Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tapey-Tapey tape tape

Someone sent me an SMS the other day, saying why hasn't K said anything about the 'Tapes' and the 'Fall of Journalism'. Given that this blog has a title like this, I thought I should say something but after that twat Avirook 'exposed' himself making me collateral damage in the process, it would seem petty to write a post.
Though, truth be told I was rather gleeful to see Avirook's benefactor in journalism exposed as a dictation-taking sham artist. Then again, I've always had a strong opinion about 'The V'. Imagine if News X had taken off under old management, it might well have been called News RIL, I don't think any of the old News X staff can talk about the credibility of that set-up any longer. Anyway, as usual, I dither.
Honestly, was this bound to happen one day, sure it was. I mean, yes the leaked tapes are targeted at certain journalists and politicians, particularly journalists and politicians who are/were friendly to a particular industrialist (well, duh!) and the government has now dubbed Niira Radia as a foriegn agent. But, to be fair to Miss Radia, she was very good at her job. Not excellent, because if she was excellent these tapes would never have come out, but she was good.
But first, I really do not believe it is a crime for journalists to talk to lobbyists, it has happened before and it will happen again. They can give you interesting leads and even help you along in a story. On the other hand, taking dictation from them is well, indefensible. We all talk to these people, meet them at the Taj Chambers as we start climbing the ladder from being correspondents to being editors.
There are however a couple of very troubling questions that this episode has raised, the first is that rank-and-file journalists, the guys who go out on the street and get the stories are seen to be fairly powerless. Whatever happened to the pushy reporter? Most reporters are happy for their editors to correct and maul their story in exchange for the lead story on TV or a front page story byline in a newspaper? That several young reporters have a lack of confidence in their language is one thing, but a lack of confidence in their stories?
The second troubling issue is that some journalists seem to have been nothing more than cheap spies. Whether or not someone can prove a fiduciary link is not the question, a news list in my opinion is sacred until the product makes the airwaves or hits the stands. Many years ago, my now wife and then girlfriend who worked for a rival publication then asked me whether we were doing a story on XXX. I flipped my lid, and later discovered that she had been coerced by her then editor to ask me this. I lost all respect for that man that day, to take advantage of young reporter to do something like this is wrong. To volunteer information is bizarre.
As Sukumar pointed out in his column on November 27, these conversations were private and we all say a lot of things in private conversations, make aspersions and call call people names. If people call other people names in a phone call, oh well, they never thought that they would get caught. And usually if they call you names, they never liked you anyway.
Anyway, a few friends and me are planning to do a panel discussion on the topic. Not trying to involve the usual suspects, we are trying to get a lot of younger journalists as well as others who understand what the internet is all about. I will post the details on my Twitter feed as well as this blog.
And there is another cautionary tale here, when you build your reputation around honesty and ethics, be sure never to trip up or have someone trip up doing your dirty work. There isn't a detergent built that can clear the stains on that reputation.