Archive for December, 2010

Should Prabhu Chawla edit New Indian Express?

14 December 2010

Editors, anchors, columnists, correspondents… tens of media personnel have been badly mauled in the eyes of news consumers, in the Niira Radia scandal.

But do the proprietors and managers really care?

Vir Sanghvi has suspended his weekly column in the Hindustan Times while merrily writing on food. The buck still stops at Barkha Dutt‘s table at 10 pm on NDTV while she fights a lonely battle from the trenches of Twitter.

Now, Manoj Kumar Sonthalia, grandson of the mighty Ramnath Goenka who is in charge of the southern editions of the paper, has reportedly decided to hire former India Today editor Prabhu Chawla, as the new editor of  The New Indian Express (TNIE), despite the thick smog of scandal hanging over the latter’s underprotected head.

Chawla, who got a most perplexing certificate of merit from The Hindu‘s editor-in-chief N. Ram, on the India Today-owned TV station Headlines Today, however, has had a slightly inauspicious entry. The outgoing TNIE team of Aditya Sinha has carried this brief excerpt involving Chawla from the second tranche of the Radia tapes.

Listen: Prabhu Chawla in conversation with Niira Radia

Also read: 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

Barkha Dutt tarred by pure malice: Khushwant

14 December 2010

Battered by one and all but one, Barkha Dutt, the NDTV anchor caught on tape in l’affaire Niira Radia, gets some much-needed support, but from the dirty old man of Indian journalism, her Hindustan Times co-columnist Khushwant Singh.

But unlike the editors guild president Rajdeep Sardesai who blamed it on “envy”, Singh attributes it to “malice”:

“Two leading lights in Indian journalism, one in the print media, the other a top TV star who has the widest viewership and is known for her guts and integrity, are being maligned for listening to a woman in public relations representing some big industrial houses.

“I went through all that passed between them on telephones but failed to figure out anything unethical in their dialogue. The public relations lady pleaded the cause of the firms that she was representing. The journalist heard what she had to say as every good journalist is expected to do and make his own assessment before he wrote on the subject.

“The lady in India’s leading channel was asked to do sifarish (recommend) on behalf of an ambitious politician. The story sounds totally fatuous: a sifarish by a mediaperson carries no weight whatsoever. What the libelers and slanderers have to prove is that money was given to the two for doing their bidding. There is not even a remote suggestion that this was so. It was done out of pure malice to tar the images of two much respected mediapersons. “

Illustration: courtesy Sorit Gupto/ Outlook

Read the full column: Ethics of journalism

Since flattery is best expressed by imitation

10 December 2010

The Outlook* magazine cover on telephone tapping dated 3 May 2010. Designer: Bishwadeep Moitra.

And the India Today cover on telephone tapping dated 20 December 2010. Designer: Saurabh Singh.

* Disclosures apply

Second editor of Indian origin for ‘Newsweek’

10 December 2010

Tunku Varadarajan, the Indian-born, US-based writer-educator, has been named the new editor of Newsweek international, becoming the second journalist of Indian origin after Fareed Zakaria to hold the reins at the American magazine.

Tunku broke the news through a tweet on Wednesday: “My news: Looks like I’ll be editing Newsweek International”.

Born Patanjali Varadarajan, 48-year-old Tunku—named after the father of Malyasia’s independence—is currently writer-at-large at The Daily Beast, the online magazine floated by legendary British editor Tina Brown. His appointment comes as part of the revamp of the struggling magazine, after the Washington Post company sold it to stereo tycoon Sidney Harman for one dollar (Rs 45) earlier this year.

Tunku, whose brother Siddharth Varadarajan works for The Hindu in New Delhi, has served as the correspondent of The Times, London, in Madrid and New York; worked at the editorial and op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal; and taught business at New York University and journalism at Stanford.

When his old boss Rupert Murdoch (who owns The Times) bought the WSJ, Tunku left to join Forbes.com.

In 1997, the 50th anniversary of India’s independence,  a  New Yorker item listed the nattily dressed Tunku, then 34, as one of New York City’s “most in-demand bachelors”.

“‘At the Times, we used to have a rule. Always dress as if you might have to go to a funeral or interview a Cabinet minister’…

“How often is he invited out? ‘Every day, I fear. A lot of these calls I take completely blind,’ he says, sipping a Scotch-and-soda. ‘If the person’s voice sounds nice, I tend to say yes. I suppose this could get me into a lot of trouble.’

Cricket-mad Tunku, a firm believer in the gung-ho vivacity of British newspapers as opposed to the deadly dull objectivity of their American counterparts, called Pakistan a “State of nothing” on that midnight child’s 50th anniversary.

Photograph: Tunku Varadarajan with wife Amy Finerty. The couple have a son, Satya (via Facebook)

***

Also read: Who, when, how, why, where, what and WTF

How a slumdweller became a Newsweek reporter

‘Magazines, like mushrooms, should grow in the dark’

Why Ratan Tata hired Niira Radia’s services

9 December 2010

In his open letter three days ago to Ratan Tata, the Rajya Sabha member with media interests, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, asked why a corporate house like the Tatas, “with its sterling character and reputation requires outside lobbyists to lobby on their behalf.”

In his open letter to Chandrasekhar, Tata provides the answer on the woman whose conversations with the bold-faced bylines have sent Indian journalism into a tizzy:

“Ten years ago, Tatas found themselves under attack in a media campaign to defame the ethics and value systems of the group which held it apart from others in India.

“The campaign was instituted and sustained through an unholy nexus between certain corporates and the media through selected journalists.

“As Tatas did not enjoy any such ‘captive connections’ in this environment, the Tata Group, had no option but to seek an external agency focused at projecting its point of view in the media and countering the misinformation and vested interest viewpoints which were being expressed.

Vaishnavi was commissioned for this purpose and has operated effectively since 2001. You yourself have interacted with Niira Radia on some occasions in the past and it is therefore amazing that you should now, after nearly nine years, seek to denounce Tatas’ appointment of Vaishnavi…. Vaishnavi is neither owned by the Tata Group nor is the Tata Group Vaishnavi’s only client.”

Read the full letter: From Ratan Tata. To Rajeev Chandrasekhar

Vishweshwar Bhat quits Vijaya Karnataka

8 December 2010

Vishweshwar Bhat, the popular yet controversial editor of Vijaya Karnataka, the mass-circulation Kannada daily owned by The Times of India group, has resigned.

Bhat’s decision was announced to his staff this afternoon after a meeting with ToI chief executive officer Ravi Dhariwal and chief marketing officer Rahul Kansal who had flown down to Bangalore.

Bhat confirmed the resignation to churumuri.com, adding that, although he had no negative feelings for the company, he had begun to feel “slightly uncomfortable” in the last few months.

“I decided to quit when things were all right,” he said.

There is no word how long his name will appear on the imprintline or who his replacement is likely to be, although there is a rumour that E. Raghavan, who retired as editor of the Economic Times editions in the south and currently edits the Kannada weekend broadsheet Vijaya Next, may fill the breach.

The charitable version for the exit is that Bhat, who took over the reins of the paper 10 years ago, wanted a three-year sabbatical to go abroad and study which the Jains, who picked up the paper from Vijay Sankeshwar of the logistics company VRL four years ago, were disclined to give.

Bhat says he intends to pursue higher education now that he has been freed of his commitments, although the buzz is he may join a soon-to-be-started Kannada news channel. The no-compete clause in Sankeshwar’s deal with Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd also ends next year opening up new possibilities on the Kannada media map.

However, the press club gossip is less than charitable. This version has it that Bhat had reached the end of the long rope that had been extended him, during which period the paper veered overtly to the right, attracting the ire of Muslims, Dalits and Christians.

In a petition earlier this year, when Bhat was nominated for an honorary doctorate, the Karnataka chapter of Transparency International dashed off a petition, accusing the editor of being “primarily responsible for instigating and fuelling communal hatred by regularly publishing extremely volatile and offensive articles and editorials.”

Recent surveys also showed that Vijaya Karnataka‘s readership and circulation were moving southwards, to the discomfiture of the bosses, necessitating the change of guard.

All things considered, to Bhat goes the credit of turning a fledgling daily into a market leader and opinion maker, overtaking the 60-year-old Praja Vani from the Deccan Herald group in next to no time with a series of innovations and reader-friendly initiatives.

The prolific Bhat churned out a weekly Sunday diary, a Saturday media column, a Thursday edit-page piece, and wrote on a range of issues each week, besides regularly publishing books, compilations and translations. There was no inkling of the coming end even in Wednesday’s paper which carries a tribute by Bhat on page 7.

Bhat’s resignation is the third reorganisation exercise undertaken by VPL president Sunil Rajshekhar after shutting down The Times of India Kannada edition and launching Vijaya Next.

Also read: Bhat in a flap over honorary doctorate

Is the management responsible for content too?

A blank editorial, a black editorial & a footnote

External reading: That’s Kannada.com

After the Radia tapes, the B. Raman letters!

7 December 2010

The Barkha Dutt kerfuffle has sparked an amusing sideshow, featuring a quick-on-the-draw strategic affairs specialist and the editor of  a soon-to-be launched financial newspaper.

B. Raman, a former additional secretary of Research & Analysis Wing, who currently heads the quaintly named “Institute For Topical Studies in Madras, wrote a 12-point defence of Barkha Dutt last week.

And, as is the norm with him, mailed it to everyone on his mailing list with the standard instructions  “You may like to see” or “For use on your website”.

In his original post, Raman took on his namesake, N. Ram of The Hindu for attacking Barkha after the Niira Radia transcripts showed her “stringing along” the lobbyist.

“Barkha has been asked by her critics as to why in that case she did not write about the use of [Niira] Radia by the DMK to influence the Cabinet formation. This is an unkind question—- as unkind as asking N.Ram, the editor-in-chief of The Hindu, as to why he allegedly let himself be used by the Tamil elements from Sri Lanka as an intermediary with Rajiv Gandhi when he was the Prime Minister in the 1980s? As unkind as asking N.Ram as to why he played down the stories of the mass anti-Chinese uprising in Tibet in 2008? As unkind as asking N.Ram as to why for many years till recently he blacked out references to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, in the columns of his paper. As unkind as asking him as to why he used to give publicity in his paper to the despatches of the Xinhua, the news agency owned by the Chinese Government. Ram should be the last person to throw stones at Barkha.”

Among the worthies who received Raman’s point-wise note was Prem Shankar Jha, the former editor of the Hindustan Times and the Ambani-owned Business & Political Observer, who is to be the editor of Financial World, the business daily to be launched by Tehelka.

Given that the Niira Radia tapes are all to do with big business (Tatas, Ambanis, Mittals) influencing policy decisions, etc, you would think that it would interest the editor of a business paper.

Well, think again.

Editor Jha shot off a response to Raman that should be made required reading at grammar and punctuation classes.

Dear Mr. Raman,

I am not going to post a comment on your blog on Barkha dutt. But I must warn you , out of respect for your writing that you are doing yourself considerable damage by minimising wher9 and by imnplication, other journalists’ involvemenr as intermediaties in government formation. That journalists do getinvolvedas intermediaries in affairs of state from time to time , is not unusual.The key issue is whether they do so in the national interest or in the private interest of a minister or a political party jockeying for power , when the purpose of that jockeying is to secure lucrative ministries.

I have great respect for your writing and have been intending to use your postings regularlu in theFinancial World ( Tehelka‘s daily paper, which starts next month) . I would be deeply disturbed if you become controversial and your credibility suffers, on such a trivial issue, whenyou have so much to contribute to the public’s understanding of the threats that India faces.

With warm regards

Pre,m Shankar Jha
Editoy Financial World

In turn, Raman responded in a way only Raman can:

“Thanks, Mr.Jha. You are welcome not to use my writings in the Financial World. Warm regards. B.Raman”

Amen.

Mint deputy editor bags Shakti Bhatt book prize

7 December 2010

Samanth Subramanian, a deputy editor at the business daily Mint, has won the 2010 Shakti Bhatt First Book prize for his debut book, Following Fish.

There were six books in this year’s shortlist but the three-member jury found Subramanian’s pursuit of fish curry round coastal India “a delightful read, adventurous and unabashedly fun”.

“Subramanian brings us in close contact with people who charm and sometimes dismay, and each encounter seduces us with a new anecdote or a new dish. Comic, and picaresque, with many surprise nettings of wisdom, Following Fish is a sparkling debut by a talented writer,” said the judges.

In its third year, the Shakti Bhatt prize—named after the deceased daughter of the journalist and commentator Sheela Bhatt—is a cash award of Rs one lakh and a trophy. The award function will be held at the British Council, New Delhi, December 10 at 7.30 pm.

Photograph: courtesy Shakti Bhatt foundation

How Dayanita Singh became a photographer

6 December 2010

The renowned photographer Dayanita Singh in an interview with Nadine Kreisberger, in the Indian Express‘ Sunday magazine, Eye:

“I was 18 and had gone to a Zakir Hussain concert. I was prevented from taking photographs by the organiser. I was angry and let Zakir know about it. He suggested I photograph him while he rehearsed the next morning. He then invited me to join him and his musicians while they travelled for a few days.

“That was it.

“I realised then that no other profession could give me freedom from social norms. But photography is just a tool. My references and inspirations come from literature, cinema and music. Photography is simply the vocabulary or medium I use to explore the world I find myself engaging with.”

Self-portrait: courtesy Peabody Museum

Also read: Pablo Bartholomew: cynical and proud of it

Barkha Dutt breaks silence in NYT interview

4 December 2010

For 15 days, as the media storm over the Niira Radia tapes raged around her, NDTV’s star-anchor Barkha Dutt opted to speak to the world through an official press release, an online essay, and a pre-recorded inquisition by print editors.

Dutt declined to appear on a Karan Thapar show and in a Headlines Today debate, and even spurned on-screen advice from Sanjaya Baru of the Business Standard to apologise and move on.

Now, she has broken her silence in an interview with Lydia Polgreen of the New York Times:

“I look at some of the conversations, and I do feel I should have been more alert,” she said in an interview on Friday at the studios of her television station, NDTV.

“I should have been more skeptical. I should have known better.”

Photograph: courtesy Lynsey Addario/ New York Times

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