Posts Tagged ‘Sharanya Kanvilkar’

Will TV news channels show Kejriwal ‘live’ again?

10 January 2013

ambani_keriwal_0111

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, and India’s most powerful business house, Reliance Industries, are believed to have served a legal notice on several TV news channels for airing anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal‘s allegations against them in October and November last year.

However, it is not known if Kejriwal, a former IRS officer, and his advocate-partner, Prashant Bhushan, have heard from RIL’s lawyers on the charges made by them at the  press conferences which were covered “live” by the TV channels with accompanying commentary.

It is also unclear if  newspapers which reported Kejriwal’s allegations of Ambani’s Swiss bank accounts and hanky-panky in the Krishna-Godavari basin by RIL have attracted similar legal attention from the less-litigious of the two Ambani brothers.

In the seven-page legal notice shot off in the middle of December 2012, Mukesh Ambani and RIL have demanded “a retraction and an unconditional apology in the form approved and acceptable to our clients” within three days from the receipt of the notice.

The notices have been served by the Bombay legal firm, A.S. Dayal & Associates.

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Besides accusing the channels of “deliberately and recklessly” airing “false and defamatory statements” with an intent to “defame our clients and bring them into disrepute”, the legal notice makes the following points:

# “Your TV Channel provided a platform and instrumentality for wide dissemination of the false and defamatory statements and allegations made at the said press conference.”

# “Live telecast of these press conferences amounts to permanent publication of defamatory material relating to our client by you.”

# “Each of the two press conferences were telecast live without making any attempt to verify the truth or veracity of the statements and allegations being made during the press conference.”

# “Apart from having telecast the press conferences live, Your TV Channel  in the course of several television programmes and televised debates that followed after the said press conferences, continued to telecast, transmit and retransmit the defamatory footage of the press conferences.”

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More ominously, the Ambani-RIL notice reminds the channels:

# “Our clients have instructed us to state that Your TV Channel is bound by the Guidelines for Uplinking and Downlinking from India dated 5th December 2011, issued by the ministry of information & broadcasting, government of India.

# “Our clients have instructed us to state that since Your TV Channel is a news and current affairs TV Channel, the provisions of the Uplinking and Downlinking Guidelines apply to Your TV Channel, which inter alia provide that a Company, like Your TV Channel, which runs a news and current affairs TV channel, is obliged to comply with the Programme Code as laid down in the Cable Television Network (Regulations) Act, 1995, and the Rules framed thereunder.

# “Our clients have instructed us to state that in telecasting the aforesaid press conferences and repeating the false and defamatory material relating to our clients in the manner aforesaid Your TV Channel is in complete violation of the said Uplinking Guidelines, and the said Downlinking Guidelines as also in complete and material breach of the Programme Code prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules.”

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The RIL legal notice brings to question the wisdom of broadcasting “live” Kejriwal’s near-weekly press conferences towards the end of last year, sans any filters or fetters.

On the other hand, the authoritarian tone of the legal notice—reminding the recipients of uplinking and downlinking norms—throws light on the egg-shells on which private TV stations are walking in the “free” Republic.

The legal notice also swings the spotlight on big business ownership of and shadow over the media, especially when it is alleged to have both the main political parties, the Congress and BJP, in its pocket.

For the record, RIL is in the media business too. Both CNN-IBN and IBN7 are part of the Reliance stable following a controversial and circuitous takeover at the turn of 2012 that now has earned the OK of the competition commission of India (CCI).

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Photograph: courtesy IBN Live

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Also read: ‘RIL has no direct stake in media companies’

Mint says SEBI looking into RIL-Network18/TV18-ETV deal

Rajya Sabha TV tears into RIL-Network18-ETV deal

Will RIL-TV18-ETV deal win SEBI, CCI approval?

The sudden rise of Mukesh Ambani, media mogul

The Indian Express, Reliance & Shekhar Gupta

Niira Radia, Mukesh Ambani, Prannoy Roy & NDTV

Why the Indian media doesn’t take on the Ambanis

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

9 reasons why wage board is bad for journalism

18 June 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or the IT or automotive industries?

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

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

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

This is about media freedom.

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

Do journalists want that situation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or are they simply scared of them?

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

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

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

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

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

INS: “We reject wage board recommendations”


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