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Anchored in mire

Last updated: 22 November, 2010

''Journalists are only exp-ected to be witnesses.''

While the 2G spectrum scandal has unfolded, it has exposed the involvement of a number of individuals, offices and institutions in different ways in it. Irregularities of such massive proportions could not been planned and resorted to by a minister and some bureaucrats.

The prime minister was told by the supreme court to explain his delay in acting on a request for action against the minister. While this was a matter of omission, instances of more active involvement by others have also come to light. The Centre for Public Interest Litigation has submitted to the apex court taped conversations between a lobbyist, Niira Radia, and politicians and journalists.

The recordings were said to have been made by the income tax department in 2008 and 2009 and show the access the lobbyist had to important information in the Central government and to high-level political decisions. There is no reason to believe that the tapes are concocted.

The influence that the lobbyist wields in the corridors of power, as it comes through the tapes, is a matter of concern. Of equal, and perhaps greater, concern is the role of some journalists, as their conversations with Radia show, in matters concerning politics and government. Senior journalist Vir Sanghvi and prominent television newsperson Barkha Dutt have figured in them.

The content and tenor of the conversations go beyond the normal relationship between journalists and their sources and contacts. There was also an indication of tailoring news to suit the interests represented by the lobbyist.

Journalists are only expected to be witnesses and chroniclers of events. They need background information and may sometimes have to interact closely with decision-makers or others close to them to understand events better and to interpret them. But if they become players in the events the credibility of the profession will be lost.

Journalism in the country has received unfavourable attention in the recent past for practices like paid news. But it has also won praise for its activist role in exposing corruption and misconduct, including in the 2G scam.

Going beyond the professional line and entering the politicians’ and lobbyists’ worlds produces a conflict of interest for journalists. That amounts to using the profession for wrong purposes. It will lead to loss of people’s trust in them and in the media.

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