Guilty or set up?

High profile political lobbyist Niira Radia and anchor Barkha Dutt discuss Cabinet composition possibilities with Raja’s inclusion or non-inclusion being the big question

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Published: Wed 24 Nov 2010, 8:38 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 1:01 PM

Receiving signals:

RADIA: You see, you see my honest advice…


RADIA: that you tell them that they need to tell him (DMK chief M Karunanidhi) directly that we are happy because Kani’s [Kanimozhi, Karunanidhi’s daughter] got no issue being (a minister with) independent (charge). But Alagiri is now telling her that you cannot take an independent charge if Maran remains cabinet minister.

BARKHA: I see.

RADIA: And Congress is sending messages through media and through various sources, saying that. And Maran is telling everyone that he is the only acceptable person.

BARKHA: ….person, yeah, yeah, yeah. That I know.

RADIA: But that’s not correct, naa?

BARKHA: No, I know. We’ve taken that off. We’ve taken that off.

She says she was newsgathering. Does this sound more like she was selecting ministers for specific positions?

BARKHA: No, you see Congress’s condition is Baalu should not get surface transport. Not Baalu, DMK should not get surface transport, beyond individuals right?RADIA: Correct, correct, and they are not individuals. Let me tell you one thing’s for sure, 3 plus 4 was yesterday; because of Maran, they wanted to make it 4 plus 3.BARKHA: Okay!RADIA: So, now it is back to 3 plus 4 that was already worked on the table?BARKHA: No, so why does this formula not sound right then?RADIA: Because of Alagiri naa, if you make Alagiri not cabinet. No, he’s not got cabinet.BARKHA: Oh, Alagiri got what, according to these things?RADIA: You see, according to her, he’s got Health, but he can’t be cabinet. Either Maran is not cabinet, either Raja is not cabinet or Baalu’s not.BARKHA: Alagiri’s got Health and that’s a big compromise by Congress because they said we won’t give them Health. So that’s their face saver. No, but Alagiri, Health can be cabinet?RADIA: Agreed, but then Raja is MoS.BARKHA: Raja is MoS!RADIA: Then is Baalu MoS?BARKHA: Nahin ho sakta (can’t be done). Nahin, nahin, nahin(no,no,no) if Baalu gets the Heavy Industries and Alagiri is in the Fertiliser, according to xxx, Baalu gets Fertilizer; Alagiri gets this thing, Health.RADIA: Maran gets Telecom and IT.BARKHA: Maran gets Telecom and IT. Raja gets demoted.RADIA: Who gets …?BARKHA: Raja. (Nahin hoga)Won’t happen?RADIA: I am telling you nahin hai (laughingly, he is not there). Trust me, nahin hai (he is not in).BARKHA: Aacha, theek hain (okay, that’s fine).

Now, they discuss the make up of the ministry.

RADIA: Barkha, what I’m told is that the Congress... apparently, God knows who they are talking to in the DMK.BARKHA: Must be MaranRADIA: Relayed no, they relayed that the infrastructure portfolio should not be given to Maran or Baalu.BARKHA: No, that’s because they want to keep it for themselves.RADIA: No, they wanted to; they didn’t want any infrastructure, that’s what Prime Minister said, so he said that’s why they give him labour, fertiliser, chemical and telecom, IT, they said for Raja. So what has happened is, is that message not relayed to Karunanidhi?BARKHA: Oh I see!RADIA: They might have told some minion down the line or told Maran who is not relaying the truth.BARKHA: I think they have told Maran.RADIA: Yeah, now what they need to do is, they need to speak to Kani so she can set up the discussion with her father, because even the Prime Minister’s discussion was she was the one who’s translating, and it was a very brief discussion for two minutes.BARKHA: Okay.RADIA: That we’ll try and work it out, and the let’s not you know take it a hasty easy decision. That’s the type of conversation that happened.BARKHA: No, I’ll set it up as soon as they get out of RCR.(Race Course Road, the PM’s residence).

In reaction to the tapes Barkha has gone on Twitter to say, “Smear campaign astounding. Onus on Open and Outlook to prove quid-pro quo of any kind, before vilifying individuals and their work.”

The general feeling

Outlook and Open Magazine have provided more evidence in this case than Barkha’s station NDTV has in some past instances of its “activist” journalism.

She is a little shrill when she says,”Vinod Mehta (a senior Indian editor) has been guest on several TV shows hosted by me. Would like him to point out one instance of compromise in coverage. Can he?”

She’s clearly peeved her buddies have dumped her in the mud. Outlook has released transcripts. The editor’s personal opinion has no relevance.

Yesterday, she sent out this appeal: “Amazed, Angered and saddened at inability of some to distinguish between gathering info and ridiculous labels like lobbying/powerbroking.”

Her station, NDTV has rushed to her rescue since a fractured credibility in their star reporter would hurt their lead position. This is what they have said:

In response to the Open Magazine cover story dated 20th November, 2010 NDTV would like to object in the strongest terms to the clear misrepresentation of conversations between Barkha Dutt and Ms. Nira Radia, that took place in May 2009.

In the pursuit of news and information, journalists talk to an array of people from all professional backgrounds; this case being an unfolding political story on cabinet formation, after the general elections.

To caricature the professional sourcing of information as “lobbying” is not just baseless, but preposterous.

At every stage effective journalism involves engagement with a multitude of characters in the process of gathering news and information. To call this process “lobbying” is a serious and defamatory distortion of journalistic practices.

Ironically, when Barkha Dutt raised this smear campaign with the magazine’s editor, Manu Joseph, these are the responses she got.

1. “Dear Barkha; that’s not true. I can send a copy of the magazine to you right away or you can check the story on the website. We have carried the Radia transcripts which include some of your conversations with her. In fact there is not much remarkable and you will not be embarrassed by it. There is one bit in the strap where the word “go-between” is used which I don’t like myself. I would love to carry your response in the next issue if you would like to send one. My email id is”

Once again, when she asked the magazine’s Editor why the basic tenets of journalism had not been followed in seeking her response before publishing these accusations, this is the reply she received.

2. “Dear Barkha, In the attachment is the cover story (divided into introduction and the transcripts).

We knew we were going ahead with the story only on Monday as Prashant Bhushan had submitted a petition in the Supreme Court on Monday attaching the same recordings that we had. We had to make a decision and we did. I wanted to get your response, but there was a possibility that if the word of the story got out (and, you know very well, it is not an exclusive) some people might do their best to ensure that we didn’t carry it.

If you would like to respond to the story at any length, please let me know (by Tuesday).

The fact that the very editor of the magazine that has published this story accepts the distortion in the story’s caption and goes on to say that there is nothing “remarkable” in the content speaks for itself.

NDTV believes the magazine should first verify and corroborate facts before participating in a defamatory smear campaign.

These are unsubstantiated, baseless and defamatory allegations and we reserve the right to take appropriate action. Ends.

Meanwhile, the editor of Open Magazine has gone online to say his comments have been distorted by NDTV to create a defence and he will be soon responding in kind.

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