Posts Tagged ‘Outlook’

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

Sugata Raju is new editor of ‘Vijaya Karnataka’

15 May 2012

Vijaya Karnataka, the Kannada daily from The Times of India group, has a new editor: Sugata Srinivasaraju, the former associate editor, south, of Outlook* magazine. He takes over from Vasant Nadiger who was officiating as editor following the sudden death of E. Raghavan in March.

Raghavan had taken over VK from the paper’s longstanding editor Vishweshwar Bhat, who has since moved to Kannada Prabha, the Kannada daily owned by the mobile phone baron turned parliamentarian, Rajeev Chandrasekhar.

ToI bought Vijaya Karnataka in 2006 from the truck operator Vijay Sankeshwar, who launched a new title called Vijaya Vani following the end of the five-year no-compete clause with Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd. Vijaya Karnataka also faces growing competition from former market leader Praja Vani (from the Deccan Herald group).

* Disclosures apply

Also read: Ex-TOI, ET editor E. Raghavan passes away

Is Vijaya Karnataka ready for a Dalit editor?

When Mukesh Ambani writes the media’s cheques

15 January 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

* Disclosures apply

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

Another gig for ‘Papa Rock’ in another world

10 January 2012

In the Bharat that is India, it is only those who play by the book, who stick to the code, who do not stray from the straight and narrow, who get the 21-gun salute. The game-changers, the pathbreakers, the non-conformists, the iconoclasts barely get a look-see from even the most modern of media.

Artists, yes. Graphic artists, no.

Classical musicians, yes. Rock stars, no.

Last Thursday, Amit Saigal, one of the titans of the Indian rock music scene, met a watery end in Goa to almost deafening silence from the media which otherwise thinks it reflects and celebrates India’s youth. Here, a childhood friend pays tribute to a true rockstar.



I was on my way to Dabolim airport from Anjuna on Thursday when my phone rang twice around 1.30 pm flashing “Amit Saigal“. I had called Amit two days earlier when I was at Ashwem beach; I knew he was staying there.

My call had gone unanswered – so typically Amit, I told myself.

So, when I saw his name flash on my mobile phone screen I thought he was returning my call. But I could not take it immediately as I was checking in at the airport.

Once I had done so, I called Amit back on his number. It was not Amit on the other side; it was Gavin, Amit’s friend from Australia, with whom I was vaguely familiar. Thanks to the noise of the airport announcements and Gavin’s accent, I could barely make out what he was saying.

And then Gavin said: “Amit is dead.”


Amit and I had known each other since we were five years old. We had gone to the same school, St. Joseph’s in Allahabad. Amit stood out due to his unusual looks among us, Allahabadis. His complexion was western white; his hair was light in colour, almost blond.

He was built stoutly; he looked handsome.

Teachers at our school pinched his cheeks often. He was never the one who scored high grades but had a flair for writing English. Due to his appearance many of us thought he was a foreigner or an Anglo-Indian and kept some distance from him.

In school, Amit remained a bit of a mystery for us even though he would try his best to make us laugh with his fake ‘angrez’ accent, which mostly went beyond our comprehension. He could mimick very well at school functions; he was good at holding an audience’s attention.

Despite his well-heeled background (a bahadur used to bring hot food every afternoon at the lunch recess for him) anyone of us who broke ice with him found him to be just like us.


Amit Saigal came from an aristocratic family of Allahabad engaged in the business of printing UP government’s school books and stationery. His grand uncle was an Independence revolutionary of sorts and ran a publishing company by the name of Chand Press in the 1930s and ’40s.

The Saigals lived in a sprawling bungalow in the Civil Lines area and owned furniture and cutlery that would rival the Nehrus of Anand Bhawan. The Shankaracharya had stayed at the Saigal household at a time when Maharshi Mahesh Yogi was his mere sevak.

After we had finished our school, Amit’s father sent him to England to attend a printing technology fair. The experience could come in handy in running the family press, or so Saigal senior thought. But when Amit returned from ol’ Blighty, his suitcase only contained literature on his future port of calling: rock music.

Rock music in Allahabad of the 1980s might sound like Teejanbai performing for the Pope, but the truth was slightly different. Due to a sizeable Anglo-Indian community, there were a small yet die-hard rock music loving gentry.

With the help of the gear he got from his England trip Amit started a rock band on the Prayag.


Amit and I lost touch with each other after school, after my family moved to Delhi. In 1993, with his now ex-wife Shena, Amit started India’s first rock magazine from Allahabad Rock Street Journal, a sort of cut-paste job from foreign music magazines peppered with profiles of a few Indian rock bands.

Initially RSJ was a sheaf of stapled sheets put together by Amit and Shena and personally handed out by them at IIT festivals. But soon the magazine became hugely popular among the student communities of the metros. Over a period of time, Amit became a cult-like figure among the youth of India’s north eastern states.

He once received a fan’s mail, which the letter writer claimed to have written with his own blood.

When we met again around 1996, our professions were a bit similar. Amit asked me to design the glossy format RSJ. The cute little boy from school had grown his hair. It was turning silver now, flowing below his shoulders like a rock star.

He looked even more incongruous than in Allahabad.

“Don’t you get cat-calls in Allahabad for your women-length hair?” I asked.

Amit turned around and said: ‘Ham phorener hain na.’

The fact was Amit couldn’t care less.

That was Amit. He conformed only to the extent where he would not make his peers too unhappy with what he did. His rock star spirit was genuine; he did not work at it, he was born with it. He liked himself to be a bit on the edge, but one foot was always firmly planted on the ground.


Indian independent musicians will remain ever indebted to Amit Saigal for the possibilities he opened up for them in his lifetime. In the mid-90s RSJ started an annual three-day independent rock music festival, The Great Indian Rock, at Delhi’s Hamsadhwani theatre to a capacity crowd of 10,000.

For the first time Indian rock bands from across the country found a professionally managed platform to perform for a large audience. GIR over the years discovered many amateur rock bands which have graduated to professional bands now.

Fondly called “Papa Rock” by the army of musicians he unearthed and honed, Amit started club gigs called Rocktober-fest in many cities of India. The surge of live-bands we see now playing at different bars and restaurants all over the places in emerging India were triggered by RSJ a good decade back.

In 2004, RSJ took the rock band Orange Street for a 4-country rock tour of Sweden, Norway, Estonia and England. This again was the first time an Indian band was touring Europe on this scale. I followed the band on this tour as a writer and a photographer for my magazine Outlook*.

In 2009, Amit’s RSJ banner was up for more than 200 nights at different gigs all across India.

This November Amit kickstarted a weeklong international music festival in Delhi, The India Music Week.

We met a few times during the festival and he told me how physically exhausted he was putting together a festival of this size. He wanted to take a break from work, to re-energize himself in Goa for a few weeks, like he always did at the end of the year.

I told him I would join him towards New Year Eve.

Around 10 in the morning on January 5, Amit sailed out with Gavin and a few others on Gavin’s boat from Panaji dockyard to sail to Palolim. About 100 metres before Palolim beach the boys jumped into the calm waters of the Arabian sea for a swim. They were a having a lot of fun swimming.

Amit said to Gavin that next year he would bring his daughter Aditi over.

Amit floated on his back gazing the blue skies above, his favourite position when he used to be in the water. After a while, his mates noticed he was floating face down. They sensed something was amiss. They pulled Amit on to the boat, gave him the oxygen mask to breathe. But it was too late.

“Papa Rock” had already left to organise another gig, in another world.

File photograph: Amit Saigal takes the mike at the author’s wedding at Amber in Jaipur in November 2009

Also read: North meets South on the banks of Cauvery

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

From Murthy to Reddy, and from IT to ‘looty’

22 January 2011

On the eve of the 61st anniversary of the Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic of India, the historian Ramachandra Guha bemoans the state of the State in the latest issue of Outlook*:

“At the close of the last century, my home town, Bangalore, was a showpiece for the virtues of liberalisation. Access to global markets had allowed the skilled workforce of the City to generate vast amounts of wealth, which in turn spawned a new wave of Indian philanthropy.

“At the beginning of the presen decade, my home State, Karnataka, has become a byword for the darker side of globalisation. The loot of minerals and their export to China has wreaked large-scale environmental damage and polluted the political system through the buying and selling of legislators.

“A State once represented to the world by N.R. Narayana Murthy was now being represented to itself by Janardhana Reddy…. Had Manmohan Singh not been so reluctant to act against his tainted ministrs, B.S. Yediyurappa would not so easily have ridden out press exposure of his corrruption and that of his cabinet colleagues.”

* Disclosures apply

Read the full article: A nation consumed by the State

Also read: ‘A heady confluence of crime, business & politics’

How China changed the face of Karnataka’s politics

CHURUMURI POLL: India’s most corrupt State?

ARAVIND ADIGA: A 21st century Adiga’s call to Kannadigas

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



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.



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

Photograph: courtesy Outlook


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

Any resemblance is accidental & unintentional—II

21 September 2010

A nice little slanging match has broken out on the letters’ pages of the newsweeklies over banker-turned-writer Sarita Mandanna‘s debut book Tiger Hills and simmering allegations that it draws its inspiration from surgeon-cum-writer Kavery Nambisan‘s 1996 novel The Scent of Pepper.


In the August 23 issue of Outlook, Mathew Panayil wrote:


“I was reassured reading Kalpish Ratna’s book review of Tiger Hills (Books, August 9). The pre-release reviews I read (even in top magazines such as India Today) were so biased as if to resemble a well-crafted press release by agent David Godwin and Penguin India.

“It was disappointing to find Tiger Hills carried more than just traces of Kavery Nambisan’s Scent of Pepper (1996). The latter is also a family saga set in Coorg. Both books have an episode (one of several such) where the two main male characters participate in a mock battle (pariakali), part of the traditional harvest celebrations. The description is identical in passages: both men in the two books have the women they love watching, both win, and both episodes end in a marriage proposal being made.

“In another instance, female protagonists of both books cut up their wedding sarees to make a costume for their sons,  one for a school play, the other for fancy dress. One boy plays king, another goes as a prince. Both books deal with coffee, westernisation and the nationalist era.

“I travel to Coorg regularly, and know enough on the place  to know the book is full of inaccuracies, and the writer’s knowledge of Kodagu shaky. And eucalyptus in 19th-century Coorg! The bamboo district is in the east, not north. And the title of the Nayakas had been done away 200 years before the period Tiger Hills is set in. One final word: if a book is endorsed in the West, do we have to be so quick to accept it unquestioningly?”

Mathew Panayil, on e-mail

In response to Mathew Panayil’s letter, two Kodavas have defended Sarita Mandanna in the latest issue of Outlook.


“As Kodavas who are familiar with our culture and as researchers and authors on Kodava culture and tradition, the comment on the review of Sarita Mandanna’s Tiger Hills by Matthew Panayil in Outlook’s letters pages (Aug 23) put us out a bit. The letter-writer had written that “Tiger Hills carried more than just traces of Kavery Nambisan’s Scent of Pepper.”

“We have read and enjoyed both books—both are set in the same community, area and period. However, the plots are different. We maintain that it’s unsurprising when two books about a small community living in a small area, with well-defined festivals (kail polud, puthari, kaveri), dances (kolata, pariakali), crops (paddy, and the coffee introduced by British planters) and social influences (the club culture—another thing bequeathed by the Brits) feature a very similar backdrop!

“Any novel/story set in the Coorg of those times would be described more or less similarly—with familiar phrases, or ‘stripes’, as Mr Panayil puts it. Thus, the insinuation in his letter is unfair.”

Boverianda Nanjamma and Chinappa, Coorg

Almost simultaneously, this letter appears from Yamini Belliappa appears in the current issue of Tehelka:


“Refer to Gaurav Jain’s ‘Hunting the Spoor of Tiger Hills’, 28 August. I’ve only read 80 pages of Sarita Mandanna’s debut novel, which you reviewed. The book is riddled with inaccuracies, such as:

1. The book is set in late 1800s and she talks of Nayaks (local chietains) in Coorg, but they were gone 200 years earlier and we only had family heads called Pattedaras.

2. There’s a ‘poleya tribal’ character called Tukra. Poleya means untouchable; tribals were never considered untouchable and certainly never referred to as Poleyas. I think she’s got the Yerava tribe confused with the poleyas.

3. The character Devanna goes to Bangalore Medical College in 1895. No medical colleges in Bangalore till the 1940s. And he actually sits for an entrance exam, which came much, much later.

4. Madikeri (Mercara), now a town in North Coorg is filled with the ringing of bicycle bells in 1890s. I don’t think it was happening even in London at that time.

5. From atop the Coorg hills, the protagonist Devi can see the Chamundi Hills in Mysore and the Arabian Sea and Kudremukh in Mangalore. Not possible, and even if it’s a figment of her imagination, it doesn’t ring true.

6. Devi enters the sanctum sanctorum of a temple and talks to the priest. No one (let alone a meat-eating Coorgi) is allowed into the sanctum but the brahmin priest.

7. The thick bamboo forests are described as being in south Coorg. They’re in the east.

8. A Coorg feast is being laid out: ghee rice, payasam, jalebis and coffee are the only items mentioned. Anyone who’s even sniffed at Coorg will know that we never ever celebrate anything without several meat dishes. In those days it would have been bison, wild boar, partridge, wild fowl, etc.

9. A wealthy father offers to give his daughter Rs.100, or even Rs.200, every month in 1901 or so. Even in the 1940s, Rs. 30 was considered a decent salary.

“We should all be a bit worried about the slipping standards in literature, which few seem to care about.”

Yamini Belliappa, on email


Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Also read: Any resemblance is accidental and unintentional

Will media activism secure justice for Bhopal?

8 June 2010

The farcical judgment in the Bhopal gas tragedy case has come—25 years and 6 months after the accident.

The media pats itself on the back for securing justice in middle-class, urban, people-like-us stories like Jessica Lal, Sanjeev Nanda and Ruchika Girhotra.

Will the TV stations get into a similar activist mode on behalf of the 15,274 killed and 574,000 affected in Bhopal, especially when one of the eight convicted, Keshub Mahindra, is a major advertiser?

Yesterday’s judgment has offered a chance for journalists to put things in perspective on a pre-television era tragedy.


Internationally acclaimed photographer Pablo Bartholomew writes in today’s Hindustan Times on how he got to capture the picture that defined the Bhopal tragedy:

“The Lok Sabha election campaign started on December 1, 1984, and I decided to start working in Patna and make my way to Amethi in the Sultanpur area in Uttar Pradesh.

“While in Patna on December 3, I heard on the radio: 30 dead in gas leak in Bhopal. Ignored it and took the plane to Lucknow.

“Drove towards Sultanpur to arrive at a dhaba by 9 pm. On a black-and-white TV, saw the most bizarre news footage of dead people being wheeled on wooden handcarts. Toll: 120 dead.

“Decided to go to Bhopal.

“Maybe it is a denial, a kind of guilt that I have not been able to do enough on a personal individual level for the people, the situation. And that is I guess the shallowness of 95 per cent of the journalism we do. We all tend to walk away. It’s the next story that we look to and the story is just a story.

“This experience really scared me. Showed the ugly side of modern development and what corporate greed and negligence was all about.”

Elsewhere, in the same paper, N.K. Singh, then a junior reporter in the Indian Express, pens a first-person piece on the trauma of reporting the tragedy.

The human tragedy waiting to happen in the city mosques had been prophetically predicted by the outstanding journalist Raajkumar Keswani (in picture, left) years earlier. “Bhopal jwalamukhi ki kagaar par (Bhopal on the edge of a volcano),” ran a headline for Keswani‘s piece in 1982.

N.K. Singh writes that he too was alerted to what was to unfold on December 4, by Keswani.

“I was fast asleep under a warm quilt in Bhopal when the phone rang. My friend Raajkumar Keswani, a journalist living in the old quarters of the town, sounded agitated, a little incoherent and was gasping for breath and coughing. He said there was a commotion in the street, people were running around and something had happened.

“‘I am having a problem breathing,’ he said….

“On the evening of December 3, 1984, as I sat on my typewriter to write the story of the world’s worst industrial disaster, tears started welling up in my eyes. That evening, and for many evenings after that, tears would keep rolling down  my cheeks even as I hammered at the keyboard to meet the deadline of the newspaper.”

For his work on Bhopal, Raajkumar Keswani was later decorated with the B.D. Goenka award.


Last year, on the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, Shreekant Khandekar, the former Bhopal correspondent of India Today, recounted the experience in an article in Outlook magazine:

“I was just 28 and had to work alone because everyone else was busy with the forthcoming general elections. Thankfully India Today was then a fortnightly and my deadline was still a week away….

“I needed the dope for a detailed illustration, showing how things had gone wrong. I found a local studio that was Carbide’s official photographer. I bought more than a hundred photographs of the Carbide premises from every conceivable angle. I also plotted the layout of the plant on a sheet. Then, at the back of every picture I noted the angle from which a particular piece of equipment had been photographed.

“Meanwhile, I had located a former safety officer of Carbide who now worked in Delhi. I flew down and ran him through what I had. He said it sounded technically plausible. And when our artist put together an illustration based on the photographs and layout sheet, the safety officer was amazed by its accuracy.”

Photographs: courtesy iconicphotos, blogger


Pablo Bartholomew: We journalists just walk to the next story

N.K. Singh: ‘For several nights, I wept as I typed’

Shreekant Khandekar: The dead line

Everybody loves a good affair between celebs

12 April 2010

The cross-border love affair between Indian tennis star Sania Mirza and Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik that culiminated in marriage this afternoon has gobbled up more space and time than most issues bedevilling the two nations.

Outlook cartoonist Sandeep Adhwaryu looks at the priorities of the media in the two countries in The Sunday Guardian.

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Double fault by apna Sania?

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


Also read: ARUNDHATI ROY: India is not a democracy

ARUNDHATI ROY: Election is not democracy

Where there’s a Gill, there’s no way for our sport

4 April 2010

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: I spotted the Ace Sports Specialist (ASS) at Gangothri Glades, answering questions from enthusiastic kids about the Davanagere lad, R. Vinay Kumar, who has just made it to the Indian squad for the Twenty20 World Cup.

I thought this was an opportune moment to get ASS’s views on ‘What Ails Other Sports’ in our country.

We sat on a bench at the Kukkarahalli kere not far from where a crocodile made its majestic appearance recently before going back into the lake after laying eggs.

“Why is the Commonwealth boxing champion Vijender Singh so disgusted with the boxing federation that he calls it a “hell”? Other sportsmen too have voiced similar opinion about their federations.”

“Most sane people will agree with that. Sports minister Manohar Singh Gill finds time to only criticise cricket which is not his business anyway. He hardly has time to run his own business, sports, but he has plenty of time to write the last-page diary for Outlook magazine now and then.”

“Vijender says his federation is always crammed with busybodies who have nothing to do with boxing and wonders who these people are and what they have to do with boxing!”

“Come on, Ramu, you know better. Isn’t this quite common with most federations headed by politicians? Their chamchas just hang around to pass time. They are only answerable to their political sugar daddies, not just of the Sharad Pawar kind.”

“Let me be specific. What is our sports minister doing to lift the hockey team from the 8th or 9th position to the second or third position? Is there a plan? Why aren’t we being told what that plan is? Why did coach Ric Charlesworth go back without taking the assignment as hockey coach?” I asked.

“May be the minister doesn’t have the time.”

“Or, for that matter, why doesn’t Gill do something about football in which India is languishing at the 3rd or 4th position—from the bottom,” I persisted.

“Look! He is otherwise busy. First he was busy wondering if he would  be nominated to the Rajya Sabha again. Now he is busy wondering whether Amitabh Bachchan should be the brand ambassador for the Commonwealth Games when namma Udupi boy Suresh Kalmadi has already made it clear he will not, probably because amma is keeping a tab. I understand the Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan is so scared he goes to sachivalaya climbing the water pipes behind his office because of the fear he might bump into the Bachchans.”

It was time to change the topic.

“Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh approached his Brazilian counterpart once to help us out in football.”

“I know. Had Gill had followed it up, Brazil’s coach Dunga would have landed here along with Pele to teach ‘bicycle kicks’ to our boys. Instead he is just happy criticising the IPL commissioner Lalit  Modi and predicting that IPL is doomed to fail one day!” ASS wailed.

“Such a pity! What is his routine in the sports ministry?”

“Who knows? Kee farak painda? When DDCA was criticized for ‘under preparing’ the Feroze Shah Kotla cricket pitch Gill pounced on it forgetting the CWG was heading towards its own disaster. Gill, if anything, should be more concerned what’s happening in his own backyard, i.e. the various federations.”

“What exactly can he do?”

“To start with he can shake up a couple of sports federations which have drug addicts as athletes on their rolls and the federations  just sleepwalk when WADA catches our athletes time and again. Next, find out what ails the badminton federation which cannot arrange shuttlecocks for camps before an international event! Or the winter Olympics team which landed up in cold Canada without warm clothing.”

“Ha ha.”

Naga-beda kannaiah, it’s not a joke. These things have happened. And nobody knows why our shooters cannot get bullets and other gear earlier but only while driving to the airport before a competition!”

“Elementary, as Sherlock Homes would say.”

“I hope you know Holmes never said that in any of Arthur Conan Doyle‘s books, but you’re right. We have many Watsons  holding important positions. Dr Gill should do the elementary things first for sports and not bother about how many Bollywood stars should dance, if Amitabh should be there or not. We seem to think cultural shows are the main thing in sports and athletic meets,” ASS interrupted me.

“That’s terrible.”

“Finally he could make sure deserving sportspersons are not left out of national awards. He could tie up with industry to ensure other sports are also encouraged by business houses. There is no use blaming cricket has become commercial; at least the players are looked after very well. When will we realise other sportspersons too need to be properly looked after?”

“So true,” I concurred.

Anda haage, Ramu, don’t be so harsh on Gill. He has a Mysore connection. His younger daughter was born here. In fact, her name is Kaveri,” ASS said as he departed with a wink.

Photograph: courtesy Commonwealth Youth Games

Also read: With sports ministers like Gill, God tussi great ho!

Aal iz naat well; sport needs a jaado ki thappad

Has Twitter found Mark Tully character assassin?

2 April 2010

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Can a nearly spotless journalistic career of 45 years—30 of those for one of the most trusted broadcasters in the world—be tainted, tarbrushed and tarnished by a pathetic paperback written under a pseudonym?

If your name is Sir William Mark Tully, OBE, the answer has to seem, yes.

And the book that is causing all the damage to the reputation of the man India knows as Mark Tully is the 166-page Hindutva, Sex and Adventure written under the nom de plumeJohn MacLithon“, and published by Roli books, whose promoter once published the Sunday Mail newspaper from Delhi.

For 30 years, the Calcutta-born Tully was the BBC’s voice of India; his classic, halting signoff “Mark Tully, BBC, Delhi” as much a reassurance that all was right with the world as a stamp of authority of what we had just heard. After retirement in 1994, he settled down to write columns and books, many of them on the land of his birth (No full stops in India, India in slow motion, India’s unending journey, et al).

So much did Tully sahib endear himself to the establishment that he was decorated with India’s third and fourth highest civilian awards, the Padma Bhushan and Padma Sri.

Now, a nice little question mark has been hung at his door at No. 1, Nizamuddin (East) by a cowardly, scurrilous and unimaginative roman à clef that makes no pretence of hiding who it is based on and worse, hangs the entire body of work of a 74-year-old on his alleged political leanings without giving him the chance to respond in public.

MacLithon doesn’t, of course, take Tully’s name in the book, but in discussing the life and times and adventures of “Andrew Lyut, a radio journalist who is posted to India because he was born there and speaks a smattering of Hindu”, reviews and reviewers are doing the damage:

# In his India Today review, Dilip Bobb writes “the book is so obviously based on Mark Tully, the ex-BBC bureau chief and media star who spent almost his entire career in India, covering the region.”

# The Times of India‘s Crest edition says the “protagonist Andrew Luyt has plenty of similarities with Mark Tully. Luyt can be an anagram for Tuly. Like the famous BBC correspondent, he is born in India, works as radio journalist and quits his job over a disagreement with his boss.”

# The tabloid Mail Today newspaper remarks that “the author’s bio is both impressive and suspiciously familiar: he has interviewed six Indian prime ministers, dodged bullets on the India-Pakistan border and has covered the Mumbai riots (Is he Mark Tully? Or [former Fortune correspondent] John Elliot? The speculative list just gets bigger.)

# All three items in the gossip column of Outlook magazine’s books pages this week are devoted to the book with Mark Tully‘s name finding mention eight times, without a single mention of the name of the pseudonymous author.

So, who is causing the damage to Tully more—the book and its author and publisher, or the reviewers of newspapers and magazines, for most of whom Tully has written before—is a fair question to ask.


An equally good question to ask is which part of Hindutva, Sex and Adventure is causing discomfiture to Tully: the Hindutva part, the sex part or the adventure part?

It surely can’t be the sex. A 2001 profile of Tully on BBC reveals unabashedly that he “womanised and drank to excess” as an undergraduate at Cambridge. He considered becoming a priest at the Church of England but dropped out after two terms.


“I just knew I could not trust my sexuality to behave as a Christian priest should. And I didn’t want to be a cause of scandal.”

And then, there is the small matter of his girlfriend Gillian Wright, with whom he stays while in Delhi, and his wife and mother of his four children, Margaret, with whom he stays when in London.

It can’t also be the “adventure” part of the title. From the wars with Pakistan to the Bhopal gas tragedy, from the Emergency to Operation Bluestar, from the killing of Indira Gandhi to that of her son Rajiv Gandhi, Tully saw plenty of adventures, upclose and upfront.

What probably rankles Tully, or perhaps, what really the pseudonymous author wants to irritate Tully with, is the veiled accusation that he was a closet Hindutva supporter all along without letting the mask drop before his listeners, readers, employers and other benefactors.

Here are three of many quotes from the book that the author uses to underline Andrew Luyt’s veering towards a soft Hindutva vision:

# “I am an Anglican and some of my clergy think yoga is very un-Christian, but how can you dislike something born in your country, that has taken the world by storm.”

# “The first question he asked Benazir Bhutto was about Kashmir, since she was the one who had called for ‘Azad Kashmir’, a Kashmir free from India, which had triggered ethnic cleansing of most Hindus of the valley of Kashmir.”

# “He had expected a rabid fundamentalist, a dangerous man. Actually, Andrew discovered over the years, L.K. Advani was a gentle soul, who would probably be unable to hurt a bird.”

If this is proof of Tully’s leanings, it is old hat.

In fact, in 2003, seven years before John MacLithon’s book was published, the political commentator Amulya Ganguli wrote this in the Hindustan Times:

“For several years now, the BBC’s Mark Tully has provided indirect support to the BJP’s Hindutva cause. His contention, as reiterated in a new TV documentary, Hindu Nation, is that secularism is unsuitable for India. The reason: it is a doctrine which keeps religion out of public life, an attempt which is bound to fail —and has failed—in a country as “deeply religious” as India. Hence, the Congress’s decline and the BJP’s rise.”

Much earlier, in 1997, the remarks reportedly made by Tully while addressing the National Hindu Students’ Forum in Britain had created a big buzz.

According to the Asian Age newspaper reporting it, Tully said:

I do profoundly believe that India needs to be able to say with pride, ‘Yes, our civilisation has a Hindu base to it.‘ And for Hindus to be able to say with pride that they are Hindus.””

Stunningly, or perhaps not, the author introduction on the back cover of the book and on the website of the publisher has the exact same line as the Asian Age quote.

“Some of John MacLithon’s admirers were shocked when he declared a few years ago: ‘I do profoundly believe that India needs to be able to say with pride, ‘Yes, our civilisation has a Hindu base to it’.”

So, in a sense, the book doesn’t tell us anything humanity didn’t know or had not suspected about Tully’s political leanings; it just packages it for posterity especially with two imputations: a) We should take Tully’s overall “objective” output with a pinch of salt, and/or b) that somehow he has done Hindutva some disservice by not aligning himself openly with the cause” (as perhaps the pseudonymous author has).

# In its short review of Hindutva, Sex and Adventure, The Times of India writes that the “Hindutva bits are quite forgettable”.

# Dilip Bobb says in his review that after quitting his job, MacLithon’s protagonist Andrew Luyt settles down “with a ‘partner’ to write books which go soft on Hindutva and Hinduism.”

# An unnamed reviewer in the Hyderabad-based Deccan Chronicle writes that Luyt’s “very protestant upbringing and secular outlook shapes the way he views the events around him and with every passing episode his stance on Hindutva softens.”

Whether Mark Tully dislikes the Hindutva hint no one knows for sure, although one editor who has known the BBC correspondent, says the Tully’s views on Hindutva and Hinduism “do not in any way reflect” Luyt’s; in fact, he says, he would “disagree with them profoundly”.

But it is quite clear that the pseudonymous foreign correspondent’s motive is to throw mud at Tully and to draw him into the debate on his “soft Hindutva leanings”, which Tully has resisted so far. At least in public.


So whodunit? Who could be behind the book on Tully?

According to the Outlook bibliophile, while signing the contract with Roli Books 18 months ago, the pseudonymous author took great pains to protect his identity, even inserting a clause that treated the “divulging of his real name as a breach of contract.”

But unnamed friends of Tully are quoted by the magazine as saying that the “strangely written” prose and the hero’s “unusual sex” antics are a giveway.

“Mark’s friends say the man behind the book is a French journalist and avid Hindutva supporter, who, like Tully, has been based in India for decades but unlike Tully, is married to an Indian. This journalist published an autobiographical novel in French in 2005.”

Mail Today, which has run two items on the book, claims that after the first piece appeared, the author got in touch with them.

“After we reported the guessing game set off by the soon-to-be launched book, the author chose to ‘come out’ in a manner of speaking and get in touch with us on email: ‘It should be absolutely normal to defend Hindus in a country where 80 per cent of the population comprises Hindus and which has shown throughout the ages that it is pluralist and tolerant. But unfortunately ‘ Hindu’ has become a dirty word in modern India.’

“The mysterious author says that he has spent many years working on the novel—which has lots on the sexual peccadilloes of a Hindutva-loving foreign correspondent in India—but had always known that his peers would brand him immediately after the publication of the book.”

If nothing else, the phraseology of the Mail Today-John MacLithon correspondence suggests that the pseudonymous is obsessed with two of the three elements in the title: Hindutva and sex.

One editor claims he received an email out of the blue from the suspected author asserting that Mark Tully was the author but that he had written it under a pseudonym “because he is scared of coming out openly…. But I have not and I am much more radical than Tully.”

But, surely, if Tully wanted to out himself, he would have chosen a more dignified way of doing so, at least by writing a book in better English with a better publisher?

On his Twitter account, the editor-in-chief of the Madras-based New Indian Express, Aditya Sinha, asks this question:

Already, in its short life, the book has kept the gossip mills active, but in the long term, is it likely to end up besmirching the BBC and its voice in India?

Then again, the Hindutva herd, uncomfortable with the idea of independent journalism, is likely to ask another question: has it become a crime for a journalist or a journalism organisation to be associated with Hindutva?

Photograph: courtesy Outlook magazine

Also read: MARK TULLY: The 7 habits of highly effective journalists

‘In India, we realise nothing ever dies finally’

‘Learn to take the rough with the smooth’

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?

By George, it’s pati, patni aur woh & some crores

17 January 2010

Now enacting his final scene under the cruel directorship of M/s Parkinson and Alzheimer, George Fernandes is among the most intriguing actors to have lit up the political theatre.

# Born in Mangalore and trained in Bangalore to become a priest, he built his political reputation as a trade union leader in Bombay, taking on millowners. Elected to the Lok Sabha from Bombay and Bihar, the Dakshina Kannadiga was rejected by voters in Bangalore North.

# The Lohia-ite socialist who set up a co-operative bank for taxi drivers and drove out Coca-Cola and IBM as industries minister in the Janata Party government of Morarji Desai, he became a pillar of the BJP-led NDA government of Atal Behari Vajpayee, whose RSS membership he had earlier questioned.

# Once a supporter of nuclear disarmament, Fernandes, as defence minister, endorsed Pokhran-II. Forced to resign after Tehelka‘s Operation West End sting operation but exonerated later, the CBI named him in the FIR on the irregularities surrounding the purchase of the Barak anti-missile system from Israel.

But all these anachronisms pales in front of the unfolding catfight over Fernandes’ personal wealth involving his legally wedded wife Leila Kabir (whom he never formally divorced), and his friend and companion for a quarter of a century, Jaya Jaitly. (Sean Fernandes, the investment-banker son of George and Leila, is playing a bit role.)

Fernandes now suffers from both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases and the two women are squabbling for the spoils.

While the grim details of the sequel of Pati, Patni, Beta aur Woh follow established lines, what is staggering is the kind of wealth that the “working class leader”—whose kurta-pyjama and economy class travel even as Union minister was made much of by spin-meisters—has accumulated and is now up for grabs.

# According to The Telegraph, Calcutta, “at the core of the tussle is immovable property worth Rs 7 crore in Hubli and a flat in south Delhi’s posh Hauz Khas.”

# According to The Times of India, the clash that has built up since November over who cares for George and “more pertinently over the keys to his known assets reportedly worth Rs 12 crore”.

# According to Outlook magazine, “three flats in the names of Municipal Mazdoor Union, Bombay Labour Union, party journal The Other Side, and a basement leased to Dastakari at 6/105 Kaushalya Park, Hauz Khas, New Delhi; rest of the money from the sale of a 10-acre plot in Nelamangala, on the outskirts of Bangalore, valued at Rs 22 crore, but sold for half that amount;  A property in Mangalore valued at Rs 2-3 crore sold a couple of years ago for Rs 60 lakh.”

# According to The Indian Express, the payment for Fernandes’ Nelamangala property, inherited from his mother Alice Fernandes, was received in stages and the final payment came after the affidavits had been filed for the LS polls and Rajya Sabha polls: “approximately Rs 15.6 crore for Nelamangala, plus Rs 60 lakh from the sale of an ancestral home, minus Rs 3.06 crore paid towards tax.”

# According to Ahmedabad Mirror, George’s (and Leila’s) son Sushanto “Sean” Fernandes acted when one of his uncles informed him that Jaya Jaitly had used the power of attorney to sell the 20-acre Nelamangala property, “pegged at 12 crore” which was subsequently deposited as fixed deposits in banks.

# According to Deccan Herald, Fernandes declared moveable assets of Rs 70,439,798 and immovable assets at Rs 25,000,000 while contesting the Muzaffarnagar seat in Bihar in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections: cash Rs 20,000; deposits in banks, financial institutions and non-banking financial companies Rs 70,359,798; and bonds, debentures and shares in companies — Rs 60,000.

Photograph: courtesy Outlook


Also read: By George, hamaam mein sab nange hain

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Kanimozhi: How many poems fetch a poet rs 8.5 crore?

Priya Krishna: One question anyone should ask Rahul Gandhi

H.D. Deve Gowda: A snapshot of a poor, debt-ridden farming family

R.V. Deshpande: A 1,611% jump in assets in five years? Hello!

Should editors and journalists declare their assets?

T.S. SATYAN: Once upon a time with C.V. Raman

13 December 2009

The world is an infinitely darker place when gems of the lustre of T.S. Satyan and his great friend H.Y. Sharada Prasad start shining no more. Sixty-one years ago, Satyan, then still fresh in the profession, met an acknowledged jewel, Sir C.V. Raman, for a feature in Deccan Herald, which he recounted later for Outlook magazine*.



My first meeting with Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, the eminent physicist, is still green in my memory.

One day, in l948, I telephoned the Nobel laureate to ask if I could meet him at his convenience and photograph him for an illustrated feature.

I was apprehensive about getting an appointment from so busy a person, but was pleasantly surprised when he asked me, “How much time would you need?”

An hour, I said.

Raman went on to say those thirty minutes would do. I could see him the next morning at nine sharp. “Come on time,” he warned.

I dutifully reported my success to Pothan Joseph, Editor of Deccan Herald, which had been started barely a month ago. “Be punctual and conduct yourself with grace,” Pothan counselled me. He told me that Raman was a man of quick temper and so I should not throw my weight about in his presence, just because I was a newspaperman.

“He may get angry if you direct him to act before your camera. He is particular about the rules he sets for himself,” he warned.

After listening to all these do’s and don’ts I felt somewhat nervous because, I was going to photograph a celebrity for the first time.

I decided to take another person with me for moral support. My choice fell naturally on my alter ego of those days, M.S. Sathyu, now a noted film director, but barely out of his teens then.

Sathyu and I were great friends from our school days and he used to keep company with me on my assignments.

Contrary to our fears, we found Raman extremely affable and gentle. He seemed very cooperative as I photographed him in his study, laboratory, library and the garden he loved. All this took twenty minutes and I still had ten minutes left to complete my job.

Then, a bright idea struck me and I told Raman that I would love to photograph him with Lady Raman.

“Forget about her. She is not here,” he said.

And then a brighter idea came to my mind.

Summoning the required courage, I asked the scientist: “Sir, may I take one last, important picture? Will you please pose for me displaying your Nobel Prize citation?”

Pursing up his lips, Raman gazed at me, while my heart began to pound rapidly. He relaxed in a minute and, to my utter surprise, said, “Why not?”

He went into a room to fetch the precious document.

“I’m lucky,” I hissed in Sathyu’s ear. I entrusted my brand-new Speed-Graphic camera to his care and set about adjusting the furniture and books in the room, for the all-important picture.

Raman had meanwhile returned, holding the scroll, and stood beside a blackboard on which was scribbled in chalk, the diagram of a galaxy and other mathematical calculations. He looked at me and said, “It’s getting late. Shoot!”

When I was about to pick up my camera from Sathyu who was standing in a corner, the silence in the room was shattered by the sound of metal hitting the ground. We looked around and found to our dismay that Sathyu had dropped the camera.

Raman’s face was livid with anger.

He walked up to Sathyu, gripped him by the collar and thundered: “Do you know what you have done? You have damaged a beautiful instrument of science. Why weren’t you careful?” We were shaken and mumbled our apologies. Our minds were a malange of shame, confusion and embarrassment.

Raman’s anger subsided within a minute.

Holding the camera in hand, he carefully examined it as an experienced doctor would a patient.

He wrote on a piece of paper: “Prisms out of alignment. Replace one broken piece and realign. Set right the metallic dents.” He pressed his prescription in my palm and gave us the marching orders saying, “You may leave now.” My first photo session with the Nobel Laureate and Bangalore’s most famous citizen, had ended in a fiasco.

* Disclosures apply

Photograph: courtesy T.S. Satyan

Read the full story here: The Raman Effect

The strange case of Justice Dinakaran (continued)

1 December 2009

Lawyers from Karnataka have presented the chief justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, a memorandum seeking the transfer of Justice P.D. Dinakaran from the Karnataka high court to some other HC following the allegations against him. Until the transfer is affected, no judicial work should be given to him, they say.

The former Bombay high court judge, Hosbet Suresh, writes*:

“Justice Dinakaran sits in court with no restraint on him. If what has appeared in the press cannot be hidden from the public ear and eye, will the public have confidence in his administration of justice?”

Senior advocate Pramila Nesargi has presented a complaint to the central vigilance commission (CVC) seeking a probe into the allegations of corruption against Justice Dinakaran, a public servant as defined under the prevention of corruption Act.

Now, the former chief justice of India, J.S. Verma, has weighed in, in an edit page piece in the Indian Express:

“I neither know Justice Dinakaran, nor do I comment on the merits of the allegations made against him. I speak only on the basis of the information in the public domain brought out by media reports of the uncontroverted facts, which to my mind are sufficient for his non-appointment to the Supreme Court on the above ground….

“If the available material is sufficient to create a reasonable doubt warranting further inquiry, the test for non-appointment laid down judicially is satisfied and it is difficult to appreciate the propriety of keeping alive the issue of his appointment to the Supreme Court.

“I for one, with experience of the office of CJI and as the author of the opinion that lays down the existing law, find the persistence with the recommendation embarrassing and contributing to an erosion of the image of the institution. I wish the imbroglio ends soon with withdrawal of the recommendation. “

* Disclosures apply

Read the full article: To judge or not to judge

Full coverage: The strange case of Justice P.D. Dinakaran

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Dalit Dinakaran above the law?

If he is unfit for Supreme Court, how is he fit for Karnataka HC?

If he is unfit for Supreme Court, how is he fit for Karnataka HC—II?

‘Integrity + competence + judicial temperament’

Yella not OK, but Supreme Court silent yaake?

The brazen conduct of Justice Dinakaran

‘The home of the unexorcised ghost of a gawai’

21 July 2009

H.Y. Sharada Prasad, the former media advisor to three Indian prime ministers, reviewed the English version of Gangubai Hanagal‘s memoirs Nanna Badukina Haadu (The Song Of My Life, Sahitya Prakashana, Hubli), for Outlook magazine in 2004:


“As a schoolgirl, she sang the welcome song at the only Congress session Mahatma Gandhi presided over. In her teens, her music was recorded by HMV. In 1936, she sang on All India Radio for the first time as a stand-in for Hirabai Barodekar. Thus began Gangubai Hangal’s journey on the road to musical greatness….

“Now she tells us the story of her life. Three persons stand out in this simple tale: her mother Ambabai, a Carnatic musician who stopped singing to enable her daughter to take up Hindustani music; her guru, Sawai Gandharva, who also taught Feroze Dastur and Bhimsen Joshi (for 13 years she took a train from Hubli to his home in Kundgol a few hours away); and her husband, lawyer Gururao Kaulgi, whom she married at 16.

“Gangubai has no pretensions to being a writer. This is an “as told to” book. The ghost writer in the original Kannada was N.K. Kulkarni, a broadcaster known for his light writing. The English translation is by another AIR man, G.N. Hangal. Gangubai is a lively, even chirpy, conversationalist, full of anecdotes and sharp but unmalicious comments on fellow musicians.

“Kulkarni has not drawn her out well. She has enough sense of humour to make fun of her own masculine voice. Bendre the poet had once said that the unexorcised ghost of a gawai must have made its permanent home in her voice. The grand little lady of music deserved a better book, but given how rare books on our musicians are, it’s welcome.”

Read the full review: The bird’s songbook

How come no one saw or heard the worm turn?

29 May 2009

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Hindsight, as the moronic aphorism goes, is always 20/20.

And we have been seeing plenty of hindsight dressed as foresight over the last fortnight following the announcement of the results of the general elections, which bucked the “anti-incumbency” cliche and put the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance back in power.

# Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta has said the politics of aspiration trumped the politics of grievance. CNN-IBN editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai writes that it is a vote for decency in public life. Outlook editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta sees it as a vote against hate and abuse.

# Journalists aligned to the BJP like Swapan Dasgupta have said the BJP failed to keep pace with the realities of a new India. The BJP spokesman Sudheendra Kulkarni has said stability won over change. Atanu Dey says the Congress managed the media better.

# Many analysts have seen in the surprise Congress win, a vote for youth. Political psychologist Ashis Nandy detects a vote against arrogance. The economist Bibek Debroy among others has attributed the Congress win to its social welfare programmes. Pratap Bhanu Mehta has said the era of votebank politics is over.

And so on and on.

And on and on.

The grim truth is that all this is post-facto rationalisation by media sages, policy wonks and psephologists, ever so wise, as so many of us usually are, after the event.

Like the blind men who felt the elephant, they touch different parts of the gargantuan electoral animal now that it has come to rest, and they feel different things.

The reality is nobody in our media—television, newspapers, magazines—and nobody at the top, bottom or middle, knew what was going on. And what we were being peddled for days and weeks was drivel as wisdom.


And how does this happen election after election?

In 2004, the media had “called the election” in favour of the BJP-led alliance and was acting as if “We, the People” should only go to the polling booths and fulfil their prophecy.

Well, “We, the People” decided to spring a surprise and put the Congress-led alliance in office.

In 2009, most media vehicles somewhat got the winning alliance right, but chastened perhaps by the 2004 experience, weren’t willing to stick their neck out beyond giving a wafer-thin margin for the UPA over the NDA.

In reality, the huge gap of over 100 seats between the victor and the vanquished; the surprise showing of the Congress in States like Uttar Pradesh where it had been written off; the number of first-time MPs belowed the age of 40 (58); the number of women elected (59), etc, shows that there is something truly, incredibly, unbelievably wrong in our mass media’s connect with the masses.

Of course, the term “media” is a loose, general one because there is no one, single media oeprating uniformly, homogenously in every part of the land. There are various shades to it, in various languages, in various forms, in various States and regions, etc. And then some more.

Still, how could almost all of them get so much so palpably wrong?

Did the tide turn in the favour of the Congress inside the secrecy of the voting booths preventing our esteemed men and women in the media from knowing what was happening?

Or was it building up slowly but we were too busy or distracted to notice?

If it was the latter, why?

Is there a disconnect between mass media and the masses? Is the undercurrent of democracy too difficult to be spotted? Or are our media houses and personnel not equipped with the equipment and wherewithal to detect these trends?

Given the poor presence and even poorer coverage of the mainstream media in the rural countryside, it is understandable that we were unable to get the rural countryside wrong.

Why, even the one English paper with a “rural affairs editor” was backing the wrong horse which, it turns out, wasn’t even in the race at all, all the while.

Little wonder, the electoral magic being ascribed to the National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) scheme and the farm loan waiver—moves which were dismissed as wasteful expenditure by the neoliberals in the “free market” media—went largely unnoticed.

But what about the urban pockets?

The powerhouses of our media pride themselves on being fiercely urban and urbane; serving the aspirations of the middle-class and the wannabes. Yet, the fact that so few of them could detect the ground shifting from underneath the urban, middle-class BJP’s feet shines an unkindly light.

The Congress and its allies (DMK, Trinamool, NCP) won all the metros—Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Madras—except Bangalore and Ahmedabad. Why, for example, was it difficult to detect the anger of the urban middle-classes against the BJP’s abuse of prime minister Manmohan Singh before counting day?

Or their thirst for fresh, young faces before they were elected and sworn in?

Certainly, the function of the media is not to serve as a soothsayer. It is not expected to tell us what will happen in the future. Nevertheless, it is expected to have a finger on the pulse. Two successive electoral failures suggest that we are consistently holding the wrong vein and coming to the wrong prognosis.

Indeed, on current record, we seem to be living in an echo chamber, hearing our own voices, and relaying it to the world as gospel truth. Or selling our space and airtime without batting an eyelid.

As a piece on the Satyam scandal on sans serif asked:

Is journalism that doesn’t shed light journalism?

Or puff?

Or PR?

Or Advertising?

Caveat emptor!

Also read: How come media not spot Satyam fraud?

Media owners, journalists holding democracy ransom

How come media did not spot the Satyam fraud?

8 January 2009

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

‘Satyam’, meaning truth.

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

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

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

India’s biggest corporate fraud ever.

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

India’s Enron.

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

How come the analysts did not know?

How come the auditors did not know?

How come the regulators did not know?

How come the directors did not know?

How come the bankers did not know?

Yes. But where is the other question?

How come the media did not know?


How come the English newspapers did not know?

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

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

How come the foreign newspapers did not know?

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

How come the Telugu dailies did not know?

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

How come the general interest magazines did not know?

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

How come the business magazines did not know?

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

How come the English news channels did not know?

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

How come the business channels did not know?

# Not CNBC, not NDTV Profit, not UTVi.

How come the Telugu channels did not know?

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

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

But who is asking the questions?

Is journalism that doesn’t shed light journalism?

Or puff?

Or PR?

Or Advertising?

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

Is Satyam alone in creative accounting scam?

New Year card Ramalinga Raju did not respond to

‘Advocates of Azadi should be tried for treason’

25 August 2008

Chandan Mitra, editor-in-chief of The Pioneer, and a Rajya Sabha member nominated by BJP, in The Pioneer:

“Last weekend two prominent newspaper columnists [Swaminathan Aiyar in The Sunday Times, and Vir Sanghvi in The Hindustan Times] wrote about the need to think out-of-the-box urging us to seriously consider if it is morally right to hold “unwilling” Kashmiris back in this country.

“I agree with them…. But under no circumstances can Indian citizens be allowed to promote secession.

“Advocating the right of Kashmiris to secede, as a professional female agitator [Arundhati Roy]… reportedly did in Srinagar, is tantamount to treason and must invite provisions contained in the law relating to waging war against the State.

“Personally, I feel that even publicising such treasonable views, leave alone using dedicated columns to indulge in secessionist propaganda, should invite the charge of promoting terrorism and anti-national activity.”

Read the full column: Better Mush than traitors

Why Shabana and Saif couldn’t buy an apartment

17 August 2008

Shabana Azmi, five-time national award winning actor turned parliamentarian, in an interview with Karan Thapar‘s Devil’s Advocate for CNN-IBN:

# “I could not buy a flat in Bombay because I am a Muslim. If Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar cannot buy a flat because of their religion, what are we talking about? The same happened to actor Saif Ali Khan.”

# “Indian Muslims are in a safer place because the Indian Muslim has a stake and space in Indian democracy…. It’s a very huge thing that we are a part of a democracy and Indian Muslims can aspire to become a Shah Rukh Khan or an Irfan Pathan or the President of India, and that makes the Muslims far more hopeful and far less in despair than in other parts of the world.”

# “Politicians promote a stereotypical image of the Muslim community. They don’t allow moderate, liberal Muslim voices to be heard. Whether it is Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whether it is Indira Gandhi, whether it is anybody, the minute it is a Muslim question, you will get the dariwaralas and only all the maulvis to speak.”

# “The polity is unfair to Muslims. So what happens is that only token gestures are made, but real issues are never addressed, as the Rajinder Sachar Committee report shows.”

Also read: ‘Indian polity is being unfair to Muslims’

Sepia Mutiny: Mahmood the atheist

Manu Joseph: Accommodation available, Muslims don’t apply

Who decides how/what your child should study?

11 July 2008

Udaya Narayana Singh, director of the Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL), on the Karnataka High Court judgment that the State could insist on the medium of instruction in primary schools being in the child’s mother tongue or Kannada only in government or aided schools, not in private or unaided ones, in Outlook:

“First, it opens up the complex question of linguistic rights. Are individual linguistic human rights more sacrosanct or is it the social agglomerate that has the right to decide what is ideal as the school language? It is generally the individual rights that receive protection in a legal system.

“Second, although experiments worldwide prove one’s mother tongue is the best language to be educated in, the market forces tilt the balance in favour of an option that suits its needs.

“Third, none of the players gives a serious thought to a pluralistic option, whereby all schools develop a programme that allwos their children to be proficient in both local and global languages.”