel are figuring in these tapes. It is painful to read that they have indulged in power broking and their opinion counted in the corridors of the powers that be. Responsible journalism seems to be a thing of the past. It is a 20-20 world but people slowly but surely seemed to be veering around the fact that Test Cricket at its best is always a delight.

from:  P.G. Ravikumar
Posted on: Dec 14, 2010 at 16:19 IST

The Media which is said to be a pillar of our democracy are as any other Business house. None of the media houses today are neutral today in their reporting because they are more concerned about their TRP & business.That is the reason they have become mere tool for propaganda of these big political parties. Serious journalism has died because of the rise of materialistic wants. Every one struggles to get to certain position & doesn't an miss an opportunity to make money in any unfair means possible. Media has forgotten its responsibility and sold itself to corporates & ministers. Lobbyist's like Radia have been born who have grown to approximately Rs 900 Cr in less then 9 years,i doubt if any young entrepreneur in this country have managed to grow with the same pace.

from:  Rajat
Posted on: Dec 14, 2010 at 16:15 IST

As enlightening (and disheartening) as these tapes are, I still believe that the Indian media is missing the REAL story - who leaked those tapes and why?

from:  Sam
Posted on: Dec 14, 2010 at 01:45 IST

In the face of all the heat, the reporters caught playing a series of cruel jokes on the public defy the evidence and refuse to admit to the truth. I'm sorry if this sounds a bit crude but who would they be without the readers and viewers? Perhaps it's something special about out Capital City and it's boundless ability to seduce all into it's back scratching system of favors! One things for sure, seeing that denial has been their response, inevitably Vir and Burkha's ability to report fairly is even further compromised. I speak for many when I say, I hope The Hindu stays unsullied.

from:  Priya
Posted on: Dec 14, 2010 at 00:08 IST

Let's be honest, we would have to have been living under a rock not to have noticed both the tone and substance of the Indian Press, particularly TV news, as heading downhill long before the exposure of Ms. Radia's modus operandi. Quick to shoot from the hip, our 'acclaimed' journalists resemble the wild west during the gold rush. Just as the rapid accumulation of wealth lead to lawlessness, information is the new gold- except with all the that information being mined, there's little to show in a qualitatively better informed public. On a side note- I've yet to meet an individual that believes Ms. Dutt from NDTV deserved the Presidential Padma award. If the system rewards her style of reporting, what signal does it send to aspiring reporters? Far better journalists deserved it, except they probably had more self respect than to call in political favors in exchange for the 'honor'. This certainly nails the coffin in terms of her credibility. Seeing that she's dug in her heels- look forward to more 'exceptional' journalism on NDTV.

from:  Nisha
Posted on: Dec 13, 2010 at 23:51 IST

This stupendous lady should be recognised as the 'Indian of the year 2010', for her tremendous capabality of manouvering the government formation and therby the actions. You should also appreciate Mr. Tata for hiring this genius for his company. She should be called as guest faculty in all business institutions so that she can share her knowledge and experience with the students.

from:  Ashok S
Posted on: Dec 13, 2010 at 20:52 IST

Well, we reap what we sow. The average news consumer prefers to receive two minute sound bites on the television and see bollywood stars on their newspaper covers, so aren't we jumping the gun in our sense of injustice? Democracy requires vigilance and we can't outsource that to the Press alone.

from:  Anthony
Posted on: Dec 13, 2010 at 19:25 IST

Well, we reap what we sow. The average news consumer prefers to receive two minute sound bites on the television and see bollywood stars on their newspaper covers, so aren't we jumping the gun in out sense of injustice? Democracy requires vigilance and we can't outsource that to the Press alone.

from:  Anthony
Posted on: Dec 13, 2010 at 19:24 IST

Hindustan Times cannot wash it hands for it's failure to prevent it's paper being used as a platform for disinformation. Suspending Vir Sangvi's column does not reassure the reader this sort of manipulation is not happening across other columns or in fact has the tacit support of more senior employees of the newspaper.

from:  Santosh
Posted on: Dec 13, 2010 at 19:09 IST

From an American perspective, I find the HT media advisors reporting most interesting. There was in fact much anxiety over the Indian Oil Ministries position on the disputed gas fields and in essence we felt this was an attempt to usurp the legal foundation upon which companies had invested in the sector. A major Canadian firm with a stake in the gas fields was itself dismayed at the shifting sands of the legal framework and though no foreign firms were targeting by the Government of India, it has left a sour taste in everyones's mouth. The revelation that one of the parties was shifting public opinion through the press is not all that surprising, that so many people bought into that 'reasoning' hook, line and centre more troubling. Keeping those initial legal concerns in mind, for the record, global Indian companies have established excellent credentials and the comparison to Russia oligarchs, by the author of the article, is nonsensical.

from:  Jean K.
Posted on: Dec 13, 2010 at 18:58 IST

Just how grave was Mr. Vir Sanghvis "dressing up" of his article on the Ambani brothers gas dispute? In terms of impact, the push towards framing the debate as "India's right to natural resources v/s internal family disputes" was widely understood to represent RIL's interest at the time. One didn't need to be in the know, as it were, to appreciate this and most foreign investors (who were deeply troubled by the Govt of India's intervention to retrospectively reframe the rules of investment) took note of this tactic with concern. In other words, it was propaganda intended solely as operating cover for those pushing for a reinterpretation of the initial agreement between the Govt of India and RIL for extraction of gas. Regardless of the "settlement" between the parties post a judicial order, the events did not bode well for India's standing within the 'risk matrix' of investment opportunities, that all global natural resources companies scrutinize prior to major projects.

from:  Clifford
Posted on: Dec 13, 2010 at 18:24 IST

I saw JAYA NEWS where the talk between Ms RADIA and Mr Tarundas was shown. In the talk Ms Radia was able to pronounce Azhagiri and Kanimozhi properly; Is it possible

from:  Srinivasan
Posted on: Dec 13, 2010 at 17:48 IST

The extreme news of political scams depicts the extent of deep rooted fraudulent practices in our democracy that pulls back the economy from taking off for sustained development improving the quality of life of our citizens. While seeing the overdose of scams in public life swindling huge revenue that would have gone otherwise into the exchequer, I am reminded of other scams that blemish our corporate sector wherein huge money pumped into are looted by business icons and multi-continental brokers engaged in running parallel financial regimes. In India we had a list of corporate scams, the latest and famous one being the 'Satyam Computers' Due to this monumental scam, the issue of corporate governance is getting prominence even in not so large corporate houses promoted by new generation entrepreneurs. Of course CG in India has been more voluntary than enforced. I strongly believe that the future of both Parliamentary governance and corporate governance depends on the performance of Media and its investigative journalism or sting actions. Can Media too get compromised? Though it can be a powerful corrective force for exposing wrong-doings, it is also susceptible to mislead the nation while media business is entwined with the revenues from corporate advertisements and sponsorship of reality shows. Media companies cannot estrange big funders for running their shows! Thus Media may also be sensitive to news manipulation and lobbying.

from:  Madan Menon Thottasseri.CHENNAI
Posted on: Dec 13, 2010 at 17:19 IST

The deeds of Niira Radia in subverting the policies in favour of her clients is the stuff of legends. The lady has earned the right to be the PM of this country.

from:  V. Ramaswamy
Posted on: Dec 13, 2010 at 09:39 IST

More skeletons out of the closet. Incredible India! The land of Nira Radia

from:  Divya
Posted on: Dec 13, 2010 at 09:37 IST

My queation is: These tapes hve been with thre govt of India for some time now. After reviewing the tapes it is conclusive that both the Corporates, Media were part of the loop in this scam.In addition Raja and his Party from Tamil Nadu were there in the thick. What took the enforcement directorate or for that matter CBI and other IAS or govt paying emploees so long to start a massive investigation. 176,000 crorees is is big money. It could have funded 176,000 villages for development programms. >Why can't we declare the gas in godavari as a national asset? further derivatives on this too should be part of an investigation. Governance is not about transperancy. It is all about Righteousness. Righteousness is not a functions of literacy( Kapi Sibal is from Harvard. well is he right? both Barkha and Vir Sanghvi are endcated!! are they educated) It reminds us literacy gives is the ability to understand and comprehend. This coin also has a different side that can get venomous.

from:  BR Srinivasan
Posted on: Dec 13, 2010 at 09:12 IST

This is truly turning out to be the tip of the iceberg. With just few hundred tapes leaked, we are learning so much about the back-room dealing, arm-twisting and pandering, one only wonders how this will all end. I hope people wake to hard reality and realize the true self of self-proclaimed honest businessmen of India and their cronies.

from:  Bhagat
Posted on: Dec 13, 2010 at 08:14 IST

Sir, It is a shame on our system that till now no politician has been punished for corruption and I hope that 2G scam investigation and its result be an warning for all politician and beuracrats

from:  R.venkatraj
Posted on: Dec 13, 2010 at 06:42 IST
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