Uttarakhand sting puts media in dock
While Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat seems to have weathered the storm caused by the release of a CD containing the sting operation against his trusted aide and principal secretary Mohammed Shahid. However, this issue has opened the figurative Pandoras box of questions regarding the role of media as the fourth estate. The snowballing controversy surrounding the whole operation has turned murkier with the Mussoorie-Dehradun Development Authority (MMDA) demolishing the illegal structure belonging to journalist Ashok Pandey, who is believed to be instrumental in the release of the said CD.
It’s too early to verify the authenticity of the CD but the way it was used as a covert weapon by the ruling party in Delhi to sabotage political rivals in an opposition run state certainly did not measure up to the best traditions of journalism. The fact a Central Minister decided to release the CD at a press briefing to counter the charges brought against her ministerial colleagues took the sting out of the sting operation. In fact, the best traditions of journalism have been getting eroded for about a decade now with local small-time journalists playing a partisan role and taking an active part in politics.
In the first place, those behind the CD against Uttarakhand government chose to use the forum of a political party instead of a media platform raised questions of media ethics and the motive behind the whole exercise, which clearly were partisan. Without delving into the merit of charges brought out against the Harish Rawat government, the journalistic content of the whole operation left a reporter like me yearning for answers to several unanswered questions.
When was the sting operation done? Where was the video shot? Who were the people in conversation with the said bureaucrat? What result did the said conversation lead to? Last but not the least, why did the journalist in question not flesh out a full-fledged story than just dish out a half-baked concoction for everyone to consume. Indian media history is full of instances where well-researched reports based on hard work have yielded scoops which have led to fall of governments and arrest of ministers. And these reports and stories were done on media platforms and never for the benefit of a political forum. By when has the media started to need adrenaline from political parties to spur their thought process?
Coming to the second part of the controversy, that of the demolition of a structure belonging to the journalist purported to have been instrumental in the sting operation, this incident too leaves one with a mixed feeling. Having worked closely with media of Dehradun for the past eight years now, I have always envied my colleagues for the stories of the real estate gains they have made over time.
I sometimes wonder at the immense power journalists in Uttarakhand wield and the way they move the heaven earth to have their way. The case made by the state government against the sting mastermind seems to be water tight. The government has claimed that his property was first booked in 2012 for violation of rules and thereafter process followed before carrying out demolition.
The government may want us to believe that the demolition following the sting is just a matter of coincidence. For now I would not want to dispute it but the larger question is – has no other media person in the state used the clout of his profession to make the real estate gains? Going by the stories I have heard, the list could be very long. For a small state like Uttarakhand, the list of journalists and newspapers registered with the state government is in fact extraordinarily large.
If the media persons in the state are coming together to defend the “violations of the building provisions” by the sting mastermind, it’s probably being done to save their own <g data-gr-id="46">hearth</g>. To my understanding, this could be the unraveling of one of the most sordid chapters in media history. I would be happy to be proven otherwise.
The challenge before media, especially the regional media, is to fight the stigma of being violators of rules and law process. There are personnel situations wherein a journalist gets pushed into promoting a media house’s business interests. However, to extrapolate a professional demand for personal gains is unethical.
(The author is president Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post)