To begin with, congratulations to Open magazine for publishing the transcripts of the Nira Radia conversations (I still don’t know how to spell Ms. Radia’s first name, and I dislike, in any name, two ‘I’s together, so I’ll stick to the one ‘I’ version.
Time will tell what roles the various participants in the conversation played; time will tell whether these were innocent conversations or otherwise.
Vir Sanghvi has, as far as I can make out, been conspicuous by his silence (Disclaimer: Mr. Sanghvi and I have not shared the greatest of relationships).
I’ve heard the other tapes and have read all the transcripts, and, if they’re true, politics and journalism are certainly bedfellows.
What makes the Open publication of the conversations significant is that it allows the common citizen of India to believe in the support of a free press in correcting the various sins of omission and commission by the elite of the country.
As is well known by now, the recordings have been doing the rounds of all the major media houses of the country, and all of them chose, except for Open, to ignore them, for reasons best known to them. The few who have commented on why they ignored the tapes say it is because they were unable be authenticate them, that they could not be sure that they were not doctored.
That’s a little ridiculous. For the moment, leave the politicians out of the discussion. Radia, Dutt and Sanghvi, to name three, have certainly been accessible and should certainly be people that any decent news media editor could contact. Once contacted, it’s not rocket science to ask them if it is their voices on tape.
Open chose to carry the transcripts and, in one fell swoop, has catapulted itself into the arc lights. It’ll be interesting to see how this one revelation affects their circulation, their readership, their ad sales and their yields. I’ll be shocked if all these are not in double digit percentages.
That’s the lesson for all news media products. Open stuck to their calling, which is to be a “current affairs and features weekly” and “the intelligent Indian reader's weekly mind stimulant”.
They’ve done so; by having the courage to carry an explosive piece of news that others dared not (or chose not to).
By doing so, they have differentiated themselves from their competition; they have arrived. They are more in the consideration set as far as advertisers are concerned than they already were; they are more in the consideration set as far as readers are concerned than they already were. And all that they did to achieve this was to do their job and do it well.
This is not the first time that I’m quoting Ajay Chacko and his views on news. Since he first mentioned it to me three years ago, I might be misquoting him slightly, but the sense remains. “The environment throws up a finite amount of news each day, most of which is available to all. What each media product chooses to carry and how the news is treated is what differentiates one from another.”
The tapes were available to all. Open chose to carry them; the others did not. Open wins this one, simply because it dared to be different.
What Open has done is to put all of news media, whether TV or print or dotcom, under intense pressure. There will be pressure for each of them to find news that is exclusive and different. Every once in a while, one of them will. And when they do, they, too, like Open today, will gain in respect, in respectability – and in consumers and advertisers and revenues.
And each time they break a big story, it will go a small way in helping India become a better country, a less corrupt country.
That’s some upside to the Open story. So, thank you, Open.