Tuesday, April 19, 2011



"I have been surprised by the pressure to which I have been subjected on the Barkha issue even by well-known people who do not have anything to do with the Hindutva elements. It is not because of the merits of the issue.

• One very senior Editor based in Delhi “warned” me in writing that he will not carry my writings on other subjects if I did not stop supporting Barkha.
• Another senior Editor expressed his “disappointment” in writing over my praising Barkha.
• Another person, writing on behalf of some NRIs in the US, cautioned me that they will stop reading my writings if I did not stop supporting Barkha.

" I have been in receipt of many more such messages warning me, cautioning me, rebuking me on the Barkha issue. These people should remember one thing: I have never succumbed to pressure in my life. I am not going to do so in the evening of my life." Extract from my blog post of March 25,2011

Admirers and well-wishers of Barkha Dutt, the well-known TV personality, would have reasons to be gratified by reports circulating in the Internet that the investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the activities of Niira Radia, the lobbyist working for a number of corporate houses, has not brought out any evidence of any wrong-doing by Barkha. On the contrary, the investigation has allegedly directed the needle of suspicion at dubious contacts of senior journalists of some other media houses, including a leading TV channel, which has been in the forefront of a self-righteous campaign on the issue of corruption while covering up the alleged dubious contacts of one of its own senior journalists with Radia.

2. On the day Radia appeared before the Public Accounts Committee of the Parliament, this channel repeatedly showed visuals of Radia side by side with pictures from the archives of Barkha in order to create a mischievous impression in the minds of the viewers that Barkha was the villain of the piece.

3. In a post in my blog dated December 1,2010, under the title "Fixing Barkha Dutt" I had drawn attention to what I thought were attempts being made to have Barkha fixed by interested elements out of various motives. Extracts from this post are at Annexure A.

4.After I circulated this post, I was in receipt of a "warning" from a senior journalist not to support Barkha. In response to this, I wrote on December 6,2010, a post titled "It Is Dangerous To Defend Barkha Dutt" which is at Annexure B.

5. The campaign of abuses and threats against me for supporting Barkha did not stop. I drew attention to this in a post of March 25,2011, which has been cited above as a preamble to this article.

6. Whatever may be the ultimate outcome of the investigation and other enquiries into the Radia tapes, one has strong reasons to believe that this shameful episode represented "Media McCarthyism" of the worst kind in order to tarnish the reputation of Barkha and ridicule and intimidate those supporting her. One would be entitled to expect that the media houses and journalists, who allegedly played a role in fanning this "Media McCarthyism" against Barkha, would now have the grace to apologise to her in public. ( !9-4-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt.of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )


( Extracts From my post of December 1,2010, titled "Fixing Barkha Dutt" )

These conversations revealed the extent of her (Radia's) role in seeking to influence political and business-related decisions. It was reported that there were about 15 journalists among those contacted by her. Copies of these recordings would have been available at three places--- the Income-Tax Department, the Intelligence Agency which carried out the tapping and the mobile telephone company or companies whose subscriber Radia was. From one of these sources, the recorded conversations leaked out to two journals, which published the transcripts of about a hundred of them. It needs to be underlined that these tapes were not discovered by the two journals as a result of their journalistic enterprise. These were apparently given to them by an unidentified source for giving publicity to the contents.

What could have been the motive of the source in leaking the tapes? Either to discredit Radia and her business clients or to discredit her journalist contacts or both. Of the 15-odd journalists figuring in the conversations, two have received the maximum adverse attention ---- Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi. Barkha is a highly successful TV journalist with a large circle of admirers and critics. Her contribution to making Indian TV journalism reach great heights has been immense. Despite this, she is disliked by many, who accuse her of being pro-Muslim, pro-Pakistan, anti-national, anti-Hindutva, anti-RSS and anti-Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat. In recent months, her ctitics have become even more virulent against her after her active role in highlighting the alleged involvement of some Hindus in acts of terrorism against the Muslims. Her stories on the so-called Hindu terror have added to the enemity against her.

It is intriguing that the leakage of her tapped conversations with Radia and the controversay that followed came in the wake of her stories on the alleged Hindu terror. People, who know Barkha well, say that she has some negative traits in her personality too. They allege that she is intimidating and cannot take criticism in her stride. There was one alleged instance of her forcing a blogger, who made a critical posting on her, to apologice in public and remove his posting. Her success as a journalist has also brought in the professional jealousy of some of her colleagues in the profession.

Her critics and detractors jumped at the opportunity provided by the tapes in an attempt to put her on the defensive, destroy her credibility and damage her professional reputation. Nobody has accused her of being complicit in any crime by being in touch with Radia. Nobody has accused her of trying to play down or cover up the allegations against A.Raja in her journalist reporting. She has been accused only of letting herself be used by a lobbyist in a manner, which is contrary to the ethics of journalism. Barkha's reply is that she did not let herself be used by Radia, but she was using her contacts with Radia to collect information about the DMK. Barkha has been asked by her critics as to why in that case she did not write about the use of Radia by the DMK to influence the Cabinet formation. This is an unkind question---- as unkind as asking N.Ram, the Editor-in-Chief of "The Hindu", as to why he allegedly let himself be used by the Tamil elements from Sri Lanka as an intermediary with Rajiv Gandhi when he was the Prime Minister in the 1980s? As unkind as asking N.Ram as to why he played down the stories of the mass anti-Chinese uprising in Tibet in 2008? As unkind as asking N.Ram as to why for many years till recently he blacked out references to His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the columns of his paper. As unkind as asking him as to why he used to give publicity in his paper to the despatches of the Xinhua, the news agency owned by the Chinese Government. Ram should be the last person to throw stones at Barkha.

Many journalists, who are throwing stones today at Barkha, had themselves acted as intermediaries to some one or the other and allowed their coverage to be influenced by extraneous considerations.

A person should be judged not by what he or she says in private, but by what he or she says or writes in public and does.There is nothing inappropriate or unethical in Barkha's writings, reportage and actions. As regards her private conversations with Radia over phone she has explained the background and context and denied any malafide or unethical intention. Her explanation should be accepted instead of trying to fix her through an inquisition. ( 1-12-10)


(My post of 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 .

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.

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.

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.

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.