Archive for June 14th, 2007

How open and accountable is your organisation?

14 June 2007

The media is forever expecting and exhorting various arms of the government, business and industry, and even individuals in some cases to perform better, show greater transparency, to open themselves up to scrutiny, etc. But how do news outlets perform on these fronts?

The International Center for Media and Public Agenda (ICMPA) conducted a survey on openness and accountability of the 25 top global media outlets, and probed these five questions.

# Which news outlets post corrections to their stories?

# Which ones provide details about their owners and offer information about any other media and non-media holdings of those owners?

# Which ones publish their internal guidelines for reporters (such as how potential conflicts of interest by reporters or editors are handled)?

# Which ones publish their internal standards for stories (such as how anonymous sources are handled or how politicized language is identified)?

# Which ones actively seek readers’ comments and complaints?

The Guardian, London, came on top, followed by The New York Times and BBC.

Read the full results here: Openness and accountability

Why did Shilpa Shetty row evoke such a reaction?

14 June 2007

The racial bullying of Bollywood siren Shilpa Shetty at the hands of Jane Goody and her artless associates on Big Brother drew sharp reactions in India. There were angry street demonstrations in Patna. Union ministers were quick to register their protest. And when Britain’s prime minister to be, Gordon Brown, visited Bangalore, the story surfaced on the front pages of two British newspapers.

But why was the reaction more vehement in India, where the programme wasn’t aired and the channel isn’t seen, than in Britain? Perhaps in a global media environment that is not surprising. But Suzanne Franks argues in the latest issue of the British Journalism Review that it could also partly have to do with our mutual history.

“[The] habit was formed long before the availability of instant communication and shared global exchanges. BBC written archives include a wide range of confidential documents that reveal how much India and Indians have always cared about their media image abroad and particularly in the UK. They have been quick to react and protest even when no one in India had any prospect of viewing or hearing the item that was causing offence.

“Street demonstrations, ministerial interventions, parliamentary questions and threats of expulsion were all standard reactions, even to programmes and reports that were simply rumoured to be unduly critical of India and Indians.”

Reads the full article here: India’s angst: it’s access all areas

‘Our big papers don’t use their power properly’

14 June 2007

Reviewing Martha Nussbaum‘s new book The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future in the New York Review of Books, the author Pankaj Mishra argues that the Indian media have “concocted a world —all statistical evidence to the contrary—which have helped India’s elite to withdraw from the social and political complications of the country they live in.

“Affluent Indians are helped in this relocation—as much psychological as geographical—by the English-language press and television, which, as a report in the International Herald Tribune put it, “has concocted a world —all statistical evidence to the contrary—in which you are a minority if not fabulously rich.”

“Nussbaum is right to say that the “level of debate and reporting in the major newspapers and at least some of the television networks is impressively high.” In fact, India is one of the few countries where print newspapers and magazines, especially in regional languages, continue to flourish.

But the most influential part of the Indian press not only makes little use of its freedom; it helps diminish the space for public discussion, which partly accounts for what the philosopher Pratap Bhanu Mehta calls the “extraordinary non-deliberative nature of Indian politics.”

“On any given day, the front pages of such mainstream Indian newspapers as The Hindustan Times and the Times of India veer between celebrity-mongering—Britney Spears‘s new hair-style—and what appears to be “consumer nationalism”—reports on Indian tycoons, beauty queens, fashion designers, filmmakers, and other achievers in the West.

“Excited accounts of Tata, India’s biggest private-sector company, buying the Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus make it seem that something like what The Economic Times, India’s leading business paper, calls “The Global Indian Take-over” is underway.

“Largely reduced to an echo chamber, where an elite minority seems increasingly to hear mainly its own voice, the urban press is partly responsible for a new privileged generation of Indians lacking, as Nussbaum points out, any “identification with the poor.”

Read the full review here: Impasse in India

CNN-IBN’s summer showdown with a filmmaker

14 June 2007

MAYAZHI LAMPARD writes from New Delhi: Back when print was king and the media was innocent, freelance journalists were often wary of pitching their ideas before certain newspapers and magazines because of the reputation of their editors and journalists to pinch the ideas and pass them off as their own. (The notorious bandit Veerappan‘s first “English” interview given to Shiva Subramanian of Nakeeran is a standout example.)

But in the age of cut-throat television, the phenomenon is not only surviving but possibly thriving.

About a month ago, CNN-IBN unveiled ‘Summer Showdown‘, a reality show in which a family was to be tracked in five cities for five weeks on the civic problems confronting them. In pure journalism terms, it was very old wine in a new bottle, with the magic buzzwords “citizen journalism” thrown in somewhere along the way.

Except that CNN-IBN’s script went awry when Urmi Juvekar Chiang, an independent documentary film maker, sought a stay on the telecast of the show for copyright infringement. She claimed that it was her idea which she had broached with the channel heads, which the channel had taken and spun into ‘Summer Showdown’.

Problem No. 2: all newspapers except one (DNA in Bombay) refused to cover the story in what one aggrieved film maker calls the perils of censorship caused by cross-media monopoly: “All the newspapers and news magazines either have channels of their own or have “strategic partnership” agreements with particular channels which stop them from exposing one another.”

Below is the full text of an email doing the rounds which chronicles the trajectory of conversation between Urmi Juvekar and CNN-IBN, and how the Bombay High Court stepped in.

***

On 9 November 2005, documentary film maker and scriptwriter Urmi Juvekar Chiang registered a concept for a reality television show called “Work in Progress” with the Film Writers’ Association.

The concept was simple: three citizens or citizens’ groups at three locations across the country would take up a troublesome civic issue and try to solve it on a campaign footing within a month. Reporters and cameras from a channel follow the story as it unfolded. Every night on the news bulletins of the channel a 3-minute capsule would keep viewers updated on the developments at each location.

At the end of the first three weeks viewers were to see a 60-minute episode of the week’s developments with a forward look to the upcoming week. A concluding 60-minute finale would come at the end of the month.

This was a project that would draw public attention to all the good work of activists under the Right to Information Act. A tremendous idea for civic education and involvement, the immediate daily TV coverage during the course of the campaign would have had implications for the progress of the cases followed. Such an idea for a reality-based programme could only have been realised with the resources which a TV news channel, with its network of people all over the country, can provide.

Here is how the story unfolded:

10 March 2006: Urmi wrote to Rasika Tyagi from CNN-IBN after a telephonic conversation and e-mailed her the concept note.

21 March 2006: Rasika Tyagi wrote back saying that she found the concept note interesting and asked for a meeting.

3 April 2006: a meeting is held in the CNN-IBN office in Delhi. A detailed concept note with treatment, sample characters and episode development is presented along with the budget and production plan. The budget is deemed to be high and CNN-IBN offers some in-house facilities to bring costs down. They also suggest an option of doing it in two languages so that it can be broadcast on IBN 7 simultaneously.

Several more discussions are held in subsequent months and finally Urmi is informed that the project will be considered after World Cup 2007.

14 May 2007: CNN-IBN puts on a new show ‘Summer Showdown’. It is a daily 3-minute capsule, but has no the-end-of-the-week review. Their website ibnlive.com advertises it as a reality show showcasing five families across five metros solving their civic problems in four weeks.

19 May 2007: Urmi is informed by friends that a show that looks very similar to her ‘Work in Progress’ is on air and she manages to see the show.

21 May 2007: Urmi rushes to the Bombay High Court. The case is scheduled for May 23 in front of the vacation judge. She claims infringement of copyright and breach of confidentiality.

23 May 2007: counsel for CNN-IBN makes a statement in court that ‘Summer Showdown’ is not a reality show but a live news clipping. The court asks them to give an affidavit stating the same.

24 May 2007: CNN-IBN asks the judge to change the order. Now they admit that ‘Summer Showdown’ is a reality-based programme but insist that it is not based on `Work in Progress’. They claim that their previous day’s statement in the court was misunderstood. Their appeal is rejected and they are asked to file an affidavit on the May 31 stating that ‘Summer Showdown’ is a live news clipping and not based on Urmi’s project.

29 May 2007: CNN-IBN files an affidavit only stating that they have not copied Urmi’s idea. They also state that ideas are not protected by copyright. The affidavit is filled with contradictory statements. ‘Summer Showdown’ now becomes a race between various civic authorities in completing summer-related problems in four weeks. Traffic, monsoon and garbage are portrayed as summer problems. In a play of semantics, the civic problems dealt in ‘Summer Showdown’ become macro level while the problems suggested for ‘Work in Progress’ problems are stated to be local and at micro level.

At the same time the CNN-IBN website continues to feature ‘Summer Showdown’ as a tale of five families across the country trying to solve civic problems.

Urmi’s sample episodes demonstrating the concept are dismissed as fiction scripts. According to CNN-IBN, her 25 -page project proposal is a mere idea. Well known anchor Rajdeep Sardesai denies knowledge of the matter while his e-mail replies to Urmi state otherwise.

4 June 2007: Urmi sends a rejoinder, exposing the contradictions in the affidavit, and pointing to the fact that although in the court ‘Summer Showdown’ was described as a live news clipping, it has now become a reality show created in-house during March and April 2007.

6 May 2007: the case comes for hearing in Bombay High Court. The counsel for CNN IBN pleads for more time since he has not been able to prepare adequately. Urmi’s counsel opposes the move as only 4 days remain for the first round of 4 weeks of the telecast. The judge agrees to listen to the case on merit.

The case is heard for four hours. Urmi’s counsel puts all facts regarding meetings and submissions on the table and deals with similarities at great length. The counsel for CNN IBN sticks to the single point that ideas are not protected by copyright and Urmi’s idea is just a rehash of ‘Rajni‘, the popular programme of the 1980s, and several present-day citizen journalism programmes on TV.

Urmi’s counsel refutes these arguments, concluding his statement by saying that if she does not get a stay order in this matter, then no creative person who approaches a TV channel in order to realise his or her idea will feel safe and protected by the law. The judgment is scheduled for the next day.

7 June 2007: the judge dictates the judgment in his chamber for three hours. He comes to the court and grants the stay order to Urmi Juvekar on the basis of copyright claims and breach of confidentiality. CNN IBN demands a relief of four days. The judge reminds them that their programme cycle gets over on Saturday 9 June in any case, so relief till Monday, June 11, seems pointless.

8 June 2007: CNN IBN rushes into appeal but the division bench asks for a copy of the judgment. That still being in preparation, they have to stop there. On Monday 11th June, CNN IBN is expected make an appeal to the bench and we will see how the story spins on.

In the meanwhile, considering the landmark nature of the judgement and the significance of it for independent film makers, script-writers and the Film Writers’ Association, there is not much news of it about.

The simple reason: media refuses to touch the story. In that lies another story, something of a warning to those who have to survive in India Inc.

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