Mediaah! Bizarre! NDTV ombudsman Soli Sorabjee’s response to mail on Barkha Dutt-Niira Radia episode

09 Oct,2013

By Pradyuman Maheshwari

I was delighted with the news that Soli Sorabjee was to be the Ombudsman of NDTV, the news-to-cookery information network. Sorabjee is one of India’s best legal eagles, is a former Solicitor and Attorney General and is known to be a wise man. He’s frequently on television, his views are much sought after by people who matter. He’s not a Ram Jethmalani.

 

NDTV is one of India’s best known news vehicles, although just 25 years in the business. And it’s well-respected too.

 

However, the last five years has seen question marks being raised about the network. And this goes beyond its performance in the stockmarket, its decision to get into entertainment television and then exit it, staff cuts and more recently the trimming of operations of business channel NDTV Profit.

 

What has caused considerable loss of face for the channel’s reputation goes beyond its business decisions. After the Mumbai terror siege, there was an uproar against the coverage of some news channels and consequently there was a vicious online attack on Barkha Dutt. Yes, it was vicious, but as I look back, Barkha and NDTV should’ve just let it be. Instead they took legal action against techie Chaitanya Kunte. They may have won the battle and silenced Kunte, but there was much anger building against them.

 

And then there was the Niira Radia controversy. While journalists do often indulge their sources and help them with info (and even fix stuff), what happened in the Barkha Dutt episode was unfortunate. Especially the way she and NDTV handled the issue. She should’ve apologized on camera rather than defend herself on the show where questions were posed to her by a few top editors. NDTV, a channel until then known to have a squeaky clean reputation, too ought to have handled the crisis better and should’ve instituted an internal enquiry (headed by an outsider and asked Barkha to go off the newsroom or at least off air in that period). It didn’t, and went down several notches in the eyes of its core viewer – the Indian intelligentsia.

 

However, that’s not the reason for writing this. When I heard about Soli Sorabjee being appointed Ombudsman, I wondered how he would’ve handled the Barkha Dutt-Niira Radia issue. That was reflected in the report we carried on his announced (see link: http://www.mxmindia.com/2013/09/ndtv-appoints-soli-sorabjee-as-ombudsman-now-will-he-clear-air-on-barkha-dutt-episode/ ).

 

I wrote two letters to the Ombudsman. The first was on my name getting exposed to NDTV, to which Sorabjee responded writing: “I do not appreciate the need for anonymity.”

 

I found this a little weird. If a corporate’s name gets exposed to a journalist who he/she is complaining about, there’s bound to be a backlash.

 

But it’s the second exchange that has had me shocked and surprised.

 

Here goes the mail I received from Sorabjee’s Ombudsman id (See letter image).

QUERY

Hello, Mr Sorabjee. Thank you for accepting NDTV’s invitation to be the media group’s Ombudsman.

I would like to bring to your notice the controversy around Barkha Dutt and her telephone conversation with lobbyist Niira Radia. While Ms Dutt’s defence was subjected to a cross-exmination on television by eminent journalists, there is a view that her act brought disrepute to the profession and the NDTV group. There is also a view that Ms Dutt’s services or appearance on television should’ve been suspended pending investigation. It would be good to have an eminent jurist like you to comment and give your ‘verdict’ on the issue/episode. Your views may well clear Ms Dutt’s name once and for all. Or we may have you aver that Ms Dutt was incorrect by doing what she did and she deserves a stiff reprimand. In both cases, it will be a great service to Indian journalism. Sir, since this episode happened, many have questioned the ethical standards that prevail in the Indian news media and have even gone on to say that our news entities do not have the moral authority to question others on inefficiencies/corruption etc since their own houses may not be in order.

Your comment on the matter will help clear the air on this.

Thanks, Pradyuman Maheshwari

 

RESPONSE

The role of the Ombudsman is not judgmental but to ensure that dissemination of news is fair, accurate and balanced. However, Ms. Barkha Dutt should not participate in any programme concerning her and the Radia Tapes. I have advised NDTV to inform Ms. Barkha Dutt accordingly.

Soli Sorabjee,

Ombudsman, NDTV

 

 

Is Soli Sorabjee refusing to take a stand on an issue that has a strong linkage with the “role of the Ombudsman to ensure that dissemination of news is fair, accurate and balanced”. And what’s this bit about “However, Ms Barkha Dutt should not participate in any programme concerning her and the Radia Tapes. I have advised NDTV to inform Ms Barkha Dutt accordingly.”???

 

Mr Sorabjee is a wise man, but why is he sitting on the fence on the issue? Has NDTV asked him to not comment on the controversy? We don’t have the answers, but at the time of writing on October 9, 2013, when we tried visiting the Ombudsman’s page/corner/whatever on the NDTV.com site, we couldn’t find any label/tag on the homepage. Perhaps, viewers are expected to remember the ndtv.com/soli url. Or perhaps the network doesn’t want us to go complaining to Soli Sorabjee.

 

The views expressed by Pradyuman Maheshwari, Editor-in-Chief and CEO, MxMIndia in Mediaah! are his own and not necessarily those of MxMIndia Private Limited. Email him at pradyumanm (at) mxmindia.com

 

Post a Comment 

6 responses to “Mediaah! Bizarre! NDTV ombudsman Soli Sorabjee’s response to mail on Barkha Dutt-Niira Radia episode”

  1. Sohrab Kamdin says:

    Will the Eminent Jurist Advise clients who have been unjustly treated by the Defence Estates Officer on Payment of fees?

  2. Jayanta Mohapatra says:

    Only when the act done by Burkha Dutt is done by her at personal level, then only NDTV could take action against her. But considering all action taken till today, it’s done by NDTV via Burkha Dutt. So expecting any response to your liking would be considered as “Height of Expectations”.

  3. Mukunthan Iyer says:

    Dear Pradyuman, As per my understanding, I feel, you are too eager to know the opinion of an employed personnel (permanent, temporary or contractual), Mr Sorabjee, about the misdoings of the employer, NDTV. In whatever terms, this is meaningless. The adjudication whether holding NDTV culpable or acquitted has to happen in a Court of Law and not elsewhere. Barkha throwing herself to a group of questioners inside the NDTV studio, is equally the same. None holds water. This matter must be argued in and only in the courts. Any other form of activism is just another acceptance by the public of the kangaroo law and order which media is too eager to carry out, as it yields much business and fodder to them. Correct me. Best Regards, Mukunthan.

  4. DrRajeev Vatsyayan says:

    Radia and BDutt when together then one can feel what will bethe outcome. Murcky deals are not easy to prove but they are happening is an open secret nobody can deny.

  5. Anil Kohli says:

    Dear Mr. Pradyuman Maheshwari,

    You are a seasoned individual, how could you have also swallowed the toffee offered by NDTV. This channel is beyond redemption. As long as Barkha Dutt and the rest of the current lot are with this channel credibility is going to be an all consuming issue.

    This might make an interesting read for you http://ioretradingindia.blogspot.in/2010/11/from-dizzy-heights-of-kargil-to.html

    Sincerely
    Anil

    • Current Affairs says:

      Credibility of NDTV has gone negative. Only Lord Yama could bring its credibility back by killing NDTV. This will make people like us to remember NDTV’s some good reporting — in India we always respect a dead man and we remember only his good deeds!!

      Thus it is a waste of time for Soli Sorabjee and all of us, including @anilkohli:disqus and @mediaah.

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