Posts Tagged ‘Indian Express’

‘The protector-in-chief who keeps India safe’

19 November 2013

For most TV news consumers, Arnab Goswami is both a name and a phenomenon. But there are still large parts of the world to be conquered by Times Now‘s bulldog of an inquisitor. Here, B.V. Rao, editor of Governance Now, and former editor of the Indian Express in Bangalore and Bombay, explains the name and the phenomenon to a childhood friend who lives in Canada.

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Dear Sharada

Sometime ago during a Googlegroup discussion you innocently asked: “But who is Arnab?”.

In India not knowing Arnab is against national interest. You are lucky you live in Canada. But if you don’t want to be deported on arrival on your next visit, you better pay attention to this complimentary crash course on the subject.

Arnab, as in Arnab Goswami, is India’s most-watched prime time news anchor and editor-in-chief of Times Now*. But designations don’t even begin to describe him or what he is famous for.

You must have heard about hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Arnab is also a storm, a news-storm that hits India every night via his show, the “Newshour”. Nobody is quite sure how, but somehow Arnab gets to know the questions that the “whole nation” wants answers for, or the sinners the nation wants hanged before midnight that night.

In effect then, Arnab speaks for a “billion-plus people” each time he takes centre-stage.

I can’t say for sure if he took this burden upon himself voluntarily or if his employers made it a contractual obligation. Whatever it is, the fact is that Arnab has come to relish asking the most “simple and direct” questions to the most dubious people demanding instant answers to complex problems because the “nation wants to know” and it wants to know “tonight” as in right now.

That’s how impatient India has become while you’ve been away, Sharada.

***

The Newshour airs on weekdays from 9 pm and continues till Arnab’s pleasure lasts. Often the show stretches up to 10.50 pm. That’s actually “News hour-and-three-quarters-and-then-some” but I guess Arnab has not asked himself a “simple, direct” question: how many minutes make an hour?

That, or his primary school maths teacher is not his viewer. In which case it is safe to say Arnab speaks for a billion-plus minus one Indians.

You will see that at the altar of national interest it is not just the hour that is stretched.

About two decades ago, Dileep Padgaonkar was the editor of the Times of India owned by the Jains of Bennett & Coleman who also own Times Now. Padgaonkar had pompously proclaimed that he held the second most important job in the country after the prime minister’s.

Arnab hasn’t said it, but I think he disagrees with Padgaonkar on the pecking order:  it’s now the prime minister who holds the second most important job in the country.

Hence Arnab runs the show like he would run the country or like the prime minister should but doesn’t.

You see, Sharada, there’s an awful lot of stuff the nation wants to know by nightfall but our prime minister isn’t much of a talker. Arnab fills the need gap. He opens his show with a passionate agenda-setting preamble that spells out all the problems of the day and how he wishes to solve them. We gratefully receive this wisdom and call it Arnab’s Address to the Nation, a prime ministerial duty that has fallen on his broad shoulders because the real guy has abdicated it.

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Let me tell you this, however. Arnab is a very reluctant power-grabber. It is not his intent to upstage the prime minister or make him look silly.

He gives the prime minister an entire day to prove his worth and gets to work only at 9 pm when it is clear that the latter can’t handle stuff.

He then solves all outstanding national issues of the day in just one 110 minute-hour of feverish debates where he grills the skin off the back of everybody who dares to stand in the way of India’s national interest.

He is unrelenting in his pursuit of the truth and doesn’t give up unless everybody has agreed with him.

“I am worried”, “I am concerned”, “I won’t let you politicise”, “I don’t agree”, “you can’t get away….” are some of the phrases he uses to suggest he is in complete control and that endears him to a nation starved of decision-makers.

Arnab hates home work. He wants to settle everything here and now, tonight. As a result, in Arnab country, there is no trace of the policy paralysis that has grounded the prime minister in the real country. Here you get resolutions, decisions, orders, diktats, judgements, justice and denouements all in one place, one show, by one man.

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The only people paralysed are the subjects of his grilling and the bevy of experts he gathers around himself, not because he needs them, he doesn’t, but because it must feel awfully good to invite experts and out-talk them on national prime time.

Like confused baboons trapped in little boxes, the experts, who are neatly arranged around Arnab’s own imposing self in the centre of the screen, keep staring into nothingness most of the time.

Yes, you get the drift, Sharada, Arnab is the main dish here. The rest are just intellectual dips.

For most of their airtime the experts keep putting up their hands or calling out “Arnab….Arnab….” to indicate they want to make a point. Arnab is too engrossed in disagreeing with what he has not allowed them to say to care too much.

Some clever guests try to appeal to his Assamese roots by hailing “Ornob…Ornob”. He ignores them as well.

Nationalism, after all, is above parochialism. The cleverer among them have cracked the code: they just agree with Arnab in exchange for a little extra air time. These are usually the people who have paid close attention to Arnab’s Address to the Nation and picked up the right cues on what to say that will get them his benefaction.

It is tough to figure out why Arnab needs any experts at all because he knows the answers to all his questions. Times Now insiders say that more often than not he finds questions to the answers he already has. On his show, politicians can’t politicise, bureaucrats can’t beat around the bush, sportspersons can’t play games and lawyers can’t use legalese.

In fact anybody who is good at something can’t do what they are known to do, to the extent that even civil society can’t be civil, especially if it wants to get a word in sideways. Everybody has to be direct, honest, blunt and keep things simple because that is what the (one-man) nation wants.

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Corruption, political expediency, opportunism, forked tongues, doublespeak, dishonesty and hypocrisy, are red rags to Arnab. He takes them head-on with the help of his reporters who keep throwing up “documentary” evidence ever so often to expose scamsters.

Usually this is a thick sheaf of indistinguishable papers that Arnab holds up threateningly. It could be a bunch of used airline e-tickets for all we know, but since we don’t, he waves the sheaf confidently in the face of the enemies of the nation and it is generally assumed he’s got some incendiary stuff in there.

Arnab’s problem-solving repertoire is not restricted to national boundaries. In fact, he is at his best when dealing with nations that have evil designs on India. The patriot in Arnab is best aroused when he is dealing with that evil, failed, rogue nation called Pakistan.

He deals with Pakistan like no prime minister has ever been able to or decimates it like no Army has ever managed to. Each time a blade of grass bends to the breeze on the LoC, Arnab breathes fire at Pakistan for trying to sneak in terrorists into the country. He lines up a battery of serving and retired generals of Pakistan and conducts the verbal equivalent of a summary execution.

Yet, the same generals keep resurfacing on Arnab’s show each time he feels the urge to have a Pakistani or two for dinner. This causes much wonderment among Newshour hounds on the masochist streak that makes the Pakistani generals offer themselves up as bait repeatedly.

So, it is assumed the money must be good. But since Arnab insists that Pakistan is the way it is only because the generals have sold their country cheap, it is unlikely he is blowing his budget for this routine cross-border target practice. Of course, left to Arnab Pakistan would have existed only as the largest crater on earth since the meteors wiped out all life on the planet. Yes, he would have nuked it many times over by now.

The Times of India, the country’s oldest English newspaper and the mother brand from the Times Now stable runs Aman Ki Aasha (Hope for Peace), the widely-acclaimed campaign for ending India-Pakistan hostilities.

Just as Arnab doesn’t seem to know of this campaign, the Times of India seems quite oblivious of the fact that the last time there was absolute peace on the LoC was when Arnab took a two-week holiday in early September. It could be the marketing genius of the Times group to milk the issue from both ends or it could also be that their internal boundaries are not as porous as our LoC.

Apart from conducting war exercises against Pakistan, Arnab land is eyeball-to-eyeball with China, exposes the double standards of America in almost anything it does and highlights the hypocrisy of racist Australia which loves the education dollars from India but not the brown students who come along with.

His blood boils so much when an old Sikh is roughed up by a bunch of racist women in the UK that he almost gets the whole of Punjab to rise in revolt against the Indian government’s inaction–even though there is nothing it can do as the gentleman is a citizen of the said country–or builds a tide of emotional revulsion against “inhuman” Norway for snatching an infant from his Indian mother’s custody for alleged physical abuse.

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I can go on and on, Sharada, but everything good must come to an end and so must my Arnab eulogy.

So, in short and in conclusion, here’s what I have to say: Arnab is not just the editor-in-chief of Times Now. He’s India’s protector-in-chief. He is the guy who is keeping India safe while you are away on selfish pursuits. You are lucky you can get away by not knowing him.

For a billion-plus Indians,minus of course his maths teacher, that is not even a distant option. Because, truth told, Arnab is the best we have got!

B.V. Rao

***

* Disclosures apply

Photograph: courtesy Unreal Times

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Also read: ‘Arnab Goswami is corrective to babalog media’

Three reasons Arnab Goswami should be PM

There’s a new ‘ism’ in town, it’s Arnabism

OPINION POLL: Should opinion polls be banned?

4 November 2013

Vinaasha kaale vipareetha budhdhi,” is a saying which captures the mood of the Congress-led UPA government very well. As it swerves into the final lap of its second term in office, as bad news swirls all around it, as the foreboding gets grimmer with each passing day, the 128-year-old party has turned its eyes, well, on opinion polls.

In a communication to the election commission, a party functionary writes:

“Opinion polls during election are neither scientific nor is there any transparent process for such polls… our party fully endorses the views of the Election Commission of India to restrict publication and dissemination of opinion polls during the election.”

Random surveys “lack credibility”, and could be “manipulated and manoeuvred” by persons with “vested interest”, is the Congress’ conclusion, which is broadly in line with attorney general Goolam E. Vahanvati‘s legal opinion to the law ministry in which he said a ban on opinion polls would be “constitutionally permissible”.

For a government which has consistently trained its guns on free speech, the latest move is par for the course.

There is no question that many opinion polls are dubious exercises undertaken by fraudulent agencies with little no field presence; sponsors, sample sizes, date of polling, margins of error (all pre-requirements in reporting a poll) are opaque. There is also no doubt that many cash-strapped media houses are happily carrying polls with an eye on the future.

Still, is a ban the only solution? Would the Congress and UPA be in favour of a ban on polls if the Congress was doing well in them? Do polls really influence voters, who chose just the opposite of what opinion polls advised them in 2004 and 2009? Whether dubious or not, does a ban on polls restrict the media’s fundamental freedoms?

Above all, wouldn’t Indian democracy be healthier if a voter is exposed to what his co-citizens are thinking in other parts of the country, rather than being denied access to it?

If children play with note counting machines…

28 January 2013

The residence and offices of Karnataka BJP leader K.S. Eshwarappa were raided by the Lok Ayukta recently, acting on a complaint of “assets disproporation to the known sources of income”. Besides obnoxious amounts of gold and silver that is the new-normal, among the items seized was a currency note counting machine which he claimed was being used as a “toy” by children in the house.

Saritha Rai writes in the Indian Express:

A currency machine now appears to be a badge of honour amongst the corrupt across India.

Madhu Koda, the former chief minister from Jharkhand who became notorious for his money-laundering scam, was discovered to be a millionaire with business interests in far-flung countries like Liberia and Laos. In the stash discovered in Koda’s home were five currency counting machines.

Such machines were reportedly found in the home of Ashok Jadeja, Ahmedabad-based conman and fake guru who defrauded thousands in a money-multiplier scheme. A Madhya Pradesh doctor couple in government service was found with huge amounts of unaccounted cash and a currency counting machine a few months ago.

Possessing a currency counting machine is not illegal in India. But the recent discoveries suggest that illegal cash transactions are so massive that physical counting is impractical and machines are being brought in. These days corruption cases anyway involve tens of crores of rupees, if not hundreds.

It is becoming routine for corrupt politicians and bureaucrats to have a currency counting machine besides documents, cash and jewelry, said Justice Santosh Hegde, former Karnataka Lokayukta and an anti-corruption crusader.

“Bribes are mostly received in cash and this indicates the volume of unaccounted money sloshing about in the financial system,” said Justice Hegde.

Read the full column: Industry of ill-gotten gains

POLL: Can Congress beat BJP in Karnataka?

16 May 2012

There is nothing like counting your naati chickens before they hatch and licking your fingers in expectant glee.

On the day sleuths of the CBI escorted B.S. Yediyurappa one step further into the dark, deep hole that he diligently dug for himself over four years, exultant Congress workers take out a “funeral procession” of the BJP government in Bangalore on Wednesday, although the grand old party’s ability to capitalise on the BJP’s continuing strife is unclear.

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In the Indian Express, Sandeep Shastri of the centre of research in social sciences and education writes:

“The Congress clearly senses an advantage in the coming assembly polls. Given the state of the BJP and the record of its government, it could well be a political climate that will work to their advantage. However, the record of the Congress in Karnataka shows that it has the skill of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

“In the past, it has often managed to defeat itself. While the party has made a concerted effort to demonstrate a show of unity, this has still to be reflected in the behaviour of its senior leaders. There are too many claimants for a chief ministership after an election that is yet to be won.

“Given the trend across the country, it may be a good idea for the Congress to declare its chief ministerial candidate and get the party solidly behind that leader.

“In the past, when the high command declared its chief ministerial candidate, the campagin acquired clear direction and there was visible enthusiasm among party workers. It would give them an advantage in preparation for the polls.”

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Read the full article: Karnataka free for all

How TV channels will cover Aishwarya’s baby

8 November 2011

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: The priorities of the Indian media are in extreme sharp focus courtesy Press Council chairman Justice Markandey Katju, who told the world just what he thought of us: idiots and ignoramuses diverting the attention of the people by peddling filth and froth, and deliberately dividing the country on religious lines.

Justice Katju’s “irresponsible” talk has been shot down by the chairman of the National Broadcasting Standards Authority, Justice J.S. Verma, who believes that it is time to shut down the press council as it has been ineffective in carrying out its mandate of protecting press freedom and maintaining/improving standards.

All that is for public consumption. But, behind the scenes…

It is clear that TV channels, news professionals and their “handlers” have been rattled by Justice Katju’s demand for an expansion of the press council’s powers to include electronic media. Which is why Justice Katju’s appointment soon after remitting office as a judge of the Supreme Court of India is being openly questioned.

It is also clear someone’s watching—and waiting to strike. So, the Broadcast Editors’ Association has put out an “advisory” to TV news channels on how to cover—wait for it—Amitabh Bachchan‘s expected grandchild; the first child of his son Abhishek Bachchan and former Ms Universe, Aishwarya Rai.

According to the Indian Express, the 10 directives read like “a good-manners’ guide to TV journalism”:

# No pre-coverage of the event

# Story of birth of baby to run only after, and on the basis of, official announcement

# Story not to run on breaking news band

# No camera of OB (outdoor broadcasting) vans at hospital or any location related to the story

# Go for photo-op or press conference if invited

# Not carry any MMS or photo of the child

# No astrology show to be done on this issue

# No 11.11.11 astrology show to be done

# Duration of story to be around a minue/90 seconds

# Unauthorised entry into hospital not permitted

Obviously, these guidelines strike at the very root of Indian news television, as we have known it. So, will “your channel” follow these directives? Do you, the viewer, care if these guidelines are observed in the breach, or violated wholesale? And if it does, do you, the viewer, have the energy to write to the NBSA and lodge a complaint?

There is a media history to the Bachchans. Big B has had a mostly messy affair with the media. When he was in hospital, an Aaj Tak reporter (now with NDTV) barged into his room in nurse’s clothes. The Aishwarya-Abhishek wedding was covered in its minutest details. It was even alleged that Aishwarya had been married off to a tree to ward off a bad omen, etc.

Will the latest AB baby have a flawless entry?

And, speaking unsolicited for the baby, does it deserve such a meek, uncelebrated entry, given that the only thing that has sustained Abhishek’s and Aishwarya’s rather sad professional career has been the oxygen of manufactured publicity to the pop of the flashbulbs (when they are pushing some silly product)?

And will the new Bachchan carry the blame for the rest of his/ her life of having driven out India TV out of business?  (Just kidding.)

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File photograph: Amitabh Bachchan followed by wife Jaya Bachchan, daughter Shweta Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan arrive to offer special pujas at the Sankat Mochan temple in Varanasi in 2006, on the eve of their wedding. (AP Photo/Rajesh Chaurasia)

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Also read: When Prabhu Chawla called up Amar Singh

Amitabh Bachchan versus Mumbai Mirror 

When Amitabh‘s cold becomes hot news

Jug Suraiya takes on the mighty Bachchan

Sting camera that Amitabh Bachchan didn’t see

Editors’ Guild lashes out at Press Council chief

2 November 2011

The Editors’ Guild of India* has responded to the remarks made by the chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice Markandey Katju, in recent interviews and interactions with the media.

Below is the full text of the editors’ guild response:

“The Editors’ Guild of India deplores the ill-considered, sweeping and uninformed comments on the media and on media professionals by the new chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice Markandey Katju. Mr Katju has been making negative statements on the media ever since he assumed office, but his comments in an interview to Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN, broadcast over the week-end, touched a new low.

“The Guild notes that Mr Katju thinks the media divides people on religious lines and is anti-people. He objects to TV channels that focus on cricket and other subjects that he disapproves of. He believes that journalists have not studied economics, politics, literature or philosophy, and he has a poor opinion of the media and media people (some of whom, as it happens, are members of the Press Council that Mr Katju chairs).

“The Guild notes that Mr Katju, after expressing such sweeping negative sentiments, has asked the government for draconian powers to impose fines on the media, to withdraw advertisements and to suspend the licence to publish or broadcast. The Guild strongly opposes such powers being given to the Council, especially a Council led by someone who it would seem wants to invoke “fear” in the media.

“The Guild wishes to draw attention to the fact that its attempt to engage in dialogue with Mr Katju has been rendered futile by Mr Katju, who however continues to express his tendentious and offensive views. The Guild wishes to remind Mr Katju that the Indian media is as diverse as it is vigorous, and that while it has drawbacks and shortcomings, on the whole it contributes to the strength of the Indian system.

“Press freedom is a bulwark for the Indian people against the onslaught of people in authority, and the Guild will firmly oppose the assumption of any draconian powers by a Press Council that was created with an altogether different purpose. Further, as the very name of the Council suggests, only the print media comes within the Council’s ambit. The issues and drivers of the electronic media are such that they call for separate regulation. Therefore the Guild firmly believes that the Press Council should have its brief limited to the print media, as it is at the present.”

T.N. Ninan, editorial director of Business Standard, is the current president of the editors’ guild. Coomi Kapoor, consulting editor of the Indian Express, is the secretary.

* Disclosures apply

Also read: ‘I have a poor opinion of most media people’

Raju Narisetti: ‘Good journalists, poor journalism, zero standards’

Aakar Patel: Indian journalism is regularly second-rate

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?

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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

Rajiv Gandhi: 69 ads over 41 pages in 12 papers

21 May 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: On the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi‘s 20th death anniversary today, different ministries of the Congress-led UPA government are falling over each other to demonstrate that the “collective flame of political sycophancy” continues to burn brightly and shamelessly.

While Rajiv Gandhi’s widow Sonia Gandhi and their son Rahul Gandhi talk of “austerity” when it suits them, nearly a dozen Union ministries and a couple of State governments have released tens of ads through the government-controlled Department of Audio Visual Publicity (DAVP) to remind Indians that such a man as he walked this earth.

In eleven English news and business papers published out of New Delhi, there were 65 advertisements amounting to 38¼ pages, glorifying The Great Leader, without whom India wouldn’t have entered the 21st century.

Hindustan Times: 24-page issue; 9 RG ads amounting to 5¼ broadsheet pages

The Times of India: 32-page issue; 10 ads amounting to 6 broadsheet pages

Indian Express: 28-page issue; 10 ads amounting to 5 broadsheet pages

Mail Today (compact): 42-page issue; 8 ads amounting to 7 compact pages

The Hindu: 22-page issue; 6 ads amounting to 3½ broadsheet pages

The Pioneer: 16-page issue; 7 ads amounting to 3½ broadsheet pages

The Statesman: 16-page isuse; 4 ads amounting to 2½ broadsheet pages

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The Economic Times: 16-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1¼ broadsheet pages

Business Standard: 14-page issue; 4 ads amouning to 1¾ broadsheet pages

Financial Express: 24-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1½ broadsheet pages

Mint (Berliner): 12-page issue; 1 ad amounting to one compact page

Among the departments and ministries seeking to remind the nation of Rajiv Gandhi’s magical powers are the department of information and publicity; the ministries of commerce and industry, tourism, human resource development, social justice & empowerment, power, micro small and medium industries, information and broadcasting, steel; the state governments of Haryana and Rajasthan; and Rajiv Gandhi centre for biotechnology.

Last year, on the 19th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, the historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in an edit-page article in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”

On his birthday in August last year, The Telegraph reported that “Union ministries released more ads on Rajiv Gandhi’s birthday today than on the anniversaries of the rest of India’s Prime Ministers put together in the past one year, Press Information Bureau sources said.”

For the record, The Telegraph received four ads amounting to 2½ pages this year.

5 things a journalist learnt from Dr Raj Kumar

24 April 2011

SAGGERE RAMASWAMY writes from Bangalore: In my 25 years as a photojournalist, I met Dr Raj Kumar in person five times and learnt five things from him: simplicity, punctuality, dedication, respect (for others)—and the knack of enjoying food.

Other than those personal meetings, I had the occasion to cover many events of Raj Kumar. My first “Dr Raj” shoot was during the Gokak chaluvali at the Doddakere Maidan in Mysore in the early 1980s, when he, Vishnuvardhan and other stars were taking part in the agitation for primacy for Kannada.

Our first personal meeting was at the Kalamandira in Mysore in 1986. I walked in to the greenroom with my camera and was stunned to see Annavru. He was humming a ‘Dasara pada’.

Me: Saar, Namaskara.

Annavru: Namaskara… yenu nimma hesaru? (What’s your name?)

Me: Ramaswamy, saar

Annavru: Ramuswamy na, Ramaswamy na?

Me: Saar, Ramaswamy, saar

Annavru: aah, haage heli. Yava patrike?

Me: Mysore Mitra, saar, from the Star of Mysore group.

I took just a few pictures of the varanata that day as my film roll restricted my shooting, but I had the presence of mind to request his long-time bodyguard Channa (of the information department) to shoot a picture of the two of us together.

When he was awarded the Dada Saheb Phalke award in1995, Chetan Krishnaswamy, K. Gopinathan and I walked in to his residence at Sadashivanagar for an interview for Frontline magazine. Director Bhagawan, who fixed the meeting for us, was already there.

Raj Kumar stood up and said: “Banni, koothukolli’ (come, sit down). Bhagawan introduced us to him.

Without any hesitation, Raj Kumar said: “Frontline aa? English patrike, nanage English odoke barolla.” (Frontline? English magazine? I don’t know how to read English)

Today, on Dr Raj’s birth anniversary, I remember two things.

One, that he stood up and welcomed us.

And two, as I watched this video clip from his 104th film Amma (1968), his statement: “Nanage English odoke baralla.”

(Saggere Ramaswamy, worked with the Indian Express, The Hindu, and the world’s first technology daily, Tech Mail, before launching India’s first web-based photo syndication agency, Karnataka Photo News. He is also on the faculty of the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media in Bangalore.)

Also view: Dr Raj Kumar:If you come today, tomarrroww

Can the paragon of integrity hear his conscience?

13 April 2011

A South Indian view of national politics is largely, if not completely, missing from Indian media, including and especially South Indian media. It is almost as if all wisdom on what’s happening in the national capital has to flow, aided by the inevitable force of gravity, southwards from Delhi.

While reporting and analysing Delhi from Delhi makes geographical sense, the truth is it also makes it easy for news and views to be susceptible to the inevitable forces of lubrication. Additionally, there is the danger of the news atmosphere being congested by a set of usual suspects.

Deccan Herald senior editor Ramakrishna Upadhya, who writes a weekly column on topics not always concerning Karnataka, is one of the rare exceptions.

RKU, as the veteran journo who has also served at the Indian Express, Sunday Mid-Day, ETV, Vijay Times and The Telegraph is known, has now put together a collection of 112 columns over an eight-year period columns in a book titled ‘Natak Karnatak‘ (Prarthana Books, 343 pages, Rs 290). Below is an excerpt, first published in November 2010.

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By RAMAKRISHNA UPADHYA

It is a strange paradox that Independent India’s two biggest scandals —the stock market scam of the mid-1990s, and the current telecom scam—have occurred under the benign superintendence of the man who is universally hailed as “one of the most sincere and honest” leaders that this country has seen.

As the mind-boggling, head-reeling telecom saga continues to unfold, the nation will await to see whether this turbaned paragon of integrity is also capable of listening to his conscience and acting decisively to uphold the faith of a billion people.

We are living in difficult times. Constitutionally-mandated personalities, who are expected to work as trustees and uphold public interest at all time, compromise with principles and bare themselves as men with feet of clay, completely unmindful of the exposure.

Here in Karnataka, we have a chief minister brazen enough to justify corruption and nepotism as part of his ‘power package’ and, at the Centre, we have a prime minister who willingly turns a blind eye to all the muck around him, wallowing in the belief that as long as his personal reputation is white as a lily, he doesn’t have to care a damn.

It was the same Dr Manmohan Singh as finance minister in the Narasimha Rao cabinet, who, when the Harshad Mehta-engineered scam broke out, remarked that he “would not lose sleep” over it.

After the Joint Parliamentary Committee investigated into and exposed the dubious activities of a handful of share brokers who milked the economy of crores of rupees illegally, Dr Singh’s diagnosis was that it was “a systemic failure.”

Dr Singh is now the prime minister of the country and considering the magnitude of the scam, he simply can’t get away with vague and wholly excuses. As the comptroller and auditor general of India’s report has revealed, the former telecommunications and information technology minister Andimuthu Raja arrogantly discarded the advice of several ministries and the prime minister’s own counsel in arbitrarily awarding the 2G Spectrum in January 2008 and yet Dr Singh maintained ‘silence’ till it exploded in his face.

In a stunning disclosure, the CAG has confirmed that 85 of the 122 applicants for 2G licence were ineligible, that they suppressed facts or gave fictitious information, that the cut-off date for licence letters were advanced arbitrarily, that most of these companies were created barely months before they were issued licences and that the owners of these licences after obtaining them at throw-away prices, in turn, sold significant stakes to Indian/foreign firms at high premium within a short time.

The CAG has estimated that the presumptive loss to the exchequer is of the order of Rs 1.76 lakh crore and of that, two dubious entities, Unitech and Swan alone made Rs 1,27,292 crore from the sale of equity to other players. Even major telecom players happily participated in the loot as Raja appeared to be the king of all that he purveyed, with the prime minister being a mute, disinterested spectator.

The scam had surfaced in January 2008 itself and the Left parties, to their credit, had raised a stink before the May general elections that year, but the UPA’s “resounding” victory in the polls and the principal opposition BJP’s intra-party troubles ensured that the Manmohan Singh government was able to sit tight over the mega scam.

After the elections, Dr Singh made only a feeble attempt to take away the telecom ministry from the DMK and no more than that: After all, he was only a ‘mukhota’ for Sonia Gandhi and her parivar who conducted negotiations with the DMK patriarch, M. Karunanidhi on ministry formation. With the lid on the scam still firmly in place, Raja came back with a bigger smirk on his face.

What is mystifying is that Dr Singh, who seems to love the label of ‘Mr Clean,’ never bothered to take a second look at 2G Spectrum allocation nor ordered an investigation. Is it possible then, that the amount involved in the scam being so huge that the DMK was only one of the players and the other hidden ‘hands’ must have been too hot for the prime minister even to contemplate taking any action?

But the truth could not be supressed for too long and here, the officers of the CAG must be complimented for a job thorough and meticulous. When some portions of the report inadvertently leaked out, a cocky Raja kept insisting that he had done no wrong and whatever he had done was with the ‘“knowledge” of the prime minister.

For the image-makers of the prime minister and the UPA, Raja had now become a hot potato and he had to be dispensed with. The Congress head honchos conveyed their ‘decision’ to Karunanidhi, who had no option but to accept it with the elections to the Tamil Nadu Assembly only months away and his bete noire, Jayalalitha always lurking in the corner.

If the Congress thought that the Opposition would be satisfied with Raja’s ‘head’ and Parliament would return to normal business, the supreme court’s embarrassing questions to the prime minister and the full disclosure of the CAG report have put paid to any such illusions.

Just as the land scandals involving B.S. Yediyurappa, his family members and cabinet colleagues, have reached a stage where the BJP Central leadership will perforce have to step in to lend credibility to their campaign against corruption at the national level, Dr Manmohan Singh will have to step out of his facade and initiate credible action to show that in the evening of his life and career, he has no reason to be “used” by anyone, any more.

(Copies of the book are available at Gangaram book depot, and Sapna book stall)

Read a review of the book: An insightful look at Karnataka

In the end, no one can fool ‘We, the People’

28 November 2010

By T.J.S. GEORGE

Journalism started going astray with the birth of financial dailies in the 1960s. With full-fledged newspapers devoted exclusively to business, corporate houses became hyperactive. The next thing we knew was press conferences ending with gifts of expensive sarees and suitlengths to reporters.

That was innocent child play compared to what has hit the headlines now: charges of celebrity journalists working hand in hand with a professional lobbyist to fix things like cabinet appointments and big-ticket business deals.

Excerpts from taped conversations between the star journalists and corporate lobbyist Niira Radia have been published. Radia was promoting the prospects of some DMK personalities as well as the gas interests of one Ambani brother and the spectrum interests of the Tatas.

The journalists became her tools.

Lobbying is a recognised activity in democracies. But it is a tricky line of work because sometimes unconventional methods might become necessary to secure the case of a client. Given Niira Radia’s experience and efficiency, acknowledged by companies like Tatas, we must assume that she took care not to cross the line. Anyway we can leave it to the enforcement directorate which is looking into the matter.

Journalism is as different from lobbying as nariel paani is from singlemalt. Any crossing of the line may be a tribute to the power of singlemalt, but never justifiable.

Unfortunately the journalists show themselves as amenable to doing the unjustifiable. They agree to convey messages favouring A.Raja to the Congress bosses. They agree to take the side of the Ambani brother Radia was promoting as against the other brother.

The moment the tapes were published, the journalists mentioned in it rushed to rebut all insinuations. The arguments were that journalists had to talk to all sorts of people, that “stringing” along with a source was no crime, that promises had to be made sometimes to get information from a source. The employer of one journalist said that it was preposterous to “caricature the professional sourcing of information to ‘lobbying’”.

The question is whether the journalists carry credibility. Of course drunks and murderers have been among the valued contacts of journalists. And of course journalists have moved very closely with political leaders.

Few people were closer to Jawaharlal Nehru than B. Shiva Rao of The Hindu. Prem Bhatia of The Statesman used to walk the corridors of Delhi as if he owned them. The hardest nuts in the power circle cracked happily before Nikhil Chakravartty on his morning rounds.

Not once did these men ask for a favour or recommend a businessman friend. They were not social celebrities, but they did their profession proud by keeping the highest possible credibility level.

Today’s celebrities assume they can win credibility by simply saying that they talked to Radia only as a source and that they never kept promises made to her anyway. Is a veteran networker like Radia so easily fooled? Obviously she is close to her journalist contacts and must have had promises from them before. She wouldn’t waste her time if she knew that they were promises not meant to be followed up.

At one point she actually tells another contact that “I made [the journalist] call up Congress and get a statement”. This is Radia speaking, not a naïve greenhorn. To say that this kind of work on behalf of a lobbyist is legitimate journalism is like B.S. Yediyurappa saying that all he has ever done is development work.

To say that they promised to talk to the likes of Sonia and Rahul only to outsmart a war-horse is like the BJP high command saying it has outsmarted Yeddyurappa.

The glamour of celebrityhood has a way of going to one’s head. Delusions of grandeur are never a journalistic virtue. The real virtue is the mind’s ability to maintain a degree of detachment. When the game is played at the 5-star level, one can never be sure of who is fooling whom.

It will be good for everyone to remember that there is one lot that can never be fooled: The people.

Full coverage:

Vir Sanghvi suspends Hindustan Times column

‘Quantitative growth versus qualitative improvement’

Has media credibility suffered a body-blow?

‘Go to bed knowing you haven’t succumbed’

Who really named All India Radio as Akashvani?

15 November 2010

PALINI R. SWAMY writes: Mysore’s preminent position in the setting up and christening of All India Radio as “Akashvani” has gone uncontested for well over half a century. Now, in the 75th year of AIR, an unlikely challenger has emerged from 300 km away.

A 70-year-old woman has stood up in Udupi to assert that it was her late father, Hosbet Rama Rao, a former district education officer in Mangalore, was the man who first used—and thus gave the nation—the unquestionably evocative brand-name, “Akashvani“, for the radio.

In other words, the claim busts the belief widely held by Mysoreans that it was their townsman M.V. Gopalaswamy (in picture, above) who coined the word after setting up the nation’s first private radio station in his residence “Vittal Vihar” (in picture, below), about 200 yards from AIR’s current location.

***

Anuradhagiri Rao says her father, while serving as a teacher at the government college in Mangalore, anonymously published a booklet titled ‘”Akashvani” in 1932 on the phenomenon of the radio set. She says he drew inspiration from mythology in Kamsa‘s case when an ‘ashariravani‘ (voice without body) predicts his death.

Thus, voice from the akasha (sky) was ‘Akashvani‘, meaning celestial voice,” she has been quoted as saying in the New Indian Express. Her father, she adds, did not reveal his name fearing victimisation from the then British government, as he was then beginning to establish himself as a writer.

To bolster her claim, Anuradhagiri Rao adds her father’s book with the “Akashvani” title was acknowledged and adopted as a non-detailed text book for high school students by the text book committee of the Madras presidency. The book was printed twice in 1941 and 1945.

She also says an Indian Express editorial in February 1987 had doffed its hat to “an article from an unknown writer” for naming “Akashvani“. That unknown writer doubtless was her father.

Needless to say, she wants his name to the immortalised.

***

There are two problems with the claim. First, Anuradhagiri Rao bases her claims on an anonymous booklet published in 1932.  Although radio had been around for a while, sound broadcasting began in India in 1927 but All India Radio formally began operations only in 1936, according to AIR’s official website.

Second, there is the small matter of official history.

Akashvani Mysore has just brought out a 406-page souvenir to mark the platinum jubilee of the station.

In her editorial, Dr M.S. Vijaya Haran, station director, AIR Mysore, writes:

“Dr M.V. Gopalaswamy is the father of Mysore Akashvani. He served as the professor of psychology and the principal of the Maharaja’s college. The radio station that he started in 1935 in Mysore is his great contribution to the field of culture. This was the first private radio station in the whole of India and it speaks volumes of a person’s interest, passion, hard work and the instinct to do good to his fellow human beings….

“For six long years Dr Gopalaswamy ran AIR single-handedly spending money from his own pocket. Owing to financial constraint he handed over the administration to the Mysroe city municipality. Later from 1 January 1942, the provincial government of the Maharaja assumed the responsbility of running the organisation.

“Even then Dr M.V. Gopalaswamy continued to be director (till 2 August 1943). After that his colleague, Prof N. Kasturi was appointed full-time chief executive with the designation ‘assistant station superintendent.’ The radio station continued to function under the care of Kasturi, who was a thorough gentleman and a well-known humourist….

It was during that [Kasturi] period that All India Radio was baptised as ‘Akashvani‘ , a name that has been an appropriate metaphor for this wonderful organisation. The radio station flaunted with aplomb the title ‘Akashvani Mysore’ before its facade. It wafted on the waves and reached the hearts of listeners lending them undimmed pleasure. Later on, when All India Radio came under the administrative fold of the Indian government, the radio stations continued to use the name ‘Akashvani‘. The credit of lending this beautiful name ‘Akashvani‘ to all the radio stations of the country belongs to Mysore Akashvani.

Vijaya Haran’s editorial does not, of course,  say Gopalaswamy christened Akashvani, merely that he set it up.

So,while the parentage of Akashvani is not in question, it is Prof Gopalaswamy’s role in naming it that is clearly under question. Did he call it “Akashvani Broadcasting Station” when he started broadcasting as a hobby in 1935, as an earlier souvenir published in 1950 (and included in the platinum jubilee souvenir) avers?

If the name Akashvani evolved under N. Kasturi’s helmsmanship, did Kasturi himself think up the name? Did Prof Gopalaswamy, who was no longer its chief, have any role in it christening or, as a college principal himself, did Gopalaswamy draw his inspiration from an academic 300 km away?

Gouri Satya, the journalist who is a walking encyclopaedia on Mysore, wrote recently that “a few sat together and hit upon the name Akashvani for the toy broadcasting station“. Was Hosbet Rama Rao among the few?

In the evening newspaper, Star of Mysore, reader K. Radha Chengappa writes:

“The truth is revealed by late N. Kasturi in his book Loving God, page 76 (early 1920), where he refers to his colleague Dr. M.V. Gopalaswamy of Maharaja’s College, Psychology Department.

“He writes that Dr. MVG had bought a mini Philips transmitter and desired to use it to broadcast educational programmes for the common man an hour everyday. After some years, he managed to secure permission to use short wave transmission programmes.

“For this project, he had roped in Kasturi and when he wanted an Indian word for the broadcasting station, Kasturi’s choice was Akashvani and this word stuck for AIR (All India Radio).”

Or was it Rabindranath Tagore who is supposed to have done so “in the 1930s”?

***

Photographs: courtesy Akashavani Mysore platinum jubilee souvenir

Everybody loves a cheap, vegetarian thali–II

6 August 2010

While the nation gets titillated this week by Suresh Kalmadi‘s ravenous appetite, last week by the Reddy brothers’, the previous week by Sharad Pawar‘s (and his adorable daughter Supriya Sule‘s), the week before that by Lalit Modi‘s, the fortnight before that by Madhu Koda‘s, Thiru Andimuthu Raja‘s in the one before that etc, spare a thought for how little food inflation seems to exercise the grey cells of our neta-babu log.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee managed to assuage Parliament by dipping into jargon like “adverse inflationary pressure” to explain what’s happening to prices. But if there’s one reason why the fattened calves of our demcoracy do not “get” what burgeoning food prices are doing in a nation where half the nation lives below the poverty line–836 million Indians get by with less than Rs 20 a day—it’s because they have little or no exposure to it.

The latest issue of India Today carries the menu card of the Parliament canteen, and it’s a reflection of the dream world our MPs and MLAs inhabit.

Tea: Re 1

Soup: Rs 5.50

Dal: Rs 1.50

Curd rice: Rs 11

Vegetable pulao: Rs 8

Rajma rice: Rs 7

Tomato rice: Rs 7

Fish curry: Rs 13

Chicken: Rs 24.50

Rice: Rs 2

Dosa: Rs 4

Kheer: Rs 5.50

Fruit cake: Rs 9.50

Vegetarian thali: Rs 12.50

Non-vegetarian thali: Rs 22

Chicken birnai: Rs 34

Chicken curry: Rs 20.50

Butter chicken: Rs 27

This, when the average worth of each MP is Rs 5.1 crore.

This, when the average salary of each minister in the Manmohan Singh cabinet is Rs 7.5 crore.

For the record, price of rice between 2004-08 shot up by 45 per cent and the price of wheat went up by 60 per cent in the same period. Below are the 2009 rates published by Indian Express to show how much unparliamentary “food inflation” has caught up with Parliamentarians in the Parliament canteen.

Vegetarian thali: Rs 12.50

Non-vegetarian thali: Rs 22

Sada dosa: Rs 2.50

Masala dosa: Rs 4

Dal (assorted): Rs 1.50

Soup with one slice: Rs 5.50

Four chapatis: Rs 2

Boiled rice: Rs 2

Of course, on top of free food, MPs also get plenty of free phone calls, free air line tickets, free railway tickets and a little pocket money in the form of MPLADs to play around with. Plus, on the last day of Parliament they also vote themselves another hike in their meagre salaries.

Amen.

* Photograph used for illustration purposes only. The temple of democracy reserves the right to add, alter, switch items without prior notice depending on the day of the week.

Also read: Everybody loves a good, cheap vegetarian thali—I

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Chidambaram a saboteur?

17 July 2010

Of all the millions of words that have been expended since Thursday night to examine and re-examine the collapse of the Indo-Pak talks into a slugfest between the two subcontinental S.M.s—Krishna and Qureshithe most incisive 1,042 words come from the editor of the Madras-headquartered New Indian Express, Aditya Sinha, who lobs the grenade the Delhi media cannot fine the ball bearings to: did Union home minister P. Chidambaram sabotage the dialogue?

How?

Even as Krishna is flying into Islamabad, Chidambaram’s top bureaucrat, home secretary G.K. Pillai, accuses the ISI of being behind the 26/11 attack in an interview with the Chidambaram-friendly Indian Express. Predictably, at the mention of ISI, Qureshi flies off the handle and accuses Krishna of taking orders on his cellphone, etc, and soon enough taglines like “Big Chill”, “Tu-tu-main-main“, “Aman ki Ashes” start crawling on TV screens.

Sinha’s entirely plausible theory sparks a bigger question: is the veshti-wearing, Harvard-accented Chidambaram what he is cracked up to be—a high IQ dude competently running his ministry unlike the bandgala-worshipping Shivraj Patil? Or is he just pursuing an agenda all his own that is often at odds with the weltanschaaung of the Congress and is perhaps even deliberately intended at causing discomfort to prime minister Manmohan Singh who has made foreign policy the signature tune of his second term?

The suggestion could have been dismissed off-hand if only if were the first such indiscretion. It isn’t.

# Witness the Telangana tamasha, manufactured mostly by Chidambaram’s breakneck speed in announcing the formation of a new State after TRS chief K. Chandrashekar Rao‘s fast-unto-death, that has turned Congress’ most profitable state into a liability.

# Witness the  operation against Naxals that has turned vast swathes of the hinterland into a graveyard posting for CRPF jawans. (Arundhati Roy has called him “CEO of the war” because he appears to be furthering the cause of his former clients by using State power to clear tribal land for their mining and business interests.)

# Witness the upsurge in violence in Kashmir after the CRPF, which is getting slaughtered in the Naxal badlands, opens fire on teenagers throwing stones and plunges the State into the kind of chaos not since the militancy began in 1989.

# Witness the Afzal Guru issue which again gained traction following a report (obviously in Indian Express) that the Delhi chief minister Shiela Dixit is sitting on it that causes further embarrassment to a party bending backwards to avoid it.

Chidambaram has, for long, been a slightly distrusted individual in the Congress. Partymen salute his obvious brilliance in dealing with complex issues like the Bhopal gas compensation, but he is seen as a bit of an upstart who left the party and became finance minister in non-Congress Third Front and United Front governments. There are some who whisper that the careerist very nearly joined the BJP.

Even if you put all that down to professional jealousy, it cannot be denied that he enjoys a fair degree of middle-class sympathy, especially among the NDTV viewing sections of it, especially for his muscular stance against Naxals and his “proactive” approach to policing by mouthing hollow American tripe like the “Buck Stops Here”. He is, in a manner of speaking, the English-speaking Narendra Modi, without evoking the same visceral venom.

Nevertheless, the Indo-Pak kerfuffle is a good time to ask if Chidambaram is playing his own tune in the government, (which is why he routinely runs afoul of party loyalists like Digvijay Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyar). Is he doing it on his own volition or to some higher power’s script? On the other hand, if Chidambaram is eyeing the “7, Race Course Road” address on his visiting card should such an eventuality arise, will such antics necessary earn points on the Congress high command’s scorecard?

Did Manmohan Singh miss a golden opportunity by not accepting Chidambaram’s resignation (not since offered) after the first Dantewada massacre of CRPF jawans?

Or is there something here that falls short of logic?

Also read: Is Chidambaram positioning himself for PM role?

English news channels have 0.4% viewership!

28 June 2010

Cynics and critics of the media cannot stop bad-mouthing the English news channels and their shrieking, shouting, table-thumping, finger-wagging anchors. They lambast Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami, accusing them of being everything from trivial to sensational to anti-national.

Opinion makers and talking heads from politicians to penpushers move heaven, earth and everything else in between to appear on the English news channels. Advertisers drop everything else to flock to them. Viewers cannot stop accusing them of everything that is wrong with the country short of the monsoon. Yet….

Yet, is this all futile?

Using data collated by the television audience measurement agency (TAM), Archna Shukla of the Indian Express reports that this could all be very misplaced. That, despite its growing social and rural acceptance, English news channels boast of such a minuscule viewership that it probably does not even count.

From a snapshot of television consumption in India in the Sunday Indian Express:

1. There are 134 million households which own television sets in India; 70 million are in rural areas, 64 million in urban India

2. India is the world’s second largest broadcast market in viewership base as well as the total number of channels (500)

3. An average Indian watches television for two and a half hours a day, South Indians are glued to the idiot box for longer

4. There are more news channels (81 and counting) than general entertainment channels

5. News and current affairs channels has 7.5% viewership share; GECs have 51%.

6. Hindi has 43% reach and audience; the regional language channels put together account for 37%

7. Hindi speaking market is larger but South Indians watch TV for longer, spending close to three hours a day

8. English channels, news and otherwise, gets only 11% of viewership share

9. English news channels have a 0.4 per cent viewership

10. Men watch sports, news and movie channels; women watch soaps and serials

Read the full story: How India watches television

Television in India

CHURUMURI POLL: Target Sri Sri Ravi Shankar?

31 May 2010

The future Nobel laureate of India, Sri Sri Ravishankar (SSRS) of the Art of Living, is in the news.

According to a PTI report, the 54-year-old spiritual guru escaped unhurt when an unidentified gunman shot at his car shortly after he left his evening discourse on Sunday. According to the Economic Times, a man fired a shot at the car in which he was travelling. According to The Hindu, the target was SSRS himself, but the bullet fired from a .22 revolver missed him and hit somebody standing near him.

DNA calls it an assassination attempt. The New Indian Express reports that SSRS said the gunman could not fire a second shot because of the “positve energy” in the ashram. IANS says the incident was not a result of any enemity between devotees; CNN-IBN says it was not an “inside job“. SSRS himself says he has forgiven the attacker and appealed for peace. ANI quotes him as saying he fears a threat to his life and the Karnataka government has scaled up his security after BJP president Nitin Gadkari stepped in.

But did SSRS really have a narrow escape? The DGP Ajai Kumar Singh says it was not an attack on him, it was just an “incident”. The bullet was fired from more than 700 feet. According to the Wall Street Journal, “The incident appears to have taken place five minutes after Mr Shankar left the place where it happened.” Home minister P. Chidambaram says “it may not be correct, I underline, may not be correct to say the firing was aiming at him.”

Questions: Was there an attempt on SSRS’ life or not? What could be the reason for such a dastardly attack on a man of god? Is this all a publicity stunt to cover up something else?

Also read: The the great great Sri Sri NGO NGO scam scam

Goodbye democracy. Say hello to Quotocracy?

15 March 2010

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research, in the Indian Express, on the women’s reservation bill guaranteeing 33% seats in the lower house of Parliament and legislature for women:

“Behold all, the rise of Quotocracy! Experience the bliss that is this new dawn.

“Quotocracy is distinct. Voters by turn are obliged to vote for someone with particular ascriptive characteristics…. Quotocracy has its own principle: victimhood. No quotocracy can be sustained without it….

“Quotocracy has consensus: all divisions between left, right and centre are dissolved by quota. And those who oppose quotas are accused of treason…. Quotocracy creates a new distinction between public and private. Privately you may oppose quota, but you politically act on that belief at your own peril….

“Quotocracy has its own conception of justice. It is not equality, or capability or fitness or fairness. It is simple arithmetic: 33 here, 22 there, 50 for the rest. And since arithmetic can be complicated there is no point doing fractions and subdivisions….

“Quotocracy prizes group think. You are your group. Quotocracy is premised upon ascription. You are what the state certificate says you are: SC/ ST or OBC. You can be this and no other…. Quotocracy makes constitutionalism subordinate to itself. So what if some states exceed 50 per cent and the courts for fear are unable to pronounce a verdict.

“Quotocracy redefines the scale of values: excellence is a ruse for domination, self-reliance a tactic for injustice and so forth…. Quotocracy thrives on historical amnesia. The British used two tactics: divide and rule. And they said that we were infants because we could not think outside of caste and community. We were incapable of self-government…. Quotocracy likes divide and rule. And it also thinks we are incapable of self-government.”

Read the full article: Our wonderful quotocracy

Also read: CHURUMURI  POLL: Impact of 33% women’s quota?

‘Women’s bill will only increase State’s power’

The strange case of Justice Dinakaran (continued)

1 December 2009

Lawyers from Karnataka have presented the chief justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, a memorandum seeking the transfer of Justice P.D. Dinakaran from the Karnataka high court to some other HC following the allegations against him. Until the transfer is affected, no judicial work should be given to him, they say.

The former Bombay high court judge, Hosbet Suresh, writes*:

“Justice Dinakaran sits in court with no restraint on him. If what has appeared in the press cannot be hidden from the public ear and eye, will the public have confidence in his administration of justice?”

Senior advocate Pramila Nesargi has presented a complaint to the central vigilance commission (CVC) seeking a probe into the allegations of corruption against Justice Dinakaran, a public servant as defined under the prevention of corruption Act.

Now, the former chief justice of India, J.S. Verma, has weighed in, in an edit page piece in the Indian Express:

“I neither know Justice Dinakaran, nor do I comment on the merits of the allegations made against him. I speak only on the basis of the information in the public domain brought out by media reports of the uncontroverted facts, which to my mind are sufficient for his non-appointment to the Supreme Court on the above ground….

“If the available material is sufficient to create a reasonable doubt warranting further inquiry, the test for non-appointment laid down judicially is satisfied and it is difficult to appreciate the propriety of keeping alive the issue of his appointment to the Supreme Court.

“I for one, with experience of the office of CJI and as the author of the opinion that lays down the existing law, find the persistence with the recommendation embarrassing and contributing to an erosion of the image of the institution. I wish the imbroglio ends soon with withdrawal of the recommendation. “

* Disclosures apply

Read the full article: To judge or not to judge

Full coverage: The strange case of Justice P.D. Dinakaran

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Dalit Dinakaran above the law?

If he is unfit for Supreme Court, how is he fit for Karnataka HC?

If he is unfit for Supreme Court, how is he fit for Karnataka HC—II?

‘Integrity + competence + judicial temperament’

Yella not OK, but Supreme Court silent yaake?

The brazen conduct of Justice Dinakaran

Does BJP have no decency left to defend its own?

29 November 2009

The Liberhan Commission report on the demolition of the Babri masjid throws no new light on the dastardly designs of its its 67 execrable perpetrators. What it does is throw an unlikely pebble at the towering reputation and legacy of what it thinks is the 68th: Atal Behari Vajpayee.

The BJP’s rare “moderate face” has been a carefully constructed and preserved structure, designed to appeal to the soft side of India’s aspiring middle-class millions while providing the smokescreen to the saffron brotherhoodlums; a “mukhauta” in the words of K.N. Govindacharya.

That mask has been, well, unmasked by the lead-laced fingers of Justice Liberhan on the basis of a single videographed speech delivered by Vajpayee on the eve of the demolition, December 5, 1992.

Without calling the former prime minister to the witness box and without giving him a chance to explain, Liberhan calls Vajpayee a “pseudo-moderate” who can be held “culpable” of the crime of being the country to the point of communal discord by his “sins of omission”.

Given that the great voice of Vajpayee is now at the mercy of a voice-box, he cannot even defend himself from the miscarriage of justice at the hands of a judge. However, it speaks for the state of the saffron scrum that no one but no one has mounted a defence of a defenceless man.

Thankfully, Sudheendra Kulkarni steps up to the plate in today’s Indian Express:

“The most egregious part of the Liberhan report is its indictment of former Prime Minister Vajpayee, condemning him, along with Advani, as a “pseudo-moderate”. This will no doubt please communists and Muslim extremists, but, anyone who knows Vajpayee (and also Advani) knows that nothing can be a worse travesty of truth.

“I suspect that this character assassination of Vajpayee by a government-appointed commission has been done deliberately to dishonour him in India’s official history, so that only members of a particular family are recognised by posterity as true nationalist leaders.

“Implicating Vajpayee raises some serious questions. Does the mere fact that he gave a speech supporting the Ayodhya movement make him a “pseudo-moderate? Are we then to believe that only he/she is a moderate Hindu who opposes the BJP, and counters the demand for a Ram Mandir at the disputed site in Ayodhya?

“I too supported the Ram Mandir movement before 1992 (when I was not in the BJP) and I continue to support it even now, when I am no longer in the BJP. There are millions of ordinary, non-communal but proud Hindus like me who feel outraged by Liberhan’s warped belief that the only correct definition of secularism is that which disregards legitimate Hindu sentiments and silently acquiesces in the negation and falsification of the long history of temple-breaking by bigoted Muslim rulers. If Islamic bigotry could blast Bamyan Buddhas in the age of television in the 21st century, are we to believe that religiously inspired temple-destruction didn’t happen in medieval India?”

Cartoon: courtesy Satya Govind/ The Charicaturist

Read the full article: Vajpayee a pseudo-moderate? A canard

Join the campaign to free Laxman Choudhury

20 November 2009

India’s war on Maoists, described by prime minister Manmohan Singh as the “gravest internal threat” facing the country has begun to ensnare journalists too.

Laxman Choudhury, a stringer with the Oriya daily Sambad, picked up eight weeks ago because eight leaflets of Maoist “literature” addressed to him were found with a bus conductor, is still in jail.

Newspaper facsimile: courtesy The Indian Express

Also read: BBC journalists secure abducted cop’s release

There’s a new ism in town, Arnab-ism

Speak out. Sign the petition. Free Maziar Bahari

In a team of lottery tickets, one surefire winner

19 November 2009

Kunal Pradhan in The Indian Express:

“At a Thai restaurant in Islamabad, after the first day’s play in the final Test in 2004, Rahul Dravid politely declined to stay for dessert, saying he needed to sleep because he had to bat the “whole day tomorrow”.

“Not early, not in the morning; the whole day.

“It led to a few involuntary sniggers at the dinner table, but Dravid had chosen his words carefully. Ten not out overnight, he was unbeaten on 134 when stumps were drawn the following evening. And then, for good measure, he batted almost the whole of the next day as well, finishing on a career-best 270. It wasn’t the most attractive knock, and not nearly his most fluent — in fact, at 12 hours and 20 minutes it was the longest innings by an Indian player ever — but Dravid had ensured, almost single-handedly, that India won their first Test series in Pakistan.”

Read the full article: Higher than The Wall

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Should Rahul Dravid retire?

Who cries in Bangalore for Rahul Sharad Dravid?

Just 4% of population but 7 Brahmins in Indian team?

What did he have that the other bachcha did not?

13 November 2009

learning sachin

Vinod Kambli, who co-starred with him in the opening partnership that launched them both into superstardom, said Sachin Tendulkar took the escalator, while he had taken the stairs.

As “The Master Laster” completes 20 years on cricket’s conveyor belt, collecting every record there is to collect, while the Kid from Kanjurmarg trips, gets up and trips again, Harsha Bhogle pays tribute in The Indian Express:

Sachin Tendulkar may have inspired others to write poetry but he batted in robust prose. Not for him the tenderness and fragility of the poet, the excitement of a leaf fluttering in a gentle breeze. No. Tendulkar is about a plantation standing up to the typhoon, the skyscraper that stands tall, the cannon that booms. Solid. Robust. Focussed. The last word is the key. He loves the game deeply but without the eccentricities of the romantic. There is a match to be won at all times!

“But Tendulkar too was a sapling once….”

Read the full article: Solid. Robust. Focussed.

Also read: SACHIN TENDULKAR: 15,000?

Why Sachin Tendulkar is stronger than Barack Obama

Sachin Tendulkar for the Bharat Ratna?

Censorship in the name of the national interest?

21 September 2009

sachin

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: The coverage in the Indian media of conditions along the India-China border from where reports of “military incursions, shooting incidents and even imminent conflict along the Line of Actual Control” are being reported on an almost-daily basis has invoked a strange reaction from the government.

On the one hand, there has been a denial from the very top of the government and armed forces, with the national security advisor even uttering the words “media hype”, even as the two heads of the external affairs ministry (S.M. Krishna and Shashi Tharoor) are battling the after-effects of five-star comfort and Twittermania.

And, on the other hand, the Union home ministry has reportedly decided to file a First Iinformation Report against two reporters of The Times of India. The reporters, Nirmalya Banerjee in Calcutta and Prabin Kalita in Guwahati, filed a front-page story last Tuesday, September 15, of two soldiers of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) being injured in firing by the Chinese in northern Sikkim.

The reported quoted “a highly placed intelligence source, who is not authorized to give information to the media” and also mentioned that ITBP officials in New Delhi “declined to confirm the incident”.

The disclaimer notwithstanding, ToI carried this clarification on the following day on its inside pages:

“Responding to a ToI report, ‘2 ITBP jawans injured in China border firing’, the ITBP had clarified that no such incident of firing has taken place on the India-China border and no member of the ITBP had been injured.”

Clearly, the clarification failed to cool the embers in the corridors of power.

On Sunday, September 20, The Hindu carried a news story, bylined “New Delhi Bureau”.

“We have taken this story very seriously. We are going ahead with our decision to take criminal action against the two reporters and we will soon file an FIR. They have quoted some highly placed intelligence source in their story. Let them appear before the court and tell who is this source who gave them information,” unnamed “top home ministry sources” were quoted as saying in The Hindu.

The reporters’ crime according to the unnamed top home ministry sources?

Indian law proscribed promotion of enmity with other countries.”

The rest of the Indian media has ignored the travails of the The Times of India‘s reporters, and as has become the norm these days, the Indian Express, which reports the story on its front page today, doesn’t even bother to name the paper.

The attempt to tone down the war mongering in the media is understandable. After all, the sight of two gigantic countries , both nuclear powers, staring eyeball to eyeball in a confrontation is not a very pretty one.

Still, some questions need to be asked:

1) Is the government over-reacting to one story in one newspaper? Have other newspapers and other TV channels been calmness personified?

2) By targetting ToI, is the government trying to send signals to other bellicose media which have been itching for action? Is this pre-war media management?

3) Is this story on injured Indian jawans the only “wrong” story on this issue, or any other issue, that merits government reaction? If so, why?

4) Is the government implicitly accusing the media of making up stories? Or is it trying to find out the media’s sources? If it is the latter, isn’t the government chasing the wrong end of the animal?

5) Is The Times of India‘s responsibility to the reader or to the home and defence ministries?

6) Is The Times of India‘s reporters within their rights to not reveal their intelligence source/s, if any, even in a court of law?

7) Does threat of an FIR and criminal action amount to censorship in the name of “national interest”?

8) Who in the government decides whether a story is acceptable or not to the “national interest”, and on what basis, and how often?

Newspaper facsimile: courtesy The Indian Express

Also read: Because your TV cannot devote 23 minutes

Should editors & journalists declare their assets?

27 August 2009

Candidates have to declare their assets and liabilities before the elections in a sworn affidavit. Bureaucrats do too, and there is the Lok Ayukta to keep a watch over them. And now Supreme Court judges have joined the ranks of those voluntarily declaring their income.

If they don’t, the media will cry hoarse till they do.

But what about journalists? Should they declare their moveable and immoveable properties, and those of their nearest kin every year, especially given the mind-numbing stories of individual and institutional corruption emanating from the highest levels of the English and language media?

In a recent column, Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta attacked India’s green brigade, calling them “the most retrograde in the history of makind”, and accusing them of stalling the kind of moves the nation has to make to stride forward.

The political scientist Aditya Nigam, a fellow at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), has gone for the jugular on the website Kafila.

Nigam writes:

“…It is equally common knowledge that increasingly opinion makers in the media—editors and senior journalists in particular—are known to be making huge amounts of extra income (and other forms of assets like free shares, houses and so on) from sources other than those provided by their employment.

“This self important and self-righteous tribe of people in contemporary India who think they are above every body else and cannot open their mouths without a claiming a moral high ground, also needs to be made accountable.

“We are not suggesting that any particular person is in the pay of anybody else—even though the grapevine has innumerable stories to that effect—of the ultimate moral corruption of most mediapersons. But surely when opinions are expressed as ‘disinterested’ and ‘objective’, the public must have the right to know whether these opinions are actually disinterested. And what better way can there be when politicians have to disclose their incomes, and we are calling upon judges as well to follow suit, that we also demand the same of editors and mediapersons.”

Read the full article: ‘Editors and journalists must declare their assets’

Also read: ‘Owners, editors owning Indian journalism ransom’

In prosperous Gujarat, everybody can buy the media

Pyramid Saimira, Tatva, and Times Private Treaties

Free, frank, fearless? No, grubby, greedy, gutless

Is the BJP so weak that journalists can damage it?

25 August 2009

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Former Indian Express editor Arun Shourie‘s explosive interview with the paper’s current editor, Shekhar Gupta, while revealing the deep schisms within the BJP, has also once again thrown light on the less-than-professional role political journalists have been playing.

For the second time in two months, Shourie targetted “The Gang of Six”—a pack of half-of-dozen journalists who, says the Magsaysay Award winning investigative journalist, have been used (abused? misused?) by various different sections of the BJP.

On Gupta’s Walk the Talk interview for NDTV on Monday, Shourie said his letter to the BJP president Rajnath Singh demanding accountability in running the party had been dubbed as an act of indiscipline even though that letter had remained confidential.

There were leaders, he says:

“…who had been planting stories against L.K. Advani, Rajnath Singh and others through six journalists (and yet it’s not called indiscipline)”.

At the BJP’s national executive meeting in mid-June, shortly after the party suffered a “nasty jolt” in the general elections, Shourie had gone so far as to say that “the BJP was being run by six journalists” who were “damaging the party interest“.

On both occasions, Shourie hasn’t named “The Gang of Six”, but by repeatedly talking about them has set tongues wagging.

However, the questions remain: is the BJP so feeble a party to be felled by  mere pen-pushers? If BJP leaders are using them to “plant” stories against one another, are the journalists exceeding their brief by allowing themselves to be used?

Is ex-editor Shourie sanctimoniously crying wolf or is this par for the course in other parties too? Are editors and publishers of the publications where the “Gang of Six” work aware of their journalists being so used?

And if so, is it OK?

Photograph: courtesy IBN Live

Also read: Don’t laugh: do journalists make good politicians?

The sad and pathetic decline of Arun Shourie

Shekhar Gupta: No better time to enter journalism than now


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