Posts Tagged ‘Barkha Dutt’

CHURUMURI POLL: Do journalists need education?

14 March 2013

He hasn’t quite spelt out which colleges we should go to, what subjects and courses we should take, in which language, or what pass-percentage is OK.

At least not yet.

But Press Council of India chairman Justice Markandey Katju‘s “order” on “some legal qualification” before one can enter the profession of journalism has been met with near-unanimous ridicule from mediapersons.

***

In the Hindu, Outlook* chairman Vinod Mehta calls the move “absolute rubbish”:

“Some of the greatest journalists the world has produced have been without university degrees. I am a BA fail and was academically the most undistinguished student in school and college. And I haven’t done too badly.”

NDTV group editor Barkha Dutt, who has journalism degrees from Jamia Milia and Columbia school of journalism:

“The best training is on the field. While I can see the arguments about ‘declining standards and quality in journalists’, I do not believe the answer was in ‘more degrees’. (paraphrased)

Sashi Kumar of the Asian college of journalism:

“Most hard-nosed reporters who do unconventional beats, break scoops and exposes, are in the regional language press. And they are not necessarily MAs or PhDs. This is an ill-considered move and reflects Justice Katju’s ignorance about the field, and strikes at the root of freedom of expression.”

***

In a letter to the editor of The Hindu, the veteran sports correspondent Partab Ramchand writes:

“It might be relevant to mention that I am a matriculate (second class) and I joined the profession virtually straight from school nearly 45 years ago without any training whatsoever in journalism and with just a knowledge of sports which I followed closely from my school days.

“I never saw the portals of a college and have never felt any regret in this regard.

“I have worked in various leading newspaper groups, heading the sports department on a couple of occasions, have gone on international assignments and am an author of 10 books on cricket. I fully endorse Barkha Dutt’s view that the best training is on the field which is exactly what I went through.”

* Disclosures apply

Infographic: courtesy The Times of India

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

Editors’ Guild of India takes on Press Council chief

TV news channel editors too blast PCI chief

Has Justice Katju been appointed by Josef Stalin?

Justice Katju ‘sorry’ for calling journos idiots

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

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?

Should ‘media corruption’ come under Lok Pal?

25 August 2011

The more-than-just-a-neutral-observer position taken by sections of the media on the Anna Hazare agitation has clearly begun to rile politicians, and at least two of them cutting across party lines have argued in the last couple of days that the media too must be brought under the purview of the proposed anti-corruption legislation.

Exhibit A: Union minister for law and social justice, Salman Khurshid.

According to a report in The Hindu, Khurshid asked Headlines Today executive editor Rahul Kanwal as to why media corruption should not be investigated under the Team Anna version of the Lok Pal bill.

“Do I need to go back to the Niira Radia tapes? Now you are asking why the government has not investigated. If we go ahead with the investigation, we would be accused of being insensitive. If we do, there would be a mass moment for the media.”

Exhibit B: Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Again, according to a report in The Hindu, Mulayam’s demand that the media also be brought under the Lok Pal was met with thumping of desks by his colleagues.

“We [Samajwadi Party] suffered in the hands of media [during the polls],” he said during a debate on corruption. Even as a section of the treasury and opposition benche demanding that “media corruption” be also inquired into by Lokpal, Mulayam went on to state that it had become a practice for electronic channels to collect money during polls and air views in support of one party.”

Photograph: Television reporters deliver their piece to camera at the Ramlila grounds in New Delhi on Tuesday, against the backdrop of the stage on which Anna Hazare is fasting for the Lokpal bill

Also read: The ex-Zee News journo on Anna Hazare team

Ex-Star News, ToI journos on Anna Hazare team

Is the media manufacturing middle-class dissent?

CHURUMURI POLL: Anna Hazare and the media

21 August 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from Delhi: The media coverage of the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement, like the movement itself, is a story in two parts—and both show the perils of the watchdog becoming the lapdog, in diametrically opposite ways.

In Act I, Scene I enacted at Jantar Mantar in April, sections of the Delhi media unabashedly played along with the establishment in a “crude and disgusting character assassination”, discrediting civil society members in an attempt to strangulate the joint Lokpal drafting panel, without  showing any remorse.

In Act II, three scenes of which have been enacted in the past week at Tihar Jail, Chhatrasaal Stadium and now the Ramlila Grounds, there has been no need to invoke Armani and Jimmy Choo, after the government’s spectacular cock-ups at the hands of high-IQHarvard-educated lawyers who recite nursery-school rhymes to wah-wahs from unquestioning interviews.

On the contrary, it can be argued that the pendulum has swung to the other end this time round.

The Times of India and Times Now, both market leaders in number termshave made no attempt to hide where their sympathies lie in this “Arnab Spring”, when the urban, articulate, newspaper-reading, TV-watching, high-earning, high-spending, apolitical, ahistorical, post-liberalised, pissed-off-like-mad middle-class gets worked up.

When the market leaders go down that road, the others are left with no option but to follow suit.

Obviously neither extreme can be the media’s default position. However, unlike last time when there was little if not no criticism of the “orchestrated campaign of calumny, slander and insinuation“, at least two well known media figures  have found the courage to question this kind of wide-eyed, gee-whiz reporting.

Sashi Kumar, the founder of India’s first regional satellite channel Asianet and the brain behind the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), in Outlook*:

“In the race for eyeballs, a section of the media—some TV channels in particular—give the impression of sprinting ahead of the story and dragging it along behind them. What defies imagination, even as it stretches journalistic credibility, is that the messengers become the lead players, directing the route the story will take, conjuring up twists and turns where there are none, and keeping the illusion of news-in-the-making breathlessly alive….

“The relationship between such media and their essentially middle class consumers is becoming uncomfortably incestuous. When respondents cluster around a camera for a vox pop, they are not so much required to offer their independent view on an issue as add to the chorus of opinion orchestrated by the channel. A photo op masquerades as a movement. Dissident voices get short shrift. It is more like a recruitment drive than a professional journalistic exercise to seek and purvey news.

“Increasingly, the channel’s role seems to be to trigger and promote a form of direct democracy by the middle class. Politics and politicians are routinely debunked; even representative democracy doesn’t seem to make the grade.”

NDTV group editor and star anchor Barkha Dutt too strikes a similar note in the Hindustan Times:

“Critics of the Hazare campaign have questioned the media narrative as well, accusing wall-to-wall TV coverage of holding up a permanent oxygen mask to the protests. It’s even been pointed out that Noam Chomsky’s scathing commentary on the mass media -‘Manufacturing Consent’ would be re-written in TV studios today as Manufacturing Dissent.

“But again, if the TV coverage of the protests is overdone, it only proves that the UPA’s perennial disdain for the media — and the diffidence of its top leaders — has given its opponents the upper hand in the information battle. There is something so telling about the fact that 74-year-old Anna Hazare made effective use of the social media by releasing a YouTube message from inside jail and the PM of India’s oldest political party is still to give his first interview to an Indian journalist.”

Questions: How do you rate the media role in crafting the Anna Hazare movement? Has it been too unquestioning, or has it played the role expected of it? Has it tapped into middle-class sentiment with an eye on circulation and TRPs?

Also readThe ex-Zee News journo on Anna Hazare team

Ex-Star News, ToI journos on Anna Hazare team

Is Indian Express now a pro-establishment paper?

21 April 2011


PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: The Indian Express of Ramnath Goenka is an unputdownable chapter in the book of Indian journalism. Unlike many of its English counterparts—whose grammar was constricted by Wren & Martin, and the Raj—Express was the archetypal desi bully.

“Anti-establishment,” was the Express‘ calling card.

Its reputation was built on stones pelted at the power elite: taking on dictatorial prime ministers (Indira Gandhi for the Emergency, Rajiv Gandhi for the anti-defamation Bill), slimy corporate chiefs (Dhirubhai Ambani of Reliance industries) and corrupt chief ministers (A.R. Antulay of Maharashtra, R. Gundu Rao of Karnataka).

“Pro-people,” was the Express‘ middlename.

Unlike its servile peers who crawled when asked to bend, Express‘ founder himself took part in Gandhi‘s march from Champaran and led the protest against the anti-defamation Bill. The paper backed Jayaprakash Narayan‘s Bihar movement, and battled for civil liberties and human rights, some times at the risk of closure of the company.

Whatever its other motives and motivations (and there were a few), the Indian Express sent the unambiguous signal to Indians that the Express was theirs; a paper that would speak truth to power, a paper they could bank on in taking on the bold-faced names of the establishment.

An Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on Goenka accurately calls him a “crusader against government corruption”.

On his birth centenary seven years ago, Express launched a website on the “man who had the courage to stand up for truth.”

So, how would Ramnath Goenka look at his baby today, as its editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta leads an extraordinary ad hominem attack on the Anna Hazare-led “people’s movement” against corruption, pillorying NGOs, the middle-class and “civil society”—and allowing itself to be become the weapon of first choice in what Express columnist Soli J. Sorabjee calls the “crude and disgusting character assassination” of its lead players, the lawyers Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan?

***

Since the day Anna Hazare sat on the fast-unto-death at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on April 5, demanding the constitution of a joint government-civil society committee for the drafting of the Lokpal bill—and especially after he succeeded in his mission—The Indian Express has bared its fangs in a manner that few would expect any independent newspaper to do.

At least, few would have expected an “anti-establishment”, “pro-people” paper whose tagline is “Journalism of Courage” to do.

Over a 16-day period (April 6 to 21), through 21 news reports, seven editorials, 15 opinion articles, three cartoons and one illustration, almost all of them variations of the same theme, the northern and western editions of the Express (the southern editions are under a different editorial management after the Goenka family split) has left no one in doubt on whose side—and which—side of the debate it is.

Against the sentiment on the street and in the homes and offices of its readers—and with the political-business-bureacuratic-fixer-operator cabal in whose interest it is to spike the bill in whatever form it may emerge, by tarnishing its movers and shakers.

The only place there has been any space for the other side in the Express since the protest began and ended, has been in its letters’ column, with one letter (from a former Express staffer) getting pride of place on the op-ed page as an article.

Otherwise, it has been a relentless torrent of scepticism, cynicism, criticism, distortion, inneundo, insinuation and plain abuse in The Indian Express. Words like “illiberal”, “fascist”, “dangerous”, “self-righteous”, “self-appointed”, “authoritarian”, “dictators”, “Maoist” and—pinch yourself—”missing foreskins” have spewed forth from the paper’s news and views pages to convince the world why the movement is the worst thing to have happened for Indian democracy.

Here’s a sampling of the headlines, introductions and blurbs over the 16-day period:

***

# April 6, news report, by Maneesh Chibber, headline “Activists’ Bill calls for Lokpal as supercop, superjudge”, text “The Jan Lokpal Bill…. includes a set of highly unusual provisions….”

# April 7, news report, by Maneesh Chibber and Seema Chisti, headline “Cracks appear in Anna’s team”, intro “Justice Santosh Hegde objects to ‘certain’ clauses’, Aruna Roy warns: can’t bypass democratic principles”

# April 7, news feature, by Vandita Mishra, headline “Anna’s fast, main course: feed politicians to vultures & dogs”

# April 7, editorial headline “They, the people”, intro “Illiberal, self-righteous sound and fury isn’t quite the weapon against corruption.”

# April 7, opinion, by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, headline “Of the few, by the few”, intro “Lokpal Bill agitation has a contempt for politics and democracy”, blurb “The claim that people are not represented by elected representatives, but are represented by their self-appointed guardians is disturbing. Anyone who claims to be the ‘authentic’ voice of the people is treading on very thin ice indeed”

# April 8, news report, headline “First political voices speak: cause just, method fascist”, intro “Self-selected can’t dictate terms, says SP; who will choose 50% civil society, asks Raghuvansh [Prasad]“

# April 8, news report, by D.K. Singh, headline “UPA problem: NAC shoe is on the other (NGO) foot”, text: “…the anti-corruption legislation looks set to land in the turf war between competing gorups of civil rights activists.”

# April 8, gossip item, headline “Lady in hiding?”, text “When the fiesty retired IPS officer (Kiran Bedi) was not seen, it naturally set off talk, with people wondering whether she had quietly withdrawn from the campaign.”

# April 8, editorial, headline “Carnival society”, intro “There is nothing representative about the ‘civil society’ gathering at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar”

#April 9, news report, by Seema Chisti, headline “Jantar Mantar core group lost out last year, struck back with Anna”

# April 9, editorial, headline “Make it better”, intro “This anti-politics juggernaut is both contentless and dangerous”

# April 9, opinion, by BaijayantJayPanda MP, headline “Cynicism vs hope”, intro “How odd that we should undermine democracy in this year of pro-democracy movements”, blurb “The Jantar Mantar movement is now poised at a crucial juncture. It could get irretrievably hijacked by those of Hazare’s supporters who have scant respect for politics. If wiser heads prevail—those who respect the institutions of democracy like parliament and the courts—then we could well be at the cusp of a magical moment.”

# April 10, news report, headline “[Baba] Ramdev attacks ‘nepotism’ in bill drafting committee: pita mukhiya, beta sadasya?”

# April 10, news report pointer, headline “Ally NCP speaks out: joint committee will be joint pain for constitution and democracy”

# April 11, opinion, by Mihir S. Sharma, headline “Not a very civil coup”, intro “Snuff out those candles: democratic society should trump civil society, every time”,  blurb “Let us not glorify middle-class anger when it is expressed as an antipathy to where democracy’s gotten us, as fury at not having more power than is gifted by the vote you share with a villager. That way lies the pain and disillusionment of a dozen cuddly dictators”

# April 12, editorial, headline “Rs 100, a sari, a bottle”, intro “That’s all Hazare says a vote means. Who gains from such disdain for democracy?”

# April 12, opinion, by Neera Chandhoke, headline “The seeds of authoritarianism”, intro “Democracy needs civil society. But not Anna Hazare’s version, contemputous of ordinary voters”

# April 12, opinion, by Madhu Purnima Kishwar, headline “Why tar all politicians with the same brush?”, intro “We need to reboot corrupt systems, instead of demonising our political class”, blurb “Politicians can be removed through elections, whereas we self-appointed representatives cannot be voted out when we exceed our brief”

# April 13, news clipping quoting New Age, view from the left, “Anna Hazare afterthought”

# April 13, opinion, by Seema Chisti, headline “We the bullied”, intro “Can our basic democratic procedures be so easily dispensed with?”, blurb “The quick and easy path in this case is also the more dangerous road, and it is one on which we have already embarked—all because there are some people around who talk loud enough to make claims about representing ‘the people’. We, the electors and those we elected, have just given them a walkover.”

# April 13, opinion, by Ashwini Kulkarni, “Governance comes before a Lokpal”, intro “For a Lokpal bill to work, you would need systems that create the paper trails necessary for prosecution”

# April 13, opinion, by Nityanand Jayaraman, headline “The halfway revolution”, intro “Am I wrong in suggesting that the candle-holding middle-class Indian is not very different from the Maoist in ideology?”

# April 14, editorial, headline “Over to the MPs”, intro “On the Lokpal bill, Veerappa Moily is falling all over himself—and could trip Parliament too”

# April 14, opinion, by Javed Anand, headline “Why I didn’t join Anna Hazare,” intro “In his post-corrupt utopia, we should look forward to leaders like Narendra Modi“, blurb “I do not wish to spoil the show for those celebrating the ‘second movement for Independence’ that Anna has won for us. But I cannot hide the fact that I, with my missing foreskin, continue to feel uneasy about the Anna revolution—for more reasons than one.”

# April 15, news report, headline “CEOs, banks, firms in list of donors put up on website of Hazare movement”

# April 15, news report, “Doubt your role as good lawmaker: SP leader to Shanti Bhushan”

# April 15, opinion, by Farah Baria, headline “See the spirit of Anna’s movement”, intro “Don’t nip our fledgling civic consciousness in the bud”

# April 16, news report, headline “Lokpal talks off to CD start”

# April 16, news report, headline “My view is keep judges out, says Anna, colleagues disagree”

# April 16, news report, headline “The other society: CIC, Aruna Roy, Justice Verma to hold parallel meet”

# April 17, news report, by Swaraj Thapa and Amitabh Sinha, headline “Lokpal should have powers to tap phones, prosecute: non govt reps”

# April 17, news report, by Seema Chisti, headline “Why the hurry, and do we really need more laws, ask legal luminaries, activists”

# April 17, opinion, by Meghnad Desai, headline “Which Hazare?’

# April 17, opinion, by Sudheendra Kulkarni, headline “MODI-fy the Lokpal debate”

# April 17, opinion, by Tavleen Singh, headline “Our sainted NGOs?”

# April 19, editorial, headline “law and lawgivers”, intro “So will Anna Hazare respect Parliament’s supremacy after all?”

# April 20, news report, by Pragya Kaushika and Ritu Sarin, headline “Bhushans get two prime farmhouse plots from Mayawati govt for a song”, intro “No lottery, no auction in allotment of two 10,000 sq m plots to Shanti Bhushan and son Jayant

# April 20, editorial, headline “Case must go on”, intro “The judicial process must remain disconnected from the Bhushans-Amar Singh spat”

# April 20, opinion, by A.P. Shah and Venkatesh Nayak, “A gigantic institution that draws powers from a statute based on questionable principles”, blurb “Clauses 8 and 17 turn the Lokpal into a civil court that will reverse the decisions of the executive such as grant of licences, permits, authorisations and even blacklist companies and contractors. This is not the job of an Ombudsman-type institution.”

# April 21, news report, headline “Mess spreading, Sonia washes her NAC hands of Lokpal Bill”, intro “Reminds Anna Hazare that he knew NAC was at work on Bill until fast forced the issue”

# April 21, news report, by Krishnadas Rajagopal and Tanu Sharma, headline “On plots allotted by govt, the Bhushans have high standards—for others”

# April 21, news report, by Tanu Sharma, headline “Shanti Bhushan may not have been in panel if plot known: Santosh Hegde”

# April 21, opinion, by Sandeep Dikshit, MP, headline “Whose bill is it anyway?”, intro “The fight against corruption cannot be appropriated by a clique”, blurb “The very reason why this committee was formed was because it was argued that we need more opinions and contributions to the Lokpal Bill. Having accepted this, can the protagonists then state that every opinion, every fear expressed by those outside this group is an attempt to sabotage this bill?

# April 21, opinion, by Dilip Bobb, headline “In search of civil society”, intro “Anna Hazare has given ‘civil society’ an identity card, but who qualifies for membership?”, blurb “Is civil society the preserve of groups predefined as democratic, modern and ‘civil’, or is it home to all sorts of associations, including ‘uncivil society’?”

# April 21, news clippings quoting Organiser, view from the right, headlines “Whose Hazare?”, “Check that bill”

***

It is no one’s case that the campaign for the Lokpal bill, or the clauses contained in the draft Jan Lokpal bill, is without its flaws. It is also no one’s case that those behind the movement are angels, who cannot be questioned or scrutinised.

But when viewed through a journalistic prism, the Express campaign raises two questions.

One, can a newspaper—notwithstanding its right to take a stand it likes on any issue—can a newspaper shut out the other side completely as if doesn’t exist? And is such a newspaper a newspaper or a pamphlet?

Example: on April 19, “civil society” representatives led by NAC members Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander, condemned the campaign to malign Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan. The Indian Express ignored the news item that found place in most newspapers.

And two, whose cause is the Express championing in indulging in such a hit job on a campaign that has struck a chord with millions?

Express fires from the safe shoulders of “democracy”—a word that invokes titters among many ex-Express staffers. But is the Express really speaking for the people, or has it become a plaything of the “establishment” which was shamed into acting on a piece of legislation that had been languishing for 43 years?

***

None of this is to downplay the first-rate journalism that the Indian Express still delivers on most days of the week.  Even in as messy a story as the Amar Singh-Shanti Bhushan CD in the current anti-Hazare campaign, Express demonstrated far greater rigour than its compatriots Hindustan Times and Times of India, which fell hook, line and sinker for the “establishment” story.

Nevertheless, there is no denying that Express has begun to play a meeker role in exposing corruption in high places.

In the last three years, Express has been wrongfooted by its compatriots on all the big corruption stories that have gripped the nation’s attention and spurred the campaign for the Lokpal bill: the 2G spectrum allocation (The Pioneer) and S-band (The Hindu) scams; the CWG, IPL and Adarsh housing scams (The Times of India); the black money and Swiss bank accounts story (Tehelka); Wikileaks (The Hindu); and the Niira Radia tapes (Outlook and Open).

Simultaneously, Express, which increasingly shares a strange symbiosis with Indian and American thinktanks, has veered disturbingly closer to the government, be it in reflecting the UPA government’s thrust for the Indo-US nuclear bill; its muscular approach to tackling the Maoist threat in mine-rich tribal areas; in demonising the Chinese, or in plumping for road, airport, dams, infrastructure and nuclear projects, overriding environmental and social concerns.

Indeed, from being a paper deeply suspicious of big business, it has become the go-to newspaper for corporate honchos seeking to put out their story. Ratan Tata‘s first interview after the Radia tapes hit the ceiling was with Shekhar Gupta for NDTV‘s Walk the Talk show.

And for a paper deeply suspicious of power, the paper now publishes arbitrary “power lists”, without ever revealing the jury or the methodology behind the rankings. (Shekhar Gupta was decorated with the nation’s third highest civilian honour, the Padma Bhushan, by the UPA government in 2009.)

The question that arises is: are all these concentric circles somehow linked in the Express‘ astonishingly one-sided campaign against the anti-corruption movement and the people behind it?

***

Historically, in India, large publications (think Times of India and The Hindu), have tended to play along with the establishment because of the kind of business and other interests involved. But a small-circulation paper bending backwards to stroke the crooked and the corrupt doesn’t present a pleasant sight.

It doesn’t sound civil, but it is a question that must be courageously asked: has Ramnath Goenka’s bulldog of a paper become a lapdog of the power elite, luxuriating among the rich and famous, while peeing at the feet of the people it was supposed to defend?

In other words, has The Indian Express become a pro-establishment newspaper?

Illustration: courtesy C.R. Sasikumar/ The Indian Express, April 20

***

Also read: Arnab edges out Barkha on Express power list

The curious case of Zakir Naik and Shekhar Gupta

A columnist more powerful than all media pros

‘Editors and senior journos must declare assets’

One question I’m dying to ask Manmohan—II

15 February 2011

Never the most articulate of speakers, a battered and beleaguered Manmohan Singh has reportedly decided to subject himself to a grand inquisition at the hands of the tigers of television. Tomorrow morning, if all goes as planned, a set of TV journalists will fling their questions at the prime minister.

And, hopefully, he will answer them. Live.

Unlike his previous interaction with the media, which came in the backdrop of naxalism, price rise, 2G and “trust deficit”, this time’s pow-wow comes in the midst of soaring inflation, “governance deficit”—and the S-band scam which has brought questions about his “conspiracy of silence, culpable inaction and gross indifference” to his doorstep.

Plus, there is the “Shankaracharya of Lavasa”, Arun Shourie‘s claim that he told the PM that the loot (in the 2G scam) was happening in his name, etc.

Hopefully, the ladies and gentlemen of the idiot box will not hurl soft-ball questions at the PM and will not stop with vague answers. Still, why give them a chance? What is the one question that the Arnabs, Barkhas and Rajdeeps should ask sadda Manmohan (provided they are invited, that is)?

Like, Mr Prime Minister, “the nation wants to know”, do you think it is all over for you? Like, Mr PM, why was Montek Singh Ahluwalia picked for the Padma Vibhushan?

Please refrain from keeping your queries longwinded and self-congratulatory, thank you.

***

Also read: One question I’m dying to ask Manmohan Singh-I

Have the middle-classes deserted Manmohan Singh?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Manmohan Singh still “Mr Clean”?

CHURUMURI POLL: Will Manmohan Singh be PM till 2014?

‘Indians trust magazines* more than newspapers’

11 February 2011

Trust in the Indian media is down sharply by 15 percentage points over the last two years. One out of every two Indians distrusts what they read, see, and listen but—surprise, surprise, OK, no surprise, no surprise!—trust in magazines* is higher than for newspapers, TV news or radio.

These, in short, are the major highlights of the 2011 survey by Edelman, the world’s largest public relations firm. The 11th such survey conducted, the media is the biggest loser in India among the four sectors surveyed, other three sectors being business, government and NGOs.

There were 5,075 respondents in 23 countries for the annual Edelman Trust Barometer. The India section of the survey was conducted between October 11 and November 24, 2010 before the Niira Radia tapes altered the perception of media personnel even more in the eyes of news consumers.

Trust in Indian magazines is at 95% against 93% for newspapers, 90% for TV news, and 81% for radio. The barometer reported a 25% dip in trust in business magazines and TV news, and a 21% dip in trust in newspapers, in 2009, in the wake of paid news, private treaties, medianet and other infirmities.

Online search engines like Google command 93% trust, indicating that most people prefer to search for the facts themselves and trust search engines to help them. Corporate communications such as press releases, reports, and emails show trust levels of 86%.

Interesting if true.

Two years ago, the national election survey 2009 by the Lokniti team of the centre for study of developing societies (CSDS) found that 45% Indians greatly trusted what they read in newspapers, and a similar number somewhat trusted newspaper reports.

* Disclosures apply

Also read: If you trust polls, trust in India dips

An open application letter to Prannoy Roy, NDTV

19 December 2010

Respected Dr Roy,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When can I join?

Yours sincerely

B.V. Rao

***

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

***

Photograph: courtesy Governance Now

Should Prabhu Chawla edit New Indian Express?

15 December 2010

Editors, anchors, columnists, correspondents… tens of media personnel have been badly mauled in the eyes of news consumers, in the Niira Radia scandal.

But do the proprietors and managers really care?

Vir Sanghvi has suspended his weekly column in the Hindustan Times while merrily writing on food. The buck still stops at Barkha Dutt‘s table at 10 pm on NDTV while she fights a lonely battle from the trenches of Twitter.

There’s nothing, it seems, like penance in the press.

Now, Manoj Kumar Sonthalia, grandson of the mighty Ramnath Goenka who is in charge of the southern editions of the paper, has reportedly decided to hire former India Today editor Prabhu Chawla, as the new editor of  The New Indian Express (TNIE), despite the thick smog of scandal that has hung over the latter’s head, with or without Radia.

Chawla, who got a most perplexing certificate of merit from The Hindu‘s editor-in-chief N. Ram, on the India Today-owned TV station Headlines Today, however, has had a slightly inauspicious entry. The outgoing TNIE team of Aditya Sinha has carried this brief excerpt involving Chawla from the second tranche of the Radia tapes.

Listen: Prabhu Chawla in conversation with Niira Radia

Also read: Prabhu Chawla‘s son named in media bribery case

“Accused” Ankur Chawla is now “investigator” Chawla

In the New Indian Express, old hands get the sack

Is it really so difficult to say sorry, maaf karo?

3 December 2010

Nearly 30 years after it was made on a shorter than shoestring budget, the Kundan Shah-directed caper Jaane bhi do yaaro remains one of Bollywood’s most loved movies, presciently squatting at the 2010 intersection of politicians, businessmen and journalists a la Niira Radiagate.

In JBDY, two commercial photographers (played by Naseeruddin Shah and the late Ravi Baswani) pick up freelance assignments for Khabardar, a muckraking publication edited by Shobha Sen (Bhakti Barve) that ostensibly wants to expose the link between an unscrupulous builder (Pankaj Kapoor) and a corrupt municipal commissioner (Satish Shah).

The lensmen come up with damning evidence but, well, the editor is “stringing along” with another builder (Om Puri) and strumming a different tune.

Now, what if the remorseless Bhakti Barve played Barkha Dutt, the “massively influential but ethically embattled” NDTV anchor?

***

B.V. Rao in Governance Now:

Barkha’s show of her lifetime left me unimpressed because it did not answer some key questions. Where is her apology to her viewers (she did not look into the camera, address her viewers and say “sorry” even when prompted).”

T.N. Ninan in Business Standard:

“If both (Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi) could bring themselves to admitting that they crossed a line, apologise and declare that it won’t happen again, the entire journalist community would breathe easier and hold its head up a little higher. So would a generation of young journalism students and new entrants into the profession, who have grown up idealising Ms Dutt and others.”

Shobha Narayan in Mint:

“Should Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi say “mea culpa” for letting down their readers and viewers? Absolutely. Then, why don’t they?”

***

Full coverage: BARKHA DUTT on the allegations against her

Lessons for Vir and Barkha from Prem and Nikhilda

‘Credibility is like virginity, and it’s been lost’

‘A too-argumentative Barkha squanders chance’

86% feel let down by CD baat of top journalists

Has media credibility suffered a body-blow?

The TV anchor, the ex-editor and TV personality

Why we didn’t air Niira Radia tapes: two examples

Vir Sanghvi suspends Hindustan Times column

In which Adolf Hitler reacts to ‘Barkhagate’

Which is India’s most credible media outlet?

2 December 2010

With a cloud of suspicion hovering over the credibility of the bold-faced names of Indian media following the Niira Radia tapes—and institutional disasters such as paid news, private treaties, medianet and the lot—it was just a matter of time before someone twisted the knife even further.

Offstumped, the right-of-centre blog that claims to offer “commentary on an impatient and aspirational India”, has been first off the block with a survey on India’s most credible media outlet. Pinch yourself, multiple voting ensures that the right-of-centre Pioneer is leading the list.

Poll: courtesy Offstumped

One question I’m dying to ask Barkha Dutt

30 November 2010

Barkha Dutt, the “massively influential but ethically embattled TV news anchor” of  NDTV 24×7, is subjecting herself to a massively advertised, pre-recorded public inquisition with four carefully chosen peers to extricate her credibility out of the sludge that the Niira Radia tapes have thrown her and her channel in.

Cruel wags are calling it “We, the Peepli [Live]“, “The Buckwas Stops Here”, “The Buck Stops There”.

What is the one question that you are dying to ask Ms Dutt that the Delhi journalists are likely to have missed. Please keep your queries short, civil and journalistic.

Photograph: courtesy Eric Miller/ WEF via The Daily Beast

***

Also read: BARKHA DUTT on the allegations against her

‘Credibility is like virginity and it’s been lost’

86% feel let down by journalists’ “CD baat

Everybody loves a nice admiration club

Lessons for Vir and Barkha from Prem and Nikhilda

Has media credibility suffered a body-blow?

NDTV response on Barkha Dutt

Vir Sanghvi‘s response to the Radia tapes

In the end, no one can fool ‘We, the People’

28 November 2010

By T.J.S. GEORGE

Journalism started going astray with the birth of financial dailies in the 1960s. With full-fledged newspapers devoted exclusively to business, corporate houses became hyperactive. The next thing we knew was press conferences ending with gifts of expensive sarees and suitlengths to reporters.

That was innocent child play compared to what has hit the headlines now: charges of celebrity journalists working hand in hand with a professional lobbyist to fix things like cabinet appointments and big-ticket business deals.

Excerpts from taped conversations between the star journalists and corporate lobbyist Niira Radia have been published. Radia was promoting the prospects of some DMK personalities as well as the gas interests of one Ambani brother and the spectrum interests of the Tatas.

The journalists became her tools.

Lobbying is a recognised activity in democracies. But it is a tricky line of work because sometimes unconventional methods might become necessary to secure the case of a client. Given Niira Radia’s experience and efficiency, acknowledged by companies like Tatas, we must assume that she took care not to cross the line. Anyway we can leave it to the enforcement directorate which is looking into the matter.

Journalism is as different from lobbying as nariel paani is from singlemalt. Any crossing of the line may be a tribute to the power of singlemalt, but never justifiable.

Unfortunately the journalists show themselves as amenable to doing the unjustifiable. They agree to convey messages favouring A.Raja to the Congress bosses. They agree to take the side of the Ambani brother Radia was promoting as against the other brother.

The moment the tapes were published, the journalists mentioned in it rushed to rebut all insinuations. The arguments were that journalists had to talk to all sorts of people, that “stringing” along with a source was no crime, that promises had to be made sometimes to get information from a source. The employer of one journalist said that it was preposterous to “caricature the professional sourcing of information to ‘lobbying’”.

The question is whether the journalists carry credibility. Of course drunks and murderers have been among the valued contacts of journalists. And of course journalists have moved very closely with political leaders.

Few people were closer to Jawaharlal Nehru than B. Shiva Rao of The Hindu. Prem Bhatia of The Statesman used to walk the corridors of Delhi as if he owned them. The hardest nuts in the power circle cracked happily before Nikhil Chakravartty on his morning rounds.

Not once did these men ask for a favour or recommend a businessman friend. They were not social celebrities, but they did their profession proud by keeping the highest possible credibility level.

Today’s celebrities assume they can win credibility by simply saying that they talked to Radia only as a source and that they never kept promises made to her anyway. Is a veteran networker like Radia so easily fooled? Obviously she is close to her journalist contacts and must have had promises from them before. She wouldn’t waste her time if she knew that they were promises not meant to be followed up.

At one point she actually tells another contact that “I made [the journalist] call up Congress and get a statement”. This is Radia speaking, not a naïve greenhorn. To say that this kind of work on behalf of a lobbyist is legitimate journalism is like B.S. Yediyurappa saying that all he has ever done is development work.

To say that they promised to talk to the likes of Sonia and Rahul only to outsmart a war-horse is like the BJP high command saying it has outsmarted Yeddyurappa.

The glamour of celebrityhood has a way of going to one’s head. Delusions of grandeur are never a journalistic virtue. The real virtue is the mind’s ability to maintain a degree of detachment. When the game is played at the 5-star level, one can never be sure of who is fooling whom.

It will be good for everyone to remember that there is one lot that can never be fooled: The people.

Full coverage:

Vir Sanghvi suspends Hindustan Times column

‘Quantitative growth versus qualitative improvement’

Has media credibility suffered a body-blow?

‘Go to bed knowing you haven’t succumbed’

BARKHA DUTT on the allegations against her

27 November 2010

After lying low for a week following the Outlook* and Open magazine cover stories on her conversations with the lobbyist Niira Radia, the NDTV anchor Barkha Dutt has provided her version of events, rebutting the key charge that she played any role in passing on any message to intercede on behalf of a particular minister or portfolio, or to lobby for the disgraced telecom minister A. Raja.

Below is the full text of her defence, carried on and courtesy of NDTV.com:

***

By BARKHA DUTT

As a journalist, whose work has been consistently hard-hitting and scathingly critical of the ongoing 2G scam and the former telecom minister, I am astonished, angered and hurt to see the baseless allegations against me in sections of the media this week.

While there is no doubt that journalists must be held to the same exacting standards of accountability that we seek from others, the allegations in this instance, as they relate to me, are entirely slanderous and not backed by a shred of evidence.

The edited conversations between PR representative Nira Radia and me have been headlined to suggest that I misused my role as a journalist to “lobby” for A. Raja, a man I have never met.

While this is completely untrue, I can understand the anger and anguish that such a misrepresentation can create, among viewers who rely on me to report honestly and impartially. And I would like to address some of the questions raised by these edited transcripts.

The tapes seem to add up to hundreds of hours of conversations between Nira Radia and people from different backgrounds, including scores of well-known journalists and editors from all the major media organisations (TV and print) in India.

Despite this, much of the commentary has been strangely selective in its focus. And quite often, vindictively personal. Consider, for example, that online it is being dubbed “BarkhaGate.”

I cannot speak on behalf of any other journalist on the tapes. Framed in the backdrop of a larger media debate, every journalist’s conversation on these tapes must, of course, be evaluated on its own merit. So, speaking only for myself, the insinuation made by the magazines are preposterous.

By definition, the insinuation of “lobbying” implies either a quid-pro-quo of some kind or a compromise in how I have reported the story. As anyone who has watched my coverage of the ongoing 2G scam over the past year would know – to suggest either is entirely absurd. (Attached below are links to several shows hosted by me on the 2G scam over the last two years.)

In several different statements, I have already challenged two newsmagazines who first carried the allegations to establish any proof of a quid-pro quo or a bias in reportage.

I know that neither charge stands the test of any scrutiny.

For those perplexed by the ongoing debate, it could be useful to understand the context in which these conversations took place. The few, short conversations took place in the backdrop of cabinet formation in 2009, when the DMK had stormed out of the UPA coalition over portfolio allocation.

In this instance, Nira Radia, was clearly plugged into the inner workings of the DMK, a fact we only discovered when she rang up to tell me that the news flashes running on different news channels were incorrect; the stalemate between the DMK and the Congress had not yet been resolved.

She corroborated her claim by saying she was in direct contact with the DMK chief and was in fact with his daughter, Kanimozhi. We talked about news developments within the DMK and the Congress and nothing I said was different from what I was reporting on TV minute-by-minute.

Ironically, the one sentence being used to damn me, “Oh God, What should I tell them”, is in fact two separate sentences, neither of which are related to A Raja or the telecom portfolio at all. When transcripts are edited and capture neither tone nor context, the message is severely distorted.

The phrase “Oh God,” was nothing more than a response to a long account by Nira Radia on a DMK leader, T.R. Baalu, speaking to the media without sanction from the party. The excerpt, “What should I tell them,” was in response to her repeatedly saying to me over several different phone calls, that if I happened to talk to anyone in the Congress, I should ask them to talk the DMK chief directly.

As a matter of record, I never passed on any message to any Congress leader. But because she was a useful news source, and the message seemed innocuous, I told her I would. Ultimately, I did no more than humour a source who was providing me information during a rapidly changing news story.

AT NO STAGE WAS I EVER ASKED TO PASS ON ANY MESSAGE TO INTERCEDE ON BEHALF OF A PARTICULAR MINISTER OR PORTFOLIO.

NOT ONCE, WAS I ASKED TO “LOBBY” FOR A. RAJA. NOT ONCE WAS I ASKED TO CARRY ANY MESSAGE REGARDING HIM OR ANY OTHER APPOINTMENT.

Anyone who has bothered to read the entire transcript of these conversations instead of just the headline, would notice that the conversation is essentially a journalist soliciting information from one of the many people plugged in – something all journalists do as part of newsgathering. And as journalists, we also often humour our sources without acting on their requests.

The only “benefit” I ever got from talking to Nira Radia was information; information I used to feed the news.

It is important to remember that at this point, in May 2009, none of us were aware of the present investigation against Nira Radia. Like most other journalists in India, I knew Nira Radia professionally as the main PR person for the Tata Group. In this instance, she clearly represented one side of the story.

She was just one of many people I spoke to as is typical in such news stories.

As journalists we deal with different kinds of people, who sometime solicit information and at other times, provide news leads. Unless we believe in only press-conference driven journalism, the need to tap into what’s happening behind-the-scenes in the corridors of power involves dealing with a multitude of voices, and yes, we cannot always vouchsafe for the integrity of all those we use as news sources. We concern ourselves primarily with the accuracy of the information.

But, I must come back to my original objection to what the two magazines have implied.

Strangely, when I complained to the editor of Open magazine about the smear campaign against me, he sent me a text saying , there was “not much remarkable” in my conversations and went on to even say that, “there is one bit in the strap where the word go-between is used that I don’t like myself.”

I have to wonder then, with anger, why he did not pause before using such a defamatory description.

Are there learnings in this for me? Yes, of course there are.

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight and with what we know now, I realise that when we talk to people who represent or belong to the power establishment, there can be a danger in sailing too close to the wind, even for those of us who are experienced and are driven purely by a deep passion for news.

The takeaway from this debate for me pertains to the everyday practice of journalism. I think of how different kinds of people, who could be potential sources of news, call me, and indeed all editors in this country every day, with different requests ranging from complaints about stories to requests for coverage and yes, sometimes we are also asked to pass on innocuous bits of information.

Never have these requests—nor will they—dictate the agenda of my news decisions. But, the calls that we treat with polite friendliness, to keep our channels of news open, clearly need to be handled with more distance. This controversy has made me look at the need to re-draw the lines much more carefully.

There is also another learning. I have always operated by a code of ethics that holds me as accountable to the public as the politicians I grill on my show. The selective and malicious nature of some of the commentary against me has reinforced my awareness of how responsible we ought to be before we level an allegation against another.

While a genuine debate on media ethics is always welcome in the quest for self improvement, I hope this debate will also look at what amounts to character assassination.

* Disclosures apply

**

Text: courtesy NDTV.com

Photograph: courtesy Outlook

***

Adolf Hitler intervenes again on the Radia tapes

25 November 2010

As journalists seriously ponder the rot within the media, Varun Grover at The Daily Tamasha provides much-needed levity to the proceedings by asking the basic question: where is the fucking story in the paper I read?

Adolf Hitler finally reacts to “Barkhagate”

24 November 2010

So what if “mainstream media”, assuming such a beast exists, ignores the Niira Radia tapes in the 2G scam involving, among others, topguns of journalism like Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi and Prabhu Chawla?

Also read: This is “All India Radia”

CHURUMURI POLL: Do you trust the media?

20 November 2010

As if all the scams involving the legislature, executive and the judiciary weren’t enough, a big blow has been struck against the so-called fourth estate—the media—with tapped conversations allegedly revealing that some of Indian journalism’s biggest names may have crossed the line between legitimate news gathering to lobbying with political parties on behalf of corporate houses.

The voices of Barkha Dutt of NDTV, Vir Sanghvi of Hindustan Times, Prabhu Chawla of the India Today group, and other leading journalism lights—and the tone and tenor of their conversations with Niira Radia, the fixer of the Tatas and Ambanis—show that the first two may have actually played a less-than-innocent part in the reinduction of A.Raja, the disgraced telecom minister at the centre of the mammoth 2G spectrum allocation scam.

The employers of M/s Dutt and Sanghvi have issued boiler-plate denials, although it is the individuals, not the institutions, which stand charged. (Sanghvi has posted a response on his personal website.)  But there is no question that the contents are damaging to the credibility of the journalists concerned given the exalted positions they enjoyed as fair and competent opinion-shapers on national television.

Paradoxically, this moment of shame comes at Indian journalism’s finest hour, when it can legitimately claim to have unearthed the 2G, CWG, Adarsh housing society and the IPL scams. While motives are being attributed at the timing of the expose, the key issue is simple: the stinky stables of media need urgent cleaning up after the paid news, private treaties, medianet and other associated scandals that have tarnished its image in recent months.

At a time when trust in the media is slipping according to a recent survey, do scandals like these help enhance your trust in the media and mediapersons? Or do you think that they are carrying out their own agendas on behalf of hidden puppeteers while keeping you in the dark?

* Disclosures apply

Also read: The TV anchor, the ex-editor and TV personality

Why we didn’t air Niira Radia tapes: two examples

English news channels have 0.4% viewership!

28 June 2010

Cynics and critics of the media cannot stop bad-mouthing the English news channels and their shrieking, shouting, table-thumping, finger-wagging anchors. They lambast Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami, accusing them of being everything from trivial to sensational to anti-national.

Opinion makers and talking heads from politicians to penpushers move heaven, earth and everything else in between to appear on the English news channels. Advertisers drop everything else to flock to them. Viewers cannot stop accusing them of everything that is wrong with the country short of the monsoon. Yet….

Yet, is this all futile?

Using data collated by the television audience measurement agency (TAM), Archna Shukla of the Indian Express reports that this could all be very misplaced. That, despite its growing social and rural acceptance, English news channels boast of such a minuscule viewership that it probably does not even count.

From a snapshot of television consumption in India in the Sunday Indian Express:

1. There are 134 million households which own television sets in India; 70 million are in rural areas, 64 million in urban India

2. India is the world’s second largest broadcast market in viewership base as well as the total number of channels (500)

3. An average Indian watches television for two and a half hours a day, South Indians are glued to the idiot box for longer

4. There are more news channels (81 and counting) than general entertainment channels

5. News and current affairs channels has 7.5% viewership share; GECs have 51%.

6. Hindi has 43% reach and audience; the regional language channels put together account for 37%

7. Hindi speaking market is larger but South Indians watch TV for longer, spending close to three hours a day

8. English channels, news and otherwise, gets only 11% of viewership share

9. English news channels have a 0.4 per cent viewership

10. Men watch sports, news and movie channels; women watch soaps and serials

Read the full story: How India watches television

Television in India

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

30 May 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This is all so confusing.”

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

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

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

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

I was getting desperate.

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

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

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

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

“What about the ministers,” I asked.

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

I was getting exasperated.

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

“ANC,” said APE.

“You mean African National Congress?”

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

“Are they running the country?” I asked.

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

An open letter to home minister P. Chidambaram

20 May 2010

Dear Shri Chidambaram

This is in response to your repeated taunts in your NDTV interview that “civil society” must respond to the wanton killing by the Naxals. It appears that the interview was tailor-made for getting the consent of the Union Cabinet for more firepower and airpower to combat the Maoists.

The diabolic support of Arun Jaitley, by describing you an “injured martyr”, was designed to achieve his ambition through the support of the mining barons of the BJP-ruled states.

As a member of society, I hope I am being civil in disagreeing with you on your hard line approach against the innocent tribals. I also hope you will not find it too shocking for being accused of being largely responsible for the rise and growth of naxalism, as the following happened on your watch as finance minister.

# Is it not true that naxalism grew exponentially in the last 10 years to become the present menace ? In fact you have yourself identified the time frame of the last 10 years in your interview with NDTV.

# Is it not true that the rise in popularity of naxalism is also coincidental with the rise in iron ore mining profits which increased from around Rs 50 per tonne to over Rs 5,000 per tonne in the last ten years?

# Is it not true that the map of naxalism is also the map of the Indian minerals. These minerals belong to the people of India but have been handed over to mining barons and corporate in a relationship of mutual benefit, more appropriately described as crony capitalism. It is for this reason that Arun Jaitley is your staunchest supporter because the fate of four State governments ruled by the BJP is dependent on the money from the mining mafia.

# Is it not true that during your watch as finance minister for four and a half years, corporates raked in profits of over Rs 2,00,000 crore through legal and illegal mining, mostly in the iron ore sector? How was this profit shared?

# Is it not true that during your entire tenure as FM, the royalty on iron ore was not revised and remained at a ridiculous Rs 7 to Rs 27 per tonne ( depending on the type and grade of iron ore) with the average of around Rs 15 per tonne. This royalty was neither made ad valorem nor was it revised from year 2000 onwards when the international price of iron ore rose to dizzying levels.

# Is it not true that the minerals are owned by the people of the State? Is a meagre 0.5 % royalty on iron ore profits adequate compensation to the owner of the resources? Would you sell your Rs one crore property for Rs 50,000?

Did your fulfill the oath that you took as a Minister to abide by the Constitution, in particular Article 39 (b) and (c) of the constitution which directs the government to use natural resources owned by the people of the country are used to subserve the common good?

Would the Naxal problem have been there if 25% of the mining profit was spent on the poor and the tribal living in the mining area and whose life was uprooted by the greedy corporate/mining mafia with active connivance of the law enforcers and policy makers ?

What prevented the government from nationalising the iron ore mine industry and handing it over to a PSU or the national mineral development corporation (NMDC) whose shares of one rupee were lapped up at a premium of Rs 300 (30000% premium) and using the profit for benefit of the people?

Are you aware that even a resource-rich and affluent country like Australia with a low population base is imposing an additional 40% windfall tax on mining profits?

Can a poor country like India afford to forgo these windfall profits?

Will you reveal as to how many times you have defended the public interest through a public interest litigation (PIL) and how many times you have defended corporate interest during your professional career as a lawyer? The question is relevant because of your empathy for the corporate sector is in apparent conflict with that towards the toiling masses.

Is it wrong for “civil society” to conclude that both as home minister and finance minister you have been protecting corporate profiteers (by first allowing them to loot the mineral wealth belonging to the people and now securing these mines for them) and not protecting the interest of the poor and tribal people who are victims of corporate greed and crony capitalism of the political parties?

You in particular should have known better having been a director of Vedanta Resources!

In your appearance on NDTV you talked about the two-pronged approach and one of them having been weakened. It is the prong of development which has been weakened and is non-existent. The royalty collected is not sufficient to pay for the various types of direct damages done by the mining industry (health, environment, water, roads, rehabilitation etc) let alone the cost of security forces.

Is it not true that the killing of innocent security forces and tribal is the direct result of the policy of securing the mineral wealth for the corporate profiteers and political parties who share the loot?

It was shocking to know that you were more concerned about your CV falling short by a few months of completing five years as finance minister when you met your maker (refer the NDTV interview) than about the blood of the innocents that has been spilled on both sides as a consequence of corporate profiteering.

It is not surprising that all the State governments which get reelected on the money of the mining mafia are interested in using air cover to make mining safe and profitable ever after. You should know better the role of money in elections after having managed to squeak past the post while the DMK MPs romped home with handsome margin. Mr A. Raja retained his portfolio!

What is at stake is the credibility of the State: that it is using force to benefit the mining mafia and that it has a vested interest in the profiteering of the mining mafia which is prospering because of crony capitalism.

To restore its credibility the government should resume all the mines which in any case belong to the people and give a solemn pledge that a minimum of 25% of the mining profits will be used for the benefit of the local people. The solution is not only just but one mandated by the Constitution. It is only after restoring its credibility that the State will have the right to act.

That one hopes, will not be necessary because honest development based on the resources belonging to the people is the best contraceptive against the Maoist ideology. (One is happy to note that according to newspaper report the mining minister has made a similar proposal and not surprisingly facing resistence.)

What happened, Mr Chidambaram, you used to be a nice guy? You resigned over the Fairgrowth affair when you were not even guilty.

Life is not about arguing a brief in court for money. It is about arguing for what is right. You have wrongly accused us of being “neither clever nor being devious “ (refer interview with NDTV), because we are not capable of it. We cannot argue the way you do.

Your arguments in Parliament over the oil for food programme while shielding Reliance from being referred to the Pathak Committee were indeed “brilliant.” Were you being clever or devious in your arguments? ( Refer the book Reliance the Real Natwar written by the undersigned for deciding the issue).

Please do not use “civil society” as an excuse for your omissions and commissions. We have no vested interest except that what belongs to the people should go to the people and that innocents, whether the security forces or the people forced to join the Maoist, should not die for corporate profits.

We are not powerful to tie the State governments with legal cases on police excesses. Those trying to uphold human right violations do so at considerable risk to their life and liberty and deserve our respect and not condemnation as misguided romantics.

On a personal note, Sir, will you resign and argue my PIL before the high court involving Rs 3,00,000 crore of iron ore being gifted by the State to Posco and Arcelor-Mittal (as Nani Palkhivala did to argue the Minerva Mill case) . It will be difficult to lose the case because law, facts and most important you will be on the same side.

If you agree to do so, Sir, I am sure He will give you far more credit than He would for the extra six months that you missed out as Finance Minister!

In case you are interested I will send you a copy of the petition.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

For far too long you have been shifting the blame on “civil society”. We too need answers.

With warm regards

A.K. Agrawal, Bangalore

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Also read: ‘Either you are with us or you are with them?’

One question I’m dying to ask P. Chidambaram

CHURUMURI POLL: Will the State beat Naxals?

Arundhati Roy: ‘What Muslims were to BJP, Maoists are to Congress’

How China changed the politics of Karnataka

CHURUMURI POLL: Should Reddy brothers quit?

CHURUMURI POLL: Will Mittal Steel get the land?

The media, the message, and the messengers

8 April 2010

The Booker Prize winning author Arundhati Roy‘s 31-page, 19,556-word essay “Walking with the comrades” in Outlook magazine*, has produced a fast and succinct response from the journalistic Twitterati after Tuesday’s dastardly ambush of 76 CRPF jawans by said comrades in the jungles of Dantewada.

From top, NDTV English group editor Barkha Dutt, Pioneer senior editor Kanchan Gupta, Indian Express columnist Tavleen Singh, former Stardust editor Shobhaa De, and London based freelance writer, Salil Tripathi.  Tripathi also has a finely argued critique of Roy’s piece in The Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, the adman turned magazine editor turned columnist Anil Thakraney offers this take on his Facebook status update.

* Disclosures apply

Screenshots: courtesy Twitter

Check out more Twitter comments on the Arundhati Roy essay here

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Also read: ARUNDHATI ROY: India is not a democracy

ARUNDHATI ROY: Election is not democracy

CHURUMURI POLL: Sonia, smarter than Indira?

14 March 2010

The passing of the women’s reservation bill by the Rajya Sabha last week is the beginning of its journey to become law, not the end. It still has to be passed by the Lok Sabha and be ratified by the majority of the assemblies before it becomes an Act. Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that the journey has begun, never mind the route and time it will take.

UPA chairman and Congress president Sonia Gandhi has justly cornered much of the credit for pushing the landmark bill through despite opposition from within her own party and across the aisle, although its impact on the Manmohan Singh government will only be known in the days and weeks to come—and although Sonia wouldn’t have been able to pull it off without support from the BJP and the Left parties.

The media has variously interpreted Sonia’s role in piloting the bill. One TV channel saw it as the emergence of a “firmer” Sonia, in the wake of recent reports that she was stepping back. A weekly newsmagazine asks the question whether Sonia is turning out to be smarter than her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi.

The reasoning is: the foreign-born Sonia has managed to resurrect a crumbling century-old party, put it back in power (twice), silently answered her critics, gracefully declined office, put a “professional” to run the country, been less pushy about her children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, and above all pushed pathbreaking social legislation like the national rural guarantee scheme, right to information, right to education, and now the bill.

All this, presumably, being in contrast to Indira, who was at the centre of a party split, imposed the Emergency (with censorship), unleashed her son Sanjay Gandhi, mouthed cliches like garibi hatao, silently cultivated fundamentalist forces like Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, and then launched Operation Bluestar.

In other words, outside of the triumph in the Bangladesh War, Indira Gandhi is seen as a largely negative influence, although some opinion polls find her to be the best PM India has had. In contrast, Sonia Gandhi, although not occupying the high office (therefore enjoying power without responsibility) is likely to be seen by posterity much more kindly than her mother-in-law.

Question: Is Sonia Gandhi turning out to be smarter than Indira Gandhi?

India’s best editors, wiser than rest together?

24 October 2009

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Via Twitter, CNN-IBN editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai, names the “most outstanding election analysts across channels” on counting day, October 22. His verdict: Kumar Ketkar, editor of the Marathi daily Loksatta, and Palagummi Sainath, rural affairs editor of The Hindu, both of whom were on CNN-IBN.

“Wiser than all Delhi editors put together,” says Sardesai, whose own election show had the usual sprinkling of said “Delhi editors”, who also appeared on CNN-IBN.

Ahem.

Also read: Don’t ask me, ask her. Don’t ask me, ask him

Why Rajdeep, Barkha must decline Padma Shri

India’s best editors? Just press ‘Click’

Not the land of the cow, land of the holy cows

Because, like Elvis, they only show him waist up

24 September 2009

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True, the Congress is in the midst of a Bogus Austerity Drama (BAD), but do its spokesmen have to drop their pants to make it seem real?! On a hot summer evening, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the party’s “Minister of State for Satellite TV”, does a “live” interview with a television channel from his residence in Delhi in kurta and shorts.

Obviously, since television doesn’t show the bottom-half of talking heads, it doesn’t matter. But how might Singhvi, a jovial Supreme Court lawyer man who loves splitting hairs even while having, say, a haircut, explain this wardrobe malfunction to Barkha Dutt tonight in his trademark pointwise summation?

“Barkha, three quick points: a) The mere fact that I am in my kurta-cheddi doesn’t mean I have been directed by the party to make a public display of my commitment to the austerity measures. b) Even if I have, merely because you can see my legs, you cannot conclude that these are the only austerity measures I am practising. There may be more, there may be less. c) And may I remind my learned colleague, since when did it become illegal to wear nothing below the waist, when the father of the nation wore nothing above?

“And, Barkha, Barkha, one last point, Barkha, regardless of whether I am in a kurta-pyjama or kurta-cheddi, surely it’s an invasion of an individual’s right to privacy for such pictures shot at the front porch of a private citizen’s private residence to be put out in the public sphere? Sure, Article 19(1) (a) as by law established guarantees freedom of speech and expression and we respect that, but let’s not forget it comes with reasonable restrictions insofaras public order, decency or morality is concerned….”

Also read: Are you being served, Mr Foreign Correspondent?

The Top-10 austerity moves India really wants to hear

Is that tap water the austere madam is drinking?

Who said there’s no such thing as a free lunch?

One room, four cameras and four lakh rupees

17 September 2009

How The Hindu reported the birth of India’s public television broadcaster 50 years ago. The terrestrial station went on air on 15 September but the report appeared in the newspaper two days later.

“The experimental television service of All India Radio, inaugurated by President Rajendra Prasad on September 15 at the Vigyan Bhavan is the first in South-East Asia. The TV station, equipped with four cameras, a 500-watt transmitter and other apparatus costing about rupees four lakhs, is housed in a single room on the fifth storey of Akashvani Bhavan, an annexe of the radio station, from where the programmes will be relayed twice every week within a radius of twelve miles.”

Launched under the banner of All India Radio (AIR), it later attained its own brandname, Doordarshan. DD’s trademark signature, first brought to life by Ustad Ali Ahmad Hussain Khan, was later improvised upon by the sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar.

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As a broadcaster mandated to serve the public cause, arts and culture, especially high arts and culture, was the backbone of both AIR and DD till the arrival of satellite television set DD on a hunt for young eyeballs.

Below is the theme music of Surabhi, Doordarshan’s weekly arts and culture show, which used to be hosted by Siddharth Kak.

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Also read: On India’s TV anniversary, no monkeying around

Pratima Puri: India’s first TV news reader passes away

Tejeshwar Singh: A baritone falls silent watching the cacophony


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