Archive for April, 2010

Everybody loves a good affair between celebs

12 April 2010

The cross-border love affair between Indian tennis star Sania Mirza and Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik has gobbled up more space and time than most issues bedevilling the two nations.

Outlook cartoonist Sandeep Adhwaryu looks at the priorities of the media in the two countries in The Sunday Guardian.

‘Perhaps, it is time for missionary journalists’

10 April 2010

In a week in which the Hindustan Times front-paged the story of children eating silica-laced mud not far from Allahabad, and 76 soldiers were ambushed by Maoists in poverty-stricken Dantewada, the former Sunday magazine and India Today correspondent Madhu Jain laments the loss of “missionary journalism” in her DNA column.

“The words of my boss still rankle, decades later. ‘Look, forget all this missionary journalism. Nobody likes to read about poverty.’

“There was a major drought going on that summer in Rajasthan. I had just returned to Delhi after over a week in the remotest corners of the state—barely a stone’s throw from the Pakistan border— on the trail of famine deaths.

“The government of the day was almost going blue in the face denying famine deaths. But I had found several such incidents, mostly children who had died after successive years of malnutrition — heart-rending stories, each one of them. Yet, nobody seemed interested. My story didn’t make the cover….

“Poverty is also not a sexy issue for the media — most of the time that is. These days they are mired in the hullabaloo over Sania-and-Shoaib. They are obsessed by the IPL, Indian billionaires, the clichés of India Shining. And, of course, the Page 3 syndrome and the most trivial of pursuits of the inhabitants of Bollywood.”

Read the full article: A call for missionary journalism

‘A thoroughly decent man, one of the finest ever’

9 April 2010

In The Daily Telegraph, London, Dean Nelson reports the plight of the BBC’s “Voice of India”, Sir Mark Tully, “who has come under extraordinary attack in a thinly disguised novel which portrays him as a heartless philanderer and supporter of fanatics.”

“The book is clearly modelled on my career, even down to the name of the main character,” Sir Mark is quoted as saying. “That character’s journalism is abysmal, and his views on Hindutva and Hinduism do not in any way reflect mine. I would disagree with them profoundly.”

John Eliot, the former Fortune correspondent and a long-standing friend of Sir Mark’s, said the book is an “outrageous misrepresentation” of his life and work.

“Mark Tully is well-known as a thoroughly decent gentleman and one of the finest journalists ever posted to India. This is a badly-written book which should never have passed a lawyer or a publisher. It totally misrepresents his personal life and his work.”

The Telegraph says the suspected author, veteran French correspondent Francois Gautier, had issued a statement denying he had written the book.

The Indian Express quotes Gautier as saying:

“I have never hidden behind a pseudonym to say what I think. I have been one of the rare western journalists to defend Hindus. I have done it openly, in my own name, with dedication and courage and that has cost me a lot.”

The Daily Telegraph: Former BBC correspondent attacked in novel

The Indian Express: An irritant foreign body

Also read: Has Twitter found Mark Tully‘s character assassin?

How a newspaper’s prank exposed websites

9 April 2010

Mrinal Pande, the chairperson of the Prasar Bharati Corporation and former editor of the Hindi daily, Hindustan, throws light on an April 1 prank by a Hindi newspaper (click on the image for a larger frame).

Newspaper facsimile: courtesy The Indian Express

Also read: How a giant pig fooled American media

The classic April fool prank played by The Guardian

The media, the message, and the messengers

7 April 2010

The Booker Prize winning author Arundhati Roy‘s 31-page, 19,556-word essay “Walking with the comrades” in Outlook magazine*, has produced a fast and succinct response from the journalistic Twitterati after Tuesday’s dastardly ambush of paramilitary forces by said comrades.

From top, NDTV English group editor Barkha Dutt, Pioneer senior editor Kanchan Gupta, Indian Express columnist Tavleen Singh, former Stardust editor Shobhaa De, and London based freelance writer, Salil Tripathi.  Tripathi also has a finely argued critique of Roy’s piece in The Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, the adman turned magazine editor turned columnist Anil Thakraney offers this take on his Facebook status update.

* Disclosures apply

Screenshots: courtesy Twitter

Chinese hackers break into The Times of India

7 April 2010

***

On Monday, Canadian and American computer security researchers announced they had unconvered a Chinese cyber espionage gang that broke into classified documents of the Indian defence ministry, Indian embassies, and Indian corporate houses like Tatas and DLF.

From some reports (here, here, here) it appears as if they also hacked into the systems of India’s largest English language newspaper: The Times of India.

“From the recovered IP addresses we were able to identify the following entities of interest,” says the report on page 35, naming The Times of India as the only media house that was targetted.

Of the 44 computers, the hackers broke into, 35 were from India in cities ranging from Delhi to Bangalore and Calcutta. A total of 2,945 IP addresses in India were compromised.

Although the group’s business daily The Economic Times, reported the Times as being one of the targets of the attack, The Times of India‘s report from Washington D.C., made no mention.

The Times of India‘s main competitor in Bombay, DNA, too reported ToI being under attack.

The Times of India is one of the few Indian media outlets to have a correpondent based in Beijing.

While the hackers predictably were interested in India’s missile systems, Maoist and northeast threats, and the Dalai Lama, one report said computers of journalists working on Jammu and Kashmir were broken into, but it is possible that these journalists are those on defence journals like Strategic and FORCE.

The Times of India was in the eye of a Chinese storm last year when the Congress-led UPA government threatened to file a first information report (FIR) against two journalists of the paper, Nirmalya Banerjee and Prabin Kalita, for filing a wrong report on Indian casualties in border skirmishes with China, in the name of “national security”. The move was later shelved.

Read the full report: Shadows in the cloud

Screenshot: courtesy CNET

How US forces hunted down Reuters staffers

6 April 2010

In July 2007, two employees of the Reuters news agency were among several killed in Iraq when US military forces opened fire on them. Saeed Chmagh, 40, a driver with the agency with a wife and four children, and Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, a war photographer, were among those killed.

The US military claimed the victims died in battle between US forces and insurgents, and that the conduct of the pilots and guncrew was “in accordance with laws of armed conflict and rules of engagement”. Reuters filed for the video of the attack to be made public under the US’s Freedom of Information Act.

The full video, shot from the primary helicopters, is now up on wikileaks and it is blood-curdling for the casualness with which civilians are hunted down. James Fallows of The Atlantic magazine calls the video the “most damaging documentation of abuse since Abu-Ghraib”.

“As you watch, imagine the reaction in the US if the people on the ground had been Americans and the people on the machine guns had been Iraqi, Russian, Chinese, or any other nationality.”

From 2003-2009, a total of 139 journalists have been killed in Iraq in the line of duty.

Visit the site: www.collateralmurder.com

‘N. Ram is stalling Malini Parthasarathy’s ascent’

5 April 2010

The veteran journalist, author, civil rights activist, and former Indian high commissioner to London, Kuldip Nayar, weighs in on the tussle within the boardroom of The Hindu, in the latest issue of M.J. Akbar‘s weekly newspaper, The Sunday Guardian:

“I wonder why N. Ram, 65, is so reluctant to retire. People may have differed with his views and the manner in which he projected them, but they cannot deny that he is a successful journalist. Yet, he too, has to give a chance to his successor, N. Ravi, still waiting in the wings for his turn to give shape to his ideas about running the newspaper.

“Next in line is Malini Parthasarathy, who will possibly be the first woman editor of The Hindu. Strangely, although Ram is all for women’s reservation and other progressive causes, he seems to be stalling her chance to become the editor of the family newspaper.

“As a self-proclaimed leftist, N. Ram swears, ideologically, with the working journalists’ Act. According to this legislation, the journalist’s age of retirement is legally restricted to 60. If working journalists are compulsorily retired at 60, then why should not the editors?

“True, no retirement age is stipulated in the memorandum and articles of association of the company, relating to the directors of the The Hindu. What rules do exist apply only to the journalists working for the newspaper, who retire at 60.

“What happens to an editor who is also a director? Logically, he should also retire from the position at the age of 60, because that is the rule for the journalistic staff of The Hindu. Departing from this practice is neither fair nor proper.

“As it is a concession has been made to Ram, allowing him to continue till the age of 65 (which, in his case, will come in May 2010). Ram accepted the concession, despite it being a violation of the working journalists’ Act.

“For him to now say that he will not step down is to defy the norms of both journalistic tradition and democratic practice. He reminds me of The Statesman‘s late managing director C.R. Irani, with whom I worked. Irani’s obsession was to retain full control at all cost.”

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Also read: Indian Express vs The Hindu. N. Ram vs N. Ravi

Not just about the brothers, it’s the children too

Now, it’s Malini Parthasarathy vs The Stalinists

Express declares ceasefire, brothers declare war

How Kremlin trapped ‘Newsweek Russia’ editor

4 April 2010

The editor of Newsweek Russia, Mikhail Fishman, has been surreptitiously filmed snorting what appears to be a line of cocaine and sitting on a sofa next to a woman wearing only a t-shirt, in what is being described as a “honeytrap” laid by Kremlin to ensnare critics.

The video has surfaced on YouTube (the operative portion after 3 minutes). Fishman is quoted by The Sunday Times, London, as saying the KGB style tactic was a signal to independent journalists to keep a low profile.

Read The Times article: Honeytrap ensnares enemies of Kremlin

Read The Daily Beast article: Russia’s amazing drugs and hookers scandal

Has Twitter found Mark Tully’s character assassin?

2 April 2010

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Can a nearly spotless journalistic career of 45 years—30 of those for one of the most trusted broadcasters in the world—be tainted, tarbrushed and tarnished by a pathetic paperback written under a pseudonym?

If your name is Sir William Mark Tully, OBE, the answer has to seem, yes.

And the book that is causing all the damage to the reputation of the man India knows as Mark Tully is the 166-page Hindutva, Sex and Adventure written under the nom de plumeJohn MacLithon“, and published by Roli books, whose promoter once published the Sunday Mail newspaper from Delhi.

For 30 years, the Calcutta-born Tully was the BBC’s voice of India; his classic, halting signoff “Mark Tully, BBC, Delhi” as much a reassurance that all was right with the world as a stamp of authority of what we had just heard. After retirement in 1994, he settled down to write columns and books, many of them on the land of his birth (No full stops in India, India in slow motion, India’s unending journey, et al).

So much did Tully sahib endear himself to the establishment that he was decorated with India’s third and fourth highest civilian awards, the Padma Bhushan and Padma Sri.

Now, a nice little question mark has been hung at his door at No. 1, Nizamuddin (East) by a cowardly, scurrilous and unimaginative roman à clef that makes no pretence of hiding who it is based on and worse, hangs the entire body of work of a 74-year-old on his alleged political leanings without giving him the chance to respond in public.

MacLithon doesn’t, of course, take Tully’s name in the book, but in discussing the life and times and adventures of “Andrew Lyut, a radio journalist who is posted to India because he was born there and speaks a smattering of Hindu”, reviews and reviewers are doing the damage:

# In his India Today review, Dilip Bobb writes “the book is so obviously based on Mark Tully, the ex-BBC bureau chief and media star who spent almost his entire career in India, covering the region.”

# The Times of India‘s Crest edition says the “protagonist Andrew Luyt has plenty of similarities with Mark Tully. Luyt can be an anagram for Tuly. Like the famous BBC correspondent, he is born in India, works as radio journalist and quits his job over a disagreement with his boss.”

# The tabloid Mail Today newspaper remarks that “the author’s bio is both impressive and suspiciously familiar: he has interviewed six Indian prime ministers, dodged bullets on the India-Pakistan border and has covered the Mumbai riots (Is he Mark Tully? Or [former Fortune correspondent] John Elliot? The speculative list just gets bigger.)

# All three items in the gossip column of Outlook magazine’s books pages this week are devoted to the book with Mark Tully‘s name finding mention eight times, without a single mention of the name of the pseudonymous author.

So, who is causing the damage to Tully more—the book and its author and publisher, or the reviewers of newspapers and magazines, for most of whom Tully has written before—is a fair question to ask.

***

An equally good question to ask is which part of Hindutva, Sex and Adventure is causing discomfiture to Tully: the Hindutva part, the sex part or the adventure part?

It surely can’t be the sex. A 2001 profile of Tully on BBC reveals unabashedly that he “womanised and drank to excess” as an undergraduate at Cambridge. He considered becoming a priest at the Church of England but dropped out after two terms.

Reason?

“I just knew I could not trust my sexuality to behave as a Christian priest should. And I didn’t want to be a cause of scandal.”

And then, there is the small matter of his girlfriend Gillian Wright, with whom he stays while in Delhi, and his wife and mother of his four children, Margaret, with whom he stays when in London.

It can’t also be the “adventure” part of the title. From the wars with Pakistan to the Bhopal gas tragedy, from the Emergency to Operation Bluestar, from the killing of Indira Gandhi to that of her son Rajiv Gandhi, Tully saw plenty of adventures, upclose and upfront.

What probably rankles Tully, or perhaps, what really the pseudonymous author wants to irritate Tully with, is the veiled accusation that he was a closet Hindutva supporter all along without letting the mask drop before his listeners, readers, employers and other benefactors.

Here are three of many quotes from the book that the author uses to underline Andrew Luyt’s veering towards a soft Hindutva vision:

# “I am an Anglican and some of my clergy think yoga is very un-Christian, but how can you dislike something born in your country, that has taken the world by storm.”

# “The first question he asked Benazir Bhutto was about Kashmir, since she was the one who had called for ‘Azad Kashmir’, a Kashmir free from India, which had triggered ethnic cleansing of most Hindus of the valley of Kashmir.”

# “He had expected a rabid fundamentalist, a dangerous man. Actually, Andrew discovered over the years, L.K. Advani was a gentle soul, who would probably be unable to hurt a bird.”

If this is proof of Tully’s leanings, it is old hat.

In fact, in 2003, seven years before John MacLithon’s book was published, the political commentator Amulya Ganguli wrote this in the Hindustan Times:

“For several years now, the BBC’s Mark Tully has provided indirect support to the BJP’s Hindutva cause. His contention, as reiterated in a new TV documentary, Hindu Nation, is that secularism is unsuitable for India. The reason: it is a doctrine which keeps religion out of public life, an attempt which is bound to fail —and has failed—in a country as “deeply religious” as India. Hence, the Congress’s decline and the BJP’s rise.”

Much earlier, in 1997, the remarks reportedly made by Tully while addressing the National Hindu Students’ Forum in Britain had created a big buzz.

According to the Asian Age newspaper reporting it, Tully said:

I do profoundly believe that India needs to be able to say with pride, ‘Yes, our civilisation has a Hindu base to it.‘ And for Hindus to be able to say with pride that they are Hindus.””

Stunningly, or perhaps not, the author introduction on the back cover of the book and on the website of the publisher has the exact same line as the Asian Age quote.

“Some of John MacLithon’s admirers were shocked when he declared a few years ago: ‘I do profoundly believe that India needs to be able to say with pride, ‘Yes, our civilisation has a Hindu base to it’.”

So, in a sense, the book doesn’t tell us anything humanity didn’t know or had not suspected about Tully’s political leanings; it just packages it for posterity especially with two imputations: a) We should take Tully’s overall “objective” output with a pinch of salt, and/or b) that somehow he has done Hindutva some disservice by not aligning himself openly with the cause” (as perhaps the pseudonymous author has).

# In its short review of Hindutva, Sex and Adventure, The Times of India writes that the “Hindutva bits are quite forgettable”.

# Dilip Bobb says in his review that after quitting his job, MacLithon’s protagonist Andrew Luyt settles down “with a ‘partner’ to write books which go soft on Hindutva and Hinduism.”

# An unnamed reviewer in the Hyderabad-based Deccan Chronicle writes that Luyt’s “very protestant upbringing and secular outlook shapes the way he views the events around him and with every passing episode his stance on Hindutva softens.”

Whether Mark Tully dislikes the Hindutva hint no one knows for sure, although one editor who has known the BBC correspondent, says the Tully’s views on Hindutva and Hinduism “do not in any way reflect” Luyt’s; in fact, he says, he would “disagree with them profoundly”.

But it is quite clear that the pseudonymous foreign correspondent’s motive is to throw mud at Tully and to draw him into the debate on his “soft Hindutva leanings”, which Tully has resisted so far. At least in public.

***

So whodunit? Who could be behind the book on Tully?

According to the Outlook bibliophile, while signing the contract with Roli Books 18 months ago, the pseudonymous author took great pains to protect his identity, even inserting a clause that treated the “divulging of his real name as a breach of contract.”

But unnamed friends of Tully are quoted by the magazine as saying that the “strangely written” prose and the hero’s “unusual sex” antics are a giveway.

“Mark’s friends say the man behind the book is a French journalist and avid Hindutva supporter, who, like Tully, has been based in India for decades but unlike Tully, is married to an Indian. This journalist published an autobiographical novel in French in 2005.”

Mail Today, which has run two items on the book, claims that after the first piece appeared, the author got in touch with them.

“After we reported the guessing game set off by the soon-to-be launched book, the author chose to ‘come out’ in a manner of speaking and get in touch with us on email: ‘It should be absolutely normal to defend Hindus in a country where 80 per cent of the population comprises Hindus and which has shown throughout the ages that it is pluralist and tolerant. But unfortunately ‘ Hindu’ has become a dirty word in modern India.’

“The mysterious author says that he has spent many years working on the novel—which has lots on the sexual peccadilloes of a Hindutva-loving foreign correspondent in India—but had always known that his peers would brand him immediately after the publication of the book.”

If nothing else, the phraseology of the Mail Today-John MacLithon correspondence suggests that the pseudonymous is obsessed with two of the three elements in the title: Hindutva and sex.

One editor claims he received an email out of the blue from the suspected author asserting that Mark Tully was the author but that he had written it under a pseudonym “because he is scared of coming out openly…. But I have not and I am much more radical than Tully.”

But, surely, if Tully wanted to out himself, he would have chosen a more dignified way of doing so, at least by writing a book in better English with a better publisher?

On his Twitter account, the editor-in-chief of the Madras-based New Indian Express, Aditya Sinha, asks this question:

As if on cue, the said French author, Francois Gautier, has a piece on the books’ pages of The New Indian Express on Sunday, in which he drags the names of other people—Bernard Imhsaly, David Housego, John Elliot and Gautier himself—who could have written the book under a pseudonym but zeroes in on Tully (click on the image for a larger frame).

Already, in its short life, the book has kept the gossip mills active, but in the long term, is it likely to end up besmirching the BBC and its voice in India?

Then again, the Hindutva herd, uncomfortable with the idea of independent journalism, is likely to ask another question: has it become a crime for a journalist or a journalism organisation to be associated with Hindutva?

Photograph: courtesy Outlook magazine

Also read: MARK TULLY: The 7 habits of highly effective journalists

‘In India, we realise nothing ever dies finally’

‘Learn to take the rough with the smooth’

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