Recently it was uncovered that an AAP worker, secretly recorded a conversation with Chandra Suta Dogra, a journalist and used it to malign/expose Yogendra Yadav. This news has been reported as either a bad intra-party squabble, or the breach of the journalist’s trust by an AAP worker by taping their conversation. While these are both valid points, this piece by SP Singh, a senior journalist, on the issue raises some very pertinent questions of the ethics in journalism.
First a backdrop of what happened. Yogendra Yadav, met a bunch of journalists at the house of a local AAP leader in Chandigarh on 15 August 2014 over breakfast. Dogra then claims that, Yadav spoke about politics in “the backdrop of the AAP’s performance in the Lok Sabha elections, and the party’s decision not to contest the (then forthcoming) Haryana assembly polls”. She continues saying She continued, “Since this was not a formal press conference, we were told not to attribute the information to Yadav in our writings, but we could use it in other ways.”
Dogra, who was then employed with The Hindu, then published this story, in which she quoted “sources” to make the following assertions:
The State executive committee also gave a unanimous opinion in favour of contesting. The Hindu has learnt that when the matter went to the 22-member National Executive Committee of the AAP, 15 of the 17 members who voted did so in favour of contesting. Mr. Kejriwal and five others who are close to him did not vote
On the very day this article got published, Dogra was called by a Bibhav Kumar (now serving as PS to Arvind Kejriwal). Bibhav told her that the information she had published was false, to which Dogra told him that this was told to her by Yogendra Yadav. This conversation was recorded by Bibhav and was recently spread to malign/expose Yogendra Yadav.
This of course is Dogra’s version. Senior journalist SP Singh, who wrote the earlier mentioned piece differs with her. Singh claims that he was present at the same meeting with Yogendra Yadav on 15th August. Using colourful language, Singh clearly states that whatever information Dogra claims was given by Yogendra Yadav, was in fact never given by him. He states “if Yadav did indeed give out the juicy tidbits mentioned in Ms Dogra’s story, that plate did not make it to the breakfast table where we were seated. Intriguingly, there was only one table.”
Once this recording leaked out, Yogendra Yadav made an online post re-iterating that he had never given such information to Dogra. He also refers to mail testimonies from two other journalists present in that breakfast meeting. who are on record saying that the sensitive information about Haryana disclosed in the article was never discussed at the breakfast meeting. Lastly, he questions Dogra saying “Why did she report on a breakfast conversation that was clearly understood to be not for reporting? Why did she reveal her sources to an interested party?”
To this, Dogra replied by saying “Considering that nine people were present at the breakfast meeting, there was no element of confidentiality. Since he was the chief spokesperson of AAP, one assumed that the party was aware of the breakfast meeting”
This entire episode points out quite a few things:
1. Dogra had no qualms about giving up her source to an interested party, even though it meant endangering the source (Yogendra Yadav in this case). Non-Disclosure of “Sources” is considered to be the hallmark of standard reporting, but Dogra failed on this test
2. When questioned by Yadav as to why she did so, Dogra non-nonchalantly says “nine people were present at the breakfast meeting, there was no element of confidentiality”. This is hypocrisy. SP Singh rightly points out that if indeed there was no element of confidentiality, why didn’t she reveal Yadav’s name in the story itself? Why reveal it only when prodded by an AAP worker?
3. SP Singh who attended the meeting, and Yogendra Yadav, are in agreement on one issue: The information reported by Dogra was never discussed by Yogendra Yadav. The question then arises, did Dogra make up this information? Or does she have some other source who she is protecting?
In all this, some things are clear. Journalists have become less trustworthy than they used to be. A journalist can reveal sources, at the same time claim that a source isn’t confidential, and can even cook up some details if need be. To end, we tend to agree with what Saikat Datta, Editor on National Security at Hindustan Times, and Sachin Kalbag, Editor of Mid-Day had to say on this issue
— Sachin Kalbag (@SachinKalbag) March 4, 2015