Archive for June, 2009

Entries invited for 2009 India Press Photo awards

30 June 2009

The Ramnath Goenka Memorial Foundation, named after the founder of the Indian Express group, is inviting entries for the 2009 India Press Photo awards for excellence in photo journalism.

There are five prizes on offer. The picture of the year will get Rs 1.5 lakh, and the best pictures for spot news, general news, sports, and arts and entertainment, will respectively receive Rs 1 lakh each.

The last date for submission of entries is 31 August 2009.

Log on to www.expressindia.com/ippa for further details.

Email: indiapressphoto@expressindia.com

Snailmail: Ramnath Goenka Memorial Foundation, Express Building, 9 & 10, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi – 110002

Also read: 2008 India press photo award winning picture

5 photography tips from Raghu Rai

T.S. SATYAN on photography

PRASHANT PANJIAR on photography

An oxymoronic pursuit called Spiritual Journalism

29 June 2009

Shooting the messenger is the world’s favourite hobby. So, the media is roundly berated by media consumers as the harbinger of bad news. Media personnel have been termed by critics as the “nattering nabobs of negativism“.

We suck the warm, positive air out of this wonderful world the rest of humankind inhabits. We separate the wheat from the chaff, and print the chaff. We lead if it bleeds. We make up, we steal, we distort, we spin, we sin. Etcetera.

Well….

Well, it turns out, the criticism is not just not new but a lousy cliche.

At a seminar on the “Significance of Spiritual Journalism”, held under the auspices of Viveka Prabha, the monthly magazine published by the Sri Ramakrishna Mission, Mysore, the president of the Cuddapah mission, Swami Atmavidanandaji, showed just why.

Reports the English eveninger, Star of Mysore:

“Scribes tend to underplay the truth and highlight the negative aspects of the news to gain popularity. That creates a false picture of any incident giving wrong information to the readers.

“Once Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa visited a friend’s house and he was asked to sit on a bench where there was a newspaper lying on it.

“Paramahamsa asked his disciple to remove the newspaper and clean that bench with holy Ganga water.

“Asked for the reason, Paramahamsa said that the newspaper carried only bad and negative news. Therefore, it was necessary to clean the bench and then only sit on it.”

After narrating the incident, Swami Atmavidanandaji, reports the paper, called upon the journalists to imbibe spiritualism in their approach and writings to come out with “true-to-life” news.

***

Now, how “true-to-life” could this anecdote be?

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa lived from 1836-1886. None of the pictures show him holding or reading a newspaper. How likely is it that in the home of a devotee at least 120 years ago, a friend would have subscribed to a newspaper? Even if he did, were newspapers already in the sordid business of distorting the truth and spreading negative news?

Were all Bengali and English newspapers indulging in scurrilous journalism back then? On every page, every day, everywhere? Or was there a specific story that day that the Swami was aware of? If it was the latter, wasn’t Paramahamsa guilty of branding all newspapers as bad and negative?

And what precisely is “bad”?

How did Paramahamsa know that the disciple had holy Ganga water at home to be produced at that very moment? How was he sure that its miraculous powers extended to wiping the sins committed by newspapers and journalists? Would it work only for all-seeing him, or for the disciple too?

And did he get the holy water and did it work?

Encyclopaedia Britannica reports that “it was about this time [1880s] that Calcutta newspapers and journal articles first referred to Ramakrishna as the Hindu saint or as the Paramahamsa.” Did Paramahamsa express his scepticism of these labels being given to him by “bad and negative” newspapers?

All these are silly, trivial questions, of course, but that is the essence of journalism, asking silly questions and putting “the truth” to the test. As the old saying goes: there is nothing called a silly question, only silly answers. And “Spiritual Journalism” by its very definition is an oxymoron; either it can be spiritual or it can be journalism.

In other words, where specifically has this wondrous story of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa on newspapers been recorded and reported? And by which journalist, writer, biographer?

Tell us another, O Spritual One, and stick to the facts.

Or shift to journalism.

‘People, not the press, are the real fourth estate’

28 June 2009

The press in India, like the press elsewhere, holds on to the belief that it is the Fourth Estate of democracy, after the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, although the press in India, as much as the press elsewhere, finds its institutional and individual integrity increasingly under question.

In an article on the Open Page of The HinduRadheer Mahendrakar uses the results of the recent general elections to argue that the people are the real Fourth Estate, acting as a more effective countervailing force than the press, especially when they perceive a threat to democracy.

Mahendrakar says the collective wisdom of the people—the “miracle of aggregation“—showed up when Indira Gandhi clamped the Emergency, when V.P. Singh indulged in social re-engineering, when the BJP made religion an electoral platform through Hindutva, and when regionalism threatened to get ahead of nationalism.

“For generations, we have accepted the ‘press’ as a vital element of democracy….

“In politics, it is fair to say that the Indian voter is the Fourth Estate representing a counterbalance to the political parties of different ideologies—the left, right and centre. Time and again, the Indian voter has drawn the contours of do and don’ts in politics and chastened the parties when our democracy showed signs of dilution.”

Implicit in the point is the suggestion that a profit-hungry media in its quest for eyeballs and bottomlines, has forgotten, abandoned or is ignoring some of its fundamental duties. In other words, despite the press, the people as a group seem to be able to reach a decision that is very likely the correct decision.

Read the full article: How the miracle of aggregation works

Don’t laugh: Do journos make good politicians?

23 June 2009

PRITAM SENGUPTA in New Delhi and SHARANYA KANVILKAR in Bombay write: The stunning defeat of the BJP in the general elections has been dissected so many times and by so many since May 16 that there is little that has been left unsaid.

What has been left unsaid is how the BJP’s defeat also marks the comeuppance of a certain breed of journalists who had chucked all pretence to non-partisanship and made it their mission to tom-tom the party, in print and on air, for a decade and more.

The Congress and the Left parties have had more than their share of sympathetic “left-liberal” journalists, of course. And for longer. But most were closet supporters unwilling to cross the divide from journalism into politics, or unwilling to be seen to be doing so.

However, the rise of the “muscular” BJP saw the birth of a “muscular” breed of journalists who unabashedly batted for the party’s politics and policies—without revealing their allegiance while enjoying its fruits “lavishly“—in a manner that would have embarrassed even the official spokesmen of the “Hindu nationalist party”.

Little wonder, Arun Shourie, the granddad of journalists turned BJP politicians, alleged at the party’s national executive meeting that “the BJP was being run by six journalists.” There are different versions doing the rounds on who the “Gang of Six” were, but some names are no longer in the realm of speculation.

# Sudheendra Kulkarni an assistant editor at The Sunday Observer and executive editor at Blitz, rose to be a key aide to both prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and prime minister-in-waiting L.K. Advani, even drafting the latter’s controversial Jinnah speech.

# Chandan Mitra, an assistant editor at The Times of India, editor of The Sunday Observer, and executive editor of Hindustan Times, found himself “mysteriously becoming the proprietor of The Pioneer, without spending a rupee thanks to the generosity of the BJP and more particularly that of L.K. Advani“.

# Swapan Dasgupta, the scion of Calcutta Chemicals (which makes Margo soap), rose to be managing editor of the weekly newsmagazine India Today, before emerging the unofficial media pointsman of sorts for Arun Jaitley and through him for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

# Balbir K. Punj, the sugar correspondent of The Financial Express, who churned out masterly theses on conversions and other sundry diversions for Outlook magazine, was nominated to the upper house of Parliament by the BJP like Mitra.

# And then there’s a motley crew of fulltimers and freelancers, including India Today editor Prabhu Chawla, Pioneer associate editor Kanchan Gupta, who did a spell in Vajpayee’s PMO, and weighty political correspondents and editors of The Times of India, The Economic Times and Dainik Jagran.

“Journo Sena” was what the tribe came to be called, an allusion to the “Vanara Sena” (army of monkeys) that helped Lord Rama fight the armies of Ravana in Ramayana.

However, in the unravelling political epic, the “Journo Sena” stands trapped in the crossfire of a party struggling to come to grips with a gigantic electoral loss, firing wildly at each other—or are being fired at by the big guns.

***

First, Sudheendra Kulkarni’s “candid insider account” in Tehelka, a magazine whose website was hounded out of business by the Vajpayee government, came in for searing criticism from Anil Chawla, a classmate of his at IIT Bombay, for blaming the RSS for the BJP’s plight.

“The patient is being blamed for all that has gone wrong, without in any way blaming either the virus or the team of doctors who have brought the patient to the present critical state,” he wrote in a widely circulated “open letter”.

Kanchan Gupta, who many believe was eased out of Vajpayee’s PMO by Kulkarni, took a potshot at his erstwhile colleague.

“Kulkarni who undid the BJP’s election campaign in 2004 with the ‘India Shining’ slogan and fashioned the 2009 campaign which has taken the BJP to a low of barely-above-100 mark has written an article for Tehelka, the magazine which tarred the NDA government, causing it irreparable damage, and is now the favourite perch of those who inhabit the BJP’s inner courtyard, blaming all and sundry except those who are to blame,” Gupta wrote on rediff.com.

In a rejoinder in Tehelka, Swapan Dasgupta welcomed Sudheendra Kulkarni’s mea culpa calling it “a welcome addition to the ever-growing literature on the BJP’s 2009 election experience,” but couldn’t resist himself from sticking the knife in.

“Kulkarni has provided some interesting insights but has also cluttered the picture with red herrings. This isn’t surprising.

There are many in the BJP who insist that the problem with Advani was Kulkarni“.

When former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha resigned from party posts, ostensibly miffed at the elevation of Arun Jaitley as leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha despite leading the party to defeat, Dasgupta rushed to Jaitley’s defence, wondering how the resignation letter had made its way to NDTV.

“TV editors I have spoken to have indicated that there were two parallel points of leak. The first was through an associate of Pramod Mahajan (who hates Jaitley) and the other was was the unlikely figure of a cerebral Rajya Sabha MP.

“I gather that the follow-up was done by a disagreeable journalist (one who signed the 20-points during the Emergency) whose nomination to the Rajya Sabha has been blocked by Jaitley on two separate occasions,” he wrote on his blog.

At the BJP’s national executive meeting, the “cerebral Rajya Sabha MP” Arun ShourieMagsaysay Award-winning former investigative journalist and author who became a minister in the Vajpayee government—“blamed six unnamed journalists who, he said, were responsible for articles damaging the [BJP] party interest.”

Whether the journalists were all members of the BJP or merely sympathetic to it, Shourie didn’t make clear.

In drawing attention to the journalists in specific, the former journalist may only have been indulging in the nation’s favourite sport of shooting the messenger but he was also underlining the role his compatriots were playing in the BJP’s affairs.

In his column in the media magazine Impact, Sandeep Bamzai writes:

“Arun Jaitley and his band of journalists-turned-politicocs misread the ground realities and the tea leaves completely. Buoyed by several wins in key States, this core team thought that the mood in the States would be mirrored at the Centre when the general hustings came along.

“Price spikes, terror threats and fulminations against a decent PM Manmohan Singh were the new imperatives crafted by Jaitley and his journo boys.

“The entire strategy fell flat on its face and all the journos who hogged prime time on new telly in the run up to the elections turned into disillusioned critics immediately after the results.”

In the India Today cover story on the BJP’s travails, Swapan Dasgupta’s former boss, Prabhu Chawla, seen to be close to incumbent BJP president Rajnath Singh, found fault with Singh’s bete noire Arun Jaitley for being spotted at Lord’s, applauding a boundary by Kevin Pietersen during the India-England Twenty20 match:

“Jaitley, a hardcore cricket buff, was in London with his family on holiday while his party back home was imploding, just like the Indian team.”

On a yahoogroup called “Hindu Thought”, the former Century Mills public relations officer turned columnist Arvind Lavakare, attacked Swapan Dasgupta, presumably for urging the BJP to junk the “ugly Hindu” image engendered by its commitment to Hindutva.

“After quitting a salaried job in a reputed English magazine a few years ago, Swapan’s livelihood may well be depending on his writings being published in a wide range of prosperous English newspapers which are anti-Hindu and therefore anti-BJP. If that is indeed so, Swapan simply cannot afford to project and push the Hindu line beyond the Laxman rekha. Poor dear,” wrote Lavakare.

The comment would perhaps have gone unnoticed, but Dasgupta gave it some oxygen by responding in kind in a post-script on his blog:

“I have no intention of affirming my credentials. To do so would be to dignify Lavakare’s personal attacks as a substitute for an informed debate on ideas.

“I merely hope that the attacks on where I write, who went to college with me and who are my friends are not in any way an expression of envy. It is a matter of satisfaction for me that I get a platform in the mass media (cutting across editorial positions).

“Engaging with the wider world is daunting but much more meaningful than gloating inside a sectarian ghetto. I strong recommend Lavakare also tries earning a livelihood out of writing for “a range of prosperous English newspapers”. It could be a humbling experience.”

Among the few journalists to have spotted the travails of the “Journo Sena”, or at least among the few to have had the courage of conviction to put it on paper, is Faraz Ahmed.

He writes in The Tribune, Chandigarh:

“When the BJP lost power in 2004, all the branded BJP editors—Kanchan, Swapan, A. Surya Prakash and Udayan Namboodri—were pensioned off to Chandan Mitra’s Pioneer. Today, however, each one of them is finding fault with Advani, the BJP and some even with the Sangh.

“These are ominous signs of the demise of a political party and reminds one of the slow and painful death of Janata Dal in the early ’90s when the ‘Dalam’ was dying and BJP was on the upswing and everyone was joining it or identifying with it because that was the most happening party.

“To be fair to these people who naturally represent the rising middle class, they waited patiently for five years in a hope that the UPA government would be a one-election wonder and would die a natural death in the next round. So much for their political understanding.”

Obviously, everybody loves a winning horse and doubtless the antics of the “Journo Sena” would have made for more pleasant viewing had the election verdict been the other way round.

Still, their antics in the aftermath of defeat raise some fundamental questions about their grand-standing in the run-up to the elections: Are all-seeing, all-knowing journalists cut out for politics? Do they have the thick skin, large stamina, and the diplomatic skills required for the rough and tumble?

From the embarrassment they have caused and are causing to their party of choice, it is clear that there is an element of truth to BJP president Rajnath Singh’s statement that he can “neither swallow nor spew out” the journalists.

Then again, L.K. Advani started his career as a journalist.

Also read: How come no one saw the worm turn?

The sad and pathetic decline of Arun Shourie

How Chandan Mitra has his halwa and hogs it too

Advani: Prime minister maybe, but not a good sub

Good journalists, poor journalism, zero standards

23 June 2009

Raju Narisetti, the former editor of Mint, the business daily launched by the Hindustan Times group, who is now one of the managing editors at the Washington Post, has given an interview to the latest issue of the Indian edition of Forbes.

Question: How do you rate the quality of journalism practised here in India?

Answer: Good journalists by instinct but poor journalism because of practices, weak institutions, zero standards and ethics enforcement–voluntary or otherwise. Many business journalists want to be part of the business establishment or be close to it. That results in journalism that isn’t about readers. Even the best–and there are just one or two such institutions–journalism schools are not graduating grounded journalists. That will be the soft spot of India journalism for some time to come.

Read the full interview here: A fresh-mint way

Also read: Pseudonymous author spells finis to Mint editor?

Conflict of interest and an interest in conflicts?

Vir Sanghvi lashes out at Mint ‘censorship’

Link courtesy Shobha Sarada Viswanathan

How every journalist can write that dream book

20 June 2009

Any journalist who says she doesn’t want to write a book is a liar—or no journalist. While most journos think they have a book in them, few actually manage to put it between the covers.

Canadian journalist Rod McQueen, who has written 12 non-fiction books in the last 25 years, has a surefire recipe for the procrastinators.

“Write 500 words a day and by the end of a year you’ll have enough for a book. It’s that simple. And that difficult.”

McQueen has more advice: choose your topic carefully; start writing immediately; check out secondary sources, do database searches, prowl libraries; and make contact with at least one person who can help.

Read the full prescription: Beat reporter to author

Jug Suraiya takes on the mighty Big B

19 June 2009

jug-suraiya amitabh_bachchan

The reverberations of Amitabh Bachchan‘s blog comments on the Academy Award-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire are now being felt in the “cesspool” of Indian journalism.

In his reaction to the movie, Bachchan wrote in January:

“If SM projects India as [a] third-world, dirty, underbelly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky underbelly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations.”

That prompted a column in The Times of India by its in-house satirist Jug Suraiya on March 2.

Suraiya wrote that the reason people like Bachchan were angry with SM was not because it showed the world how pitifully poor India was, but because it revealed how culpable all of us were in the “continuance of poverty”.

“The real Slumdog divide is not between the haves and the have-nots; it’s between the hopers and the hope-nots: those who hope to cure the disease of poverty by first of all recognising its reality, and those who, dismissing it as a hopeless case, would bury it alive by pretending it didn’t exist.”

All very harmless, boilerplate stuff, but a month later, on April 3, Bachchan chose to respond to Suraiya with a long rejoinder that attacked the journalist.

I accuse the journalist Jug Suraiya of failing his professional ethical code of conduct by means of wilful error in the collection of facts…. He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself, not only as a professional journalist, but as a human being too. Mere opinion and ill-supported prejudice are contemptible in both species.

“My blog did not ‘spark off the current round of controversy on India’s poverty’… Nor am I ashamed of anything about my country. I may be highly critical in judgement, as any citizen of any nation should be, of the society to which I hold allegiance. In this light, I do not find that material poverty in India is ‘a terrible family secret’ as Jug Suraiya alleges.”

Now, Suriaya has hit back in the latest issue of Magna Carta, the in-house newsletter of the Magna group of publications, which had carried Bachchan’s rejoinder.

(Magna owns the movie magazine Stardust, which led a 15-year-long boycott of Bachchan at the prime of his career.)

In a letter addressed to the Magna group’s proprietor Nari Hira, Jug Suraiya writes:

“The newsletter said there was an ‘eerie silence’ from the press to Bachchan’s rejoinder. This is not quite true. The Guardian newspaper, which Bachchan had cited along with my column, has I am told done a detialed rejoinder to his rejoinder.

“In my case, I did not choose so much to maintain an ‘eerie silence’ as to exercise my option of fastidious disdain: I hold Bachchan beneath my contempt and shall not dignify him with an answer to his rantings (which, I am told, are written for him by an ex-journalist hack).”

Suraiya recounts meeting Bachchan years ago in Calcutta. He says he greatly enjoyed his performances and complimented him on them.

“Since then, of course, he has become an international celebrity who uses his iconic status to endose any and all products from gutka paan masala to cement, cars to suiting. There is a word for such indiscriminate commercial promiscuity. I leave it to you to figure out what it is.

“This together with his much-publicised ritualised religiosity makes him an object of scorn for me, all the more so in that he is, regettably, a role model for so many people of all ages, in India and elsewhere.”

Photograph: courtesy The Times of India

Also read: How Big B has pushed India to a regressive low

Before the slumdogs, the mahout millionaire

When magazine editor marries starlet, it’s news

16 June 2009

antra25_mu

Journalists marrying movie stars and celebrities is not unheard-of but is not routine.

The editor of San Francisco Chronicle Phil Bronstein did a stint as Mr Sharon Stone, and various Hollywood flicks (think Roman Holiday) have also immortalised celluloid romances between hacks and bold-faced name.

But generally the scrappy job and miserable pay, not to speak of curmudgeonly faces, have rendered journalists unmarketable on the romance/ marriage market.

“Not tonight, darling, I have a deadline.”

Take a bow, Che Kurien.

Che-Kurien_365The editor of the Indian edition of the men’s magazine GQ is rumoured to have tied the knot with the starlet Antara Mali. Antara, the daughter of the film photographer Jagadish Mali, was the muse of the Bollywood movie maker Ram Gopal Varma.

Kurien was earlier with Reuters, Time Out and the Indian Express.

Photographs: courtesy photobucket (top); Campaign India

A cartoon for every journo-blogger’s dashboard

14 June 2009

the_week_13088_27Courtesy: David Horsey of Tribune Media Services

Link via The Week

In a democracy, prince and pauper beg together

6 June 2009

download

Given the kind of space, importance and attention newspapers, magazines and websites give photographs these days, it would not be unfair to say that the just-concluded general elections was visually below-par. There was no stellar frame, no standout picture, no large canvas frame that sticks in the mind’s eye.

download2

‘Astro’ Mohan (in picture, left) of the Kannada daily Udayavani was one of the few to buck the trend. In Udupi, Mohan managed to capture the Karnataka BJP president D.V. Sadananda Gowda “begging” for votes in a commuter bus, while a real beggar was begging for alms alongside.

The picture has won the first prize in the Shooter photo competition organised by the online photo community, Fotoflock. The well-known photographer Fawzan Husain chose the winners.

“It’s a very timely shot where the photographer has been able to shoot people from two different walks of life doing the same thing in a bus. Very rarely does one come across this kind of a situation,” reads the citation.

For his rigours, Mohan has won the Epson Stylus Photo TX700W.

For the record, Sadananda Gowda won the elections; the fate of the beggar is not known.

Photographs: courtesy Karnataka Photo News

Also read: The only difference is a heart that doesn’t beat

Who will book the offender on the wrong side of the road?

Also view: The big picture: India’s massive general elections

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