Archive for February, 2011

An intimation of mortality from Raghav Bahl

28 February 2011

CNBC-TV18 bossman Raghav Bahl managed to secure the “first interview” with Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee after he presented his budget on Monday, although Mukherjee had appeared before Financial Express managing editor M.K. Venu for Lok Sabha TV hours earlier.

At the end of the 30-minute pow-wow, Bahl dragged in his hobby-horse, China, and quoted from a recent Citi report that by 2050, India would be the world’s biggest economy.

The minister happily answered the query with a smile.

“On that optimistic note, let us….” said Bahl.

At that juncture, Mukherjee, 77, intervened and added helpfully that he would not be around then.

Non-plussed, Bahl continued: ‘On that optimistic note, thank you very much….”

(Update: sans serif is happy to acknowledge readers who say Raghav Bahl went on to complete the sentence.)

Also read: What Raghav Bahl could learn from Samir Jain

‘If we don’t get it first, why should we want it?’

The Indian Express programme in journalism

28 February 2011

Advertisement: courtesy The Indian Express

‘Rabid, right-wing, Fox News on Acid.’ Yet 74%?

25 February 2011

A news item on the business pages of The Times of India:

Times Now most viewed during PM press conference

Mumbai: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh‘s televised news conference last week was most watched on Times Now. According to rating agency TAM, 74% viewers among 25-plus males in big cities watched the PM on Times Now. Competitor NDTV 24X7 had 4% viewership and CNN-IBN 2% in the same segment.

***

Meanwhile, the writer-academic Amitava Kumar interviews the writer-activist Arundhati Roy for the American arts and politics magazine, Guernica.

In the introduction to the interview, Kumar writes:

We
Have to be
Very
Careful
These Days
Because…

“That is what I read on the little green, blue, and yellow stickers on the front door of Arundhati Roy’s home in south Delhi. Earlier in the evening I had received a message from Roy asking me to text her before my arrival so that she’d know that the person at her door wasn’t from Times Now. Times Now is a TV channel in India that Roy memorably described, for non-Indian readers, as “Fox News on acid.” The channel’s rabidly right-wing anchor routinely calls Roy “provocative” and “anti-national.”

“Last year, when a mob vandalized the house in which Roy was then living, the media vans, including one from Times Now, were parked outside long before the attack began. No one had informed the police. To be fair, Times Now wasn’t the only channel whose OB Van was parked in front of Roy’s house. But that too is a part of the larger point Roy has been making.

“Media outlets are not only complicit with the state, they are also indistinguishable from each other. The main anchor of a TV channel writes a column for a newspaper, the news editor has a talk show, etc. Roy told me that the monopoly of the media is like watching “an endless cocktail party where people are carrying their drinks from one room to the next.”

Then, in response to a question from Amitava Kumar on the move to arrest her on grounds of sedition for advocating azadi (freedom) for Kashmir, Arundhati Roy responds:

“Interestingly, the whole thing about charging me for sedition was not started by the Government, but by a few right-wing crazies and a few irresponsible media channels like Times Now which is a bit like Fox News on acid. Even when the Mumbai attacks happened, if you remember it was the media that began baying for war with Pakistan. This cocktail of religious fundamentalism and a crazed, irresponsible, unaccountable media is becoming a very serious problem, in India as well as Pakistan. I don’t know what the solution is. Certainly not censorship…”

Read the full article: The un-victim

Also read: Arnab Goswami edges out Barkha Dutt on power list

It happened one night on the day of the eclipse…

Times Now, Times Now, Times Now, Times Now

Guess what I bought my girlfriend on Feb 14?

24 February 2011

Ordinary mortals buy roses for their beau on Valentine’s Day. Sons of the soil buy TV news channels.

Well, that’s what Bangalore Mirror, the tabloid from The Times of India stable is reporting.

Former Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, son of the former prime minister and “humble farmer” H.D. Deve Gowda, already runs a general entertainment channel called Kasturi through his legislator-wife Anitha Kumaraswamy.

HDK is now reported to have bought the struggling 24×7 Kannada news channel, Samaya, for Rs 60 crore, as a “gift” for chhoti memsaab, the former movie actress Radhika.

Kumaraswamy told Bangalore Mirror, “Samaya channel is up for sale, and I am in talks with its owner. We still have not completed the deal.”

When we asked the ex-CM whether he was buying the channel for Radhika, he guffawed and hung up.

Kumaraswamy, a former film producer, no longer makes the pretence of keeping his relationship with the actress secret. The two have appeared as a “couple” in religious ceremonies.

Kasturi channel has already begun running “Coming Soon” promos of its news channel—tentatively titled Newz24. The rumour is that a former print journalist reported to be close to Kumaraswamy and currently heading a news channel is likely to take charge of the news channel operations.

Samaya, launched by Karnataka MLA Satish Jharkiholi, has been struggling since launch. Former Suvarna News editor Shashidhar Bhat recently joined the channel but what happens to him under the new owner will be breaking news.

The change of ownership of Samaya is only the latest evidence of a massive shakeup in Kannada media which has seen Vijaya Karnataka editor Vishweshwar Bhat join Kannada Prabha and Suvarna News editor Ravi Hegde join Udaya Vani. Tourism minister N. Janardhana Reddy—one of the infamous Reddy brothers—recently launched a news channel called JanaSri.

Read the full article: HDK is buying a news channel for his party—and for Radhika

Image: courtesy Bangalore Mirror

Why is Rupert Murdoch taking on Samir Jain?

23 February 2011

New Delhi’s media circles have agog all this week with news of a “sting” operation on The Times of India by The Sunday Times of London.

The question: why would Rupert Murdoch‘s paper take on Samir Jain‘s, especially when it is not revealing anything particularly new?

Is something afoot between the media giants?

Has a deal gone sour?

Have the first shots been fired in a war between News Corp and Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd?

The Sunday Times article has, however, been unavailable to readers because of paper’s paywall and because newspapers which subscribe to The Sunday Times syndication service have refrained from running it.

Below is the full text of the article, carried without the permission of the publishers. And in the dock is not just ToI but Hindi heavyweights like Dainik Bhaskar, Dainik Jagran and Aaj, the first two of whom are listed on the stock exchanges.

***

India’s media demand cash to run favourable news

By Nicola Smith/ Delhi

The Indian government has condemned a rise in so-called “paid news”, in which newspapers and television channels accept money to run favourable articles about politicians, companies and celebrities.

The move by Ambika Soni, the broadcasting minister, follows a damaging report commissioned by the Press Council of India, which revealed that the practise of playing for positive coverage in the Indian media was widespread.

Soni, who proposed a new body to regulate broadcasting, said the phenomenon was undermining the credibility of new reports. “The paid news issue does not crop up during the elections but at other times as well,” she said.

The Press Council report criticised newspapers and broadcasters that demand money from politicians to run sympathetic stories about them. It said some papers misrepresent paid-for advertising as news and enter “private treaties” with companies that guarantee favourable coverage in exchange for free shares.

The report quoted a long list of politicians who disclosed that newspaper had asked them to pay large sums to write about their campaigns during state elections in 2009.

Harmohan Dhawan, a former aviation minister, was told that if he wanted coverage, he would have to pay two local newspapers, Dainik Jagran and Dainik Bhaskar, up to one million rupees (£13,600) each.

“Representatives of the print medium came to me and asked for money. They said their newspapers (would) give coverage if I paid them money. They offered a ‘package’ to me and in one such package I was told editorials would be written in my favour,” he said.

The story was echoed by Santosh Singh, a candidate for the ruling Congress party in Uttar Pradesh, who said he had been offered packages costing up to one million rupees by the Dainik Jagran and Aaj newspapers.

“The representatives of these newspapers who me said they were merely following orders given to them by their managements,” he said.

The Press Council report also highlighted the role of Medianet, a company created Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd, which publishes The Times of India, The Economic Times and a range of other leading titles.

Medianet, for a price, openly offers to send journalists to cover launches or personality-related events, or arranges “news stories” based on a particular product to appear in the newspaper supplements.

A Sunday Times reporter telephoned Medianet last week posing as the public relations agent of a company wanting coverage for a party at Emporio, an exclusive shopping mall in Delhi.

Chandru Sambasivan, the head of Medianet’s Delhi office, said space could be bought in the Delhi Times supplement, the Times‘ society pages, for £27 a centimetre on the front page, of £16 inside.

He said it could “definitely” be dressed up as a genuine news story, as along it met a “celebrity quotient”. Celebrities were available to attend the event at an extra cost, he said.

“Once you are able to share it (the launch product) with us, we could always build a story around it and make an interesting article for the readers,” he said. “Basically, if you are looking at a launch, then it can go on ‘launch pad’, on page 3 of Delhi Times.”

Sambasivan confirmed that the latest launch pad feature, in which Katrina Kaif, the Bollywood star, promoted Uni-ball pens, had been paid for by a marketing company. The article, which has no writer’s name attached, does not make clear that it was sponsored.

In it, Kaif, 26, gushed: “I’m excited about being the face of a youthful, high-quality, international brand, which I have personally grown up with in the UK; and I particularly love Uni-Jetstream, which I think is the smoothest pen in the world.”

Ravi Dhariwal, the chief executive of The Times of India, said yesterday: “There is no paid in news in any of our main papers and titles. We do have advertising and promotional supplements which sometimes carry paid features.”

The practice of “paid news” has been widely criticised.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, one of the authors of Press Council report, said adverts posing as new were “cheating” readers.

Also read: Good morning! Your paper is free of paid news

Roy Greenslade: India’s dodgy ‘paid news’ phenomenon

‘The poor in rural India need BBC Hindi service’

23 February 2011

Eighteen leading intellectuals, including the BBC’s iconic voice from India, Sir Mark Tully, have written a letter to the editor of The Guardian, pleading for the continuation of broadcast of the BBC’s Hindi service.

“We are astonished at the news that the BBC management has decided to stop transmission of BBC Hindi radio on short wave from 1 April.

“For nearly seven decades BBC Hindi radio has been a credible source of unbiased and accurate information, especially in times of crisis: the 1971 war, the emergency in 1975, the communal riots after the demolition of the Ayodhya mosque in 1992.

“Today India is facing other serious problems: the ongoing conflicts in Kashmir, in the north-east and in vast areas in central and eastern India, where Maoist militants are fighting the state.

“Ten million listeners in India – most of them in rural and often very poor areas – need BBC Hindi radio and the accurate, impartial and independent news it provides.

“BBC Hindi transmissions are accessible in rural and remote areas and, as short-wave receivers can be battery-operated, they are available in places without electricity or during power cuts; they are an essential source of learning for schoolchildren and college students in rural India preparing for competitive exams; and they cannot be silenced in times when democracy is under threat.

“We strongly urge the UK government to rethink its decision to severely cut the funding for the BBC World Service to enable the continued transmissions of BBC Hindi on short-wave radio.”

The signatories are Sir Mark Tully, broadcaster and author; Gillian Wright; Arundhati Roy, Booker Prize winner; Vikram Seth, author; William Dalrymple, author; Ram Guha, historian; Kuldip Nayar, journalist and columnist; Amjad Ali Khan, musician; Inder Malhotra, journalist and columnist; M.J. Akbar, editor, India Today; Sam Miller, journalist and author; Sunita Naraian, environmentalist and editor, Down to Earth magazine, New Delhi; Kiran Bedi, reformist and the first woman IPS officer of India; Tessa Hamblin, director, rehabilitation, Indian institute of cerebral palsy; Swami Agnivesh, anti-slavery activist; Prashant Bhushan, Supreme Court lawyer; Dilawar K. Singh, financial adviser (defence services), ministry of defence; Neelima Mathur, foundation for responsible media, New Delhi, India.

Love Facebook? FB has a job for you in NY

22 February 2011

Facebook is seeking a Journalist Program Manager with proven experience using Facebook in progressive ways as a journalist.

The Journalist Program Manager will utilize both partnership and program management skills to help journalists understand the value of using Facebook, get started, and use it effectively over time.

This is a full-time position based in New York on the Marketing team, and will work closely with the Media Partnerships team.

http://www.facebook.com/careers/department.php?dept=communications&req=126609114078862

Link via Shobha Sarada Viswanathan

The minister, the prime minister & the advisor

22 February 2011

***

Was the information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni invited to the prime minister’s inquisition on television? Or not?

Depends on which paper you read.

If you read The Indian Express (top) on Monday, for instance, she was informed by the PMO about the interaction but then told about the space crunch and asked to stay away. If you read the Hindustan Times (below) on Tuesday, it was all the handiwork of the PM’s media advisor Harish Khare.

Images: courtesy Indian Express (top), Hindustan Times

***

Also read: Why the PM is hopelessly wrong about the media

How well is Harish Khare advising the prime minister?

Because when dog bites dog, it’s news—I

Because when dog bites dog, it’s news—II

Never believe anything until it’s officially denied

Rajeev Chandrasekhar buying a Malayalam daily?

21 February 2011

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the mobile phone baron turned media entrepreneur, is spreading his news media presence wings some more in the South.

After buying Asianet News in Kerala and launching Suvarna News in Karnataka, the Rajya Sabha member is about to obtain controlling stake in Kannada Prabha, the Kannada daily owned by the New Indian Express group.

Now, the New Indian Express reports that Chandrasekhar is looking at picking up a 49% stake in the Malayalam daily, Mangalam.

“Consultations are at a final stage for the deal between Mangalam daily and Asianet News, which may turn out  as a big financial breather for  the cash-strapped Mangalam group of publications.

“The idea is to float a joint stock venture with a common banner and bring the daily, which claims a fourth position in the regional language circulation-wise, and its future development under the new company.

“Though the Mangalam group was reportedly angling for a Rs 100 crore through the deal, Asianet News is willing to spare only Rs 20 crore plus for the JV. As per the proposal, various other publications of  Mangalam will be retained by the old company…. The editions of  the Mangalam daily, currently at five, is likely to be doubled as part of  the revamp.”

There is also plenty of buzz in the market that Rajeev Chandrasekhar is contemplating the launch of a web venture and an English news channel directed at markets in the South.

Link via Ramesh P.

Illustration: courtesy The Telegraph

Also read: Rajeev Chandrasekhar eyeing Kannada Prabha?

It’s official: Rajeev Chandrasekhar-KP alliance

Rajeev Chandrasekhar among India Today media barons

Why the PM is hopelessly wrong about media

19 February 2011

T.J.S. GEORGE writes: Does the media distort facts? The Prime Minister thinks so. By “focussing excessively” on scam after scam, does the media spoil India’s image? The Prime Minister thinks so. For the leader of a government that is neck-deep in scams, it is natural to think as the Prime Minister does. But that does not make it right. In fact the Prime Minister is hopelessly wrong.

Manmohan Singh was in conversation with television editors. A great deal can be said in criticism of news channels. Generally speaking, they are amateurish, childish in their “me first” claims, irritating in their competitive sensationalism, more irritating in their loudness, superficial, repetitive and often plain unprofessional. But, like newspapers, they are essentially mirrors.

News journalism may have its weaknesses, but functionally it merely reflects the reality around it. It does not generate governmental corruption, it only reports it. If scams demoralise the nation and spoil the image of the country, the blame lies squarely with politicians and officials and fixers who produce the scams and benefit from them. The Prime Minister must attack the scamsters, not the mirrors.

Actually, the media is doing an incomparably valuable national service by bringing corruption to public attention. After all, if the media had resolved not to do anything that would “spoil India’s image,” what would have happened? The shame of India would have spread anyway as the world would have known that India was a country where a roll of toilet paper could be sold for Rs 4000, and where decisions on spectrum allocations were made in Chennai’s Gopalpuram area, and where there were billionaires with more illegal funds in Swiss banks than billionaires in the top five countries put together. It is the people of India who would have remained in the dark about the extent of their rulers’ criminalities.

Worse, India would have sunk deeper and deeper into corruption since the corrupt would have been emboldened by the fact that they would never be exposed. The media, for all its excesses, has put the fear of god into the hearts of the criminally inclined politician, bureaucrat and “crony capitalist”. That even their private conversations may someday become public property is one of the best disincentives we have against corruption. The Prime Minister would have been smart to acknowledge this instead of suggesting that the media was negative in its attitude.

It is true that the media also has developed a taste for corruption. It has a long way to go before it can be called mature and creative. But even in its present three-fourth-baked state, it performs the function of a conscientious opposition. Without the media playing this role, Indian democracy would lose much of its substance especially since the formal opposition in Parliament is playing a petty obstructionist’s role.

Both in Delhi and in the various states, the Opposition’s role is to oppose – oppose for the sake of opposing. If the Government says the sun rises in the West, the Opposition will say: No, it rises in the North. In no other democracy is Parliament’s functioning completely blocked as a form of Opposition politics. Even on urgently needed social and electoral reforms, they never show the unanimity they readily bring out when their salary increase bills come up for passing. When corruption cases come up, different parties take different positions as all are entrenched in corruption in different ways.

In such an environment the media becomes the only reliable forum for actionable information and democratic mobilisation. Even those who get the wrong end of the stick really have no reason to grumble.

As Ram Mohan Roy explained:

“A government conscious of rectitude of intention cannot be afraid of public scrutiny by the Press since this instrument can be equally well employed as a weapon of defence”.

Those who are beyond defence cannot of course use the weapon. But Manmohan Singh should have known that the real scoundrels who spoil India’s image are outside the media.

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