Posts Tagged ‘The Economic Times’

What Master Murty should tell Narayana Murthy

10 June 2014

Vinaashakaale vipareetha buddhi pretty much explains the decision of the Sikkapatte Important Company of Karnataka to send out legal notices to three newspapers, seeking legal damages of Rs 2,000 crore (that is a little less than a third of Nandan Nilekani‘s net declared wealth of Rs 7,700 crore), “for loss of reputation and goodwill due to circulation of defamatory articles” in the said publications, presumably following the executive meltdown following N.R. Narayana Murthy‘s return to bossmanship.

Hopefully, the laundry list of impugned articles that have caused Rs 2,000 crore of damages, does not include this spoof letter, from one “R. Murty” to Dr D, published in Panache, the newly launched Friday supplement of The Economic Times.

***

Respected Dr D:

for loss and reputation and goodwill due to circulation of defamatory articles

Read more at: http://www.firstpost.com/india/infosys-defamation-suit-why-media-should-fight-for-its-quick-disposal-1564273.html?utm_source=ref_article

 

I am a good son. I did what was expected of any South Indian Brahmin boy. I stood first in class (to nobody’s surprise) and I learnt the subtleties of the pre-Trinity and post-Trinity composers of Carnatic music by the time I was 10. I went to Cornell to pursue my degree, to MIT for my master’s and then to Harvard. Aced all of them. Didn’t even have to try.

I worked at Microsoft, which I would probably have headed if I weren’t called back, and I shall have more to say about that later.

I married the daughter and heiress of the TVS family (she’s a hottie). Can a son be more perfect than I have been? So far so good, and you must remember that I was not yet 30 before all of this happened. Then the fall. All right, not so much a catastrophe, but certainly a diversion from all of the world-conquering and giant-killing I had done after leaving Bengaluru in my teens.

My father returned to his old firm, ostensibly because it was in trouble, but, some whispered, because he was also at a loose end. I don’t want to say which is truer, but the fact is that he did return to take charge of something that he had given up. And he took me with him. He did not really ask me, so much as inform me. “Son, let’s set this thing right together.” I was made his assistant. Seriously? I thought.

What the heck kind of job is that for someone of my skills and background? Set up meetings and get the coffee? Nonetheless, I reported for work and have endured the drudgery of working with and reporting to my father.

I am bored out of my brilliant skull.

I want to head Microsoft and Apple and want to run start-ups that take on Google and Facebook. But, I’m managing this gigantic call centre instead. Not even managing it, mind you, merely drawing up timetables for the old man to do it. I don’t know what else I’m expected to do. It’s been a full year now and there seems to be no end in sight. How do I tell dad that I’ve had enough?

R Murty executive assistant to the chairman, Infosys

***

Dear Rohan,

I feel your pain. Here are five ways to get your father to let you go:

1) Show up for work on Friday in your Speedos. 2) Interrupt his speech at the AGM with the question: “Why did you come back, dad?” 3) Include slides of your family holidays (dad in his shorts!) in his next PPT presentation to the Americans. 4) Repeat everything he says at board meetings. 5) Send out from his ID a message to all employees on the dos and don’ts of topless sunbathing.

I hope this helps. If it doesn’t, be strong. Go to your mom.

Dr D

***

Text: courtesy The Economic Times

Also read: Is Infosys becoming Narayana Murthy‘s property?

Modi was no Rambo, just Scambo, in Uttarakhand

26 June 2013

20130626-083034 AM.jpg

After falling hook, line and dhokla for the PR fiction that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi had “rescued” 15,000 Gujaratis in Uttarakhand, The Times of India attempts a feeble course correction on its editorial page today.

Abheek Barman, the former Economic Times editor, does some elemental number-crunching of the sort TOI’s reporter Anand Soondas ought to have done, to show that Modi’s Himalayan miracle was a “barefaced, cynical lie”.

But without once mentioning that it was TOI which was responsible for the original, barefaced, cynical lie.

“Reports say that Modi pulled off this coup with a fleet of 80 Innovas. How did these cars manage to reach places like Kedarnath, across roads that have been washed away, over landslides that have wrecked most access routes?

“But let us assume Modi’s Innovas had wings as well as helicopter rotors. Including the driver, an Innova is designed to carry seven people. In a tough situation, assume you could pack nine passengers into each car.

“In that case, a convoy of 80 Innovas could ferry 720 people down the mountains to Dehradun at one go. To get 15,000 people down, the convoy would need to make 21 round trips.

“The distance between Dehradun and Kedarnath is 221 km. So 21 trips up and down would mean that each Innova would have to travel nearly 9,300 km.

“It takes longer to travel in the hills than in the plains. So, assuming an average speed of 40 km per hour, it would take 233 hours of driving to pull off the feat.

“This assumes non-stop driving, without a second’s rest to identify the Gujaratis to be rescued and keeping the rest of the distressed folk at bay, or any time to load and unload the vehicles. And forget about any downtime for the gallant rescuers.

“That is nearly 10 days of miraculous work. And Modi pulled it off in a day.

“Actually, in less than a day: a breathless media reported that by Saturday, 25 luxury buses had brought a group of Gujaratis back to Delhi. For some reason, four Boeing aircraft also idled in some undisclosed place nearby.”

Read the full article: Modi’s Himalayan miracle

CHURUMURI POLL: Is this Congress’s Bofors-II?

8 October 2012

The grenade lobbed by the Arvind Kejriwal-Prashant Bhushan gang on Friday, accusing Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi, of dubious deals with the construction company DLF, has sent the Congress camp into a tizzy. Over half-a-dozen Union ministers trooped into TV studios to defend FDI*—the First Damaad of India—even as Vadra maintained a studied silence, before breaking it on Facebook (he has since deleted his FB account).

To be sure, there was little of surprise: the same details had been carried by The Economic Times a year and six months ago, quoting Registrar of Companies (ROC) documents. At the time, the Congress had not seen it fit to respond. But the timing of the latest “expose”, after the Jan Lok Pal movement was tarred and tarnished, after the announcement of a new party sans Anna Hazare, and in the run-up to the Gujarat and general elections, gives the issue a whole new angle.

Questions: Will the charges against Vadra become a millstone around the Congress’—and by extension, Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi‘s necks—forever, like Bofors has? Or will they peter out because there is no foreign hand like Ottavio Quattrochchi‘s and no clear quid pro quo? Do the charges prove crony conspiracy at its worst? Or, has the Kejriwal-Bhushan duo bitten off more than they can chew by hitting below the belt?

*courtesy Rama Lakshmi/ WaPo

When Mukesh Ambani writes the media’s cheques

15 January 2012

The fears over what happens when a big business house with deep pockets and political influence across parties funds a big media house to legitimise its hitherto-hidden media interests are coming true even before the controversial Reliance Industries -Network18/TV18-Eenadu Television deal can be inked.

Obviously, the political class is silent. Obviously, TV18’s competitors won’t touch the story for reasons not difficult to imagine. Obviously, The Hindu won’t even publish a media column for reasons not difficult to fantasise.

But there has been no serious discussion of the implications of the deal on the media or on democracy in the mainstream media. Not on any of Network18’s usually high-decibel shows since the tie-up was announced on 3 January 2012. Not even on Karan Thapar‘s media show on CNN-IBNThe Last Word.

Print media coverage too has at best been sketchy. Even the newspapers and newsmagazines which have attempted to probe the complexities of the menage-a-troisThe Economic Times and The Indian ExpressOutlookand India Today, have barely managed to go beyond the numbers into the nuance.

Rajya Sabha TV, the newly launched television channel of the upper house of Parliament, has filled the breach somewhat with a no-holds barred discussion on the subject.

Anchored by Girish Nikam, a former Eenadu reporter who wrote five years ago on Ramoji Rao‘s travails, the RSTV debate flags all the important issues raised by the deal and underlines the role public service television can play in the service of the public when the corporate media gives up—or gives in.

Some of the comments made by three of the four participants on The Big Picture:

S. Nihal Singh, former editor of The Statesman: “My first reaction [on reading of the deal] was that it was time for India to have a really good anti-monopoly law for media, which is the norm in all democratic countries in the world, including the most advanced….

“The press council of India is totally dysfunctional because of the new chairman Justice Markandey Katju, who is baiting the media, who doesn’t believe in conversing with the media, or exchanging views with the media.”

***

Madhu Trehan, founder-editor of India Today and director, content, of the soon-to-be-launched media site, News Laundry: “It need not have happened if the government and corporates were more alert. One person owns much too much….

“Already every policy is decided by corporates as the 2G tapes (of Niira Radia) show. Not only is it dangerous that Mukesh Ambani will be deciding what policy will be decided, as you know has happened in the past, but he will also decide whether we can talk about it, or criticise it or expose it….

“Why is Reliance interested in media? It is not for money; it is obviously for influence. Rupert Murdoch was endorsing PMs and Presidents in three continents. Now we have the richest man in the country owning the largest network. Yes, there is an independent trust, but I don’t believe that. The purpose is to control the media. You are influencing policy, you are influencing how the government decides, and now you are going to decide how the people will hear about about you and the government….

“When a politician or a government spokesman speaks, we don’t believe them, but when somebody like Rajdeep Sardesai or Sagarika Ghose speaks, or anyone at IBN7 or TV18 comes on, we presume we should believe them. Now there is a big question mark [when RIL has indirect control over CNN-IBN]….

“In a deal of this size we are looking at very subtle plants of stories, subtle angles, subtly putting things in a certain way so that people think along in a certain way for a particular way. I don’t know if anyone can shut the door. It’s too late.”

***

Dilip Cherian, former editor Business India, head Perfect Relations: “Globally we have seen when big capital enters media, that is exactly what we are about to replicate for ourselves.

“Oligopolistic tendencies are visible in global media today, whether it is Silvio Berlusconi or Rupert Murdoch, the fact is they exercise humongous influence not on media but politics. Are we headed down the same road? At this time, the answer seems to be yes. Is it good? The universal answer from the question is that it isn’t,  not just because it affects the quality of news but because it affects the quality of politics….

“The entry of big capital is not new or news. What has happened in this case is a big distinction between foreign investment and domestic. Because of 4G, because the same business house owns the pipe, owns the content, there could also be another issue of monopoly. If I were the owner, I would say there needs to be a publicly visible ombudsmanship [to dispel the doubts]….

“There is room for concern, there is room for elements of self-rgulation. As a country we are not able to legislate for two reasons. One because of the influence business houses have on policy making. And two, when you bring in legislation (on regulation) up, the other group that is affected are politicians who own media houses of their own. You are talking about now a coalition of forces which the public is incapable of handling. You won’t see Parliament doing the kind of regulation they should, in an open manner, because there are interests on all sides.”

* Disclosures apply

Also readWill RIL-TV18-ETV deal win SEBI, CCI approval?

Congrats, your taxes have helped buy 265 ads

31 October 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: After the advertising blitzkrieg to mark Rajiv Gandhi‘s birth and death anniversaries, and the death anniversary of his grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru earlier this year, Union ministries and Congress-led State governments and departments have once again splurged heavily to mark Indira Gandhi‘s death anniversary today.

In the 12 newspapers surveyed, there are 64 advertisements of various sizes, amounting to approximately 31½ published pages to mark the assassination of the former prime minister on this day, 27 years ago.

In contrast, Vallabhbhai Patel, the late Union home minister, whose birth anniverary too falls on October 31, gets 9 advertisements in the same 12 newspapers, amounting to 3 published pages. While there are multiple advertisements for Indira Gandhi, no paper has more than one ad for Patel.

The breakup of the Indira Gandhi ads are as under:

Hindustan Times: 22-page main issue; 9 Indira Gandhi ads amounting to 4¼ broadsheet pages

The Times of India: 30-page issue; 13 ads amounting to 6¼ broadsheet pages

Indian Express: 22-page issue; 9 ads amounting to 4 broadsheet pages

Mail Today (compact): 36-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 2¾ compact pages

The Hindu: 24-page issue; 8 ads amounting to 4 broadsheet pages

The Pioneer: 16-page issue; 7 ads amounting to 3¼ broadsheet pages

The Statesman: 16-page issue; 4 ads amounting to 2 broadsheet pages

The Telegraph: 22-page issue; 5 ads amounting to 2½ broadsheet pages

***

The Economic Times: 26-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1½ pages

Business Standard: 14-page issue; 2 ads amouning to 1 page

Financial Express: 20-page issue; 1 ad amounting to half a page

Mint (Berliner): 24-page issue; 0 ads

This computation is only for 12 English newspapers; many other English papers have been left, as indeed has the entire language media which are more numerous than the English ones, several times over.

Among the 13 advertisers wishing the dear departed leader are the ministries of information and broadcasting, commerce and industry, steel, women and child development, health and family welfare, human resources development, development of north east region, and social justice and empowerment.

The state governments advertising their love are those of Rajasthan, Delhi and Andhra Pradesh. Besides, most newspapers carry an advertisement inserted by the Congress party.

All told, so far, this year, tax payers money have been spent in buying 265 advertisements amounting to 132 published pages in the 12 newspapers.

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.”

Also read: Rajiv Gandhi death anniversary: 69 ads over 41 pages in 12 newspapers

Jawaharlal Nehru death anniversary: 24 ads over 11 pages

Rajiv Gandhi birthday: 108 ads across 48 pages

What an idea RG! 108 ads, 48 pages in 12 papers

20 August 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: There is yet another advertising blitzkrieg by Union ministries and Congress-led State governments and departments in today’s newspapers on the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi‘s birthday.

And it beats the number of ads on Rajiv’s death anniversary hollow.

While there were 69 ads amounting to 41 published pages in 12 newspapers on May 21, there are 108 ads amounting to 48¼ published pages in the same 12 newspapers today.

Hindustan Times: 24-page issue; 14 RG ads amounting to 7 broadsheet pages

The Times of India: 32-page issue; 21 ads amounting to 9 broadsheet pages

Indian Express: 28-page issue; 15 ads amounting to 6½ broadsheet pages

Mail Today (compact): 36-page issue; 11 ads amounting to 6½ compact pages

The Hindu: 24-page issue; 13 ads amounting to 5 broadsheet pages

The Pioneer: 16-page issue; 11 ads amounting to 3¾ broadsheet pages

The Statesman: 16-page isuse; 7 ads amounting to 3 broadsheet pages

The Telegraph: 26-page issue; 9 ads amounting to 3¾ broadsheet pages

***

The Economic Times: 16-page issue; 2 ads amounting to ¾ of a page

Business Standard: 18-page issue; 2 ads amouning to ¾ of a page

Financial Express: 22-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1¼ pages

Mint (Berliner): 16-page issue; 0 ads

This computation is only for 12 English newspapers; many other English papers have been left, as indeed has the entire language media which are more numerous than the English ones, several times over.

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.”

Among the 21 advertisers wishing the dear departed leader happy birthday this year are the ministries of information and broadcasting, micro small and medium enterprises, power, health and family welfare, tourism, housing and urban poverty alleviation, new and renewable energy, women and child development, commerce and industry, steel, and social justice and empowerment.

The state governments advertising their love are those of Rajasthan, Haryana, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, all Congress-ruled States. And the departments putting their money where their mouth is are the Rajiv Gandhi centre for biotechnology, Navodaya vidyalaya samiti, national small industries corporation, national commission for women, and the coir board.

And, of course, the Indian National Congress.

Also read: Rajiv Gandhi: 69 ads over 41 pages in 12 newspapers

Jawaharlal Nehru: 24 ads over 11 pages in 12 newspapers

Jawaharlal Nehru: 24 ads, 11 pages in 12 papers

27 May 2011

A week is a long time in politics, especially if you are a dead Congressman.

On May 21, the 20th death anniversary of the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, various ministries, departments and State governments unleashed an advertising blitzkrieg in the media.

Result: 69 ads totalling 41 pages in 12 newspapers.

Today, on the 47th anniversary of the death of his grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, the sycophancy deficit is palpable: Just 24 ads amounting to 10¾ published pages in the the same 12 newspapers surveyed last week.

Meaning: India’s first and longest-serving prime minister gets 45 fewer ads (amounting to 30¼ pages) than his grandson who was in office for five years against Nehru’s 17.

Hindustan Times: 22-page issue; 4 JN ads amounting to 1¾ broadsheet pages

The Times of India: 30-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1¼ broadsheet pages

Indian Express: 20-page issue; 5 ads amounting to 2 broadsheet pages

Mail Today (compact): 42-page issue; 4 ads amounting to 2 compact pages

The Hindu: 20-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1¾ broadsheet pages

The Pioneer: 16-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1 broadsheet page

The Statesman: 16-page isuse; 1 ad amounting to half a broadsheet page

The Telegraph: 16-page issue; 1 ad amounting to half a broadsheet page

***

The Economic Times: 32-page issue; 0 ads

Business Standard: 20-page issue; 1 ad amouning to half a broadsheet page

Financial Express: 24-page issue; 0 ads

Mint (Berliner): 32-page issue; 0 ads

Also, unlike dozen or so ministries and departments that were falling over each other to remind the nation of Rajiv Gandhi last week, just four ministries—information and broadcasting, women and child welfare, steel and power—and one State government (Delhi) seem to have taken up Nehru’s cause.

Also read: Rajiv Gandhi: 69 ads over 41 pages in 12 newspapers

Nation, State & the 2G ‘scam’ no one talks about

25 May 2011

In all the name-calling and tu-tu-main-main that Karnataka’s politics has been reduced to, there is little talk of the other “2G”—Good Governance—that god’s own party boastfully promises from every pulpit, podium and platform.

The Economic Times reports that with three chief ministers in the last seven years, the political tug-of-war is beginning to affect the State: the growth rate is down, job creation is down, infrastructure projects are slowing down, and the morale of the bureaucrats is down.

# K.R. Girish, partner KPMG: “This political instability has virtually brought about a breakdown in the bureaucracy and there is no bureaucrat whom the industry can approach.

# A senior bureaucrat, asking not to be named: The “lack of moral stature of the state government” has affected the morale of the civil service.

# T.V. Mohandas Pai, former director, HR, Infosys: “There is a big disconnect between potential and actual action… this gap has only widened.”

Infographic: courtesy The Economic Times on Sunday

Read the full article: Bangalore’s business risk: Karnataka politics

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

***

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.

How does a ‘journalist’ offer a Rs 2 crore bribe?

3 May 2011

The stereotypical image of the Indian journalist is of a lean, mean, hungry-looking, bespectacled jholawala, with a bag slung around his scrawny neck. But that’s just for public consumption. In reality, journalists and media houses are clearly rolling in cash, not always procured in the business of peddling words.

In the 2G spectrum allocation scam, that has already seen a Union minister and several corporate honchos go behind bars, several famous scribes have found themselves on the infamous Niira Radia tapes, at least one journalist’s house has been raided, and a TV channel has been named as the recipient of the bribe money.

In other words, the lean, mean, hungry-looking, bespectacled jholawala with a bag slung around his scrawny neck, has arrived in the post-liberalised India—as an influence-peddler, monetising his access and business card.

Despite the strongarm tactics adopted by Ratan Tata‘s Tata Sons against The Times of India group with obvious commercial implications, The Economic Times continues to lead the way in its coverage of the scam. This time, Rohini Singh shines the light on the burgeoning breed of middlemen-journalists, for whom the accreditation card is, well, a gift that continues to give.

Newspaper image: courtesy The Economic Times

***

Also read: What Niira Radia told PAC on Barkha Dutt chat

Have the Tatas blacklisted The Times of India again?

Four lessons in journalism from the Tatas’ chief PRO

Tamil journalist’s house raided in 2G spectrum scam

Nakkheeran journo denies wife worked for Radia firm

2G scam bribe was diverted to Tamil TV channel

Has media credibility suffered a body blow in 2G scam?

‘Media standards not keeping pace with growth’

18 April 2011

Sanjaya Baru, editor of Business Standard and former media advisor to prime minister Manmohan Singh, delivered the second H.Y. Sharada Prasad memorial lecture on media, business and government at the India International Centre on Sunday, 17 April. This is the full text of his address:

***

By SANJAYA BARU

I first met H.Y. Sharada Prasad in 1982 in the very room in which I later sat in the Prime Minister’s Office. He knew me only as Rama’s husband!  I was in Delhi on a visit from Hyderabad where I was a University lecturer and went to call on him because Rama had asked me to.

I would meet him occasionally during my days at the Economic Times and Times of India and tried hard to get him to write for the editorial page of the TOI, when I was in charge of it in 1994-96. He always declined the invitation with a smile. Finally, when he chose to write a column I had already left TOI and it was M.J. Akbar who managed to get him to do so for The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle.

Perhaps as a consolation he called me one day and told me that he had informed Encyclopedia Britannica that he would stop writing the chapter on India that he had written every year for close to fifty years, and henceforth they should approach me for the chapter.

I was flabbergasted, flattered and honoured.

The editor of Britannica wrote me a warm letter saying that I must be someone very special because after a “life long” association with EB, “Mr Prasad has chosen you to inherit his annual contribution to the Britannica.” I have written that chapter since, every year.”

On 2 June 2004 I joined the PMO in the morning and called on “Shouri mama” (as Sharada Prasad was called by his friends and family) the same evening to seek his blessings and take his advice. He spoke to me at length about the office itself, and the significance of every nook and corner.

“You are sitting in the same room in which Jawaharlal Nehru first sat as Prime Minister,” he told me, referring to the corner room next to the cabinet room. Nehru had to wait for a month to move into what is now the PM’s room, since that room’s earlier occupant, Girija Shankar Bajpai, would not vacate it till the room assigned to him was ready, that being the present principal secretary’s room.

I too had occupied that very room briefly till I moved into the much larger adjacent room, the one Shouri had occupied with great distinction for almost two decades. After letting me know that I was sitting in Nehru’s first room in the PMO, he added with a mischievous smile, “of course Natwar (Singh) also sat there!”

He regaled me with stories about the various occupants of the PMO during his decade and a half there, about their egos and their foibles. He gave me valuable advice on how I should discharge my duties both as media advisor and speech writer that stood me in good stead throughout my four-and-a-half years in the job.

On a couple of occasions when I had difficulty convincing the PM and his senior aides about my media strategy in dealing with an issue, I would called Shouri and having received his endorsement of my plan inform the PM that Mr Sharada Prasad has approved my idea. The PM would instantly fall in line and allow me to go ahead, over ruling the dissenters. Securing Shourie’s imprimatur was enough.

For a man who wielded a powerful and elegant pen for the Prime Minister of India, who had the unquestioned trust and confidence of a powerful Prime Minister like Indira Gandhi, who had travelled around the world with her, hearing her read out his prose, whom generations of Indians had seen in Films Division documentaries and front page photographs sitting next to Mrs Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, here I was with him on my first day in the PMO in his two-room, Punjabi Bagh DDA flat.

Every day of my four-and-a-half years in the PMO, I would recall that first evening that I spent with Shouri.

Don’t fool yourself, I would tell myself, you may be here today, but one day you too will have a modest apartment to retire to. Shouri was among the very few who worked with Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi who had no Vasant Vihar or New friends Colony or Maharani Bagh house to leave for his children. It is the combination of his wisdom and simplicity, his prose and wit, his deep knowledge of both India and the world that makes him a truly unique occupant of that all powerful corner of Raisina Hill. This memorial lecture is dedicated as much to Shourie as to the values he embodied.

***

One of the things that Shouri said to me when I met him the evening of my first day at the PMO was that during his long tenure at the PMO he kept in regular, almost daily contact, with key interlocutors in just five newspapers – Hindustan Times, Indian Express, The Statesman, The Hindu and Times of India. That was a different world.

While India reported less than 500 newspapers in the years Shouri first came to deal with them, and only one television channel, by 1991 there were 923 newspapers and still only one TV channel. But Shouri regarded dealing with just the top five English dailies adequate to influence the rest of the media. These five, he presumably believed, set the tone and the agenda for all others to follow. It is also possible he believed having these five on one’s side is what mattered as far as the PM was concerned.

In 2008, the year I left PMO, the Registrar of Newspapers reported that 2,337 newspapers were in circulation in India. In 2004 there were already several news TV channels, but by 2008 the number had more than tripled. By the time I left my position in mid-2008 I would normally be dealing with at least a couple of dozen newspapers and TV channels every day.  The era when one could happily say that the PM’s media advisor kept in touch with just five top English newspapers was long gone. Not only had Indian language TV and print become more important, but even English language TV and print had burgeoned and the internet had arrived.

It was during my last days in office that I acquired a Facebook account and Outlook magazine put me on their cover, along with some celebrities, for being the first PMO official with a Facebook account. Twitter had not arrived by the time I left office. Today Shouri would not be able to recognise, much less relate, to the media scene in India. My 84-year-old parents take pride in letting me know that they neither watch TV news, nor spend more than a few minutes reading a newspaper. They have opted out of daily news.

But, the rest of India has not. Nowhere has there been a bigger boom in media than in India.

At the last World Association of Newspapers convention in Hyderabad in 2009, India was hailed as the great global hope for media, especially print. The WAN invitation to the Hyderabad convention said:

“Developing literacy and wealth are part of but far from all the story: Great credit needs also to be given to Indian newspaper professionals, who are re-inventing the newspaper to keep it vibrant and compelling in the digital age……. Although broadband and mobile are booming in India, print newspapers are growing right along with them. The country has more daily newspapers than any other nation and leads in paid-for daily circulation, surpassing China for the first time in 2008. Twenty of the world’s 100 largest newspapers are Indian. Newspaper circulation rose a further 8 percent last year.”

Salivating at the India numbers, News Corp top executive James Murdoch told a FICCI–Frames conference in Mumbai last month that “India’s media industry is a ‘sleeping tiger’  waiting to be awakened.” He described global media firms as “grey and tired”. “The impressive achievements of the last two decades have not even begun to fulfill the potential of this great land,” said the son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

This boom is witnessed in every language, with Hindi’s Dainik Jagran emerging as the great success story in print media. But with growth have come its wages. The quantitative expansion of Indian media continues to outpace its qualitative development. Extreme inequality in compensation structures means there are some journalists who get world class compensation that would be the envy of even developed economy media, and there is a mass of under-paid staff, many of whom with low skills and lower motivation.

Speaking at the Silver Jubilee of the Chandigarh Press Club in September 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said:

“With the rapid growth of media in recent times, qualitative development has not kept step with quantitative growth. In the race for capturing markets, journalists have been encouraged to cut corners, to take chances, to hit and run. I believe the time has come for journalists to take stock of how competition has impacted upon quality. Consider the fact that even one mistake, and a resultant accident, can debar an airline pilot from ever pursuing his career. Consider the case that one wrong operation leading to a life lost, and a doctor can no longer inspire the confidence of his patients. One night of sleeping on the job at a railway crossing, an avoidable train accident, and a railway man gets suspended. How many mistakes must a journalist make, how many wrong stories, and how many motivated columns before professional clamps are placed? How do the financial media deal with market moving stories that have no basis in fact? Investors gain and lose, markets rise and fall, but what happens to those reporters, analysts, editors who move and make markets? Are there professional codes of conduct that address these challenges? Is the Press Council the right organization to address these challenges? Can professional organizations of journalists play a role?”

Apart from the problem of quantitative growth outpacing qualitative development, there is also the challenge of conflicting objectives and a clash of cultures. News media has become subsumed into the larger business of information and entertainment. This is in large part a consequence of the growing dependence of media, especially news media, on advertisement revenues, though India still has a substantial segment of the market that is still willing to pay for news.

One of the consequences of this growing dependence on advertising revenues, as opposed to subscription revenue, and the competition from competing media is that news media has become increasingly a mish-mash of news, views and plain entertainment.

A recent  FICCI- KPMG report, Hitting the High Notes on the Indian media and Entertainment Industry in 2011 not only unabashedly refers to ‘media and entertainment’ as one industry, but also points to the growing inter-linkages between the two sides of business. News is entertainment and entertainment is news! And, the stakes are high.

According to KPMG, the Indian Media and Entertainment (M&E) industry stood at US$ 12.9 billion in 2009. Over the next five years the industry is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 13 per cent to reach the size of US$ 24.04 billion by 2014.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report titled ‘Indian Entertainment & Media Outlook 2010’ predicts that the industry is poised to return to double digit growth to touch US$ 22.28 billion growing cumulatively at a 12.4 per cent CAGR to 2014.

Apart from the phenomenal growth prospects, which have become the envy of media companies around the world, and therefore attracting many of them to India, it is important to also note that there has been a vertical and horizontal integration, along the technological spectrum, of news, entertainment and communication. Print, TV, radio, film, music, gaming, mobile telephony, internet and banking and finance are all getting integrated. New technologies will integrate the businesses and the markets even more.

The KPMG report adds, “While television and print continue to dominate the Indian M&E industry, sectors such as gaming, digital advertising, and animation VFX also show tremendous potential in the coming years. By 2015, television is expected to account for almost half of the Indian M&E industry revenues, and more than twice the size of print, the second largest media sector.  The contribution of advertising revenue to overall industry pie is expected to increase from 38 percent in 2007 to 42 percent in 2012.”

When news and entertainment become two sides of the same coin, indeed some would say the same side of one coin, with advertising revenue being the other side of the coin, and when the distinction between news and views gets blurred, journalism enters an uncharted territory where there are as yet no professional yardsticks to judge either purpose or performance. But it is not just the integration of businesses that is having an impact on media. It is the integration of business with politics and politics with business that is now shaping news media, and not just at the national level.

***

Tamil Nadu is a particularly good example of the complete backward and forward integration of media business and politics. The ruling political party dominates print, TV and film production and distribution. In Andhra Pradesh the Y.S. Rajashekhar Reddy family was well on its way to achieving this kind of integration of business interests in media and politics.

The relative ease with which the Karunanidhi-Maran families in Tamil Nadu and the YSR family in Andhra Pradesh, to a lesser extent the Pawar family in Maharashtra have acquired substantial stakes in media, entertainment and politics is a pointer to trends at the national level. There have been reports that the Congress Party plans to start its own TV and print media businesses. The Left walked down this path in Kerala but was unable to achieve the kind of dominance that DMK has succeeded in acquiring in Tamil Nadu.

The FICCI-KPMG Report shows that while there has been a phenomenal expansion of the media business, in almost every major language segment and in most states 3 dominant players together control between 65 per cent and 75 per cent of the market. In other words, the media pyramid in India is highly skewed. A few newspapers/ channels at the top of the pyramid, controlling close to three-quarters of the readership and/or viewership and a large number of small players below sharing the rest of the cake.

Part of the problem in regulating the media business arises because of the growing links between politicians, political parties and the media and entertainment business.

In Andhra Pradesh, for example, the top two media companies, with print and television business, are Eenadu and Sakshi – the former owned by the pro-TDP Ramoji Rao, and the latter owned by YSR Rajashekhar Reddy’s son Jagan.

In Tamil Nadu the power and influence of Kalanithi Maran’s Sun TV is even more brazen. Indeed, the DMK as a party has acquired enormous control over the entire media business including circulation, cable network and film distribution.

In Maharashtra, every media company has its own political interests. Across the country in almost every State, including the North-East, the nexus between politics, business and media is very close and pervasive.

With such visible and known links between political parties and media companies, what is the kind of regulation that government qua government can impose? Indeed, in a democracy the question does arise whether government or even a quasi-official body should have any powers at all to regulate media.

This market structure is ripe for oligopolistic practices and it has been alleged for a long time that such practices have become all too common in India. Very often the intense rivalry and competition between professional journalists in rival media firms masks the implicit collaboration and non-compete clauses – including deals on advertising, circulation and hiring of journalists – between the firms themselves.

Indian media needs a framework of reference to define what constitutes a competitive structure, what policies amount to being restrictive trade practices, how can such practices be curbed and who curbs them? Has the time come for the Competition Commission of India to consider a framework for regulation of cross-media ownership, predatory pricing and other restrictive and unethical business practices, including the phenomenon of ‘paid news’, in the media and entertainment industry?

A few years ago when the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board of India, G.N. Bajpai, convened a meeting of all editors and suggested that the media accept a SEBI code for journalists reporting on markets and companies, a majority of the editors gathered there opposed any SEBI imposed code and instead offered to come forward with a code of their own that media companies could adhere to. Nothing has been heard on the subject since.

Institutions like the Press Council of India have lost their élan, and the Editors Guild of India has become a club of former and future editors with little influence on those presently occupying the hot seat! The inability of the Editors Guild to reverse the phenomenon of ‘paid news’, which it campaigned against, even though many members of the Guild were in fact guilty of the crime, illustrates this better than any other example.

A related issue of internal governance that has profound implications for freedom of press is the nature of editorial control in media. Just as politicians have become media barons and media barons have become politicians, establishing a continuum between media, politics and government, there is a parallel continuum between media, business and editorial leadership, with publishers and CEOs becoming editors and editors becoming publishers and CEOs.

Time was when many professional journalists worried that the post of editor was being devalued with print and TV companies not naming editors and dividing up the editor’s work among several persons, both journalists and managers. As a consequence, today several print and TV media have no single editor and, therefore, weak editorial control and leadership.

As some of the conversations recorded in the famous Nira Radia Tapes reveal, senior journalists not only worry about the fate of politicians in power, but they also worry about their company’s bottom and top line. Given the unabashed blurring of roles, an increasing number of business persons and politicians are now quite blasé about using carrots and sticks to influence and brow beat the media.

But a far more insidious development has been under way – namely the integration of the positions of publisher/ CEO with that of Chief Editor/ Editor. The job of Editor has been under threat in Indian media for a long time, but today professional editors – who have no ownership stake in the media company – are becoming an endangered species.

Owners or CEOs are editors and editors have become shareholders or CEOs. Those who worry about content also worry about revenue. It is not difficult to see what this means for editorial freedom. It is also not difficult to see that the famed separation of powers between “Church and State” in the media no longer exists.

Owner/ CEO/ Manager/ shareholder- editors either impose corporate objectives or their personal whims. Editors who speak eloquently about the freedom of the press and autonomy of media are often the first to impose their dictatorial and arbitrary style on their own colleagues.

Editors, who demand accountability from elected representatives of the people, are often quite happy to censor dissent and straitjacket diverse opinion within their own organizations. When such tyrannical editors are also owners or CEOs of their media establishments there is no internal court of appeal for a journalist.

***

The burden of my song has been to draw attention to the fact that the impressive growth of Indian media in recent years has not been matched by a similar rise in professional standards, both on the editorial side and in business ethics and practices of media firms, and media accountability.

As a consequence, despite the phenomenal growth of the media and the high visibility of media personalities, the public regard for journalists has not in fact risen. A recent poll in the US and UK rated ‘nursing’ as the most ethical profession and ‘journalism’ as among the least ethical ones!

I have not been able to find a similar poll in India, but the result is unlikely to be very different.  Concerns about corruption in the media are just beginning to surface. When a couple of cases get exposed their impact on the credibility of our profession would be hugely destructive.

Because of all these trends, Indian journalism is presently facing a crisis of both credibility and competence. In the past few years we have witnessed increased public scrutiny of the executive, the legislature and even the judiciary. More recently we have witnessed some early signs of a similar scrutiny of the media.

The cynicism and anger that have come to characterize public criticism of the other three ‘estates’ will sooner rather than later be seen in the criticism of the media. Each of the ‘four estates’ have from time to time drawn public attention to the short-comings of others. Sometimes three of the four have combined to bring the fourth to heel.

So far we have not seen in India a coming together of the executive, legislature and the judiciary in a joint bid to discipline or rein in the media. During the emergency, when media was under attack, the judiciary was in fact an ally of the media. When the Rajiv Gandhi government proposed an anti-defamation law, the entire media stood as one and with support from other political parties resisted the move.

Today, the media will find it more difficult to defend itself against such scrutiny and regulation. The day may not be far when public opinion will demand more accountability and transparency on the part of media organizations. With public opinion on its side, the executive and/ or the judiciary may well begin to demand such accountability from the business and editorial heads of media organizations, and from prominent TV anchors and columnists, not to mention the regular reporters.

What is worrying, however, is that in response to such public anger and cynicism the media may be turning populist – a standard response of a politician – in an attempt to ingratiate itself to its critics. This too is a dangerous trend. Media populism is in part a response to public anger and, paradoxically, a response to public disdain and indifference.

To an extent this is the logical culmination of the phenomenon of qualitative development not keeping pace with quantitative growth. The ‘dumbing down’ of the media brings in its train disregard for it, disrespect for it, disenchantment with it. This makes the media ripe for greater regulation.

If Indian media wish to avert this threat, then it must look within, introspect and rediscover professional values. This is easier said than done. It is not because of a lack of will that this has not happened. There is often no incentive for such introspection and no reward for mending ways.

The good thing, however, is that we live in a society and a nation in which we have the freedom to debate these issues. In paying tribute to the memory of Sharada Prasad, my generation must pay tribute to his for the freedom they secured for us and for posterity.

Shouri was a freedom fighter, like Kamalamma [Sharada Prasad's wife], like my father and my grandfather and grandmother. Their generation was the architect of a unique experiment in human history – building a vibrant and liberal democracy in a diverse and stratified society, a backward and poor economy. Shouri epitomized by the best instincts of that generation, symbolizing the liberalism and pluralism of a generation that was inspired by Gandhiji to value High Thinking and Simple Living.

These values are under threat and the media is not doing enough to protect them. By encouraging those with contending view points to argue with each other, we are not doing enough to create greater consensus between conflicting views.

The greatness of the Indian people is not that we are argumentative, as Amartya Sen has celebrated with an eye to a global audience. The real greatness of the Indian people is that we are in fact consensual.  Merely because we invented the ‘Zero’ and made possible the binary 1:0 system, the foundation of the current information era, does not mean that the Indian mind sees the world in black and white. Thinkers like Sharada Prasad have always reminded us of the range of gray possibilities in comprehending the reality around us.

The day the Indian media moves away from its binary world view, its argumentative ‘me and you’ divides, and moves closer to the consensual frameworks of reference of a people who have always valued the idea of Sarva Dharma Sambhava – of Unity in Diversity – it will have created a new paradigm, a very Indian paradigm, in the world of communication.

That would be the best tribute we can pay to a great Indian, a truly renaissance man, a liberal scholar, a non-argumentative Indian like Sharada Prasad!

Also read: When editor makes way for editor, gracefully

‘Go to bed knowing you haven’t succumbed’

The timidity of the Ultimate Playsafe Alliance

20 January 2011

In November 2007, the US embassy in Delhi sent a cable to Washington, which was revealed later by Wikileaks. It said, among other things, “Mrs (Sonia) Gandhi never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Proof in the new year comes in the form of the reshuffle of the Manmohan Singh team.

***

# Manini Chatterjee in The Telegraph:  “The much-awaited cabinet shuffle turned out to be an uninspired and uninspiring exercise that has only served to reinforce — rather than end — the sense of confusion and drift gripping the Manmohan Singh-Sonia Gandhi-led UPA in their second term in power.”

# Editorial in The Indian Express: “Reshuffling a pack fools nobody…. The UPA might think that good optics are enough. They are not. And the truth is that a mere reshuft fle is not even good enough optics. The crisis the UPA faces requires not just reshuffling, but discards.”

# Editorial in The Times of India:  “UPA-II has been buffeted by corruption scandals and spiralling food inflation. And it’s been under sustained attack from an opposition that’s smelt blood. A cabinet rejig was just what it needed to signal changed course and renewed combativeness. Manmohan Singh required it especially, not just as a reminder of his authority as prime minister but because the buck for governance shortfall stops at his door. As things turned out, the reshuffle was a damp squib, signifying no real change to the status quo. Barring some exceptions, it focussed neither on projecting result-oriented ministers nor the youth factor.”

# Editorial in The Economic Times: “The lack of ambition in the reshuffle is borne out by the failure to drop anyone from the Council of ministers. All that we see is some wagging of the prime ministerial finger here, a mild rap on the knuckle there and a more liberal use of that mortification called making someone stand in a corner.”

# Editorial in DNA: “It can be argued that cabinet reshuffle is not meant to send out political signals about which way the ideological wind is blowing and that it is just a reassigning of work. That is not convincing enough.”

# Vinod Sharma in the Hindustan Times: “One had expected Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to renovate his ministerial council with fresh talent and out-of-the-box thinking. To that extent, he comes across as having rearranged furniture without completely discarding rickety chairs and faded upholstery. The makeover is partial, even half-hearted with ministers shifted from one portfolio to another.”

Cartoons: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today; E.P. Unny/ The Indian Express

Everybody loves a good car, not a good filter

10 December 2009

The announcement of the launch of Tata Nano, the small car produced by the Tatas, saw the media falling over itself heralding the arrival of the “People’s Car”.

The fact that the car was priced at Rs 100,000 was enough to result in long front-page stories; glowing feature articles on Indian engineering and enterprise; breathless test drives; and fawning editorials and interviews with the man behind the car, Ratan Tata.

So, how does the same media treat the launch of Tata Swach, the water filter/ purifier that is priced at Rs 749 and Rs 999, and in a country like India is likely to reach more people and change more lives, and launched by the same man, Ratan Tata?

In alphabetical order:

AFP (news agency): 540 words

Associated Press:  772 words

BBC: 245 words

Business Standard: 381 words

DNA: 308 words

Press Trust of India: 477 words

Economic Times: 400 words

Indian Express: 415 words

Hindu Businessline: 461 words

Hindustan Times: 162 words on the filter, 333 words of an interview

The Times of India: 202 words

Copenhagen, anybody?

Carbon intensity?

Photograph: courtesy Paul Noronha/ The Hindu Businessline

Also read: And Ratan Tata sang, PR kiya tho darna kya?

If we can get a car for Rs 1 lakh, why can’t we…?

There’s nothing lost if the Nano isn’t produced

‘What Henry Ford did then, Ratan Tata has now’

Can India survive the Nano?

Tata, turtles and corporate social responsibility

CHURUMURI POLL: Should Tatas scrap the Nano?

BJP defeat is a defeat of BJP brand of journalism

23 June 2009

PRITAM SENGUPTA in New Delhi and SHARANYA KANVILKAR in Bombay write: The stunning defeat of the BJP in the general elections has been dissected so many times and by so many since May 16 that there is little that has been left unsaid.

What has been left unsaid is how the BJP’s defeat also marks the comeuppance of a certain breed of journalists who had chucked all pretence to non-partisanship and made it their mission to tom-tom the party, in print and on air, for a decade and more.

The Congress and the Left parties have had more than their share of sympathetic “left-liberal” journalists, of course. And for longer. But most were closet supporters unwilling to cross the divide from journalism into politics, or unwilling to be seen to be doing so.

However, the rise of the “muscular” BJP saw the birth of a “muscular” breed of journalists who unabashedly batted for the party’s politics and policies—without revealing their allegiance while enjoying its fruits “lavishly“—in a manner that would have embarrassed even the official spokesmen of the “Hindu nationalist party”.

Little wonder, Arun Shourie, the granddad of journalists turned BJP politicians, alleged at the party’s national executive meeting that “the BJP was being run by six journalists.” There are different versions doing the rounds on who the “Gang of Six” were, but some names are no longer in the realm of speculation.

# Sudheendra Kulkarni an assistant editor at The Sunday Observer and executive editor at Blitz, rose to be a key aide to both prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and prime minister-in-waiting L.K. Advani, even drafting the latter’s controversial Jinnah speech.

# Chandan Mitra, an assistant editor at The Times of India, editor of The Sunday Observer, and executive editor of Hindustan Times, found himself “mysteriously becoming the proprietor of The Pioneer, without spending a rupee thanks to the generosity of the BJP and more particularly that of L.K. Advani“.

# Swapan Dasgupta, the scion of Calcutta Chemicals (which makes Margo soap), rose to be managing editor of the weekly newsmagazine India Today, before emerging the unofficial media pointsman of sorts for Arun Jaitley and through him for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

# Balbir K. Punj, the sugar correspondent of The Financial Express, who churned out masterly theses on conversions and other sundry diversions for Outlook magazine, was nominated to the upper house of Parliament by the BJP like Mitra.

# And then there’s a motley crew of fulltimers and freelancers, including India Today editor Prabhu Chawla, Pioneer associate editor Kanchan Gupta, who did a spell in Vajpayee’s PMO, and weighty political correspondents and editors of The Times of India, The Economic Times and Dainik Jagran.

“Journo Sena” was what the tribe came to be called, an allusion to the “Vanara Sena” (army of monkeys) that helped Lord Rama fight the armies of Ravana in Ramayana.

However, in the unravelling political epic, the “Journo Sena” stands trapped in the crossfire of a party struggling to come to grips with a gigantic electoral loss, firing wildly at each other—or are being fired at by the big guns.

***

First, Sudheendra Kulkarni’s “candid insider account” in Tehelka, a magazine whose website was hounded out of business by the Vajpayee government, came in for searing criticism from Anil Chawla, a classmate of his at IIT Bombay, for blaming the RSS for the BJP’s plight.

“The patient is being blamed for all that has gone wrong, without in any way blaming either the virus or the team of doctors who have brought the patient to the present critical state,” he wrote in a widely circulated “open letter”.

Kanchan Gupta, who many believe was eased out of Vajpayee’s PMO by Kulkarni, took a potshot at his erstwhile colleague.

“Kulkarni who undid the BJP’s election campaign in 2004 with the ‘India Shining’ slogan and fashioned the 2009 campaign which has taken the BJP to a low of barely-above-100 mark has written an article for Tehelka, the magazine which tarred the NDA government, causing it irreparable damage, and is now the favourite perch of those who inhabit the BJP’s inner courtyard, blaming all and sundry except those who are to blame,” Gupta wrote on rediff.com.

In a rejoinder in Tehelka, Swapan Dasgupta welcomed Sudheendra Kulkarni’s mea culpa calling it “a welcome addition to the ever-growing literature on the BJP’s 2009 election experience,” but couldn’t resist himself from sticking the knife in.

“Kulkarni has provided some interesting insights but has also cluttered the picture with red herrings. This isn’t surprising.

There are many in the BJP who insist that the problem with Advani was Kulkarni“.

When former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha resigned from party posts, ostensibly miffed at the elevation of Arun Jaitley as leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha despite leading the party to defeat, Dasgupta rushed to Jaitley’s defence, wondering how the resignation letter had made its way to NDTV.

“TV editors I have spoken to have indicated that there were two parallel points of leak. The first was through an associate of Pramod Mahajan (who hates Jaitley) and the other was was the unlikely figure of a cerebral Rajya Sabha MP.

“I gather that the follow-up was done by a disagreeable journalist (one who signed the 20-points during the Emergency) whose nomination to the Rajya Sabha has been blocked by Jaitley on two separate occasions,” he wrote on his blog.

At the BJP’s national executive meeting, the “cerebral Rajya Sabha MP” Arun ShourieMagsaysay Award-winning former investigative journalist and author who became a minister in the Vajpayee government—“blamed six unnamed journalists who, he said, were responsible for articles damaging the [BJP] party interest.”

Whether the journalists were all members of the BJP or merely sympathetic to it, Shourie didn’t make clear.

In drawing attention to the journalists in specific, the former journalist may only have been indulging in the nation’s favourite sport of shooting the messenger but he was also underlining the role his compatriots were playing in the BJP’s affairs.

In his column in the media magazine Impact, Sandeep Bamzai writes:

“Arun Jaitley and his band of journalists-turned-politicocs misread the ground realities and the tea leaves completely. Buoyed by several wins in key States, this core team thought that the mood in the States would be mirrored at the Centre when the general hustings came along.

“Price spikes, terror threats and fulminations against a decent PM Manmohan Singh were the new imperatives crafted by Jaitley and his journo boys.

“The entire strategy fell flat on its face and all the journos who hogged prime time on new telly in the run up to the elections turned into disillusioned critics immediately after the results.”

In the India Today cover story on the BJP’s travails, Swapan Dasgupta’s former boss, Prabhu Chawla, seen to be close to incumbent BJP president Rajnath Singh, found fault with Singh’s bete noire Arun Jaitley for being spotted at Lord’s, applauding a boundary by Kevin Pietersen during the India-England Twenty20 match:

“Jaitley, a hardcore cricket buff, was in London with his family on holiday while his party back home was imploding, just like the Indian team.”

On a yahoogroup called “Hindu Thought”, the former Century Mills public relations officer turned columnist Arvind Lavakare, attacked Swapan Dasgupta, presumably for urging the BJP to junk the “ugly Hindu” image engendered by its commitment to Hindutva.

“After quitting a salaried job in a reputed English magazine a few years ago, Swapan’s livelihood may well be depending on his writings being published in a wide range of prosperous English newspapers which are anti-Hindu and therefore anti-BJP. If that is indeed so, Swapan simply cannot afford to project and push the Hindu line beyond the Laxman rekha. Poor dear,” wrote Lavakare.

The comment would perhaps have gone unnoticed, but Dasgupta gave it some oxygen by responding in kind in a post-script on his blog:

“I have no intention of affirming my credentials. To do so would be to dignify Lavakare’s personal attacks as a substitute for an informed debate on ideas.

“I merely hope that the attacks on where I write, who went to college with me and who are my friends are not in any way an expression of envy. It is a matter of satisfaction for me that I get a platform in the mass media (cutting across editorial positions).

“Engaging with the wider world is daunting but much more meaningful than gloating inside a sectarian ghetto. I strong recommend Lavakare also tries earning a livelihood out of writing for “a range of prosperous English newspapers”. It could be a humbling experience.”

Among the few journalists to have spotted the travails of the “Journo Sena”, or at least among the few to have had the courage of conviction to put it on paper, is Faraz Ahmed.

He writes in The Tribune, Chandigarh:

“When the BJP lost power in 2004, all the branded BJP editors—Kanchan, Swapan, A. Surya Prakash and Udayan Namboodri—were pensioned off to Chandan Mitra’s Pioneer. Today, however, each one of them is finding fault with Advani, the BJP and some even with the Sangh.

“These are ominous signs of the demise of a political party and reminds one of the slow and painful death of Janata Dal in the early ’90s when the ‘Dalam’ was dying and BJP was on the upswing and everyone was joining it or identifying with it because that was the most happening party.

“To be fair to these people who naturally represent the rising middle class, they waited patiently for five years in a hope that the UPA government would be a one-election wonder and would die a natural death in the next round. So much for their political understanding.”

Obviously, everybody loves a winning horse and doubtless the antics of the “Journo Sena” would have made for more pleasant viewing had the election verdict been the other way round.

Still, their antics in the aftermath of defeat raise some fundamental questions about their grand-standing in the run-up to the elections: Are all-seeing, all-knowing journalists cut out for politics? Do they have the thick skin, large stamina, and the diplomatic skills required for the rough and tumble?

From the embarrassment they have caused and are causing to their party of choice, it is clear that there is an element of truth to BJP president Rajnath Singh’s statement that he can “neither swallow nor spew out” the journalists.

Then again, L.K. Advani started his career as a journalist.

Also read: How come no one saw the worm turn?

The sad and pathetic decline of Arun Shourie

How Chandan Mitra has his halwa and hogs it too

Advani: Prime minister maybe, but not a good sub

How come media did not spot the Satyam fraud?

8 January 2009

A requiem for Indian business journalism, in the delightfully breathless style of Juan Antonio Giner, founder-director, Innovation International Media:

‘Satyam’, meaning truth.

India’s fourth largest software services provider. The darling of Hyderabad.

An outsourcing company with 53,000 employees that serviced 185 of the Fortune 500 companies in 66 countries.

A company which now says 50.4 billion rupees of the 53.6 billion rupees in cash and bank loans that it listed in assets for its second quarter, which ended in September, were nonexistent.

India’s biggest corporate fraud ever.

Hell, India’s biggest fraud ever: customers, clients, shareholders, employees, families down in the dumps.

India’s Enron.

We have heard all the big questions being asked. So far.

How come the analysts did not know?

How come the auditors did not know?

How come the regulators did not know?

How come the directors did not know?

How come the bankers did not know?

Yes. But where is the other question?

How come the media did not know?

Yes.

How come the English newspapers did not know?

# Not Deccan Chronicle, not The Hindu, not The New Indian Express, not The Times of India.

# Not The Economic Times, not Business Line, not Financial Chronicle, not Business Standard, not Financial Express.

How come the foreign newspapers did not know?

# Not New York Times, not Wall Street Journal, not Financial Times.

How come the Telugu dailies did not know?

# Not Eenadu, not Andhra Jyoti, not Andhra Prabha, not Saakshi.

How come the general interest magazines did not know?

# Not India Today, not Outlook, not The Week.

How come the business magazines did not know?

# Not Business Today, not Business World, not Outlook Business.

How come the English news channels did not know?

# Not NDTV, not CNN-IBN, not Times Now, not Doordarshan News.

How come the business channels did not know?

# Not CNBC, not NDTV Profit, not UTVi.

How come the Telugu channels did not know?

# Not ETV, not ETV2, Not Gemini, not Maa TV, not TV9, not TV5, not Doordarshan

So many media vehicles, but so little light on the infotech highway yet so much noise.

But who is asking the questions?

Is journalism that doesn’t shed light journalism?

Or puff?

Or PR?

Or Advertising?

Also read: Is this what they really teach at Harvard Business School?

Is Satyam alone in creative accounting scam?

New Year card Ramalinga Raju did not respond to

What the Karnataka Election is really all about

3 May 2008

The way most of us see it, it’s all pretty straight forward. A horse race, where the better-bred, better-fed stud, owned by the right owner with the right pedigree, noses past the finishing line and ends up in the Vidhana Soudha stable, grazing the green pastures till the next race.

But is an election such a simple, cynical zero-sum game? Or is there more to it?

Dr Narendar Pani, 54, has watched the polscape of his mother land for long—as a theatre activist (Samudaya), as an editor (Economic Times), as an economist, as a writer (The Last Post; Crow on the Steeple), and now as a scholar (National Institute for Advanced Studies).

Pani sat down with Deepak Thimaya on “Time to Talk”, the English interview programme on Udaya Varthegalu on Thursday night to explain what the Assembly elections mean for the State, not just for 2008 but long term:

# It’s an election which seeks to reestablish the nature of Karnataka elections. Because our politics is not cadre-based, Karnataka elections have been processes which give clear verdicts. Last time it wasn’t so sure. This time it is an opportunity to get back to the past.

# As of now, it’s an election for the Congress to lose. Congress has taken all the castes, social groups into it. Others have not taken that attitude. BJP is functioning on the assumption that the Lingayats are the strongest group in the State and they can provide the base for the others to get in. JDS is plumping for fresh blood. BSP is working on the basis that all we need is a core group of Dalits and I can make a deal with other castes.

# Opinion polls are good at predicting the broad trends, they are not good in predicting in specific constituencies…. Delimitation will help smaller groups to find representation.

# Voters in Karnataka have not voted for ideology, not since the time of Devaraj Urs. This election is mostly about interests. You can call it commercialisation, you can call it corruption, you can call it patronage politics.

# Politicians have played a critical role at various points of time. They have got fully immersed in patronage politics, which is a crisis for the State as a whole, for the political economy of Karnataka as a whole. But the ones who can do it are actually doing something. Otherwise you do not win.

# Expectations have become very localised. I don’t worry about globalisation unless it affects me, I don’t worry about policy unless it affects me. That’s not a good thing for the State.

# Suppose there is a villager in Village X in Karnataka. Somebody who belongs to his caste becomes an MLA. He asks him to get him a Janatha house. If the villager gets that house, it is corruption, it is casteism, it is nepotism, it is a lot of things that are wrong in our eyes. As far as I am concerned, it is patronage and the MLA has done his job. What we consider corruption is in many senses things are expected of politicians….

# The problem is not money. The problem is that candidates are choosing to come on their own, almost as if it as a non-party election. All a party does is give a ticket…. They are exercising their influence, be it muscle power or patronage or ability to convince them. But to be fair, they spend time trying to develp that influence. Those that develop it, go to any party that will recognise what they have got…. We tend to underestimate what politics has done for us.

# Elections used to be a lot more fun before the regulations came in. There is a loss of involvement…. The controls on spending may be effective although they have ended the end of an election industry.

# The anti-defection law has resulted in not having people who stand up for their constituency above their party. The legislator should be free to go whichever way he feels.

Video: courtesy Udaya TV


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,695 other followers