Archive for September, 2012

Who wrote the Prime Minister’s TV address?

30 September 2012

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh‘s televised address to the nation on 21 September, the day the Trinamul Congress withdrew support to his Congress-led UPA government over the hike in diesel prices and FDI in retail, has set tongues wagging about its authorship.

In her column in the Indian Express, Coomi Kapoor suggests that the media advisor to the PM, Pankaj Pachauri, perhaps had little to do with it:

Outside support

In the drafting of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent broadcast to the nation, where he defended his new set of economic reforms, a former media adviser seems to have played a bigger role than the incumbent, Pankaj Pachauri.

In fact, many see the hand of both senior journalist Sanjaya Baru and Planning Commission Deputy Chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia in the text, especially the references to SUV vehicles, the PM’s role in saving the economy from bankruptcy in 1991 and the comment that money does not grow on trees.

Baru, who was the PM’s media advisor in the UPA’s first term, was briefly the editor of Business Standard. He is now with the British thinktank International Institute of Strategic Studies and writes an occasional column for the Indian Express. He was succeeded as media advisor by Harish Khare of The Hindu, who quit earlier this year to make way for Pachauri.

How Shekhar Gupta busted the ISRO spy ‘scam’

29 September 2012

The ISRO spy scandal of the early 1990s has come to an end with the exoneration of S. Nambi Narayanan, the scientist (wrongly) accused by the Malayalam and later national media of selling secrets of the satellite organisation to a couple of Maldivian women.

The son of the then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao‘s son too was merrily reported during the media mayhem.

Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta writes of how he came to report the story in India Today, which was one of the few mainstream media organisations at the time which did not fall for the artlessly woven fiction.

It was towards the end of 1994, when Rao’s minority government was tottering in its third year that the story broke. It was then hailed as the biggest spy story, the most damaging security breach ever in India’s history and it looked as if the entire Indian space and missile programme had been exposed, and destroyed from within, for just a little bit of free sex and quite a bit of money.

I wasn’t directly covering or handling the story yet, but was as outraged as any fellow Indian would have been.

It was in that period that on one of my frequent visits to Chennai (then Madras) I found myself sitting next to a prominent scientist of ISRO pedigree (let’s not name him just now). In-flight conversation veered inevitably to the ISRO spy case.

He did not engage, and was careful not to say yes or no to anything.

His reserve broke only once, when I said, how could such senior scientists be keeping thousands of such classified documents (the police case said 75 kg) in their homes and be selling them to India’s enemies?

He looked into my eyes, and said, deadpan: “ISRO is an open organisation, my friend. At ISRO, we do not classify anything.”

Then what is this case all about, I asked.

“You go and find out,” he said, “You used to be an investigative reporter, I believe,” he said….

The result of that long journalistic investigation, ultimately, was a six-page investigation published in the January 31, 1995 issue of India Today, headlined, ‘The Great Espionage Mess’. Three brilliant colleagues worked with me on that investigation, Jacob George in Cochin, M.G. Radhakrishnan in Trivandrum and Saritha Rai in Bangalore).

Our conclusion was that what was hailed as a great espionage story was in fact a shocking frame-up. It was full of fabrications and inconsistencies….

A couple of years after the story was published… the same distinguished scientist walked up to me. I folded my hands in polite namaste, but he surprised me by poking my chest to the left with his forefinger.

And then he said: “What you did on the ISRO story was like applying balm to our wounded hearts. We had built that organisation and that rocket project with our blood and sweat. You people helped save it from being destroyed.”

That scientist, if you haven’t guessed already, was A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Read the full story: ISRO spy case test

How Tinkle magazine came to be called ‘Tinkle’

28 September 2012

Tinkle, India’s English first magazine for children, has just published its 600th issue.

Rajani Thindiath, who took over as the magazine’s editor after the demise of Anant Pai, speaks to the New York Times  blog, India Ink:

Q: First things first. Why is Tinkle called “Tinkle”?

A: Subba Rao, who was the associate editor of Amar Chitra Katha, proposed the idea of a comic book for children to Anant Pai during a meeting. Mr Rao’s idea was accepted, and the team began discussing a name for the magazine. Mr. Pai said he wanted a musical name—and that’s when a call interrupted the meeting.

Mr. Rao, whose phone had rung, told the caller that he was busy and that he would give a “tinkle,” or call back, later in the day. Then, when he put the phone down, Mr. Rao proposed ‘Tinkle’ as the name of the new magazine. Mr Pai liked the name and Tinkle was born.

Soon the ‘Tinkle Tinkle Little Star’ campaigns started airing on radio and TV, based on the popular children’s rhyme, to launch the new magazine.

Read the full interview: Rajani Thindiath

Why the SC tried to frame media guidelines

25 September 2012

What was behind the Supreme Court of India’s urge and urgency to frame guidelines for media coverage? The thinly veiled insinuations on the Chief Justice made by public interest litigants and dutifully carried by the media?

The veteran journalist, columnist and author Kuldip Nayar givesa couple of conspiracy theories some oxygen, in The Tribune, Chandigarh:

Having observed S.H. Kapadia for nearly his entire term as Chief Justice of India, it became evident to me that the allegations that surfaced after he delivered the judgment in the landmark Vodafone tax case hurt him deeply. A petition wanting to keep Justice Kapadia out of the case made its way to the apex court.

As expected, it was dismissed by another bench, but it left a scar on Justice Kapadia’s mind.

Justice Kapadia is known to be a voracious reader and consumer of the media. The play the petition received in the Press, particularly since it involved his son, Hoshnar, took a toll on him.

Subsequently, another article alleged that since his son-in-law, Jahangir Press, worked for the Tata Group, Justice Kapadia should not hear cases involving the corporate house. He transferred all Tata Group matters to other benches.

The media did not notice this at the time, but the move spoke volumes about how much his reputation meant to him. Justice Kapadia came from a modest background and, once famously said, integrity was the only asset he possessed.

The manner in which the media lapped up allegations against him, perhaps, hurt Justice Kapadia. The 11-13 complaints he received from senior counsels and letters, he said, he got from under-trials, claiming the media had condemned them even before a court convicted them, was probably what made Justice Kapadia constitute the five-judge constitution bench to deal with media excesses.

Read the full article: Media in the CJI’s court

Also read: ‘Darkest hour for media since Emergency?

The new kid on the block announces an eclipse

25 September 2012

The front page of Ei Bela, the new Bengali tabloid launched by the Ananda Bazaar Patrika (ABP) group in Calcutta, as a “buffer” to counter the launch of a Bengali newspaper from The Times of India group, on the day Mamata Banerjee‘s Trinamool Congress walked out of the Congress-led UPA.

This is the second tabloid from the ABP group, after the now-defunct evening daily The Metropolitan under M.J. Akbar.

Also read: Times, Telegraph and the Bengali paper wars

Read our paper, get  Harley-Davidson free!

Salman Rushdie, Satanic Verses & India Today

22 September 2012

The launch of Salman Rushdie‘s memoirs, Joseph Anton, written in third person, has seen a flurry of TV interviews, and profiles, reviews and soft stories in the newspapers.

Hindustan Times runs this short excerpt from the book which chronicles how The Satanic Verses ended up getting banned in India:

On the day he received the bound proofs of The Satanic Verses he was visited at home on St Peter’s Street by a journalist he thought of as a friend, Madhu Jain of India Today.

When she saw the thick, dark blue cover with the large red title she grew extremely excited, and pleaded to be given a copy so that she could read it while on holiday in England with her husband. And once she had read it she demanded that she be allowed to interview him and that India Today be allowed to publish an extract.

Again, he agreed.

For many years afterwards he thought of this publication as the match that lit the fire.

And certainly the magazine highlighted what came to be seen as the book’s ‘controversial’ aspects, using the headline AN UNEQUIVOCAL ATTACK ON RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM, which was the first of innumerable inaccurate descriptions of the book’s contents, and, in another headline, ascribing a quote to him – MY THEME IS FANATICISM – that further misrepresented the work.

The last sentence of the article, ‘The Satanic Verses is bound to trigger an avalanche of protests…’ was an open invitation for those protests to begin.

Madhu Jain offers an explanation in Open magazine:

When I returned to Delhi my editor in India Today asked me to write a review before anybody else did. Since the book was yet to be launched, I called Salman in London for permission to publish a review. He said yes….

Unfortunately, the editor of the books pages of the magazine at the time, who later went on to edit a national daily, plucked some of the more volatile extracts from the novel—those about the Prophet’s wives—and inserted them into the book review.

Not too long after the IFS bureaucrat-turned-politician Syed Shahabuddin read the excerpts (not the book as he admitted ) and demanded that The Satanic Verses be banned. Protests erupted in India and Pakistan.

In Karachi, a few protesters died when they were fired upon. It is believed that Ayatollah Khomeini watched this on television and ordered the fatwa.

Madhu Jain writes that Rushdie stopped talking to her after the review and even snubbed her when she offered an explanation of what had happened.

But in Joseph Anton (pages 112-13), Rushdie writes:

“With the passage of time came forgiveness. Rereading the India Today piece many years later, in a calmer time, he would concede the piece was fairer than the magazine’s headline writer had made it look, more balanced than its last sentence. Those who wished to be offended would have been offended anyway. Those who were looking to be inflamed would have found the necessary spark.

“Perhaps the magazine’s most damaging act was to break the traditional publishing embargo and print its piece nine days before the book’s publication, at a time when not a single copy had arrived in India. This allowed Mr Shahabuddin and his ally, another opposition MP named Khurshid Alam Khan, free rein. They could say whatever they pleased about the book, but it could not be read and therefore could not be defended.

“One man who had read an advance copy, the journalist Khushwant Singh, called for a ban in the Illustrated Weekly of India as a measure to prevent trouble. He thus became the first member of the small group of world writers who joined the censorship lobby. Khushwant Singh further claimed that he had been asked for his advice by Penguin and had warned the author and publishers of the consequences of publication.

“The author was unaware of any such warning. if it was ever given, it was never received.”

Read the HT review: Joseph Anton

Madhu Jain: The deadly review

Hindu’s longest serving editor G. Kasturi: RIP

21 September 2012

sans serif records the demise of Gopalan Kasturi aka G. Kasturi, the longest-serving editor of The Hindu in Madras, early today. He was 87.

Although he was the helmsman of a supposedly “orthodox, conservative” newspaper, Kasturi was renowned in the industry as a torchbearer, showing the way with his knowledge of fonts, photography and printing technology, and using aeroplanes and satellites to make copies available from multiple centres.

N. Ram, the former editor-in-chief of The Hindu, who noisily squabbled with his uncle before the two joined hands in the Hindu boardroom, paid a glowing tribute on the paper’s website:

“Earlier and more clearly and determinedly than most of his media contemporaries and fellow Editors, he saw the need for the newspaper industry and journalism to embrace new and state-of-the-art technology and adapt it to our conditions while preserving the core values of journalism.

“Many a leap in newspaper technology – offset printing, facsimile transmission of whole newspaper pages, photocomposition, full-page pagination, colour scanning – found its first Indian champion in my uncle, who was always hands-on, side by side with the technical experts.

“He was enthusiastic about internet journalism and digital technology and almost till the end was regularly on his iMac working on page design and photographs and savouring the best of international newspaper websites. He believed that Indian newspapers had to raise their game in terms of production values and must not take their readers for granted.”

***

A low-profile editor of the old school, Kasturi also, sadly, suffered from the perception of being seen as an “establishment” man through much of his tenure, especially during the darkest phase of the Indian media, the Emergency.

In a 2010 article, Kuldip Nayar, the veteran editor and author, wrote that The Hindu under Kasturi (alongside The Hindustan Times) was the worst offender under Indira Gandhi‘s censorious regime:

“Hindu’s editor G. Kasturi became a part of the establishment. He headed Samachar, the news agency that was formed after the merger of PTI, UNI and Hindustan Samachar. He obeyed the government diktat on how to purvey a particular story or suppress it. He could not withstand government pressure.”

***

In 1989, when the Bofors scandal was at its peak, Kasturi got into a public spat with his nephew and then associate editor, N. Ram, as the shadow of the scam lengthened.

In October that year, The Hindu published the first part of a three-page article (authored by Ram and Chitra Subramanian) with the promise “To be continued”. However, Kasturi blocked the second instalment and published a front-page note explaining the discontinuation.

It read:

“Enough has been written supported by extensive documentation in The Hindu to establish the face of the cover-up and the non-serious pursuit of the investigation by the official agenies and give the lie to the government’s latest assertions.”

Miffed, Ram went public and issued a statement against his uncle (G.Kasturi is Ram’s father, G. Narasimhan‘s brother) for acting “arbitrarily, capriciously and in a manner highly derogatory of the traditions, norms and values of independent, ethical journalism,” and calling the editor’s note “a conspicuous insult to the traditions of independent, intellectually and socially serious, and ethical journalism.”

***

In 2003, Kasturi backed Ram in overthrowing his brother N. Ravi and their cousin Malini Parthasarathy as editor and executive editor, respectively, of The Hindu.

And in 2010 and 2011, Kasturi again backed Ram in a messy board-room battle for “professionalising” the paper that resulted in the exit of his brothers N. Murali and N. Ravi from their positions in the family-owned newspaper—and stalled Malini Parthasarathy’s bid to become the paper’s first woman editor.

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Graphic: courtesy Forbes India

***

Also read: The four great wars of N. Ram on Hindu soil

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

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

Ex-Outlook journo is new Hindu readers’ editor

19 September 2012

The Hinduhas a new readers’ editor: A.S. Panneerselvan. A former Madras correspondent for Outlook* magazine, Paneerselvan, 49, was with Sun TV as managing editor before moving on to be executive director of Panos South Asaia. He was also with Indiaweek, the now-defunct weekly newspaper launched by Business India.

* Disclosures apply

Image: courtesy The Hindu

External reading: Paneerselvan review of B.G. Verghese book

Everybody loves a good FDI announcement

15 September 2012

The announcement by the Congress-led UPA government to allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail has resulted in two Delhi newspapers—the Hindustan Times (left) and Mail Today—claiming credit on their pages for breaking the story first. The former on August 19 and the latter on September 11, 2012.

Image: courtesy Hindustan Times, Mail Today

Aaj Tak bites into a nice piece of Barfi

14 September 2012

Historically, product-placement has usually meant a newspaper or magazine strategically placed in a movie shot to give the title some airtime. Or a TV star or studio artfully used as a prop.

In both cases, it is big media (movies) pushing smaller media (print or electronic).

With the new Ranbir Kapoor flick Barfi, product-placement comes full circle, with the film’s hero pushing the Hindi news channel Aaj Tak owned by the India Today group.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,905 other followers

%d bloggers like this: