Archive for December, 2010

‘Complacent US media can learn from India’

27 December 2010

S. Mitra Kalita, the US-born Indian-American who did a two-year stint at the business daily Mint before returning to the Wall Street Journal, has just done a book on her Indian experience, titled My Two Indias.

In an interview with Aseem Chhabra of India Abroad, the “daughter of Assam”, shares her thoughts on Indian journalism:

What was your experience with journalists in India?

“The challenge in India is that it is so competitive, cutting corners becomes a way of doing things….”

As compared to the journalists you met at The Washington Post and the WSJ, how would you rate Indian reporters?

“Indian journalists have a whole lot of heart and hustle. Every morning I wold get those nine newspapers at my doorstep and they were a reminder of what those reporters were up against.

“The complacency that has set in American journalism was pretty absent in Indian journalism.

“In the US, I could be working on a feature story for three or four days. In India if you have a great idea, you have to do it right away, because everybody else may also have the same idea.

“When I went back to the Journal, it was redefining itself as a more general newsy paper. So I could apply the lessons I learnt in India. It is interesting because once upon a time your Indian journalism experience counted for nothing….

“I still think that a lot of the downall of the newspapers in US—yes, some of it was caused by the internet, but some of it, in other industries too, was driven by complacency. In India, you just can’t be complacent. From the time you wake up and turn on the faucet—and there’s no guarantee that you will get water—there is no room for complacency in India.”

Pallava Bagla bags ‘Oscar’ of science journalism

22 December 2010

Noted science journalist Pallava Bagla has become the first Indian to bag the David Perlman award for excellence in science journalism, given out annually by the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

The award, described as the “Oscars of earth and climate science”, was presented to Bagla (in picture, right) at a gala event held in San Francisco on December 15.

The high honour comes as a recognition for Bagla’s expose of the error made by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which, in its 2007 report, had grossly over-estimated the melt rate of Himalayan glaciers predicting that they will disappear by 2035.

Ultimately in January 2010, the IPCC offered a “regret” for this error.

The Perlman award selection committee applauded Bagla’s articles for addressing “a very serious issue in the earth sciences.”

“His articles serve as a reminder to journalists to question sources, to think harder about the agendas and ideas of those people about whom they are reporting, and to stop the steamroller of opinions or ideas when the facts just don’t back them up. Although Bagla’s articles reveal embarrassing foibles of scientists, ultimately they also illustrate science’s ability to self-correct.”

The first of Bagla’s two articles “No Sign of Himalayan Melt Down, Indian Report Finds“, was published in the journal Science, exploring dissent among glaciologists regarding the claim by the IPCC that Himalayan glaciers would imminently disappear.

The second article, “Himalayan Glacier Deadline ‘Wrong‘”, published by BBC News, reported on an apparent typographical error in the IPCC claim which appears to explain the panel’s controversial, 300-year acceleration of when Himalayan glaciers are expected to vanish.

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Photograph: Pallava Bagla with the plaque of the David Perlman award for excellence in science journalism and Michael J. McPhaden, president of the American Geophysical Union

‘Outlook’ journo bags prize for using RTI for story

21 December 2010

Saikat Datta, an assistant editor at the newsweekly magazine Outlook*, has bagged the National RTI Award 2010 for his expose of the Rs 2,500 crore rice scam using the Right to Information (RTI).

Four others were also named for the award by a jury which included the former chief justice of India J.S. Verma, former chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh, and Infosys chief mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy.

According to the New Indian Express:

“Journalist Saikat Datta was praised for taking on influential people in exposing the rice export scam.  The jury felt that he took a great risk in pursuing the story as the people involved were capable of harming him.”

The award, instituted by the Public Cause Research Foundation, was set up by Magsaysay Award winning activist Arvind Kejriwal, and carries a citation, a plaque and Rs 2 lakh.

The award-winning story revealed how vested interests in business and government colluded to circumvent a ban on export of rice. The expose resulted in future deals being cancelled. Last week, the case was referred to CBI for further investigation.

Datta had previously bagged the IPI India award for 2007.

* Disclosures apply

It’s official: Prabhu Chawla out of India Today

19 December 2010

Former India Today editor Prabhu Chawla‘s mysterious mass email to all contacts in his addressbook without announcing his next port of call:

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HI,

This is to inform you that after 14 years in India Today, I am moving on. Next month, I will be joining an established multi-languages and multi-editions media organization.

I will be based in Delhi and my responsibilities include overseeing the group’s expansion into the multi-media segment.

My email for the moment is chawla.prabhu@gmail.com

Thank you for all the support and cooperation you have extended me in the past and I do hope to benefit from the same in future too.

Please keep in touch!

Prabhu Chawla

***

Listen: Prabhu Chawla in conversation with Niira Radia—I

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Also read: Should Prabhu Chawla edit the New Indian Express?

Prabhu Chawla‘s son named in media bribery case

“Accused” Ankur Chawla is now “investigator” Chawla

In the New Indian Express, old hands get the sack

An open application to Prannoy Roy, c/o NDTV

19 December 2010

Respected Dr Roy,

I am writing to apply for the post of Group Editor, English News, NDTV.

I am a journalist with 26 years’ experience. Throughout my career I have made innocent mistakes. I have been silly, I have been gullible and I have been prone to making errors of judgement.

Frequently, when I am “desperate for khabar” I also fib to sources. I string them along so much that I have often tied myself up in knots.

In short, I’m just the right guy to lead the nation’s most reputed English news channel.

I am aware, Sir, that you already have a silly, innocent and gullible editor prone to making honest errors of judgement. Those credentials were so clearly established on national prime time news the other day. Only an extremely innocent, very silly and highly gullible editor can do it with such aplomb.

Admittedly, Dr Roy, that’s a tough record to beat. But the silly are never daunted by the odds…recall that stuff about fools rushing in where angels fear to tread.

I take heart from two facts: One, that you are perhaps the only editor-in-chief to value such sterling qualities in a group editor, and two, while you might be pretty happy with your in-house options, there are some good alternatives in the market you might want to look at.

It is your faith in and commitment to the cause of the ISGs (innocent, silly and gullible), Dr Roy, that has emboldened me to give the job a shot. I want to convince you that when it comes to these sterling qualities, I dig a lonely furrow… it’s actually a deep trench because I have been at it for 26 years.

Sir, I suspect you will be extremely upset at the completely unconventional way in which this application is being framed. So, let me quickly give you three examples of the work I have done so far.  Please judge me only by my work, not what I say about it on tape.

1. When I was just a few months into the profession,  Akali Dal leader Sant Longowal was assassinated. His assassination followed Indira Gandhi’s who was killed just a few months earlier. I had just subbed the copy when my chief sub asked me, “what’s the headline?”  “Longowal calls on Indira Gandhi,” I read out loud and proud.

The chief sub leaped out of her chair in horror and grabbed the copy. She called me silly and stupid. She even proclaimed me “dangerous” and banished me from the news desk.

You see, Dr Roy, I was editor material even then. Just that I was in wrong hands. Where were you, Dr Roy? I can’t help wondering, “why just Barkha, why is she so lucky”?

2. Once when I was editor of a small Delhi afternoon paper, we ran an expose on upcoming illegal structures in Connaught Place. We illustrated the story with a big picture of a multi-storey building shot stealthily. Next morning it turned out the building belonged to the newspaper’s proprietor.

Error of judgement is passé, Dr Roy, I have monumental blunders on my hand.

3. More recently, I was in the middle of writing Counterfeit, my most most-read weekly column on notional affairs. Two big corporate houses were warring over some goddamn national asset and I wanted to get to the bottom of things. Who better to get an insight from than the PR persons on both sides?

The first guy took me out to lunch and explained his client’s position. I was fully convinced he was right till the other PR took me out to lunch and explained her client’s position. I was convinced she was right too.

But I was two full, two convinced and too confused. So, I wrote about the food instead.

But then word got out. As you well know, our strict code of ethics lays down that a journalist can have only one free meal per topic. Fellow journalists were livid. But since nobody could prove quid pro quo, they pilloried me in public for being unethical and accused me in private of selling the profession cheap.

I am however convinced most of them were just jealous of the extra meal I managed…but that’s beside the point, the pillorying continued because they said “joh pakda gaya wahi chor”.

I had to take matters into my hand because the cat seemed to have gotten my channel’s tongue. I agreed to be grilled by my peers in full public glare. Four white haired gents turned up. For the first time the channel made a departure from the policy of not putting out any raw material on air and played the full unedited tape.

On air I made a clean breast of things.  “I may have been greedy, I may have been hungry, but nobody dare accuse me of corruption,” I said, clearly setting the contours of the debate. “But of course, it’s been a learning experience. Looking back now with all that one now knows about dirty lobbyists,  I have no hesitation in saying that it’s perhaps best to carry one’s own lunch box to work. I have since bought a Milton electric lunch box.”

“No journalist is lily white,” the oldest and gentlest of them all began, “I don’t know of many journalists who carry their tiffin to office….” but I cut him short.  ”Nobody is lily white but all that you will discuss is one spot on my kurta? Why only me,” I thundered. I wanted to punch all of them in their holier-than-thou faces but for form’s sake I just bit my dry lips and somehow held my temper and my hand.

Many close friends upbraided me for appearing on the show. They told me I looked angry, sounded pompous and arrogant. They advised me not to mention the incident in this application because it would look rather silly trying to get an important job on the evidence of this show.

But that is the point I’m trying to make, Dr Roy. I am silly. And I did not stumble on silliness, innocence and gullibility “inadvertently” after 16 years of blemish-less journalism.  I worked at it for 26 long years.

In other qualifications, I must point out that I am a damn good political reporter, even if I say so myself. In the thick of things such as the UPA’s cabinet formation, all kinds of people call me to carry messages to the Congress party. Sometimes there are problems of non-delivery such as that message I did not give Ghulam Nabi Azad but I believe, because I’m a good journalist, even if this were about the NDA forming its cabinet, I would still be a busy courier boy.

I would have loved to attach copies of my work as a political reporter but sadly, Dr Roy, I have none. That is because I have never reported politics.

I know, I know…that is not consistent with my claim to being a good political journalist. I was just stringing you along, Dr Roy.

When can I join?

Yours sincerely

B.V. Rao

***

B.V. Rao is the editor of Governance Now, where this piece originally appeared

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Photograph: courtesy Governance Now

Just in case you have a view on ‘Paid News’…

18 December 2010

A DAVP advertisement which appears in several newspapers today eliciting evidence on “paid news”.

Also read: The paid news of India: guess who monetised first?

Free, frank, fearless. No, grubby, greedy, gutless

Editors Guild on paid news, private treaties

The decentralisation of ‘paid-for’ news begins

CNN-IBN in row over “fake” Twitter comments

17 December 2010

Every single media implosion in recent months—be it Barkha Dutt‘s response to criticism of her 26/11 coverage or her response to the Niira Radia tapes, or Rajdeep Sardesai‘s defence of Vir Sanghvi and Dutt as president of the editors’ guild—has only underlined how cut off old media is from the new and how it is still groping around for cover from te latter’s constant 24x7x365x60x60 scrutiny.

Now, Sardesai’s channel, CNN-IBN, has slipped into a row in which it has locked horns with the newest kid on the social media block: Twitter.

Last night, on his award-winning show India@9, Sardesai moderated a show on whether lobbying should be legalised in the wake of the Radia scandal.

So far, so good.

But blogosphere is ablaze with rumours and allegations that CNN-IBN generated fake Twitter counts that it ran at the bottom of the screen while the show was on.

“I was appalled to find that these comments were manipulated, i.e. ghost created and run by IBN’s own team, all those dubious comments seem to reflect the sentiments and to show and thrust the fact that people are for ‘LOBBYING’ and they support  ‘LEGALISING LOBBYING’,” wrote one blogger.

“If they are as perceived to be, this is a clear breach of trust and honesty and a clear evidence of media manipulating and directing Public opinion, which is illegal, dishonest and unethical and could be ascam by itself, this is a dangerous trend clearly a propaganda strategy for deception.”

The blogger also posted the screenshots of five Twitter accounts (@t_mayank, @bhumika_14, @maira_t12, @harish_p and @kala_s) that CNN-IBN ran on the show, to show that the handles were indeed blank.

Sardesai, who is CNN-IBN’s editor-in-chief, responded twice on Twitter since the story gained steam.

In one, he said:

The comments were picked up from ibnlive.com. should have been attributed to the web, not to twitter.”

And in the other, he said:

explanation given, apology given. chill.

But the universe of social media is an incredibly cruel, even anti-social one. And pretty soon, CNN-IBN’s catchline “Whatever it Takes” was soon undergoing an online metamorphosis.

Links courtesy Vishwas Krishna

China-India Friendship Award for Pallavi Aiyar

16 December 2010

Pallavi Aiyar, the former Beijing correspondent of The Hindu, has been awarded the China-India Friendship Award by the Chinese government along with eight others.

One another awardee, Karan Singh, declined to accept the award because as a parliamentarian, he “did not want to be seen as favouring any particular nation“.

Pallavi, daughter of the veteran economist and journalist Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, is also the author of Smoke and Mirrors, on her experiences in the middle kingdom, a book ironically panned by The Hindu‘s reviewer.

She now works out of Brussels as the European correspondent of Business Standard.

Photograph: courtesy pallaviaiyar.com

‘ET Wealth’ skirts ethical rekha from issue one

15 December 2010

After bundling The Speaking Tree with The Times of India, the country’s biggest newspaper group has unveiled a new product that comes bundled with The Economic TimesET Wealth.

The 48-page personal finance newspaper, in a Berliner format a la Bombay Mirror, is issued with ET on Mondays. It will be supplied free in the first two weeks, but will be prized at Rs 5 each week after that.

In other words, the onus is on the subscriber to let the hawker/ vendor know if she does not want ET Wealth with his paper every Monday. Or else, the monthly ET bill surreptitiously swells by Rs 20 or 25.

Edited by former Business Today editor Rohit Saran, ET Wealth skirts with the non-existent ethical lakshman rekha from issue no. 1.

The only advertiser in the launch issue is Nirmal Jain-owned private wealth management firm, India Infoline.

There are six strip ads, eight quarter-page ads, nine half-page ads, and three full-page ads, all of IIFL, without disclosing even once that IIFL is a Times Private Treaties partner. Which means that the Times group is invested in the advertising company that is selling its wares to readers.

Also, the real estate pages in ET Wealth have been compiled with magicbricks.com, again without revealing that the online realty firm is a Times of India property.

Journalist’s house raided in 2G spectrum scam

15 December 2010

Journalistic tongues in Delhi have wagged unabashedly after finding the voices of Vir Sanghvi, Barkha Dutt and Prabhu Chawla in the Niira Radia tapes in the 2G spectrum allocation scam, but the first big piece of action seems to have come from Tamil Nadu in the deep south.

The residence of A. Kamaraj, the associate editor of the Tamil bi-weekly Nakkheeran that shot to fame during the reign of the forest brigand Veerappan, has been raided in Madras’s tony Besant Nagar locality.

Kamaraj is said to be a close friend of A. Raja, the disgraced telecom minister who is alleged to be at the centre of the Rs 173,000 crore scam.

Kamaraj first hit the headlines in 1993 after he accused the English newsweekly India Today of infringing on its copyright, by carrying an interview with Veerappan, which had actually been conducted by its correspondent Shiva Subramaniam. That interview appeared in IT with the joint byline of Raj Chengappa, now editor of The Tribune in Chandigarh.

Kamaraj has often found himself in the middle of defamation cases.

In 2003, his house raided was in a prevention of terrorism act (POTA) case for supporting banned pro-LTTE groups.

Ironically, last year, Kamraj, along with his editor R.R. Gopal, had been sentenced to two years in jail in a defamation case involving then Union minister A. Raja.

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