Archive for March 16th, 2010

Deepavali in the skies on the day of Ugadi below

16 March 2010

A bird’s eye-view of the M. Chinnaswamy stadium of the Karnataka state cricket association on the night of the first home-match of the third edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). The Royal Challengers Bangalore beat King’s XI Punjab by eight wickets after having lost their first two matches.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: One question I’m dying to ask “Dr” Vijay Mallya

What Mallya’s team says about Mallya’s mind

CHURUMURI POLL: Twenty20 to promote 60-30?

Finally, a cricket team is only as good as its city

It takes 3 Idiots to call the bluff of Pauper Tigers

16 March 2010

The prostitution of Indian journalism by pimps, promoters and proprietors selling editorial space without letting the reader know what is independently verified news and what is a paid-for advertisement in the garb of news, has attained pandemic proportions.

“Paid News”, as the trend has been sadly named, happens not just during election time, but in between elections too. It afflicts not just the language media, but mainstream English media too. It is not just political news that is coloured, but business, sport, cinema and everything else, including the TV listings.

Above all, it is not something that small papers and extortionists are indulging in to keep their business going; it has become a revenue stream for profitable media organisations to keep the ink black on the bottomline, as trust and credibility are thrown to the wolves by suited-booted “managers”.

The Rajya Sabha, the election commission and the press council are all seized of the issue.

The country’s #1 business investigative journalist Sucheta Dalal who has written fearlessly on the subject—a trend that has deep implications for Indian democracy and reader trust in the media in the long run—throws light on a scandal in which India’s top filmmaker was held to ransom by “a leading media house”.



Moneylife has often commented on the brazen sale of news by a leading media house. However, we also acknowledged that the group usually made a win-win offer which was tough for companies to refuse. After all, which company would want to say no to something as lucrative as assured positive coverage, plus a steep discount in advertising tariffs, in return for a small equity stake?

However, in recent times, companies complain about the strong-arm tactics used by the group’s media arm.

Several companies have reported that they are told to appear first on the group’s media channel, during the quarterly results announcements. A print interview is thrown in as a carrot. Or they can face the stick: the prospect of being black-listed by its large circulation dailies.

As for the group’s city supplement, it is not only common knowledge that all its pages are for sale, but it has even dropped the pretence that its news and photographs are anything but paid publicity material.

Yet, the group still managed to shock us, with its recent strong-arm tactics against a top-grossing Hindi movie.

Its director told us how the media-selling arm of the publishing house approached him with a ‘publicity package’ which offered a number of articles and photographs for a price.

The director said a polite ‘No’. He would buy advertisements to publicise the movie, but the editorial would be up to the publication. But he was in for a shock. He was told that if he did not accept the package, there would be no editorial coverage of the movie in any of the group’s publications.

Given the stakes involved in the movie business, the director consulted his partners and friends in Bollywood. Many supported his stand, while there were others who were quite happy to accept the offer. However, our director-friend put his foot down and invited several like-minded producers to discuss the implications of what he calls the ‘dadagiri of this brand’.

The publishing house representative apparently said the director was making a needless fuss. After all, “film journalism is not serious journalism” (suggesting there are no ethical issues in buying editorial coverage).

What is most heartening is that, unlike wimpy corporate India, a dozen top producers and directors got together, discussed the issue and had the courage to say no, even though their stakes are significantly higher. The media house, realising that the issue could get out of hand, then backtracked and actually wrote a letter of apology for trying to pressure the industry.

The story had a happy ending, because the movie went on to set success records.

Why has this not made news? Because Bollywood also realises that it needs big media and is not idiot enough to shoot itself in the foot. Moneylife doffs its cap to the producers who had the guts to say ‘No’.

Also read: Editors’ Guild on paid news, private treaties

Also read: Pyramid Saimira, Tatva & Times Private Treaties

Times Private Treaties gets a very public airing

SUCHETA DALAL: Forget the news, you can’t believe the ads either

Does he who pays the piper call the tune?

SALIL TRIPATHI: The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility

Selling the soul? Or sustaining the business?

PAUL BECKETT: Indian media holding Indian democracy ransom

Does he who pays the piper call the tune?

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA: ‘Indian media in deeply murky ethical territory’

The scoreline: Different strokes for different folks

A package deal that’s well worth a second look

ADITYA NIGAM: ‘Editors, senior journalists must declare assets’

How much do readers distrust us? Not enough

The brave last words of Prabhash Joshi

‘Only the weather section isn’t sold these days’

The Times of India, Google and English speakers

16 March 2010

KIRAN RAO BATNI writes: Yesterday, The Times of India claimed that…

[m]ore Indians speak English than any other language, with the sole exception of Hindi. What’s more, English speakers in India outnumber those in all of western Europe, not counting the United Kingdom. And Indian English-speakers are more than twice the UK’s population.

and further, that…

English was the primary language for barely 2.3 lakh Indians at the time of the census, more than 86 million listed it as their second language and another 39 million as their third language. This puts the number of English speakers in India at the time to more than 125 million.

ToI has picked data from the right source no doubt (pdf,, and I’ve double checked that the numbers are all right. But it’s funny how The Times makes you believe that a whole lot of Indians “speak” English.

Even the data taken at face value means that nearly no Indian called English as his/her first language.

Further, a whopping 92 out of 100 Indians did not list English as their first or second language.

And finally, 88 out of 100 Indians did not list English as their first, second or third language.

But the data should not be taken at face value either (I’m sure you noticed the double quotes around “speak” above). Why? Because nobody told you what it means to “speak”, and what a “second language” or “third language” means. In fact, the terms first language, second language and third language imply that proficiency actually drops significantly going from the first to the third. Otherwise, all could be considered as first and the terminology discarded as erroneous.

In fact, upon digging a little deeper, I hit upon the question which was asked by the census (Page 221 of the Manual on Vital Statistics, June 2009) under “General and Socio-cultural Characteristics”, which shows how much the actual question is up to the interpretation of the questioner and the answerer, and how much the results could vary if the sun rises in the east tomorrow (yes, I mean east).

See the circled question below:

So, while the census casually asked people to list down the two other languages known in the order of proficiency, it did not define any yardsticks for measuring proficiency. What proficiency means is anybody’s guess in the census proforma above.

For one, it could be saying “A for Apple”, and for another, it could be a university degree in English.

For many more, it could well have been just “interest in English” based on all the media hype, such as that indulged in by English newspapers like the Times of India. And for many others, to “know” something might just be to “have heard of”, as in “do you know Bhopal?”, or even “do you know Dr Raj Kumar?”.

I had pointed out earlier that Google India’s R&D chief, Prasad Ram, claims that no more than 7% Indians are proficient in English. Google looks at the Indian language market as a huge opportunity.

As you can see, this 7% number is close to the 8% (which is what 86 million is in India as per the 2001 census) who rated their proficiency in English as second-rank. And I’d certainly attach a greater sanctity to Google’s data than the Times of India‘s, simply because the former is not in the business of make-believe; they are driven by hard market realities.

So I’d say don’t take the Times‘ article at face value, and not even the data at face-value.

The 7% or 8% number who rated English as second in their order of proficiency is probably closer to being the correct indicator of the number of English “speakers” in India, not the 12% claimed by the Times. Clubbing second and third language data under “speakers” is dubious, and is nothing but a method of minority aggrandizement.

Unfortunately, this fuels the false feeling that Indian languages are becoming increasingly insignificant, which further increases the vertical disintegration of India – something which has what it takes to sap all the life-blood out of India and render it dead.