Posts Tagged ‘The Hindu’

How do you say seun van ‘n teef in Kannada?

15 January 2014

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Dodda Ganesh on the day he retired from cricket, with his wife and children (courtesy The Hindu)

In a commemorative volume brought out by the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) in his honour, batting legend, member of Parliament and Bharat Ratna Sachin Tendulkar recounts this anecdote involving the former Karnataka cricket Doddanarsaiah Ganesh, who played four Tests for India:

Dodda Ganesh and I were batting and Alan Donald was bowling lightning-fast deliveries.

“When Dodda faced his onslaught fearlessly Alan started mouthing words at Dodda. On three consecutive deliveries Dodda got confused but did not lose his wicket.

“At the end of the over Alan went over to Dodda and let loose a string of verbal abuses. Since Dodda’s face remained impassive, Alan became even more furious.

“I witnessed the interaction from the non-striker’s end.

“When Alan came to fetch his cap from the umpire at the end of his over, I told him, ‘Alan, Dodda only knows a local language called Kannada. I find it difficult to communicate with him as well when we are batting together. So how can he understand your abuses in English? If you want to trouble him, speak to him in Kannada so that at least he will understand.’

“This made Alan even more furious. He almost snatched his cap from the umpire and making wild gestures with his hands.”‘

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Also read: When Kumar Sangakkara gave it to Shaun Pollock

Lip service: The 10 top sledges in cricket?

Should Indian TV introduce ‘equal coverage’?

31 October 2013

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The relationship between Gujarat chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and the media, especially “English maedia” as he puts it, has followed two distinct trends over the last ten years.

The first trend was of unbridled distrust on either side. Modi had nothing but contempt for those who sought to buttonhole him on the ghastly incidents of 2002. He walked out of TV interviews or stared blankly at interviewers who reminded him of his role, if any. Ours was not to question.

The media, not surprisingly, responded with circumspection bordering on suspicion.

The second trend emerged in the run-up to the 2012 assembly elections in Gujarat, which Modi used as his launchpad, first to become the chairman of the BJP campaign committee and thereafter as the BJP’s self-proclaimed “prime ministerial candidate”. Suddenly, influential sections of the media were eating out of his hands.

International news agencies were getting soft-ball interviews, top journalists were asking if there was a middle-ground; media groups with corporate backing host tailor-made conferences; friendly newspapers were getting 16-page advertising supplements; “bureau chiefs” were finding stories that showed Modi’s detractors in poor light.

Why, the coverage of Modi seems to have been a key editorial driver in the recent change of guard at The Hindu, and—pinch yourself—Modi was launching an edition of Hindu Business Line.

The key player in the turnaround of the Modi-media relationship, however, has been television, which has unabashedly been used and turned into a soapbox for advertising the latest detergent from the land of Nirma that promises to wipe Indian democracy clean.

To the exclusion of all else.

As Modi—decidedly more macho, muscular, articulate and telegenic than the Congress’s Rahul Gandhi—drives his brandwagon around the country, most news TV channels have dropped any pretence of trying to stay non-partisan, covering every speech or parts of it, conducting opinion polls, setting up nightly contests, etc, as if the end of the world is nigh.

All this, of course, is before the Election Commission’s model code kicks in.

In the Indian Express, Shailaja Bajpai asks an important question: has the time has come to consider “equal coverage”—where all players, not just Modi and Rahul but even leaders of smaller parties get equal space and time—so that the field is not unduly distorted?

“Countries such as the United States try to follow the idea of equal coverage especially in the run-up to an election — and especially after a politician is declared as the official candidate, as Modi has been.

“Recently, the Republicans threatened that TV channels, NBC and CNN, would not be allowed to telecast the party’s next presidential debates because NBC had planned a TV series and CNN a documentary about Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“Indian news channels don’t let minor matters like equality trouble them. They’re obsessed with the man, to the point that Modi-fixation has become a clinical condition which may soon require treatment.”

Read the full story: The chosen one

Photograph: courtesy NewsX

Also read: Is Modi media biased against Rahul Gandhi?

How Narendra Modi buys media through PR

Modi‘s backers and media owners have converged’

‘Network18′s multimedia Modi feast, a promo’

For cash-struck TV, Modi is effective  TRP

What Manmohan Singh should really be doing

29 August 2013

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As bad news oozes even from newspapers dedicated to making readers feel good—as growth falls, jobs vanish, stock markets tank, the rupee plunges, investors flee, gold prices rise, the deficit soars—all that the country gets from the man at the very top is silence: thundering, deafening, ear-exploding, mind-splitting silence.

The prime minister’s twitter handler assures us that Manmohan Singh has actually made 1,300 speeches since taking office in 2004, but was anyone listening? Is anyone convinced? On the other hand, the PM is on his way to the United States soon and China after that.

Why, asks Malvika Singh in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as the leader of India, should be visiting every state capital of this ailing country, reaching out to the people, explaining the overwhelming crisis and creating a future to look forward to, instead of only travelling to international capitals, particularly in a hugely disturbed year.

“As the head of the Union, he has ignored the country he rules and has not at all been active in this subcontinent.

“He is seen nowhere in India.

“He addresses no one in India.

“He has become much like a roving ambassador of India in Western capitals.

“There have been many trips overseas and the result has been abysmal, both in matters of foreign policy and international investment. With the exception of a ‘strong relationship’ with the United States of America, the relationship with the rest of the world has been polite and non-committal. And we all know well that the release of a bailout by the International Monetary Fund does not need a prime minister to travel to the US. His representatives can tie up the deal.”

Cartoon: courtesy Keshav/ The Hindu

Read the full article: Back into the mire

Also read: Why Manmohan Singh should talk to the media more

Does Manmohan Singh not trust the Indian media?

POLL: Should FDI cap in media be enhanced?

22 July 2013

With the economic downturn threatening to turn into a full-blown recession and with the finance minister reduced to going around the world with a hat in hand, the Congress-led UPA government last week increased foreign direct investment (FDI) in telecom, defence, petroleum refining, etc, but…

But, not the media.

On the issue of enhancing FDI in media from 26% to 49% under the automatic route as proposed by a finance ministry panel, two separate ministries swung into action. First, the ministry of information and broadcasting sought the views of the telecom regulatory authority (TRAI) and the press council (PCI).

And then, the home ministry opposed the hike, favouring control of media houses by Indians. The Press Trust of India (PTI) quoted official sources as saying:

# “Opening up of current affairs TV channels, newspapers and periodicals dealing with news and current affairs may lead to meddling in India’s domestic affairs and politics.

# “Increase of FDI in broadcasting and print media may also allow foreign players to launch propaganda campaign during any national crisis as well as when interests of any particular country is harmed through any government decision.

# “Big foreign media players with vested interests may try to fuel fire during internal or external disturbances and also can encourage political instability in the country through their publications or broadcasting outlets.”

These reasons have been touted for 22 years now and will surprise nobody. Last week, The Hindu (which was initially at the forefront of the opposition to FDI hikes in media) reported that the industry was divided on the FDI issue:

“While certain big networks like Times Television Network, Network 18 and NDTV are broadly supportive, others like India TV, Sun, Eenadu and Malayala Manorama group have objected to an increase in FDI caps.”

The Centre’s decision to not go-ahead with FDI in media in an election year will not surprise anybody. After all, it wouldn’t want to rub promoters and proprietors on the wrong side, especially when powerful corporates (potential election donors) have substantial stakes in the media.

Still, the question remains whether the media can be given this preferential treatment and, if so, for how long? Will the home ministry’s fears ever vanish? Or, will the media which talks of competition and choice as the great leveller in every sphere of life, seek the protection of politicians in power to protect its turf?

Also read: India opens another door for FDI in papers, mags

Everybody loves a good FDI announcement

PR kiya to darna kya: How Modi buys media

19 July 2013

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The request for proposal (RFP) document of the Gujarat government that sets ‘targets’ for the PR firm that wins the contract to promote Narendra Modi’s image

In the latest issue of Open magazine, Jatin Gandhi lays his hand on a “Request for Proposal” (RFP) document of the Gujarat government that shows how “almost every day, the Indian media—and sometimes the foreign media too—is tricked or influenced by Narendra Modi‘s public relations machinery”.

Exempli gratia: “Modi’s Rambo act, saves 15,000” (The Times of India, 23 June 2013) .

The RFP besides setting targets for the PR firm that bags the contract (see image, above) also lists what is expected of a PR firm if it bags the contract to manage the Gujarat chief minister’s image.

# The hired PR firm should ‘arrange for national and international media to visit Gujarat and attend various events organized by the different departments of the Government of Gujarat’.

# ‘The number of media personnel for any event shall be decided by the Commissionerate of information after deliberation on the scale of the event.’

# “It is the Firm’s responsibility to arrange for the visits of journalists to Gujarat, any other part of the country or abroad. The expenses for the same will be reimbursed by the Commissionerate of Information on the submission of actual bills.’

The story quotes sources as saying the state government has already borne the expenses of scores of journalists, paying for their flights, travel within Gujarat and stay on assorted occasions (and multiple visits in some cases).

“Senior journalists are usually assured of luncheon meetings with Modi, with seating plans drawn up to boost their egos. The current Indian PR agency (Mutual PR) has so far arranged meetings between Modi and a range of newspaper and magazine editors.

“Starting this year, the government also has a budget allocation for taking journalists abroad on Modi’s foreign visits….

“At the Vibrant Gujarat summit earlier this year, a list of 20 journalists was drawn for a luncheon meeting with Modi. On this list was Madhu Kishwar, editor of Manushi and a fellow at the Delhi-based Centre for Study of Developing Societies, who has turned from being a critic to an advocate of Modi.

“Internal communication accessed by Open shows that the agency was wooing Kishwar, something she firmly denies.

She says that she is writing a book on Modi: “I am going to include a chapter, I think, on the myth and reality of Modi’s PR. There is no PR. I have written angry letters to the CM’s office asking for information for which I have been waiting several weeks now. They are so overburdened.”

“With Kishwar claiming she is oblivious to the machinery at work, the Gujarat government nevertheless gave her special attention because she was seen as one of the lone voices emerging from the ‘the Left liberal space’ favourable to Modi’s policies with ‘captive column space available to her in The Hindu, DNA and Manushi…’

Read the full article: The Modi mythology

Also read: ReutersModi interview: ‘sensational tokenism’

‘Network 18’s multimedia Modi feast: a promo’

For cash-struck TV, Modi is cost-effective TRP

Modi‘s backers, media owners have converged’

Government is corrupt, what about corporates?

25 May 2013

T.N. Ninan, editorial director of Business Standard, in his weekly ruminations, against the backdrop of the IPL and Ranbaxy scandals:

“Pillorying the government of the day for pervasive corruption is the easy thing to do, whereas it might just be an escapist option. It helps those of us who are neither in politics nor in the government to pretend that we are not tainted, and therefore have the right to point fingers at politicians, who we assume are not. The truth, as recent events have brought home forcefully, is that corruption has permeated fields that have nothing to do with politics and government….

“If the canker is widespread, there have to be systemic solutions. An obvious step is to come down hard on anyone who is caught, as a lesson to everyone else. System legitimacy suffers only when businessmen find ways of avoiding being brought to justice. But perhaps the worst outcome would be to treat this as just one more kind of reality TV, for nightly entertainment. All troubling questions can be evaded if we just watch Arnab Goswami shout at, hector and pillory his “guests” for an hour every night, for thereby we’ve earned our absolution!”

The cricketer turned commentator Geoffrey Boycott suggests that it might have to do with our genes:

“We don’t seem to get it in other countries. It seems to be around in Asia. And that’s not me being against Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis. You know me, I love that part of the world. They are very kind and good to me, particularly the Indian and Pakistani people, where I’ve been a lot.

“But I’m telling you the truth, it seems to surface in Asia. And once you’ve got all this money floating around in a huge game with millions and millions involved, you’re going to get problems. It’s going to resurface again.”

The Hindu‘s sports editor Nirmal Shekar laughs at our hypocrisy:

“This is who we are, as Indians. While we need not be ashamed about it, let us not pretend that our own brand of neo-liberalism, which has produced a socio-cultural climate that makes it possible for the aspiring Indian middle classes — I use the plural advisedly — to unabashedly revel in the celebrity cesspool and pretend that we are squeaky clean is, at best, hypocritical, at worst, suicidal.

“For, cricket does not exist in a vacuum; it is not a cosy world safely tucked away from the dark, dirty, often cruel, and real, world in which we live, as Indians.

“A lot of us wishfully think that this might turn out to be India’s century or, in the least, an India-China century. But if you chose to do away with those rose-tinted glasses — a gift from opportunistic politicians and an acquiescent media — and mentally prepared yourself to stare truth in its face, then you will get an idea about where we really are.”

Also read: Question: which is India’s most secular religion?

India’s most secular religion has to be corruption

Corruption, religion, spirituality and the Dalai Lama

Modi, BJP and a Telugu bidda called Somalingam

2 April 2013

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Even as BJP fans and fanboys go ecstatic at the re-entry of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi into the party’s parliamentary board, CPI(M) leader and member of Parliament, Sitaram Yechury, strikes a note of caution in the Hindustan Times:

“It is fairly certain that any government that will emerge following the 2014 general elections cannot be anything except a coalition. The question, however, remains over its composition and leadership.

“This context throws up the irresoluble contradiction that will plague any coalition led by the BJP.

“If the coalition has to be strong enough to command the numbers of a majority, then the BJP would have to put its core communal agenda on the backburner.

“On the other hand, unless the communal agenda is aggressively pursued as directed by the RSS, the BJP would not be able to either consolidate or expand its own political base.

“This contradiction is already reflecting itself in the choices being considered by the BJP for its prime ministerial candidate based on its illusory hopes of winning the forthcoming election.

“The BJP’s illusions remind me of a Telugu saying which loses its punch when translated but means: ‘Neither do I have a house nor a wife but my son’s name is Somalingam‘.”

***

On rediff.com, Vicky Nanjappa speaks to the psephologist Sandeep Shastri and asks him about the impact of Modi in the Karnataka assembly elections:

There is a lot of dependency on Narendra Modi. Will he be able to change the prospects of the BJP this time?

I have my doubts if Modi will actively take part in the Karnataka assembly election campaign. Modi is well aware that this is a losing campaign. He did not take part in the Uttar Pradesh campaign for the very same reason.

But you will see a lot of Modi during the elections in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, as the BJP will surely emerge victorious there. You will also see a lot of Modi in Karnataka during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Cartoon: courtesy Surendra/ The Hindu

Read the full column: More than just a front

Garv se kaho India doesn’t belong to Hindus alone

15 February 2013

As the attempt to airbrush Narendra Damodardas Modi‘s 2002 record and sweep it under the carpet of “development” gains steam in the media, following his admirable hat-trick of wins in Gujarat, Justice Markandey Katju, the chairman of the press council of India, strikes a discordant note in The Hindu:

“India is broadly a country of immigrants and consequently, it is a land of tremendous diversity. Hence, the only policy which can hold it together and put it on the path of progress is secularism — equal respect and treatment to all communities and sects. This was the policy of the great Emperor Akbar, which was followed by our founding fathers (Pandit Nehru and his colleagues) who gave us a secular Constitution.

“Unless we follow this policy, our country cannot survive for one day, because it has so much diversity, so many religions, castes, languages, ethnic groups.

“India, therefore, does not belong to Hindus alone; it belongs equally to Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsees, Jains etc. Also, it is not only Hindus who can live in India as first-rate citizens while others have to live as second or third rate citizens. All are first-rate citizens here. The killing of thousands of Muslims and other atrocities on them in Gujarat in 2002 can never be forgotten or forgiven.

“All the perfumes in Arabia cannot wash away the stain on Mr Narendra Modi in this connection.”

Read the full article: All the perfumes of Arabia

Also read: Where would Modi be without the UPA?

Narendra Modi cannot be the face of India’

‘Why Narendra Modi will never be India’s PM’

Why our silly middle-class loves Narendra Modi

‘The hanging of Afzal Guru has diminished India’

11 February 2013

gandhi

On the eve of the winter  budget session of Parliament and with the Gujarat Karnataka, MP, Delhi, Rajasthan elections around the corner, the scam and scandal-ridden Congress-led UPA has stumped the scam and scandal-ridden BJP-led NDA with its early-morning announcement of the hanging of Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist involved in the 26/11 siege of Bombay Afzal Guru, the convict in the 2002 attack on Parliament.

Within a matter of hours, a weak government is being seen as assertive by the lynch mobs which routinely bay for blood, and a “soft-state” is slapping its thighs in delight, although the implications of the hanging—on India-Pakistan relations Guru’s home-state Kashmir, which goes to the polls next year, on the fallout in the country, on the fate of Sarabjit Singh Rajiv Gandhi‘s killers, Beant Singh‘s killers etc—are still to be weighed.

Above all, in the very week two months after India refused to be a signatory to a United Nations resolution banning the death penalty, the hanging of Ajmal Kasab Afzal Guru, almost as if to satiate the public and political need for revenge and retribution, throws a big question mark over India’s presumed humanism of the land of the Mahatma.

Editorial in The Hindu:

Afzal Guru was walked to the gallows on Saturday morning at the end of the macabre rite governments enact from time to time to propitiate that most angry of gods, a vengeful public. Through this grim, secret ceremony, however, India has been gravely diminished….

In case after case, the course of criminal justice has been shaped by public anger and special-interest lobbying. Indians must remember the foundational principle of our Republic, the guardian of all our rights and freedoms, isn’t popular sentiment: it is justice, which in turn is based on the consistent application of principles.

For one overriding reason, Guru’s hanging ought to concern even those unmoved by his particular case, or the growing ethics-based global consensus against the death penalty. There is no principle underpinning the death penalty in India today except vengeance. And vengeance is no principle at all.

Editorial in Deccan Herald:

Even where a person has killed another, or many others, in any circumstance or for any reason, there is no justification for taking his life. The provision for capital punishment is based on a primitive idea of retribution and should have no place in the statutes of a civilised society.

Afzal  Guru did not kill, and there is no absolute certainty about his role in the events that he is said to have been involved in. Then why did he have to be executed? The question will haunt the nation’s conscience in the days and years to come.

Also read: Would Gandhi have condoned Kasab‘s hanging?

CHURUMURI POLL: Hang Afzal Guru, pardon Sarabjit?

Is TV sucking the life out of our intellectuals?

6 February 2013

The political psychologist Ashis Nandy‘s “casteist” comments at the Jaipur literature festival—“the fact is that most of the corrupt come from Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs“; this is an “equalising force” because the upper castes have done for it for long; the “Republic is safe” as long as this happens—created an almighty kerfuffle last week.

Harish Khare, the former media advisor to prime minister Manmohan Singh, weighs in on the row which degenerated into demands for Nandy’s arrest (to which the Supreme Court put a stop but not before giving the sociologist a piece of its mind) in today’s Hindu.

Khare lays the blame squarely at the door of manufactured debates on TV, where nuance has given way to noise; irony to idiocy:

“We are now fully addicted to the new culture of controversy-manufacturing. We have gloriously succumbed to the intoxicating notion that a controversy a day keeps the Republic safe and sound from the corrupt and corrosive “system.”

“This happens every night. Ten or 15 words are taken out of a 3,000-word essay or speech and made the basis of accusation and denunciation, as part of our right to debate. We insistently perform these rituals of denunciation and accusation as affirmation of our democratic entitlement.

“Every night someone must be made to burn in the Fourth Circle of Hell.

“In our nightly dance of aggression and snapping, touted as the finest expression of civil society and its autonomy from the ugly state and its uglier political minions, we turn our back on irony, nuance and complexity and, instead, opt for angry bashing, respecting neither office nor reputation.

“We are no longer able to distinguish between a charlatan and an academician. A Nandy must be subjected to the same treatment as a Suresh Kalmadi.

“Nandy is simply a collateral victim of the new narrative genre in which a “controversy” is to be contrived as a ‘grab-the-eyeballs’ game, a game which is played out cynically and conceitedly for its own sake, with no particular regard for any democratic fairness or intellectual integrity.

“By now the narrative technique is very well-defined: a “story” will not go off the air till an “apology” has been extracted on camera and an “impact” is then flaunted. In this controversy-stoking culture of bogus democratic ‘debate’, Nandy just happened to be around on a slow day.

“Indeed it would be instructive to find out how certain individuals were instigated to invoke the law against Nandy. Perhaps the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association needs to be applauded for having the courage to call the Nandy controversy an instance of “media violence.”

“The so-called debate is controlled and manipulated and manufactured by voices and groups without any democratic credentials or public accountability. It would require an extraordinary leap of faith to forget that powerful corporate interests have captured the sites of freedom of speech and expressions; it would be a great public betrayal to trust them as the sole custodians of abiding democratic values and sentiments or promoters of public interest.”

Read the full piece: Why the intellectual is running scared

Image: courtesy Outlook*

* Disclosures apply

‘Ram, a bad husband; Lakshman, a worse brother’

9 November 2012

The Ramayana, reinterpreted by the renowned criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani, in The Hindu:

Ram was a bad husband. I don’t like him at all. Just because some fisherman said something, he sent that poor woman [Sita] to exile.

Lakshman was even worse.

“When Sita was abducted, Ram asked him to go and find her as she was abducted during his watch. Lakshman simply excused himself saying she was his sister-in-law and he never looked at her face, so he wouldn’t be able to identify her.”

Image: courtesy India Forums

Also read: Rama, Krishna, Shiva and political correctness

Ramayana, Mahabharatha, and the women’s bill

Should gods, godesses have caste identities?

In Ayodhya, Dasaratha‘s wives gorged on idlis

If Lord Rama was here, there, everywhere…

CHURUMURI POLL: Lord Rama, man or myth?

How ‘trial by media’ turned into media on trial

13 September 2012

Is it a good thing that the Supreme Court of India has not announced clearcut guidelines for media coverage of court cases? Or has it opened the floodgates by introducing a “neturalising device” that underlines the right of the accused to seek postponement of coverage on a case-by-case basis?

By introducing a “constitutional principle” has the judiciary appropriated to itself the power of the legislature to make law? And by giving credence to the complaints of corporates, has the SC sacrificed the interests of faceless and voiceless millions seeking justice and guidance from the top court?

***

The Tribune, Chandigarh: Thoughtless curbs

The Supreme Court judgment that courts can defer media coverage of a case for a short period if there is a danger to an individual’s right to fair trial will curb freedom of the Press, limit the people’s right to know and unnecessarily encourage litigation. Growing complaints of “trial by media” had prompted Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia to initiate a discussion on framing guidelines for court reporting….

There is a growing tendency in the judiciary as well as the executive to curb free speech. The Allahabad High Court banned all media reporting of troop movements after a news report hinted at a coup attempt. The government recently gagged social media sites on the pretext of restoring order. The arrest of a West Bengal professor for circulating a cartoon, the removal of cartoons from school textbooks and the slapping of a sedition case against a cartoonist for disrespecting the national emblem are other instances of executive intolerance of dissent. Vague judgments like the one in the Sahara case will only fuel this tendency.

**

Deccan Herald, Bangalore: Gag on media

A fresh threat to the right to free speech and expression, which has been sanctified by the Constitution, has come from an unlikely place, the Supreme Court of India, which has in the past protected and promoted it as a basic entitlement of citizens. Its judgement empowering courts to ban reporting of hearings in cases where there is a perceived chance of interference in free and fair trial amounts to muzzling media freedom. It needs to be opposed like all other assaults on the functioning on the media, which are becoming frequent now.

The court has propounded a  ‘constitutional principle’  which would allow aggrieved parties to seek postponement of the publication of hearings if they are seen to be prejudicial to the administration of justice. But this is disguising an unfair restriction as a constitutional doctrine, creating a devious device to undermine a basic right.

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The Indian Express: Lines of control

This “doctrine of postponement” of reporting is meant to be a preventive measure, rather than a punitive one, and is intended to balance the right of free speech with the right to a fair trial. The courts, the SC said, will evaluate each appeal carefully, guided by considerations of necessity and proportionality. However, the very outlining of the principle, in effect, leaves journalism at the mercy of the high court, rather than being internally regulated with better editorial gatekeeping.

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The Hindu: Don’t compromise open justice

The Supreme Court’s judgment justifying a temporary ban on the publication of court proceedings in certain cases is likely to have a chilling effect on the freedom of the press and the very idea of an open trial…. Indeed, by emphasising the right of an aggrieved person to seek postponement of media coverage of an ongoing case by approaching the appropriate writ court, there is a danger that gag orders may become commonplace. At a minimum, the door has been opened to hundreds and thousands of additional writs — a burden our legal system is unprepared to handle — filed by accused persons with means.

**

Mint: Judgment and some worries

While the court prescribed tests of reasonableness, among others, on deciding issues of postponement, time is of the essence for media and citizens dependent on it for information. It is not far-fetched to presume that during this period of stasis, reporters and editors, can be arm-twisted into submission. The judgement whittles down an already embattled freedom available to the Press. It will add psychological pressure and uncertainty in an already difficult environment.

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Business Standard: Tilting the balance

Tuesday’s judgment has done is to tilt the balance in favour of litigants seeking court interventions — which might well result in the imposition of such gag orders on the media. To that extent, the apex court’s order is prone to misuse…. The legal process (of deferement) is certain to cast an adverse impact on the freedom of the media and undermine the people’s right to know about such cases before the court.

Instead of paving the way for such curbs, it would perhaps make more sense if the courts took upon themselves the responsibility of allowing independent and comprehensive electronic coverage of court cases that both the people and the media can freely access for information or reportage. That would be a more effective way of ensuring that the coverage of court proceedings does not create the risk of prejudice to the proper administration of justice or to the fairness of trials.

**

The Times of India: Chilling effect

The bench headed by outgoing Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia came up with an alternative approach to maintaining the balance between free speech and fair trial. Drawing upon the contempt law, the apex court devised a judicial power to order the postponement of publication as a last resort. Even this, however, may negatively impact the salutary principle that trials be held in public, as powerful defendants could routinely invoke such postponement orders….  The media is anyway a heterogeneous entity and the right of journalists to cover court proceedings is an essential attribute of a fair trial.

Cartoon: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today

How much is one divided by zero? Don’t ask…

4 September 2012

The chairman of the press council of India, Justice Markandey Katju, wrote an article in The Hindu on September 3 on education.

Titled ‘Professor, heal thyself’, it contained this paragraph:

The level of intellect of many teachers is low, because many of them have not been appointed on merit but on extraneous considerations. To give an example, when I was a judge of Allahabad High Court I had a case relating to a service matter of a mathematics lecturer in a university in Uttar Pradesh.

Since the teacher was present in court I asked him how much one divided by zero is equal to.

He replied, “Infinity.”

I told him that his answer was incorrect, and it was evident that he was not even fit to be a teacher in an intermediate college. I wondered how had he become a university lecturer (In mathematics it is impermissible to divide by zero. Hence anything divided by zero is known as an indeterminate number, not infinity).

Not surprisingly, two wise readers of The Hindu have corrected the press council chief through letters to the editor:

In his article “Professor, teach thyself” (Sept. 3), chairman of the Press Council of India, Markandey Katju, has cited an incident that took place when he was a judge of the Allahabad High Court. He says he chided a mathematics lecturer, whose case he was hearing, and told him that he was not fit to be even a teacher because he (the lecturer) said one divided by zero was infinity.

Justice Katju claims that anything divided by zero is indeterminate. He is wrong and the lecturer was right because any non-zero number divided by zero is infinity. It is zero divided by zero that is indeterminate.

While I can understand the plight of the poor lecturer who did not have the courage to correct the judge hearing his case, I am appalled at the timidity of “some of the top senior academicians” of Jawaharlal Nehru University, to whom Justice Katju narrated the incident. I wonder why they let his fallacy pass unchallenged. Justice Katju must seek out the mathematics lecturer and apologise to him.

Kanan Vihari Jaswal, Noida

***
I would like to digress from the primary point made in the article — with which I completely agree — and talk about the mathematics lecturer’s answer. “Infinity” is indeed the correct answer to the question posed by Justice Katju to the lecturer. 0/0 is indeterminate because it can take multiple values depending on the limit being calculated (for example 2x/x; x->0 is 2 , 5x/x; x->0 is 5) whereas any finite number divided by 0 (eg 1/0) is an impermissible operation, which is just another way of saying that the result is infinite (an absurdly large number).

Siddharth Tiwari, Kanpur

***

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

Editors’ Guild of India takes on Press Council chief

Five reasons why Manmohan Singh is ‘guilty’

6 June 2012

After tearing down every one of Manmohan Singh‘s ministers, “Team Anna” has trained its guns on the prime minister himself, calling him “shikhandi“, accusing him of turning a blind eye while his colleagues were making merry, and charging him of presiding over the coal scam.

In a piece in The Hindu, Singh’s former media advisor Harish Khare offers a backhanded defence of his ex-boss:

“Manmohan Singh is not corrupt, but he is definitely guilty. He can be easily charged — along with his political partner, Sonia Gandhi — of pursing a politics of decency and of elevating reconciliation to a matter of state policy to the extent of avoiding confrontation; a luxury, statecraft does not permit a prime minister.

“Manmohan Singh is guilty of making the grievously erroneous assessment that Mob Anna was just a bunch of well-meaning civil society busybodies; he is guilty of not seeing through their incurable political agenda.

“Manmohan Singh is guilty of not being ruthless enough to crack open the Nira Radia tape case, a rogue operation carried by unscrupulous corporate elements.

“Manmohan Singh is guilty of not marshalling the intellectual and policy arguments to tell the nation that Vinod Rai‘s maximalist interpretation of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG)’s mandate has dangerously undermined the constitutional structure of equilibrium.

“Above all, Manmohan Singh is guilty of pursuing the noble quest for reconciliation at the expense of another maxim of statecraft: those who spurn the public authority’s hand of reconciliation must be made to learn the cost of confrontation. He is guilty of not learning the lesson from the mid-1970s and early 1990s when mobs were allowed to overwhelm the democratic institutions and their liberal ethos.”

Read the full article: Guilty on many counts, not corrupt

What Montek Ahluwalia can learn from Sir MV

31 May 2012

“I don’t think many Indians care about the country,” he (George Fernandes) said. “By Indians I mean those in the highest places. If they cared they wouldn’t have been looting the treasuries as they are and they wouldn’t be allowing the crooks of the world to treat this country as a grazing ground. Some day we will sink and this is not anything to do with China or with Pakistan. It is because this country is cursed to put up with a leadership that has chosen to sell it for their own personal aggrandisement.”

I was struck by the note of despair in his voice. It was hard to believe that this was the country’s Defence Minister speaking, a politician who had reached the pinnacle of his career.

Amitav Ghosh in his book ‘Countdown

***

By K.B. GANAPATHY

Reading an article some time back in India Today magazine, and on May 21, 2012 in The Hindu about Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the great Sardar, deputy chairman of the planning commission for the last nearly eight years, I was livid with anger and felt ashamed of myself as much as helpless for being unable to do anything to stop such alleged stealing and squandering of my nation’s wealth, created from the sweat of my countrymen for the development of my country.

Though a democracy, see how helpless we the Aam Aadmi are. And to think that his case of extravaganza in splurging our country’s wealth on himself is just a tip of the iceberg of a behemoth of Indian bureaucracy, frightens me.

I was suddenly made aware that what is bugging this country’s development is not just corruption but also a very highly indulgent bureaucracy rolling in luxury at State expense. Instead of helping build our nascent free-nation, these pseudo-intellectual, highly educated bureaucrats are bleeding our country of its tax and natural resources.

Thanks to the RTI Act and some of the newspapers like The Hindu and news magazines, this kind of ‘corruption by other ways,’ is also being exposed.

As I was reading The Hindu article by P. Sainath, I was reminded of bureaucrats of my own princely State of Mysore — some of the Dewans — specially two well-known ones: Sir M. Visvesvaraya and Sir Mirza Ismail, legends in their own time and perhaps for all the time to come in the matter of administration and honesty.

About Sir M. Visvesvaraya it is said that when he was on official tour and stayed in the government guest house (also known as inspection bungalow) after his official work, he would switch off the electric light and remove a candle from his pocket and light it for his personal work! That’s the level of honesty.

What a contrast to the total degenerate conduct of Montek Singh Ahluwalia, as reported in The Hindu.

It is keeping this Sardar in mind, the renowned author and journalist Khushwant Singh, being a Sardar himself, with natural pride in such situations which anyone would display, had said, in a lighter vein I suppose, that the prophesy of a Sikh Guru that ‘Raj Karega Khalsa‘ had come true with three Sikhs in top positions ruling India — Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Army chief Gen J.J. Singh (Retd) and Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

This was during the 2004 victory of Congress. UPA-1 rule. But now, the Sikh Army Chief is not there but the other two are there in office. However, the question is, doing what? Oh, yes. From June 2012 when the new Army Chief, Lt Gen Bikram Singh, takes over as Army Chief it will again be ‘Raj Karega Khalsa.’

But, what about Montek Singh Ahluwalia?

A real Sheikh of a country that is ready to fall apart, the Centre cannot hold. If you have not read the The Hindu article, here I give a sample of it.

The title itself is sarcastic in tone — “The austerity of the affluent.” And it gives a peek into the details of financial abuse of office, “A rural Indian spending Rs. 22.50 a day would not be considered poor by a Planning Commission whose deputy chairman’s foreign trips between May and October last year cost a daily average of Rs. 2.02 lakh.”

And this man tells the Supreme Court and the dumb Indians that an Indian who spends (or earns) Rs. 29 a day in urban area and Rs. 23 a day in rural area is not a poor man.

What cheek, what gumption, what audacity and what economics!

The man undertook, between May and Oct. 2011, “four trips [abroad] covering 18 nights [which] cost the exchequer [tax payer] a sum of Rs. 36,40,110; an average of Rs. 2.02 lakh a day,” according to The Statesman News Service, says the article.

At the time it happened, that amounts to US $4,000 a day. And we are a poor country? Absurd. This is a poor country for ‘Aam Aadmi,’ not for bureaucrats like Montek Singh Ahluwalia and politicians. The truth is that this is a rich country where poor people live, because of rulers like Ahluwalia and other corrupt leaders.

There is more startling statistics to come from RTI: “Dr Ahluwalia made 42 official foreign trips and spent 274 days overseas during a seven-year tenure. That is ‘one in every nine days’ he was abroad. And that is excluding travel days. The India Today story found that his excursion cost the exchequer [of our country] Rs 2.34 crore. This could be apart from what Indian embassies abroad spent on him on frills such as hiring limousines. Even a Moghul Emperor would not have had this kind of luxury, freedom and enjoyment.

Apparently, Ahluwalia was and is a law unto himself as much as a boss unto himself.

No one to question him, not even his de jure boss, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.

And remember, all this when our ‘dumb’ Prime Minister pleaded for austerity in 2009 and his Cabinet responded handsomely to the call. The message was for the opposition too. But look at this. This is the spirit of austerity practiced by the ruling party, as also the BJP opposition.

Praful Patel (UPA-NCP) cabinet minister and Nitin Gadkari (NDA-BJP) have hosted two of the costliest weddings ever, says the report.

The Hindu article mentions many more instances of such spending of looted money by our netas, bureaucrats and industry tycoons as you and I watch the world collapse around us helplessly.

What did Chanakya say in his ‘Chanakya Neeti‘?

“Do not live in a country that does not allow you self-respect, honour, means of living, a family, kith and kin, friends, well-wishers, ways of education and self-development. Quit such country. It is not fit for living.”

Alas! Quit and go where?

Jeena yahan marna yahan

Iske siva jaana kahaan…

(K.B. Ganapathy is the editor and founder of India’s most successful English evening newspaper, Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Photograph: Deputy chairman of planning commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, at a hydrogen energy exhibition in June 2007 (courtesy Manvender V. Love/ Press Trust of India)

***

Also read: Montek Singh Ahluwalia gets a Padma for what?

Ayyo, Amma, Maami, is tea a national drink?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is the ‘dream team’ exposed?

Once, such a man walked this land we now ruin

18 April 2012

Editorial in The Hindu on 17 April 1962, on Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya, who passed away 50 years ago this week:

“Dr Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya is no longer physically with us, but the noble record of his work will long endure and continue to inspire succeeding generations. He was truly of his time and yet far ahead of it, a living synthesis of old-world courtesy and simplicity and the dynamic qualities of a pioneer of planned progress.

“As a professional engineer, he achieved monumental feats of design and construction, like the Krishnaraja Sagara Dam. Mysore has good reason to cherish him for his many services to the State as both engineer and administrator, his six years as the Dewan of the former princely State being marked as much by his genius for organisation as by a passion for service.

“Though industries and education were his major concern (he was the founder of the University of Mysore), rural uplift that is so much in the air to-day was also among his early preoccupations. His book, Reconstructing India which has been greeted as “a thorough and comprehensive statement of India’s requirements” provides a blue print for social reform and uplift of women and the depressed classes, as much as for building a political and economic system from the village upwards.

“The idea of the Mysore Government to make the native village of Dr Visvesvaraya a model village is appropriate, though the centenarian did expect every village in every State in India to be so reconstructed. It is significant that he won his early laurels as an engineer under the Bombay Government, before his home State claimed him.

“The heritage of his example is there for posterity to cherish and emulate. India has much need of more men of his calibre, wisdom, vision and above all his unshakable integrity.”

Also read: Sir MV on India’s 11 basic wants

Sir MV: The 7th most famous Mysorean in the world?

The finest (English) passage on Karnataka?

When the Mysore turban gave way to the roomal

A small lesson from Sir MV for our munde makkalu

If only Girish Kasaravalli was a Bengali auteur

2 April 2012

He doesn’t crow about his feats, appear on magazine covers, or give loud interviews. Why, even in the 21st century, he has the utter indecency to make films with a total budget of Rs 35 lakh (Aamir Khan‘s Lagaan had a marketing budget of Rs 1 crore; Rajnikanth‘s Robot cost over Rs 100 crore).

Yet, staggeringly, the Kannada film maker Girish Kasavaralli has quietly accumulated six national awards for his portrayal of the social landscape, winning  a Swarna Kamal in each of the last four decades—for Tabarana Kathe (1986), Thaayi Saheba (1997), Dweepa (2001), Kurmavatara (2012).

The 61-year-old auteur in an Q&A in The Hindu:

What according to you is a political film?

Political films are not necessarily those that are made about politics, but anything that subverts our perception. No one can make a politically free statement, which is naive or contradictory in nature. The movie “Bairi” is a classic example where institutionalisation of religion is portrayed. What forms our perception by viewing it makes it a political or a non-political film.

Photograph: courtesy The Tribune

Also read: Why national media avoids national awards

When last did both “Bests” hail from the same State?

‘If we are fated to die, no one can stop it…’

Has Bollywood wrecked our film sensibilities?

How reformer Manmohan became a xenophobe

29 February 2012

Twenty years after he emerged in our lives as a practising politician, Manmohan Singh appears to be happily dismantling the very attributes that endeared him to the chattering classes—or allowing those around him to do so.

For one, as the 2G and CWG scams show, “Mr Clean” has wilfully turned his nose away from the stench of corruption asphyxiating his government, while blithely letting the attack dogs in his ministers to tear into independent institutions like the election commission and comptroller and auditor-general—and the media.

There is dark talk of the return of “estate tax” that is widely believed to have paved the way for the reforms that he unleashed in 1991, in this year’s budget. And now the original reformer who opened the nation’s doors to the world and taught us to trust “the other”, is talking of a “foreign hand” behind the protests at the Kudankulam nuclear power project.

The irony is too heavy to be lost: a government that is seen to have surrendered to the “foreign hand” behind the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, a government that is seen to be the chihuahua of global finance giants, is turning against a citizenry fearful of what reactors can do to their lives and livelihood, post Fukushima.

Behind all this is the dire message: Agree with me, agree with what we do.

Or else.

***

In the Indian Express, the commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes that the prime minister’s remarks show a diminishing space for dissent in our democracy.

“On the surface, Indian democracy has a cacophony of voices. But if you scratch the surface, dissent in India labours under an immense maze of threats and interdictions. What is disturbing about the prime minister’s remark is its construction of what dissent is about.

“The idea that anyone who disagrees with my views must be the carrier of someone else’s subversive agenda is, in some ways, deeply anti-democratic. It does away with the possibility of genuinely good faith disagreement. It denies equal respect to citizens because it absolves you from taking their ideas seriously.

“Once we have impugned the source, we don’t have to pay attention to the content of the claims. The necessity of democratic politics arises precisely because there is deep, good faith disagreement. Reducing disagreement to bad faith betrays a subconscious wish of doing away with democratic politics.

“This has serious consequences for dissent. Our actions and rhetoric are sounding increasingly like China’s. The state, when challenged, will often resort to all power at its disposal to pressure organisations and institutions. Make no mistake about it: seriously taking on the state is still an act of bravery in India….

“The prime minister unwittingly showed what a banana republic India can be. If a few crores here and there, given to NGOs which have no instruments of power other than their ability to mobilise, can bring this country to a standstill, then we are indeed in deep trouble.

“Banana republics are more paranoid about dissent than self-confident democracies.”

Illustration: courtesy Keshav/The Hindu

Read the full article: Do not disagree

CHURUMURI POLL: Too much democracy in India?

Is India moving towards becoming a dictatorship?

ARUNDHATI ROY:  A corporate Hindu state

One question Barkha Dutt should ask Rushdie

24 January 2012

After five days of dominating the Jaipur literary festival without even stepping foot in it, Sir Salman Rushdie will bring the curtain down on the final day; he will address the gabfest by a video link with NDTV anchor Barkha Dutt as his interrogator/interlocutor. (Oh, he won’t!)

These five days have been a signal lesson in India’s slow but sure march towards illiberalism.

Over five days, we have learnt that there is no ban on reading, possessing or downloading copies of The Satanic Verses;  just that the finance ministry has disallowed its import. But that has been sufficient for Islamist fundamentalists to bar Rushdie from stepping on the soil of the country of his birth.

Over five days, we have seen the Rajasthan government invent an “assassination plot” to keep Rushdie out, succeed in their efforts, and then deny their concoction. Over five days, we have seen the festival’s organisers behave like Team Anna, saying one thing one moment, exactly the opposite the next moment and both sometimes (while having grand debates on censorship).

Over five days, we have seen a lawyer (Akhil Sibal)—son-in-law of one of the organisers (Namita Gokhale) and son of the Union IT minister (Kapil Sibal)—who “defended” M.F. Husain when he was being targeted Hindu fundamentalists, being deployed to urge authors (like Hari Kunzru, Amitava Kumar, Ruchir Joshi, Jeet Thayil) to sign papers that they read passages from the book so on their own volition, and so on.

What is the one question Sir Salman Rushdie must be asked this afternoon?

Like, should Rushdie be asked to repeat what he told Rajiv Gandhi in an open letter in the The New York Times in 1988, when The Satanic Verses was banned:

“By behaving in this fashion, can [India] any more lay claim to the title of a civilised society? Is it no longer permissible, in modern, supposedly secular India, for literature to treat such themes? What sort of India do you wish to govern? Is it to be an open or a repressive society?”

Cartoon: courtesy Surendra/ The Hindu

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Is India a liberal republic?

N. Ram’s farewell letter to ‘The Hindu’ staff

18 January 2012

The following is the full text of the letter sent off by Narasimhan Ram, editor-in-chief of The Hindu group of publications, to his colleagues on Wednesday, 18 January 2012, on the eve of his relinquishment of office.

***

January 18, 2012

Dear colleagues

Today I step down as editor-in-chief and publisher of our publications, The Hindu, Business Line, Frontline, and Sportstar, and also as printer as applicable.

In consequence, Siddharth Varadarajan, D. Sampathkumar, R. Vijayasankar, and Nirmal Shekhar, all editors, take over, with effect from January 19, 2012, as editors of The Hindu, Business Line, Frontline, and Sportstar respectively responsible for the selection of news under the Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act of 1867. And K. Balaji, managing director of Kasturi & Sons Ltd., takes over, under the same Act, as publisher of all our publications and also as Printer as applicable.

I will continue to be a wholetime Director of Kasturi & Sons Ltd.

These changes on the editorial side are significant, indeed milestones in our progress as a newspaper-publishing company.

On the one hand, they represent a conscious and well-prepared induction of fresh and younger blood at the top levels of our editorial operations, not of course as one-person shows but as captains of teams of talented professionals who work on the basis of collegiality, mutual respect, trust, professional discipline, and cooperation.

On the other hand, these editorial changes are a vital part of the process of professionalization and contemporization under way in all the company’s operations. I am clear that this is the only way to face the future – the opportunities as well as the challenges.

The Hindu is, way and ahead, India’s most respected newspaper – about that there can be little question.

Founded on September 20, 1878, we are the oldest living daily newspaper in the freedom movement tradition. Our strengths are drawn from our rich history, and equally from the way our organization has contemporized, transformed itself continuously and pro-actively in content, in mode of presentation, in style, in engaging the reader, and of course technologically, over 133 years in keeping with the enormous changes that have taken place in India and the world.

Generations of editors, managing directors, and other business and professional leaders at various levels, but above all many thousands of our hard-working and dedicated journalistic and non-journalistic employees have made us what we
are today. About us it will certainly be no cliché to say: individuals come and go, the institution goes on.

With a daily net-paid circulation close to 1.5 million, The Hindu is today one of India’s three largest circulated English language newspapers. The latest round of the Indian Readership Survey confirms our position as South India’s No. 1 English language daily in terms of readership. Our other publications, Business Line, Frontline, and Sportstar, have also developed well, winning a reputation for independence, integrity, reliability, relevance, and quality.

For complex reasons, the main news media – the print press as well as broadcast television – are in crisis across the developed world; this phenomenon is well known and well documented.

Summing up the evidence, Christoph Riess, chief executive officer of the world association of newspapers, told those assembled at the world newspaper congress and world editors forum in Vienna in October 2011: ‘Circulation is like the sun. It continues to rise in the East and decline in the West.’

And it is not just circulation; Riess’s observation applies to readership and, in varying measure and with some qualifications, to revenues as well.

We can easily see how fortunate we, and our counterparts publishing in English and various other languages in India and across the developing world, are to be located in another media world. The chief differentiating characteristic of this media world is that printed newspapers (and also broadcast television) are in growth mode, some of us in buoyant  growth mode.

How long this duality will endure is a matter of conjecture. But there are exciting opportunities out there in our media world and they must be seized strategically and with deft footwork. Digital journalism – good journalism on the existing and emerging digital platforms – is an exciting domain where a combination of quality, reliability, interactivity, creative  ways to engage the reader, and growth with commercial viability will be key.

There are, equally, tough challenges – especially a hardening business environment and rising commercial pressure on editorial values and on the independence and integrity of editorial content, seen, for example, in the recently exposed notorious practices of paid news and private treaties.

The negative tendencies that have surfaced in the Indian news media have been sharply criticized by the Press Council of India Chairman, Justice Markandey Katju; and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has reflected on the problem in a rather different way. I have discussed the opportunities as well as the challenges in some detail in a recent address I gave at the Indian History Congress in Patiala on ‘The Changing Role of the News Media in Contemporary India’.

The last thing we need is complacency.

In my understanding, the two central functions of a trustworthy and relevant press (and news media) are (a) the credible-informational and (b) the critical-investigative-adversarial.

A third is the pastime function, which is important, especially for engaging the reader in a wholesome way; but it must be constantly kept in perspective and proportion and must not, in my view, be allowed to outweigh, not to mention squash, the two central functions. There are also valuable derivatives of the two central functions: public education; serving as a forum for analysis, disputation, criticism, and comment; and agenda building on issues that matter.

It is to maintain and strengthen our vantage position as India’s most respected newspaper in an increasingly challenging professional and business environment that the Board of Directors of Kasturi & Sons Ltd. adopted ‘Living our Values: Code of Editorial Values’ on April 18, 2011.

‘The greatest asset of The Hindu, founded in September 1878,’ the Code begins, ‘is trust. Everything we do as a company revolves, and should continue to revolve, round this hard-earned and inestimable long-term asset. The objective of codification of editorial values is to protect and foster the bond of trust between our newspapers and their readers.’

The Code emphasizes the imperative need for the Company to protect the integrity of the newspapers it publishes, their editorial content, and the business operations that sustain and help grow the newspapers.

It commits our newspapers as well as the Company to uncompromising fealty to the values that are set out in the Code.

It underlines the importance of the business and editorial departments ‘working together closely on the basis of mutual respect and cooperation and in the spirit of living these values in a contemporary sense.’

It mandates ‘transparency and disclosure in accordance with the best contemporary norms and practices in the field’ and also avoidance of conflict of interest, keeping in mind the codified values.

Finally, the Code lays down this mandate for contemporization of all our operations: ‘There is no wall but there is a firm line between the business operations of the Company and editorial operations and content. Pursuant to the above-mentioned values and objectives, it is necessary to create a professionalism in the editorial functioning independent of shareholder interference so as to maintain an impartiality, fairness, and objectivity in editorial and journalistic functioning.’

As I step down from my editorial positions with a decent measure of satisfaction over our collective achievement, at an age that is close enough to 67, I warmly thank all our journalists and non-journalist colleagues for the trust, hard work, and cooperation they have invested in The Hindu group of publications and the Company during my editorship.

I can assure you that with this completion of the process of editorial succession, our publications will be in able and trustworthy hands and our values as strong as ever.

N. Ram

**

File photograph: N. Ram, the outgoing editor-in-chief of The Hindu, at a lecture in New Delhi in April 2011 (courtesy Kanekal Kuppesh)

***

Also read: N. Ram to quit as The Hindu editor-in-chief on Jan 19

N. Ram: caustic, opinionated, sensitive and humane

Why N. Ravi quit The Hindu after 20 years as editor

Nirmala Lakshman: I didn’t step down; I resigned

Malini Parthasarathy quits as Hindu‘s executive editor

The four great wars of N. Ram on The Hindu soil

N. Murali: The Hindu is run like a banana republic

The curious case of Mukesh Ambani & Raghav Bahl

9 January 2012

PRITAM SENGUPTA in New Delhi and KEERTHI PRATIPATI in Hyderabad write: Media criticism in India, especially in the so-called mainstream media, has never been much to write home about.

Operating on the principle that writing on another media house or media professional means exposing yourself to the same danger in the future, proprietors, promoters and editors—most of whom have plenty to hide—are wary of taking on their colleagues, competitors and compatriots.

That risk-averse attitude amounting to a mutually agreed ceasefire pretty much explains why the biggest media deal of the decade—Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) funding Network 18/ TV 18 group to pick up ETV—has been reported with about as much excitement as a weather report.

That the newspaper which issues P. Sainath‘s monthly cheque, The Hindu, declined to publish media critic Sevanti Ninan‘s fortnightly column on market rumours about the impending deal (without telling readers why) provides a chilling preview of what lies in store as the shadow of corporates lengthens over the media.

In 2008, New York Times‘ columnist Anand Giridharadas wrote of why the Indian media does not take on the Ambanis of Reliance Industries in an article titled “Indian to the core, and an oligarch“.

“A prominent Indian editor, formerly of The Times of India, who requested anonymity because of concerns about upsetting Mr Ambani, says Reliance maintains good relationships with newspaper owners; editors, in turn, fear investigating it too closely.

“I don’t think anyone else comes close to it,” the editor said of Reliance’s sway. “I don’t think anyone is able to work the system as they can.”

***

First things first, the RIL-Network18/TV18-ETV wedding is an unlikely menage-a-trois.

Reliance Industries Limited is a behemoth built by Dhirubhai Ambani and his sons Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani using a maze of companies and subsidiaries built on a heady cocktail of mergers and demergers, using shares, debentures, bonuses and other tricks in the accounting book—and many beyond it.

The only known interest of the Ambanis in the media before this deal was when they bought a Bombay business weekly called Commerce and turned into the daily Business & Political Observer (BPO) to match the weekly offering, The Sunday Observer, which they had acquired from Jaico Publishing.

(Top business commentators like John Elliott and Sucheta Dalal have alluded to a blog item to convey that Mukesh Ambani’s media interest goes beyond the recent announcement.)

Anyway, BPO, launched under the editorship of Prem Shankar Jha, was long in coming unlike typical Reliance projects. Suffice it to say that in 1991, when India was at the cusp of pathbreaking reforms, some of India’s biggest names in business journalism were producing dummy editions of BPO.

The Ambani publications were under the gaze of the more media-savvy younger brother, Anil Ambani, who operated with R.K. Mishra, the late editor of The Patriot, as chairman of the editorial board. The Observer group shuttered before the beginning of the new millennium.

As Mani Ratnam‘s film Guru based on Sydney Morning Herald foreign editor Hamish McDonald‘s book The Polyester Prince makes clear, the Ambanis have always cultivated friends across the political divide, but they have been identified with the Congress more than the BJP.

Raghav Bahl‘s Network18/TV18 is in some senses an ideal fit for RIL.

Till its latest cleanup came about a year and a half ago, it was difficult to understand which of its myriad companies and subsidiaries came under which arm. It too has friends on either side, but suffice it to say, CNN-IBN‘s decision not to run the cash-for-votes sting operation in July 2008 revealed where its political predilections lay.

Eenadu and ETV, on the other hand, is a long, different story.

***

The ETV network of channels was launched by Ramoji Rao, the founder of the Telugu daily Eenadu. Rao has many claims to fame (including launching Priya pickles), but he is chiefly known as the media baron behind the transformation of the Telugu film star N.T. Rama Rao into a weighty non-Congress politician.

Rao and his men are known to have crafted speeches that tapped into dormant Telugu pride for the politically naive NTR. The massive media buildup in Eenadu—Ramoji Rao pioneered multi-edition newspapers with localised supplements—saw NTR become the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh just nine months after launching the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 1982.

Two years later, when NTR was removed from office by a pliant governor (Ram Lal) working at the behest of Indira Gandhi‘s rampaging government, Ramoji Rao played a key role in protecting the numbers of TDP MLAs by having them packed off to Bangalore and Mysore, and building public opinion through his newspapers.

When NTR’s son-in-law N. Chandrababu Naidu walked out of TDP to “save” TDP, Ramoji Rao backed Naidu and played a hand in his ascension as CM. Thus, Ramoji Rao galvanised non-Congress forces in the South leading to the creation of the National Front, which installed V.P. Singh as PM in 1989 after the Bofors scandal claimed Rajiv Gandhi.

In 2006, Ramoji Rao placed his political leaning on record:

“I submit that until 1983 the Congress was running the State in an unchallenged and unilateral manner for the past 30 years. The Congress party became a threat to democracy and in view of the single party and individual rule by Indira Congress, the opposition in the state was in emaciated condition. It has been reduced to the status of a nominal entity. The dictatorial rule of the Congress proceeding without any hindrance. I submit that as the opposition parties were weak and were in helpless situation where they were unable to do any thing in spite of the misrule by the ruling party, Eenadu played the role of opposition. I submit that in the elections of the State Assembly held in 1983, the Congress for the first time did not secure a majority in the elections and lost the power to the newly formed Telugu Desam Party. I submit that on the day of poling i.e. January 5, 1983, I issued a signed editorial on the front page of Eenadu supporting the manifesto of Telugu Desam Party and calling on the electorate to vote for Telugu Desam Party giving cogent reasons for the stance taken by me.”

In short, the marriage between RIL-Network18/TV18 and Ramoji Rao is one between a largely pro-Congress duo and a distinctly non-Congress one.

***

Indeed, Ramoji Rao’s troubles that has resulted in substantial sections of his ETV network getting out of his grasp and into RIL’s, are largely because of his consistently anti-Congress stance, which gained an added edge in 2005 when the Congress under Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy (YSR) trumped the TDP under Chandrababu Naidu in the assembly elections.

Reported The Telegraph:

A slew of news reports in Eenadu and programmes on ETV since 2005 have accused Congress ministers, politicians and senior government officials of corruption and hanky panky. One report, for instance, debunked the official claim that the number of suicides by farmers had dropped. Another attacked construction by Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy, the chief minister’s brother, on disputed land. A third said that Eenadu had discovered, based on a survey, that voter lists for elections for local bodies had omitted the names of opposition party sympathisers.

It didn’t take long for YSR to hit back.

It was a two-pronged attack: his son Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy launched a project to own launch his own newspaper and newschannel house to take on the might of Eenadu and ETV. Simultaneously, a Congress MP from Rajahmundry attacked Ramoji Rao where it hurt most: his finances.

Arun Kumar Vundavalli, the MP, revealed that Rao’s Margadarsi Financiers had started dilly-dallying about repaying depositors, even after their deposit period had expired. Kumar showed that Margadarsi Financiers—a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) company, of which the karta was Ramoji Rao—had collected deposits from the public, although a 1997 RBI law forbade HUFs from doing so.

Margadarsi Financiers owned a 95% stake in Ushodaya Enterprises, Ramoji Rao’s company which owned Eenadu and ETV.

A one-man committee of enquiry constituted by the Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy government revealed that Rs 2,600 crore of money was collected from the public in violation of RBI norms. Although his companies were not in great shape, Ramoji Rao assured the Andhra Pradesh high court that he would repay the full amount of Rs 2,600 crore due to the depositors.

Enter Blackstone.

In January 2007, the world’s largest private equity player indicated that it wanted to pick up 26% in Ushodaya Enterprises group for Rs 1,217 crore. At the time, it was reported to be India’s single largest foreign direct investment (FDI) in the print media.

The Blackstone offer placed the value of Ramoji Rao’s company at Rs 4,470 crore.

But the FDI proposal got stuck in the I&B ministry for months, allegedly at the behest of Vundavalli, who raised a variety of concerns over the Blackstone-Eenadu deal. In January 2008, when the clearance for the Blackstone investment was still not coming, Mint asked:

“Does the promoter of an Indian company, who is selling a stake in his family’s media firm to a foreign investor, have the right to do what he wants with that money, in this particular case, pay off liabilities of another company that his family separately also owns?….”

“FIPB records then show that the finance ministry, specifically citing Vundavalli’s claims, ‘has observed that prima facie, it appears that the purpose of securing funds from M/s Blackstone is not for advancing the business of Ushodaya Enterprises Ltd, but for repaying the deposits taken by M/s Margadarsi Financiers.”

When the Blackstone deal did not materialise, Nimesh Kampani of JM Financial stepped in as Ramoji Rao’s white knight although, as Sucheta Dalal writes, Kampani was never known to have any interest in the media except in deal-making.

According to VC Circle, Kampani picked up 21% of Ushodaya Enterprises for Rs 1,424 crore, which valued the company at Rs 6,780 crore, or over 50 per cent more than what Blackstone was willing to accept.

“The first public report of Kampani’s investment came in early February 2008, or around 10 days after stock markets crashed globally.”

Now, YSR got after Kampani.

Andhra Pradesh police issued a “look-out” notice for Kampani. Nagarjuna Finance, of which Kampani had been director, had allegedly defrauded depositors. Although Kampani had resigned from the independent directorship of the company nine years earlier, it was a sufficient handle to beat him with.

For months, Kampani had to stay out of India, fearing arrest. It was only after his bete noire YSR met with a bloody death in a helicopter crash in September 2009 that Kampani could return home. In May 2010, rumours surfaced of Mukesh Ambani buying up JM Financial but they soon fizzled out.

Shortly before buying into ETV, Kampani had recently sold his stake in a joint venture with Morgan Stanley to his foreign partner for $440 million and had the cash. The Margadarsi bailout, it was assumed, was in his personal capacity. It took a petition in 2011 filed by YSR’s widow seeking an inquiry into Chandrababu Naidu’s assets assets for the penny to drop.

Enter RIL.

YSR’s widow, Y.S. Vijayalakshmi, an MLA, alleged that when gas reserves were found in the Krishna Godavari basin in Andhra Pradesh in 2002, the Chandrababu Naidu government wilfully surrendered its right over the discovery in favour of Reliance, “while allowing Naidu’s close associate Ramoji Rao to be the vehicle of the quid pro quo.” (page 32)

“In consideration for the favour done by the Respondent No. 8 (Chandrababu Naidu) in allowing the State’s KG basin claim to be brushed under the carpet, the Reliance group facilitated the payout of Ramoji Rao’s debts to his depositors. This was carried out through known associates and friends of Mukesh Ambani.

“Two of these known associates of Ambani and the Reliance Group are Nimesh Kampani (of JM Financial) and Vinay Chajlani (of Nai Duniya).

“Kampani extended himself in ensuring that Ramoji Rao would be bailed out. Within a short span of 37 days between December 2007 and January 2008, six “shell companies” were floated on three addresses, which are shown as Sriram Mills Compound, Worli, which is the official address of Reliance Industries Limited. Reliance diverted Rs 2,604 crores of its shareholders money through the shell companies to M/s Kampani’s Equator Trading India Limited and Chajlani’s Anu Trading.”

In other words, RIL’s involvement in Eenadu through Kampani became known only recently in response to Vijayalakshmi’s petition, but it was market gossip for quite a while.

T.N. Ninan, the chairman of Business Standard and the president of the editors’ guild of India, wrote in a column in January 2011:

“If reports in Jagan Reddy’s Saakshi newspaper are to be believed, Mukesh Ambani is a behind-the-scenes investor in Eenadu, the leading Telugu daily.”

Vijayalakshmi’s 2011 petition makes several serious allegations.

That Ramoji Rao entered into the deal with Kampani’s Equator just 23 days after it was registered although it had no known expertise or business; that Ushodaya sold Rs 100 shares to Equator at a premium of Rs 5,28,630 per share; and that Ushodaya’s valuation had been pumped up by Rs 1,200 crore by its claims over a movie library.

Vijayalakshmi’s petition concluded:

“The interest shown by Reliance group in coming to the rescue of Ushodaya Enterprises headed by Ramoji Rao is clearly in defiance of any prudent profit-based corporate entity (since) Reliance does not gain any returns by virtue of that investment.”

***

It is this RIL baby that is now in Network18/TV18’s lap.

The timing of the RIL-Network18/TV18-ETV deal also hides a small story.

It comes when the probe into the assets of Naidu and his associates (including Ramoji Rao) has moved from the High Court to the Supreme Court. It comes when a parallel probe into Vijayalakshmi’s son Jagan Mohan Reddy’s assets has entered a new and critical phase. It comes when the KG basin gas controversy is heating up. And, above all, it comes when 2014 is looming into the calendar.

Several questions emerge from this deal which has politics, business and media in varying measures:

1) What does it mean for Indian democracy when India’s richest businessman becomes India’s biggest media baron with control over at least two dozen English and regional news and business channels?

2) What kind of control will Mukesh Ambani have over Raghav Bahl’s Network18/TV18 when and if RIL’s optionally convertible debentures (OCDs) are turned into equity?

3) What kind of due diligence did the financially troubled Network18/TV18 do on the Kampani-Ambani investment in ETV before agreeing to pick up RIL’s stake for Rs 2,100 crore?

4) How will CNBC-TV18, which incidentally broke the news of the split among the Ambani brothers in 2005, report news of India’s biggest company (or its political and other benefactors) now that it is indirectly going to be owned by it?

5) Is there a case for alarm when one man has a direct and indirect stamp over three of the five major English news channels (CNN-IBN, NewsX and NDTV 24×7), three business channels (CNBC-TV18, IBN Awaaz, NDTV Profit), and at least five Hindi news channels?

6) Do Raghav Bahl and team who ran a handful of channels heavily into debt, have the expertise to run two dozen or more channels, especially in the language space where there are bigger players like Star and Zee?

7) Is the ETV network really worth so much, especially when Ushodaya’s most profitable parts, Eenadu and Priya Foods, are out of it? Or is RIL using Network18/TV18’s plight to turn a bad asset into a good one?

8) Is RIL really tying with Network18/TV18 with 4G in mind, or is this just spin to push an audacious deal past market regulators such as SEBI and the Competition Commission of India (CCI)?

9) How immune are Mukesh Ambani and Raghav Bahl from political forces hoping to use the combined clout of RIL-Network18/TV18 to blunt negative coverage ahead of the 2014 general elections?

10) And have Network18/TV18 investors got a fair deal?

***

Infographic: courtesy Outlook

Also read: The sudden rise of Mukesh Ambani, media mogul

The Indian Express, Reliance & Shekhar Gupta

Niira Radia, Mukesh Ambani, Prannoy Roy & NDTV

T.S. SATYAN Memorial Awards: the winners are…

14 December 2011

The winners of the T.S. SATYAN Memorial Awards for Photojournalism 2011: (Left to right) Yagna, K. Gopinathan, Netra Raju, Bhanu Prakash Chandra, Regret Iyer, M.S. Gopal

Karnataka Photo News and churumuri.com are pleased to announce the winners of the inaugural T.S. Satyan Memorial Awards for Photojournalism. The awards will be presented by the governor of Karnataka, H.R. Bhardwaj, in Bangalore on Sunday.

Lifetime achievement award: Yagna, Mangalore

Best newspaper photojournalist: K. Gopinathan, The Hindu, Bangalore

Best professional photojournalist: Netra Raju, The Times of India, Mysore

Best magazine photojournalist: Bhanu Prakash Chandra, The Week, Bangalore

Best freelance photographer: ‘Regret Iyer, Bangalore

Best online photojournalist: M.S. Gopal, eyeforindia.blogspot.com

Nominations for the awards came from the Karnataka media academy, press club of Bangalore, Karnataka union for working journalists and the photojournalists association of Bangalore. The lifetime achievement award carries a cash prize of Rs 10,000 and a citation; all other prizes carry a cash prize of Rs 5,000 each and a citation.

***

Read more about/by the winners

K. GOPINATHAN: Why namma Gopi (almost) cried in January 2008

REGRET IYER: Success is standing up one more time than you fall

M.S. GOPAL: Every pictures tells a story. Babu‘s can fill a tome

M.S. GOPAL: When Chamundi betta relocates to amchi Mumbai

Sauce for liberals isn’t sauce for fundamentalists?

6 December 2011

The ghastly ritual of Madae Snana at the State-run Kukke Subramanya templewhich entails members of the Malekudiya community (among others) rolling over plantain leaves of leftover food of Brahmins for wish-fulfillment—has pitted progressives versus traditionalists, thanks to the “ban” lifted by the BJP-ruled Karnataka government.

“Liberals are carrying out a smear campaign against an established centre of faith of Hindus. This ritual is not something that has come into practice in recent times. It has been around for generations and people do practice it even today. By denigrating the ritual and its practice, the liberals are hurting the religious sentiments of devotees,” a local leader has been quoted as saying.

But what is the likelihood that the equally ghastly sight of devotees happily walking over fire and flogging themselves in public (as they did on Moharram in Hubli and Bangalore on Tuesday), will tie up liberals and fundamentalists in similar knots, or exercise human rights bodies?

Or will this too pass, as it has been around for generations and devotees do it voluntarily (presumably)?

Photographs: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: Unlikely this is for Sachin Tendulkar‘s 100th century

Stepmotherly affection for Father of Constitution

6 December 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: For all the lip service it pays “dalits and the downtrodden”, for all the tokenism of a Dalit as speaker of Lok Sabha, and for all the buzz about a possible Dalit replacement for Manmohan Singh as prime minister, the Congress-led UPA government has issued a measly six pages of ads in 12 newspapers to mark the birth death anniversary of the father of the Indian Constitution—and the icon of Dalits—Dr B.R. Ambedkar.

In contrast, the State government of Uttar Pradesh, headed by Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party, has issued seven pages in the same 12 newspapers surveyed by sans serif.

The Centre’s six pages of ads for Ambedkar is in stark contrast to the 393 pages of ads issued by various ministries and departments of the Union government and Congress-run State governments to mark the three birth and three death anniversaries of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi in 2011.

While various ministries were falling over each other to sing hosannas for the three ex-PMs, only the ministry of social justice and empowerment is in evidence for Dr Ambedkar. The only State government advertiser is the Delhi commission for safai karmacharis.

***

The breakup of the Ambedkar ads today are as under:

Hindustan Times: 24-page main issue; 2 Ambedkar ads amounting to 1½ broadsheet pages

The Times of India: 26-page issue; 1 ad amounting to 1 broadsheet page

Indian Express: 20-page issue; 1 ad amounting to 1 broadsheet page

Mail Today (compact): 36-page issue; 1 ad amounting to 1 compact page

The Hindu: 20-page issue; 1 ad amounting to 1 broadsheet page

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

The Statesman: 16-page issue; 1 ad amounting to 1 broadsheet page

The Telegraph: 24-page issue; 0 ads amounting to 0 broadsheet pages

***

The Economic Times: 24-page main issue; 0 ads

Business Standard: 14-page issue; 0 ads

Financial Express: 18-page issue; 0 ads

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

***

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.”

Photograph: courtesy Sepia Mutiny

Also read: Nehru birthday: 58 ads amounting to 26¼ pages

Nehru death anniversary: 24 ads over 11 pages

Rajiv birthday: 108 ads across 48 pages

Rajiv death anniversary: 69 ads, 41 pages in 12 papers

Indira Gandhi birthday: 64 ads, 32 pages

Times, Express groups get most anniversary ads

Who is trying to finish whom is not so easy to see

1 December 2011

Meanwhile, away from the heat, dust and sparks over the 2G scam and FDI in retail and the Lok Pal and Kanimozhi‘s release and whatever will fill up the “hour” between 9 pm and 10.30 pm tonight, life goes on in the “Republic of Bellary” where, beknownst to the ordinary eye, former Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy is playing an even more sinister game of running with the Gowda hare and hunting with the Reddy hound.

While he was CM in a strange 20-20 partnership with the BJP, Kumaraswamy was “stung” by hidden cameras of the Reddy brothers that showed him allegedly receiving a “bribe” of Rs 150 crore, allegedly from the miners raping the district. He is now said to be backing the siblings’ nominee, B. Sriramulu, who stood as an independent in the by-elections held yesterday after quitting the BJP.

Cartoon: courtesy Surendra/ The Hindu

Also read: Because the shit has hit the ceiling

External reading (Kannada): How a hero became a villain


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