Talking to the press can be injurious to health. That surely is the first lesson to be drawn from the tragic death of David Kelly. It should surprise no one though this health warning is heeded even less than the one on cigarette packets.
Take just Wednesday morning’s papers. Sources in the BBC had prattled about splits within the ranks of the corporation. Sources in the BJP had confided plans for a snap poll in February 2004. The source — always anonymous, always “reliable” — is alive and kicking.
Why then did Dr Kelly have to die' To say the scientist was caught up in the epic battle between the two most powerful institutions of Britain, the BBC and the Blair government, is to state the obvious.
The 59-year-old senior adviser to the ministry of defence on biological warfare must have been aware of the line he was crossing the moment he accepted the invitation to lunch from the BBC’s defence correspondent, Andrew Gilligan. A former UN arms inspector who had been to Iraq 37 times, Kelly could not have been unaware of the ways of the media and governments.
It now turns out the civil servant had “unauthorized meetings” with not just Gilligan but several other reporters besides. As Britain’s leading authority on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, he was, after all, the ideal source for anyone investigating the reality of the Iraqi threat perception.
Add to that his view — whatever his exact words — that the danger from Iraq wasn’t as great as it was made out to be and there emerged that journalist’s dream: a whistleblower. Never an easy role for anyone. So remember: Think before you leak to the press.
NDTV began as New Delhi Television. It could now consider a name-change — MTV, or Mumbai Television.
Over the weekend, NDTV stars crowded Mumbai with shows that were of, by and for Mumbaikars. A hall of the Bhau Daji Laud Museum, one of the city’s two museums, was converted suitably to provide a grand setting. Rajdeep Sardesai was there with his Big Fight and even X-Factor had local guests. Then Barkha Dutt discussed the city’s infamous connection with the underworld in her Sunday show. Even Pankaj Pachauri’s Hum Log (We the People in Hindi) was Mumbai Log last week. Prannoy Roy too was supposed to be present, but couldn’t make it finally.
Add to this the channel’s daily fare — Mumbai Live and Mumbai Central and Bollywood — and you wonder whether Roy wants to give up India Gate for the Gateway of India.
To be fair, NDTV has had its sights on Marine Drive from day one. It started off by sending three of its close band of anchors — Sreenivasan Jain, Sonia Verma and Abhigyan Prakash — from Delhi to Mumbai. Be ready for more. Mumbai has them all — the ad agencies, the media planners and more English-language viewers than Delhi. What more could a sophisticated up-market channel want'
Were they ever here'
Is it a sign of the maturing of the Indian media or have all the fashionistas there lost their jobs' The fashion week rocked the country’s bold and beautiful but the press refused to dance. Not the way it had the last few years.
The unreal women with their outlandish clothes barely made it to page one. Instead, we saw baby Noor Fatima and the stock shots of Higher Secondary toppers and embattled politicians. The reports too have been strangely sober. Even last year they had gushed embarrassingly. More, socialite Shobhaa Dé, once a model, has panned the whole business in her column called “Politically Incorrect”. Just one sentence says it all: “The thing is, fashion does not interest India.” It could have been said earlier. But, as they say, better late than never.
Television has of course been much more generous. The images were too alluring to pass up. But even they raised uncomfortable questions like, “Where are the buyers'” Were they ever there'