Archive for February, 2008

Will paper tigers last longer than real ones?

21 February 2008

In The Vanishing Newspaper, Philip Meyer says the last newspaper will be printed, sold, (hopefully) read and then crumpled and thrown into the dustbin sometime in the first quarter of the year of the lord 2043. In other words, even if this dire prognosis turns out to be true, paper tigers will roam the urban jungles for another 35 years.

The tiger conservationist Valmik Thapar has made an astounding claim vis-a-vis the latest tiger census in India which shows that the number of tigers in the country has fallen to 1,411 from 3,642 in the last five years. He told Karan Thapar on CNBC that at this rate the Indian tiger will vanish in the next 5—yes, five—years, but for a couple of pockets.

Will real tigers meet their end before paper tigers?

Photograph: Sharath Rangaswamy

Also read: In Nagarahole, tigers are like city buses…

Did the Tiger of Mysore really tame a tiger?

RAJAN: 1993-2006, rest in peace

The perils of an Indian correspondent in the US

20 February 2008

K.P. Nayar in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“For an Indian journalist based in the United States of America, the worst professional nightmare these days is the sudden appearance of a red “Breaking News” banner on the CNN screen, announcing yet another university shooting.

“It invariably sends me and my colleagues from other Indian newspapers in Washington scrambling for the telephone numbers of international student faculty advisers and office-bearers of Indian student associations in the US university where the latest gun violence has erupted.

“This month, in just one week between February 7 and 14, when the most recent carnage occurred in Northern Illinois University near Chicago, I had to cancel appointments and reorganize my schedule on five days to check on breaking television news for possible Indian or Indian-American students or academics among the victims of America’s campus gun-culture.”

Read the full article: Shot in the school

Business journalism or the journalism of business?

17 February 2008

The quality of Indian journalism has been under question for as long as Indian journalism has been around, especially by those who found the news and views contrary to their own closely-held beliefs, assumptions and ideologies.

Quibbles like the agendas of publishers and editors; the bias and prejudice of journalists; the unethical trade and professional practices; the growth of monopolies, have been around for ages. In recent times they have been joined by complaints of corruption, commodification, dumbing down, trivialisation, and celebrity culture. At the end of the day, though, there was little that the reader/viewer/listener lost in material terms from such news and views.

But what when she does?

As the stock market culture has taken root, the business channels on television have become the primary source of information, advice and guidance for investors. But how much of what they put out as “expert opinion” is the result of adequate inhouse research, and how much of it is hype and advertising? And how can we be sure that the channels, anchors and reporters are not susceptible to “market pressures”, to put it mildly?

The outgoing chairman of the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) M. Damodaran has spoken with characteristic candour in an interview with Shekhar Gupta of the Indian Express for NDTV’s Walk the Talk. Presumably referring to the debacle of the Anil Ambani-promoted Reliance Power IPO, Damodaran said he had received a copy of a letter from an aggrieved investor on his penultimate day in office:

“In a letter sent to a TV person along with a few media houses and a copy endorsed to me, the investor asked, ‘I saw you guys saying everything was good about a particular issue till it listed below the issue price. And now I find you saying everything is wrong and talking it down. What happened to you guys?’

“I think there’s considerable merit in it (the letter)…. How is it that suddenly on listing, all the virtues that you thought resided in some particular issue disappeared? I think the media has a very large role to play and I am afraid that that role is not being played to the best of its ability�”

Business channels, anchors and reporters can go wrong with stocks, shares and companies, just like news channels, anchors and reporters can go wrong with elections, opinion polls, exit polls. It cannot be the rule, of course, but it is a occupational hazard. But with business journalism, the news consumer puts his hard-earned money on the line. Surely, he is entitled to receive news and views unsullied by corporate or personal motives and motivations?

Rumours of business channels having conflicts of interest, and rumours of business anchors and “experts” playing the market with insider information, and “talking up” or “talking down” the market, have been in the air for nearly five years now. On the overcrowded business TV screens, the distinction between news and advertising has all but disappeared. But Damodaran is the first to point this all out in so many words.

“When we heard the term anchor-investors first, I thought an anchor investor was the guy that brings in a lot of money initially into a project around whose reputation others invest. I am beginning to believe at the end of my three-year tenure that an anchor investor is one who is an anchor and an investor put together. I am worried that (they are) those who are responsible… who take the message to a billion plus people who will hopefully, one day be interested in the market. If that message gets distorted, what happens?

“There are people who make statements that are very clear indications of talking up or talking down stocks. And what do we have by way of investor protection? A disclosure that says, is this person having a position in that stock? Earlier, we had statements like “not really”, “maybe”, “it’s likely that my clients have”. Today, you get a broad spectrum such as “It is entirely possible that I have this.”

“Is this disclosure? It is clearly not. I would want to know before someone gives me advice whether you are giving me that advice because you will benefit. Current disclosures are far too routine. In fact, people have been saying things like “We are running out of time, can you make the disclosure to us. Disclosure is complete if you make it to the right audience, not to a television anchor. It is to the investor who is going to put his money. Filing disclosures is not good enough.”

Obviously, with million making decisions on the basis of the business channels, there is a need for a code of conduct. Damodaran says both his predecessors made moves in that direction. The first time, SEBI was told that the channels would draft one themselves, but there was no motion. The second time, SEBI said it would come up with a code, but there were no takers. Damodaran says SEBI has also tried to individually engage people, but he says a lot more needs to be done.

Also read: Ethical journalism is a bad word at CNBC-TV18

MTV isn’t the only channel making a bakra out of you

The media and the stock market collapse

Cross-posted on churumuri

‘Did we fight Emergency for this kind of media?’

16 February 2008

The media coverage of the verbal and physical violence in Bombay over the influx of outsiders continues to draw attention. Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) reports that at the Union cabinet meeting on February 14, senior ministers “expressed their outrage” at the reporting which some of them felt sparked panic and led to a mass exodus from the metropolis to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Cabinet sources told IANS that once Railway Minister Lalu Prasad raised the issue, some ministers described as “irresponsible” and “provocative” the media coverage of the MNS protests that began Feb 3.

Home Minister Shivraj Patil pointed out that television news channels had been beaming pictures of sporadic trouble frequently giving a “false impression about the violence and thereby creating panic”.

A cabinet minister told IANS: “For once, every minister was furious and everyone agreed that the media coverage caused more trouble.”

One minister felt that it was the media that made Raj Thackeray, “a person who tried to strengthen his party by dividing the country,” into a hero.

“The media should not forget its social responsibilities when it reports such events. It is high time that there should be some control over such reporting,” a minister told reporters on condition of anonymity.

In The Indian Express, Peter Ronald DeSouza, director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Simla, writes that the media coverage raises doubts about “the role of the press as a sentinel of freedom, of news not massaged, of media as the mirror of reality”, and goes so far as to ask if fighting for media freedom has proved to be futile.

“Is this then the same free media for which we fought the Emergency? Thinking about this question I have the sinking feeling that the ground has shifted, that the moral reasons on which we fought for a free press are no longer so clear and firm. The story of the frog and the hot water keeps coming to mind. Throw a frog into a pot of boiling water and it will jump out. Immerse it in a pot of lukewarm water, and put the pot to boil, and the frog will remain there quite unaware that it is being boiled. Which frog is the media today? Which frog is the reader-viewer today?”

Read the full story: Who’s that in the mirror?

Does television create the ‘reality’ it reports?

15 February 2008

As naturally as night follows day, the television coverage of the recent upsurge in linguistic chauvinism in Bombay has come under scrutiny. A bit like the violence in Rajasthan in the war between the Meenas and Gujjars two years ago. The rolling coverage, the endless replay of made-for-TV incidents to make it seem like a wave, the hysterical editorialisation… are all seen to have distorted the reality and exacerbated the situation.

The Indian Express says this in an editorial today:

“The race for breaking news on television brings with it some obvious constraints — and dangers. The image, played and replayed incessantly, magnifies the event, often investing it with exaggerated importance. Television images also have a proven capacity to produce the “reality effect”. It is inadequately realised that the power to show is also the power to mobilise. Did the visual media act with a sense of its own power, in covering the events in Maharashtra? Was a sense of proportion in play? Were there enough editorial checks? And what about the rest of us, did we just simply receive from them and react?”

Read the full article: Screening images

How Shilpa Shetty halted the Chinese incursions

14 February 2008

China apparently made 146 incursions into Indian territory last year. The Chinese are preventing locals from going up to regions where they had been taking their animals for grazing. Even a statue of Buddha is off-limits. And “cartographic aggression”, in which Arunachal Pradesh is shown as Chinese territory, is assuming epidemic proportions.

When two BJP MPs from Arunachal Pradesh, Tapir Gao and Kiren Rijiju, raised the issue at a party meeting last November, the journalist-turned-politician Arun Shourie, who was reading a book Why geography matters too chipped in. So, all three were invited by president L.K. Advani to attend the party’s afternoon press briefing.

Shourie writes in The Indian Express on how the media reacted to a matter of profound national security. The hack-pack, he writes, is only too eager to get into a tu-tu, main-main; to pick holes in the motives and motivations of the messenger instead of probing the message. And, as he told Karan Thapar on CNBC-TV18 last night, The Times of India and the Hindustan Times were busy with two very urgent stories—longer working hours for bars and 24-hour shopping:

I had hardly concluded that the usual clutch—pro-Congress, pro-Left—was up in arms. “When was the book published?” one demanded…. “But what did the NDA do about the incursions?” another member of that clutch demanded… “No, Mr Shourie, but you have to acknowledge that there is no agreed international border between India and China. So…” That is the Chinese position as articulated by your paper often, I said. It has not been the position of any Indian Government…

An anchor from a news channel phoned. I saw your press conference, he said. We have been following this story for many months. Can you please come to our studio? No, I said, I really am very upset at what happened. But I give you my word, he said, we think this is an important issue, and we are going to follow it in the coming months also. I will send an OB-van to your house.

The van came. The late night news. The earpiece in my ear. All set. Delay—quite understandable: some new eruption in Nandigram. Eventually, the anchor and I are talking.

“But are you sure about the facts or is the BJP indulging in its usual fear-politics?” the anchor asks. But why don’t you ascertain them from the two MPs who represent the area? I respond. Better still, why don’t you send your own correspondents and photographers to the area? I inquire. “We will, we will, I assure you. I was just making sure…”

In any case, look at what the ambassador of China has himself said, I remarked. Remember, just days before Hu Jintao, the Chinese President, was to come to India, the ambassador declared, right here on Indian soil, that Arunachal is a part of China…

“But maybe he was saying it for rhetorical effect,” said the anchor.

Rhetorical effect? I skipped a heartbeat. Is the Chinese Ambassador also running after TRP ratings like the TV channels? Would an ambassador say such things just for effect? And that too the ambassador of China, of all countries? You mean an ambassador, you mean the ambassador of China of all countries would claim the territory of the country to which he is accredited, that he would lay claim to an entire state of that country for rhetorical effect? I asked. And remember, I pointed out, he repeated the claim in Chandigarh later. And look at the government of China — it has not distanced itself from the claim advanced by its ambassador. On the contrary, its ‘think-tanks’ have held ‘seminars’ in the wake of the ambassador’s statement. In this the ‘scholars’ and ‘diplomats’ and ‘strategic thinkers’ have declared to the man that Arunachal is ‘Chinese territory under India’s forcible occupation’; that it is ‘China’s Tawang region’; that it is ‘Southern Tibet’ which must be brought under the control of the Tibet Autonomous Region. And you call this rhetorical? That is just lunatic…

The anchor was off to the next item. “Be that as it may… Another controversy… Thank you, Mr Shourie. Always a pleasure talking to you. Moving now to a slightly less controversial story…” “SHILPA SHETTY,” he said, his voice rising, “has not been in the news since the famous Richard Gere kiss, but we have her back today. Here she is, SHILPA SHETTY…”

The sound on my earpiece cut. Shilpa Shetty had once again trumped poor Arunachal.

Photographs: The Daily Mail, London

Read the full article: Shilpa Shetty trumps Arunachal again

Also read: Kissing is not part of our culture? Pissing is?

Cross-posted on churumuri

How a world-class yoga photograph was shot

12 February 2008

This breathtaking black-and-white photograph of yoga artistes from the yoga capital of the world (Mysore), shot by Tomasz Gudzowaty and Judit Berekai of Poland at an akhada in the religious capital of India (Benares), has just won the third prize in the World Press Photo Contest 2008 in the “Sports Features-Single Photo” category.

The intercontinental project was coordinated by freelance sports journalist C.K. Muralidharan who also plays cricket for Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML), Mysore.

Here, he describes how the project came about; how the award-winning picture was shot at the “Sri Akkada Murchali Birbaba”; and how three artistes—artists, really—of the Maruthi Yoga Kendra (S. Suhas, K.V. Anantha Kumara and B.S. Nikhil) became a part of photography history.

***

By C.K. MURALIDHARAN

It is a matter of great joy and satisfaction that a picture shot with yoga artistes from Mysore in Benares has won one of the world’s most coveted photography awards. It is a tribute no doubt to the photographic artistry and work ethic of Tomasz Gudzowaty. But it is also a richly deserved salute to an ancient Indian art form on the international stage.

My association with Tomasz began in 2003 through the portal www.mysoresports.com launched by me and my friend Yashasvi Shankar (a former Mysore University and State shuttle badminton player now settled in USA). I had written about nadu kusti, the traditional wrestling style of Mysore and Tomasz evinced interest in photographing it.

In November 2005, with the help of L. Manjappa, the Mysore University wrestling coach, and Shankar Chakravarthy, the KSP wrestler who has won the Dasara Kanteerava title, we visited nearly 20 garadis. Tomasz chose six locations, returned the following month with his associate Judit Berekai, and shot around 5,000 black and white photos over three days with wrestlers from the University and the garadis in action.

The main sequence, shot at the Gopala Swamiawara garadi on Nala beedhi, won the third prize in the World Press Photo Contest 2006 in the sports features category. The wrestlers involved were Shankar Chakravarthy, Prahlad, Hemanth Kumar, Harish and Kumara. Manjula sound system of Sunnadakeri supported us with the light and generator back-up for the shooting.

I was sponsored by Tomasz’s company Yours Gallery to attend the award ceremony in Amsterdam. It was a great experience seeing a slice of Mysore being served up to a global audience. And it was even more touching to be mentioned by Tomasz and Judit in their acceptance speech.

My heart swelled with emotion that I could do something for Mysore’s wrestlers.

The award-winning picture became part of an exhibition that went to 24 different countries and it was also displayed in the UN headquarters in New York. During the Festival of India in France in 2006, a French company called Manison de la Photographie brought out a Photo Book called “Indianscope” which had the picture of Hemanth Kumar on the cover.

Once they came to know that their photographs had won international acclaim, the wrestlers were very happy and thankful to Tomasz and his team. In turn, Tomasz was kind enough to give some financial assistance to all the garadis he worked with, and to all the wrestlers too.

***

In December 2006, I floated an idea for a second project: Kalari Payattu, the traditional style of martial art practiced in Kerala. I and my BEML team-mate S. Ramachandra (who has a passion for photography) visited Kollam and took the pictures of kalari artistes in action in different locations and sent them to Tomasz.

Tomasz liked what he saw but wanted a different background.

He came to Kollam. With the guidance of the Kalari Gurukal Shivakumar, of CVN Kalari, we shot Kalari Payattu. The artistes were Shivakumar, John and Monichan. They demonstrated the flip, fighting with the sticks, balancing on the beam, summersault, fighting with sword, hanging upside down, and other forms of exercises. A series of 12 photos were wanted by Tomasz and shot accordingly.

The second day saw the kalari artistes perform on an artificially made bamboo wall and Tomasz captured them in action along with Judit. Around 3,000 black and white photographs were taken. From the fourth day, we shifted to the Lal Bahadur stadium, where action photographs of women boxers in the ring (both sparring and boxing), were taken. Different positions with different combinations of boxers were shot with the help of coach Chandralal the SAI boxing coach who won the Dronacharaya award in 2007.
At the stadium, we also had a extended session with the artificial boxing ring positioned outside and Tomasz shot from the top of a crane to get the picture from a good height. Kerala’s women boxers are the second best in the country after Manipur, with P.C. Lekha, the world boxing champion, amidst them. They were in-charge of coach Chandralal.

The photograph of C.V. Ashwathymol relaxing after her bout in the ring won the “Award for Excellence” in the Pictures of the Year contest conducted by the University of Missouri, USA. “The Story on Kalari” (12 photographs) also won the “Award for Excellence” in the Pictures of the Year contest.

***

Sometime last year, Tomasz suddenly contacted me and said he would like to do a photo feature on yoga. As he was doing a project in China, initially he wanted the location to be in China. He wanted me to find yoga artistes who could travel to China. So, I had in mind Jalendra Kumar of Maruthi Yoga Kendra in Mysore whom I had known for a long time.

As there were students of his in China, I thought it would be a wise move to get in touch with his wards so that they could help us in the project. He sent me photographs of yoga artistes in action and asked me to get the artists to do the same poses.

After I sent the photographs, Tomasz informed me that we could do the project in Benares and if the locations there did not suit his requirements, then we could hop over to Nepal.

I contacted Jalendra Kumar and apprised him of the situation. I asked him to select the best of his boys and arrange for a photo session. Myself and photographer Gopinath shot the yoga artists in action at JSS high school in Metagalli.

We shot pictures of Jalendra Kumar, Jagadish, K. Adarsh, K.V. Anantha Kumara, B.S. Nikhil, S. Rakesh, Komal Raj, Mahendra, Shivakumar Nayak, K. Raghu, S. Suhas and Suresh and sent them to Tomasz to check if this is what he was looking for.

He mailed back saying that he needed a minimum of 12 people and that they should travel immediately to Benares on November 4, 2007. He would join us the next day. Accordingly, I informed the boys’ parents who were a little apprehensive initially to send their young wards so far.

I explained to them that I would ensure their safety and also take care of all the expenditure of travel, boarding and lodging.

We left in two batches of six and eight members respectively on November 4 and 5. We went by train to Bangalore and took an Indian Airlines flight to Delhi. From thereon we caught the connecting flight to Benares. (I also took my mother along on this trip!)

I had a Mysore connection in Benares, Suryanarayana Sastry who hailed from Talakad. He and his family had settled down in the holy city over 40 years back and I had contacted him prior to my departure and asked for his help during our visit.

He had booked hotel rooms for 14 of us at Hotel Siddarth and once we arrived we were received by Sathyanarayana Sastry, Suryanarayana’s brother. The rooms were comfortable and everyone had a day’s complete rest. Tomasz soon arrived, and he called me to meet and discuss the shooting schedule.

We spent a whole day choosing the locations. Tomasz and I, along with Sathyanarayana, went round finalising the venues. We zeroed in on: 1) Ram Singh akhada, Dhaniabad, 2) Sri Akhara Murchali Birbaba (Ganshu pahelwan), 3) Guru Gaya Set akhada, 4) The old house roof at Swasananda Ashram, Bengali Bhavan, and 5) The ghats near the Ganges.

We had to take the permission from the police to shoot pictures at each of the ghats and we had to cough out Rs.10,000 each for the licence for the eight ghats. I had to arrange for the lighting and back-up spot boys. A generator van was also arranged.

Initially, the boys had a full day’s rest and were asked to practice on the asanas which Tomasz had preferred. He wanted the hand stand, the head stand, the Mayurasana, and the split to be perfect, and he wanted them to be seen in action the next day before commencing the shooting on November 6.

He saw the artists in action on the evening of November 6, and was only satisfied with the performance of Mahendra, Jalendra Kumar and Anantha Kumara. He asked the others to work hard for getting the needed perfection.

November 7: We did shooting at the Ram Singh akhada with Mahendra in different asanas. Suresh also performed certain weight training warm-up exercises which were shot. The day ended with only one venue covered and the next day’s programme was fixed at 7 am at Guru Gatya set akhada.

November 8: At 5.30 in the morning, I woke up everyone and took them in a taxi to the venue and asked them to get warmed up before the shoot. The artists had to wear dhotis and perform warm-up exercises in tandem, which would be shot.

The lights and generator van arrived an hour late, and Tomasz was irked at the impunctuality which resulted in his not being able to use the early morning sunlight for shooting. Mayurasana and Shirasana were performed by ten yoga artistes and around 100 black and white photographs were taken in different sequences.

Around 9 am we packed up and went to the next venue, the Sri Akkada Murchali Bhirbabad in Katvapura. Here a portrait picture of the yoga artistes with the Gurukal was taken in banians and dhotis.

Then, the prize winning picture (above) was shot. For this I purchased four pipes, inserted them into the wall each at an interval of four feet, and plastered them. 14-year-old S. Suhas performed the Mayurasana, while K.V. Anantha Kumara performed the split on the bars. B.S. Nikhil stood by the side of the wall.

The same shot was photographed at least 50 times by Tomasz in different angles and one of them proved to be the prize winner!

Next, we went back to the ghats and shot on the banks of the Ganges and also at the passage in the Birla ashram.

November 9: We shot on the roof top of the house belonging to Suryanarayana Sastry. Around 500 photographs of the boys performing asanas in different postures were taken. The boys were then asked to come to Swasananda Ashram where the hand stand and other exercises were picturised.

We shot at the roof top and also came down to the Ganges for shooting besides the background of the temples at the ghats. Photographs of Mahendra in different poses were taken.

November 10: The day was full of shooting at the Ram Singh akhada and shots were taken of Mahendra and Suresh. In the evening, everyone departed from their hotel to catch their flight at 4.30 pm to Delhi.

Thus ended the week-long shooting spree in Benares which was combined with work and pleasure. It’s a wonderful feeling that the hard work put in by the younger lot has yielded such results. Like a true leader, Tomasz didn’t just up and leave; he was kind enough to help the yoga artistes financially.

Also read: Yoga may be good. Not always, not everywhere

CHURUMURI POLL: Is yoga only for Hindus?

Pardon us, is yoga becoming a bit of a scam?

Marichasana on Madison Avenue; Trikonasana on 34th Street

K. PATTABHI JOIS: The second most famous Indian in the world?

The World Press Photo of the Year for 2007

9 February 2008

British photographer Tim Hetherington’s image of an American soldier resting at Restrepo bunker in Afghanistan, taken on assignment for Vanity Fair last September, has been named the World Press Photo of the Year for 2007. “In capturing the exhaustion of a single man, the image reflects the exhaustion of an entire nation,” writes the magazine.

View the slideshow here: The fight for the Korengal

‘There’s no place for emotion in an anchor’s life’

8 February 2008

The BBC anchor Nik Gowing in an interview with Krishnakumar P. of rediff.com:

You were the one who brought the death of Princess Diana and you were on air for more than seven hours after the 9/11 attacks. Can you describe how you felt when you had to do it?

I have likened it to being a doctor. My job is to get it right on air. My job is not to worry about my emotions. For different reasons, I was very tired at the time Princess Diana’s death came in. But when I had to go on air and make that announcement, there was no emotion. It’s the same thing whether it is Diana or a disaster. You have to be cool and sharp in your observations and analyses.

Read the full interview: ‘The world is not flat’

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