When Journalism Just Looks Wrong!


Barkha Dutt’s account of ‘DehatiAuratGate’

As I watched the above video, a nagging thought kept burrowing into my mind. It just wouldn’t let me go. Was that the right way to do it?

Let me explain..

The above video shows Barkha Dutt, one of India’s leading journalists, making a strong case of the fact that Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, had at no point referred to the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, as a ‘dehati aurat’ (village woman). Allegedly, Sharif was upset that India had brought up their problems with Pakistan to Obama in a strong-handed manner and so he, in an off-the-record chat, mused  why India had acted like a ‘village woman bringing a third party into a fight with her husband’. Now, this was tweeted by a Pakistani journalist at the table who goes by the name of Hamid Mir. Voi la! Political Storm!

Now about that nagging thought. If you watch the video (spare ten minutes of your valuable time and you won’t be disappointed) you’ll see a determined journalist trying to get the story straight. Maybe, a little too determined? From the second minute till the 8th minute, Barkha Dutt does everything to say Sharif did not mean to offend Manmohan Singh.

I understand what she trying to do, but the nagging thought kept telling me that she was trying way too hard! In those seven minutes, you will see her explain little detail. However, there was one particular part of those seven minutes that really got me thinking. Two actually!

a) She explains in imaginative detail of how the incident happened and how it was badly misconstrued by everyone. Right after? A video of the opposition Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi trying to score political points over his opposition at a rally. In my mind, that makes the BJP and Narendra Modi look manipulative (which may well be the truth, but as journalists one cannot intone that) . In my opinion it just looks wrong!

b) She explains in grueling detail the play of events, but admits that she was not at the table with Sharif and his aides for a while. This compromises the legitimacy of her account! How can you report an incident from a first-person point of view, if you have not been there whole time!? Hamid Mir even tweeted: “@Drm_Wvr_ Barkha left and came back with camera she was not present all the time it’s not a big issue let’s hope for the best.”

After watching that video, I was left with a distinctly bitter after-taste. It just didn’t feel right. Why did Dutt have to go to such great lengths to point out the actual set of events? Does it actually matter? As far as I’m concerned. A simple report of how Nawaz Sharif’s words weren’t derogatory would have sufficed. Actually, within a couple of hours Hamid Mir had even tweeted that nothing derogatory was said against the Prime Minister. That’s your story right there! That’s the end of the line. Did it need the Group Editor of NDTV to make a 10 minute segment on prime time? I don’t think so. Barkha Dutt was one of the great Indian journalists not so long ago. Until Radiagate, that is.

All NDTV had to do was to do what every other responsible news media did- Report based on Hamid Mir’s tweets and end the ‘political storm’ with another report on Mir’s tweets where he clears the air. By going the extra mile, Barkha Dutt risks crossing that invisible line in journalism called ‘partisan’.

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One thought on “When Journalism Just Looks Wrong!

  1. Trying to say that Nawaz Sharif didn’t mean it in a derogatory way is plain stupid. Of course he meant it to be a little insulting… Like trying to call Manmohan effeminate. The problem, as you rightly pointed out, is that NDTV is highly partisan. I don’t have problems with journalists having opinions, but that shouldn’t compromise the quality of news. I’m pretty sure that most of the outrage regarding this issue is about how Modi politicized it. But railing against Modi shouldn’t stop one from accepting the fact that it was a mild insult…

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