Posts Tagged ‘Prannoy Roy’

An open application letter to Prannoy Roy, NDTV

19 December 2010

Respected Dr Roy,

I am writing to apply for the post of Group Editor, English News, NDTV.

I am a journalist with 26 years’ experience. Throughout my career I have made innocent mistakes. I have been silly, I have been gullible and I have been prone to making errors of judgement.

Frequently, when I am “desperate for khabar” I also fib to sources. I string them along so much that I have often tied myself up in knots.

In short, I’m just the right guy to lead the nation’s most reputed English news channel.

I am aware, Sir, that you already have a silly, innocent and gullible editor prone to making honest errors of judgement. Those credentials were so clearly established on national prime time news the other day. Only an extremely innocent, very silly and highly gullible editor can do it with such aplomb.

Admittedly, Dr Roy, that’s a tough record to beat. But the silly are never daunted by the odds…recall that stuff about fools rushing in where angels fear to tread.

I take heart from two facts: One, that you are perhaps the only editor-in-chief to value such sterling qualities in a group editor, and two, while you might be pretty happy with your in-house options, there are some good alternatives in the market you might want to look at.

It is your faith in and commitment to the cause of the ISGs (innocent, silly and gullible), Dr Roy, that has emboldened me to give the job a shot. I want to convince you that when it comes to these sterling qualities, I dig a lonely furrow… it’s actually a deep trench because I have been at it for 26 years.

Sir, I suspect you will be extremely upset at the completely unconventional way in which this application is being framed. So, let me quickly give you three examples of the work I have done so far.  Please judge me only by my work, not what I say about it on tape.

1. When I was just a few months into the profession,  Akali Dal leader Sant Longowal was assassinated. His assassination followed Indira Gandhi’s who was killed just a few months earlier. I had just subbed the copy when my chief sub asked me, “what’s the headline?”  “Longowal calls on Indira Gandhi,” I read out loud and proud.

The chief sub leaped out of her chair in horror and grabbed the copy. She called me silly and stupid. She even proclaimed me “dangerous” and banished me from the news desk.

You see, Dr Roy, I was editor material even then. Just that I was in wrong hands. Where were you, Dr Roy? I can’t help wondering, “why just Barkha, why is she so lucky”?

2. Once when I was editor of a small Delhi afternoon paper, we ran an expose on upcoming illegal structures in Connaught Place. We illustrated the story with a big picture of a multi-storey building shot stealthily. Next morning it turned out the building belonged to the newspaper’s proprietor.

Error of judgement is passé, Dr Roy, I have monumental blunders on my hand.

3. More recently, I was in the middle of writing Counterfeit, my most most-read weekly column on notional affairs. Two big corporate houses were warring over some goddamn national asset and I wanted to get to the bottom of things. Who better to get an insight from than the PR persons on both sides?

The first guy took me out to lunch and explained his client’s position. I was fully convinced he was right till the other PR took me out to lunch and explained her client’s position. I was convinced she was right too.

But I was two full, two convinced and too confused. So, I wrote about the food instead.

But then word got out. As you well know, our strict code of ethics lays down that a journalist can have only one free meal per topic. Fellow journalists were livid. But since nobody could prove quid pro quo, they pilloried me in public for being unethical and accused me in private of selling the profession cheap.

I am however convinced most of them were just jealous of the extra meal I managed…but that’s beside the point, the pillorying continued because they said “joh pakda gaya wahi chor”.

I had to take matters into my hand because the cat seemed to have gotten my channel’s tongue. I agreed to be grilled by my peers in full public glare. Four white haired gents turned up. For the first time the channel made a departure from the policy of not putting out any raw material on air and played the full unedited tape.

On air I made a clean breast of things.  “I may have been greedy, I may have been hungry, but nobody dare accuse me of corruption,” I said, clearly setting the contours of the debate. “But of course, it’s been a learning experience. Looking back now with all that one now knows about dirty lobbyists,  I have no hesitation in saying that it’s perhaps best to carry one’s own lunch box to work. I have since bought a Milton electric lunch box.”

“No journalist is lily white,” the oldest and gentlest of them all began, “I don’t know of many journalists who carry their tiffin to office….” but I cut him short.  ”Nobody is lily white but all that you will discuss is one spot on my kurta? Why only me,” I thundered. I wanted to punch all of them in their holier-than-thou faces but for form’s sake I just bit my dry lips and somehow held my temper and my hand.

Many close friends upbraided me for appearing on the show. They told me I looked angry, sounded pompous and arrogant. They advised me not to mention the incident in this application because it would look rather silly trying to get an important job on the evidence of this show.

But that is the point I’m trying to make, Dr Roy. I am silly. And I did not stumble on silliness, innocence and gullibility “inadvertently” after 16 years of blemish-less journalism.  I worked at it for 26 long years.

In other qualifications, I must point out that I am a damn good political reporter, even if I say so myself. In the thick of things such as the UPA’s cabinet formation, all kinds of people call me to carry messages to the Congress party. Sometimes there are problems of non-delivery such as that message I did not give Ghulam Nabi Azad but I believe, because I’m a good journalist, even if this were about the NDA forming its cabinet, I would still be a busy courier boy.

I would have loved to attach copies of my work as a political reporter but sadly, Dr Roy, I have none. That is because I have never reported politics.

I know, I know…that is not consistent with my claim to being a good political journalist. I was just stringing you along, Dr Roy.

When can I join?

Yours sincerely

B.V. Rao

***

B.V. Rao is the editor of Governance Now, where this piece originally appeared

***

Photograph: courtesy Governance Now

Who’s running the Feudal Republic of India? ANC.

30 May 2010

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: I met the Ace Political Expert (APE) at Cheluvamba Park doing his yogic walk. After a couple of rounds, he sat on the stone beach.

He beckoned me to sit and I asked him the question that was bothering me since the prime minister’s national press conference last week: “Who exactly is running our country?”

After taking a long breath, APE said: “There is a coalition government but there is collision at each and every step.”

It was a bad pun, but I let it be.

“Could you be more specific? Is Manmohan Singh running the country?”

“It is illusory to feel Manmohan Singh is running the country. He is running away from running the country, by visiting various countries. In effect, he is on the run most of the times.”

“He is not going anywhere. He himself said so during his press conference,” I interrupted.

“He meant Rahul Gandhi may have to wait a little longer to take his place as per the norms of the feudal democractic republic of India.”

“If Manmohan is not running the country, what about Sonia?”

“Well, Sonia is running the country and she is not! Let me explain. She wants the home minister to have a dialogue with Maoists. But Chidambaram is confused whether he should start a dialogue or act like Vedanta’s lawyer and box the Maoists for the bauxite. So he is doing nothing. Worse, he is doing a daily Q&A session with Barkha Dutt on 26 /11 forgetting there is an external affairs minister to do that job in S.M. Krishna.”

“This is all so confusing.”

“S.M. Krishna was busy monitoring and mentoring Shashi Tharoor who is anyway beyond mentoring and monitoring. That’s how he landed in a sweaty soup during IPL.”

APE continued: “Sonia wants the prices of tur dal and loki to be controlled but Sharad Pawar has apparently better things to do. He is busy getting new suits stitched for the post of ICC chief. So Sonia is not running the country either.”

“Sometimes it looks it is the opposition that is running the country.”

“That’s how it seemed to me too looking at the way Arun Jaitley supported the government to take tough action against Naxals and Maoists. I thought he was guiding Chidambaram. But Digvijay Singh’s bashing up of Chidambaram indicates neither UPA nor Congress is running the country. The much tom-tomed opposition unity on cut-motion fell flat on its face. So the opposition are not running the country either.”

I was getting desperate.

“The electronic media is all the time hysterical with their ‘Breaking News’ song-and-dance act. Are they running the country?”

“Sometimes I feel the troika of Prannoy Roy, Rajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami are running the country. But their agenda is mostly restricted to the Ruchika case, Aarushi murder case, etc, followed by a lengthy acrimonious debate. If they don’t have any agenda, they bring in Lalit Modi’s IPL3 which always has something to offer—-cricket, Bollywood starlets, midnight parties, millions of dollars, match fixing , N. Srinivasan’s homa before the finals etc.”

“Could the armed forces be running the country,” I wonder.

“It looked like that when we won the Kargil war. But the fudging of records of Kargil war, painting heroes as villains and villains as heroes, and the periodic selling of our defense secrets like in the Navy warm room look belies such thoughts.”

“What about the ministers,” I asked.

“Mostly they are busy with their scams or tantrums. DMK’s A. Raja, the telecom minister is known more for his 2G scam. Instead of being a rail mantri, Mamata Banerjee is in Kolkata trying to overthrow the Leftists there, be it in the state, municipal, or panchayet  elections, or even a local football match. I don’t think ministers are running the country either.”

I was getting exasperated.

“If Dr Singh is running away from the country’s problems, Sonia has no idea, ministers are not running the country, who is in charge or are we on auto-pilot?”

“ANC,” said APE.

“You mean African National Congress?”

“No. The ANC here  is Anarchy, Nepotism and Corruption!” said the APE.

“Are they running the country?” I asked.

“They are ruining the country!” concluded the APE.

The difference, of course, is just Rs 9,97,500,000

21 April 2009

Everybody and his dog knows that the Election Commission’s “lakshman rekha” of an expense limit of Rs 25 lakh per Lok Sabha constituency in the big States of the Union, including Karnataka, is a bit of a joke.

But the joke, sadly, is on us. Former Karnataka chief minister and Janata Dal state president H.D. Kumaraswamy in an interview with Prannoy Roy of NDTV aired on Monday night blithely declared numbers that should, well, numb the EC:

Prannoy Roy: How much do you per constituency they are spending?

Kumarasway: BJP, minimum, there are spending Rs 25 crore to Rs 30 crore [per constituency]. In Shimoga, where chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa‘s son B.Y. Raghavendra is contesting, the figure could go up to Rs 100 crore.”

View the video: ‘Forming government with BJP is ruled out’

Also read: Money flows in LS campaign

Good news: Karnataka beats Kerala, Andhra, Tamil Nadu

A lifetime achievement award for L.K. Advani?

7 February 2009

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: He has been called Loh Purush, the Iron Man of our times.

Some even say the title of Prime Minister of India is reserved for him later this year. But till that stamp of popular approval arrives, is Lalchand Kishinchand Advani aka L.K. Advani deserving of anything more than a kulfi for “a lifetime of service to the nation”?

Like a piddling award, maybe, from our “p-sec” TV channels?

***

Every new year, a torrent of tamasha pours into our drawing rooms through our TV channels. And so it has been this year, with awards being given left, right and centre to the bold and the beautiful, by the bold and beautiful, among the bold and the beautiful, to fill up boring weekends.

Unfortunately, this year, the script has been marred somewhat by the television honchos having to include the untelegenic martyrs of the Bombay terror attack and their untelegenic relatives. Still, on 20 January 2009, in the midst of an avalanche of awards, Prannoy Roy‘s New Delhi Television (NDTV) called Advani on stage and handed him the “Lifetime Achievement Award”.

According to a news item put up on Advani’s website, the NDTV citation read:

“He (L.K. Advani) is a grassroot (sic) leader and is credited with having made the BJP a formidable force in Indian politics, through clarity of vision, precise statements and an astute sense of timing. Always in favour of anti-terrorism laws, he abolished Press Censorship and repealed anti-press legislation during his tenure in 1977-1979 as the I&B Minister. BJP has named him as a Prime Ministerial candidate for the party and the National Democratic Alliance for the 2009 general elections.”

There were two surprising things about this:

1) Advani was being given an award (which he was only too glad to accept) from an English language television station that he and others of his ilk have firmly cast in the “pseudo-secular” mould, a cynical portmanteau that is Advani’s sad and singular contribution to the English language, all because it was willing to show and say they don’t want to see and hear.

2) The jury comprising, besides Roy, Anu Aga, executive chairperson, Thermax group; Fali S. Nariman, senior advocate, Supreme Court; William Dalrymple, historian and writer; Harsha Bhogle, cricket commentator; Rahul Bajaj, businessman; Shashi Tharoor, former UN official, were reportedly not aware that such an award was being bestowed on Advani.

There is a third element that is even more unsettling: the unwholesome sight of a major journalism outlet handing out a prize to a designated prime ministerial candidate, by talking of his pro-media stand 33 years ago, while ignoring his more recent “contributions” to Indian scoiety.

The media website, The Hoot, run by Sevanti Ninan, wife of Business Standard editor T.N. Ninan, has picked holes in the ethics behind the handout.

“What exactly, some of us want to ask, have been Advani’s  contributions to Indian politics which deserve an award? Setting in motion the events that led to the destruction of the Babri masjid?  And contributed  to a heightened  communalising of the Indian polity?

“An award coming from a channel that helped to expose the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat which took place under the watch of a BJP government? The party Advani is leading into the elections this year? A channel that doubtless sees itself as a champion of secularism?”

***

The seven-member jury, according to The Hoot, had not voted to give Advani an award on awards’ night. It was also not made clear at the NDTV awards’ function that the jury had no role in choosing Advani for a lifetime of achievements.

Indeed, two members of the jury wrote to Roy on the issue, with one of them reportedly saying “he would not want to be associated with any award which gave prizes to communal hatemongers”.

(At least one member of the jury, Anu Aga, is known for having confronted Advani’s protege, Narendra Damodardas Modi, with the situation prevailing in the relief camps set up in the state for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat pogrom.)

Roy reportedly clarified that it has been “normal practice every eyar for NDTV to reserve the right for its editors to select and present one or more non-jury awards.”

***

Just who NDTV’s editors picked in previous years is uncertain, but one of the strongest criticisms for this year’s choice has come from Siddharth Varadarajan, the strategic affairs editor of The Hindu.

On his blog, Varadarajan writes:

“After all, Advani was widely acknowledged as being one of India’s worst Home ministers when he held the job between 1998 and 2004. And he’s no great shakes in his current avatar as Leader of the Opposition either.”

Varadarajan then goes on to make a “brief list” of Advani’s “achievements” during just 11 years of his life, starting 1992, a period NDTV clearly ignored in its citation, while waxing eloquent on his “anti-terror” stance:

1. Demolition of Babri Masjid (contribution to conspiracy thereof), 1992
2. Hijacking of IC 814 and release of deadly terrorists like Masood Azhar, 1999
3. Massacre of Sikhs by terrorists at Chittisinghpora, 2000
4. Massacre of Kashmiri Pandits at Nadimarg, March 2003
5. First-ever terrorist attack on Amarnath yatris, 1999
6. Terrorist attack on Parliament, December 2001
7. Godhra and the Gujarat massacre of Muslims, 2002
8. Terrorist attack on Akshardham and Raghunath temples in 2002
9. Harassment of media from Tehelka to Iftikhar Gilani
10. Failure to take any decision on dozens of death row mercy petitions pending before him from 1998 to 2004 and now demanding the Congress government move swiftly on the mercy petition of Afzal.

So,does L.K. Advani really deserve a “lifetime achievement” award? Should a media organisation be giving an award to a potential prime minister it might have to cover? Should a potential prime minister be so over-eager to receive it?

Also read: ‘The man who sowed the dragon seeds of hatred’

‘Weak Manmohan, yes, but what about Advani?’

CHURUMURI POLL: Is L.K. Advani lying on IC-814?

Will NDTV and Barkha Dutt sue Facebook too?

1 February 2009

If there is anything that l’affaire Barkha Dutt versus Cheytanya Kunte holds a mirror to—besides media hypocrisy, thin skins, forked tongues, and such like—it is: a) the quality of legal advice media behemoths receive and act upon, and b) the mainstream media’s bottomless ignorance of the wired world and how it works.

Even the spitting-image puppets that NDTV hauls out of the cupboard a few times a day to generate a laugh would have counselled Prannoy Roy & Co (for free) against embarking on the petty path of picking on a hapless blogger sitting in The Netherlands.

The bomb-Shell™ (pun intended) had boomerang written all over it, and in more ways than one.

If Dutt and NDTV wanted to protect their fair name, etc, from the slander, what are they proposing to do about Admiral Sureesh Mehta, who repeated the libellous charge of the channel and the correspondent “endangering lives” in Kargil by asking a military officer to trigger the Bofors gun for their cameras, at a media conference?

Has the channel issued the Admiral a notice, like it did to Kunte? Has he clarified/ retracted his comments/ apologised? Why is his response not public?

Secondly, how far is NDTV, which has a “convergence” outfit, from achieving convergence?

Was NDTV unaware that NDTV.com had run excerpts from the blog item that their lawyers were suing Cheytanya Kunte for? And do the “tech” chaps who run NDTV.com have no idea that everything, including everything they remove, is cached by Big Brother at Mountain View?

Scaring a blogger to apologise was the easy part.

What do NDTV, Prannoy Roy and Barkha Dutt propose to do with the Facebook group that has over 4,660 members demanding that she be taken off air? Will they sue Mark Zuckerberg next?

Good luck, NDTV (third-quarter losses: Rs 120.8 crore).

Prem Panicker, the editorial director of India Abroad, the New York weekly newspaper owned and run by rediff.com, asks the best questions about Dutt’s (and NDTV’s) fundamental inability to differentiate between fact and opinion:

***

By PREM PANICKER in Bombay

“But in journalism, we know that, praise and criticism are twins that travel together. And we welcome both and try and listen to both carefully.”

That is Barkha Dutt, writing against the backdrop of pervasive criticism of her conduct, and those of her electronic media confreres, during and in the immediate aftermath of 26/11.

Admirable sentiments, admirably expressed.

One of the many critical voices Dutt and her media parent NDTV listened to was this blog post [From Google cache; scroll down to the post titled ‘Shoddy Journalism’]. And as a result of that careful listening to a critical voice, this happened.

Kunte’s withdrawal and apology, likely the outcome of a threat of legal action by Dutt and NDTV [Parenthetical aside: Can I be sued for saying this? If yes, I the undersigned do hereby, et cetera...], has created an even greater storm than the television media’s hysteria-tinged coverage of 26/11 did.

Here’s a round up of posts: Patrix; a DesiPundit round up; The Comic Project; Venkatesh Sridhar… [There are likely many others, but you get the picture].

The immediate temptation is to wear my blogger’s hat, and blast away at NDTV and Dutt for muscling Kunte—the classic reaction in a David v Goliath face-off.

It is not that simple, though—I also have a journalist’s hat, and with it on my head, some points occur.

My name is my brand—and as with any brand, its equity is built carefully, over time, through much hard work and careful attention to quality. Legitimate criticism of that brand is welcomed [and even if I didn’t like it, there is SFA I can do about it, provided the operational word is ‘legitimate’].  In this case, though, I am not so sure: While respecting Kunte’s right to his opinion, I would suggest that ‘opinion’ needs to be differentiated from ‘fact’.

It is my considered opinion that Barkha Dutt is as a television personality a borderline hysteric; most comical when she is attempting to be most serious; and far too prone to put herself at the center of every story [Among the many moments when, even in the midst of the mayhem, I found myself laughing out loud was the one where Dutt, during the climactic phase of the Taj operation, got into a major flap about a flapping window curtain and alternately spoke to the viewer and to the cameraman on the lines of There, see, look at it, the curtain is flapping… no no, focus on the curtain, zoom in… no, now pan to me… there, see, the curtain is still flapping...].

That is fair comment [and if Barkha doesn’t like it she can do the other thing]. I do not, however, have the right to state as fact that Dutt endangered lives, whether in Kargil or in Mumbai—because the causal chain of Dutt’s admittedly over-the-top reporting and loss of life has not been established.

I’m totally with Kunte when he opines that Dutt and her ilk are insufferable bordering on incompetent [Barkha, note, that is an opinion]; I’m not however able to defend his right to state as fact something that is not demonstrably true [Brief aside: No, it is not a defense to say that I was merely quoting someone else, and to ask why that someone else—in this case, a wiki entry—has not been sued.].

All of that said, the NDTV-Barkha Dutt action leading to Kunte’s retraction leaves a very bad taste in the mouth. In her earlier, lengthy defense, Dutt says two things that IMH opinion are contradictory:

But in journalism, we know that, praise and criticism are twins that travel together. And we welcome both and try and listen to both carefully.

And:

I believe that criticism is what helps us evolve and reinvent ourselves. But when malice and rumour are regarded as feedback, there can be no constructive dialogue. Viewing preferences are highly subjective and always deeply personal choices, and the most fitting rejection of someone who doesn’t appeal to your aesthetics of intelligence, is simply to flick the channel and watch someone else.

How does Barkha Dutt reconcile her stated respect for criticism and her intention to learn from it with the suggestion that those who don’t like what she does and the way she does it can say it with the remote? What the latter statement reveals is the hypocrisy inherent in the former—no more, no less.

A Barkha Dutt who grandly titles her show ‘We the People‘ [That title, factually rendered, should read ‘We the minuscule minority with access to cable TV who haven’t yet dissed you with our remotes], and who sheltering under that inclusive flag assumes the right to criticize the conduct of every politician, businessman, movie star and public figure in this country, needed to have shown more grace in accepting criticism directed her way.

So, we will now add this lack of grace, this intolerance for criticism, this tendency to the notion that you are immune to the searching examination you subject others to, to the already long list of reasons to reach for that remote.

Photograph: courtesy The Tribune, Chandigarh

Also read: The media is not the message

Behind a very successful face there is a woman

26 November 2008

Prannoy Roy‘s NDTV (New Delhi Television) turned 20 years old yesterday, and the channel’s best known face used the occasion to pay a heart-warming tribute to its least known one: co-founder and life partner, Radhika Roy, with a clip from The World This Week which debuted on November 25, 1998 1988 on Doordarshan.

It ain’t so cute when hunters are hunted, is it?

17 July 2008

“This is Sunidhi reporting! It’s Dr Prannoy Roy. He just got down from his Merc close to Khan Market. I can’t believe my luck. The aging ‘Father of Indian television’ is still so handsome! He has started walking towards Khan Market. Prannoy’s car is driving past the market. Wait! What do I see? A sweet little thing wearing a scarf and goggles has just got down around 100 metres past the market, crossed over to the other side, and is now walking  back. My God! Wait till you hear this! The curvaceious beauty waved to Prannoy who is already there waiting for her. They have gone inside. This is exciting stuff. A story is breaking right here! Over to you.”

Studio anchor: “It definitely is! Who is this mystery girl? Can you describe her to our viewers?”

Reporter:”It is already dark here and you know how the streetlights near Khan Market are!! She is wearing a pair of Levi‘s Jeans and a Versace blue top. She looks like the Delhi socialite who was seen with the Roys last New Year Party. I am not sure. It’s possible she could be the Bengali Bollywood heroine. Only she has the guts to wave from a distance in public.”

Studio anchor: “Keep a watch and get back if you see anything interesting.”

After a few hours…

“Sunidhi again from the Sheraton parking lot. They have just entered the coffee shop. Still I can’t make out who she is. She is wearing a cashmere shawl now. She also looks like Maharani Gayatri Devi’s grand daughter- I am not sure though.”

Studio anchor: “Get the dope on all the three girls and check them out. Must beat other channels and splash it at 9 pm headlines.”

Reporter:”Okay. Meanwhile you can go ahead and splash it along. You can interpose some of Dr. PR ‘s earlier shots with coffee shop pictures and run it.”

Studio anchor:”We are already on air with Breaking News. Get us juicy stuff and some close-up shots.”

***

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: How will this “juicy story” be if it is run, say on CNN-IBN and Times Now all day with headlines screaming ‘Father of Indian TV sowing wild oats’, interspersed with shots of his residence and family?

How will it sound if Vinod Mehta, Suhel Seth and Ramachandra Guha sit around in their Sunday best discussing it threadbare with Rajdeep Sardesai in ’Face the Nation’?

Will Roy & Co at least now understand how Rajesh Talwar and family felt when supposedly juicy details of the Aarushi-Hemraj murder were tapped by every half hour, for days and nights on end, with a scurrilous mixture of news, innuendo and insinuation?

Prannoy Roy’s name here is only for effect, and no offence is meant. Change it to Rajdeep Sardesai and run it on NDTV and Headlines Today. Or change it to Arnab Goswami walk and splash it on NDTV and Zee TV. The basic thrust of this fictitious story remains the same.

How will Radhika Roy or Sagarika Ghose feel if their husbands are tailed and ‘Breaking News’ stories made up and splashed in a hurry? Real and mostly imaginary tidbits discussed by a ‘panel of studio experts’?

Get the picture, gentlemen?

That is what is happening every hour by the hour for days and weeks at a stretch on Indian TV channels. You wear your TRPs on your sleeve and to get the magic numbers a combination of sex, sleaze, innuendo, trespassing, concoction is being whipped up.

When you are caught in the act of hurting innocent citizens, there’s not even an apology. There is just more discussion when the buck is passed on to the police bungling the case.

Is this journalism?

Why are the most prominent TV journalists in the country involved mostly in scoops and sensation-mongering? Have our TV whiz kids not heard of Darfur and Zimbabwe? Why are we always talking cinema, cricket and crime?

Can’t they come out with a couple of solutions for the Kashmir problem or the Maoist problem to solve it once and for all? Can’t they take up weightier issues of inflation and price rise that is affecting the common man? Etcetera.

Indian television are mostly busy with froth-in–mouth journalism chasing stars while the ordinary people are facing destiny’s cruel fate. Hunting has become a vicarious national game transgressing all borders of decency.

How would it be if the channel heads were the Hunted instead of being the Hunter? If their family members were hounded everywhere and life made impossible for them to live?

***

The real story behind the juicy story:

When the rookie correspondent finally got the juicy stuff, it wasn’t even overnight sadaa hua dal. Prannoy Roy was going to Khan Market to buy some household stuff. The new slipper of his cousin, , who was with him, was rubbing against her toe-nail causing discomfort and she drove past to see if it could be mended temporarily. Unfortunately the mochi who sits near Khan Market had packed off for the day and she walked back to Khan Market to meet Prannoy! They went to coffee shop for a bite. End of story.

Also read: Should the media apologise?

All the news fit to print; all the booze fit to air?

11 June 2008

NDTV Good Times” is a lifestyle television channel that is the result of a collaboration between India’s leading English language television network NDTV, and India’s leading liquor manufacturer, United Breweries (UB).

On the face of it, “NDTV Good Times” may seem like a good idea for M/s Mallya & Roy.

For UB, the channel’s name gives the “King of Good Times” punchline of its Kingfisher beer constant, not-so-subtle on-air play given the ban on surrogate advertising. And, for another, UB gets the kind of content which it can then slap on the screens of the planes of its Kingfisher Airlines.

For NDTV, too, it is a win-win. It has another channel to offer viewers in its bouquet; it gets a stock-market listed media company some extra dough, an extra revenue stream; and it gives NDTV’s image of a media outsourcing company that it has craved and cultivated vide a deal with GenPact.

But can the relationship work the other way round, too?

Obviously, a liquor company can use the packaging of its products to advertise its own channel. But does it work on tipplers? Does it create greater awareness of the channel or the partnership? Do Kingfisher-drinkers remember to switch on the channel after the hypnogogic haze has vanished? Do the TRPs suggest that?

More importantly, can a serious media house like NDTV allow its brand image to be exploited on liquor boxes? Does it need to? Admittedly, the beer boxes are only pushing “NDTV Good Times” but can such a symbiotic relationship work without affecting the credibility of the main news and business channels?

Maybe, there is nothing puritanical about the Mammon-worshipping modern market place. Signage is important and getting the message any which way is all that counts to put some black ink on the bottomline. That may be OK for a liquor house, but for a media house in the news business?

Put another way, would New York Times allow its logo on Budweiser boxes even if Bud paid billions?

Cross-posted on sans serif

The Congress had lost even before the poll began

25 May 2008

KRISHNA PRASAD writes: The colour television and the personal computer have been essential electronic items in the Congress’ electoral inventory for over a quarter of a century.

The party’s understanding of the power of television goes back to the 1982 Asian Games, when the Indira Gandhi government rolled out an LPT (low power transmitter) a day under the dark gaze of H.K.L. Bhagat, so that Rajiv baba‘s showpiece event, his organisational arangetram, could reach every corner of the country—live and in full colour.

The party logged into the silicon ‘yug‘ not too much later.

After his mother’s funeral, telecast round the clock, implanted him in the nation’s consciousness, Rajiv Gandhi was reputed to have pushed the nation into the computer age. If that surname is not what you like to hear, you might like to remember how that wily Chanakya, P.V. Narasimha Rao, booted up his laptop.

Today, on the 25th day of the year of the lord 2008, as the BJP steps below the Vindhyas—proving the BJP, and its chosen astrologers, pundits and psephologists right (and proving churumuri.com wrong, we humbly admit)—the Congress’ plight shows how the party which took India into the LPG era of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation stands disconnected from the TV and the PC.

Today’s Karnataka vote can be read any which way you like depending on your political preferences.

You can see it as a decisive, much-deserved victory for the BJP. After all, it was the first-placed party last time round. Or you can see it as a well-deserved slap on the Congress, which conspired with the JDS to deprive the BJP its rightful chance in the name of “secularism”.

You can see it as a rejection of the backstabbing and betrayal of the JDS. Or you can see it as a State’s cry for stability–and with it development and governance. You can see it as a rejection of dynastic and family politics. You can see it as a result of inflation and price rise.

You can even see it as the shape of things to come for Sonia Gandhi and Rahul baba in 2009.

Whatever.

Success, as they say, attracts many explanations; failure has to grope around to find its excuses.

While we can all doff our Mysore petas to Arun Jaitely, if there is just one decisive lesson to be obtained from the BJP’s triumph in Karnataka—and indeed from Gujarat—it is how important clarity and cogency has become in our political grammar, be it in the television studios, on the news pages, or on the campaign trail.

What the wise voter wants and values in an increasingly complex world are clear and simple signals of promise and deliverance; and repeatedly delivered from very pulpit and forum.

What he hates is beating around the bush.

For a party which ushered in the television era into our lives, the Congress seems to have lost the art of the message; the BJP, to its credit, seems to have mastered it.

The way experts and analysts saw it in Karnataka, this was an election for the Congress to lose. It was not in power at the time of elections, so anti-incumbency was out. It had leaders from virtually every community in its ranks—Vokkaligas, Lingayats, Kurubas, Dalits, Muslims, Christians, Brahmins. There was plenty of things that had been done in Delhi which were supposed to fetch votes according to the pundits: the Rajinder Sachar panel report to woo minorities, the farm debt waiver to woo farmers, the pay commission recommendations to woo the middle classes, etc.

If, in spite of all that, the Congress could barely manage to retain its 2004 tally, it shows that many things are horribly wrong within the party. But one thing that sticks out is that it has lost the ability to articulate its thoughts and actions clearly, to tom-tom its achievements and abilities, and to take them into the hearts and minds of voters.

It has become too soft and sophisticated for its own good.

It looks nice and polished on the plasma screens, not so on the community black and white sets.

On the other hand, the BJP had much going against it. It was seen to be aligned with just one community—the Lingayats. It was seen to be hand in glove with the mining mafia which had legitimised the criminalisation of Karnataka politics. Its top two leaders were said to be fighting amongst themselves, even if privately. It was seen to have gone into an unholy alliance with a party which had the word “secular” in its registration certificate. It had spent just seven days in government.

Yet, in spite of all that, if the BJP has managed to add more than 30 seats to its 2004 tally, it shows that 21st century Indian elections are not quite the complex and nuanced social, political and economic processes that the intelligentsia thinks it is.

It is a lot more simple—and primal.

If the Congress and BJP were brands, the latter has better recall and recognition at the electoral mall. The voter knows what he is buying.

For weeks and months, the BJP leadership, be it in Delhi or Bangalore, have been aggressively and abrasively drumming and drilling the same three things into the skulls of voters on television. That B.S. Yediyurappa was their chosen man for chief minister. That B.S. Yediyurappa as finance minister delivered two “superb” and “excellent” budgets. That the party, if given just “one chance”, would bring paradise on earth.

Last week, when Prannoy Roy asked Yediyurappa some complex formulation from Delhi, the chief minister-in-waiting ignored it, adjusted his spectacles, looked down, and began parotting the same three things.

“Mr Yediyurappa, please stop reading from your notes,” Roy said.

It would have invited sniggers in the right kind of drawing rooms, of course, but clearly voters in the age of news television do not mind that.

At every conceivable opportunity during the election campaign, Sushma Swaraj talked of price rise affecting the common man in her Karol Bagh Kannada—“akki, bele, yenne, tarkari…” (rice, lentils, oil, vegetables…)—in the same order. It gets boring beyond a point, but who is to argue that it is not effective?

In contrast, the Congress leaders have been a disaster on live television. Not one of its leaders, in Delhi or Bangalore, has had the clarity of thought or the fire in the belly to take on the stuck records of the sangh parivar. They hem and haw, on the one hand and on the other. They are stuck for words in explaining their USP. They cannot forcefully say why the party hadn’t named a chief ministerial candidate. They have no convincing explanation on Afzal Guru or Taslima Nasreen; terrorism or minority appeasement.

Where the voter seeks a clean window to the future; the Congress seems happy to provide a muddied rear-view mirror of the past.

At Congress public meetings across the state, tens of people crowded the stage for the benefit of the cameras. There was no single face, single voice, single big idea to grip the people.

On paper, the Congress is more inclusive, more representative, more well-rounded, etc. On paper, they promise this, that and the other, and they say all the right, politically correct things. But in reality, as today’s verdict demonstrates, despite the promise of free colour TVs in the manifesto, those things have relevance only to edit page writers and columnists.

Voters, who have picked the product off the shelves earlier, want a new and improved version.

For six months or more of President’s rule, the Congress had the chance to get its election army in fit and fighting shape. It could have finalised candidates, finalised its commanders, finalised its strategy, finalised its advertising campaign and media strategy.

But….

But when a party which can lay legitimate claims to being computer-savvy could only send the “B” form to a candidate with just 15 minutes left for nomination papers to be filed, it shows a party in some dystrophy. By the way, that candidate couldn’t stand, and in the end India’s oldest party had lost its first seat even before the death knell was sounded this afternoon.

(This piece originally appeared on www.rediff.com)

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

NDTV EXIT POLL: Hung assembly in the air again

10 May 2008

An exit poll conducted by NDTV of the first phase of the assembly elections in Karnataka indicates a substantial improvement in the BJP’s performance in the south of the State, a setback for the Congess in Bangalore, and the JDS holding is own.

Of the 89 constituencies, the BJP is expected to get 31 seats (up 11 from last time), the Congress is expected to get 23 seats (minus 5 ) and the JDS 30 seats (minus six). The overall pattern indicates a “hung” assembly, according to Prannoy Roy, a trained psephologist.

# Of the 28 seats in the capital, the NDTV exit poll says 14 will go to the BJP, 10 to the Congress, and four to the JDS. An earlier exit poll conducted by C-Fore said the Congress and BJP could bag 13-14 seats each in Bangalore, with JDS getting 0-1.

# In the 61 constituencies outside Bangalore, the NDTV exit poll says the JDS will end up with 26 seats, BJP 17, and Congress 13 seats.

The exit poll findings indicates that the Congress gamble of using S.M. Krishna as the face of Bangalore has not paid off, according to Prannoy Roy. The sample size for the NDTV exit poll was 7,000. The fieldwork was done by IMRB.

# The NDTV-IMRB exit poll findings are markedly different from the DRS-INX News pre-poll survey which said the BJP would get 40, Congress, 29, JDS 12 and others 8.

# The Suvarna News-Cfore exit poll predicts 39-42 seats for the Congress, 24-27 for the BJP, 20-23 for the JDS 20-23, 1 for BSP, and 3 for others.

# A straw poll conducted by churumuri contributors said 41 for the Congress, 21 for BJP and 21 for JDS in the first phase.

And don’t forget the fact that it is a Saturday

10 May 2008

“The IT czars are probably away in America. And the IT classes have long seceded from the voting process.”

Ramachandra Guha in conversation with Prannoy Roy on NDTV, on how and whether the IT crowd will vote in the Karnataka assembly elections

Also listen: POLLCAST: Who are the IT guys backing?

Times of India’s executive editor wants to leave

25 April 2008

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi:The Times of India‘s executive editor Jaideep Bose says he wants to go. JoJo, as the affable editor is known, made the announcement at a retreat where editors of the paper had convened with brand executives over the weekend.

With tears in his eyes, JoJo is reported to have told his colleagues that what they were hearing in the past week was true. As the first SMSes bearing the bad news flew into Delhi, top bosses of Bennett, Coleman & Co went into a huddle to decide the next course of action.

Bose is slated to head the Indian edition of Financial Times that is to be published by Raghav Bahl‘s Network 18 in collaboration with Pearson, although there could be other print plans as well from the group which has set a scorching pace with its television, online, film and other moves.

But there is no confirmation of his possible destination.

JoJo’s sudden decision to leave the Times, less than a fortnight after the launch of the Madras edition of the paper, has sent shock waves in Times House, given his long and fruitful proximity with Samir Jain who runs India’s biggest newspaper group with his brother Vineet Jain.

The two questions many are asking today is: Will there be an exodus from the Economic Times newsroom, where JoJo was editor before he moved to ToI, for the new paper? (After the FT rumours broke last weekend, the group dipped into its deep pockets to blunt the possibility of further poaching. Senior Economic Times staff have received hikes, some to the extent of 50 per cent this week.)

An even bigger question confronting the Times group is, will the exit of JoJo make it even more difficult for the group for all its size, reach and prosperity to attract and retain serious journalists when larger, transnational players start dangling giant cheques?

One source claims that JoJo met the Brothers Jain on Monday to clarify his position after the quit reports surfaced last weekend. The brothers, it appeared, made JoJo a counteroffer and convinced him to stay on. JoJo for his part was listed to attend the World Newspaper Congress in Sweden in early June as scheduled, along with other top executives.

But, in private, JoJo himself had been characteristically non-committal. To some in his charmed circle in Delhi, he is reported to have confirmed that it is not a question of if but when, a view coming out of Network 18 too. But to some others in Bombay, he had offered an opposite indication.

In fact, some senior staffers who had put in their papers were told by JoJo this week to stay in the paper. He even offered one of them a larger, more clearly defined role for him. But when asked if he would stay, JoJo is reported to have said he would let them know early next week, presumably after the editors’ retreat ended.

But news of the resignation seems to have come earlier than that. In an organisation that wants its editors to maintain a low profile, the swirling rumours—even the slim suggestion that a journalist was running circles around the marketing mavens—was proving to be embarrassing.

While it was clear that the Jains could match any offer Network 18 or anybody could make to retain JoJo & Co if they wished, the persistent talk of a 10-17 per cent stake in the new paper for the editor probably took the debate into a completely non-negotiable realm in a privately-held, family-owned newspaper group which is not even thinking of an IPO for the moment, and which has long held that journalists don’t deserve so much bhaav for how little they impact the bottomline.

The manner in which JoJo has been poached by Network 18 has an eerie similarity with the manner in which
the group roped in Rajdeep Sardesai from Pranoy Roy‘s NDTV. In Sardesai’s case, too, he was given overall control of the new venture, plus a stake in the new channel. Clearly that seems to be the mantra in India’s exploring media atmosphere.

With Sharanya Kanvilkar in Bombay

Also read: Is Raghav Bahl India’s new media mogul?

Why JoJo might want to leave The Times of India

Crossposted on sans serif

Dear Dr Prannoy Roy: Thank you, but you know…

18 January 2008

“Opt-out” is a technology that allows satellite television companies to offer region-specific programming, and Prannoy Roy‘s NDTV 24×7 was the first to employ it in India.

So, at 7 pm every day, while the rest of the country watches something “national”, viewers in the south of the country break away from the national feed and watch a half-hour programme called Southern Edition, which is alternately anchored out of Bangalore, Madras and Hyderabad.

Presumably, the same breakaway technology allows NDTV to do a regular cinema show called Hyderabad Talkies, in which the anchor T.S. Sudhir talks to various denizens of the southern film industry. Tamil-Telugu stars like Vikram and Venkatesh, Ajith and Nagarjuna, Trisha Krishnan and Prakash Raaj have been spotted on it.

Perhaps you should not look a gifthorse in the mouth because, at least, you are not being imposed with the cinematic conquests of god-knows-which botoxified Khan, Kumar, Khanna or Kapoor.

Perhaps, you should not seek linguistic or cinematic equality on a commercial television channel that is a listed entity answerable first to investors and shareholders, only then to viewers.

Perhaps, but where are the Kannada cinema stars you might like to ask: When will we see Ganesh, the boy from Adakamaranahalli (in picture), whose easy charm made him a major star with Mungaru Male and whose Gaali Pata releases today?

When will we see Ramya, the petite Kannada girl who also stars in Tamil and Telugu? When will we see Girish Karnad and Girish Kasaravalli, Guru Kiran and Jayant Kaikini?

# Does Kannada cinema not count for NDTV?
# Is the programme scope hampered by the anchor’s lack of knowledge of Kannada?
# Is the NDTV audience in the South not interested in Kannada cinema?
# Should only southern movie stars who speak fluent English find a place?
# Will NDTV only air the achievements of commercially successful cinema?
# Are the feats of Kannada cinema and stars too small for the South to take note of?

Then again, isn’t that the whole point of the media: not to tell the people what they already know but to tell the people who didn’t know that Ganesh existed, that Ganesh is a major movie star?

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

That’s Kannada wants you to complain to NDTV; Send your suggestions/comments here

Also read: Why Bangalore hates the English media culture

How Kannada filmdom is killing Kannada music


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