Archive for September, 2009

If a report isn’t ‘wrong’, surely it must be ‘right’?

23 September 2009

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The threat of war between India and China has still not receded but the battle between unnamed home ministry sources continues relentlessly.

Caught in the crossfire: journalists.

First, The Hindu reported, quoting unnamed home ministry sources, that the government was contemplating filing a first information report against two journalists of The Times of India for a “wrong” report on two Indian soldiers being injured in firing by the Chinese in Sikkim.

Then, The Indian Express gleefully repeated the claim, again quoting unnamed home ministry sources.

Now, Press Trust of India reports, quoting unnamed home ministry sources, that “top officials” of the government has decided to “let it go”.

Questions: Has the Indian government seen the writing on the wall and climbed down? Or, was there no such attempt to file a complaint in the first place? If the FIR against the “wrong” report is not being filed, are we to conclude that the report was “right”?

Which means, were Indian soldiers injured in Chinese firing?

Which means, is the situation on “the longest disputed border in the world” far from normal?

Cartoon: courtesy E.P. Unny/ The Indian Express

Also read: Censorship in the name of the ‘national interest’?

Because your TV cannot devote a full 23 minutes

Are you being served, Mr Foreign Correspondent?

23 September 2009

The ruling Congress-led UPA government in India is on a major austerity drive. Ministers have moved out of temporary accommodation in five-star hotels. Party leaders are moving around in economy-class planes and trains to send the right signals. And a Twitter comment about the “cattle-class” and “holy cows” has sent the country all atwitter.

In the midst of all this, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has embarked on his annual pilgrimage to the United Nations with a band of diplomacy correspondents in tow.

Naveen Kapoor of the news agency Asian News International (ANI), who is accompanying the PM to New York, has this telling line in his report on day one:

“Following the [austerity] order to a tee, the [airline] staff did not serve expensive biscuits and eliminated caviar, but in a concession to the media accompanying the delegation, served all those on board the choicest of liquor en route to Frankfurt, where there will be an overnight halt.”

Link via Mahesh Vijapurkar

Also read: The Top-10 austerity moves India really wants to hear

Is that tap water the austere madam is drinking?

Who said there’s no such thing as a free lunch?

‘India’s best lensmen don’t come from media’

22 September 2009

The celebrated lensman Prashant Panjiar has captured “the visual landscape of India at the cusp of change” for his solo exhibition Pan India, to be held in New Delhi from September 25 to October 5 under the auspeices of Tasveer, the art and photo gallery.

In an interview with the Sunday Express, Panjiar, a former photographer with India Today, Time and Outlook magazines, talks about the state of the craft.

How would you define the present state of photojournalism in India?

In the 1980s, if you counted the top photographers in India, most were photojournalists. Now it will be hard to find many of them on the list. Media has changed a lot. In the new set-up, photography has suffered.

Photograph: courtesy anzenberger

Also read: Prashant Panjiar on photography

Censorship in the name of ‘national interest’?

21 September 2009

sachin

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: The coverage in the Indian media of conditions along the India-China border from where reports of “military incursions, shooting incidents and even imminent conflict along the Line of Actual Control” are being reported on an almost-daily basis has invoked a strange reaction from the government.

On the one hand, there has been a denial from the very top of the government and armed forces, with the national security advisor even uttering the words “media hype”, even as the two heads of the external affairs ministry (S.M. Krishna and Shashi Tharoor) are battling the after-effects of five-star comfort and Twittermania.

And, on the other hand, the Union home ministry has reportedly decided to file a First Iinformation Report against two reporters of The Times of India. The reporters, Nirmalya Banerjee in Calcutta and Prabin Kalita in Guwahati, filed a front-page story last Tuesday, September 15, of two soldiers of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) being injured in firing by the Chinese in northern Sikkim.

The reported quoted “a highly placed intelligence source, who is not authorized to give information to the media” and also mentioned that ITBP officials in New Delhi “declined to confirm the incident”.

The disclaimer notwithstanding, ToI carried this clarification on the following day on its inside pages:

“Responding to a ToI report, ‘2 ITBP jawans injured in China border firing’, the ITBP had clarified that no such incident of firing has taken place on the India-China border and no member of the ITBP had been injured.”

Clearly, the clarification failed to cool the embers in the corridors of power.

On Sunday, September 20, The Hindu carried a news story, bylined “New Delhi Bureau”.

“We have taken this story very seriously. We are going ahead with our decision to take criminal action against the two reporters and we will soon file an FIR. They have quoted some highly placed intelligence source in their story. Let them appear before the court and tell who is this source who gave them information,” unnamed “top home ministry sources” were quoted as saying in The Hindu.

The reporters’ crime according to the unnamed top home ministry sources?

Indian law proscribed promotion of enmity with other countries.”

The rest of the Indian media has ignored the travails of the The Times of India‘s reporters, and as has become the norm these days, the Indian Express, which reports the story on its front page today, doesn’t even bother to name the paper.

The attempt to tone down the war mongering in the media is understandable. After all, the sight of two gigantic countries , both nuclear powers, staring eyeball to eyeball in a confrontation is not a very pretty one.

Still, some questions need to be asked:

1) Is the government over-reacting to one story in one newspaper? Have other newspapers and other TV channels been calmness personified?

2) By targetting ToI, is the government trying to send signals to other bellicose media which have been itching for action? Is this pre-war media management?

3) Is this story on injured Indian jawans the only “wrong” story on this issue, or any other issue, that merits government reaction? If so, why?

4) Is the government implicitly accusing the media of making up stories? Or is it trying to find out the media’s sources? If it is the latter, isn’t the government chasing the wrong end of the animal?

5) Is The Times of India‘s responsibility to the reader or to the home and defence ministries?

6) Is The Times of India‘s reporters within their rights to not reveal their intelligence source/s, if any, even in a court of law?

7) Does threat of an FIR and criminal action amount to censorship in the name of “national interest”?

8) Who in the government decides whether a story is acceptable or not to the “national interest”, and on what basis, and how often?

Newspaper facsimile: courtesy The Indian Express

Also read: Because your TV cannot devote 23 minutes

‘A List’ most A-listers don’t want to be a part of

19 September 2009

The Indian edition of Campaign has brought out a booklet called “The A List”, supposedly the who’s who in media, marketing and advertising, in partnership with NDTV Media.

And the sloppy, incomplete and typo-ridden effort is remarkable for how predictable and boring most A-listers are: the most-admired politician—surprise, surprise—is Mahatma Gandhi, almost everybody’s favourite device is the Blackberry™, etcetera.

Still there are a few trends to be spotted:

# Most owners have a marked inclination not to reveal more of themselves. The Times of India‘s Samir and Vineet Jain; Dainik Bhaskar‘s Sudhir Agarwal; India Today‘s Aroon Purie; Network 18’s Raghav Bahl; NDTV’s Prannoy and Radhika Roy; Sun TV’s Kalanidhi Maran; India TV’s Rajat Sharma; Hindustan TimesShobhana Bharatiya et al haven’t bothered to fill up the form.

# The list is so Bombay-Delhi centric that it would seem that the South and East of India are in some other country. Result: India’s biggest publications like Malayala Manorama, Ananda Bazar Patrika, Eenadu, Dina Thanthi, have no representation in a 100-rupee booklet that claims to represent “our entire ecosystem” (editor Anant Rangaswami‘s description).

# The new media goes almost completely unrepresented but for the presence of blogger Amit Varma, and many (Mid-Day‘s Tarique Ansari, NDTV’s Raj Nayak) admit they are technologically challenged.

# In a list teeming with people born in small-town India (Meerut, Madurai, Rohtak, Ratlam, Dhanbad, Kanpur, Karur, Manipal, Varanasi), many were born elsewhere: Business India founder Ashok Advani born in Hyderabad (Sindh); Outlook editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta, Rawalpindi; India Today proprietor Aroon Purie, Lahore, and COO Mala Sekhri, London; CNBC’s Senthil Chengalvarayan, Kandy, Sri Lanka; A.P. Parigi, ex-Radio Mirchi head, Colombo; Vaishnavi Communications’ Neera Radia, Kenya; INX chief Peter Mukherjea, London.

Also read: 26% of India’s powerful are media barons

The 11 habits of India’s most powerful media pros

The difference between fiction and journalism

18 September 2009

DapperfuentesMexican writer Carlos Fuentes, whose next book is a journalistic report on drug trafficking and political corruption, has said he sees the press as the backbone of history, and fiction as the necessary contrast which gives meaning to the work of the press:

“For fiction to be fiction, the press must be true. When novels turn truth into fiction, it is true to itself, but when the press turns truth into fiction, it is unbelievable and reprehensible. Fiction’s truth is imagination. Journalism’s imagination is truth.”

Photograph: courtesy Warner Lecture series

The quest for the first blogger on planet earth

17 September 2009

Was it Dave Weiner? Ranjit Bhatnagar? Montaigne?

Julius Caesar, perhaps?

Scott Rosenberg, author of say everything, says the qeust for the first blogger is, in the end, an infinite recursion; each candidate a pointer to one before. And the search is as futile as searching for the first poet, first playwright, first novelist, or even the first human being.

“Blogging evolved, just like human beings have evolved.  And the question is not who was the first blogger, but how did we get here.”

How a TV station was launched with Rs 4 lakh

17 September 2009

How The Hindu reported the birth of India’s public television broadcaster 50 years ago. The terrestrial station went on air on 15 September but the report appeared in the newspaper two days later.

Launched under the banner of All India Radio (AIR), it later attained its own brandname, Doordarshan. DD’s trademark signature, first brought to life by Ustad Ali Ahmad Hussain Khan, was later improvised upon by the sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar.

“The experimental television service of All India Radio, inaugurated by President Rajendra Prasad on September 15 at the Vigyan Bhavan is the first in South-East Asia. The TV station, equipped with four cameras, a 500-watt transmitter and other apparatus costing about rupees four lakhs, is housed in a single room on the fifth storey of Akashvani Bhavan, an annexe of the radio station, from where the programmes will be relayed twice every week within a radius of twelve miles.”

***

As a broadcaster mandated to serve the public, arts and culture, especially high arts and culture, was the backbone of both AIR and DD till the arrival of satellite television.

Below is the theme music of Surabhi, Doordarshan’s weekly arts and culture show hosted by Siddharth Kak.

***

Also read: On India’s TV anniversary, no monkeying around

Pratima Puri: India’s first TV news reader passes away

Tejeshwar Singh: A baritone falls silent watching the cacophony

On India’s TV anniversary, no monkeying around

15 September 2009

The 50th anniversary of the inception of terrestrial television in India provided the occasion for one of Doordarshan’s most famous faces, Salma Sultan, to enter the studios of the satellite whipper-snappers.

Talking to Barkha Dutt on NDTV 24×7, Ms Sultan recounted the harrowing experience of having to read from the teleprompter and the challenge of having to correct the script even while reading from it.

“Once the prompter was supposed to read: Purane zamane mein auraton ko band kar rakhthe the (in the olden days, the women used to be held in purdah).

“But some letters were transposed and there was a spelling mistake. The prompter read: Purane zamane mein auraton ko bandar khathe the (in the olden days, monkeys used to eat up women).

“We had to correct and edit ourselves on our fly. But there was great energy and bonding, and I cherish those memories even today.”

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Also read: Pratima Puri: India’s first TV news reader passes away

Tejeshwar Singh: A baritone falls silent watching the cacophony

‘If the reader is second to advertiser, you’ve lost’

15 September 2009

At the Toronto international film festival, documentary film maker Michael Moore drops some pearls on the state of newspapers:

“In Europe, Japan and other countries, for many—most—of their newspapers, the primary source of funding is circulation, advertising second. In our country [the United States] advertising is the primary source of funding, circulation second.

“Any time you say the people who read your paper are secondary to the business community, you have lost and eventually you are not going to survive. In Europe, they know that in order to keep circulation up, they have to put out a damn good newspaper, something that people read, and they better not cut too many reporters because people are not going to read.”

Also read: How not to ask the right questions (an ongoing series)

Michael Moore takes on CNN (and Sanjay Gupta)

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