Vantage point

Thursday, January 29, 2009

NDTV - Self-righteous, ill-advised or both?

By now, anyone who has any exposure to blogs or twitter must know about the Kunte-NDTV flap. Chetan Kunte wrote a blog post criticizing NDTV's and particularly Barkha Dutt's coverage of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks (the blogpost is only available through Google cache). The post is gone from Kunte's blog, and instead we see this apology that makes for a very sad reading.

It does not take a PhD in reading between the lines to guess what happened. NDTV probably sent Kunte a legal notice, asking him to pull the post down, apologize, never write about them again, and pay an absurdly massive amount of money. Remember this legal notice from a few years back? Seems like NDTV might have used the same basic wording.

And here's my guess of what might have happened next. NDTV probably sent the legal notice. Kunte, probably satisfied that the post had done its job by raising awareness, must have agreed to take the post down. But NDTV lawyers, or maybe even Barkha Dutt herself (I don't know for sure) might have insisted that unless he issues a sniffling apology, they will take him to court and demand crores and crores. And who knows, since they seem to have been following the IIPM playbook so closely, maybe they even tried to contact his employers to pressure him (again, I don't know if this is true.... just speculating).

I don't know which of these opinions I feel more strongly -

a) NDTV should be ashamed of browbeating a lone blogger using legal threats. They can dish out rough stuff, but clearly can't take it. Some humility might take NDTV and Dutt a long way. Sadly, the media, the watchmen of the society seem to consider themselves more equal than others. This self-righteousness and goonda-ism using legal cells is not something one would have expected from a news organization.

b) Forget the rights and wrongs, but NDTV has made such a big mistake tactically. Even if they didn't like what Kunte wrote, forcing him to post an apology was extremely ill-advised. Obviously, bloggers and tweeters and facebookers would pick up on it, and the blowback to NDTV would spread all over the internet. And it seems to have started already. Influential and widely read bloggers such as Shripriya, Patrix, Rohit, Prem Panicker, Sandeep among others have already written about this. The contents of the post, and further criticism and "shame on you"s for NDTV will receive greater publicity and attention than Kunte's original post ever did.

What remains to be seen is, how will the other news channels, i.e. NDTV's competitors handle this news? Since their own 26/11 coverages didn't exactly receive bouquets, will they take a "chor-chor mauserey bhai" approach and ignore this story in solidarity with NDTV? Or will the competitors actually report on this and take the opportunity to claim they are better than that? Can't you just picture Rajdeep Sardesai on screen talking about this story at the top of his voice, probably with Mahesh Bhatt, saying "CNN-IBN is mature enough to take criticism in its stride. Mahesh Bhatt, why do you think our competitors are making an issue out of one blogger's opinion? Your response??" And how will the newspapers react? There are enough interconnections between TV channels and newspapers to kill the story everywhere but on the internet.

No matter which way you spin it, the story does not reflect well on Barkha Dutt and NDTV. If by some minuscule chance they are reading this, my suggestion to them, based on having lived through a similar situation - just apologize to Kunte, praise free speech, blame the matter on some misunderstanding or miscommunication with your legal cell, save face and move on.

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