Monday, December 6, 2010



It is dangerous to defend Barkha Dutt, the well-known TV anchor, on whom stones are being thrown from different directions following the publication of a set of carefully selected telephone intercepts of her conversations with Niira Radia, who was handling the public relations and government liaison work of two of the leading corporate houses of India. I have been subjected to considerable abuse.The critics of Barkha are shocked that I should be defending her instead of joining the hunting pack and going after her. A senior journalist, who had served in the Prime Minister's Office when Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, subsequently went on a diplomatic assignment before reverting back to journalism, is reported to have described me as a tired old man .

2.I chose to defend Barkha because I strongly feel that her hard-earned reputation as a young, courageous and successful journalist, is sought to be besmirched----wittingly or unwittingly---- on the basis of an incomplete and motivated narrative. It is incomplete because only about three per cent of the total number of about 5800 intercepts has been made public. This clearly indicates that there has been a careful selection of the intercepts to be leaked to the press. Who made the selection? With what motive? Unless one has answers to these questions, there should be a big question mark over the narrative.

3. Telephone intercepts are double-edged swords. One can get valuable information regarding law-breaking from them. At the same time, they also lend themselves to be easily manipulated to damage innocent reputations.That is why many foreign Governments have carefully drafted dos and donts regarding telephone tapping ----like fixing the duration of the tapping just as one fixes the duration of police custody of a suspect, taking a fresh authorisation every time the duration expires, destroying intercepts which do not indicate any violation of law to prevent their misuse for character assassination etc.

4. The danger of misuse of intercepts to harm innocent persons is real. In the 1980s, when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister, a young officer, who was in charge of tapping, was sacked because he manipulated the process in order to create suspicions about some members of the Sikh community being Khalistani sympathisers. His manipulation of the process was detected in time before any damage was done to the reputation of those named by him.

5. Many circumstances relating to the tapping in the present case are not clear. On what specific grounds was the tapping authorised by the competent authority? Was the authorisation of limited duration? If so, was it renewed from time to time? Was a due judgement made at the time of each renewal that there were valid reasons to suspect criminal wrong-doing? Were the intercepts not indicating any criminal wrong-doing ordered to be destroyed to prevent their falling into wrong hands? Such questions need to be gone into thoroughly and a detailed directive issued on the use of tapping for the investigation of crime.

6.Tappings are meant to facilitate detection and prosecution of crime and not to damage the reputation of innocent persons. (7-12-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi. E-mail: )


Esoteric said...

I agree for a change with your defence here on two counts:

- Intent of releasing tapes selectively.

- Process of tapping has its failings. Tapes could be tampered with...

However, Barkha herself hasnt put up a decent defence and seems to have no valid explanation for her conversations with a source for a story thats never published.

This isnt the first time, she has slipped. Kargil fiasco hasnt been forgotten.

Last point I would make is, given India's current status of corporate behaviour and ethical standards, its polity and justice meted out...all of elite is under cloud. The onus is on them to prove their innocence, rather than on the one's making any revelations about the daily scam opera that we are today.

The collusion between Industry, Media, Bureuacrats and Politicians have compromised EVERY institution of this once great country and 95% of people to who rise to any position of influence do so after compromising to a certain extent the ideals of - Justice, truth and transparency and accountability.

2010 is a turning point when it comes to citizens tolerance for this ELITE driven tamasha of collusion in all spheres of live to disenfranchise 80% of Indian people.

We need to declare a war against corrpution...enact a POTA or a TADA.

Guilty unless proven innocent.

No Mist said...

3 percent or 30 percent ... 5000 conversations or 1 conversation ... how does it matter ?? how many are needed to establish somebody's guilt ? while convicting somebody for rape do you say that this fellow has known 500 women in his life but raped only one. we cannot proscute him unless he rapes at least 30 percent of women he knows ... or we cannot convict a murderer unless he murders 30 percent of the people he is in contact with ...

your argument is vacuous .... whatever motive was of the tapper ... is the motive of the tappee in doubt ? why should somebody care about the motive of the tapper ? the tapes prove barkhas guilt beyond doubt, it does not matter who tapped or why he/she did it ... we have tapes and we judge on the basis of concrete evidence ... why do you have a problem with it ? why dont you disclose your own true motives for defending barkha after all the big talk about motives, eh ? and moreover what strategic analysis is done by defending barkha ... one laughable ridiculous attempt by you ... i hope this is the last one

Rajiv said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rajiv said...

Please read this article also

Broadway said...

"I have been subjected to considerable abuse."
>I see nothing wrong with people being critical about your "opinions". There is nothing personal about it. But calling you a "tired old man" was definitely a personal attack.
"...on the basis of an incomplete and motivated narrative."
>I do not think her conversations were lost in context. What witch-hunting? No one is asking for her to be put in jail. She claims to be neutral but these tapes prove she isn't. What is the problem?
"Unless one has answers to these questions, there should be a big question mark over the narrative"
>I do not understand this reasoning. But still, let us assume that navika kumar of timesnow leaked these tapes because she was jealous of barkha. Does that automatically mean that these conversations between barkha and radia never took place? Seriously, ramanji, what are you really trying to say?

Raj said...

Burkha Dutt, by her own admission, is guilty of ignoring an important story (as she thought it was not all that 'important').

Is it not like letting Aksai Chin captured by China, and then concealing this event for 2 years, and then claim, when confronted, that it was not all that 'important' as not a blade of grass grows there?

Also, by her own admission, she is guilty of exercising poor judgement in getting super-cozy with Niira Radia. Mind you Niira Radia is quite an important decision maker for Tata (and also Mukesh Ambani). She decides how to strategize the PR aspects of these companies. That is her job. How can a top decision maker like Niira Radia be ever a 'source'?

Let me cite an example. Can a journalist get cozy with a top cabinet minister, and then later claim (if taped conversations are somehow publicized) that he/she was merely a 'source' for the inside information about the particular ministry and about how the ministry deals with other players?

Broadway said...

"At the same time, they also lend themselves to be easily manipulated to damage innocent reputations"
>Home secretary pillai never hinted to WSJ that these tapes were forged or edited in anyway. He said that the tapes had raised questions on "media ethics" but that was not what his team were investigating about. He never hinted that the journalists appeared as out of context in absence of the remaining bulk of tapes
This is what pillai says in the WSJ article:

*Apparently none of that(media ethics) has anything to do with the legal case going forward. Mr. Pillai said he gave the go-ahead to bug Ms. Radia’s phone to further a tax-evasion investigation. Asked how that probe is connected to the controversial allocation of so-called 2G mobile phone spectrum in 2008, he would only say that the potentially illegal movement of funds in and out of India is being scrutinized closely. He declined to offer further specifics on who will likely be charged and for what specifically.*

Shri Ram Ayyangar said...

The Barkha case is like a film. If film flops ,director is responsible not all the technicians. Here Barkha is director so all fingers on her.But why she was getting irritated in a TV show with other journalists which was visible on her face!Guilty conscious?

shaan said...

It is very unfortunate that people have started to attack you for supporting Barkha. You have the right to defend her because you believe that she is innocent.

At the same time even your arguments may not help her because there are many people tracking her mistakes over a long time. For example she was accused of being a tool in the hands of terrorists by disclosing the location of a hostage over the TV during the Mumbai attacks. A foreign media site carried this news explicitly naming her as the person who did it. Immediately the spin doctors of NDTV began to work and the article was modified without any note and her name was removed. But a person had already taken a screenshot of the web page containing her name. He posted both the articles side by side. You can easily brush this aside as forgery but doing such forgery may not easily create an effect and hence nobody will take the pain to do it.

In the US, Fox is openly called a right wing news channel and its anchors are openly criticized. But Fox never worries about it or even hides its ideological leanings. Here in India the media always tries to adopt a holier than thou attitude and routinely conducts media trial of non-Congress political leaders. They try to hide their ideological leanings and try to portray themselves as neutral even when they favor one political party over the other. This has now boomeranged. The reason that Barkha is targeted even by the mainstream media is that she is the scapegoat now. By making her the scapegoat the mainstream media is trying to escape. But as far as the common man and critics are concerned she is the face of the power hungry corrupt Indian media. Barkha's fate should be a lesson for all media persons. If they don't learn, they will be the next.

Shiva Subramanian said...

Dear Sir:
personal attacks on you for your stance are unfair and undeserved. Even more so because of your service to your country. As far as 'tired old man', the thoughts in your blog and the activity level indicates that you are both young and energetic!

That being said, i almost completely disagree with your defence of Barkha. But i suppose you have your reasons, and I will continue to follow your blog keenly.