Archive for June, 2011

The three best minutes of my life, in two frames

30 June 2011

Everybody has his own favourite story of seeing a tiger in the wild. More precisely, everybody has his own  favourite story of having missed seeing a tiger in the wild.

Kaavya Shankaregowda can safely go to heaven having had the thrill of seeing the animal in flesh and blood, on the way from Ooty to Bandipur, at 1.20 pm on 28 June 2011.

“The car screeches to a halt.

“Lots of clicking. No words spoken….

“We decided to take a u-turn and, lo and behold, we saw the animal again. The walk, it was so majestic. It did not even care for our presence, it did not disturb us (nor did we). It crossed the road with such elegance. Those three minutes were the best in my life, seriously.”

Also read: In Nagarahole, tigers are like city buses

How we successfully Save Our Tigers, on page 3

5 years = 1,825 days = 43,800 hours = The End?

Don’t tell us you didn’t know this one on Rajnikant

Did Tipu Sultan, Tiger of Mysore, really tame a tiger?

Has media become ‘accuser, prosecutor, judge’?

29 June 2011

Like a bad host, who abuses his guests after calling them home, the prime minister of India launched into the media today after calling a bunch of five editors for a much-delayed interaction. It took Manmohan Singh just 25 words in his 1,884-word opening remarks to stick it into the editors.

“An atmosphere has been created in the country—and I say this with all humility—the role of the media in many cases has become that of the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge… . We take decisions in a world of uncertainty and that’s the perspective I think Parliament, our CAG and our media must adopt if this nation is to move forward,” Singh said.

As if the media was responsible for the 2G, CWG or KG basin scams that has seen his ministers resign or prepare to. As if the media was responsible for the thuggish behaviour of his ministers (like Kapil Sibal) in undermining “civil society”, in other words the people of India. As if the media was responsible for runaway prices or inflation.

Or, as if the media was responsible for hurling a question mark over his tenure. Etcetera.

So, what do you think? Has the media overstepped its brief? Has it become accuser, prosecutor and judge? Has the media done its job in unravelling scams and keeping the pressuer on the government? Is the media wrong in clamouring for a cleaner, less corrupt system?

Or is Manmohan Singh barking up the wrong tree by shooting the messenger?

Also read: Why the PM is hopelessly wrong about the media

How well is the PM’s media advisor advising him?

Because when dog bites dog, it’s news—I

Because when dog bites dog, it’s news—II

Never believe anything until it’s officially denied

There are trees—and then there are VVIP trees

29 June 2011

Whether it is Bangalore or Mysore or anytown India, City authorities have just one solution to meet the relentless menace of vehicles on our roads. Which is to kill the trees coming in their way and widen the road, and reduce if not erase the space for pedestrians.

And whether it is Bangalore or Mysore or anytown India, hapless residents have just one recourse to this state-sponsored murder. Which is to hug the dear trees that have served them so well for decades and hope that somebody, somewhere will be touched enough to cry halt to the madness.

And so it was near Sankey tank in Bangalore on Wednesday, when longtime residents staged a protest. Funnily, when a tree had to be similarly murdered in the august precincts of Raj Bhavan a few years ago, the governor’s office made a big song and dance of carefully transplanting the old tree.

Are trees which offer shade, breeze an comfort to VVIPs somehow more important than those that provide the same pleasures to the aam admi, aurat and animal?

Any wonder the State should want to decline the UNSECO heritage tag for its most pristine spots?

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: There’s a new epidemic called road widening

How they are ruining my beloved Gandhi Bazaar

One question I’m dying to ask Manmohan Singh—III

28 June 2011

The irony is stark. The tenure of an acclaimed economist has seen galloping inflation running over the aam admi on whose shoulders his government came to power. Even while the mandatory references are made to his honesty and integrity, corruption has reached stratospheric levels while his party and government bury their heads in the hand and shortcircuit the Lokpal bill by seeking to keep the prime minister’s office out of it.

Now, while Congressmen with an ear to 10, Janpath light a fuse under his chair by announcing the readiness of Rahul Gandhi to take over, and others are bugging the offices of other pretenders to the throne, the battered and beleaguered PM is set to met the media scrum tomorrow, his third such interaction in 13 months since May 2010, after a national press conference and a meeting with print editors, followed by a pow-wow with the TV types.

What Manmohan seeks to achieve is clear—to convey to the nation that he is in charge, that he is doing his damnedest to put an end to all the troubles, and to show that reports of his prime ministerial death in the 20th year of reforms are grossly exaggerated. Underlying all this is the notion that the solution to the problems ailing him and his government magically lies not in meeting the aspirations of the people, but in meeting the media.

But as with all such gatherings, the PM will only be addressing “select” editors, each of whom will only be allowed to ask one question (no supplementaries, please), which means any attempt to pin him down will be impossible. Result: the prime minister who has a face for the radio, will reel out his answers in his trademark deadpan, monotonous manner that is unlikely to set the Yamuna on fire.

What is the one question the gentlemen of the media should ask Manmohan Singh because “the nation wants to know”?

Illustration: courtesy Xavi/ Toon Pool

***

Also read: One question I’m dying to ask Manmohan Singh-I

One question I’m dying to ask Manmohan Singh—II

Have the middle-classes deserted Manmohan Singh?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Manmohan Singh still “Mr Clean”?

CHURUMURI POLL: Will Manmohan Singh be PM till 2014?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Jayalalitha PM material?

28 June 2011

Tamil Nadu has generally played a big role in the formation of coalition governments at the Centre for nearly 15 years now, and the size and scale of the victory of the AIADMK in the assembly elections recently—and the current shape and state of the Congress, BJP and Left—has put plenty of fuel in the political tank of Jayalalitha Jayaram.

Suddenly, the controversial Mysore-born actor-turned-politician is holding all the cards as both the main parties bend backwards to woo her. For someone whose sole agenda till last month was dislodging the DMK government of M. Karunanidhi, she is now holding forth on national and international issues in a manner born.

In an interview with Arnab Goswami of Times Now yesterday, the Puratchi Thalaivi offered plenty of insight of how she views her enhanced role on the national stage, cryptically suggesting that “anything can happen before 2014″, meaning she could go either way or her own way, or that there could even be a mid-term election before 2014.

Since anything is possible in politics, as the sad cliche goes to explain H.D Deve Gowda becoming prime minister, is it also possible that Jayalalitha, if she stays away from both the two main formulations, could well end up heading the third front? And, if that is the case, could namma hudugi well emerge as a prime ministerial face?

Could her face, voice and demeanour, not to mention the fact that she is a woman, attract voters? Will she gain acceptance across the nation or will her confrontational style put off coalition partners? Could she be a better bet than whoever the Congress and BJP  decide to go with? Or is she counting her vada maangas before they pickle?

You are never too old to say, ‘Remember me’?

27 June 2011

This is a picture to both salute and to smile. The former first: the man in the middle of the frame, the veteran food scientist T.N. Ramachandra Rao, passed away in Mysore on Friday, after having lived a full life of 96 years and with over 100 research papers and three patents to his name.

What is so special about the picture is that seated to the right of Rao is his nursery classmate, Lokamatha. The two went to school in Tumkur and met at a marriage ceremony in Mysore in December 2008 after a gap of—wait for it—85 years. To Rao’s left is his wife, Kamalamma, who survives him.

Photograph: courtesy Star of Mysore

Also read: Once upon a time, in New Public English School

Once upon a time, shortly after the lunch break

Once upon a time, in Nirmala High school

Once upon a time, in Marimallappa‘s high school

Once upon a time, in Maharaja‘s high school

Once upon a time, in Maharani‘s college (yes!)

Once upon a time in Ramakrishna Vidyashala

Once upon a time in CFTRI high school

Even God needs proof of what the buffoons said

26 June 2011

As two arrogant, power-drunk, mammon-worshippers shamelessly cross the line between “State” and “Church” and put the good lord in an embarrassing position, OB (outside broadcasting) vans of the TV newschannels position themselves outside the Manjunatha temple in Dharmasthala, on Sunday, to capture the moment.

The moment, on Monday, 27 June 2011, when man, correction, when two arrogant, power-drunk, mammon-worshippers shamelessly put ‘god’ to the test.

Neither chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa, who invited his predecessor to this dharmic duel through a newspaper advertisement while he was getting massaged in Kotakkal, nor H.D. Kumaraswamy have had the contrition to abandon the disgraceful duel despite sage counsel from the only humans they bow before: the mutt heads.

And despite the damage it could do to the State in the eyes of the world.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: Should netas swear before ‘God’ in secular India?

Just one question ‘God’ should ask Yedi & HDK

How BJP has raised witchcraft to statecraft

CHURUMURI POLL: Black magic in Silicon Halli?

What the stars foretell for our Avivekanandas

Of course, if some VIP had been held hostage…

26 June 2011

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: When our sailors were caught by Somalian pirates for over 10 months, their families ran from Pillai to post in New Delhi to get our government to act.

They met the prime minister, the UPA chairperson and the defence minister and god knows who else. Their efforts came to nought; no help was forthcoming from the high and mighty, and the biggest navy in the region.

Of what use is the strength of our defence forces apart from the ‘show of strength’ during the Republic Day parade?

Why was our government pussyfooting on saving our sailors caught in deep sea, not by an enemy’s naval force but by a bunch of pirates? What was the so-called opposition doing in playing its rightful role?

Why didn’t the wailings of the family and friends of the sailors capture the attention of the nation, including dare we say ours, till the rescue took place?

In contrast, our arch rival Pakistan showed far better understanding of the problem and was instrumental in securing the release of the kidnapped sailors.

Ansar Burney Trust, an NGO from Pakistan, arranged $2.1 million to rescue the hostages. India, it appears, did not pay the promised $500,000.

The owners were blind to the woes of the crew. None of the famed “trusts” of our corporate bigwigs voluntarily came to the help of the crew in collecting the ransom.

Even after the hostages had been freed, when MV Suez again came under attack from the pirates, PNS Babur intervened and thwarted the attack.

Which raises simple questions:

Why were sailors left high and dry and left to fend for themselves by the government, trusts, civil society and corporates even though we are supposed to be a mighty naval force in this region—a burgeoning superpower, an Asian tiger?

Why are we  so insensitive when it comes to the life of ‘aam aadmi’—and so hyperactive when VIP lives are at stake?

So, how many Dalit or tribal friends do you have?

25 June 2011

Shekhar Gupta in the Indian Express:

“…at a recent institutional investors’ conference which I was addressing on contemporary Indian politics.

“Just a little bit disconcerted by how many questions were being asked on the “curse” of caste-based reservations, I did something wicked. This was a crowd of nearly 500 of the best paid, globalised Indian finance whiz-kids, in hundred-dollar Hermes ties, seven-figure (in dollars) bonuses and fancy cars.

“‘We have here, fellow Indians with the finest jobs in the world, mostly with an IIT/ IIM education. Both institutions have also had caste-based reservations for ever. So how many of you here are tribal or Dalit?’

“Not a single hand came up.

“Sensing a QED moment, I turned the knife. ‘Okay, please tell me how many of you at least count a Dalit or a tribal among your friends or acquaintances? Or how many of you have even shaken hands with a tribal or a Dalit?’

“Not a single hand came up again.”

Read the full article: Our Singapore fantasy

Also read: Is Vijaya Karnataka ready for a Dalit editor?

‘Brahmins need a deeksha to awaken empathy’

What’s in a name? A key to a casteless society

CHURUMURI POLL: Are Dalits being taken for a ride?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Dalit Dinakaran above the law?

India’s greatest match-winning batsman ever is…

24 June 2011

For long, the Sunil Gavaskar versus Gundappa Viswanath debate has been firmly sealed, signed and delivered in favour of the latter’s style, selflessness, civility and above all, match-winning prowess. With his 32nd century in his 151th Test, has Rahul Dravid followed in the footsteps of his idol, making it 2-0 in the Bombay vs Karnataka battle?

***

Harsha Bhogle in the Indian Express:

“It is already fifteen years since a simple, elegant, studious and very likeable young man walked out to bat for India at Lords. It was an appropriate setting. Rahul Dravid is neatly turned out, plays the game correctly, likes the traditions associated with the game and is respectful of them. It is not difficult to see why the English would like him. In 1996 though he was significantly more humble and courteous than those I seemed to run into at the ground.

“Not much has changed since then. He is still as intense as ever, still unlikely to sport the ponytail he rejected in one of his earliest commercials, still deeply enamoured by the idea of playing for India, still very out of place in the Kingfisher jingle! That intensity is worth studying though for Dravid knows no other way of playing the game”

Suresh Menon in Tehelka:

“Dravid is the least obtrusive of players, he demands little mind space. He wears his passion on one sleeve, his intelligence on the other. It is a rare combination that evokes awe rather than love, admiration more than conviviality. He is the intelligent man’s guide to what a sportsman ought to be—modest, dependable, well educated, with the gift of grace under pressure and a perspective that is adult.

“While carving out a distinct cricketing personality despite performing alongside Sachin Tendulkar, Dravid ensured that the Indian team retained some of the old-fashioned values unique to cricket. For some years after that Kolkata partnership with V.V.S. Laxman, Dravid carried the Indian batting on his shoulders, saving Test matches in Port of Spain, Georgetown and Nottingham and playing the key role in victories in Headingley, Adelaide, Kandy and Rawalpindi. He had four centuries in successive innings, and four double centuries in a span of 15 Tests. He made an incredible 23 percent of the runs made by India in the 21 victories under Sourav Ganguly, at an average of 102.84.

“It is necessary to descend into statistics only to underline the fact that with Dravid it is never beauty without cruelty – he is a stylish batsman who makes it count, a do-gooder who is focussed on the result, a century-maker whose innings are not out of touch with team performance but an integral part of it. No ploughing the lonely furrow here, every part is a piece of the main.

“Tendulkar’s batting is a joy of straight lines and geometric precision; Dravid’s bat makes no angles to the wind but describes beautiful arcs. In this, he is the spiritual successor to Gundappa Vishwanath, whose secret of the ferocious square cut was passed on to him in that mysterious way cricketing genes jump from one generation to another. When he was selected for India, Dravid told a colleague, “I don’t want to be just another player. I want to be bracketed with Sunil Gavaskar and Vishwanath.” The schoolboy Dravid had photographs taken with his two heroes.

“In time he would dine at the high table with them. He played more strokes more consistently than Gavaskar and the more risky ones with greater safety than Vishwanath.”

Infographic: courtesy Hindustan Times

Also read: Who cries in Bangalore for Rahul Sharad Dravid?

Why some of us just love to hate Sunil Gavaskar

Sunil Gavaskar: the most petulant cricketer ever?

From Bhadravati, the Bhimsen Joshi of cricket

Gundappa Vishwanath: Once upon a time, idol worship of a chindi kind

Sadly, their grandfather didn’t tweet their arrival

22 June 2011

We could, of course, have used the opportunity to take a silly potshot at Amitabh Bachchan for T-410, or at astrologers predicting twins for Aishwarya Rai, but we won’t.

We simply bring glad tidings from the Mysore zoo, where a cheetah secured from South Africa has had triplets. Unveiled for public view a few weeks after their birth, the photogenic cubs gave lensmen their money’s worth on Wednesday.

Photographs: Karnataka Photo News

Should papers implement Majithia wage board?

21 June 2011

Notwithstanding the exponential growth of the print media post-liberalisation, it is clear that the voice of journalists in the publications they bring out is subservient to that of the proprietor, promoter and publisher on most issues and certainly so on the Majithia wage board for journalists and “other newspaper employees”.

Although owners and managers have unabashedly used the columns of their newspapers to rile against higher wages and build “public opinion” against the Majithia wage board through reports, opinion pieces and advertisements, a similar facility has been unavailable for journalists to air their views in the same publications.

It is as if journalists and “other newspaper employees”, whether on contract or otherwise, are in sync with their organisations in opposing the wage board’s recommendations. Which is, of course, far from the truth. Which is, of course, why a nationwide strike has been slated for June 28  to draw attention to journalists’ demands.

So, what do you think?

Is there a case for higher wages for journalists and “other newspaper employees”? Should the Majithia wage board be implemented or should wage boards be abolished? Are newspapers, which are rolling in profits, exploiting journalists with low wages and longer working hours? Or should journalists wisen up to the realities of the modern work place?

Is there truth in the charge that industry organisations like the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) are being used by big newspaper groups to prevent if not stall the new wages? Or is the contention of newspaper owners that they will wilt and crumble under the pressure of a higher wage bill justified?

Also read: Why doesn’t INS oppose no-poaching pacts?

Why Majithia wage board is good for journalists

9 reasons why wage board is bad for journalism

Media barons wake up together, sing same song

INS: “We reject wage board recommendations”

External reading: Why not wage board for all journos and non-journos in media?

Just one question ‘God’ should ask Yedi & HDK

21 June 2011

Now that two power-drunk, sons of the soil lording over the real estate that is Karnataka have decided to subject the presiding deity at Dharmasthala to His biggest test yet—to adjudicate which of the two is being economical with the truth—now is the time for ordinary mortals to step up to the pulpit and help Lord Manjunatha in this dharmic duel slated for 27 June 2011.

What is the one question that the guardian of the temple, D. Veerendra Heggade, should keep in mind while chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa and JDS president H.D. Kumaraswamy bow reverentially before Him, to find out which of the two is the bigger liar, which of the two is more corrupt, which of the two has more to hide and, indeed, which of the two is the bigger disgrace to the State.

Keep your queries short, civil and suitably deferential.

Photograph: Youth Congress workers play Goli Aata (marbles) on the street to register their protest at the temple-theatrics of chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa and former CM H.D. Kumaraswamy, in Bangalore on Tuesday (Karnataka Photo News)

Also read: Should netas swear before ‘God’ in secular India?

How BJP has raised witchcraft to statecraft

CHURUMURI POLL: Black magic in Silicon Halli?

What the stars foretell for our Avivekanandas

Should netas swear before God in secular India?

20 June 2011

Long years ago, the American author Kurt Vonnegut wrote that disaster is brought on most frequently, not by sceptics who agree to live under flawed and cumbersome human laws, but by those who cannot be satisfied with anything less than the law of god. If natural law is king, divine law is an ace, Vonnegut said, and dictators have fistfuls of aces and kings to play with.

It is impossible, of course, that Vonnegut had the scum of Karnataka politics in mind, but B.S. Yediyurappa of god’s own party, has set about to prove him right. By inviting his bugbear, H.D. Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal (Secular, no less), to prove his allegations of corruption not at the court of man-made laws but at the divine court of the Manjunatha temple in Dharmasthala, the scam-tainted Karnataka chief minister has dragged divinity into the nonstop disgrace that has been the hallmark of BJP rule.

The questions are obvious about this dharmic duel: Why bring god into this battle of mortals, when a simple injection of the truth serum at a forensic science laboratory (televised live) would have been enough to ascertain who was being extravagant in their lies? What would a lifeless piece of stone know about human frailty, albeit of the VIP kind? And why just the Manjunatha temple, why not some other temple, church, mosque, gurudwara, stupa or fire temple?

But the even larger question is the nonstop joke that the Hindutva buffoons have reduced the State to, in the eyes of the nation. One of the most progressive regions of the 20th century, is getting submerged in a sea of superstition and obscurantism in the 21st, at the hands of casteist and communal crooks and thugs, whose battle strategy starts at maata-mantra and stops at obscene visits to temples, near and far, with hapless animals being  sacrificed at the altar.

And now this: what had god done to deserve this?

Also read: How BJP has raised witchcraft to statecraft

CHURUMURI POLL: Black magic in Silicon Halli?

The only place black magic works is in your mind

How Big B has pushed India to a regressive new low

What the stars foretell for our Avivekanandas

Why Majithia wage board is good for journalists

19 June 2011

The recommendations of the Majithia wage board for journalists and other newspaper employees have clearly split newspaper owners and newspaper workers.

The big dads of the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) have rejected the recommendations, taken out advertisements, filed cases and published articles to build “public opinion”. But two small newspaper owners, both members of INS, have told sans serif that they feel they are being used in the current joust.

The big players who rarely empathise with their woes and often trample all over them, they say, are firing from their shoulders only because they stand to lose the most.

Meanwhile, while journalists on “contract” maintain a studied silence, workers of newspapers and news agencies have accused INS of spreading falsehoods and exerting pressure on the government. They have now served notice of a nationwide strike on June 28 over the delay in the implementation of the wage board recommendations.

Lost in all the melee is the voice of the ordinary newspaper employee not on contract.

Here, in response to a media baron’s contention that the Majithia wage board recommendations are bad for journalism, an anonymous sub-editor, formerly with The Times of India, makes an impassioned argument for higher wages as recommended by the wage board for one  simple reason.

***

You can argue at length against the Majithia wage board but the fact remains that print media journalists are being paid less than lower division clerks, school teachers, bank employees, marketing and advertising executives in media firms, etc let alone engineers, doctors or MBAs.

Being a senior sub-editor in a news organisation that implements the wage boad, I am earning Rs 18,000 per month. My wife with a simple B.Ed. degree earns as much working fewer hours than I do.

A friend of mine is a senior sports correspondent with a reputed news agency. He has been hired on contract basis at a package of Rs 40,000 (cost to company) although he gets only Rs 30,000 in hand.

He has to pay a rent of Rs 8,000 in Delhi apart from spending money on his travel. He works from 11 am to 10 pm at office and sometimes also after he returns home.

Is he not entitled to a better life?

***

The chief benefit of the wage board is that employees— though getting paid less than contract employees—are saved from being exploited like machines for 18 hours a day and being paid less than what other professionals with similar or lesser qualifications do for working fewer hours.

I began my career with the Times of India after completing post-graduate diploma in journalism. I was paid less than what the receptionist (who was a graduate) looking mainly after matrimonial section and working fixed hours was receiving.

I met a fresher graduate recently who is working as sales executive with the telecom company, Idea. He delivers post-paid SIM cards at home. I was astonished to learn that he is earning more than I am and had a more or less fixed working time.

Is it a crime to choose journalism as profession where one is ready to devote one’s heart and soul for the sake of news, where one has to beg for quotes and bytes, where the pressure is no less than in any MNC and the only incentive is to share the truth?

Does that mean one is not entitled to good life?

No wonder many of my friends have quit the profession. No wonder that journalism is not attracting the kind of brains it used to once upon a time.

Majithia wage board—whether you all succeed in getting it scuttled or not—is the need of the hour.

Newspaper barons are rolling in riches. Newspaper marketing and advertisement executives are being paid higher for the product that will not be sold if does not contain the main item: news.

Also read: 9 reasons why wage board is bad for journalism

Media barons wake up together, sing same song

INS: “We reject wage board recommendations”

External reading: Muzzling the media

Future of the Press at stake?

9 reasons why wage board is bad for journalism

18 June 2011

The recommendations of the Majithia wage board for working journalists and “other newspaper employees” has set the proverbial cat among the paper tigers. The industry body, Indian Newspaper Society (INS), has come out all guns blazing. It has called the wage board “an arbitary and undemocratic institution”, whose recommendations are designed to stifle media freedom.

The chairman of one prominent newspaper group, with a journalistic strength of 400 out of a workforce of 1,200, has told churumuri.com his company will be in loss “from day one” if he implements the proposed wage hike rumoured to be in the 80-100% range.

“There is no way I’ll will go ahead, even if it means fighting to the very end,” says the media baron.

The Times of India, which was slightly more sympathetic of previous wage boards because of the pressure of unions, has mounted a full-throated campaign against the Majithia wage board since it appears even “contract employees” (which is what most ToI journalists are) couldcome under the nomenclature of “other newspaper employees”.

But ToI seems to be a lone-ranger in this fight. Few of the other 1,017 members of INS have shown the same alacrity on their pages; even fewer have run INS chairman Kundan R. Vyas‘ article enunciating the opposition or the INS ad.

Here, in response to Sharanya Kanvilkar‘s article slamming proprietors, promoters and publishers for waking up only when it suits them, a newspaper baron (whose group has a “board-plus” wage policy) lists nine reasons why the Majithia wage board recommendations are injurious to the health of newspapers and indeed to journalists silently exulting over the plight of their masters:

***

1) It is asked every time, it must be asked again. And again: why do we have a wage board only for newspapers? The first board was constituted in 1955 when government-owned All India Radio (AIR) was the only mass medium, and Nehruvian India justly feared that private newspaper barons could exploit journalists. But in 21st century post-reforms India?

If it is right that wages must be protected in the private sector, why should the government only start and stop at newspapers? What about all the other ‘poor souls’ in other media sectors, like TV or the internet?

Or the IT or automotive industries?

2) The quantum of hike in wages recommended by the Majithia board conveys the wrong impression that journalists and other newspaper employees are poorly paid at present. This is far from the truth.

Only one of every 10 journalists I meet complains of low wages and even she is not looking for a 80-100% jump.

The Times of India, most of whose journalists are currently on contract with a higher CTC than wage board journalists, pays the best wages in the country. Yet the fact that it is at the forefront of the campaign against the Majithia wage board recommendations shows that it is not the fear of losing money that is motivating the Old Lady of Boribunder.

This is about media freedom.

3) Every source of income and outgo in the newspaper industry is dictated by market forces. Newsprint costs, cover price, distributor and hawker commission, advertisement rates, etc, are all decided by market forces over which we have little or no control.

Yet, on the issue of wages and wages alone, the government wants to step in and play minder. Why? It is entirely logical that the government wants to be seen as a friend of journalists. But it is entirely illogical that independent journalists should want to see the government as a friend.

It is, of course, entirely nonsensical if you consider the fact that many industries cut salaries in bad times like 2008-09, and restore it when the times are better, but newspapers who are exposed to the same financial and commercial pressures, somehow cannot.

Why?

4) The wage board is within its rights to recommend a minimum starting salary for journalists, but everything that happens after a journalist joins a newspaper should be the prerogative of the management and editorial leadership.

On the other hand, the Majithia board, by recommending salary scales with a built-in annual hike and time-bound promotions, seeks to reward complacency, mediocrity and under-performance while giving efficiency, talent and meritocracy the back seat.

Do journalists want that situation?

5) The wage board has no business to fiddle with things that is none of its business. For example: scanner operators, who perform a mechanical function no different from peons taking photocopies, were classified as journalists by the previous wage board. Why?

The Majithia board also exceeds its brief and recommends a retirement age of 65 for journalists, when the government retires its staff at between 58 and 62 years.

Add to this the fact that the working journalists Act stipulates that journalists are expected to work for just six hours a day. Do professionals in any other industry enjoy this grand privilege while being guaranteed a 80-100% wage hike, annual increments, time-bound promotions and an enhanced retirement age, sans accountability?

6) Even the Union labour minister will admit that three out of four newspapers in the country have not implemented many earlier wage board recommendations, and it is in such newspapers that the majority of poorly-paid journalists work.

The chances of such recalcitrant newspapers implementing the draconian recommendations of the Majithia board are remote, if not impossible. So after so many wage boards, what is the government’s trackrecord in reaching fair wages to journalists, the majority of whom slave away in organisations which do not implement wage board recommendations?

7) Given that historical record, the Majithia board looks set to punish groups that have successfully implemented previous wage board recommendations for decades. This gives an unfair advantage to new entrants and start-ups which blithely refuse to do so.

By working with the workers’ union, my newspaper has had a “board-plus” wage policy, in which we pay what the board recommends plus something extra that we can afford. This has worked for both sides very well. Does it make sense to impose the new wage board on groups like ours, while turning a blind eye on groups which have consistently refused to implement previous wage boards?

By keeping their wage bill unnaturally low, such groups find it easy to chip into older players with greater ethical concern for the wellbeing of journalists.

8) Over the years, the government has disbanded wage boards in all other industries, but it has not and still does not have the courage to disband the wage board for journalists.

This shows clearly that though the government agrees that wage boards have lost their relevance and usefulness in the modern economy, they are sucking up to journalists by keeping their wage board alive.

Or are they simply scared of them?

9) Those arguing for a wage board for journalists contend that that TV journalists are better paid. If that is true, as it perhaps is, then it is also true that this has happened without a wage board.

Can we then logically conclude that print journalists and others will be better paid without a wage board?

And one last point: by forcing newspapers into implementing the wage board recommendations, is the government willy-nilly pushing us to use ‘paid news’ as a source of additional revenue to meet the demands of the new wage bill?

Or, worse, by worming their way into the hearts of journalists with these unrealistic proposals, is the government buying good coverage at the expense of proprietors, promoters and publishers?

Also read: Media barons wake up together, sing same song

INS: “We reject wage board recommendations”

BCCI, Infosys, Anil Kumble & a silly PR exercise

15 June 2011

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: You scratch my back and I will scratch yours, is India’s most famous sport, especially in the upper crust of society. And the country’s richest sporting body, BCCI, and the country’s second largest IT company, Infosys, have just shown how it is played, in full public glare.

Monday’s Times of India had a story that BCCI was in talks with Infy to prepare, hold your breath, “an exhaustive injury database” following the flurry of injuries to its top players—Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Zaheer Khan, S. Sreesanth—who have all skipped the ongoing West Indies tour because of various aches, pains and niggles.

According to the report, former India captain, KSCA president and NCA chairman, Anil Kumble, was in touch with Infosys to develop a software for injury management of players.

“But the talks are informal and at a very preliminary stage,” said BCCI chief administrative officer Ratnakar Shetty. “We have been using the infrastructure of Infosys like their ground at Mysore on a regular basis.”

Reading the report, the first thought that crossed my mind was: who first scratched whose back first? And who is deriving more pleasure out of the experience?

Infosys or BCCI?

Think about it.

Indian cricket for all its dhoom-dhamaka is still a stiflingly small sport. The number of international players, and the number of domestic players seeking to gradaute to the international level, is small. And to tabulate their injuries, you need Infosys, when a coach in shorts with a spreadsheet can do the job?

And what about Infosys?

The $7 billion company refrains from getting into the product-making zone, doesn’t make big mergers or acquisitions that will take it to the next level, but is happy to be doing silly odd jobs that a 20-year-old with a 486 could be doing after class-hours?

Today’s Hindustan Times hits the nail on the head by calling the BCCI-Infosys what it is: a silly PR exercise. Reason: sports clubs around the world have long used software to spot talent, plot diet plans, record medical data, and track players from the junior to professional levels.

HT says Brentford FC, a lower-division English football club, asked a software developer called PlayersElite to come up with the required software to manage its players.

“It cost £5,000 (approximately Rs 3.5 lakh) to develop the software, and requires a further £400 (Rs 30,000) per month to maintain it,” says its head of youth recruitment, Shaun O’Connor.

But to see BCCI, Infosys and Anil Kumble in this tech tango—as if they are sending a man to the man—offers a sobering insight into both Indian sport and Indian business. Why haven’t we heard of Cisco or Microsoft or Sun Microsystems doing likewise with NBA or World Series or whatever?

Because it is not rocket science, Sherlock.

All BCCI needs to understand why its players are falling like flies is to look at its own timetable and an exhausting  circus called the Indian Premier League (IPL). But why would BCCI or Anil Kumble cut off their own legs, when one runs the IPL and the other advises the Royal Challengers (RCB)?

OK, this is nitpicking.

Maybe Kumble as the new KSCA president wants to build sport-industry relationships, with the “future” in mind. Well then, BCCI doesn’t even have a website of its own. Maybe, they should also ask N.R. Narayana Murthy & Co to help them design a website while they are working on “an exhaustive injury database”.

It will be total paisa vasool.

***

Photograph: Anil Kumble with wife Chethana arrives for the wedding reception of Infosys chief mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy‘s son Rohan Murthy, who married Lakshmi Venu of the TVS family at the Leela Palace in Bangalore on Sunday, June 12 (Karnataka Photo News)

Also read: Why don’t we hear of IT excelling in sport?

Biggest. Largest. Highest. Mostest. Anywhere.

BCCI & Infosys: Made for each other in Mysore

Questions for Anil Kumble & Javagal Srinath

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Baba Ramdev’s yoga bogus?

15 June 2011

Baba Ramdev‘s tragi-comic crusade for the return of black money has ended in a farce, with the idiot-box yogi calling off his fast-unto-death after nine short days. While the issue he raised, important as it is, may yet make a comeback, Ramdev’s PDA (public display of abilities) serious questions about his kapalbhati kriya brand of yoga which has attracted lakhs of gullible TV viewers furiously sucking in their tummies in parks and playgrounds.

Obviously, there are two facets to yoga: the physical and the mental. And obviously, the fast-unto-death was not intended to show the world how good a yogi or how good his form of yoga is (for that he has has TV channels). Still, on both counts, Baba Ramdev has come up woefully short and has plenty of explaining to do.

On the one hand, we have had the curious spectacle of a yogi fighting for cleaner politics flying around in private aircraft owned by shady businesshouses like Subroto Roy‘s Sahara group, and then meeting Union ministers in the five-star Claridges hotel, owned by one of India’s more controversial arms dealers, Suresh Nanda, whose son Sanjeev Nanda was involved in the BMW accident that mowed down pavement dwellers.

And, on the other hand, there is the fast itself. Delhi’s Ram Lila ground was booked for a full month for his fast-unto-death, but it ended in nine days. The fast itself was conveniently observed between 6 am and 9 pm, with the star conveniently slipping away from the stage now and then. Worse, Ramdev had to be shifted to an ICU (curiously not at the hospital run by him for lesser mortals). Was nine days all that a young wellness guru who preaches the good effects of his yoga, could muster, both in his body and in his mind?

As news reports have pointed out, Swami Nigamanand, fasting for the Ganga in relative anonymity, lasted 68 days before he was force-fed and died in the hospital where Ramdev broke his fast, on the 115th day. Potti Sriramulu, fasting for an Andhra State, lasted 82 days; Bhagat Singh, demanding better conditions for prisoners, lasted 63 days; why even Mamata  Banerjee, fasting for Singur, lasted 25 days. And the old pro Mahatma Gandhi lasted 21 days.

So what does Baba Ramdev’s fast end to his fast say about his brand of TV yoga? Will it diminish in popularity now that the guru himself has been exposed? Or will this too pass?

Also read: Pardon us, is yoga becoming a bit of a scam?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Yoga only for Hindus?

How a world-class yoga photograph got to be shot

Thundering rain yahan, sweltering heat wahan

14 June 2011

While the Delhi-based media begins unveiling the standard-issue “lifestyle” stories of summer holidays and getaways, villagers brave the lashes of the monsoon near Bagalkot, in north Karnataka on Tuesday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Have you paid a bribe? Well, then, tell the world.

14 June 2011

The Bangalore-based citizens’ group Janaagraha has set up an interactive website called “I paid a bribe” to uncover the market price of corruption. The anonymous citywise chronicle of those who paid a bribe, didn’t pay a bribe, or didn’t have to pay a bribe is curated by retired IAS officer, T.R. Raghunandan. And so far, over 10,000 internet-savvy people in 405 cities have confessed to having paid bribes totalling Rs 49.88 crore.

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: How corrupt are you?

3 deaths, 14 attacks on journos in last 6 months

14 June 2011

GEETA SESHU writes from Bombay: The killing of Mid-Day (special investigations) editor J.Dey on Saturday, 11 June 2011, was the third death of a journalist in India over the last six months. In all three instances, investigations are on but no arrests have been made; much less is there any headway as to the killers or their motives.

The impunity with which these attacks have taken place only shows that, in India, freedom of speech and expression cannot be taken for granted. “The Free Speech Tracker” set up last year by the Free Speech Hub to monitor all instances of violations of freedom of speech and expression reveals that attacks on journalists and intimidation of editors and writers continued unabated.

# On 20 December 2010, Sushil Pathak, a journalist with Dainik Bhaskar in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, was shot dead while returning home after a late night shift. The general secretary of the Bilaspur Press Club, Pathak is surived by his wife and two children. An investigation began into his death but till February this year, no headway was made into it.

Following sustain protests from journalists’ organisations as well as opposition parties in Chhattisgarh, the state’s Chief Minister Raman Singh ordered that the investigation be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

# On 23 January 2011, Umesh Rajput, a reporter with Nai Duniya was shot dead by two masked assailants on a motorcycle. A note, stating “Khabar chaapna band nahi karoge toh mare jaoge” (If you don’t stop publishing news, you will be killed), was found near the crime scene.

Apart from these deaths, there have been 14 instances of attacks on journalist in this year alone.

# On January 3, Sudhir Dhawale, dalit activist and editor of Vidrohi, a Marathi magazine, was arrested and charged with sedition and links with Maoists.

# In January, Somanath Sahu, reporter of Dharitri, was prevented from attending a press conference at the office of the deputy commissioner of police, Shaheed nagar, Bhubaneshwar, and threatened with dire consequences for writing reports that went against the police.

# Rajat Ranjan Das, a reporter of Sambad daily, sustained fractures and head injuries by alleged supporters of Saikh Babu, a ruling Biju Janata Dal leader from Pipili, Orissa in February.

# In the same month MBC TV reporter Kiran Kanungo and cameraperson Prasant Jena were roughed up by a group of BJD workers in Banki. And, in a separate incident the same day, OTV reporter N.M. Baisakh and his cameraman Anup Ray were beaten up by anti-social elements in Paradeep when they were covering a protest dharna outside the IOCL main gate by local people demanding jobs and compensation.

# In February, an NDTV team of journalists and camera crew were harassed and illegally detained allegedly by staff belonging to the Adani group when the were filming  a report on the large-scale destruction of mangroves in Mundra, Gujarat, due to the construction of a port by the company.

# In April, Bikash Swain, the publisher of Suryaprava, an Odiya daily alleged intimidation by police, following a series of adverse reports that he published. Last September, Swain was arrested by police and protests by journalists about vindictive action by police have obviously failed to have an effect.

# On May 3, ironically on world press freedom day, Goan Observer journalist Gary Azavedo was attacked and illegally detained by security staff of a mining company in Cauverm, Goa when he went there to cover the on-going agitation against mining companies.

# In May, three journalists were beaten up allegedly by CPI(M) supporters in Burdwan district in West Bengal.

# On May 8, in Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh, a group of youths, allegedly supporters of Nabam Tuki, Arunachal Pradesh Congress Committee president and State PWD minister, attacked several media offices, including the local office of PTI and a local newspaper Arunachal Front, apparently to protest a report in a leading daily involving their leader.

# On May 19, MiD-DAY reporter Tarakant Dwivedi, better known as Akela, was arrested under the Official Secrets Act by the Government Railway Police (GRP) for an article written over a year ago in the Mumbai Mirror that exposed the poor condition in which hi-tech weapons procured after the 26/11 attack were being kept by the railway security forces.

# On May 21, unidentified assailants waylaid V.B. Unnithan, Kollam-based senior reporter of the widely circulated Malayalam daily, Mathrubhumi, and assaulted him with iron rods. Unnithan was heading home after work on April 16.

(Former Indian Express reporter Geeta Seshu is co-ordinator of The Free Speech Hub at The Hoot)

Image: A roster of journalists killed in the line of duty, compiled by  Mail Today. Not surprisingly, “troubled” Kashmir and the northeast account for the majority of the 31 deaths in the last 14 years.

***

Also read: The unsung heroes who perished before J.Dey

J. DEY: ‘When eagles are silent, parrots jabber’

14 parties for media in 36 months of BJP rule

12 June 2011

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: Although the size of the Karnataka market is smaller than Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Bangalore probably has the largest news media presence than the other three southern capitals and perhaps most other cities, barring Bombay and Delhi.

At last count, there were 14 major morning brands (eight English, six Kannada), five English business dailies, four 24×7 news channels (three Kannada, one English), and at least a dozen dailies in Urdu, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and even Hindi, besides a few evening newspapers.

On top of that, there are the correspondents of the various district  and “up-country” papers, magazines, and TV stations, and over a hundred photographers and videographers, plus publishers, proprietors and a handful of “resident editors” from the Press Club of Bangalore (PCB).

Even so, how big could the media contingent in Bangalore be?

One-thousand five hundred?

Yes, 1,500: That’s the number of “media-friends” that the B.S. Yediyurappa government would like to believe attended a party thrown by it on 27 June 2010 at a local hotel.

Numbers obtained by Vinayak Bhat Mooroor, a correspondent of Kannada Prabha, under the right to information (RTI) act and published by the paper on Saturday, show that the BJP government has thrown at least 27 parties (14 of them for the media) since coming to power in 2008.

While a bash for the IT-BT crowd at the Oberoi cost the government Rs 7,03,099 (75 pax), and a party in honour of an outgoing  chief justice of the high court cost Rs 5,58,000 (pax 120), the get-together for journalists last June at the Nalapad Pavilion hotel was the most expensive do, at Rs 11,04,775 (pax 1,500).

Keeping the journalists in good humour at these 14 parties has cost the BJP government Rs 20,21,924 since it came to power three years ago.

Incidentally, Kannada Prabha reports, tongue firmly in cheek, that Nalapad Pavilion does not have sitting space for the 1,500 people that are alleged to have attended the grand fete.

***

Below: The breakup of the other official parties hosted by the chief minister during his tenure, obtained by Vinayak Bhat Mooroor using RTI.

Images: courtesy Kannada Prabha

Also read: Why you didn’t see this picture in the papers today

Kannada Prabha uses reader-generated headlines

Vishweshwar Bhat is new editor of Kannada Prabha

What should a film on Yediyurappa be called?

11 June 2011

In the kind of news that reveals all there is to say about Karnataka politics and Kannada cinema—and indeed about the state of Karnataka itself—news trickles out that the State’s excise minister M.P. Renukacharya is planning a biopic on the life and times of his political guru, the chief minister, B.S. Yediyurappa.

The good news is that the man who has agreed to wield the megaphone is S.V. Rajendra Singh “Babu”, the very talented Mysore-born maker of such classics as Bandhana. And more good news: Babu says “nothing has been finalised so far, and casting will be done as per requirements, after a detailed study.”

Yes, nothing has been finalised yet, and casting will be done as per requirements.

Here’s what you can do to help Babu: Given the wealth of material that is at Babu’s disposal for this biopic—sex scandals, suicides, mining scandals, bottomless corruption, relentless dissidence, etc—what should the title of the film be? And who should play the lead characters?

Think big: do not limit yourself to titles in Kannada or to Kannada actors alone.

File photograph: After a hard day at work in Mangalore, chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa shouts silently while proceeding to attend a function of the Bangalore city corporation, BBMP, in August 2010. (Karnataka Photo News)

***

Also read: Finally, Karnataka gets an ‘acting’ chief minister

CHURUMURI POLL: Should Deve Gowda film be banned?

Corruption OK. Massacres OK. Romance not OK?

M.P. Renukacharya: the sarsangchalak of the ling parivar

Once upon a time, when Baba could thumb a nose

11 June 2011

Even as Baba Ramdev does some heavylifting in a hospital in faraway Haridwar to salvage his reputation, credibility and indeed his health, a lensman takes a close look at the prize-winning entry for the 2010 Maya Kamath memorial awards, named after the late cartoonist, in Bangalore on Saturday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

‘Hindus make bad devotees, but are good clients’

9 June 2011

Dipankar Gupta, senior fellow at the Nehru memorial museum and library, on the thin crowds around Baba Ramdev after the midnight eviction from Ram Lila grounds in Delhi, in Mail Today:

“Hindus have problems gathering around a religious leader, as a religious leader. They quickly transform the person, saffron robes, notwithstanding, to a specialist healer, magician and personal good luck charm. Hindus, therefore, make bad devotees but good clients.

“As tradition tells us, Hindus are not given to collective sentiments in their religious observances. The concept of a church or congregation is foreign to them. This is why one can be a pious Hindu yet never set foot in a temple.

“To be able to host an at- home with your own customised guru is the ultimate Hindu fantasy. This would not work for Muslims, Sikhs or Christians. The idea of a ‘ communion’ is essential in these religions. Hence, when Hindus flock to a so- called sadhu it is not always on account of religion.

“They are attracted to bearded individuals in saffron because of their supposed magical or physical powers. They are worried when such a person dies for they wonder who their next all- round talisman would be. Other religions do not think that way, primarily because the communion is so important for them.

“That also explains why no Christian priest, or Muslim maulvi or Sikh granthi would produce ashes, watches or sweets out of his sleeve, or hat, to win adherents.”

Read the full article: Ramdev as the Bruce Lee of yoga


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