Archive for April, 2007

If you can’t trust the BBC, what can you trust?

30 April 2007

Partly because of our colonial past and partly because of abominable present, the BBC has become the voice of reason and authority for most literate Indians, journalists and otherwise. Radio, television or internet, in English, Hindi or Urdu, we devour “Auntie” (as the Beeb is called in old bilayati) and can’t tire of repeating how Rajiv Gandhi switched it on to confirm intelligence reports of the assassination of his mother, Indira.

But is the BBC all that it is made out to be—fair, balanced, objective, non-partisan?It is, but probably isn’t as it is used to be. “Can we trust the BBC?” asks Robert Aitken, who had a 25-year spell at Bush House, in a new book and rakes up the old bogey about liberal bias.

“I think the BBC, by and large, lines up behind what I would term the progressive consensus on whatever issue one happens to be talking about. So for instance, during the era of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, the BBC was too willing to find excuses for Soviet misdeeds and excesses; was too sympathetic for the notion of unilateral nuclear disarmament; was too hostile and suspicious of the motives of the US.

“In other words, it was too skeptical of the West and its motives; not skeptical enough of the Soviet Union and its motives. And I think that in bending over backwards to be fair, it often tips the other way, and is actually unfair to our side if you like.”

Read the full article here:  A powerfully corrosive internal culture

Stocks yesterday. Books today. Tomorrow?

30 April 2007

As the delivery of information instantly and instantaneously becomes possible through a variety of devices (television, internet, mobile phones to name just three) the accountants who masquerade as managers but are not brave enough to call themselves editors have been forced to ask themselves some seemingly tough questions.

Like, do we really need to provide our readers a page full of stock quotes every morning?

The logic, as arrived at by calculators, is simple. Only a small percentage of people invest directly in the stock market. Within any newspaper’s readership, that figure gets even smaller. So, should we be devoting so much space for so small an audience? The unsurprising answer is no.

Now, the same cost-cutting, downsizing, rightsizing, rationalising accountants are asking a similar question about the books pages and supplements.

The logic is strikingly similar. Are we providing the kind of information through our books pages that an avid books reader hasn’t already received? If he hasn’t, can’t he make the effort to, say, go online, to procure that information? Again, the unsurprising answer is no.

The latest newspaper to junk its books review, writes NIKHIL MORO from Atlanta, is The Atlanta Journal -Constitution. It is doing away with the job of books editor held by Teresa Weaver, and may even be planning to dissolve the whole books review section.

But, unlike in India, where The Times of India‘s decision to do likewise some years ago, did not even evoke a whimper of protest from readers or writers (as if to silently second the accountants’ logic), the Atlanta Writers Club is organising a protest demonstration on Thursday, May 3, contest a “myopic act devalues the readers and writers of our region.”

We pride ourselves on our thriving literary community, so what message is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution delivering about us when it begins to dismantle a prime outlet for news and reviews about books?

It is asking readers and book lovers to sign an online petition, and it is asking them to assemble in the hundreds and hold a demonstration outside the front doors of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from 10 am by reading from a book (or may books) they have brought along.

Will it work? Don’t know/can’t say. But at least there is a loud reaction unlike in Incredible India.

But the really scary part is this: yesterday it was the stocks pages, today it is the books pages. What will it be tomorrow, since almost everything that our newspapers produce is already available several hours before to whoever wants, provided he or she makes the effort?

Related link: The folly of downsizing book reviews

Once upon a time, journalism as it was

30 April 2007

In love? Married? Threat to national security?

29 April 2007

How close can a reporter get to the subject she is covering? Close enough for her to call him a “close friend” and a “very polished person”? Close enough for him to call her as “no more than a good friend”? Close enough to receive a gold ring from him? Close enough to spark rumours that she may be having a romantic liaison? Close enough for speculation that they may be already married?

That is the unlikely position the Pakistani journalist Aroosa Alam finds herself in vis-a-vis former Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh. Two years after she visited India as part of a delegation of Pakistani journalists and was honoured by Singh, the reporter has become the reported.

Punjabi newspapers are reporting juicy details of Alam’s proximity to Singh, a scion of the erstwhile Patiala kingdom. And Singh is being roasted for his “trans-border ecapades” by rival politicians who are calling her a national threat. And Alam is threatening legal action against the rumour mongrels.

Read the full story: Reports on Amarinder unfair: Pak scribe

Related links: India bans Aroosa Alam’s entry

Beyond borders: Amarinder’s ‘heart’ problems

Boot is on the other foot in ex-PM’s family

29 April 2007

In the evening of his political life, H.D. Deve Gowda has emerged as a minor terror for young reporters. Eyebrows furrowed all the time, with a scowl permanently plastered on his face, the former prime minister is alternately fretting, frowning and fuming at all and sundry, especially sundry.

“Some of my reporters, especially women, plainly refuse to cover his press meets,” says a Bangalore editor.

Part of the problem is all of the above. The real problem is his language.

The man who was once the executive head of the country slips into expletives at the drop of a dhoti. Chaste Kannada sweat words trip off the tongue of the son of the soil with scarcely any embarrassment.

In other words, Karnataka’s Political Family No. 1 has only a passing acquaintance with the nuances of the language and the demands of civility in public figures. How ironic therefore, that the following news brief should have appeared in The Hindu on Friday, April 27.

Kumaraswamy cautions media

Bijapur: Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy on Thursday said the Government might be forced to bring in legislation to control the “erring” media if it continued with “irresponsible reporting”. He was particularly upset about the words used by a 24-hour Kannada news channel to describe his government… Etcetera.

The reference here is to TV9, which hysterically covered the story of eight-year-old Sandeep falling into a borewell in Raichur, a la Prince, complete with SMS comments, prayers, etc. Just what precisely got the goat of Deve Gowda’s son, we don’t know but there was plenty any media watcher could have found exceptionable.

Certainly, TV9, in its eagerness to create buzz and impact, is not the exemplar of appropriate language. In the recent scandal involving BJP MLA Renukacharya and his nurse-friend Jayalakshmi, the channel has regularly referred to the people’s representative in the singular.

That Kumaraswamy should find the channel’s use of language questionable open up a debate on what is acceptable language on a mass medium, and whether the onus is only on those airing it. However the more worrying part is that Kumaraswamy feels that his personal irritation alone is sufficient for him to dangle a threat to “bring in legislation to control the media if it continued with irresponsible reporting”.

That the CM’s threat has not even created as much as a flutter shows that either Bangalore’s journalists do not take the CM seriously.

Or that they are busy with other and hopefully more important things to bother.

‘Our mass media are ignoring plight of the poor’

28 April 2007

The poor have been largely forgotten, ignored, sidelined and marginalised in the national reform agenda of liberalisation and globalisation adopted by our political leadership, wrote K.N. Hari Kumar, the former editor of Deccan Herald, in a piece on the edit of the paper this week.

“Following this lead, the mass media also has in recent years rarely, if at all focused on the problems and plight of the poor and the damage to their means of livelihood and the environment under the new policy regime. Nor has it deliberated on the need for initiatives and programmes to improve their condition and enable them to take control of their lives.

“Rather, reflecting perhaps its ownership and readership which has largely been the educated and propertied elite, it has only been expending large amounts of energy in enthusiastically exaggerating stories of great business successes in the domestic arena.

“It has been even more enthusiastic in devoting vast amounts of paper, words and pictures to hype the real and putative success stories of Indians, living in India and abroad, even those with foreign passports, in professional and entrepreneurial roles and in R and D, in the advanced western nations, especially in the US. These men and women, including sportspersons who have achieved greater and lesser international success, are the heroes of the new reform agenda and the values, ideology and perspective on which it is based. They are seen to have, almost miraculously, succeeded where their compatriots back home have tried and failed. They are being sought to be promoted as models to inspire the nation, especially its youth, to greater ambition and endeavour. Their successes are seen to give confidence to a nation that has lost faith in itself. They are evidence for our belief that we as a nation can, indeed, do it…

“In trying to swim against what has lately become the mainstream of Indian opinion and policy, and focus attention on the plight of the poor, powerless and oppressed—their needs and hopes, their troubles and obstacles, their frustrations and demands, development journalists face an uphill task…

“The real challenge before the media is how to attract the readers’/viewers’ attention to the small-scale, patient, unspectacular, not always wholly successful constructive work being done by ordinary individuals and organisations, like co-operatives, unions, parties, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), at the grassroots, but which may not instantly thrill the readers/viewers into paroxysms of excitement and amazement.

“Finally and perhaps most difficult in the current climate, they will have to reaffirm the relevance of Indian languages for communication at the grassroots and in bridging the ever-widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots, the powerful and the powerless within our society.”

Read the full two-part article: The forgotten poor

Need for new agenda

Three ways to write better: write, read, talk

28 April 2007

Dr Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar and vice-president at The Poynter Institute in Florida, and the author most recently of Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, speaks to G. Ananthakrishnan in today’s Hindu on the three paths before journalists to write better.

“There are three paths to improve writing.

“One is to write, which is the definition of the job, although the writer may want to write in ways that he or she is not permitted or encouraged to write in the newspaper. So sometimes you have to write outside the framework of the newspaper in order to grow. To write for yourself, or to freelance a story for a magazine or contribute something to the Poynter website.

“The second is reading. What are you reading and how are you reading. If you want to write stories, you need to read better stories. If you want to write shorter articles, you need to read better shorter articles. You need to be able to experience through your reading the kind of things that you want to write.

“The third thing is talking. It is usually the one that is missing. Reading, writing, and talking about reading and writing. Talking about the writer’s craft, talking about strategies that work, talking about something that you are reading and sharing your ideas about how that story works. We do that so much at Poynter that I take it as sort of breathing for me. In a newspaper, it is discouraging when you don’t hear anybody talking about the craft, talking in formal ways where you sit down and talk about it, and in informal ways when you are going to lunch or when you are walking down the hall.”

Read the full interview here: Crafting tools to help writers

Have a query? Mail Dr Roy Peter Clark: rclark@poynter.org

Photograph courtesy: The Poynter website

Provocation is in the eyes of the editor

27 April 2007

There used to be a guy called “RegretIyer in Bangalore not too long ago, a man who had immortalised all the rejection slips he had accumulated as a writer and cartoonist, in his name. Wonder what he would make of this one.

Scott Adams, the creator of hugely syndicated Dilbert, this week had the mortification of having one of his cartoon strips rejected by United Media, the company that syndicates his work. Reason: the editors found Alice‘s pose provocative. They asked Adams to redraw the cartoon, and he did.

Moral of the story: Provocation is in the eyes of the editor, and even the best understand.

Cartoons courtesy: Scott Adams / The Dilbert Blog

Read Scott Adams’ take on the issue: Chair Butt

Reporter who broke fake encounter deaths story

26 April 2007

This man is Prashant Dayal. He was once an autorickshaw driver. Now he is a journalist. A senior reporter with the Gujarati daily Divya Bhaskar. He broke the story in November 2006 of the fake encounter deaths in Gujarat, which led to the unprecedented arrest of three ranking police officers on Tuesday.

Dayal who writes a column called Jivti Varta (living stories) says having a drink with police officers helped him crack the case. One evening, one of the officers involved in the murders boasted of how they had “punished” and eliminated some “anti-national” elements.

With the booze-induced clue, Dayal revisited the story and hit paydirt. Initially, his editors were reluctant to run the story, citing lack of documentation, but they were soon to be proved wrong.

In a 19-year career, Dayal has switched jobs 14 times. “I have never seen an increment or bonus in my career because I could never settle down in a newspaper. Every day, I used to have a fight with the editors over stories,” he tells rediff.com.

When in college, Dayal drove an autorickshaw at night. A journalism degree fetched him a job but without salary, a Gujarati journalism phenomenon, common to many other regional languages where proprietors believe if a journalist is “smart” he will know how to make money.

Dayal was so enthusiastic to earn a name as a reporter that he worked without a salary for more than a year, driving the autorickshaw at night after reporting stories during the day.

Photo courtesy: rediff.com

After all India’s greatest spinner was a Gandhi

25 April 2007

Do sections of the Indian media live in their own unique world, far removed from the one its readers, listeners and viewers inhabit?

Congress MP Rahul Gandhi‘s “road-show” in the Uttar Pradesh election campaign has, by most accounts, been a rank disaster. The turnout has been so feeble that the “future of UP” has been seen berating his team of advisers in public and wagging a finger at the rows of empty seats.

But is that the view that the media is giving?

The Daily Telegraph‘s Peter Foster says the next morning’s newspapers in Lucknow painted exactly the opposite picture. One paper said Rahul had received a welcome the like of which had not been seen in ‘living memory’ except for the former Indian BJP prime minster Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lucknow’s most famous son.

It’s interesting how the Indian media has jumped onto the ‘son-rise’ bandwagon, even though Rahul is a rotten public speaker and, compared to firebrand polulist politicians of Uttar Pradesh, like Mayawati or Mulayam Singh Yadav is about as engaging as a slap on the face with a wet fish.

All of which means there are two parallel universes out there. The one in which Rahul, a product of the international educated classes, stumbles round rural India looking faintly bewildered—and the world of the newspapers where he’s the coming saviour of Congress.

Read the full article here: Fact vs media spin

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