Archive for June, 2008

For Indian journos, April 1 comes 9 months early

30 June 2008

Infallible Indian journalists have been spooked by a delightful Da Vinci Code style hoax played on them.

On Sunday, almost every newspaper reported the arrest of Johann Bach, an 88-year-old Nazi war criminal, in the jungles of Khanapur, close to Goa, on Saturday.

A classified advertisement inserted by the “Waffen SS” fugitive to sell an 18th century piano was supposed to have led Perus Narkp detectives to the “senior adjutant” who reportedly had a role in the “extermination” of 12,000 Jews at the Marsha Tikash Whanaab concentration camp in East Berlin.

Bangalore based newspapers went to town with the news:

# “Hitler’s stormtrooper held in Karnataka,” headlined Deccan Herald.

# “World War II criminal arrested?” asked The Hindu

# “Cops stunned over Nazi man’s arrest,” said The Times of India

# “Antique piano ad leads police to Nazi colonel near Belgaum,” said the New Indian Express.

On Monday, the up-country papers went a step further.

# “Traced to Goa, Nazi war criminal tried to enter Karnataka, arrested on way and flown to Berlin,” said The Indian Express, Delhi

# “Goa piano ‘thief’ found to be Nazi war fugitive,” said The Telegraph, Calcutta, with a helpful graphic (above) of the flight of the Nazi criminal.

Wanted by Interpol, octagenarian Bach, it was reported, had escaped the Nuremberg trials and evaded justice for over half a century. On the German government’s “Most wanted list” since the end of WW II, he had spent time in Argentina, Bulgaria, Yemen and Canada.

Apparently, the Israeli media had reported his sighting in Calungute, Goa, though V.S. Acharya, Karnataka’s home minister, denied any knowledge. Hemant Nimbalkar, Belgaum superintendent of police, said he was unaware of the incident.

But the papers said Bach had been picked up by detectives of Perus Narkp who are part of the German chancellor’s “Core” team in collaboration with Indian intelligence.

Anil Budur Lulla of The Telegraph “exclusively” reported that “Berlin also had information from Tel Aviv that an old German had bragged about overseeing the genocide of Jews to an Israeli tourist couple in Goa during a rave party a few months ago.”

Deccan Herald quoted a press release issued by “Perus Narkp”. Times of India said the press note was circulated by email. DH had this telling line: “A brilliant musician like his illustrious 18th Century namesake, this eccentric Bach later rose high in the Nazi SS hierarchy.”

The Telegraph, quoting “sources”, said that “after further investigations in Goa, proceedings would begin to take Bach to Germany, with whom India signed an extradition treaty in 2004.”  Deccan Herald said he would “be facing trial at the International Court of Justice at The Hague.”

And on and on it went.

Well, it turns out, it was all a super prank, obviously played by someone with some taste in western classical music.

churumuri bravely deduces that it was played/devised by someone called Bhawana Shakti Sharma or by someone who knows someone called Bhawana Shakti Sharma, because it is an anagram of “Marsha Tikashi Whanaab”. “Bach” is obviously a bastardisation of Johann Sebastian Bach, with the piano thrown in for good measure. “Perus Narkp” is an anagram of “Super Prank“.

Considering that the story has Goa as its epicentre, churumuri also sticks its neck out to declare that the “super prank” was played by a Goan/ Goans who have had their axe for their local media for some time now. Indeed, one Goan blog says “The Truth Behind Perus Narkp” will be revealed tomorrow with the teasing tagline: “One of the most telling stories on the Goan as well as Indian media.”

Why the prank was played, is a long story.

Maybe to show how gullible journalists have become in this age of instant news and even more instant analysis. Maybe to show how little research and background checking goes into modern-day reporting populated by greenhorns barely out of their teens. Maybe to show what a bunch of cultural ignoramuses we are, with scarcely any knowledge of music, Indian or western.

Or maybe to show how smart the prankster is.

Whatever the reason, it’s a lovely prank for which all of us fell. We have been had. Lie back and enjoy—and spare a thought for those stung by us.

Cross-posted on churumuri

How the crude oil price spike spooked the media

30 June 2008

Who’s to blame for the mounting crude oil prices? Oil producing countries? India and China for their voracious appetite? Speculators wanting to make a quick buck or ten?

In the latest episode of its media showThe Listening Post, hosted by Richard Gizbert, Al Jazeera English throws light on how the global media has failed to come to grips with a difficult but important issue.

Editor charges Indian Prime Minister of sabotage

30 June 2008

M.J. Akbar, who the grapevine says was ousted from the editorship of The Asian Age due to his staunch opposition to the Indo-US nuclear deal, goes for the jugular in his column in the Khaleej Times of Dubai:

“The Manmohan Singh government has been unable to bear the burden of an alliance with George W. Bush. The Congress encouraged the illusion, with the help of a cabal of analysts, publicists and lobbyists, that the Left was a lapdog rather than a watchdog, and could be either appeased by a bone or silenced with a stick. When the moment came to choose, the Congress stood with Bush instead of Prakash Karat.

“The official excuse for this decision is energy. But this is deception.

Dr Manmohan Singh deliberately sabotaged a much cheaper and more immediate source of energy for the country when he deliberately undermined the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, raising one false spectre after another to mislead the country, so that it would seem that there was no option but to go ahead with the Indo-US nuclear deal.

“We have forgotten now that the first objection he raised, three years ago, was that financing would be a problem.”

Read the full column: War and consequences

Also read: ‘Never let your head stoop as a journalist

‘Media can’t be in a state of permanent war’

Sucheta Dalal in public row on private treaties

29 June 2008

The true depth of an employer-employee relationship is never quite revealed during the course of the latter’s employment, generally speaking. It is only after the two have parted ways, when the two parties take their gloves off and shadow-box each other, does it become clear whether it was good cohabitation or a charade.

India’s bestknown business investigative journalist, Sucheta Dalal, left India’s largest English daily, The Times of India, several years ago, after a nine-year stint during which she also played a stellar role in unravelling the securities scam involving the now deceased Harshad Mehta.

Since her departure from the paper, Dalal has moved to other things, writing columns and books, setting up a magazine. In recent times, she has played an important role in exposing the “private treaties” of her former employer that has eaten into the vitals of media ethics in boom-time.

Now, ToI has hit back, below the belt.

In an interview with Nikhil Pahwa‘s newly launched medianama, S. Sivakumar, the CEO-designate of ToI’s private treaties division, is asked about a November 2007 letter from Economic Times editor Rahul Joshi that Dalal quoted in an article, that firmly established how the private treaties were casting a dark shadow over the group’s editorial sanctity.

Sivakumar’s response:

“Because you have an agenda. You know Sucheta was working with us… I don’t know whether you know it or not, but she was working with us and I didn’t want to talk abot the Harshad Mehta scam, since you are recording, I didn’t want to go on aboUt that. There’s a lot of background, and under what circumstances she left the organisation.” (emphasis added)

The defamatory insinuation has justly got Dalal (who was given the Femina Woman of Substance award for the expose) fuming.

In response, she writes back:

“I have a letter from the company to say “we treasure” your association with us when I left the Times of India. Do they hand out such letters to all and sundry? It may also interest people to know that Ashok Jain, the late Chairman of the Times Group, had asked me to draft a Code of Ethics for journalists—maybe that too was part of their poor judgement.”

Warned of “recourse”, Sivakumar has sent a clarification:

“As a policy we never comment on any of our employees either currently  working with us or had worked with us in the past…. We as an organisation respect all journalists.”

Sivakumar’s offensive comments have been struck through, and comments disallowed for the piece.

Read the full exchange: ‘There are two currencies for advertising: cash and treaties’

Also read: Forget the news, you can’t trust the ads either

‘The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility’

‘Indian media in deeply murky ethical territory’

‘Real journalists are feared and disliked’

28 June 2008

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Chris Hedges on Alternet:

“No journalist makes $5 million a year. No journalist has a comfortable, cozy relationship with the powerful. No journalist believes that acting as a conduit, or a stenographer, for the powerful is a primary part of his or her calling. Those in power fear and dislike real journalists.”

Read the full story: Real journos don’t make $5million

‘Get me copydesk on the other side of the globe’

27 June 2008

Outsourcing medical operations to India is understandable because our doctors have a well-earned reputation for being among the best in the business. Outsourcing backend telephone work to India is understandable because we know how to talk—or we think we know how to talk.

Outsourcing film editing and post-production to India is understandable because the skills are more or less the same anywhere in the world. But outsourcing writing and editing? Sure, Sonny Mehta and Salman Rushdie are Indians, but does that put every greenhorn sub in the same category?

Outsourcing journalism is cheaper than making it at home, for sure, and in the age of falling circulation numbers and advertising revenues, it makes enormous business sense to bottom-line obsessed managers and accountants, here and there. But is it necessarily top-class from the client’s (and readers’) perspective?

Uniformly?

Does anybody get the feeling looking at Indian newspapers and magazines that Indian writing, reporting, editing, headlining, captioning, pagemaking is up there with the best of the world? Or does it not matter too much as long as we can get the message across?

The Orange County Register has become the latest American paper to be bitten by the outsourcing bug. It has decided to send some stuff to Mindworks Global Media. So far so good. But how good is Mindworks Global Media’s own editing skills?

Independent journalist T.J. Sullivan decided to put it to the test. Although he has no experience being a copy editor, Sullivan picked up Mindworks careers page, which surely must have been vetted by their best editorial heads, to clean it up for language. The results are revealing.

# You must have [an] excellent command over [of the] English [language] and close familiarity with [have a working knowledge of] international media.

# Ability to perform well under pressure is a must and so is ability to work well in [on] a team. You need to have 2-5 years of work experience.

# Mindworks is looking for graduates with an excellent command over [of] written English.

# The right candidates should be alive to [keep abreast of] current events, have high analytical skills and a burning desire to learn.

# Good comprehension skills are a must, and so is an ability to work well in [on] a team. Prior work experience is not a must, but experience with web-based [Web-based] content management systems for uploading/editing text will be an advantage [is preferred].

Read the full article: Native intelligence

Also read: Media outsourcing is cheap, but is it good?

Why Google can’t find Dr K. Haminahamina

These are a just few of my favourite things…

26 June 2008

Blogs like Stuff White People Like have spawned a variety of clones. 10,000 words comes up with an imaginative and startlingly accurate 27-point list of Stuff Journalists Like:

2.  All the President’s Men

5. Seinfeld

6. AP Stylebook

9. Correcting bad grammar/typos

13. Exclusives

16. Debates

21. New York Times

22. Coffee

25. Lists

26. Standing up for the little guy

View the entire list here: Stuff journalists like

Zero to one-eighty in nine seconds (& stitches)

26 June 2008

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY forwards an example of fine public service advertising, against overspeeding.

Also read: If public service is God’s service…

‘Proud to have held the powerful accountable’

25 June 2008

Leonard Downie Jr, executive editor of The Washington Post, has announced that he will step down in September, after 44 years at the paper. On Wednesday, he took questions from readers:

Reader from Alexandria, Virginia: A question I usually ask in an exit interview is: “What are you most proud of in your career and what do you think was your biggest disappointment?” How would you answer that for yourself?

Leonard Downie Jr.: I am most proud of the journalism I helped produce as a reporter and editor that held the powerful accountable to others in our society, the kind of journalism that has won us many prizes and, most importantly, brought about the righting of wrongs and constructive change. My biggest disappointment is those times, such as in the run-up to the Iraqi war, when we were not succeeding as much as I would have liked in featuring such accountability journalism.

Read the full transcript: Post newsroom leader to retire

On the eve of the 33rd anniversary of Emergency

25 June 2008

The dictionary defines “atrocity” as “the quality of being shockingly cruel and inhumane”. If that is an acceptable definition, what constitutes an “atrocity” against the scheduled castes and tribes?

Is a Lok Ayukta raid against a corrupt SC/ST official an “atrocity” against dalits? Is sacking or suspending an incompetent SC/ST employee an “atrocity” against dalits? Is questioning, criticising , shouting slogans against, or burning an effigy of an SC/ST public figure an “atrocity” against dalits?

Can the media dispassionately write about or comment on individuals and institutions of the scheduled castes and tribes, as they should any other community, without attracting the charge of “harassment”?

In other words, are dalits above the laws of the land? Or are the scheduled castes and tribes taking advantage of the special status that the Constitution of India confers on them?

The answers are blindingly obvious to most, but to the Congress government of Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, they are not so. Last night, AP police swooped down on the offices of the Telugu daily, Andhra Jyothy, and arrested its editor (K. Srinivas) and two journalists (N. Vamsi Krishna and N. Srinivas) under section 3 (1) (x) of the SC/ST (prevention of atrocities) Act.

Section 3 (1) (x) reads:

“Whoever, not being a member of a scheduled caste or a scheduled tribe… intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a member of a scheduled caste or tribe in any place within public view.”

Their crime?

The Maadiga Reservation Porata Samithi (MRPS) president Manda Krishna Madiga had lodged a complaint with the police on 28 May 2008 that the staff of the newspaper had abused him by his caste when they had taken out a protest march the previous day. According to one report, Krishna Madiga “showed the photos where the editor and others were present when the agitators were beating his effigy with chappals”.

The reason Andhra Jyothy staff had taken out the protest march?

Activists of the MRPS had attacked the offices of Andhra Jyothy in Hyderabad, Warangal and Vishakapatnam on 27 May 2008 and vandalised them in protest against an article it had published on 26 May 2008. Two cars were also damaged.

Without naming any Dalit leader in particular, the article in question referred to “hired leaders” and “saleable commodities” who  were only pandering to their interests rather than working for the interests of their community.

MRPS leaders claimed Andhra Jyothy had published the news item “with the specific intent of tarnishing the image of leaders who were crusading for the uplift of the weaker sections for decades”.

Almost a month later, on the eve of the 33rd anniversary of the Emergency, the police came knocking and took away the editor and the two contributors. The charge against the reporters was that they had burnt the effigy of Krishna Madiga and slapped it with chappals during the rally on 27 May 2008.

A police officer is quoted as saying, prima facie, there is “clinching evidence” against all three.

The arrest of the Andhra Jyothy staff comes in the middle of a surcharged media atmosphere in the Congress-ruled State, and the journalists’ bodies are smelling more than a rat.

Ramoji Rao, the proprietor of the State’s largest daily Eenadu, has been the subject of a sustained legal and financial scrutiny. The chief minister’s son, Jaganmohan Reddy, has just launched a multi-edition, all-colour newspaper called Saakshi to take on Eenadu and Andhra Jyothi. And the film star Chiranjeevi, whom Andhra Jyothy is seemingly backing, is slated to announce the launch of a political party soon.

Photograph: Andhra Jyothy editor K. Srinivas being taken away in a police jeep upon his arrest (courtesy Andhra Jyothy )

Also read: ‘A disgraceful assault on media freedom

Cross-posted on churumuri

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