So, her highness Madame Barkha Dutt and NDTV sued a blogger C.Kunte for his rather polemical post “Shoddy Journalism” making incriminating statements about the intent of the ‘celebrated’ journalist during the coverage of Mumbai carnage and Kargil War. Mr Kunte was ‘bullied’ into tendering an apology, ironically on the Republic Day. And it seems the entire blogosphere is up in arms against this repressive step taken by those in mainstream media underestimating the strength of the blogger community as a whole. I read quite a few posts regarding the same, including those by Chandni, Vimoh, Shipriya et al critcizing Ms Dutt for her thin-skinned hypocrisy. But interestingly, there is not a single word on the issue by C.Kunte himself or Barkha (except a facebook confirmation that they did serve Mr. Kunte a notice). So, right now its basically a game of speculations and assumptions. So, I shall avoid supporting any one side but rather playing the Devil’s advocate as always just raise a few questions in favor of Ms. Dutt. Hopefully, the answers will provide a better insight into the entire issue when the initial rage and fury wane off.
1. A lot of bloggers have responded that when these journalists have all the freedom to take potshots at politicians and celebrities, why can’t someone show them the mirror? Well,agreed that just like the mainstream media, we also have a freedom of expression. But then just like them we also have a responsibility. If a news channel makes some unsubstantiated remark about anyone, he/she has a right to sue these news channels. By extension, Ms. Dutt also has a right to protect her reputation and dignity. Just like you have freedom, others have their freedom too. This is what the IPC say*: According to the “Indian Penal Code (1860), Chapter XII:
Whoever by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter excepted, to defame that person.
Reading this definition, I don’t think Ms Dutt is legally unjustified in her actions. 1-0 in favour of Ms. Dutt.
2. The “have lawyer, will sue” attitude of hers which has been amply criticized on quite a few blogs is too frivolous an argument against her and in fact, to a certain extent dilutes the seriousness of the entire debate. To say that just because she is in power, she is using/misusing it, just because she has the resources to sue, she is not being reasonable; is something like blaming a colleague for having a car due to which he always reaches office in time while you run late in the buses. (I know this itself is a ridiculous example, but I hope you get the point). What is wrong in using one’s resources to protect one’s dignity. I understand the argument is that since big media houses can easily sue an individual while it is difficult for an individual to pay them back in the same coin. This reflects badly on the morality of Ms Dutt and NDTV but again it doesn’t make it a very strong case against them. Thats how the world works. A car hits a rickshaw puller, nothing happens. A rickshaw puller touches a car even slightly…….well, I have seen thrashings which often haunt me. I am not supporting the moral ambivalence of either NDTV or the car driver, but these are subjective matters. Nevertheless, being one of the most revered female journos and an ideal for millions, we expected better from her. 1-1.
3. After the Mumbai carnage and Aarushi murder case, most news channels, ironically leading from the front was Barkha Dutt on NDTV in various talk-shows, accepted that the media needs to act more responsibly. Currently, the TRP is driving what and especially how these channels show the news ‘items’. Gone are the times when the private news channels used to be the free voice of the people as opposed to the national news on DoorDarshan which presented facts in a highly scrutinized manner. AAJ TAK, which used to be a half-an-hour show at 2130 hours was one of the most distinguished news compilation at that time. Ofcourse, I needn’t say anything about the current standards of all these channels. But are we bloggers also treading the same path? Are we also to be blamed for sensationalizing issues? Or as I read somewhere, are we responsible for making a martyr out of Mr Kunte? I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritties, but how many of you buy the case propounded by Mr Kunte that Hemant Karkare died because news channels showed him getting ready without protection? Terrorists in a jeep, firing AK-47, on a rampage in Mumbai, were watching TV, hoping that they will be given this information, and as soon as they got it……………..FIGMENT OF IMAGINATION OF AN OVERACTIVE MIND……..nothing else. Such absurd comments actually make the other logical arguments about the terrorists getting info on TV in hotel rooms also appear shady. 2-1.
4. Resting my case, I would say that Ms Dutt ‘might’ not have taken this ‘extreme’ step had the language of the post been a little more responsible. What the article amounted to was directly calling her a traitor. Had the article just criticized her reporting style and not its very ethos, I don’t think she would have gone so far. Let me quote Shashi Tharoor, “in a democracy, people will disagree. Its just that we all agree on how to disagree”. 3-1.