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Indian journalists accused of secretly helping politicians, businesses

In this Nov. 7, 2008 file photo, Indian former Communications and Information Technology Minister Andimuthu Raja gestures while being cornered by journalists at a press conference in New Delhi, India. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is credited with unleashing India's explosive growth, and now stands accused of dragging his heels while one of his government ministers presided over a telecommunications scandal involving Raja that allegedly cost the country billions of dollars.
In this Nov. 7, 2008 file photo, Indian former Communications and Information Technology Minister Andimuthu Raja gestures while being cornered by journalists at a press conference in New Delhi, India. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is credited with unleashing India's explosive growth, and now stands accused of dragging his heels while one of his government ministers presided over a telecommunications scandal involving Raja that allegedly cost the country billions of dollars. (AP)

Both journalists have released statements saying that they did nothing more than participate in political chatter and did nothing wrong. The transcripts were published in two Indian newsmagazines: Open and Outlook.

Those who defend Dutt and Sanghvi argue that many journalists around the world say things to encourage people to open up about their views and elicit information, building their confidence, even if they don't fulfill their promises.

Many of India's newspapers and TV stations have kept away from the issue, saying the story had too many holes and was vague. Some critics have accused the mainstream media of a seemingly orchestrated blackout.

Filling the gap has been the social media, which is proving to be a popular and high-impact venue, even in a country with relatively low Internet usage. Facebook now has a group called"Barkhagate," referring to Barkha Dutt's alleged role.

Twitter has played an important role in launching what has become an international conversation on the issue, with the Indian diaspora weighing in.

Dutt, known as India's Oprah, has been defending her reputation through her Twitter account.

"Struck by the bizarre irony of being accused of favouring a man i have never met (raja) and have always attacked in print and on TV. Gnite!," read one of her tweets.

"Program after program has been scathingly critical and hardhitting on the Raja controversy. THAT is the barometer of ones independence," read another Dutt tweet.

Several media experts say that the good news is that the incident will inspire some soul-searching about guidelines for acceptable behavior in the growing Indian media, whose stated goal is to be a pillar of truth in the country's vibrant democracy.

This summer, a government probe showed that regional journalists working in India's many midsize cities and smaller towns report stories for cash - often during elections - in a practice known as "paid news."

"This malpractice has become widespread and now cuts across newspapers and television channels, small and large in different languages and located in different parts of the country," read the 70-page report, titled "Paid News: How corruption in the Indian media undermines democracy."

In the wake of the Raja allegations, the Foundation for Media Professionals will host a conference on journalists as power brokers this week, with the hope that something good can come out of the controversy, Mitta said.

"We are actually happy that these practices have come out in the open," Mitta said. "It forces us to address the problem. We as journalists sit in judgment of others all the time. We should hold ourselves to a higher standard."


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