Telephone Interceptions – Privacy vs Public Interest – Will the SC Decide


Stung by tape, Tata may move SC

Dhananjay Mahapatra, TNN, Nov 28, 2010, 02.18am IST

NEW DELHI: Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata group of companies, may move Supreme Court on Monday against the publication of intercepts of his conversation with Niira Radia, who handles corporate communication for the group. The head of the Rs 320,000 crore salt-to-software conglomerate feels, according to sources, that publication of intercepts of the conversation has violated his right to privacy.Sources also said Tata holds that as Radia’s phones were tapped by government agencies specifically for investigating a possible offence, the recorded conversations should have been used for that purpose alone. He feels strongly about the publication of conversations, which have no bearing on the case under investigation.

He, however, wants to make it clear to the SC that he does not want to stand in the way of an investigation into the 2G scam in any manner.

Seeking to invoke the writ jurisidiction of the apex court for immediate relief, Tata plans to argue that as Radia’s calls were intercepted by the Income Tax department and the recordings were required to be available only toofficial agencies, it was rather surprising the conversations found their way into the media.

It was all the more intriguing as some parts of the conversation were purely private in nature, and completely unrelated to the suspected offence. The sole purpose of leaking the details was to titilate the public, Tata plans to say. Tata’s argument is that while the taped conversation could surely be used for the purpose of investigation and bring the guilty to book, the availability of the intercepts — supposedly in safe custody of official agencies — with the media shows they were either stolen or leaked.

The veteran industrialist wants those who had stolen these tapes or those who leaked them to be punished. He is preparing to cite well settled law laid down by the apex court to show that such publications clearly encroached on his private space and breached his right to privacy. The SC had declared right to privacy as a part of right to life, the most important of the fundamental rights of a citizen. Tata, in an interview to NDTV on Friday, had said the leak of the intercepts was meant to create a smokescreen around the real issue behind the 2G scam.

The I-T department started recording telphonic conversations of Radia, whose Vaishnavi Corporate Communications handles the PR for group companies, for suspected tax violations. It twice took Union home ministry’s approval to keep tabs on Radia’s phones. The first permission to tap Radia’s phones was for 120 days, begining August 20, 2008, and the second, for an identical number of days, from May 11, 2009 onwards.

Of the 5,851 call intercepts detailed in the Radia tapes, which had been handed over by I-T department to CBI on November 26, 2009, for a detailed investigation into 2G spectrum scam, many are said to be conversations which were private in nature. Interestingly, the SC had in 2006 entertained a petition from MP Amar Singh, now expelled from Samajwadi Party, to stay publication of his conversations which were unauthorisedly intercepted and put on CDs widely distributed in political circles and among media.

Later, an NGO — Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) –had requested the SC to allow publication of the tapes saying that of the 18 conversations recorded in the CD, only three could be said to be private in nature. The rest, argued the petitioner, related to transactions of money and deal making, which could be termed as a conspiracy to commit an offence and should be probed and be allowed to be made public. Soon after the filing of the petition, the Centre had framed new guidelines on telephone interception by police and other agencies that authorised only the home secretaries of the states and the Centre to pass orders in this regard.

The spotlight is on the media now

Priscilla Jebaraj in THE HINDU

The Niira Radia episode raises questions about the boundary between legitimate news gathering, lobbying and influence peddling.

The publication of taped conversations between Niira Radia — a lobbyist for Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata with a keen interest in the allocation of ministerial portfolios — and editors, reporters, industrialists and politicians has shone a harsh and even unwelcome light on the web of connections which exist between the worlds of business, politics and journalism.

The transcripts — drawn from 104 phone conversations recorded between May and July 2009 when the Manmohan Singh government was in the process of beginning its second innings — also raise questions about the boundary between legitimate news gathering, lobbying and influence peddling. Even as the journalists involved have strongly defended their conduct, others in the media are divided with some believing the boundary was transgressed.

The transcripts were published last week by Open and Outlook magazines, which sourced them to audio recordings submitted recently to the Supreme Court by advocate Prashant Bhushan as part of a PIL on the 2G scam. The magazines claim the recordings were made by the Income Tax department as part of its ongoing surveillance of Ms Radia. The recordings are believed to be part of a wider set of phone taps, though who leaked this particular selection and why is not known.

In the tapes, NDTV Group Editor Barkha Dutt and Hindustan Times‘ Advisory Editorial Director Vir Sanghvi both appear to be offering to use their connections and influence with Congress leaders to pass on messages from Ms Radia, who seemed to be representing a section of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam interests. Other senior business journalists have discussions with Ms Radia about the gas pricing dispute between the Ambani brothers, mostly regarding favourable coverage for Mukesh Ambani. Prabhu Chawla, India Today‘s editor of language publications, appears to be offering her “advice” on how to pursue an appeal in the Supreme Court.

On the political front, in multiple conversations, both Ms Dutt and Mr. Sanghvi offer to mediate between the Congress and the DMK, and even help to set up meetings, in order to dispel misgivings between them on the specific role of Dayanidhi Maran and the allocation of portfolios more generally. In what seems to be an ongoing conversation during the stalemate between the Congress and the DMK over Cabinet berths, Ms Dutt asks Ms Radia what she should tell her Congress contacts. “Oh God. So now what? What should I tell them? Tell me what should I tell them?” she asks.

After listening to Ms Radia’s instructions, she promises to speak to Congress leaders. “OK, let me talk to them again,” she says. In a later conversation, she says, “That’s not a problem, I’ll talk to [Congress leader Ghulam Nabi] Azad —I’ll talk to Azad right after I get out of RCR [which has been read as Race Course Road, where the Prime Minister lives].” In separate conversations with A. Raja and Atal Bihari Vajpayee‘s foster son-in-law, Ranjan Bhattacharya — who also, surprisingly, appears to be playing the role of a conduit to the Congress — Ms Radia speaks of Ms Dutt’s help. “I made Barkha call up Congress and get a statement,” she tells Mr. Bhattacharya. In response to questions on Twitter, however, Ms Dutt has categorically denied acting on any promise to pass on messages to the Congress.

In his conversations with Ms Radia on the Cabinet issue, Mr. Sanghvi claims to be passing on information from Congress leader Ahmed Patel. “I spoke to Ahmed … Ahmed is the key figure. Ahmed says, ‘We told him, we told Maran also that we’ll deal with Karunanidhi, so he has gone back’,” he tells Ms Radia. Later, she asks him to pass on the message that the Congress must deal directly with DMK chief M. Karunanidhi. “I was supposed to meet Sonia today but I’ve been stuck here. So, now it’s becoming tomorrow. I’ve been meeting with Rahul, but tell me … So, who should they talk to?” When she replies, “They need to talk directly to Karunanidhi,” Mr. Sanghvi’s response is: “Let me try and get through to Ahmed.”

On his part, Mr. Sanghvi has indignantly denied any wrong-doing. “When there’s a fast moving story like the formation of government, you talk to all kinds of sources. Most of the time, they’re quite busy doing whatever they want and they don’t actually give you the information unless you string them along,” he told The Hindu. “It just seemed easier to say, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’ll do it’ and then forget about it.” He insisted that he had never acted on Ms Radia’s requests to call Mr. Patel or anyone else in the Congress “as anyone in the government will know.” However, even if he had called Mr. Patel as promised, it would not have been unethical if it was not privileged or secretly communicated information, he felt.

Ms Dutt declined to answer The Hindu‘s questions, citing legal concerns, but she has been freely offering answers to similar queries on her Twitter account over the past few days. “Let’s put it like this, unless we only cover news based on bland press conferences, we have to talk to all sorts, good and bad,” she said in one tweet. “I think there is nothing wrong in stringing along a source for info… I think EVERY journo has the right to engage a source, its NO CRIME … as a matter of record, I never passed the message. But info sharing per se is not immoral in a fluid news situation,” she tweeted.

In an official response to the publication of Ms Dutt’s conversations in Open magazine, NDTV said it was “preposterous” to “caricature the professional sourcing of information as ‘lobbying’.”

Other senior journalists are not so sure about the appropriateness of the conversations but admitted there are growing gray areas in the ethics of journalism. “Cultivating a source, giving him a sense of comfort, that you are not antagonistic, massaging his ego — all that is fine. But acting as an intermediary is inappropriate,” said one senior television journalist who asked not to be named. The same editor felt that increased competition led to today’s journalists being in more constant and informal touch with their sources, and he admitted that misusing this legitimate proximity was now easier than ever. But he hastened to add that political reporters often make tall claims or promises to get their sources to part with information.

The same argument is echoed by Diptosh Mazumdar, national editor of CNN-IBN, who endorsed Ms Dutt’s insistence that she had done nothing wrong. “Regarding Nira Radia tapes, let me say that accessing info is a difficult job and ur promises to ur source is often a ploy to get more info,” he said on Twitter. “When there are fast moving Cabinet formation stories, you make every possible move to get the info out, those promises mean nothing …” Rajdeep Sardesai, IBN’s editor-in-chief tweeted in response to the Open story: “Conversation between source and journo is legitimate. If quid pro quo is shown, expose it. Else, don’t destroy hard earned reputations.”

Apart from the portfolio-related recordings, many of Ms Radia’s conversations dealt with the tussle between the Ambani brothers over gas pricing. She is heard berating financial journalists for the poor placement of stories she had passed on. In one conversation, Mr. Sanghvi asks Ms Radia — who represents Mukesh Ambani — what kind of story she wants him to do on the gas dispute between the two Ambani brothers. Ms Radia talks of gas being a national resource and that the younger brother should have no right to insist that “a family MoU” he signed with her client be placed above “national interest.” Mr. Sanghvi’s column in the Hindustan Times the next day makes precisely the same argument. His defence is that this was genuinely his own view, and that the conversation with Ms Radia was only one of multiple inputs for his column.

In another conversation, India Today‘s Prabhu Chawla advises Ms Radia on Mukesh Ambani’s strategy in appealing the apex court against the Bombay High Court ruling in the gas pricing case. “You should convey to Mukesh that the way he is going about the Supreme Court is not the right way,” he tells her.

However, Mr. Chawla insists he was not giving any advice regarding the case. Instead, he told The Hindu that he was indulging in “social chit chat” with a source who called him, and merely giving his opinion that the Ambani brothers should come together since “when the brothers fight, the nation suffers.”

Perhaps because of the large number of journalists involved in the controversy, most Indian newspapers and TV channels have not covered the Radia tapes at all, even though they include conversations with Mr. Raja himself and Ratan Tata, head of the Tata group. This despite foreign newspapers like Wall Street Journal and Washington Post taking note of them and none of the protagonists denying the genuineness of the recorded conversations.

Though the blogosphere has been filled with outrage over the seemingly cosy relationship between the media and corporate lobbyists (one website has spoken sarcastically of ‘All India Radia’), questions have also been raised about privacy issues, especially since some of the conversations seem to be personal, with no direct news linkage. “I don’t agree that tapes of private individuals not breaking law should be aired,” Ms Dutt said on Twitter.

Outlook editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta defended his publication of the tapes, but declined to comment on the recorded conversations or answer further questions. “We printed the story because it was hugely in the public interest,” he told The Hindu. “Our purpose is not to pass judgment, but to put information in the public domain.”


5 thoughts on “Telephone Interceptions – Privacy vs Public Interest – Will the SC Decide

  1. Tata is a bribing corporate thief like A Raja and steals national wealth. This thief Parsi’s Tata Tele should be boycotted. Tata Teleservices spend around Rs 1000 crore and sold 27.31% to Japan’s NTT Docomo for Rs 12,924 crore, its valuation jumped to Rs 47,323 crore. Tatas forcibly acquired land in 1919 that is the oldest in India and is making profit out of our natural resources like the present day illegal mining. In June 1919 British and the Tatas drove away villagers from Mulshi near Pune, Maharashtra with little except the clothes they wore and made dam, affecting 54 villages. Tata family was smuggling opium to China for East India Company. Tata helped, invasion of Ethiopia by the British army. Its Nagpur Empress Mills is in honour of Queen Victoria. David Good, of US govt who prevented Anderson’s extradition, heads, Tata in US. Ratan Tata promote Dow Chemical and wants to pay for toxic clean-up. Tata is a heavy polluter in Sukhinda, Patancheru, Kutch. .,

  2. The Christian Pranab Muckerjee who is also known as the minister for Reliance helped the looting of Telecom spectrum through the public money given on loan to builders. Sonia helped Tata Mittal, Ambani etc and put Raja as Telecom minister. Kanimozhi daughter of MK has a second husband who is a converted Tamil Christian living in Singapore. MK is for Christian conversion because of this link. MK remains tight-lipped about christianity, christian rituals and practices, and church activities, but talks venomously about Hinduism. MK, receives strong financial backing and political support from christian organizations. MK and Kanimozhi are anti-hindu frauds and are for maing TN a christian state. DMK and Kanimoshi etc are in to smuggling of goods from Hong Kong Singapore and Malaysia as well as audio video piracy. The Burma bazaar maintained by the Tamil parties sell all types of pirated audio and video products including porno DVDs at Rs 15, that is run by the Dravida Kazhakam,

    All government agencies including CBI, police, ministers, banks, media personal, etc are seen working for criminals and for corporate bigwigs who are stealing the national wealth like minerals, spectrum etc, from under our nose using the Tamil thieves who masquerade as politicians. Adulteration has reached milk, petrol, medicines in catastrophic proportions, Illegal medical trials are killing Indians all over India. Christian and muslim antinationals are having a free run in India assisted by a foreign Italian plant Sonia Gandhi who is planted in India by Pope. Presently there is no security for ordinary law abiding citizens in India and many parts of India is a no go area for Hindus. In Nadapuram, in Kerala, Hindus cannot enter muslim lanes and if did, will be killed. Same applies to some 41 panchayat areas in TN where muslims are concentrated. In NE Hindus cannot celebrate festivals and if so the christian terrorist will kill them.

  3. Nira Radia lobbied for the return of Raja as the Telecom Minister as per her tapped conversations. Nira Radia has made all efforts to scuttle Dayanidhi Maran getting the Telecom portfolio, as he was considered to be opposed to Tata and Ambani. Sonia and Rahul is in the Radia loop as all of the scam remained undisclosed and Manmohan Singh refused to come out with any details about the case filed by the CBI. Nira Radia, is influential with Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani and Sunil Mittal etc and Radia dictates media policy of Corporates and thus we have not seen anything in the media for the past 2 years relating to the telecom scam which is the biggest robbery by corporates like Tata and others and the media houses are afraid to take cudgels against Radia and Raja.,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    Nira Radia has deep connections with the previous Telecom Minister the Tamil thief A.Raja and DMK supremo the Tamil goonda and thief M.Karunanidhi and his family members like Kannimozhi. The CBI filed a case in October 2009 regarding UAS Licenses granted in 2007-08. Nira Radia was put under surveillance and what emerged from the tapping of her phones is shocking. The media was afraid to talk about this scandal. Most important and powerful media Houses and editors were working for Radia. Vir Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt are her agents as per the tele tap records. These two creeps were assistig Radia, to ensure Raja becomes the Telecom Minister. Radia has been managing the media in India. Radia was involved in the hawala transations that funded the telecom scam

  4. People in Power at the highest level in the country in Administration, in Politics & in Judiciary, not only continue to violate the fundamental rights of common man but knowingly tramp Constitution of India below their fight. However, most powerful Corporates prefer to look sideways because their privacy is not affected, because their right is not encroached upon & because they are not affected. They speak up when they are affected. They wake up at 26/11 while umpteen no. of 26/11 have taken place in India. Corporates need to appreciate the fact of life that If your neighbour is in trouble and if you can sleep well, next turn is yours. Hope, something good comes out for common man in the petition by Shri Ratan Tata to Supreme Court.

  5. The uphoria over Radia tapes can also seen as a power struggle between the Private sector, who were convinced that they were holding power and could buy anything and anybody [politition and bureaucrats] with their money power. Thus their illegal actions were beyond the clutches of law.

    Now they have realised that, if the tapes are made public, they will stand stripped before the public and no will be able to help them. Thus the feeling of utter powerlessness for themselves and the power over them being in the hands of those who have the tapes, viz. Government.

    The expose / leaks have primarily curtailed their freedom to conduct their business by adopting illegal means. Therefore, the present frenzy is an attempt to restore this power imbalance by controlling the power to publish the tapes and expose the illegal acts of the high and mighty.

    The prevention of leaksge of tapes will restore the conducting of business by adopting illegal means.

    In any case, while the discussion id being diverted to find as to who leaked the tapes, no one is asking the question that even if such person is found and given the fact that the tapes prove illegal conduct e.g. havala etc., will such person not be entitled for protection under the “whistelblower” act?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s