Archive for May, 2011

Khushwant Singh stands up for Barkha Dutt, again

23 May 2011

For the second time in five months, Khushwant Singh, the former editor of the now-defunct Illustrated Weekly of India, stands up for the beleaguered NDTV group editor and anchor, Barkha Dutt, in Hindustan Times:

“I shudder to think what would be left of Indian television if Barkha Dutt decides to call it a day.

“For many years I made it a point to watch two programmes to keep myself abreast of what were the main issues facing the country. One was Barkha’s We, the People and the other was The Big Fight by Rajdeep Sardesai.

“Both Barkha and Sardesai did their homework in order to ask right questions from the people they had invited to appear in the programmes. They also took care to have eminent people who had conflicting views so that viewers would get different viewpoints before making up their own minds.

“Barkha does a lot more than We, the People. Wherever riots and violence erupt, Barkha is the first TV personality to give viewers an idea what is going on and why. Our countrymen rely heavily on what she says because she never takes sides but gives participants an occasion to put across their views to a huge audience, which runs into millions.

“Recently when Osama bin Laden was killed by American commandos in Abbottabad and viewers round the globe wanted to know how Pakistanis felt about the entry of foreign forces in their soil without their permission or knowledge, Barkha was in Pakistan in order to know what Pakistani leaders had to say about it. Next to Americans Pakistanis hate Indians.

“Barkha is a fearless woman. Her good looks and dress-sense add to her acceptability. Some people say that Barkha Dutt has a swollen head. I have no means of checking if that is true. I have met her only once for a few minutes. Far from being swollen-headed, I found her totally unaware about her iconic status.”

Also read: Barkha Dutt tarred by pure malice: Khushwant Singh

M.R. SHIVANNA, a true 24/7 journalist, is dead

22 May 2011

sans serif records with regret the passing away of M.R. SHIVANNA, an unsung hero of Indian journalism, in Mysore on Saturday. He was 55, and is survived by his wife and daughter.

For 30 years and more, Shivanna slogged away in remarkable obscurity and was one of the pillars on which stands India’s most successful English evening newspaper, Star of Mysore. Starting out as a sub-editor in the local tabloid, Shivanna, a son of a farmer, had grown to be editor of the family-owned SoM at the time of his death.

Shivanna was no poet. His prose wouldn’t set the Cauvery on fire, nor was it intended to.

First in at work and last man out of the office, he wrote simple functional sentences day after relentless day. While dozens of young men cut their teeth at Star of Mysore on their way to bigger things in Bangalore and beyond, Shivanna stayed on, lending his boss K.B. GANAPATHY the kind of quiet solidity every owner and editor can only envy.

Here, CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY, one of Shivanna’s myriad ex-colleagues, who moved from Star of Mysore on to Frontline, The Week and The Times of India, among other ports of call, pays tribute.

***

By CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY

“(MRS).”

For decades, lakhs of Mysoreans have seen these three letters of the alphabet appended to thousands of news reports in Star of Mysore and Mysooru Mitra, Mysore’s dour media siblings, steered successfully by its founder-editor K.B. Ganapathy.

For most readers, these initials are a daily mystery, unravelled only in the anniversary issue of the two newspapers in February and March, respectively, when a mandatory “long-form” piece or an interview appears with the full form of the byline: M.R. Shivanna.

But for the remainder of the year, (MRS) was a byword for his straight, unaffected style.

As a journalist, Shivanna knew his limitations and that perhaps was his greatest strength. In a world of flamboyant story-tellers, he was the odd man out. Shorn of scholarly airs or intellectual pretensions, MRS pursued his vocation with a constancy of purpose, a fierce diligence that is rare in a profession where careerism has taken hold.

At times it seemed as if MRS literally lived in the newsroom, straddling two worlds, two sensibilities.

He finished his work at Star of Mysore, which is an English evening newspaper, in the afternoon, only to seamlessly drift to the other part of the building and discharge his duties at Mysooru Mitra, the Kannada morning daily form the same group.

You called the office at any unearthly hour, and more often than not MRS would pick up the phone, ready with pen on paper. A bulk of the information from across the districts was communicated over phone by a network of stringers and reporters, who spoke in varying  degrees  of clarity. MRS was an expert in tactfully prising out ‘news’ from these guys, night or day.

MRS was a 24×7 journalist before 24×7 became business jargon.

***

In 1990, just before taking up my journalism course, I ventured to work in Star of Mysore as a trainee.

K.B. Ganapathy, after a cursory chat, called in MRS and asked him to take me under his wing and put me through the paces.

At first glance, MRS was distinctly unimpressive: He was frail, he had a funny moustache, he tucked his shirt out, walked with a slouch and was staccato in his speech. He fobbed me off to his colleague at the desk, Nandini Srinivasan, who helped me tremendously through the early years.

Over a period of time, slowly, steadily I built some rapport with MRS. Sometimes he would call me out for an occasional smoke which I would readily accept in the hope of having a good conversation. But MRS would keep to himself and allow me to do all the talking, seldom proffering advice or insight, a genial smile displaying his tobacco-stained teeth.

There was a manic phase, of about a month or so, when I drank with him regularly at a fancy bar in Mysore. These sessions were unremarkable, almost matter-of-fact,  as MRS insisted that the Hindi music be played at an exceptionally high volume. There was no chance for exchange of ‘journalistic views’ leave alone banter.

Through the years in college, my association with Star and MRS continued. He would give me occasional assignments and background on stories that I was following.  Although writing in English did not come naturally to MRS, he honed it over the years through repeated practice.

His news reports were structured tightly in the classic “5 Ws and 1 H” formula, and it served him well.

There were reams and reams of buff paper on which he wrote with a cheap ball point pen that leaked, smudged and grew errant due to over use. He had this peculiar habit of bringing the nib close to his lips and blowing at it, like as if he was fanning a dying cigarette. He did that always, probably to fuel his pen’s fervor.

As an old-school journalist brought up on letter press, MRS also used and understood sub-editing notation better than most journalists. He used a red ink pen to underline a letter twice for capitalisation, a hurried swirl to denote deletion, “stet” if he wanted something to stay as is.

And for all his limitations with the language, if you were ever at a sudden loss for a word, those standard ones that you use to embellish journalistic copy, MRS would spout it in a second. The words swam in his head all the time.

Instinct and Intuition guided his journalistic disposition.

Passion and Persistence gave it  further ballast.

***

In 1993, “MRS” won the Karnataka Rajyothsava award. And as it happens in journalistic circles, there were whispers of how he had engineered it all, how it was a complete joke, how he was underserving, etc. MRS continued unfazed, doing what he did best, day after day after day. In due course, the tired critics went to sleep.

Many years later, at the Taj Lands End in Bombay, I hastened to the breakfast buffet for a quick bite before a conference. I had by then quit journalism to join Intel.

I heard a familiar “Hello, Chethu”.

I swung around to see MRS holding a bowl of fruits.

Over breakfast, he told me that Intel had flown him down to cover the event and simply amazed me with the information he had collected about the company’s latest products and plans. He kept jotting down notes verifying and cross-checking facts as we spoke. That evening we promised to get together but it didn’t happen.

During R.K .Laxman’s  last visit to Mysore about two years back, MRS took on the entire responsibility of hosting him in the City. Apart from ensuring that the Laxmans stayed in a friend’s hotel he organised their trip to Chamundi hills for an exclusive darshan. Laxman was profusely thankful to him during the visit.

On their last day in Mysore, MRS called me over the phone. He began with enquiring about my well being and slowly moved on to  a long conversation on Laxman’s perspective on various issues around him. I took the journalist’s bait and went with the flow filling him with facts, quotes, trivia.

I imagined MRS at his desk, his pen scribbling away on sheafs of paper, periodically blowing into his nib, probably conjuring the headline, the lead, the middle for his copy.

MRS will continue to write wherever he is. In the end, the smudges don’t matter really.

Also read: A song for an unsung hero: C.P. Chinnappa

***

IN MEMORIAM

Naresh Chandra Rajkhowa: journo who broke Dalai Lama story

Chari, a lens legend at The Hindu

Harishchandra Lachke: A pioneering cartoonist

T.N. Shanbag: Man who educated Bombay journos

Rajan Bala: cricket writer of cricket writers

Jyoti Sanyal: The language terrorist and teacher

Russy Karanjia: The bulldog of an editor

Sabina Sehgal Saikia: The resident food writer

M.G. Moinuddin: The self-taught newspaper designer

Rajiv Gandhi: 69 ads over 41 pages in 12 papers

21 May 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: On the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi‘s 20th death anniversary today, different ministries of the Congress-led UPA government are falling over each other to demonstrate that the “collective flame of political sycophancy” continues to burn brightly and shamelessly.

While Rajiv Gandhi’s widow Sonia Gandhi and their son Rahul Gandhi talk of “austerity” when it suits them, nearly a dozen Union ministries and a couple of State governments have released tens of ads through the government-controlled Department of Audio Visual Publicity (DAVP) to remind Indians that such a man as he walked this earth.

In eleven English news and business papers published out of New Delhi, there were 65 advertisements amounting to 38¼ pages, glorifying The Great Leader, without whom India wouldn’t have entered the 21st century.

Hindustan Times: 24-page issue; 9 RG ads amounting to 5¼ broadsheet pages

The Times of India: 32-page issue; 10 ads amounting to 6 broadsheet pages

Indian Express: 28-page issue; 10 ads amounting to 5 broadsheet pages

Mail Today (compact): 42-page issue; 8 ads amounting to 7 compact pages

The Hindu: 22-page issue; 6 ads amounting to 3½ broadsheet pages

The Pioneer: 16-page issue; 7 ads amounting to 3½ broadsheet pages

The Statesman: 16-page isuse; 4 ads amounting to 2½ broadsheet pages

***

The Economic Times: 16-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1¼ broadsheet pages

Business Standard: 14-page issue; 4 ads amouning to 1¾ broadsheet pages

Financial Express: 24-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1½ broadsheet pages

Mint (Berliner): 12-page issue; 1 ad amounting to one compact page

Among the departments and ministries seeking to remind the nation of Rajiv Gandhi’s magical powers are the department of information and publicity; the ministries of commerce and industry, tourism, human resource development, social justice & empowerment, power, micro small and medium industries, information and broadcasting, steel; the state governments of Haryana and Rajasthan; and Rajiv Gandhi centre for biotechnology.

Last year, on the 19th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, the historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in an edit-page article in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”

On his birthday in August last year, The Telegraph reported that “Union ministries released more ads on Rajiv Gandhi’s birthday today than on the anniversaries of the rest of India’s Prime Ministers put together in the past one year, Press Information Bureau sources said.”

For the record, The Telegraph received four ads amounting to 2½ pages this year.

Which is why ‘Times Now’ didn’t do an exit poll?

20 May 2011

The verdict in the assembly elections to the five States has been signed, sealed and delivered, but the battle is still on between the English TV news channels, with both Times Now and CNN-IBN making contrasting claims of their leadership on E-day and the accuracy of their exit poll and survey predictions.

As the former Times Now CEO Chintamani Rao wrote some months ago:

“These are not conflicting statements. But when you see the ads from which these claims are quoted, notice the asterisk: *conditions apply. It seems that at every news channel there is someone whose job is to slice and dice TAM data until they find a combination of audience, markets, and dayparts in which that channel is No. 1. The most prolific of these data analysts seems to work at CNN-IBN.”

Nevertheless, Times Now‘s potshot at CNN-IBN’s post-poll survey—”get the right picture, not the wrong figures”—is interesting because, for all its heft, Times Now was happy doing a a cheap “poll of polls” debate in the studio, while CNN-IBN was spending good money to feel the pulse of the nation through Yogendra Yadav‘s CSDS.

CSDS got many things wrong, but at least it is better to have spent and failed than not to have spent at all?

Also read: It’s their opinion that they have done an exit poll

With so many polls, somebody had to get it right?

Never let facts come in the way of a good story

Bombay journalist arrested under OSA for scoop

19 May 2011

In the kind of incident that shines a light on the kind of police-state India is fast becoming, a former reporter of the Bombay tabloid Mumbai Mirror has been jailed under the draconian Official Secrets Act (OSA) for an article that exposed the government railway police (GRP).

In June 2010, Tarakant Dwivedi wrote a lead story in the tabloid owned by The Times of India group under his pen name Akela, on how weapons purchased by the GRP after the 26/11 terror attacks were rotting the armoury due to water leakage in the monsoon.

The news report was backed up with two pictures (shot by Raju Shinde) which showed SLR rifles soaked in water lying on the floor of the armoury, and plastic sheets placed on top of a cupboard containing rifles and pistols at the CST armoury to prevent water from seeping in.

In recognition of his efforts that showed the railway police in all their glory, Dwivedi, who has joined MiD-DaY since  his expose, was booked for trespass and arrested under section 3 (1) (a) the OSA.

The relevant section reads:

“Penalties for spying. (1) If any person for any purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State- (a) approaches, inspects, passes over or is in the vicinity of, or enters, any prohibited place.”

Bombay’s journalists today took out a march to register their protest at the arrest of the scribe under OSA. Akela has been remanded to three days’ police custody.

Mid-Day editor Sachin Kalbag writes:

“This action smacks of vendetta, and no free press in any democracy should bow to this bullying by the police, which is clearly an effort to muzzle the press…. While the courts may eventually throw out the case, the harassment of going through the ordeal will serve as a deterrent for other journalists and publications.”

Read Dwivedi’s story: Leaks in CST armoury put new anti-terror arms under threat

Also read: You can’t muzzle the truth

Niira Radia, Mukesh Ambani, NDTV & Prannoy Roy

19 May 2011

In conversation number #132 in the infamous Niira Radia tapes, the lobbyist whose name has become synonymous with the 2G scam, talks to M.K. Venu, then of The Economic Times, in July 2009:

Venu: Is Manoj (Modi) is here (in Delhi) today also, no?

Radia: Yeah, he is here, he is leaving in the afternoon, later part of the afternoon. We are meeting Prannoy (Roy of NDTV) today. We need to support Prannoy, you know… We feel it needs to be supported.

Now, the penny drops.

Money Life, the personal finance magazine run by the investigative journalist Sucheta Dalal, reports that the American investment firm D.E. Shaw has picked up a 14.2% stake in NDTV, providing an exit to another blue chip investor, Goldman Sachs, which held an equivalent stake.

Reports Money Life:

“Interestingly, the D.E. Shaw investment in NDTV has happened in less than two weeks since it joined hands with Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) to enter the Indian financial services sector. Now we know that Mukesh Ambani has a soft spot for NDTV’s promoters and anchors and that they had previously approached him for an investment.”

Manoj Modi is Mukesh Ambani’s Man Friday. Niira Radia represented Mukesh Ambani and counted NDTV Imagine among her many clients before the 2G scam broke.

M.J. Akbar‘s Sunday Guardian reported in March that Radia was behind the January 2010 launch of a book by bureaucrat-turned-politician N.K. Singh in London, for which Ambani, Venu and NDTV’s Barkha Dutt travelled together on the same plane.

Read the full article: NDTV continues to find buyers

Listen to the conversation: #132 M.K. Venu: July 09, 2009

81-year-old hack who never files gets a 3D film

18 May 2011

The official trailer of the first Steven Spielberg-Peter Jackson 3D film on Tintin, the boy-faced Belgian reporter is now out.

Tintin, whose byline first appeared in the church newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle, would have been 81 this year. He never sat at a desk, never took notes, never filed a story and therefore never missed a deadline. He survived two depressions,  innumerable cost-cutting measures, and job freezes.

Worse, his pet Snowy was always with him.

Also read: Can a boy-actor hold a candle to an editor?

If Steven Spielberg has a casting problem…

All fun and no work makes Tintin a good boy

Was Tintin gay?

Baal ki khaal. Dus hazaar tadtadate toofan

External reading: The Economist on Tintin

A top-down salute to a bottom-up revolution

17 May 2011

What is the function of a “masthead”—nameplate, as some call it—in the modern era?

In the eyes of the traditionalists, the masthead is the calling card of the publication, sacrosanct, something that shouldn’t be touched because that is how readers recognise their morning poison.

Yes, if a newspaper is sold largely at the newsstand, but in a country where newspapers are largely delivered home by hawkers, does the reader, really notice the masthead every day? Or does he take it for granted?

The Times of India, like Google, merrily plays around with its masthead, incorporating images into it to celebrate festivals sometimes, and monetising it by selling it to advertisers on other occasions.

In the UK and USA, newspapers sometimes lower their masthead to announce big news. But how low can you go?

Above is the front page of The Telegraph, Calcutta, of 14 May 2011, the day after Mamata Banerjee‘s long march to “liberate” Bengal from the world’s longest democratically elected communist rule ended in her election, with the paper’s masthead at the rank bottom of the page.

Also read: Mastheads are no longer as sacred as they used to be

Selling the soul or sustaining the business?

After Athreya and Kautilya, enter “Chanakya”

16 May 2011

Six months after Vir Sanghvi said he had “suspended” his weekly column Counterpoint, in the wake of the Niira Radia tapes that had him dictating his weekly output to the 2G scam-tainted lobbyist for her approval, the Hindustan Times has announced a new column in the slot occupied by Sanghvi’s.

The byline: “Chanakya“.

In the inaugural column, Chanakya who describes himself “as an outside admirer of the Left”, suggests the purging of Prakash Karat after the Left defeat in West Bengal.

So, who could Chanakya be?

***

Hindustan Times has had a strange history with pseudonymous authors.

In December 2008, Raju Narisetti, the founder of Mint, the business daily launched by HT, exited the paper in the wake of an open letter by “a serving IAS officer writing under the pseudonym Athreya“, which attacked prime minister Manmohan Singh.

The open letter by the IAS officer led to a question being posed to the government by the opposition BJP in Parliament and an abrasive response from then home minister P. Chidambaram.

Narisetti wrote a blog post answering Chidambaram and then printed the clarification in the paper on the use of pseudonyms:

“In November 1937, the Modern Review, then India’s most well-regarded journal of opinion, published an article on Jawaharlal Nehru written by Chanakya, an obvious pseudonym. The author hit out at Nehru’s latent dictatorial tendencies and his “intolerance for others and a certain contempt for the weak and inefficient”. Its author warned: “Jawaharlal might fancy himself as a Caesar.” There were howls of protest from loyalists until it was revealed much later that Nehru himself was the author of this piece.”

Thanks to Niira Radia, “Chanakya” returns to Kasturba Gandhi Marg.

***

In his avatar as a columnist, the Union minister for forests and environment Jairam Ramesh wrote under the pen name Kautilya.

The former Congress prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao was routinely referred to as Chanakya. Hindustan Times chairman Shobana Bharatiya is a Congress member of Parliament.

Also read: An open letter to the PM

An open clarification on an open letter

Express, NDTV, Tehelka, HT & the Bhushans

14 May 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Three weeks ago, Tehelka magazine ran a profile on the father and son lawyer-pair, Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan, who are on the Lokpal drafting committee.

Authored by Rohini Mohan, the piece inter alia repeated the canard that had been artfully spread about the Bhushans: that they had been allotted two prime farm-house plots by Mayawati “for a song”; that they had evaded paying stamp duty on a mansion purchased in Allahabad; that a CD involving Amar Singh hinted at their dark dealings, and so on.

The following week, Tehelka set the record straight, running a two-page clarification by the author of the original article, acknowledging that the magazine had got “some things wrong” on three key counts (see the Bhushans’ 11-page, point-by-point rebuttal here).

The Tehelka clarification has elicited a response from prime minister Manmohan Singh‘s media advisor, Harish Khare, in the latest issue of the magazine:

“Please permit me to put on record my appreciation of your decision to print a detailed clarification about the excellent cover story on the Bhushans. The clarification in no way distracts from Tehelka‘s commitment to responsible and rigorous journalism but it certainly is a welcome departure from the self-serving arrogance that has regrettably become the preferred style among many media practitioners.”

Tehelka is not alone in the course correction.

# The Times of India which first carried a page one story stating that the CD was genuine—a day after the Hindustan TimesVinod Sharma had dished out the same line on the basis of some unknown laboratory report—soon carried a story stating that the central forensic science laboratory (CFSL) had concluded that the CD was doctored.

# NDTV 24×7, which played no small part in the Bhushan smear campaign, asking repeatedly if the Bhushans should stay on the Lokpal panel despite the “evidence” against them, too, did an about-turn this week.

After the Supreme Court lifted a gag order on an earlier Amar Singh CD, correspondent Vishnu Som used the occasion to join the dots and show the verbatim lines in the two CDs to establish the point that the new CD had been cut and pasted from the old one, a point the Bhushans had been making from day one.

However, the key players in the “crude and disgusting character assassination” of the Bhushans (as Express columnist Soli Sorabjee termed the orchestrated campaign) continue to pretend as if nothing happened.

There has not been so much as a squeak from the Hindustan Times‘after the Chandigarh CFSL report showed the CD was doctored unlike its own prognosis.

For his part, Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta uses the assembly victories of Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalitha in today’s paper, to explain his paper’s visceral opposition to what he calls the Armani-Jimmy Choo “Revolution” of Jantar Mantar”, which resulted in the formation of the Lokpal panel with the Bhushans on it.

Gupta’s piece has a Freudian line in the first paragraph:

“Your best friends would catch you in five-star hotel lobbies and chide: ‘You defending the system? What’s wrong with you, you were such a nice guy?’”

Notwithstanding his Tehelka letter, let the record state that Harish Khare, a deputy editor at The Hindu before he joined Team Manmohan, has been at the receiving end of Express‘ barbs (here and here).

Also read: Because when dog bites dog, it’s news—I

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

How well is the PM’s media advisor advising him?

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