About our envoy’s ‘headless chicken’ remark

Having been a newsman I concede the ‘headless chicken’ quote was, simply, irresistible. But I wouldn’t have used it without explicit clearance from Ambassador Ronen Sen. Maybe I’m being chicken-hearted, but in reporting matters that are potentially inflammable some of us from the old school of journalism weighed the words we print, even if they are attributable to someone else. 

 Mr Aziz Haniffa, managing editor of Rediff India Abroad, was quoting the Indian ambassador to the US. It is not as if Aziz bhai wouldn’t have been aware that the relevant quote could cause our ambassador trouble back home. The question here is not of a newsman’s entitlement to quote, but of a reporter’s discretion to with-hold, in the interest of his source. Haven’t we heard of media people talking of duty to protect their news source? 

Of course there is not much a reporter could have done if Mr Sen’s quote was by way of a sound byte in a live telecast of a news conference. The ‘headless chicken’ remark, attributed to our envoy in the US, caused hungama in Parliament, made Page-One lead headline in newspapers the next day. But has it helped us in understanding the core and critical aspects of the nuclear deal?  

If anything, we continue to get more of political blah on nuclear deal. For instance, a Janata Dal (U) leader is reported have told the media in Mysore that the n-deal would ‘enslave India to the US’. Here is a quote, “the opposition stands united in opposing the nuclear deal”. One can’t think of a more fitting analogy than the ambassador gave in his Rediff interview to describe the raging n-deal debate. 

Upshot of the turmoil over the envoy’s headless chicken remark was that the parliament proceedings were disrupted; the government had to disown their own envoy’s utterances. What’s worse, he was made to tender an unqualified apology. For all we know, Mr Sen may be recalled from Washington.   

What did he say to deserve all this? Here’s the Rediff.com quote: “It (nuclear deal) has been approved here (in Washington, DC) by the President, and there (in New Delhi) it’s been approved by the Indian cabinet. So why do you have all this running around like headless chicken, looking for a comment here or comment there, and these little storms in a tea-cup?”  

Didn’t I say the quote is irresistible? I wonder if Mr Haniffa cut in here to ask our envoy, “can I quote you, Mr Sen”, the moment Mr Sen mentioned headless chicken. This reporter would, have given the envoy a fair chance to reiterate his words or re-word his quote.  But then the envoy didn’t quite mention MPs and the headless chicken in the same breath. Now we have Mr Sen’s word that his ‘h-c’ reference, in effect, pertained to some of his media friends. Would they include the Rediff editor, Mr Sen? Our ambassador, surely, has a sense of humor even in adversity.

Mr Haniffa, in contrast, sounds somewhat stuffy. He says he stands by his report, ‘unambiguously’ and ‘unequivocally’. Heavy words, aren’t they, while a simple sentence – ‘I stand by the report’ – would have sufficed; Haniffa wields a sledgehammer, while a spade would have done nicely. Incidentally, doesn’t ‘ambiguous’ and ‘unequivocal’ mean the same, more or less? 

The headless chicken quote may well result in Mr Haniffa losing a valued news source in Washington. The episode is bound to cramp the style and tone of media communication of our diplomats everywhere. I get a feeling that henceforth they would open their collective mouth to the media only to read out prepared statements or make suitably inane off-the-cuff remarks.

Crossfiled in Desicritic and SiliconIndia 

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One Response

  1. After reading the quote it is obvious that it has nothing to comnnect our honourable members. If they have been enraged about it they have added substance to the comment where none existed. In a charged atmosphere it has given one more point for the oposition to hold the parliament to ransom.

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