Archive for February, 2008

The scourge of liberalism breathes his last

29 February 2008

William F. Buckley Jr, the founder of the National Review “who marshaled polysyllabic exuberance, arched eyebrows and a refined, perspicacious mind to elevate conservatism to the centre of American political discourse”, has passed away at the age of 82, and David Brooks has a warm op-ed piece on his mentor, in the New York Times:

“When I was in college, William F. Buckley Jr. wrote a book called Overdrive in which he described his glamorous lifestyle. Since I was young and a smart-aleck, I wrote a parody of it for the school paper.

“‘Buckley spent most of his infancy working on his memoirs,’ I wrote in my faux-biography. ‘By the time he had learned to talk, he had finished three volumes: The World Before Buckley, which traced the history of the world prior to his conception; The Seeds of Utopia, which outlined his effect on world events during the nine months of his gestation; and The Glorious Dawn, which described the profound ramifications of his birth on the social order.’

“The piece went on in this way. I noted that his ability to turn water into wine added to his popularity at prep school. I described his college memoirs: God and Me at Yale, God and Me at Home and God and Me at the Movies. I recounted that after college he had founded two magazines, one called The National Buckley and the other called The Buckley Review, which merged to form The Buckley Buckley.

“I wrote that his hobbies included extended bouts of name-dropping and going into rooms to make everyone else feel inferior.

“Buckley came to the University of Chicago, delivered a lecture and said: “David Brooks, if you’re in the audience, I’d like to offer you a job.”

Photograph: courtesy Suzy Allman/ The New York Times

Read the full tribute: Remembering the mentor

Read the New York Times obituary: Sesquipedalian spark

The Guardian obituary

How media demonises Muslims in war on terror

28 February 2008

GAURI LANKESH writes from Bangalore: Recently, three young men were arrested in Hubli and Honnali towns in the southern Indian state of Karnataka on charges of vehicle theft. Since all of them happened to belong to the Muslim community, within a day of their arrests, police sources leaked to the media that they suspected the trio might be involved in planning terrorist attacks all over the country.

This was enough to trigger a series of speculative stories in the State’s media. Every publication and television channel, without exception, went into a competitive frenzy, all of them clamouring for a first shot at the most ‘horrifying’ story about the ‘terrorist trio’.

Almost every reporter with imaginative talent wrote reams of articles quoting unnamed ‘reliable police sources’ or ‘police sources who did not want to be named’ and narrated how the three young men were planning to blow to smithereens most of Karnataka’s key buildings, such as the Vidhana Soudha, place bombs on (predictably) the premises of IT giants Infosys and IBM, detonate bombs in public places, destroy Hindu places of worship and so on.

What was remarkable about these reports was their contention that the three young men had links right up to Osama bin Laden and down to the local ’sleeper cells’ of various outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). The men were also suspected of conducting arms training in nearby forests, of flying the Pakistani flag, of possessing RDX, of having already distributed arms and weapons to various ‘sleeper cells’ across the state, of recruiting hundreds of youth to terrorist organisations, of possessing AK-47s, of having procured Israeli manufactured arms, etc, etc, etc.

But how much of the content of these reports, well laced with the terms ’suspected’ and ‘alleged’, had unsubstantiated and un-sourced ‘facts’ attributed to ‘reliable sources’?

As citizens and discerning readers, can we merely accept in good faith that these reports were genuine?

How much of the information carried (leaked) in these reports was a product of the imaginative powers of local reporters? How much was fed by our increasingly inefficient police force? How much was ’spiced’ up by senior journalists who are forever looking to increase their TRP ratings or circulation figures?

Having already said that all these reports on the ‘terrorist trio’, without exception, were sourced to ‘police officials who did not want to be named’, let us look at one such report to assess how genuine the overall media reports were.

The Mangalore edition of the Kannada daily Udayavani, which adopts a marked pro-Hindutva stance, carried a front-page report that read: “last December Riazuddin Ghouse, Mohammed Asif, Mohammad Abubakkar and Hafeez held a secret meeting where they condemned America’s treatment of people imprisoned at Cuba’s Montessori (!) jail. A copy of the resolutions taken at the meeting has been seized by investigating officers.”

Udayavani is a leading Kannada daily with several senior journalists on its rolls. What is surprising is that not one of them could tell the difference between the word Montessori, used to describe a system of education, and Guantánamo Bay, the name of the prison run by the American government in Cuba. Apparently, in the race for ‘exclusive’ reports, none of them could be bothered with such minor factual details.

Even if one were willing to overlook this rather glaring slip-up by the reporter who filed the story and the senior journalists who okayed it, giving it prime space on the front page, other important questions remain. For example, since when has condemning American atrocities at Guantánamo Bay become a crime? Does this assumption by the police mean that anyone who condemns the unjust imprisonment of people at Guantánamo Bay is a terror suspect?

Are such questions of no importance to the local media?

Apparently not, for instead of raising these valid and significant issues, they carried on blissfully with their ‘exclusive reportage’ based entirely on police sources.

One report, which appeared in The Hindu, can be summed up thus: The fact that one of the arrested youth claimed before the magistrate that his human rights had been violated by the police made the magistrate suspect that he was no ordinary youth. (Does this mean that knowledge of the Constitution, fundamental rights and human rights are not for ordinary Indian men and women?) On the basis of this assumption, the magistrate instructed the police to subject him to a thorough interrogation. And that was when the terrorist links were revealed.

Another report, this one in The Times of India, stated: A warden at the jail became suspicious of Riazuddin Ghouse and Mohammad Abubakkar’s behaviour in the prison where they were jailed on charges of vehicle theft. The duo spoke to each other in low voices, did namaaz five times a day, spoke to one another in English and did not seem to show respect for the national flag when it was hoisted in the morning.

The jail warden conveyed his suspicions to senior police officials and they subjected the duo to interrogation. That was when the youth spilled the beans about their terrorist plans. Had the warden not been such a keen observer of their behaviour the men could well have been let off by the police.

These reports raise a few fundamental questions. Since when has it become a crime to speak of human rights violations? Or speak in a low voice? Or communicate in English? Since when has offering namaaz five times a day become a suspect activity?

As if this were not enough, most or all of the media reported that “religious books and material” were found in the trio’s possession. The media also ‘arrested’ a number of students in its reports even when the police had not in fact done so! Reporters also labelled as “having terrorist links” people who were total strangers to the arrested trio. The list is endless. The end result of all this ‘hyperactivity’ in the media was that the three arrested men were depicted as the most dreaded terrorists this part of the world has seen in recent times.

This reportage took place even as a senior police officer, additional director-general of police Shankar Bidri, told a television channel:

“So far no proof has been unearthed to label these youths as terrorists. The media is indulging in blatant fabrication of news. What if their case too turns out to be another Dr Mohammed Haneef case? (Haneef, who worked in Australia, was mistakenly arrested by the Australian police after being wrongly accused of links to a failed UK terror plot.) Let us not turn into terrorists those who are innocent.”

Sadly, his words of caution fell on deaf ears as the media made merry about Muslim terrorists.

Surely the police need to interrogate the arrested youth and the courts have to pass their judgements before such serious conclusions are drawn? This is why such institutions exist, why the machinery exists in our democracy. It is their job to catch and punish the guilty. But the media seemed to have no time for such ‘niceties’ of democracy or its institutions. It chose to sidestep the process of law altogether and took it upon itself to ‘investigate’ the so-called crime and then pronounced ‘judgement’.

(Gauri Lankesh edits an eponymous weekly in Bangalore. A fuller version of this article appears on churumuri.com)

God moves in mysterious ways for a 3-year-old

27 February 2008

While media mavens feverishly debate whether journalists should abandon their professional duties and lend a hand in moments of crisis, a three-year-old Afghan girl born with a deadly skin disorder that could claim her life if left untreated, is being operated by Western surgeons, thanks to the efforts of an Italian photojournalist, reports the BBC.

Shabana (in picture), afflicted by neurofibromatosis, was spotted by Gabrielle Torsello in 2005 while he was shooting pictures in Kabul. He organised her first operation in the City when she was just nine months old. Now, she and her father Janat Gul have flown to Rome for further operations.

“It is a blessing in disguise. When God wants to help you, He provides all the means,” said Janat Gul, who works loading and unloading trucks in Kabul. “I am a poor person and I couldn’t dream of this happening to us. I wish we had all these facilities in our own country.”

Read the full story here: Shabana’s story of hope against the odds

Reading a paper without getting your feet wet

27 February 2008

The 15th international yoga festival was held in Pondicherry last month, and blogger Ursi showcases one of the many brilliant posters on view.

Link via Boing Boing

Wedding report lands newspaper in trouble

26 February 2008

A newspaper in the northeastern Indian state of Assam faces a “ban” in four Bodo-dominated districts after it reported the extravagant wedding of a former militant who now heads the Bodoland Territorial Council. The news report of around Rs 4 crore (approximately $100,000) being spent on the wedding of Hagrama Mohilary came less than a week after Ajit Kumar Bhuyan took over as editor of the Asomiya Pratidin.

“Supporters of Mohilary snatched away and burnt our newspaper packets at Kokrajhar and several other places on Sunday and Monday, and a newspaper van was set on fire on Monday morning,” Bhuyan told Samudra Gupta Kashyap of the Indian Express.

Asomiya Pratidin accused Mohilary of misusing the official machinery of the State government and that of the Council to organise a grand reception, held in a huge pandal, where guests were not only treated to live music but also a comedy show by actor Johny Lever.

Read the full story: Assam paper faces ban for reporting leader’s wedding

MUST READ: 10 rules keep a lawsuit away

26 February 2008

Blogs, social networks and citizen media sites have created a myriad new avenues for citizen participation. But it’s not all ha-ha-hee-hee; the sword of lawsuits with scary damages hangs over journalists and citizen journalists. How can CJs protect themselves?

The Knight Citizen News Network lists ten rules for limiting legal risk, and gets Jeff Jarvis to make a video presentation:

1) Check your facts

2) Avoid virtual vendettas

3) Obey the law

4) Weigh promises

5) Reveal secrets selectively

6) Consider what you copy

7) Learn recording limits

8) Don’t abuse anonymity

9) Shun conflicts of interest

10) Seek legal advice

Read the full story and watch the video: Limiting legal risks

Link courtesy Nikhil Moro

Look, who inspired R.K. Laxman’s Common Man!

25 February 2008

As India gets ready for its annual budget exercise, amid hints of its likely to be a populist one on the eve of a general election, M.J. Akbar, editor-in-chief of The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle, writes in the Khaleej Times:

“The Common Man is getting a budget; does the Common Man have a face? Actually, yes. That brilliant Times of India cartoonist, R.K. Laxman, has given us the emblematic face of the Common Man. I chanced upon a Laxman original of Mahatma Gandhi in a friend’s office, and it struck me that Laxman’s Common Man, who has appeared for decades on the front page of the Times, is a variation of Gandhi. Gandhi redefined India and Indian nationalism, took it away from the grasp of elites and handed it over to the Common Man for safekeeping. Six decades after his death, the Common Man is getting one budget out of five. I suppose the Common Man should be grateful for small mercies.”

Photograph: courtesy The Tribune, Chandigarh

Update/ the full article: Queue and collect

Also read: Making all of us smile can make one of us cry

Should Hitler have been asked to explain?

25 February 2008

The media has been a key player in Raj Thackeray‘s hate campaign against “outsiders” in Bombay. In giving him the oxygen of publicity, in editorialising news, in fanning the flames by repeatedly showing file pictures, in not dealing with the issue with balance and proportion, the media has come under scrutiny from the Union cabinet, from independent analysts, and from sections of the media itself.

Thackeray himself has used the local Marathi media adroitly in turning this into an “us versus them” issue. He has written a signed article in Maharashtra Times (of The Times of India group), he has responded to an open letter in Lok Satta (of the Indian Express group), and he has kept his media conferences out of bounds to English and Hindi media (whom he sees as antithetical to the local interests he is championing).

The veteran journalist Jyoti Punwani has some fine questions on all this:

# Should a newspaper offer its pages to a politician who has been promoting hatred against other Indians on the basis of region and language, and whose followers have assaulted unarmed innocents on that basis?

# If that politician uses the space offered to him to justify and further his hate campaign, should the newspaper carry his piece without any strong editorial rebuttal alongside?

# As a political leader entitled to invite to a press conference journalists of his/her choice, based on language/region? In that case, what should be the response of journalists, especially those invited?

# Should TV cameras telecast incidents of violence during communal riots again and again without specifying that these are file pictures?

# Finally, how should the media report on the acts of a politician leading a hate campaign based on region and language?

Read the full article: Lending hate campaigns a platform

‘Horse carriage makers didn’t make the cars’

23 February 2008

Netscape founder Marc Andreessen in an interview with Frank Hornig of Der Spiegel:

“The Internet is becoming real now in a way it has never been before. It’s becoming the main medium in which consumers engage to get information and to communicate. You can see this happening in advertising, you can see it happening in telecom, video with YouTube, with music, with newspapers and magazines. It is all shifting en masse, and all consumers are basically moving over to the Internet. We all talked about it in the 1990s, but it didn’t happen then. Those were just experiments. But now it is really happening….

“TV and the press have always functioned according to the same sets of rules and technical standards. But the Internet is based on software. And anybody can write a new piece of software on the Internet that years later a billion people are using. My theory is: Every year there is a new killer app. One year it’s eBay, the next year it’s Craigslist, then it’s Napster, then Paypal, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and so on.”

Read the full interview: The Marc Andreesen interview

In a dark subway, an unlikely grammar figure

21 February 2008

Louis Menand, an English professor at Harvard, has called its use “impeccable”. Lynne Truss, the author of Eats shoots and leaves, has called it a “lovely example”. Geoffrey Nunberg of the University of California at Berkeley sees it as a burgeoning sign of “punctuational literacy”.

On the pages of The New York Times, Neil Neches, a writer in the New York City Transit agency’s marketing and service information department, is earning plaudits for properly inserting the semi-colon into the subway placard that reads “Please put it in a trash can; that’s good news for everyone.”

Read the full story: Celebrating the semicolon in a most unlikely location

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