Archive for January, 2012

Did Chidambaram walk out of Express awards?

23 January 2012

The grapevine is that some ministers boycotted events in which media houses had chosen members of Team Anna for awards last year. Now, this item appears in the gossip columns of The Sunday Guardian.

Apparently home minister P. Chidambaram vamoosed from the Ramnath Goenka excellence in journalism awards function organised by The Indian Express after he found that 2G scam-buster J. Gopikrishnan of The Pioneer had been picked for the best print journalist f the year.

Orders have been reserved for February 4 on Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy‘s plea seeking to make Chidambaram a party in the 2G scam, alongside A. Raja, who was felled by Gopikrishnan.

Image: courtesy The Sunday Guardian

Also read: The Pioneer journo who brought A. Raja to book

Everybody loves (to claim credit for) an expose

SMS IPUB4 TO 51818 for journalist of the year

ET joins Mint, has questions on RIL-TV18 deal

20 January 2012

Two days after Mint front-paged a story that SEBI was looking into the Reliance-Network18/TV18-ETV deal, the country’s biggest business newspaper, The Economic Times has joined force.

A story on page 9 of ET, headlined “Will the RIL-TV18 deal trigger takeover code?“, says SEBI “may ask for details” about  Reliance funding Network18/TV18 to help it purchase RIL’s stake in ETV, “if there’s any change in control” [of ownership of Network18/TV18].

“The deal between Reliance Industries and Network18 Group has put the spotlight on the elusive concept of control as some analysts speculate whether the energy-to-education conglomerate’s investment in the media firm could potentially place RIL in effective charge of the Raghav Bahl controlled entity.”

On paper, Reliance will route its investment in Network18 through “Independent Media Trust”. The trust will subscribe to the optionally convertible debentures (OCDs) issued by the holding company of the Network18 group. This money will then be used by the promoters of Network18/TV18 to invest in the rights issues of its two listed companies, purchase RIL’s stake in ETV and repay debts.

The catch is, Reliance can convert its OCDs into equity as some later stage.

ET quotes a Morgan Stanley report of January 6 that the country’s biggest business house may ultimately end up as the single largest shareholder of Network18 Group’s two listed entities.

“Assuming the debentures are converted and that RIL will be the ultimate beneficiary of the promoter’s part of the rights issues, the RIL trust would be the beneficiary of 44% stake in Network18 and 28.5% stake in TV18,” the Morgan Stanley report said.

***

The latest issue of Outlook Business too has a story on the RIL-TV18-ETV deal.

Headlined “Networking a way out”, the intro to the piece reads “The absurd valuation that Network18 is paying for buying a piece in Eenadu defies economic rationale.”

The piece quotes Star India CEO Peter Mukherjea, who calls the deal a marriage of convenience between an ugly bride and a physically challenged groom.

“One was deep in debt and needed to get cash into the business quickly, and the other was sitting on an asset they purchased some years ago but were not able to monetise. Structuring the deal this way provides an escape hatch for both. I guess they both will live happily ever after—or will they?”

Infographic: courtesy The Economic Times

Also read: Mint says SEBI looking into RIL-Network18/TV18-ETV deal

Rajya Sabha TV tears into RIL-Network18-ETV deal

Will RIL-TV18-ETV deal win SEBI, CCI approval?

The sudden rise of Mukesh Ambani, media mogul

The Indian Express, Reliance & Shekhar Gupta

Niira Radia, Mukesh Ambani, Prannoy Roy & NDTV

At 7, Race Course Road, this is Pankaj Pachauri

19 January 2012

In what is perhaps the first acknowledgement of the fact that the UPA government could do with slightly better media schmoozing, Pankaj Pachauri, the host of NDTV Profit’s magazine show, Money Mantra, has been roped in as communications advisor at the prime minister’s office.

Pachauri, 48, has previously worked at The Sunday Observer, India Today and the BBC Hindi service in London. He will report to the PM’s principal secretary Pulok Chatterji.

An official press release reads:

“Pachauri, who will report to the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, will advise on communicating the Governments programmes, policies and achievements to the media and the public at large, particularly using the electronic, print and new and social media.”

Pachauri’s first two tweets to his nearly 26,500 followers since taking over reads:

# “Prime minister starts discussions on skill development with a dozen cabinet colleagues. Most important issue for this decade.”

# “Adviser to PM on skill development S. Ramadorai presenting roadmap to train and skill millions of youth in India.”

The PM’s media advisor Harish Khare, who has resigned in the wake of Pachauri’s appointment, has been quoted by PTI as saying: “I want to rediscover the joys of being a reporter.”

Image: courtesy Mail Today

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

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

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

N. Ram’s farewell letter to The Hindu staff

18 January 2012

The following is the full text of the letter sent off by Narasimhan Ram, editor-in-chief of The Hindu group of publications, to his colleagues on Wednesday, 18 January 2012, on the eve of his relinquishment of office.

***

January 18, 2012

Dear colleagues

Today I step down as editor-in-chief and publisher of our publications, The Hindu, Business Line, Frontline, and Sportstar, and also as printer as applicable.

In consequence, Siddharth Varadarajan, D. Sampathkumar, R. Vijayasankar, and Nirmal Shekhar, all editors, take over, with effect from January 19, 2012, as editors of The Hindu, Business Line, Frontline, and Sportstar respectively responsible for the selection of news under the Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act of 1867. And K. Balaji, managing director of Kasturi & Sons Ltd., takes over, under the same Act, as publisher of all our publications and also as Printer as applicable.

I will continue to be a wholetime Director of Kasturi & Sons Ltd.

These changes on the editorial side are significant, indeed milestones in our progress as a newspaper-publishing company.

On the one hand, they represent a conscious and well-prepared induction of fresh and younger blood at the top levels of our editorial operations, not of course as one-person shows but as captains of teams of talented professionals who work on the basis of collegiality, mutual respect, trust, professional discipline, and cooperation.

On the other hand, these editorial changes are a vital part of the process of professionalization and contemporization under way in all the company’s operations. I am clear that this is the only way to face the future – the opportunities as well as the challenges.

The Hindu is, way and ahead, India’s most respected newspaper – about that there can be little question.

Founded on September 20, 1878, we are the oldest living daily newspaper in the freedom movement tradition. Our strengths are drawn from our rich history, and equally from the way our organization has contemporized, transformed itself continuously and pro-actively in content, in mode of presentation, in style, in engaging the reader, and of course technologically, over 133 years in keeping with the enormous changes that have taken place in India and the world.

Generations of editors, managing directors, and other business and professional leaders at various levels, but above all many thousands of our hard-working and dedicated journalistic and non-journalistic employees have made us what we
are today. About us it will certainly be no cliché to say: individuals come and go, the institution goes on.

With a daily net-paid circulation close to 1.5 million, The Hindu is today one of India’s three largest circulated English language newspapers. The latest round of the Indian Readership Survey confirms our position as South India’s No. 1 English language daily in terms of readership. Our other publications, Business Line, Frontline, and Sportstar, have also developed well, winning a reputation for independence, integrity, reliability, relevance, and quality.

For complex reasons, the main news media – the print press as well as broadcast television – are in crisis across the developed world; this phenomenon is well known and well documented.

Summing up the evidence, Christoph Riess, chief executive officer of the world association of newspapers, told those assembled at the world newspaper congress and world editors forum in Vienna in October 2011: ‘Circulation is like the sun. It continues to rise in the East and decline in the West.’

And it is not just circulation; Riess’s observation applies to readership and, in varying measure and with some qualifications, to revenues as well.

We can easily see how fortunate we, and our counterparts publishing in English and various other languages in India and across the developing world, are to be located in another media world. The chief differentiating characteristic of this media world is that printed newspapers (and also broadcast television) are in growth mode, some of us in buoyant  growth mode.

How long this duality will endure is a matter of conjecture. But there are exciting opportunities out there in our media world and they must be seized strategically and with deft footwork. Digital journalism – good journalism on the existing and emerging digital platforms – is an exciting domain where a combination of quality, reliability, interactivity, creative  ways to engage the reader, and growth with commercial viability will be key.

There are, equally, tough challenges – especially a hardening business environment and rising commercial pressure on editorial values and on the independence and integrity of editorial content, seen, for example, in the recently exposed notorious practices of paid news and private treaties.

The negative tendencies that have surfaced in the Indian news media have been sharply criticized by the Press Council of India Chairman, Justice Markandey Katju; and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has reflected on the problem in a rather different way. I have discussed the opportunities as well as the challenges in some detail in a recent address I gave at the Indian History Congress in Patiala on ‘The Changing Role of the News Media in Contemporary India’.

The last thing we need is complacency.

In my understanding, the two central functions of a trustworthy and relevant press (and news media) are (a) the credible-informational and (b) the critical-investigative-adversarial.

A third is the pastime function, which is important, especially for engaging the reader in a wholesome way; but it must be constantly kept in perspective and proportion and must not, in my view, be allowed to outweigh, not to mention squash, the two central functions. There are also valuable derivatives of the two central functions: public education; serving as a forum for analysis, disputation, criticism, and comment; and agenda building on issues that matter.

It is to maintain and strengthen our vantage position as India’s most respected newspaper in an increasingly challenging professional and business environment that the Board of Directors of Kasturi & Sons Ltd. adopted ‘Living our Values: Code of Editorial Values’ on April 18, 2011.

‘The greatest asset of The Hindu, founded in September 1878,’ the Code begins, ‘is trust. Everything we do as a company revolves, and should continue to revolve, round this hard-earned and inestimable long-term asset. The objective of codification of editorial values is to protect and foster the bond of trust between our newspapers and their readers.’

The Code emphasizes the imperative need for the Company to protect the integrity of the newspapers it publishes, their editorial content, and the business operations that sustain and help grow the newspapers.

It commits our newspapers as well as the Company to uncompromising fealty to the values that are set out in the Code.

It underlines the importance of the business and editorial departments ‘working together closely on the basis of mutual respect and cooperation and in the spirit of living these values in a contemporary sense.’

It mandates ‘transparency and disclosure in accordance with the best contemporary norms and practices in the field’ and also avoidance of conflict of interest, keeping in mind the codified values.

Finally, the Code lays down this mandate for contemporization of all our operations: ‘There is no wall but there is a firm line between the business operations of the Company and editorial operations and content. Pursuant to the above-mentioned values and objectives, it is necessary to create a professionalism in the editorial functioning independent of shareholder interference so as to maintain an impartiality, fairness, and objectivity in editorial and journalistic functioning.’

As I step down from my editorial positions with a decent measure of satisfaction over our collective achievement, at an age that is close enough to 67, I warmly thank all our journalists and non-journalist colleagues for the trust, hard work, and cooperation they have invested in The Hindu group of publications and the Company during my editorship.

I can assure you that with this completion of the process of editorial succession, our publications will be in able and trustworthy hands and our values as strong as ever.

N. Ram

***

Also read: N. Ram to quit as The Hindu editor-in-chief on Jan 19

N.Ram: caustic, opinionated, sensitive and humane

Why N. Ravi quit The Hindu after 20 years as editor

Nirmala Lakshman: I didn’t step down; I resigned

Malini Parthasarathy quits as Hindu‘s executive editor

The four great wars of N. Ram on The Hindu soil

N. Murali: The Hindu is run like a banana republic

An ad? An edit? Advertorial? Edvertisement?

17 January 2012

The front page of The Sunday Times of India on January 15, with the anchor story at the bottom headlined”Get 110% out of your body with Functional Manual Therapy”.

Credited to “TNN” (Times News Network) and printed in the same body font as the rest of the paper, the article touts an “effective evaluation and treatment system that promotes optimum human performance by enhancing body mobility.”

It also mentinos where the therapy is available. At VARDAN, a wellness center in New Delhi, which is “an initiative of The Times Group in collaboration with The Institute of Physical Art (IPA), USA.”

An identical front-page article in The Economic Times on Monday, has led to a Wall Street Journal article. The article quotes Times CEO Ravi Dhariwal as saying that the VARDAN articl…

“is a news report, not an advt/advertorial. No money has been charged for it. We do cover our in-house activities/events/launches in a similar manner.”

Image: courtesy The Sunday Times of India

Read the full article: Is this a news story or an ad?

Shekhar Gupta slams conflict of interest charge

17 January 2012

Shekhar Gupta, the editor-in-chief of The Indian Express, has responded to a press release from a nine bunch of activists led by the Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan that the sponsorship of the Ramnath Goenka awards for excellence in journalism this year was tainted by allegations of conflict of interest.

Bhushan & Co had linked coverage of some environmental issues in the Indian Express with the lead sponsor of the Express awards, Jaypee Group and associate sponsor Mahyco Monsanto.

A news report in today’s Express carrying news of the awards’ fete quotes Gupta as saying:

“Their implication is that these companies paid us back as sponsors of this event. Such insinuations aren’t new for The Indian Express…. Be it governments, corporates, political parties, all tend to attribute motives to what we report whenever they disagree with it…. Now there’s another group that’s joined these ranks.

“Activists, a section of civil society, individuals who push and prod governments and institutions and play a vital role in our democracy. We hold them in respect as we do everyone we cover and the only professional way to cover them is through good journalism, by sifting their noise from their news. And by remaining committed to what is virtually inscribed in our DNA: the code under which the wall between editorial and advertising in The Indian Express has always been and will always be impregnable.”

Photograph: courtesy Neeraj Priyadarshi/ The Indian Express

Read the full article: Vibrant journalism watchdog… not sunshine journalism

Also read: Conflict of interest in Indian Express journalism awards?

Indian Express, Bhushans and the scoop that wasn’t

Express, NDTV, Hindustan Times and the Bhushans

‘India’s cricket reporters too soft on cricketers’

17 January 2012

India Drown Under. Surrender Down Under. Wallopped! Tigers at home, lambs abroad.

The adjectives are tripping off TV screens and sports pages, following the precipitous fall in Team India’s performance in Australia, where the 0-3 scoreline looks less from a cricket series, more from a tennis match.

The blame, as usual, is being laid at the door of the IPL and the surfeit of Twenty20 cricket. The cricket board is being slammed for ignoring domestic cricket, for short sighted selection, etc.

But how much of the blame does the media carry?

Calcutta-born Andy O’ Brien, a former journalist with Sportsworld magazine, now happily settled in Australia, on the debacle of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his World Cup winning boys, in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“If one was to compile international media clippings of this tour, mention of Sachin Tendulkar‘s milestone would probably outnumber 10:1 any analysis of the outcome of a Test match or the shortcomings of the Indian team….

“Are Indian cricket fans more interested in Sachin getting his century of centuries or in winning a Test series? Or is the truth that this almost cosmetic overemphasis on the peripheral is a coincidental cover-up of the fact that, by and large, Indian cricket reporters tend to be too soft on their cricketers?

“Not many are willing to bite the proverbial bullet and risk their “contacts” with the team or the hierarchy. If always seemed to me, even when I was a part of this wonderful hardworking group of people, that the business is not so much about writing or cricket, but what contacts you have and can tap, to produce a “cosmetic/glamour” story with banner headlines.

“That trend has grown and as a result many reports now deal with either the mundane or the inconsequential part of the game.”

Photograph: Australian captain Michael Clarke tosses the coin at the start of the third Test match against India in Perth, as captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni looks on, with match referee Ranjan Madugalle (right) and Channel 9 host, Mark Nicholas.

Read the full article: Let go of that cockiness and arrogance

Also read: ‘Today’s cricket journos are chamchas of cricketers’

Mint says SEBI looking into RIL-TV18-ETV deal

16 January 2012

Finally, some critical coverage of the Reliance-Network18/TV18-ETV deal in the business media.

Mint, the business newspaper from the Hindustan Times stable, has a story in today’s issue that the stock market regulator, SEBI, is looking into RIL’s financial statements and reports to see if the company had divulged its holding or investment in ETV before the matter became public.

RIL revealed in 2011 in response to a petition filed by the late Andhra Pradesh chief minsiter Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy‘s widow, Y.S. Vijayalakshmi, that it had put in money into Ushodaya Enterprises, ETV’s holding company, through Nimesh Kampani‘s JM Financial in 2008.

Vijayalakshmi had alleged (page 32 of petition) that RIL’s investment in Ushodaya was its way of saying thanks to the previous TDP government of Chandrababu Naidu, for wilfully surrendering Andhra Pradesh’s right over the discovery of gas in the Krishna-Godavari basin in favour of RIL.

Eenadu founder Ramoji Rao, an associate of Naidu, had been used by RIL as a “vehicle of the quid pro quo.”

Now, Mint quotes an unnamed “senior SEBI official” as saying:

“SEBI is looking into whether RIL has disclosed in any of its financial reports about its holding or acquisition of stakes in Eenadu Group to the shareholders. It is mandatory to disclose such information to the shareholders.”

A second unnamed source is quoted as saying:

“Prima facie, information about RIL’s holding in Eenadu Group is not disclosed anywhere specifically. As per the listing agreement norms, it should have been mandatorily disclosed. This amounts to possible violations of regulations.”

S.P. Tulsian, a stock market analyst who often appears on CNBC-TV18, is quoted as saying:

“I am surprised that RIL said in the Andhra Pradesh high court that the stake acquired by JM Financial in the ETV channels was on behalf of itself. I went through the balance sheet but did not find anything of this nature.”

Niraj Mansingka, an analyst at Edelweiss Securities Ltd, is quoted as saying:

“We believe the equity investment [by RIL in Eenadu group] may have been consummated recently as the same is not a part of RIL’s FY11 annual report.”

The question marks over RIL’s disclosure of its investment in ETV underline a quote from an unnamed “broadcast veteran” in an Outlook* magazine article:

“What Mukesh Ambani [of RIL] has tried to do is take his investment out of a bad asset into a viable asset and make a profit in the process.”

* Disclosures apply

Infographic: courtesy The Economic Times

Read the full article: Regulator looking into RIL-ETV deal

Also read: Rajya Sabha TV tears into RIL-Network18-ETV deal

Will RIL-TV18-ETV deal win SEBI, CCI approval?

The sudden rise of Mukesh Ambani, media mogul

The Indian Express, Reliance & Shekhar Gupta

Niira Radia, Mukesh Ambani, Prannoy Roy & NDTV

Power of press belongs to those who own one!

16 January 2012

It’s raining daughters in the Delhi papers—daughters of media barons, that is.

Mail Today has devoted at least four full tabloid pages over the past month to herald the launch of India Today founder Aroon Purie‘s daughter Kalli Purie‘s book on weight loss.

Today’s Times of India has a large story on the city pages announcing the exhibition of bossman Samir Jain‘s daughter Trishla Jain‘s new art exhibition at their famous 4, Tilak Marg residence.

In one of its power lists, India Today had mentioned Stanford-educated Trishla’s reported reluctance to return to India as one of Samir Jain’s biggest disappointments.

Also read: The name is Gajwani, Satyan Suresh Gajwani

What Raghav Bahl can learn from Samir Jain

Rajya Sabha TV tears into Reliance-TV18 deal

15 January 2012

The fears over what happens when a big business house with deep pockets and political influence across parties funds a big media house to legitimise its hitherto-hidden media interests, are coming true even before the controversial Reliance Industries -Network18/TV18-Eenadu Television deal can be inked.

Obviously, the political class is silent. Obviously, TV18’s competitors won’t touch the story for reasons not difficult to imagine. Obviously, The Hindu won’t even publish a media column for reasons not difficult to fantasise.

But there has been no serious discussion of the implications of the deal on the media or on democracy in the mainstream media. Not on any of Network18’s usually high-decibel shows since the tie-up was announced on 3 January 2012. Not even on Karan Thapar‘s media show on CNN-IBN, The Last Word.

Print media coverage too has at best been sketchy. Even the newspapers and newsmagazines which have attempted to probe the complexities of the menage-a-trois, The Economic Times and The Indian Express, Outlook* and India Today, have barely managed to go beyond the numbers into the nuance.

Rajya Sabha TV, the newly launched television channel of the upper house of Parliament, has filled the breach somewhat with a no-holds barred discussion on the subject.

Anchored by Girish Nikam, a former Eenadu reporter who wrote five years ago on Eenadu‘s travails, the RSTV debate—with an honourable mention for sans serif in the third segment—flags all the important issues raised by the deal and underlines the role public service television can play in the service of the public when the corporate media gives up—or gives in.

Some of the comments made by three of the four participants on The Big Picture:

S. Nihal Singh, former editor of The Statesman: “My first reaction [on reading of the deal] was that it was time for India to have a really good anti-monopoly law for media, which is the norm in all democratic countries in the world, including the most advanced….

“The press council of India is totally dysfunctional because of the new chairman Justice Markandey Katju, who is baiting the media, who doesn’t believe in conversing with the media, or exchanging views with the media.”

***

Madhu Trehan, founder-editor of India Today and director, content, of the soon-to-be-launched media site, News Laundry: “It need not have happened if the government and corporates were more alert. One person owns much too much….

“Already every policy is decided by corporates as the 2G tapes (of Niira Radia) show. Not only is it dangerous that Mukesh Ambani will be deciding what policy will be decided, as you know has happened in the past, but he will also decide whether we can talk about it, or criticise it or expose it….

“Why is Reliance interested in media? It is not for money; it is obviously for influence. Rupert Murdoch was endorsing PMs and Presidents in three continents. Now we have the richest man in the country owning the largest network. Yes, there is an independent trust, but I don’t believe that. The purpose is to control the media. You are influencing policy, you are influencing how the government decides, and now you are going to decide how the people will hear about about you and the government….

“When a politician or a government spokesman speaks, we don’t believe them, but when somebody like Rajdeep Sardesai or Sagarika Ghose speaks, or anyone at IBN7 or TV18 comes on, we presume we should believe them. Now there is a big question mark [when RIL has indirect control over CNN-IBN]….

“In a deal of this size we are looking at very subtle plants of stories, subtle angles, subtly putting things in a certain way so that people think along in a certain way for a particular way. I don’t know if anyone can shut the door. It’s too late.”

***

Dilip Cherian, former editor Business India, head Perfect Relations: “Globally we have seen when big capital enters media, that is exactly what we are about to replicate for ourselves.

“Oligopolistic tendencies are visible in global media today, whether it is Silvio Berlusconi or Rupert Murdoch, the fact is they exercise humongous influence not on media but politics. Are we headed down the same road? At this time, the answer seems to be yes. Is it good? The universal answer from the question is that it isn’t, not just because it affects the quality of news but because it affects the quality of politics….

“The entry of big capital is not new or news. What has happened in this case is a big distinction between foreign investment and domestic. Because of 4G, because the same business house owns the pipe, owns the content, there could also be another issue of monopoly. If I were the owner, I would say there needs to be a publicly visible ombudsmanship [to dispel the doubts]….

“There is room for concern, there is room for elements of self-rgulation. As a country we are not able to legislate for two reasons. One because of the influence business houses have on policy making. And two, when you bring in legislation (on regulation) up, the other group that is affected are politicians who own media houses of their own. You are talking about now a coalition of forces which the public is incapable of handling. You won’t see Parliament doing the kind of regulation they should, in an open manner, because there are interests on all sides.”

* Disclosures apply

Also read: Will RIL-TV18-ETV deal win SEBI, CCI approval?

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