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Posted on November 19, 2010

Barkha, Sanghvi in damage control mode after Open allegations

Blog to clear blotch

BY Iftikhar Gilani

NDTV Group Editor Dutt

NDTV Group Editor Barkha Dutt

Noted journalists Vir Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt on Friday were on the defensive, denying the allegations of lobbying and power-broking for former telecom minister A Raja in the 2G spectrum scam.

The newspaper Hindustan Times meanwhile distanced itself from its Advisory Editorial Director Sanghvi’s weekly column “Counterpoint,” and said that the views expressed in the column were his own.

The two journalists were reacting to the story carried in the two-year old weekly, Open, which revealed transcripts of their telephonic conversations allegedly taped by the Income Tax Department in 2008-09 between them and Nira Radia, lobbyist and self-proclaimed friend of Raja. Another weekly, Outlook, has also followed the story.

Sanghvi issued a lengthy clarification on his website www.virsanghvi.com that was also picked up by Hindustan Times, which put out a short statement.

NDTV Group Editor Dutt spent five minutes defending herself during her talk show on Thursday night. Her blog further clarified her role.

The Hindustan Times said that their (the transcripts) authenticity could not be ascertained, while affirming the paper’s “steadfast adherence to a code of ethics of the highest levels and values that involve integrity, credibility and transparency in our constant endeavour to bring news and analysis that is unbiased, balanced and authentic to its readers.”

Referring to Sanghvi’s clarifications on his personal website, the paper said, “Mr Sanghvi writes a weekly column, titled Counterpoint, in which the views he expresses, like those of our other columnists, are his own.”

Dutt, on her part, said that it is the job of a professional journalist to talk to all and that cannot be dubbed as lobbying for someone. In the transcripts, published by Open, she is heard virtually offering to do a favour for Radia.

On her blog, Dutt said, “Smear campaign (is) astounding. Onus (is) on Open and Outlook to prove quid pro quo of any kind, before vilifying individuals and their work.” She went on to attack both magazines for their “activist” journalism.

Dutt added, “Vinod Mehta, Editor, Outlook, has been a guest on several TV shows hosted by me. (I) would like him to point out one instance of compromise in coverage. Can he?” And there was more. “Amazed, angered and saddened at the inability of some to distinguish between gathering info and ridiculous labels like lobbying/power-broking,” her blog said.

Sanghvi pointed out that this was not the first instance of such allegations. He said that several months ago, stories had begun appearing in a section of the media, suggesting that he and other journalists had lobbied on Raja’s behalf.

“As I have never met Mr Raja and have attacked his corruption in both print and TV, these assertions struck me as bizarre,” he said.

Sanghvi added, “While nobody can remember verbatim every conversation that took place 19 months ago, these transcripts do not appear to be entirely accurate. Moreover, there is nothing at all in the transcripts to suggest that I lobbied for Mr Raja.” Sanghvi also brought to notice the fact that Open has qualified the transcripts with the disclaimer, “We are in no position to endorse the contents of the recordings.” It presumably means that the magazine is not guaranteeing their authenticity, he noted.

Advisory Editorial Director Vir Sanghvi

Hindustan Time's Advisory Editorial Director Vir Sanghvi

Here are more excerpts from Sanghvi’s defence:
“The conversations recorded relate to the phase when there was an impasse between the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and the Congress. Ms Radia called several journalists, including me, to ask us to convey a message to any Congress leaders we met in the course of our work. This message was, essentially, that the Congress was communicating with the wrong people in the DMK.”

“While gathering news, journalists talk to a wide variety of sources from all walks of life, especially when a fast-moving story is unfolding. Out of a desire to elicit more information from these sources, we are generally polite. I received many calls from different sources during that period. In no case did I act on those requests as anybody in the government will know.”

“The second conversation relates to the dispute between the Ambani brothers. I had asked Ms Radia to explain the position of her client, Mukesh Ambani. And I also asked Anil Ambani’s side for its views.”

Sanghvi said he had recorded this in his piece, in which he wrote: “My friend, Tony Jesudasan, who represents Anil, took me out to lunch and made out a case for Anil. I was totally convinced till my friend, Nira Radia, who represents Mukesh, gave me the other side, which frankly seemed just as convincing to my inexpert ears.” “I also wrote, why do the Ambanis think that all of us should take sides in their battle or that we should care what happens to them? That still remains my view.”

Posted on November 19, 2010



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