I&B Issues Directive to TV Channels for Protection of Identity of Children in Need of Care and Protection and Juveniles in Conflict with Law

10 Aug

The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting today issued a directive to all TV Channels regarding Protection of Identity of Children in need of Care and Protection and Juveniles in Conflict with Law’.

National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) was set up in March, 2007 under the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005, with the mandate to ensure that all laws, policies, programmes, and administrative mechanisms are in consonance with the Child Rights perspective as enshrined in the Constitution of India and also the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Any person contravening these: provisions is also “liable to penalties, as prescribed under the provisions of Section 21 (2) of the said Act.

On the subject matter, the Commission has recommended that necessary directives/set of protocols be issued to the entire print and electronic media to refrain from publishing the names, pictures, home address, school address and other parameters of their identity of such children who need to be reported upon by media on account of certain circumstances including difficult circumstances. As such disclosures only tend to leave their imprint and affect the social and mental health of children in their crucial stage of development.

All News & Current Affairs TV channels are required to abide by the provisions contained in the Cable Television Networks Rules 1994 and Rule 6(1)(l) thereof provides that no programme should be carried in the cable service which denigrates children. Thus by virtue of this provision the channels are already required to carry the programmes involving children with due care, maturity and sensitivity.

Accordingly, all News and Current Affairs TV channels are hereby requested to ensure compliance of the aforesaid directives of NCPCR as also the provisions of the Cable Television Networks Rules 1994 while telecasting any content involving children. Any violation may entail stringent action as per the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, rules promulgated thereunder and the terms and conditions of uplinking and downlinking guidelines.

Media Guidelines

‘No point in sensationalising’

10 Mar

HINDUSTAN TIMES

Crime PatrolDastak, that airs twice a week in a late night slot, has not only completed over 52 weeks in the top 10 chart, but has also become the No 1 show this week. According to the ratings issued by TAM India, the official record keeper for TV viewing in the country, the two-part  episode aired on last Friday and Saturday on Sony Entertainment, showcasing the recent ‘Baby Falak’ case in Delhi and the associated human trafficking issue, scored 6.8 points, leaving popular dailies behind.

Host Anoop Soni gives credit to the show’s director Subramaniam and to the creative and research team that consciously cut down the graphic representation of crimes. “The ratings are overwhelming. But they also point out that we have an ever-increasing audience base, and have to be more cautious about the way we discuss a case study,” he says, adding, “There’s no point in sensationalising. The idea is to narrate a story in a humane manner and understand what leads to a particular crime and how it could have been averted.”

Anoop, who only shoots anchor links for the show, prefers to read the entire screenplay to connect with a story. He also reads newspapers and magazines thoroughly and passes on cases to the show’s two-member research team for consideration. “We can’t end crimes, but circumstances that lead to punishable offences can be changed,” says the actor-anchor, who remembers receiving great feedback for a series on female foeticide cases in India.   “There are thousands of cases we’d like to highlight alongside the role that cops play in cracking them. And trust me, there’s a large chunk of the audience that’s not tuning in for voyeuristic pleasure.”

Crime Patrol’s first season aired from May 2003 to March 2006, followed by season two that ran from January 2010 to June 2010. The third season started in September 2010 and ended in December 2010. The current season flagged off on April 29, 2011. Director Subramaniam, the brain and creative force behind the show, doesn’t know if this season will ever end.

“We’re trying to keep the show newsy. At the same time, we’re trying to keep the grossness levels low because we don’t want to show gruesome crimes too graphically,” he reasons. “We had thought we’d get a little break between these cases. But the good feedback won’t let us do that anytime soon.”

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Entertainment/Television/No-point-in-sensationalising/Article1-823269.aspx

Media and key issues raised by Markandey Katju

28 Nov

S VISWANATHAN IN THE HINDU

Markandey Katju‘s forthright comments on the state of the Indian news media and the intellectual competence of many journalists have certainly raised many hackles. One does not have to agree with everything the chairman of the Press Council of India diagnoses or prescribes to see that his observations have hit home. Nor are his concerns confined to how and in what respects journalism and many journalists go astray and let the people of India down.

It’s not yet a month since the retired Supreme Court judge was appointed PCI chairman. He has already made it plain that he will speak up, and act to the maximum extent the PCI’s statutory powers allow him to act, every time the freedom of the press comes under pressure and each time journalists are targeted by the state.

This is in keeping with the twin objects of the PCI: “to preserve the freedom of the Press and to maintain and improve the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India.” For example, Mr. Katju has criticised as “grossly disproportionate” the award of Rs. 100 crore in damages in a civil defamation suit against Times Now and as “incorrect” the subsequent orders of the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court on the matter. He has pulled up government departments and statutory bodies for delaying payment of advertising bills for years on end and asked all government departments to clear the bills within one month of the publication of advertisements, failing which they should pay 12 per cent interest on top of the amounts billed. In the latest instance, he has taken up with the Government of Jammu & Kashmir the issue of journalists being roughed up by the Central Reserve Police Force while covering protests in Srinagar.

It is clear that Mr. Katju’s critical observations on the performance of the news media, and especially television channels, have found resonance with the reading and viewing public. He has also found support within the establishment.

Inaugurating the National Press Day celebrations on November 16, Vice-President M. Hamid Ansari observed that in an environment marked by “the extremely buoyant growth rates” of the media and “minimal or no regulation” the focus had shifted to self-regulation, individual or collective. But “collective self-regulation…has yet to succeed in substantive measure because it is neither universal nor enforceable” and “individual self-regulation has also failed due to personal predilection and the prevailing personal interest over public interest.” Mr. Ansari wanted the ongoing national debate on the subject to lead to the publication of a White Paper, leading to “further consultations and evolution of a broad national consensus so that appropriate frameworks can be put in place combining voluntary initiative, executive regulation and legislative action, as appropriate.” He noted with concern the absence of media watch groups.

Several senior journalists who participated in a panel discussion on the occasion agreed that self-regulation was either non-existent or had failed. They felt the time had come to give the statutory watchdog, the PCI, more teeth, such as the power to levy fines, provided the threshold of prima facie evidence was raised high so that frivolous complaints would not be entertained. The other issue raised by Mr. Katju is the strange situation of the broadcast media in India having no regulatory framework. He has revealed that he has written to the Prime Minister asking for the broadcast media to be brought under the aegis of the “Press Council,” which could be renamed the “Media Council.”

Responding to the fierce objections expressed by the private TV channels and the News Broadcasters Association, he has asked them whether they wanted to come under an authority like the Lokpal — if they rejected the idea of coming under a statutory Media Council headed by him. The number of satellite television channels is in the region of 600; of this number, more than 100 are categorised as news channels. Justice Katju’s concern that influential sections of the media, especially the television channels, often trivialise the news and divert the people’s attention from vital socio-economic issues is genuine. As a judge of the highest court of the land, Mr. Katju was known for his libertarian views and delivered many pro-poor judgments. His credentials are strong when it comes to criticising the media for working against the interests of the deprived and the poor, for dividing them on caste and communal lines, and for promoting superstition and obscurantism instead of scientific and rational ideas.

Interestingly, a parallel discussion on the ways of the press and the issue of self-regulation versus statutory regulation is taking place in the United Kingdom. In his deeply insightful George Orwell Lecture, “Hacking away at the truth,” given recently at University College, London (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/nov/10/phone-hacking-truth-alan-rusbridger-orwell), Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger discusses several aspects of media-related issues, including media freedom, performance, the public interest, rogue practices, regulatory issues, media monopoly and domination by the Murdoch empire, and the need to guarantee plurality and a level playing field. Much of this discussion is relevant to India. Among other things, Mr. Rusbridger discusses the functioning of an independent and full-time internal news ombudsman, known as the Readers’ Editor in The Guardian (The Hindu has adopted the Guardian model) as “the most local form of regulation” that has proved effective.

With deep insight and rare candour, Mr. Rusbridger discusses the lessons to be learned from the phone hacking scandal and what the press could expect from the comprehensive Leveson Inquiry instituted by the government: “Well, talking of rules and codes, we discovered that the thing that we call ‘ self-regulation’ in the press is no such thing. Whatever the original laudable ambitions for, and achievements of, the Press Complaints Commission, the fact remained that it had no investigatory powers and no sanctions…it was simply not up to the task of finding out what was going on in the newsrooms it was supposed to be regulating. The PCC was lied to by News International.” It then committed “the folly of writing a worse-than-meaningless report which, as we wrote at the time, would fatally undermine the cause of self-regulation as represented by the PCC. In the absence of anything that looked to the outside world like regulation, the rogue actions of, I hope, a few journalists, have landed the press as a whole with a series of inquiries which will last not months, but years, and which will, I suspect, be quite uncomfortable for all involved.”

The uncomfortable exercise cannot be dodged and The Guardian‘s Editor proposes a positive way of looking at it: “it provides an opportunity for the industry to have a conversation with itself while also benefitting from the perspective and advice of others.” Perhaps the time has come for a comparable exercise addressing the specific Indian media situation, the challenges as well as opportunities.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/Readers-Editor/article2665835.ece

 

Media can play a role in educating poor on their rights

19 Sep

S VISHWANATHAN IN  THE HINDU

Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare is back in the news after hardly a week of post-fast recuperation at his Ralegan Siddhi abode. He has held a two-day meeting with core members of Team Anna and reportedly given 17 interviews to TV channels in 11 hours. However, the news from New Delhi does not appear encouraging in respect of the promised passage of the Lokpal Bill in the winter session of Parliament, at least not in the way Team Anna would want to have it.

The mass movement against corruption may need to cross many more hurdles before achieving the aim of having a strong and effective Lokpal in place. For instance, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), after a critical study of the government’s Lokpal Bill and Team Anna’s Jan Lokpal Bill, has claimed that both the Bills were “unworkable.” Presenting the agency’s views on the two bills to the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Law, Justice and Personnel recently, CBI Director A.P. Singh pleaded that the CBI should be retained as the premier investigating agency for corruption cases, in accordance with a Supreme Court judgment to that effect. The underlying principle behind the bills is to give more autonomy to the investigating agency in order to shield it from political interference. The CBI chief was also critical of any provision that would confer police powers on the Lokpal to empower it to supervise the anti-corruption wing and contended that such a move might result in a breach in the doctrine of separation of powers. The investigating agency also feared that some provisions of the bill might cause conflicts of jurisdiction and erosion of credibility of both the organisations. (The Hindu, September 15, 2011.) The issues raised by the CBI will no doubt be addressed before finalising the legislation.

More anti-corruption laws

The same day Union Ministers Salman Khursheed and V. Narayanasamy, members of the Group of Ministers on the media, unveiled the government’s plans to bring in more anti-corruption laws. These would deal with electoral reform, public procurement policy, public disclosure, accountability of judges, and service delivery to citizens (citizen’s charters). These laws would be in addition to the proposed law on the Lokpal. Another task before the Centre is to expedite disposal of about 10,000 corruption-related cases pending action for decades through fast-track courts and other measures. The government, the Ministers revealed, would soon form a committee headed by a Supreme Court judge to study cases that were pending trial for more than 10 years and arrange for speedy trials.

Media have a major role

Although a sort of grievance redressal system has been introduced at the Central and State levels in the last decade, most of them have remained on paper; and where they function, awareness among people about the functioning of the system is poor, according to studies. Besides, the officials in charge of the system ought to take greater interest in connecting ordinary people to the government. What also emerges from the studies is that a large number of officials do not specify the timeframe within which complaining citizens can expect redress. Here is an area where the news media can make a real difference: they can raise public awareness about the grievance redressal system, play an educative role on citizens’ rights and entitlements, and also independently monitor the working of the system. There is great scope for insightful reporting and investigative journalism here.

A mixed response

The last column (“Print media do better than TV: coverage of Hazare fast,” September 5, 2011) has, by and large, received a good response from the readers.

Here are some excerpts:

M.K. Bajaj (Zirakpur) regretted in his e-mail that the news channels competed with each other to ridicule and humiliate the democratically elected government of the day. Even parliamentarians and politicians of all hues were not spared. However, he had a word of appreciation for The Hindu for its balanced coverage. S.V. Venugopalan (Chennai) felt the splendid range of cartoons by Keshav and Surendra deserved special mention in the column. Anoop S. (Thodupuzha) appreciated all the editorials on the subject in The Hindu for their “clarity and objectivity.” Akash Goyal (Yamuna Nagar) noted, in his brief mail, that the column had ignored “hours and hours” of debates provided by the news channels. C.G. Rishikesh (online) observed that the review “sadly” confined itself to “summarizing the editorials and articles,” already read by readers. If the heading had been ‘Coverage of Hazare fast by The Hindu,’ that would have been nearer the truth, he commented.

Interestingly, the fight against corruption in India led by Anna Hazare received wide media coverage in the United States and Germany. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and several other newspapers published reports and articles. Kurt Waschnig from Oldenburg, Germany in his response to the The Hindu (online) noted that German newspapers, including Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Frankfurter Rundschau, reported regularly on Anna Hazare’s fast and his determination to curb corruption in India. “The coverage of Anna Hazare’s movement in German newspapers was balanced and insightful,” Mr. Waschnig remarked, adding that The Hindu‘s editorials and articles showed that the newspaper as a national institution supported Anna in his legal and peaceful fight against corruption.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/Readers-Editor/article2465066.ece

Botched probe

12 Apr

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI IN THE FRONTLINE

The Punjab and Haryana High Court commutes the sentences in the ‘Manoj and Babli’ case and raps the police for poor investigation.

IT was exactly a year ago, in March 2010, that a sessions court in Karnal district, Haryana, convicted seven persons for the murder of a newly married couple, Manoj and Babli of Karora village, Kaithal district. The court awarded the death sentence to five persons; one person got life imprisonment and another was given seven years’ rigorous imprisonment. All of them appealed against the verdict in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. On March 11 this year, a two-judge Bench of the High Court not only commuted the death sentence for four of the accused to life imprisonment but acquitted two of the main accused. One of them had been awarded the death penalty, while the other had been sentenced to life imprisonment by the lower court.

The “Manoj and Babli case”, as it came to be known, received much attention, not least because the sessions court’s order seemed to send a strong signal to those who felt they could get away with such murders in the name of honour. The case successfully mobilised public opinion against honour killings. Women’s organisations hailed the verdict, which they hoped would act as an effective deterrent. Led by the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), the women’s groups also demanded a comprehensive law dealing with honour-related crimes, and the Centre, too, began contemplating seriously the merits of such a law. For Manoj’s widowed mother, younger brother and sister, the verdict was a positive step in securing justice.

It was, of course, expected that the convicted persons would appeal in a higher court. It was also expected that the State would do its best to ensure that the order was not reversed. This was not an ordinary scenario. The convicted persons not only enjoyed open community support but also had political support as the community itself constituted an important vote bank in the politics of the State. It was not a coincidence that following the sessions court order, there began a clamour for an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act, proscribing same-gotra marriages.

Manoj and Babli, both residents of Karora village and belonging to the Jat community, left their village on April 6, 2007, and got married the next day. Babli’s family registered a complaint against Manoj, who secured anticipatory bail from the court. On June 15, the couple were produced before the investigating officer, and Babli’s statement was recorded. She was then produced before the court of the additional chief judicial magistrate and her statement was recorded again: she said she had married Manoj and was living with him in Chandigarh on her own volition and that nobody had exerted pressure on her.

Two police escorts were given to the couple. They accompanied the couple in a bus, and they were followed by a sub-inspector who was in a private vehicle. The couple got off the bus at a stop and, according to the police, expressed a wish to be left alone. However, Manoj’s mother, Chanderpati, says she received a call that day from her son, who said that Babli’s relatives were in the bus and had been following them from Kaithal. It is not clear why the couple should want the police to leave when danger was clearly so close. Anyway, the police left them at the Pipli bus stand.

During that phone call, Manoj told Chanderpati that they would go to Delhi. That was the last she heard from her son. At around 5 p.m., at Bhutana police station, the head constable got a message that a couple had been forced to get off a bus by around 16 people and bundled into a Scorpio car.On June 23, in Narnaud district, a watchman found Manoj’s body, with the hands, feet and neck tied up. The same day, Babli’s body was found in a canal in Hisar district. It was wrapped in a white gunny bag, which was oozing maggots. Police investigations unravelled the identity of the driver of the vehicle; with his help, the other suspects, who were Babli’s relatives, were found.

All the accused pleaded not guilty and alleged that Manoj’s mother had falsely implicated them. The defence argued that the couple’s threat perception came from both the families and that the investigation had been misdirected towards Babli’s family alone. “No mother would have waited five long days to lodge a complaint when there was serious threat to the life of Manoj and Babli. Who committed the abduction and murder had not been established by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt,” the defence lawyer argued in the High Court. The trial court, the defence said, had been swayed by the vague reference to the family members and relatives by Chanderpati.The Bench, however, dismissed the defence argument that Manoj’s family had an equal motive in murdering the couple. Indeed, the court’s order seemed to accept most of the arguments of the prosecution, including the fundamental one that the couple faced a constant threat to their lives from Babli’s family. (The persons convicted by the sessions court included two of Babli’s uncles, a cousin and a brother.)

But while the Bench condemned the “shameful act of hollow honour killing” and the barbarism it involved, it held that “unfortunately in this case there is no eyewitness to the occurrence” and that the entire case of the prosecution depended on circumstantial evidence. It was, therefore, left with little option but to infer certain facts on the basis of the circumstances projected by the prosecution. “As we have rendered the verdict based on circumstantial evidence, our conscience does not permit us to confirm the death sentence awarded to the accused,” it held. It also said that no offence had been made out against one of the five who had got the death sentence. The Bench referred to a recent decision of the apex court where the death sentence given by the trial court and confirmed by the High Court in a similar case of honour killing had been commuted to 25 years of actual imprisonment to three of the accused and 20 years to the fourth.

The Bench also added that Babli’s family had no criminal antecedents and that there was nothing to show they could not be reformed while serving their sentence. “A neighbour had taken away the girl and got her married. They had been confronted with a disturbed mental feeling,” the Bench said. It also said: “Just because it is a case of hollow honour killing, we cannot jump to a conclusion that the case [ sic] squarely shall not choose to incline that it squarely falls under the category of rarest of rare cases.”

Four of the accused were convicted under Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and sentenced to life imprisonment. The Bench directed that they would not be released until each of them completed 20 years of actual imprisonment without remission. An additional fine of Rs.5,000 each was imposed on them.

Two of the accused, Ganga Raj, who allegedly masterminded the crime, and Satish Kumar, were acquitted of all charges, including abduction, murder and criminal conspiracy. The Bench rejected Chanderpati’s plea for enhanced compensation from Ganga Raj. Chanderpati and her family said that they would appeal against the High Court order.

Investigating agencies censured

The role of the investigating agencies came in for severe criticism from the Bench, which observed that it was constrained to infer that police officers were hand in glove with the accused and had left a “loophole” at each and every stage of investigation. It ordered the State’s Director General of Police to initiate disciplinary proceedings against three police officers for their role in the botched investigations. It also said that the murder could have been prevented had the police acted on the message that they received soon after the abduction. “To our surprise, no step was taken by the Bhutana police station based on such a VT message with respect to abduction. We do not approve of such inaction on the part of the police force…. It appears that the investigating officials were completely sleeping over the matter even when the abductors forced the family members of Manoj to plunge headlong into the search…. The police officials had not woken up from their deep slumber till the dead bodies were identified.”

The police had bungled at every stage, beginning from the withdrawal of security to the couple, which ensured that they landed in a “death trap”, the Bench said. The mobile phones of the persons involved were not seized; crucial witnesses in the bus in which the couple travelled were not examined; and the owner of the phone booth from where Manoj made his last call to his mother was not cited as a witness. The Bench observed that the investigating officials “just investigated the matter for the purpose of giving disposal to the investigation”.

http://www.frontlineonnet.com/stories/20110422280804400.htm

Don’t take the abuse

28 Feb
Photo of Keira Knightley at the 2005 Toronto I...

Image via Wikipedia

India was in the headlines recently for a story that reverberated around the world. Was it a story that made us proud to be Indians? Unfortunately, the answer is no. The story that hit the headlines was about domestic abuse. India’s third highest diplomat in London was accused of assaulting his wife.

The rush of publicity which followed did not help the already tense situation and the traumatic subject of abuse once again reared its ugly head. Newspaper headlines from all over the world had their own point of view that went something like this. India is a country “where domestic abuse and disrespect for women seem to be the norm.” And another said “Women (in India) are sometimes abused to the point of being killed for not ‘towing the line’ as it were.”

The parents of the diplomat branded his wife amoral and accused her of trying to destroy their son’s reputation along with that of the country. The neighbours reportedly called the police but no arrest was made as the diplomat claimed diplomatic immunity. India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has warned potential offenders that there will be zero tolerance for incidents of sexual misconduct and domestic violence. “Any act of domestic violence or sexual misconduct will necessitate the immediate recall of the officer and his dependants.” However, the officer is still in the service of the Indian Administrative service and it is yet not clear if charges will be filed against him.

The reality is abuse happens all over the world and there are always people who see the victim as the wrong-doer and try to subdue, smear and terrorise the injured party. Let us first have a look at what exactly is domestic abuse.

What is domestic abuse?

It is the establishment of control and fear in a relationship using violence. But how can one human being allow another human being such control over them? Says Anita of her abusive relationship with her husband: “It was an act of ownership. I was his toy to do whatever he wanted. If I disagreed in any way it was hell. Soon I just let him have his way without any protest. Each violent act just made me feel guiltier.”

There are different types of abuse. There is physical, sexual, monetary, social and emotional abuse. Domestic abuse or violence is not just hitting, or fighting or arguing. It is an abuse of power. Physical abuse is the most easily recognised form of abuse. It can be any form of hitting, shaking, burning, pinching, biting, choking, throwing, beating and other actions that cause physical injury, leave marks or cause pain.

Domestic violence is among the most prevalent and among the least reported forms of cruel behaviour. Women are again the target but it also extends towards children. Although women are in the majority they are not the only victims. Many men too are abused by a spouse or partner.

An abuser wants to control the situation and the person, places blame on others and has little control over impulses and suffers low self esteem. All forms of domestic abuse have one main purpose: to gain and maintain control over the victim.

Domestic abuse and violence can happen to anyone and yet the problem is overlooked, excused or denied. This happens more often when the abuse is both psychological and physical. “I just felt guilty for making him angry. My husband was so good to me most of the time that when he gave me a couple of slaps I felt it was ok,” says Anju, who is still with her partner. According to Dr. Bhambri, a physician who has seen and counselled many women in abusive relationships, “In some cases it becomes a routine. The women in such cases are emotionally and sexually attached to their spouse and take the beatings as normal. In effect she becomes used to it.”

Across the board

An abuser does not play fair. An abuser uses fear, guilt, shame and intimidation to wear you down. Domestic abuse does not differentiate. It occurs across the board. It occurs within all age groups, ethnic backgrounds and economic levels.

One thing that is often heard in an abusive relationship is the abuser say that the victim made them do it. This is, of course, quite ludicrous. It is important to remember that there is no justification whatsoever for abuse.

Remember the abuser is good at manipulating victims. The abused sometimes does not recognise that he is abused, battered, depressed, scared, drained, and confused. Do remember that as a human being you deserve to feel valued, respected and safe. The oft-repeated healthy relationships based on give and take are the foundation of any relationship.

One has to learn to compromise and work with compassion on the relationship and each other. Communication is the key and the first step towards what is a tough battle to a better relationship. According to Dr. Bhambri, most men are violent because they see their spouse as economically inferior and physically weaker. Changed perceptions and mutual respect are key to a better relationship.

What are the reasons for abuse?

One must emphasise right at the outset that there should never be reasons for abuse. It is something that should never be condoned. However, we must look at the why behind such behaviour though there can never be any justification for such an act. Very often the battered might be mentally ill, or even abused themselves or not even realise that their behaviour is contrary.

Domestic control is not about losing control but more about having absolute control. These people are vindictive and manipulative and it is all about controlling the other person. The build-up to violence and the resultant repentant stage is a vicious cycle that occurs and reoccurs in a set pattern.

The important mark is realisation. You are on the road to recovery if you can face the truth and face your feelings. Coming out of denial is a huge step forward. Managing your shame and anger and overcoming fear of ostracisation are all steps towards becoming a better member of society. Agrees Sanjay, “I had a lot of anger within me and was hitting out all the time. I went through hell before I even realised what I was doing. Hitting had become a habit.” Today he is calmer and wiser but has lost his family as his wife left him with the children. Putting them in jail is a temporary measure and can sometimes lead to greater violence.

So where are we at today?

The reality today is that there is an urgent need to address and understand the issue. But progress is slow because attitudes are deeply entrenched and to some extent because effective strategies to address domestic violence are still being defined. As a result women worldwide continue to suffer, with estimates varying from 20 to 50 per cent from country to country.

This appalling toll will not be eased until families, governments, institutions and civil society and organisations address the issue directly and openly. “We cannot function in isolation and all of us must take the responsibility to curb this menace of domestic violence against women” said Sheila Dixit on inaugurating a campaign called ‘Bell Bajao‘.

The Domestic Violence Act 2005 is the first significant act in India to recognise domestic abuse as a punishable offence. A woman who is a victim of domestic violence will have the right to the services of the police, shelter homes and medical establishments. She also has the right to simultaneously file her own case. “The law is there for women with children who are trying to escape an abusive marriage,” says Manisha who has worked with countless women wishing to find some peace in a physically violent marriage.

What is important to remember is that anyone in an abusive relationship can influence and change the dynamics of the relationship. The trauma and misery can be changed. It requires strength and overcoming tough hurdles but it can be achieved.

Signs of domestic abuse

Abuse could be verbal or violence that leads to physical injury. A fear of your partner who is in control which means you do not want to anger him. Self-loathing, desperation and helplessness are emotions that vie with each other constantly and which also has a fair amount of self-questioning. Possessive behaviour and extreme jealousy and forced sex are other signs. You are in an abusive relationship if these points echo your relationship.

Pattern of abuse

All organisations agree that there is a general pattern that takes place in domestic abuse.

There is the build up phase when the tension increases. Verbal attacks increase followed by an explosive phase with violent outbursts. Once the violence has been unleashed and spent then remorse sets in. This is a period of self doubt and also of laying the blame on the other person. After which there is a time of promises that it will never occur again. This is followed by the Honey moon phase where everything seems alright and there are no problems whatsoever.

If you suspect domestic abuse

Speak up and do ask for help for yourself or others. It is very important to listen and validate and offer your help and support. However, it is of paramount importance that you do not wait, pass judgement, ignore or blame anyone. The most important point to remember is not to wait but act now, at once, today, this very moment. Seema’s sister was brutally beaten and barely managed to escape with her life. Says Seema, “I wish I had pushed her more to confide in me. I saw the signs but closed my mind when she would not be drawn.” She adds remorsefully “I just let it be when she needed me the most.”

Unsafe inside and outside womb

20 Feb
THE 50MM

PUBLISHED IN THE TRIBUNE

The skewed sex ratio may signal the end of romance, says Rajan Kashyap

Despite numerous odds, women in India today are visibly successful in many professions. Today’s art, literature, drama and films highlight the struggle of the Indian woman against traditional male dominance. Both the print and electronic media have created a new image of the Indian woman, especially the liberated, educated female in an urban milieu. Depicted here is a woman who is no longer timid, shy, withdrawn or subservient. For her “Man to command and woman to obey” is no longer an accepted dictum.

In the grind of a rigorous educational system and in a fiercely competitive environment, the working woman emerges as an achiever. She is convinced that “women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.” She is self-confident, bold and assertive, to the extent of being brash. She knows her mind and excels as a leader of men.

Many Indian women have advanced in life by sustained effort and skill. Be it politics, business, education, medicine or even law and the civil and military services, they shine in comparison with their peers. They are well respected in positions of power. Their performance speaks for itself.

Unfortunately, the instances of individual success and recognition among women are few. The spectacular success of the career women in various fields contrasts starkly with the poor status enjoyed by women as a whole. The majority of women in India still face great handicaps and oppression. From childhood they are subjugated to traditional male dominance at home. After marriage they are sometimes ill-treated by in-laws. Viewed often as mere objects of ownership, they are denied education and a role in selecting their life partner. Women who dare to seek a career or wish to marry by choice are frequently prevented from doing so.

In several states, especially Punjab and Haryana, marriage outside one’s community, or social or income group, is frowned upon. Rigid paternal controls are seen to operate even among Indians settled in foreign lands. In some rural areas, archaic social institutions such as khap panchayats routinely subject young women, and their husbands and lovers, who might infringe the local taboo, to heinous punishment, including death. Strangely, some democratically elected state legislators (MLAs and MPs) seem to have endorsed such extra-legal dictates of their lesser leaders.

Lamenting the discriminatory attitudes prevailing even abroad in the 20th century, the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw had observed, “Home is the girl’s prison, and the woman’s workhouse.” Science now provides ready instruments that prevent the fair sex from even taking birth. Techniques such as amniocentesis (taking amniotic fluid around the embryo by piercing a needle at an early stage of pregnancy), and ultrasonography (the imaging of the foetus by use of an ultra sound machine) enable doctors to predict the sex of an unborn child, encouraging the abortion of the girl child at the stage of foetus.

This grisly practice of female foeticide has now taken root in many parts of India. It is justified by a spurious argument that abortion of a partially developed foetus is more humane than the gruesome act of female infanticide, which, in the past, sometimes visited the birth of unwelcome daughters. Perturbed at the practice, the Government of (then British) India had enacted a specific law to punish infanticide a hundred years ago. For those persons who might be squeamish about resorting to abortion, genetic research now provides a more palatable medical intervention to be carried out at the stage of very conception itself. The technique is called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a method that produces embryos through IVF (as for test tube babies) and implanting only those of the preferred gender into the womb.

In India, the enactment, tediously named the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994, prohibits all such techniques. Sadly, the law has not been able to prevent desperate couples from establishing a criminal nexus with compliant doctors for testing and abortion, or from travelling abroad (Thailand is a convenient destination!) for undergoing the medical procedures. If technology is becoming sophisticated by the day, transgression of the law is cleverer still.

How ineffective the Act has been can be gauged from the findings of a Report of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare tabled in Parliament in September 2010. The report notes that during 2009-10 only 139 cases under the Act were registered in the entire country. The same official document shows that the female: male sex ratio in various states varies between 836 (Punjab) and 964(Kerala). An earlier media report (May 2007) had found that of the total number of 416 cases filed under the Act until 2007, only 15 had resulted in conviction. The report estimated that as many as 50 million female foetuses might have been aborted illegally. Numerous other authentic studies reaffirm that the practice of female foeticide is widespread all over India, the worst states being Punjab and Haryana. They also find that the law has been infringed with impunity.

In India’s ancient scriptures, Vedas, the Puranas and the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, the female was well respected, was celebrated as the font of creation (the janani) and as an equal half of her husband (ardhangini). Many Hindu deities are worshipped as proud and powerful goddesses (Durga, Kali etc.) The Sikh Gurus extolled the ideal of equality between the sexes. The Old Testament of the Bible is revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims. It depicts the woman as equal to man, the “flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone.”

By law, oppression exploitation and violence are a crime. By religious belief such acts are regarded as sinful. Why do then these evils continue to pervade society? Answers can be found in the mores accepted by members of various strata of Indian society. A recent news report mentioned certain information on the wealth and property made public by members of the higher judiciary of India. In officially declaring her assets and liabilities, no less a personage than a sitting female Judge of the Supreme Court of India is shown to have included her daughters at the top of the list of her liabilities. The monetary value of gilt-edged securities and bank deposits etc with the Judge, shown in the assets column of her property return, would presumably have offset the burden borne by her in mothering girls.

Some obvious conclusions from this morbid news item: that a daughter is deemed a financial setback, if not a disaster for her parents; that if even a venerated Judge is powerless to stand up to vicious and regressive social attitudes, the middle and lower classes could hardly be expected to do so; and that in regard to gender equality any change in the mindset of the population at large is yet to occur.

It is universally accepted that females, constituting half the total population of a nation, are intrinsically as productive as males. They can contribute significantly to its economic development. If women in India are presently unable to perform productively and deliver to their true potential, it is for want of adequate social support in terms of facilities for education, health etc. It requires no special economic brilliance to understand the premise that the strength of such a huge section of population needs to be harnessed for a strong, vibrant nation.

Despite the government’s lofty announcements for ending gender discrimination and consequential legal enactments, the sex ratio in the country continues to plunge. In a recent publication Empower Women (2010), Leena Chawla Rajan brings out some startling conclusions from an analysis of data of UN studies and the Census of India. Analysing the UN data, the author observes that among the world’s ten most populated countries, India’s sex ratio (at 936) is the second lowest after China (927). The figures for other countries are Russia (1164), Japan (1053) Brazil (1031), USA (1027), Indonesia (1003), Nigeria (995) and Bangladesh (978). Even Pakistan, at 942, ranks above India.

From the Census data, Ms Rajan finds that the child sex ratio (age group 0-6 years) has steadily declined from 976 in 1961 to 927 in 2001. The last Census report of 2001 shows that sex selection is more prevalent in urban areas than in rural areas, that educated families are aborting babies at a faster rate than illiterate families and that sex selection occurs across all religions. If these figures are depressing, the Census 2011, currently under progress, could soon give further cause for alarm.

As the number of females in proportion to males recedes, the physically weaker sex is likely to be treated as a scarce commodity, the physical acquisition of which could be fuelled in future by baser passions and a jungle law. The implications of the trends can be horrendous — for us as individuals today, for our children and their children to come and for the social fabric as a whole. We can foresee gender-related crime growing; the traditional family structure disturbed; the proliferation of homosexuality and prostitution and crimes against women as well as acceleration in the growth of sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS.

In short a decadent society, where respect for the woman begins to vanish. Perhaps the gloomy scenario has already begun to unfold. Nobel-winning novelist William Faulkner feared that a hedonistic world would be led by the glands instead of by the heart.

The vibrancy and strength of a civilisation is often measured by its aesthetic sensibility, which inspires art and literature. Creativity springs from fine human emotion, usually occasioned by romantic love. “At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet”, wrote philosopher Plato in an age when the Greek civilisation was at its zenith. (It is sometimes thought that the Greek empire declined as its moral fabric degraded). For English poet Wordsworth, the ideal was: “A perfect woman, nobly planned, /To warn, to comfort and command”.

Jai Shankar Prasad, the doyen of Hindi poetry, found woman to be the epitome of devotion. “Nari tum kewal shraddha ho!” he wrote. Our literature abounds in stories of romantic love, a passion that elevates, even as it sometimes ends in tragedy. The playfulness and delicate irony of Ghalib’s poetry presents the woman in many moods .Many ghazals in Urdu are addressed equally to the beloved and the Almighty God. Khayal gayaki in Indian classical music expresses the yearnings of absent lovers. Woman is frequently the inspiration of great art.

A skewed sex ratio could violently disrupt the man-woman relationship, signalling the end of romance. Sentiment could well be replaced by cynicism, leading to a decline of noble cultural traditions. It is not too late to strive to protect the nation’s spirit from dehumanisation.n

The writer is a former Chief Secretary and Chief Information Commissioner, Punjab

 

The declining sex ratio

20 Feb

Missing social agenda in Haryana politics
by M.S. JaglanIN THE TRIBUNE

THE data released recently by the Director General Health Services, Haryana, paints a grim picture. An unfathomable ignominy is reflected by the figures. Of the 6.5 lakh registered pregnancies in the state in 2009, only 5.39 lakh delivered baby. In the prevailing social environment, surely, a logical contemplation would imply that a large number of missing pregnancies may have been terminated for the desire to have a male child.

The consequences are perceptible, 17 out of 21 districts in the state (till October 2010) experienced substantial decline in sex ratio at the time of birth in comparison to 2009 figures. This parameter of gender discrimination has shown an alarming declining trend during the last two years.During the current year, there were 838 girls born in comparison to 1000 boys. A cursory look at the worst performing districts — Rewari, Ambala, Kurukshetra, Faridabad and Jhajjar — would suffice to conclude that female foeticide and gender discrimination continue to be rampant all across geographical and cultural precincts in the state.

The statistics provided by National family Health Survey – III also clearly show that the ill-effects of gender discrimination are gripping the state. It reveals that in Haryana 42 per cent (0-3 age group) children are under weight, 27 per cent women have body mass index below normal and 56.5 per cent ever married women are anaemic.

A recent survey conducted by the state government under the Indira Bal Sawasthya Yojana revealed that about 64 per cent (6-11 age group) children are anaemic. Worse, the magnitude of the indicators of poor health of women and children has swollen over the period of time.

The state also does not provide a safe and secure living space to women either. The Tata Strategic Management Group based on the data on gender ratio and crime against women (National Crime Bureau, 2006 and 2007) has computed female security index (FSI) for all districts in the country. Not surprisingly, 17 out of 21 districts in Haryana have been rated among the worst FSI districts of India.Among the other districts, three fell in the category of bad and only one district provided average security to women.

The social security for women has also thinned down substantially in the wake of increasing incidence of gruesome murders of young women and men in the name of family or clan ‘honour’. The women, who dared not to follow the socially acceptable behaviour, perceived to have lost their chastity or displayed courage to choose their life partners in contravention of the reigning social order have to bear the brunt in the form of violence, coercion and killing.

There are numerous examples in the state where the medieval mindset of the people and its corollary institutions like the khap panchayats has directly or indirectly precipitated situations leading to the cold blooded murder of young women and men for defying the assumed sacrosanct and age-old established value system. Successive governments in the state led by different political parties have rarely responded politically to the grievous social issues. They have often taken them as administrative challenges and responded by launching various social welfare schemes through the state administration.Some of these schemes launched in recent years may have caught the imagination of people as well, particularly in the districts headed by socially committed and conscious officers. But the empty and hollow slogans for saving girl child like, chhori nahin bachaoge to bahu kahan se laoge (if you would not save the girl child, where would you bring the bride from?) merely reflect the poverty of thought behind the much-hyped social schemes.

Such appeals and slogans clearly reflect a sexist and chauvinist overtone and give an impression that the girl child must be saved to serve the male-dominated society.

The schema of social development hardly figures in the political agenda of main political parties in Haryana. This is a disturbing trend in a state where the level of social development is lower than most of sub-Saharan countries.Ironically, even in the 21st century, the dominant political view perceives and justifies the Haryana society being governed by the conventions of patriarchy – a system of social structure and practices that values male gender roles and devalues female gender roles. It declines to visualise that the perpetuation and accentuation of gender prejudice in modern human society amounts to social degradation.

The political parties in the state with the lone exception of the left have displayed opportunism while confronting social issues emanating from reigning social order. They often take shelter behind the social traditions and values. It has been reflected through the public debate on the issues of amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act to ban same-gotra and same-village marriages and enactment of laws on honour killings in the state in 2010.

The main Opposition party, the Indian National Lok Dal, has openly advocated the amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act to appease the vast majority of rural masses engrossed in caste and sub-caste nostalgia. The present ruling party in the state, the Congress, continues dithering on the issue of amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act.

The Congress does not favour enactment of legislation on honour killings either. This despite the fact that during the recent period the state has been the epicentre of the spate of brutal killings of youth for the so-called prestige of castes or clans.

There is an organic link between the continuing social underdevelopment and the nature of political discourse in the state. Despite taking a leap economically, the state remains socially backward as its ruling elites are keeping aloft the medieval social ethos and their functional forum, khap panchayats, to maintain their political hegemony.

The writer is Associate Professor, Department of Geography, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra, Haryana

The cosy world behind the tapes

9 Dec
Barkha Dutt - Inclusive Growth - World Economi...

Image by World Economic Forum via Flickr

Vidya Subrahmaniam in THE HINDU

The public face of the journalist is of a brave, feisty adversary tothe rapacious establishment, not the party animal who will wilt before the charms of the corporate lobbyist

To succeed, a politician has to keep his ear to the ground. Yet success can be cruelly destructive; it is so deceptively flattering that it eventually insulates him from the very thing that has made him a success: public opinion. For the politician, fed on heady tales of his invincibility and listening only to courtiers and attendants, the moment of discovery can be shattering.

The Niira Radia tapes have come as a similar, awakening moment for journalists. At one level, the tapes are about a nation in deep crisis, with a corporate lobbyist shown as being able effortlessly to penetrate and influence decision-making at multiple levels. If this is a mere teaser-trailer, as reports of 5000 more tapes suggest, what more damning, frightening things are we going to learn?

At another level, l`affaire Radia is a stunning indictment of the media, or at least sections of it. Indeed, for journalists caught on the tape, and tried by members of their own tribe for the lapse, the troubling question is about their credibility. Did they go too far in placing themselves at the disposal of Ms Radia knowing she was a lobbyist for two powerful corporate groups, the Tatas and Mukesh Ambani? Forget the people at large, why did their explanations not carry conviction with the rest of the media? And more critically, did stardom and public adulation cause them to lose their way so badly that they could not judge between right and wrong?

That illusions of grandeur and infallibility can affect journalists in exactly the same way they do politicians and film stars has been evident in the discussions held so far. Barkha Dutt chose to face a firing squad of senior media professionals on her role in the Radia tapes and yet missed the opportunity to show remorse and recover the fund of goodwill that had made her an icon. Her point: She would not apologise for a wrong she had not committed and it was entirely valid to talk to a corporate lobbyist and trade information for information. Ms Dutt threw counter questions at her interrogators, suggesting at times that they did not know the first thing about modern-day journalism.

The verdict was that Ms Dutt did herself no favour by acting so self-important. There were the inevitable comparisons between TV journalists and the politicians they attacked; it seemed that both could be brought down by hubris. Also revealed last week was the yawning gap between rank and file journalism and club class journalism, placed on opposite ends during a discussion on media ethics held at the lawns of the Delhi Press Club. Editor-in-Chief of CNN-IBN Rajdeep Sardesai, who was among the panellists, wrongly assumed that he was lecturing to a captive audience. Pitching in strongly for the dramatis personae on the Radia tapes, he argued that sourcing stories from lobbyists, even if not desirable, had become a requirement of fast moving journalism. It was excessive and unacceptable therefore to treat this as a serious misconduct. And then, Mr. Sardesai made a fatal error: He said he detected professional envy in the orchestrated outrage against Ms Dutt.

This was more than what the assembly of journalists could take. They were being portrayed as dull, and plodding in comparison to the savvy new media. The floodgates opened and for the next hour or so, it was the popular TV editor’s turn to listen as reporters tore to shreds the thesis that competitive compulsions had allowed for a variety of liberties in reporting, including tapping corporate lobbyists for information, and even allowing opinions to be formed by this information. Incensed mediapersons related their own experience of being able to break stories without compromising on journalistic sources. A senior print journalist with a stupendous track record in political journalism spoke of resisting alluring baits and finding access to important sources solely on the strength of her hard-earned credibility. Another shouted that not all journalists were in the profession for fame. However, unlike Ms Dutt, the amiable Mr. Sardesai quickly conceded the point, accepting that the lines separating journalism, politics and lobbying had indeed blurred to unfortunate portents for the health and future of journalism. The debate wound up with someone good humouredly remarking that the grassroots media had finally taken their revenge.

With the Radia debate into its third week, it has become more than apparent that a new kind of journalism has completely rewritten the rules of engagement in the profession. For those working with television, the glamour and fame can be overpowering, with the high visibility translating into throbbing, pulsating fan clubs, enormous following on social media networks and celebrity status on the party circuit. For the likes of Ms Radia, the “celeb journo” is a sitting duck, a vulnerable target both for passing on and acquiring information. News gathered this way slowly and inevitably acquires a legitimacy that eventually allows all lines to be crossed. From this to concluding that news cannot be got any other way is a small step. The trappings of power work similarly for politicians and journalists. Cut off from the rude realities of the normal world, both begin to live in a bubble of their own making. But whereas the politician, used to voter mood swings, will quickly learn his lesson when the truth hits home, the journalist, not tutored in this art, will react in anger and shock and go into spasms of denial.

Journalists who enjoy the limelight must also be prepared for the backlash when it comes. It can be argued that the journalistic indiscretions revealed by the Radia tapes are small change compared to the scale of adventurism on the part of politicians. Yet journalists alone, among a host of players caught on the tapes, have been at the receiving end of public anger: Rapid-fire tweets, emotional, angry lashing out on facebook accounts, chain text messages, black humour forwards, the responses have fed on each other. Partly lynch-mobbish, the fury is in larger measure because of a feeling of being let down. The public face of the journalist is of a brave, feisty adversary to the rapacious establishment, not the party animal who will wilt before the charms of the corporate lobbyist.

Television has hugely expanded this mandate with journalism turning almost vigilantist in the studio; here the fearless, morally superior and much loved anchor is judge and jury to the condemned political class. What the tapes have done is to expose this virtuoso performance as a sham. The combative anchor who relentlessly interrogates and shames his guests on the 9 pm bulletin morphs into an altogether different character on the tapes, entirely at ease with dubious elements. From the perspective of the trusting outsider, the cosy compact between the interrogator, the interrogated and the go-between must surely seem like a rude joke pulled off at his expense.

It does not help that most of those caught out on the tapes have a wafer-thin defence. The one claim that they have all made is that they strung Ms Radia along — as if the hard-nosed lobbyist can be so easily taken for a ride. The question is: What gave Ms Radia the confidence that journalists can be commandeered to do her bidding? What explains the easy familiarity between the hacks and their corporate contact? How is she able to wake up lofty names from their slumber? If, for all her pain and perseverance, Ms Radia only got the journalistic heave-ho, then it is a serious comment on the wisdom of the corporate groups that employed her.

Nor does the privacy argument work, given journalism’s increasingly ferocious appetite for news of any and every kind. Don’t TV eager-beavers chase after their targets, ensnaring them in stings and so on, often without a thought to the damage the telecast might cause to personal reputations? Taped conversations between alleged terrorists are the staple of the medium. Two years ago, TV channels feverishly ran a “sex tape” that allegedly featured a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh functionary. The tape turned out to be a fake but the RSS man lost his job. TV channels on a moral trip on privacy have had no qualms about using salacious gossip involving some of the world’s biggest names, provided by WikiLeaks.

A case has also been made out against Outlook and Open magazine for not following the due process involved in doing the stories, including checking back with the taped journalists. Due process? If the tapes establish anything, it is the attempted subversion of the due process. As the lobbyist of a telecom group, Ms Radia manoeuvres to place a favoured candidate in the Telecom Ministry. She tries to influence parliamentary debate. She makes veiled suggestions about fixing judgments, and she co-opts willing journalists. In one of the tapes, she skewers the news head of a leading financial daily for daring to miss a story; the quaking, quivering news head in turn apologises to her as if she were his boss. Columnists reproduce her lines verbatim, so much so, when the first of the columns appear, Ms Radia and a senior colleague chuckle at the poor journalist’s vulnerability.

Some of the implicated journalists have since been suspended by their organisations. The media must introspect more seriously, following it up with a clear understanding of the red lines, if lobbyists are not to make a habit of bossing us, if people are not to treat every story and every journalist with suspicion.

http://www.hindu.com/2010/12/09/stories/2010120955681200.htm

Hello, this is Niira

1 Dec
This is a portrait of Mr.Ratan Naval Tata made...

Image via Wikipedia

New Delhi From the website of Vaishnavi Corporate Consulting, the public relations firm run by Niira Radia, a concise statement of what the firm offers its clients:

“Understand mindsets that lead to reporting patterns in news, editorial policies and leanings”

“Effectively represent our views to the media through position papers and regular interactions”

“Hence enable influencing of media views”

Unremarkable PR firm claims? Or a corporate mission statement that’s unwittingly only too apt?

Radia is at the centre of a growing controversy where the basic storyline revolves round questions on her influence and the mindsets of some media professionals. News magazines Open and Outlook published transcripts of Radia’s conversations with politicians, industrialists and journalists. Radia’s conversations with journalists have led to questions about media ethics, and some of the journalists whose conversations with Radia have been published have both defended themselves and asked questions about the tapes leaked so far.

There is now a central government-ordered inquiry into the Radia tapes. There’s also a petition in the Supreme Court filed by Ratan Tata asking the question whether the publication of the Radia tapes aren’t a violation of privacy rights. Tata’s companies are among Radia’s clients, as are other big corporate groups including Reliance Industries headed by Mukesh Ambani.

THE CONVERSATIONS

The published transcripts feature Radia’s conversations with senior editors based in New Delhi and Mumbai. Journalists identified in the tapes include Vir Sanghvi, Advisory Editorial Director of HT Media (publisher of Hindustan Times); Barkha Dutt, Group Editor, English News, NDTV; Prabhu Chawla, Editor (Languages), The India Today Group; Shankkar Aiyar, former Managing Editor, India Today; and M K Venu, who was then Senior Editor, The Economic Times, and is now Managing Editor of The Financial Express, a sister publication of The Indian Express.

Radia’s conversation with Sanghvi and Dutt seem to have happened around the time the UPA-II government was being constituted in early 2009. The transcripts seem to indicate that Radia was seeking Sanghvi’s and Dutt’s help in securing the telecom portfolio for the DMK’s A Raja and to keep another contestant, former telecom minister and DMK member Dayanidhi Maran, at bay. Also, the tapes feature discussions around the legal and corporate battle between the Ambani brothers on the KG basin gas pricing.

From the published conversations, Sanghvi and Dutt appear keen to help Radia and also offer to mediate between the Congress and the DMK.

For example, Sanghvi says: “We’ve made a basic offer, if Karunanidhi responds to us and tell this that he would like to respond directly, he would like to talk to Ms Gandhi. He spoke only to Manmohan Singh. We would be more than happy but we’re not going to chase them now. We’ve told Maran that also they’ve to come back to us and tell us what they think of our offer. And apparently the DMK is getting very bad press in Chennai.”

In one of her conversations with Radia, Dutt is heard asking the lobbyist what she (Dutt) should tell the Congress; the context was that the Congress and DMK appeared to have reached a deadlock on the portfolio distribution issue. Dutt asks Radia: “Oh God. So now what? What should I tell them? Tell me what should I tell them?” Dutt is also heard offering to speak with Congress leaders on the DMK’s behalf and even promises action on their requests. “That’s not a problem. I’ll talk to Azad (reference to Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad). I’ll talk to Azad right after I get out of RCR (apparently, referring to the Prime Minister’s residence, Race Course Road).

One of Radia’s conversations with Sanghvi also deals with the gas dispute between the Ambani brothers. In one instance, Sanghvi seems to be asking Radia on what he should write in his weekly column, Counterpoint, in Hindustan Times. “What kind of story do you want?” he asks Radia.

Sanghvi’s Counterpoint that appeared in the Hindustan Times on November 28 said the column is being discontinued for an indefinite period.

The conversation with Venu relates to the placement of a certain news story that Radia wants published. Venu tells Radia if she wants better coverage she should give the story to CNBC, a business news channel.

Chawla is heard discussing the row between the Ambani brothers with Radia. Radia appears to have called Chawla to seek his opinion on the ongoing tussle and the two talk about courts and developments within the government on the issue. “Abhi tak Supreme Court ka, between you and me, kuch finalise hua nahin?” asks Radia. To this, Chawla says: “Finalise ka matlab kya hai? Bhai, Murli Deora bhi jayega court mein. Prime Minister is also putting pressure on Murli Deora to settle it. Because ultimate it is national loss na, as you put it.”

THE ORIGIN OF THE TAPES

Open and Outlook have said the tapes and the transcripts are courtesy a petition filed by Prashant Bhushan, an advocate, in the Supreme Court seeking an investigation into Radia’s role in the 2G scam. The two news magazines have said these tapes were from official phone taps that happened between May 11, 2009 and July 11, 2009.

According to a senior income-tax official who was part of the team involved in the phone-tapping, the I-T department was investigating cases of tax evasions and I-T violations by Radia and her various PR agencies. As part of the investigation, the department, after a go-ahead from the Home Ministry, tapped Radia’s and some of her associates’ phones between August and October 2008 and May and July 2009. Meanwhile, the Central Bureau of Investigation was investigating several bureaucrats and individuals in the 2G scam case.

During its investigations, the CBI came across Radia’s name and asked the I-T department if it had any information on her. In a letter, dated November 16, 2009, Vineet Agarwal, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Anti Corruption Branch, CBI, wrote to Director General Income-Tax (investigations), Milap Jain, asking if the I-T department had “any information or records pertaining to any middlemen including Ms Ni(i)ra Radia, regarding (the) award of UAS licenses”.

In response, Ashish Abrol, Joint Director of Income-Tax, apprised Agarwal that the I-T department has been tapping Radia’s and some of her associates’ phones.

In his letter, dated November 20, 2009, Abrol wrote to Agarwal: “From conversations it appears that Ms N(i)ira Radia might have had some role with regards to the award of Telecom licenses…There are some direct conversations between Ms Radia and Telecom Minister (Raja)…” Abrol asked the CBI to collect the “extracts” of the conversations from his office.

On November 15, 2010, Bhushan filed a case in the Supreme Court with a copy of the “extracted” conversations and sought Radia’s interrogation in connection with the 2G scam. When asked about where the tapes came from, Bhushan said, “I cannot reveal the identity of my source. All I can say is that these conversations were tapped by the I-T department and the tapes were submitted by the CBI before the Supreme Court.” Explaining why he filed the petition with the tapes, he said: “The CBI has had these tapes for around a year but it didn’t bother to interrogate Radia in connection with the 2G scam.”

According to the I-T official, there are close to 6,000 pieces of conversations, out of which nearly 1,000 have got leaked.

MEDIA RESPONSES

No journalist named in the tapes has disputed the fact of the conversations with Radia. “I am not denying these conversations (with Radia),” said Sanghvi. “But at the same time, I am mystified about the source of these tapes and also the timing of the leaks,” he said. “It has been suggested to me that somebody in the government may have leaked these tapes to set the media on itself,” he said. Another journalist named in the conversations said: “The selection of the tapes and the manner in which they were released also make it seem like a case of corporate rivalry but in any case, the leaks have managed to deflect the ongoing debate on the government’s silence on 2G scam to the media.”

When contacted, Outlook’s editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta did not want to speak on the issue and the magazine’s editor Krishna Prasad regretted “not sending in a response” to questions sent on email. Open’s editor Manu Joseph, in response to a questionnaire sent by this newspaper, sent a note saying: “Open is sure of the authenticity of the recordings. That is the reason it ran the story.”

The journalists in question have denied any wrongdoing. Venu has initiated legal proceedings (civil and criminal defamation) against Outlook arguing that the magazine’s insinuation that he was part of the lobby — that “put Raja in the Cabinet” — was incorrect and defamatory since there’s no reference to Raja in the transcripts.

In a statement on NDTV’s website, Dutt said “the one sentence being used to damn me, ‘Oh God, What should I tell them’, is in fact two separate sentences, neither of which are related to A Raja or the telecom portfolio at all. When transcripts are edited and capture neither tone nor context, the message is severely distorted.”

She said that “the magazines that published the tapes themselves have flouted several principles of good journalism… They didn’t cross-check anything before publishing the said tapes”.

Some media veterans see the issue differently. “Nobody can deny the existence of lobbyists and PR people in the political or corporate space. It is a fact that journalists have to deal with such people while chasing stories and powerful people. There is nothing illegitimate in this,” said B G Verghese, former editor of Hindustan Times and The Indian Express. “There is no suggestion of corruption or any wrongdoing on the part of the journalists in the tapes. If at all, they come across as willing listeners and this is no crime.”

The issue has received some play in the US media, with The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post having reported on it. There have also been responses from media observers. “There is a clear clampdown, an orchestrated silence, in the media on this issue. Television news channels, which will pounce on the slightest hint of a controversy, have not even found the issue worthy of examining, forget about chastising people from their own fraternity,” said Santosh Desai, a columnist and CEO of Future Brands, the company that manages all the brands owned by retailer Future Group.

“Even if no quid pro quo is established, there is a clear evidence of power broking in the conversations. Journalists (in the conversations) seem quite comfortable in the role of players and those who peddle influence…they seem at ease in a space that they are not supposed to be in. And this is neither good for journalism nor for the democracy,” said Sevanti Ninan, an independent media observer.


Vir Sanghvi /Advisory Editorial Director with HT Media Ltd (publisher of the Hindustan Times and Dainik Hindustan)

In at least three instances, Radia is seeking Sanghvi’s help in reaching out to the Congress leadership and Sanghvi assures her of help. Sanghvi also seems to be discussing the content of his yet-to-be-written HT column. An email to Rajiv Verma, CEO, HT Media, asking him about the company’s stand on the tapes did not elicit any response. On November 28, Sanghvi, in Counterpoint, his column, announced that he was “taking a break” from writing the column. “I do not deny that these conversations happened, but the tapes have been doctored and the context tampered to give the conversations a certain slant,” he told The Indian Express.

Barkha Dutt / Group Editor, NDTV

Radia seems to be seeking Dutt’s help in resolving a logjam between the Congress and the DMK, and Dutt says she will communicate Radia’s and her bosses’ stand on various issues to Congress leaders. Said Dutt, “I never passed on any message to any Congress leader. But because she was a useful news source, and the message seemed innocuous, I told her I would. Ultimately, I did no more than humour a source.” In a statement, NDTV Group CEO and executive director Narayan Rao said, “To caricature the professional sourcing of information as ‘lobbying’ is not just baseless, but preposterous”.

M K Venu

Senior editor of The Economic Times at the time of the conversation; now managing editor of The Financial Express, a sister publication of The Indian Express

Venu and Radia discuss industry gossip; Radia seeks Venu’s opinion on whom she should give a certain story to. Venu says she should give it to an organisation that will display it prominently. Venu has initiated legal proceedings (civil and criminal defamation) against Outlook arguing that the magazine’s insinuation that he was part of the lobby — that “put Raja in the Cabinet” — was incorrect and defamatory since there’s no reference to Raja in the transcripts.

Shankkar Aiyar

Managing Editor with India Today at the time of the conversation

Discusses Cabinet formation of the UPA-II. Radia communicates with him on the portfolios that DMK wants for itself in the new government.

Ganapathy Subramaniam

Senior Assistant Editor, The Economic Times

Shares with Radia the placement of reports in the newspaper.

When contacted, a spokesperson of the Times Group said: “Media should refrain from publishing private conversations that merely serve to titillate and can damage individual reputations… A story has to go through many editorial filters before it appears in ET, which is often frustrating for PR agencies…We are watching the situation and reserve our right to act against individuals and publications if they harm the image or credibility of our brands.”

Prabhu Chawla

Editor (Languages), The India Today Group

Chawla’s conversation with Radia is about the gas dispute between Mukesh and Anil Ambani. Radia seems to have called Chawla to seek his opinion on the gas dispute case being fought by the two brothers in the Supreme Court. Chawla and Radia discuss the possibility of the Supreme Court judgment being fixed. Aroon Purie, chairman and editor-in-chief, India Today Group, didn’t respond to an email from The Indian Express. In a statement, Chawla said: “The 13-minute conversation had nothing to do with the controversial 2G of A Raja. Niira called me as she said ‘to seek my expertise’ on the ‘Battle for Gas’ between the two Ambani brothers. I merely told her that the earlier the brothers put an end to their private battle, the better it will be for the public good.”

%d bloggers like this: