Archive for November, 2010

‘Quantitative growth vs qualitative improvement’

24 November 2010

Editorial in Business Standard:

“These exposes [of paid news, nexus between media professionals and corporate lobbyists, etc] are, however, only the tip of an iceberg of professional misconduct in the Indian media.

“The unprecedented quantitative growth of media in the past decade has overtaken qualitative improvement. The enormous improvement in financial compensation has, paradoxically, blunted the edge of professionalism. But these problems pale into insignificance against the rising tide of corporate and political influence, interference and control in the media.

“An increasing number of television channels and newspapers and news magazines are either owned by politicians with parallel business interests or business persons with political affiliations. These and the growing dependence of the media on advertisement revenue are undermining the independence of the fourth estate.

“The good news, however, is that increasing competition and an expansion of the market have acted as built-in stabilisers. The wider range of media options does empower readers and viewers. Competition is, in the final analysis, the best guarantor of quality and professionalism. In the medium to long term, however, Indian media must depend less on advertising and more on subscriptions to be able to liberate itself from the pressure of vested interests”

Read the full editorial: Bonfire of the vanities

Also read:Has media credibility suffered a body-blow?

‘Go to bed knowing you haven’t succumbed’

 

‘Tehelka’ walks away with IPI award for 2010

23 November 2010

Tehelka magazine has won the International Press Institute (IPI) India award for excellence in journalism for 2010, for its expose of the killing of a Manipur resident, Chongkam Sanjit, in cold blood by the northeastern State’s commandos. The report, by then correspondent Teresa Rehman, prompted a central bureau of investigation (CBI) investigation, which went on to charge nine policemen for the murder.

Image: courtesy Tehelka

‘Go to bed knowing you haven’t succumbed’

22 November 2010

Business Standard, the financial daily edited by Sanjaya Baru, the former media advisor to the prime minister, carried an editorial last week on Ratan Tata‘s 2010 revelation that an “advice” to bribe a Union minister Rs 15 crore was what had put his group off from launching a private airline in the late 1990s.

Name and shame, Mr Tata,” the editorial thundered:

“Very regretfully, this is no example of “whistle-blowing”, as some in the media seem to think. It would have been if Mr Tata had named the minister and made public his demands at that time.

“Even now, Mr Tata is blowing no whistle, he is merely whining and seeking to occupy high moral ground…. If business leaders of the stature of Mr Tata are willing to strike but afraid to wound, what can one expect of lesser mortals?”

Ratan Tata responded to the editorial in a letter carried two days later by BS, saying that he had made no statement claiming that a minister had approached him for a bribe, and that he was merely referring to a fellow industrialist who called the Tata group stupid for not meeting what he believed to be the minister’s “requirements”.

For good measure, Tata added:

“The Business Standard had, in years gone by, commanded my respect as a publication that reported news factually and stood above other publications that saw nothing wrong with misinterpreting news by taking statements out of context to serve their needs or linking news to advertising.

“Similarly, many of us have admired you, Dr Baru, as a journalist who would stand up for causes and be the moral conscience of the nation. I wonder what has happened to the Business Standard and to the Dr Baru that we all knew. If you still believe in presenting the public with facts as they are, I would expect you to publish my letter in its entirety, without editing out the parts that you do not like.

“I hope you can also say that you go to bed at night knowing that you have not succumbed.”

Sanjaya Baru’s response:

All news reports in the Business Standard are based on factual information. An editorial comment is the opinion of the editor. In this case the comment was based on published and unpublished information available with the editor. The Business Standard continues to adhere to the highest standards of journalism, believing that while facts are sacred, comment ought to be free but fair.

Caricuature: courtesy The Daily Telegraph, London

Also read: When editor makes way for editor, gracefully

Would our media spend Rs 20 lakh on a ‘junket’?

22 November 2010

A PTI story estimating US President Barack Obama‘s India trip at $200 million a day prompted CNN anchor Anderson Cooper to do some number-crunching, and elicited a column from Pulitzer prize winning New York Times foreign affairs columnist Tom Friedman, and a response from PTI editor-in-chief M.K. Razdan.

Now, the Indian Express has a diary item on the expense incurred by US journalsits who hopped on the President’s “junket”.

Image: courtesy The Indian Express

‘Media houses are sitting on plots leased at Re 1′

21 November 2010

The BJP general secretary and member of Parliament, Ravi Shankar Prasad, in an interview with Kunal Majumder of Tehelka magazine:

Q: [Maharashtra chief minister] Ashok Chavan has resigned after corruption charges. Will Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa follow suit?

A: Irregularities in housing societies are nothing new. The Adarsh Society scam shocked the nation because Kargil widows were duped. As far as Yeddyurappa is concerned, he has explained everything.

Hundreds of plots around the country have been given to big media houses in Delhi, Noida and Greater Noida on Re. 1 lease. What about them? If you want to raise a question on discretionary quota, then please check every allotment.

Read the full interview: ‘Congress record reeks of corruption’

Has media credibility suffered a body-blow?

20 November 2010

As if all the scams involving the legislature, executive and the judiciary weren’t enough, a big blow has been struck against the so-called fourth estate—the media—with tapped conversations (outed by Open and Outlook magazines)allegedly revealing that some of Indian journalism’s biggest names may have crossed the line between legitimate news gathering to lobbying with political parties on behalf of corporate houses.

The voices of Barkha Dutt of NDTVVir Sanghvi of Hindustan TimesPrabhu Chawla of the India Today group, and other leading journalism lights—and the tone and tenor of their conversations with Niira Radia, the fixer of theTatas and Ambanis—show that the first two may have actually played a less-than-innocent part in the reinduction ofA.Raja, the disgraced telecom minister at the centre of the mammoth 2G spectrum allocation scam.

The employers of M/s Dutt and Sanghvi have issued boiler-plate denials, although it is the individuals, not the institutions, which stand charged. (Sanghvi has posted a response on his personal website.)  But there is no question that the contents are damaging to the credibility of the journalists concerned given the exalted positions and excellent reputations they enjoyed as fair and competent opinion-shapers on national television.

Paradoxically, this moment of shame comes at Indian journalism’s finest hour, when it can legitimately claim to have unearthed the 2G, CWG, Adarsh housing society and the IPL scams. While motives are being attributed at the timing of the expose, the key issue is simple: the stinky stables of media need urgent cleaning up after the paid news, private treaties, medianet and other associated scandals that have tarnished its image in recent months.

At a time when trust in the media is slipping according to a recent survey, do scandals like these help enhance your trust in the media and mediapersons? Or do you think that they are carrying out their own agendas on behalf of hidden puppeteers while keeping you in the dark?

* Disclosures apply

Also readThe TV anchor, the ex-editor and TV personality

Why we didn’t air Niira Radia tapes: two examples

Why we didn’t air Niira Radia tapes: 2 examples

19 November 2010

 

The publication of the transcripts of the Niira Radia tapes—in which the fixer of the Tatas and Ambanis talks to journalists Vir Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt (among others)—by Open magazine, Outlook* and Mail Today has sent the media world into a tizzy.

Only a brave few have been able to avoid the temptation of using the tapes, which indicate how a cabal of politicians, fixers, lobbyists and journalists ganged up to insert disgraced telecom minister A. Raja into Manmohan Singh‘s cabinet in 2009, even when the stench of scam was hitting the ceiling.

***

Exhibit A: Why India Today magazine didn’t run the tapes, according to Aditya Sinha, editor-in-chief of the New Indian Express.

Exhibit B: Why the business daily Mint didn’t run the tapes, according to editor Ranganathan Sukumar :

“The reason we didn’t act on them was because we couldn’t authenticate them….. The mere submission of a more detailed set of transcripts in the court doesn’t, at least to my mind, make the documents any better as “source” for a newspaper article. They could be authentic, but there’s a chance that they could be forged.

“My reporters and editors had no way of finding out, which (and believe me, we tried) I think is the responsibility of an honest newspaper to do.”

* Disclosures apply

Also read: NDTV response on Barkha Dutt

Vir Sanghvi‘s response to the Radia tapes

Just a year old and already moving around

18 November 2010

It has been issued free to new readers. It has been bundled with the main paper for old ones. When subscribers refused to pay, it had to be clarified that it is not a free supplement. And it is now being promoted through the main paper. That’s the story of the Crest edition of The Times of India in its brief existence.

Also read: Old wine in a very old bottle is still old wine

When a newspaper is not a free supplement

A week is a long time for a 40-page weekly

Everybody loves (to claim credit for) an expose

17 November 2010

Indian television news channels, whose fortunes rise and fall each week, routinely advertise their ratings “victory” after each major event: the Union budget, the general elections, the Obama visit, etc.

It looks like newspapers are quickly following in the footsteps of television in the 2G spectrum allocation scam, and this even as the Supreme Court was commenting acidly on the “morality of the modern media“.

The day after the “King of Corruption”, A. Raja, resigned as Union telecommunications minister, The Pioneer, Delhi, went to town in its lead story, patting the back of special correspondent J. Gopikrishnan for his 70 incisive stories that launched the crusade to get the corrupt minister out.

On day two, the paper’s editor, Chandan Mitra, wrote a glowing front-page piece on Gopikrishnan, titled “The man who felled a king”:

“For a long time, I did not even know that J. Gopikrishnan was a stringer based in Thiruvananthapuram working for The Pioneer‘s now-aborted Kochi edition. So when he came to Delhi pleading for a job at the headquarters once the Kochi edition shut in 2007, I was rather sceptical.

“I told bureau chief Navin Upadhyay that although I had noticed a few bylined stories by him, Gopi had no exposure to Delhi and, therefore, was unlikely to have any worthwhile contacts here. Navin, however, persuaded me to try him out for three months. In fact, the letter of appointment specifically mentioned this along with a “stipend” that was truly laughable by Delhi standards.

“Gopi did not break any earth-shaking stories during the trial period. But his sincerity, diligence, dogged pursuit of stories and pleasing personality made up for that. He was given a proper appointment letter after three months although his salary remained rather low.

“My opinion began to change after friends in Left parties began to mention him to me in Parliament’s Central Hall, pointing to the depth of his knowledge of the telecom sector. Officially, he was on the Left beat so I still did not attach too much significance to that.”

On day three, today, a two-column  page one story in The Pioneer (in picture, above), authored by Gopikrishnan, proclaims: “CAG report vindicates Pioneer report”:

“The CAG findings confirm every aspect of the scam The Pioneer has reported over two years in its sustained effort to build public opinion and create political pressure on the government to act against Raja.”

On day three, again, The Times of India (which has in the past week claimed credit for outing Ashok Chavan in the Adarsh housing society scam, a story which Samar Halarnkar of Hindustan Times said he wrote in the Indian Express in 2003), has stepped in to claim the honours, with a front-page box titled “TOI on the DoT“:

“Since end-2007, The Times of India has carried many reports, first by Shalini Singh, later joined by Josy Joseph and Pradeep Thakur, detailing how the manner of award of telecom licences would—and now has—cost the nation a staggering sum in the form of lost revenue. Indeed, in our edition of May 31, 2010, we carried a very detailed report headlined, ‘Not auctioning 2G spectrum costs govt over 1 lakh crore’, which has now been borne out by the CAG in its report….”

Meantime, there is a flurry among politicians, too, to claim credit.

Mail Today gives the gadfly of Indian politics, Janata party president Subramaniam Swamy, his due, for it was his petition to the prime minister in November 2008 for sanction to prosecute the corrupt ministe, that seems to have recoiled on the squeaky clean image of Manmohan Singh.

“Thankfully for Indian journalists, Subramanian Swamy, who is in hot pursuit of former telecom minister A. Raja in the 2G spectrum scam, doesn’t often break into Mandarin — a language he is fluent in…. Though married to Supreme Court advocate Roxna, Swamy has often chose to argue his cases without the help of lawyers. His two daughters — one of them a TV journalist — know that quite well!”

On rediff.com, the Rajya Sabha member  Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who has a stake in the Kannada Prabha newspaper and the Suvarna News channels in Karnataka, gets credit for raising the issue as far back as in 2007.

“In my letter to the prime minister on November 14, 2007, I reiterated that the spectrum allocation process must pass the twin tests of public interest and transparency and questioned why the licence award or spectrum award procedure did not following a tender process — a route adopted to disburse all previous licences including FM (radio) licences. The prime minister responded with a letter saying he would examine the issue.”

CNN-IBN, meantime, says it has been lauded for making public the CAG report on the 2G spectrum scam.

In this video, preceded poetically by a Tata Docomo commercial for its new 3G services, editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai says:

“…parliamentarians cutting across party lines were fulsome (sic) in praise for the CNN-IBN expose”.

One newspaper that can proudly claim to have not broken the 2G spectrum allocation scam, though, is The Hindu. When it got a chance to buttonhole the condemned minister twice whle the rest of the media were chasing him in vain, R.K. Radhakrishnan opted to lob softball questions.

Not once, but twice.

For the record, The Hindu employees’ union is DMK-run, and A. Raja belongs to the party in question.

Who really named All India Radio as Akashvani?

16 November 2010

PALINI R. SWAMY writes: Mysore’s preminent position in the setting up and christening of All India Radio as “Akashvani” has gone uncontested for well over half a century. Now, in the 75th year of AIR, an unlikely challenger has emerged from 300 km away.

A 70-year-old woman has stood up in Udupi to assert that it was her late father, Hosbet Rama Rao, a former district education officer in Mangalore, was the man who first used—and thus gave the nation—the unquestionably evocative brand-name, “Akashvani“, for the radio.

In other words, the claim busts the belief widely held by Mysoreans that it was their townsman M.V. Gopalaswamy (in picture, above) who coined the word after setting up the nation’s first private radio station in his residence “Vittal Vihar” (in picture, below), about 200 yards from AIR’s current location.

***

Anuradhagiri Rao says her father, while serving as a teacher at the government college in Mangalore, anonymously published a booklet titled ‘”Akashvani” in 1932 on the phenomenon of the radio set. She says he drew inspiration from mythology in Kamsa‘s case when an ‘ashariravani‘ (voice without body) predicts his death.

Thus, voice from the akasha (sky) was ‘Akashvani‘, meaning celestial voice,” she has been quoted as saying in the New Indian Express. Her father, she adds, did not reveal his name fearing victimisation from the then British government, as he was then beginning to establish himself as a writer.

To bolster her claim, Anuradhagiri Rao adds her father’s book with the “Akashvani” title was acknowledged and adopted as a non-detailed text book for high school students by the text book committee of the Madras presidency. The book was printed twice in 1941 and 1945.

She also says an Indian Express editorial in February 1987 had doffed its hat to “an article from an unknown writer” for naming “Akashvani“. That unknown writer doubtless was her father.

Needless to say, she wants his name to the immortalised.

***

There are two problems with the claim. First, Anuradhagiri Rao bases her claims on an anonymous booklet published in 1932.  Although radio had been around for a while, sound broadcasting began in India in 1927 but All India Radio formally began operations only in 1936, according to AIR’s official website.

Second, there is the small matter of official history.

Akashvani Mysore has just brought out a 406-page souvenir to mark the platinum jubilee of the station.

In her editorial, Dr M.S. Vijaya Haran, station director, AIR Mysore, writes:

“Dr M.V. Gopalaswamy is the father of Mysore Akashvani. He served as the professor of psychology and the principal of the Maharaja’s college. The radio station that he started in 1935 in Mysore is his great contribution to the field of culture. This was the first private radio station in the whole of India and it speaks volumes of a person’s interest, passion, hard work and the instinct to do good to his fellow human beings….

“For six long years Dr Gopalaswamy ran AIR single-handedly spending money from his own pocket. Owing to financial constraint he handed over the administration to the Mysroe city municipality. Later from 1 January 1942, the provincial government of the Maharaja assumed the responsbility of running the organisation.

“Even then Dr M.V. Gopalaswamy continued to be director (till 2 August 1943). After that his colleague, Prof N. Kasturi was appointed full-time chief executive with the designation ‘assistant station superintendent.’ The radio station continued to function under the care of Kasturi, who was a thorough gentleman and a well-known humourist….

It was during that [Kasturi] period that All India Radio was baptised as ‘Akashvani‘ , a name that has been an appropriate metaphor for this wonderful organisation. The radio station flaunted with aplomb the title ‘Akashvani Mysore’ before its facade. It wafted on the waves and reached the hearts of listeners lending them undimmed pleasure. Later on, when All India Radio came under the administrative fold of the Indian government, the radio stations continued to use the name ‘Akashvani‘. The credit of lending this beautiful name ‘Akashvani‘ to all the radio stations of the country belongs to Mysore Akashvani.

Vijaya Haran’s editorial does not, of course,  say Gopalaswamy christened Akashvani, merely that he set it up.

So,while the parentage of Akashvani is not in question, it is Prof Gopalaswamy’s role in naming it that is clearly under question. Did he call it “Akashvani Broadcasting Station” when he started broadcasting as a hobby in 1935, as an earlier souvenir published in 1950 (and included in the platinum jubilee souvenir) avers?

If the name Akashvani evolved under N. Kasturi’s helmsmanship, did Kasturi himself think up the name? Did Prof Gopalaswamy, who was no longer its chief, have any role in it christening or, as a college principal himself, did Gopalaswamy draw his inspiration from an academic 300 km away?

Gouri Satya, the Business Standard journalist who is a walking encyclopaedia on Mysore, wrote recently that “a few sat together and hit upon the name Akashvani for the toy broadcasting station“. Was Hosbet Rama Rao among the few?

In the evening newspaper, Star of Mysore, reader K. Radha Chengappa writes:

“The truth is revealed by late N. Kasturi in his book Loving God, page 76 (early 1920), where he refers to his colleague Dr. M.V. Gopalaswamy of Maharaja’s College, Psychology Department.

“He writes that Dr. MVG had bought a mini Philips transmitter and desired to use it to broadcast educational programmes for the common man an hour everyday. After some years, he managed to secure permission to use short wave transmission programmes.

“For this project, he had roped in Kasturi and when he wanted an Indian word for the broadcasting station, Kasturi’s choice was Akashvani and this word stuck for AIR (All India Radio).”

Or was it Rabindranath Tagore who is supposed to have done so “in the 1930s”?

***

Photographs: courtesy Akashavani Mysore platinum jubilee souvenir

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