Friday, 31 December 2010

A Resolve against Resolutions

Happy New Year!! It is that time of the year when we spend hours deciding the factual lies we are going to say to ourselves, family members, friends and basically to anyone who cares to listen to the ineffectual lies we generally end up saying at the start of a new year. It's that time when we resolve to make promises, we haven't a hope in hell of being able to keep. Statements such as "I'll lose weight", "I'll put on weight", "I'll not make people wait", "I'll join Alcoholics Anonymous", "I'll stop feeling sorry for myself" etc!

I'm sure you must have realized that I'm talking about the infamous "New Year Resolutions!" All of us make them, break them a few days into the new year. Well, I say, if we have to break them more like an obligation, then why make them in the first place? I can proudly proclaim that I have achieved that very few individuals to have survived on this planet, since time immemorial, have! I have managed to keep up to the last resolution I made--to never make a resolution again. I refuse to set myself boundaries or curb the flow of my destiny by a set of self-imposed shackles!

I know I might sound wounded, pessimistic and wary at the dawn of the new year but maybe because it's because of a constant barrage by various media channels and publications down the years which predictably have the same question to ask us each year which winds up. "What is your new year resolution?" Initially, I was a guinea pig, completely ignorant about the repercussions of innocently stating my resolutions in good faith. But then, I realized that each time a resolution bit the dust, it became subject to ridicule.

It is not that I judge people who make New Year resolutions. I respect them equally for trying to instill discipline into their lives. I wish them best of luck in keeping upto their promises. I wait to welcome them over to the dark sides when they fail. So once more, I have decided I'm not going to make a resolution! Oops... was that a resolution? On that note, Happy New Year!!

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Silence as sedition

A true measure of being democratic is not the cycles of elections--it is the dignity given to disagreement, to dissent. Why must we dignify dissent? There are the arguments that we hear everyday: so that the views of the majority cannot silence the voices of a few; so that no one can view or institution may become so dominant as to become authoritarian; and the value of freedom of speech and expression in and of themselves. Any memory of the Indian Emergency in 1975-77 is testimony to why any of these are important. Yet there is a more fundamental reason why dissent is the cornerstone of a democracy: it is the action of a free citizen.

Speech is an action. An action within a democratic framework--an action that simultaneously shows a continuous faith in the polity, the State and the people even as one (often virulently) disagrees with it. An action that keeps a democratic system alive. You dissent as a citizen, in the name of the Constitution. You dissent because you have the freedom to do so--not a freedom you have been "given" but one that you possess because you, as part of the people, are sovereign. This is more important than what we are taught in our school and college textbooks--being able to voice our disagreement is as central as the ability to walk to a ballot box and cast our vote. This is a freedom we give to each other as democratic citizens and that we must protect, especially when we disagree.

There is no more fundamental understanding of what makes and sustains a democracy. Speech and engagement are the antithesis of apathy, of a people who have lost their sensitivity and ethical compass. You don't have to like what people say--indeed it is when what they say makes your blood boil that you must defend their right to speak even as you exercise your right to vocally and fiercely disagree with them.

Dr. Binayak Sen speaks. Through his actions and words, he protests, he engages, he dissents, he disagrees. His weapons are words, ideas and actions. Everything he does represents a strained, challenged but surviving faith and commitment to non-violent, democratic dissent though everyone around him should and must have given him so many reasons to lose that faith. His actions represent what makes India democratic and his conviction shows the deep fragility of our democracy today. If you wish to protect the nation-state, it is Dr. Binayak Sen you must protect.

Dr. Binayak Sen could have remained silent. Like so many of us, he could have been "safe" and not facing a life term in prison today. All he had to do was to shirk his duties as a citizen and an ethical human being and choose the easier way of remaining silent. The rest of us do so everyday in a country that is home to some of the most-entrenched and deepening inequality in the world. In our everyday lives, we stand by multiple exclusions and everyday acts of violence, homelessness, hunger, the removal of social benefits and a new India that measures its growth by its richest rather than its poorest. Why the poor do not revolt in arms is anyone's guess. They have no reason to wage a war against the rest of us who tolerate, sanction and reproduce their exclusion. So when those excluded and those that speak in favour choose to still speak and to engage democratically despite these violent exclusions, there can be nothing more important for our democracy to listen.

Those who (ab)use sedition often claim that the actions of people like Dr. Sen and Arundhati Roy are 'anti-India'. Let's agree to this claim for a moment and think in terms of 'defending India'. When we are silent in the face of rampant press censorship and collusion, when thousands die of hunger though grain rots in granaries, when the country celebrates its miracle growth even as agriculture stagnates and even contracts, when farmers commit suicide, when our own leaders make the word 'scandal' an everyday joke, are we not 'anti-India'? Is our silence not the greatest betrayal of every idea of India worth defending? If sedition is such a crime, is our silence not the greatest enactment of it?

Dr. Sen's conviction represents a crossroads for our democracy. It will no doubt be challenged in court and hopefully overturned but no legal victory can or will be enough. The conviction must be challenged by us as citizens. We must refuse to be silent. We must act--through protests, conversations, petitions, writing and pushing the government, our elected representatives and the media to take a stand. Whether we agree or disagree with Dr. Sen's world-view or his politics, we must speak up to defend not just his freedom to dissent but, crucially, our own right to be democratic.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Scamsters Dictionary

Between A. Raja and Niira Radia, the tapes and the taps, the Tata and the Chandrashekhar, it's become terribly confusing trying to figure out who has done what and when and to whom. It's almost like one of those kids' birthday party games where you try and pin the tail on the donkey while blindfolded. Competitive politics has made it tougher to figure out head from tail.

The reason everyone is totally confused is because the totals are so mind-boggling: Rs. 1.39 trillion is the figure being bandied about and anybody who had that kind of financial spectrum would be giggling hysterically all the way to the nearest bank in Liechtenstein, Switzerland.

It may have been a steep learning curve for someone but it has also been a steep learning curve for the rest of us, trying to figure all those arcane acronyms being bandied about. Try asking the Congress members what the 2G spectrum controversy is all about, most of them will draw a blank expression. They have been conditioned to believe that 2G is short for the two Gandhis, Sonia and Rahul and any other combination is beyond their comprehension. Mention 3G and the plot thickens with Priyanka added to the mix, even though now she's a Vadra. In Congress circles, however, a Gandhi is a Gandhi and will smell just as sweet (with due apologies to Shakespeare).

Back to the learning curve and the acronyms that everyone's so concerned about. Here's the first lesson in the Scamsters Dictionary: 2G led to the CAG which in turn led to the CBI which took it to the DoT. Then, the trail led to the TRAI which, in turn, has led all sorts of connection to the DMK in Chennai and elsewhere, made a sharp U-turn and moved back to the DIAL. Now, we have the ED getting involved, trying to ensure that the PMLA has not been violated. Finally, we are still trying to get to the bottom of how VCCPL carried so much clout in such a short time. That, we're told by the Opposition, can only happen if there is a JPC.

So far, the investigative bandwith is spanning the entire spectrum, from NGOs to chartered accountants, priests and editors, friends and family. Everything is relative. It seems to be like the licence which has something called UAS (Unlimited Access Services). Now we all who had unlimited access to whom and the raids on Niira Radia have given us a new phrase to include in the Scamsters Dictionary, "Economic Terrorist", as contributed by Praful Patel who has been stung by his name popping up in the tapes. It's become a mad race to clear your name as soon as possible.

For the uninitiated, the Scamsters Dictionary begins with DoT, or the Department of Telecommunications, which deals with anything to do with communications, from phones to faxes and everything in between. Then, we have TRAI or The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, a supposedly independent body. Next is VCCPL or Vaishnavi Corporate Communications Private Limited, the company owned by Niira Radia, which is a very independent entity, aka TRAI's former boss, joined after leaving TRAI, raising eyebrows but also VCCPL's bottom line.

We have another employee who had connections to DIAL, the Delhi International Airport Ltd, but so far he is not named in the CAG which, by the way, is yet another independent body, the Controller and Auditor General of India, the one that originally set the feline among the pigeons. We have now to GAG, which is the type of order issued by the CHC or the Congress High Command, to its spokespersons. Meanwhile, the CWC, the Congress Working Committee, is working overtime to ensure its ties with the DMK don't snap.

Finally, between the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) we hope to untangle some very tangled wires and cross connections. In fact, in all the confusion, the Scamsters Dictionary will be incomplete without one more acronym: QED (Quad Erat Demonstrandum: Marking the end of a logical argument by stating that I have reached the end of the argument and have proven my point).

Saturday, 25 December 2010

The Santa Cause

"You better watch, you better not cry, better not pout, I'm telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town!"

The lyrics of a popular Christmas carol act as a time machine transporting many of us to the days when we were young, innocent, lucky and naive enough to believe in the existence of a jolly plump fellow dressed up in a red and white suit, a snowy flowing beard, who went "ho ho ho" and called himself Santa Claus!! As children, most of us have believed in the legend of Santa Claus who lives in the North Pole toils away all year long to fly on his reindeer hauled by the red-nosed Rudolph, who climbs down our chimneys and brings us our Christmas presents!

As we grow older, cynical, too over smart for our own good and lose the innocence we once possessed, we ask the eternal and perennial question which ends up marking the demise of childhood! "Is there really a Santa Claus"? We end up googling his origins like I just did and find out that the basis for the Christian-era Santa Claus is Bishop Nicholas of Symrna (Izmir), in what is now Turkey. The Orthodox Church later raised St. Nicholas, the miracle worker, to a position of great esteem. In the Protestant areas of central and northern Germany, St. Nicholas came to be known as Weinachtsmann.

In England, he came to be called Father Christmas. St. Nicholas made his way to the United States with Dutch immigrants and began to be referred to as Santa Claus! Which brings me to another question. The one which we should be asking ourselves. Weren't we happier when we didn't ask this question? When we didn't google our query? When we blindly believed and strived to be better so that we wouldn't be crossed off Santa's list?

Santa to me represents the ultimate judge between the good and the evil, the foremost protector of our moral values and all in a manner that brings us joy and merriment! Would it be so bad to believe in him if it makes us better people? If it helps us regain some of the innocence of our lost childhood? If it makes us fear wrong doing and inspires us to do good deeds, what's wrong? If you ask me, Santa Claus does exist. Whenever we help the needy, bring a smile onto someone's face or stop ourselves from being selfish or mean, he beams proudly at us from his home in the ice-clad North Pole. Merry Christmas!!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Santa Clauses

Santa's bag is again full of baddies. The so-called festive season kicks off with the news of more kickbacks and the hopeless wait for the promise of "tidings of great joy, peace on earth and goodwill towards all men". Women, as ironic as it may sound, never entered the beatific picture. This, despite the fact that it's the women force who now reign over us and the Christmas imagery. Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj, like the Biblical shepherds, are watching over their respective flocks by blight and the bright star in the east is undoubtedly Mamata Banerjee.

There is also the Radia-nt star who has been raining fire on all television news channels over these past few weeks, sucking her entire phone book into a black hole. So, let's begin with Niira Radia in our 2010 edition of updated Christmas carols:

Niira, the red-faced Radia,
Had a very itchy phone,
And if it ever scratched you,
You would never think you'd moan.
All the other lobbyists
Used to turn a shade of green.
They never thought smart Radia's
Chats would ever spill the beans.

Then one stormy Delhi night,
The taxmen came to say,
"Radia, with your connections bright,
Won't you let us leak tonight?"
Then all the Open media,
Jumped up and down with glee.
They bared her tapes to glory
And made the powerbrokers his-to-ry!
****
Mingle, bells. Mingle belles.
Jangle all the way.
Oh what fun it is to roll
In the glitzy Page Three hay.
Dashing through the bashes,
On a one-night open slay,
O'er the guests we go,
Bitching all the way.
Belles on Singapore slinging,
Or on others spirits bright.
Oh what fun it is laugh and swing
And bring out all the bling
****
Grief to the world, the scams have come!
Let earth. Receive. Her crooks.
Let e-ve-ree-y agency
Prepare-e-rare their do-oo-oom
And all the accomplices sing
And all the accom-plice-es sing.

Grief to the world, the Raja reigns!
Let PAC. It's force. Let loose.
Let CBI-I-I
Try 2G-ji-ee-ee
And le-et them. Get. The Noose!!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Lessons from Mediagate

Many people have asked me in the recent on what are the lessons we need to learn from the recent 2G Spectrum telecom scam and the recent Mediagate. Here is my quick take. An ordinary take? Perhaps...

Firstly, there are no good guys left in politics. Most rob, loot, extort and steal. A few stand by and watch, doing nothing to stop them. If you unfortunately have some favourite politicians which most of us don't, you can check out which category they fall in. The chances of them falling into either of these two aforementioned categories are 100 percent. If you want to know the truth about any scam, keep digging. There is no limit to venality here. No man is a thief alone. All thieves have family, friends, friend, associates, girlfriends and of course, bosses. Everyone of them makes money as they go along. That's what politics is all about: Joint Ventures.

There is nothing you cannot get done here. Anything is possible at the right price, if you have hired the right broker. It doesn't really matter how you designate or define the broker: lobbyist, PR consultant, policy advocate, political secretary, secretary general of an organization or a confederation, peon or pimp. They are the people who get the job done. When you cannot find the right broker, make friends with top journalists. They can provide you all the access you need. Sometimes foolishly, out of some mistaken sense of self-importance. Most times because these journalists themselves are in queue for some return favours from the person in office. They are the new part-time brokers.

You may be the most brilliant guy or girl around but becoming an entrepreneur in India is definitely not easy. It is the same bunch of guys (and their cronies and benamis) who get all the licences and permits and all the accolades in the media for successfully navigating their businesses through the turbulent waters of corruption and ineptitude. So catch on to a coat tail, people.

We have the left the Age of Immaculate Reputations way behind, be it in politics or business. There are brilliant crooks. And there are those who hire these brilliant crooks to get their dirty work done for them so that they can wring their hands in despair and bemoan the corruption all around. You will always find enough clever people to suggest that new laws and regulations should be framed to make businesses run by crooks legitimate. You will also find there are people who can coin the right title for the business to sound legitimate as well. So, a robber becomes a seeker of social justice and a pimp, a campaigner for alternative rights.

There is nothing wrong that some smart bureaucrats cannot explain away as perfectly legal. In fact, most of our laws are constructed in a way such that what's wrong can always be proved right and what's right can be proved wrong. The few laws that are not so ambivalent are being changed by these same clever leech-like bureaucrats to make them so.

There's nothing much one can do to punish a venal politician or a corrupt government officer apart from removing them from their current lucrative jobs so that they can walk into their twilight years, sip champegne on the French Riviera and live la dolce vita of the idle rich while new rascals grab their job to loot ordinary Indians like you and me all over again. To run a stable government, you must be deaf, dumb and blind, all at the same time. If you are not corrupt yourself, that's a plus for the job because then the media can always absolve you of any criminal intent and blame your colleagues instead. You too can occasionally join the blame game and point fingers at everyone around you. Very much like the way our good-for-nothing politicians do. Pointing fingers, it's quite fun in the end.

Even though the media may call you corrupt and blame you for all that's wrong with the world, remember it loves the bad. It's the bad that gets them their television rating points (TRPs) soaring. So it's no use doing stuff to change India, make it a better for all of us because no media will actually bother to report it. It took Mother Teresa fifty years to be recognized. It took Dawood Ibrahim three. A. Raja was famous in a fortnight.

When in the Opposition, look stupid and keep yelling at such a loud pitch that no one can hear what you are saying. If they can, they will point out that you did much worse when you were in power yourself. So just be very noisy. Don't allow your voice and yourself to be deciphered. Old crimes will crawl out of the past and knock you off your moral perch.

Surely, there are no lessons learnt. Ever. No one has asked who taped these private conversations and with whose permission. Everyone's so busy settling political scores that they have missed the real point. That people will in the government will one day tap into our telephone conversations and listen to them is the scariest scenario British writers like George Orwell once dreamt of. Today, unfortunately, it's an everyday reality.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The New Guerillas of News

Everything was going fine, just fine. And then suddenly, in the midst of a warm season of 9% GDP growth and a sizzling sensex, when India was the toast of the world, came the shocking Niira Radia tapes and all hell broke loose. No, it's not that one knew about the telecom scam or how vast sums of money had been looted. But till the first stone was cast, no one in the media wanted to pick it up. No one wanted to risk the wrath of the Government and the corporate sector, both prominent players in this ugly scam as well as important stakeholders in the media.

WikiLeaks is the same story. Much of what has emerged till now was known to everyone, including the fact that the US foreign policy has many faces, not all of them very pleasant, as they present it to be, till Julian Assange took the daring step of putting millions of classified cables on the Internet for everyone to see the sheer impact of lies and chicanery that go into it was never that obvious. The next lot of posts, one hears, will relate to US banking and its dark secrets. This again is not new. We all know why the economic recession happened but to see the truth in chilling cold print is another matter. What's protected under the code of secrecy is usually the ugly truth be it in politics, banking, telecom or war. That's precisely why a new journalism is now emerging to combat this.

Some call it citizen journalism. Others call it whistleblower journalism. I think it's simpler to call it the journalism of the eighties. Post the proclamation of the Indian Emergency, when everyone was sick and tired of the lies the Congress had told us, journalism came back on steroids to redefine its role. It's the same mood now. Everyone's fed up with the diversionary tactics employed by the media which has over the past two decades, made food, celebrity quirks, the private lives of movie stars, travel and lifestyle, music and brands, the opiate of a reality-shy generations that prefers reality television instead. So a new, muscular journalism is once again emerging to challenge Bollywood and cricket. Not many agree with Mr. Ratan Tata and now, Deepak Parekh that such journalism cannot trample on privacy and business. The focus right now is on probity. Probity in public life.

The new journalism is actually about self-service. WikiLeaks and the Niira Radia tapes offer you vast amounts of raw data to wade through and come to your own definitive conclusion. After that, you can read or listen to what journalists like Barkha Dutt have to say. You don't have to depend on people like me to tell you what's right or what's wrong. The facts are out there in the open in front of you. It's easier that way and you're less likely to be led astray by manipulative Governments and occasionally compromised journalists.

But doesn't that make the job of the common citizen more oneous, more tiresome? Who has the time to wade through so much raw data? I agree not many. But people like access to unprocessed, uncontaminated data. It gives them a sense of power. It's like going to a party which has a buffet lunch. Most people don't even see the entire array of food on offer, leave alone eat it. But it does give them a huge high to see such a spectacular spread out there, from which they can pick and choose what they want. It's the power that choice offers. It's the same reason why people take so many channels from a DTH menu even though they may watch hardly a few channels. No denying that people love choice. They like access to variety. The bigger the variety, the more empowered they feel. That's what WikiLeaks is all about. That's indeed what the Niira Radia tapes are also about. They make us believe we have insider information available us to make up our own mind. It is about democratizing information. It makes the common man feel he is participating in the process of history. And, as we know, it's the bad stuff that finally makes history. Not Lindsay Lohan's sexual craving or Yana Gupta's missing panties.

So, much as the US Government may try to browbeat WikiLeaks or corporate leaders in India may appeal to the Supreme Court to protect their privacy, the common man loves the anarchy. Every new leak gives him a sense of power. It gives him the access to stuff that's officially denied to him. That's what is important. And that's what journalism is all about: Our right to know what Governments hide from us. We know nothing will ever change. Our good-for-nothing leaders will continue to loot us, cheat us, lie to us, extort us. The only time to celebrate is when we access their darkest secrets and embarrass them. That's why Julian Assange and whoever leaked the Niira Radia tapes are the new heroes. They are the new-age guerrillas of the media. They are the ones empowering us to mock the rich and mighty who have made a mockery out of democracy.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Decoding the Radia tapes and other leaks

Are you confused with the hullaballoo surrounding the recent Niira Radia affair? To help you meet this challenge of our times, my activity partners prepared a few questions. Pick your answers from the multiple choices on offer and SMS them to Wikipedia. (Yes, it's bound to leak to the most important people you want to reach).

1): Who is a lobbyist?
a: She/he is a PR person
b: What's a PR person?
c: Ask Niira Radia.

2): Why does Niira spell her name with two "I"s?
a: She is superstitious
b: She is obsessed with I
c: She cannot spell

3): Why did Niira come to India?
a: To star in a film made by A. Raja titled "Radia--The Fearless"
b: To see the Taj by torchlight
c: To learn making phone calls in Tamil

4): What are Niira's hobbies?
a: Embroidery--of facts and things
b: Collecting stamps--and VIPs
c: Golf--thinking her phones can't be tapped outdoor

5): What do we know about A. Raja?
a: He is not a Raja
b: He doesn't want to be a Raja
c: He wants to be a Maharaja

6): What does 2G provide?
a: 1.1 lakh crores
b: Improved tonal quality of unwanted calls
c: A lot more than 1G

7): What are 2G and 3G?
a: Generations in the Nehru--Gandhi dynasty
b: Codes for secret Swiss bank lockers
c: 4.4 and 6.2 megahertz along with a multi-spectral continuum

8): Why do we have all these GSM, CDMA, G2, G3?
a: So that the argumentative Indian can argue in alphabets
b: To give Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani, Anil Ambani, Rajeev Chandrashekhar and Niira Radia something to do.
c: DKDC (Don't know, don't care)

9): What will happen to Niira now?
a: She'll communicate through a carrier pigeon
b: She will get a Padmashri
c: Niira who?

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Not a wicked leak

The Outlook magazine has decided to put the mp3 audio files of phone conversations of Niira Radia on its website. For more than a week, any one has been free to download these files and listen to hundreds of conversations between Niira Radia and prominent journalists, politicians and top bureaucrats.

The conversations reveal how a British--Kenyan corporate lobbyist surviving on an Person of Indian Origin tag was trying to influence the nation's Union Cabinet formation. They reveal the amazing reach and power of this new class of "public relations" managers. They also reveal a close relationship between journalists and the subjects they cover. Such proximity is bound to affect objective news coverage. Are the tapes only an aberration, or is this the tip of an iceberg? So far nobody has completely denied the authenticity of the tapes.

Till the time of writing this, there is no court injunction to shut down the website. Simultaneously, there is a global community of volunteers who are furiously helping transcribe all those taped audio files. These conversations were from wire taps conducted by the Income Tax authorities in 2008 and 2009. Only one telephone was tapped, that of Niira Radia. Niira was being investigated for tax evasions and violations of foreign exchange laws.

The remarkable thing is that discussion about the recent Mediagate is that it came into Indian mainstream media (television, magazines and radio) only after a gap of more than ten days since the day these tapes became public. In the days of cutthroat competition for "breaking news", it is odd that this news did not break for ten days. Conspiracy? There was a deafening silence as if there was a tacit consensus that pirated unauthenticated stuff should not be published. But on the Internet, on Facebook and on Twitter, it was a raging topic, even becoming one of the top ten most discussed "trending topics". News about the Mediagate started appearing even in international dailies and journals like The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

Even then the news did not break here. What seems to have finally precipated matters is the recent whistleblower website WikiLeaks. By a curious coincidence the global media was happily reporting the latest installment of WikiLeaks, while our media was silent on Radia Leaks. The silence became unsustainable. The WikiLeaks documents are much more incendiary stuff, even though "stolen". They are extremely embarrassing to the authorities, the US government. They were sought to be suppressed on grounds that they would lead to endangering lives. Some people in the US are trying to have their government declare WikiLeaks as a foreign terrorist organization. One particular person, a University professor no less, has asked that the founder Julian Assange be assasinated, like the leaders of Al-Qaeda!

So with such fierce opposition and government threats, if WikiLeaks could still be published, why not the Niira Radia tapes, which were equally incendiary? As a democracy, we already are committed to a citizen's right to information. Secrecy can never be a weapon to be used against the people. The US is also trying to promote open governments and transparency around the globe. So, it cannot be seen suppressing its own transcripts, even if they are obtained illegally. And if the US does prosecute WikiLekas, it would be by using its own laws, not by brute force or "goonda raj".

The Niira Radia tapes raise many issues and right to privacy is one of them. But just as we often weight tradeoffs between collective welfare and individual rights (as in land acquisition for a highway or metro), so also an individual's right to privacy must be weighed against the public interest. The revelation of the Niira Radia tapes throws immense light on behind the scenes workings of our government, news gatherers, opinion makers, power brokers and lobbyists. This sunshine on the tapes and information openly released into the Ganges of public opinion can only strengthen our democracy, not weaken it.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Dangerous Liaisons

Journalism, a former editor-in-chief of the Time magazine once said, can never be silent. That is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. "It must speak and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air".

At a time when the Indian media are a shining a light on some of the darkened crevices of our society, the journalism fraternity are accussed of having fallen unconsciously silent, as the fraternity suddenly finds their own dealings forced out of the shadows, as they become the story, as their faults are revealed and virtues reduced. The chances are you have either read the transcripts or heard the audio of the phone taps involving thirty journalists, including NDTV's group editor Barkha Dutt; Vir Sanghvi and the editor (languages) of the India Today group Prabhu Chawla; former managing editor Shankkar Aiyar; managing editor of The Financial Express MK Venu and The Economic Times assistant editor Ganapathy Subramaniam. There are indirect references to the editor-in-chief of the Hindustan Times Sanjoy Narayan.

Income Tax authorities probing possible tax evasions recorded these conversations over six months in 2008 and 2009 from the phone of powerful Bombay corporate lobbyist Niira Radia, whose clients include India's biggest corporate names, the Tata group and Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries. The backdrop is the so-called "2G scam", a much larger-and-ever widening scandal involving the dubious sale of telecommunication airwaves, or spectrum, for the second generation (2G) mobile phone networks. The sale, engineered by former Telecom Minister A Raja--whose appointment Niira Radia lobbied for--led to notional losses of more than Rs. 1 lakh to the Indian exchequer.

I see two immediate positives from the recent Mediagate. One, there appears to be more moral wrongdoing and silly talk than outright corruption; there is no evidence of payments. Two, the media have not stayed completely silent. The magazines Open and Outlook first published the raw transcripts and tapes, obtained they say from a petition filed before the Supreme Court by lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who asked for an investigation into Niira Radia's role in the 2G scandal.

The government has now ordered investigators to find out who leaked the Niira Radia tapes, some of which were first delivered earlier this year as anonymous envelopes to many editors. Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata, whose conversations with Niira Radia also feature in the tapes, has moved the Supreme Court, calling the tapes an invasion of his privacy. These tapes, all high-quality recordings, are certainly not fake. Were the phone taps legal? Yes. They were authorized by the home secretary of India after a request from the income tax authorities.

Phones are routinely tapped in India, perhaps more than in any serious democracy. A range of government authorities listen, legally and illegaly, to phone conversations, as do corporate spies, illegally. I doubt whether if my mobile or my landline at home is significant enough to be tapped, but my local telephone authority at the exchange could do it--with or without my permission. It is rare, though, for transcripts to become public. Legal phone taps fall under the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951 and any leak is a serious violation of the law and of privacy, as Ratan Tata rightly argues. These are leaks motivated by a noble purpose but to push as-yet unclear corporate or political agendas.

Yet, I am glad these conversations came to light. The liaisons between journalism, business and politics are not new, but the extent of these connections, the blurring of lines and the violation of public trust were certainly unknown to the public at large and unclear even to many of us who have chosen to steer clear of this cozy, make-believe world. I say make-believe because journalists delude themselves in thinking they can influence political choices, as they appear to be trying in some of the recordings. No minister has ever been picked or dropped on a journalist's recommendation. Many journalists had no qualms discussing a range of other murky business with Niira Radia--from story placements to "managing" a High Court judge.

It is always hardest to look within and acknowledge one's failings. That process has begun. This does not mean journalism will clean up it's image tomorrow morning. The era of what we call the "gifted journalist"-- who accepts gifts of silver, gold, land, preference shares and more from politicians and business--has been evident for years but still remains hidden from the public eye.

More of us are now writing about the recent Mediagate, confronting our compromises and the larger question of the compromised profession. On Wednesday night, NDTV's Barkha Dutt--a Padmashri awardee and a role model for many young people--subjected herself to grilling by her peers but did not acknowledge faults beyond "an error of judgment". We flinch now, as we should, from the taunts over Mediagate, I only hope it will push to cleanse, correct--at the very least, never stay silent again.