On Friday, the oil ministry hit back at the Anil Ambani advertising campaign choosing to describe it as 'unfortunate... propaganda.' It was obviously just as important as the advertising campaign which had been unleashed for over five days, but it was not the government closing ranks against the interloper, but only the section that was targeted - the oil ministry which was reacting to the damaging copy in the adverts. But the channel of babble - CNBC TV 18 - decided to up the ante on this oil ministry rebuttal. Calling it a government rebuttal, it went over the top using words which did not do justice to the channel's standing and credibility. It was high pitched with one particular reporter - Siddharth Zarabi - unleasing his tongue to create a fearsome spectre of the government where none existed.
It was vital to the oil ministry's Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court to react to the campaign which has demolished its case and mobilised public opinion. The oil ministry perforce had to react in some form or the other as it has been shown in extremely poor light these last few days. Its tenuous case in the apex court would have been irretrievably eroded. But the channel of babble which has been very balanced in this dispute till now simply lost it in that space of half and hour. The reporter Zarabi just lost his head and turned the oil ministry release into some sort of draconian crackdown on ADAG talking nonsense and drivel without comprehending facts as they were being played out.
It was left to the more balanced Shereen Bhan to venture into the sandpit to soothe and calm the debate and add a balanced twist to it. Otherwise reporters like Zarabi who seem to have no understanding of important matters like the gas row would have been allowed to do a naked jig on live television. This distinction between what the oil ministry refuting ADAG charges against it and the government as a whole hitting back at ADAG needs to be made clear for it provides a perspective on how acutely the faultlines are drawn even inside the government on this issue.
The next morning's newspapers were clear in their understanding - they articulated that the oil ministry statement said, "the government will protect the interest of its generation utility NTPC by all means." Which means that ADAG and its 8 million shareholders had managed to convince the oil ministry of its duty to prtest and serve the interests of government owned PSU NTPC in the gas supply case. A very clear message which Mr Zarabi failed to read. Moreover, Zarabi and the channel of babble for that half and hour tried to convince viewers that the government read oil ministry was enforcing the $4.20 price for the supply of gas. Nowehere was that said in the statement, all it said was that the EGom had set a $4.20 price. What was conveniently forgotten was the Bombay High Court judgment of June 15 which fixes price and tenure for RNRL at $2.34 and 17 years.
CNBC TV 18 which is widely respected amongst the corporate and market watching community would do well to ensure that its reporters are literate enough to understand the nuances of a simple release from the oil ministry.