Archive for September, 2012

ToI, Narendra Modi & balls for Vivekananda yatra

14 September 2012

Nothing is safe these days at the hands of the supersensitive—not even a simple headline.

The Times of India ran an innocuous page one anchor on Thursday of footballs for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi‘s “Vivekananda yuva vikas yatra” being made in Jalandhar.

On Friday, the newspaper had to run this by way of an apology.

Image: courtesy The Times of India

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Also read: The newspaper cartoon that offended Christians

Poonam Pandey, Sachin Tendulkar & The Telegraph

Newspaper cartoon that’s offending Israelis

sans serif” joins ToI in this sincere apology

Newspaper cartoon that’s offending Aussies

ToI apology that meets Katju‘s standards

The Times of India ‘apology’ on fixing report

Discreet inquiries by ToI after publication showed…

‘Darkest hour for media since the Emergency?’

13 September 2012

Is it a good thing that the Supreme Court of India has not announced guidelines for media coverage of court cases? Or has it opened the floodgates by introducing a “neturalising device” that underlines the right of the accused to seek postponement of coverage on a case-by-case basis?

And, by introducing a “constitutional principle” has the judiciary appropriated to itself the power of the legislature to make law?

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The Tribune, Chandigarh: Thoughtless curbs

The Supreme Court judgment that courts can defer media coverage of a case for a short period if there is a danger to an individual’s right to fair trial will curb freedom of the Press, limit the people’s right to know and unnecessarily encourage litigation. Growing complaints of “trial by media” had prompted Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia to initiate a discussion on framing guidelines for court reporting….

There is a growing tendency in the judiciary as well as the executive to curb free speech. The Allahabad High Court banned all media reporting of troop movements after a news report hinted at a coup attempt. The government recently gagged social media sites on the pretext of restoring order. The arrest of a West Bengal professor for circulating a cartoon, the removal of cartoons from school textbooks and the slapping of a sedition case against a cartoonist for disrespecting the national emblem are other instances of executive intolerance of dissent. Vague judgments like the one in the Sahara case will only fuel this tendency.

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Deccan Herald, Bangalore: Gag on media

A fresh threat to the right to free speech and expression, which has been sanctified by the Constitution, has come from an unlikely place, the Supreme Court of India, which has in the past protected and promoted it as a basic entitlement of citizens. Its judgement empowering courts to ban reporting of hearings in cases where there is a perceived chance of interference in free and fair trial amounts to muzzling media freedom. It needs to be opposed like all other assaults on the functioning on the media, which are becoming frequent now.

The court has propounded a  ‘constitutional principle’  which would allow aggrieved parties to seek postponement of the publication of hearings if they are seen to be prejudicial to the administration of justice. But this is disguising an unfair restriction as a constitutional doctrine, creating a devious device to undermine a basic right.

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The Indian Express: Lines of control

This “doctrine of postponement” of reporting is meant to be a preventive measure, rather than a punitive one, and is intended to balance the right of free speech with the right to a fair trial. The courts, the SC said, will evaluate each appeal carefully, guided by considerations of necessity and proportionality. However, the very outlining of the principle, in effect, leaves journalism at the mercy of the high court, rather than being internally regulated with better editorial gatekeeping.

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The Hindu: Don’t compromise open justice

The Supreme Court’s judgment justifying a temporary ban on the publication of court proceedings in certain cases is likely to have a chilling effect on the freedom of the press and the very idea of an open trial…. Indeed, by emphasising the right of an aggrieved person to seek postponement of media coverage of an ongoing case by approaching the appropriate writ court, there is a danger that gag orders may become commonplace. At a minimum, the door has been opened to hundreds and thousands of additional writs — a burden our legal system is unprepared to handle — filed by accused persons with means.

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Mint: Judgment and some worries

While the court prescribed tests of reasonableness, among others, on deciding issues of postponement, time is of the essence for media and citizens dependent on it for information. It is not far-fetched to presume that during this period of stasis, reporters and editors, can be arm-twisted into submission. The judgement whittles down an already embattled freedom available to the Press. It will add psychological pressure and uncertainty in an already difficult environment.

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Business Standard: Tilting the balance

Tuesday’s judgment has done is to tilt the balance in favour of litigants seeking court interventions — which might well result in the imposition of such gag orders on the media. To that extent, the apex court’s order is prone to misuse…. The legal process (of deferement) is certain to cast an adverse impact on the freedom of the media and undermine the people’s right to know about such cases before the court.

Instead of paving the way for such curbs, it would perhaps make more sense if the courts took upon themselves the responsibility of allowing independent and comprehensive electronic coverage of court cases that both the people and the media can freely access for information or reportage. That would be a more effective way of ensuring that the coverage of court proceedings does not create the risk of prejudice to the proper administration of justice or to the fairness of trials.

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The Times of India: Chilling effect

The bench headed by outgoing Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia came up with an alternative approach to maintaining the balance between free speech and fair trial. Drawing upon the contempt law, the apex court devised a judicial power to order the postponement of publication as a last resort. Even this, however, may negatively impact the salutary principle that trials be held in public, as powerful defendants could routinely invoke such postponement orders….  The media is anyway a heterogeneous entity and the right of journalists to cover court proceedings is an essential attribute of a fair trial.

Cartoon: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today

South media baron among top political donors

11 September 2012

Mobile phone turned media baron and member of Parliament, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, continues to be a prominent donor to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, according to a list compiled by the asociation for democratic reforms (ADR).

Chandrasekhar, an independent member of the Rajya Sabha elected with BJP support, who owns the Malayalam news channel Asianet News and the Kannada news channel Suvarna News besides the Kannada daily Kannada Prabha, donated Rs 10 crore to the BJP in 2009-10 through two Corporation Bank cheques issued in the name of Asianet V Holding Pvt Ltd (address: Jay Chambers,  Service Road, Mumbai).

Simultaneously, Asianet TV Holdings Pvt Ltd operating from an identical address (address: Jay Chambers, service road, Vile Parle, Mumbai 400057) donated Rs 2.5 crore to the Congress in 2009-10 through a Corporation Bank (M.G. Road, Bangalore) cheque.

The general electoral trust of the salt-to-cellphone major Tatas, the Gujarat power company Torrent and Bharati electoral trust of the telecom company Airtel top the list of donors. The documents were procured by ADR under the right to information (RTI).

Also read: Media baron donates most to parties after Birlas

How Pakistan helped ‘The Hindu’ save $800!

7 September 2012

A giant pack of 61 journalists—each told to carry at least $800 in foreign currency for their hotel stay—is accompanying Indian minister of external affairs, S.M. Krishna, on his much-ballyhooed visit of Pakistan.

But Praveen Swami, the deputy chief of bureau of The Hindu in Delhi—who did a brief stint as diplomatic editor of The Daily Telegraph, London, and who has repeatedly punched holes in the Pakistani narrative of terror with its army and government officials on television—will not be one of them.

For the record, The Hindu is one of the few Indian media houses with a correspondent (Anita Joshua) stationed in Islamabad.

The Times of India reports that Times Now journalist Nikunj Garg too was denied a Pakistani visa for a trip of then home minister, P. Chidambaram:

Praveen Swami told TOI that he was called by the High Commission early this week for a meeting with Press Attache Manzoor Ali Memon that lasted for over an hour after two Pakistani officials, who did not share their visiting cards with him, dropped in.

“I was asked no questions but instead handed out sermons by the two on how Indian and Pakistani media could join hands to counter American conspiracies,” Swami said.

The journalist gave them a patient audience and told them that he was ignorant about the revelations they had made about “American plots” and he “would love to catch up on the wikileaks evidence against America they were referring to.”

At the end of the meeting, Swami was gifted a book of poetry by Ahmad Faraz and non-fiction ‘Pakistan from mountain to sea‘ by Mohamed Amin, Duncan Willetts and Brendan Farrow.

Images: courtesy The Indian Express & The Daily Telegraph

Also read: I couldn’t go to the US, my name’s Zia Haq

How (free) India treats foreign correspondents

External reading: Muslim journos left out of PM’s trip

Manmohan, Washington Post & The Caravan

6 September 2012

20120906-012855.jpg

The Washington Post article on prime minister Manmohan Singh, by its India bureau chief Simon Denyer, has stirred up yet another media tsunami, after Time magazine’s “Underachiever” cover.

The government’s media handlers have gone into a tailspin, demanding an “apology” from the Post, even labelling it “yellow journalism”, while the government’s detractors are celebrating another ‘new low’ for a government that plumbs new depths on an hourly basis.

The 9pm TV shows went ballistic on Wednesday and Simon Denyer appeared on several of them, forcefully arguing his case.

But there is a developing sideshow as well. Many readers have suggested some similarities in the Post report with a long profile of Manmohan in the monthly magazine The Caravan in October 2011 written by the magazine’s editor, Vinod K. Jose.

Now, one of the people “quoted” in the story, former media advisor to the PM, Sanjaya Baru, has “protested” on his Facebook account (below) that the WaPo reporter had lifted his statement from Caravan.

“Simon Denyer quotes me in WashPo without talking to me. He has merely rehashed what I told Caravan last year,” wrote Baru.

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The prime minister’s media advisor Pankaj Pachauri too has broached the issue of rehashing Baru’s quotes in a letter to the Post.

Simon Denyer offers this response on Twitter (top):

“I spoke to Dr Baru personally on the telephone during the reporting for the story. He confirmed that these sentiments were accurate.”

One other worthy quoted in the WaPo article apparently allowed the reporter to use his Caravan quotes, but there is no suggestion in the Post article that the quotes had appeared elsewhere.

So, are the Indian intellectuals protesting too much, post-facto?

Or, is there more to the WaPo piece than meets the eye?

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EXHIBIT A

The Caravan: The prominent historian Ramachandra Guha, who has described the current administration as “inept and incompetent beyond words”, told me that he now regards Singh “increasingly as a tragic figure”.

“He’s intelligent, upright, and possesses all this vast experience of working in the government for over four decades,” Guha said. “But the timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty will make him a tragic figure in our history.”

Washington Post: “More and more, he has become a tragic figure in our history,” said political historian Ramachandra Guha, describing a man fatally handicapped by his “timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty.”

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EXHIBIT B

The Caravan: “He is facing the worst situation in his life,” said Sanjaya Baru, a business journalist who served as Singh’s media adviser from 2004 to 2008. “In politics, it’s alright to be loved or hated, but you should never be ridiculed. And his problem today is that he has become an object of ridicule.”

Washington Post: “In the process, he transformed himself from an object of respect to one of ridicule and endured the worst period in his life, said Sanjaya Baru, Singh’s media adviser during his first term.”

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EXHIBIT C

The Caravan: “In a 2006 interview with the American talk-show host Charlie Rose, Manmohan Singh described himself, with ostentatious modesty, as a small person put in this big chair.”

Washington Post: “I’m a small person put in this big chair,” Singh told broadcaster Charlie Rose in 2006. “I have to do my duty, whatever task is allotted of me.”

So, lazy journalism, oversight, or is OK?

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Update: The Washington Post has posted this correction after the sans serif piece:

Correction: An earlier version of this article failed to credit the Caravan, an Indian magazine, for two statements that it originally published in 2011. The assertion by Sanjaya Baru, a former media adviser, that Singh had become an object of ridicule and endured the worst period in his life first appeared in the Caravan, as did an assertion by Ramachandra Guha, a political historian, that Singh was handicapped by his “timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty.” While both men told The Post that the assertions could accurately be attributed to them, the article should have credited the Caravan when it used or paraphrased the remarks. The article has been updated.

Also read: Is slamming govt “yellow journalism”?

External reading: Why is India so touchy?

Buy our paper, get a Harley-Davidson: Free!

5 September 2012

It’s raining gifts in the Bengali newspaper wars. And gone is the age of free flasks, timepieces and tee-shirts to woo subscribers.

Ei Bela (the moment), the soon-to-be-launched tabloid from the Ananda Bazaar Patrika group (which also owns The Telegraph and ABP News) to counter The Times of India group’s morning broadsheet Ei Samay (Times Now), is rolling out Apple iPods, laptops, smartphones, iPod Touch, SUVs and—wait for it—Harley Davidson motorcycles.

Also read: Times, Telegraph and the Bengali paper wars

The Hindu’s readers reveal Katju’s infinite bluff

4 September 2012

The chairman of the press council of India, Justice Markandey Katju, wrote an article in The Hindu on September 3 on education.

Titled ‘Professor, heal thyself’, it contained this paragraph:

The level of intellect of many teachers is low, because many of them have not been appointed on merit but on extraneous considerations. To give an example, when I was a judge of Allahabad High Court I had a case relating to a service matter of a mathematics lecturer in a university in Uttar Pradesh.

Since the teacher was present in court I asked him how much one divided by zero is equal to.

He replied, “Infinity.”

I told him that his answer was incorrect, and it was evident that he was not even fit to be a teacher in an intermediate college. I wondered how had he become a university lecturer (In mathematics it is impermissible to divide by zero. Hence anything divided by zero is known as an indeterminate number, not infinity).

Not surprisingly, two wise readers of The Hindu have corrected the press council chief through letters to the editor:

In his article “Professor, teach thyself” (Sept. 3), chairman of the Press Council of India, Markandey Katju, has cited an incident that took place when he was a judge of the Allahabad High Court. He says he chided a mathematics lecturer, whose case he was hearing, and told him that he was not fit to be even a teacher because he (the lecturer) said one divided by zero was infinity.

Justice Katju claims that anything divided by zero is indeterminate. He is wrong and the lecturer was right because any non-zero number divided by zero is infinity. It is zero divided by zero that is indeterminate.

While I can understand the plight of the poor lecturer who did not have the courage to correct the judge hearing his case, I am appalled at the timidity of “some of the top senior academicians” of Jawaharlal Nehru University, to whom Justice Katju narrated the incident. I wonder why they let his fallacy pass unchallenged. Justice Katju must seek out the mathematics lecturer and apologise to him.

Kanan Vihari Jaswal, Noida

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I would like to digress from the primary point made in the article — with which I completely agree — and talk about the mathematics lecturer’s answer. “Infinity” is indeed the correct answer to the question posed by Justice Katju to the lecturer. 0/0 is indeterminate because it can take multiple values depending on the limit being calculated (for example 2x/x; x->0 is 2 , 5x/x; x->0 is 5) whereas any finite number divided by 0 (eg 1/0) is an impermissible operation, which is just another way of saying that the result is infinite (an absurdly large number).

Siddharth Tiwari, Kanpur

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Also read: ‘I have a poor opinion of most media people’

Editors’ Guild of India takes on Press Council chief

Times, Telegraph and the Bengali paper wars

3 September 2012

A newspaper war is looming in Calcutta as The Times of India group prepares to launch a Bengali broadsheet, Ei Samay (literally, Times Now) ahead of the Puja season.

Market leader Ananda Bazaar Patrika (ABP) has announced the launch of the tabloid Ei bela (literally, this moment) to protect the mothership. Saturday’s Telegraph carries a jacket ad (above) of the new paper.

External reading: A price war brewing

Anti-minority bias behind foiled bid on journos?

1 September 2012

The home in Hubli of Muthi-ur-Rahman Siddiqui, the ‘Deccan Herald’ reporter arrested in Bangalore on Thursday for allegedly being involved in a plot whose targets included an editor, a columnist and a newspaper publisher (Photo: courtesy Praja Vani)

For the second day running, most newspapers in Bangalore refrain from naming the editor, columnist and newspaper publisher who were allegedly the target of a failed assassination attempt, “masterminded”, according to the police, by a reporter working with the Bangalore-based Deccan Herald.

(The first information report (FIR) filed on the arrests names the three targets: Vishweshwar Bhat, Pratap Simha and Vijay Sankeshwar, respectively.)

The only news organisations to give play to the names of the three media persons was Suvarna News, the 24×7 Kannada news channel owned by the member of Parliament, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, and of which Bhat is also editor-in-chief, which repeatedly flashed their names.

The Kannada news channel TV9 ran a news item on Thursday night which showed Sankeshwar repeatedly sobbing on discovering his name on the hitlist but has avoided naming Bhat and Simha in news bulletins and other programmes.  (TV9 and Suvarna News are competitors.)

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The Times of India, generally not the first newspaper which reports stories on journalists, bucks the trend (graphic, above):

Prathap Simha, a journalist with Kannada Prabha, was a target along with his editor Vishveshwar Bhat. The suspects allegedly wanted to kill Simha because he had written a book in Kannada on the Gujarat CM titled “Narendra ModiYaaru Thuliyada Haadi” (Narendra Modi – The Untrodden Road) in 2008.

“A laptop seized from a suspect contains this book and a picture of Simha interviewing Modi,” a senior police officer said. When contacted, Simha said: “I have also written a book on Muhammed Ali Jinnah in Kannada.”

However, Vijaya Karnataka, the Kannada daily that The Times of India group bought from Vijay Sankeshwar six years ago, extends no such courtesy. And this, although Vishweshwar Bhat was the editor of the paper, Pratap Simha its star columnist and Sankeshwar its owner.

Ditto Praja Vani, the Kannada daily owned from the Deccan Herald stable.

To its credit, Praja Vani carries a long, 14-paragraph story from Hubli, the hometown of DH reporter Siddiqui (see picture, above), even as the arrests look poised to become a human rights’ issue.

In its story, Praja Vani reports the humble circumstances from which Siddiqui rose to be a reporter at Deccan Herald.

“The money he sent home each month was what sustained us siblings (three brothers and two sisters). The financial condition of our family improved only when Siddiqui joined work…. Since there is no TV set at our home, we came to know of his arrest thanks to our neighbours,” his sister Shamshad Begum said.

In a related story, Vijaya Karnataka suggests that another journalist may be picked up in connection with the foiled attack. (Market leaders Vijaya Karnataka and Praja Vani compete with Kannada Prabha, where editor Bhat and columnist Simha now work, and with Vijaya Vani, the new paper launched by Sankeshwar.)

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Although the motive to kill Bhat, Simha and Sankeshwar was unclear on day one, Deccan Herald quotes anonymous police sources on day two:

“They (the sources) also claimed that they were about to execute one of their targets, a columnist of a Kannada daily allegedly harbouring an anti-minority bias. The police, who were tracking the modules for the past couple of months, had caught wind of the plot and busted the module.”

The Hindu has a clarification:

In a report from Bangalore published in the issue of August 31, headlined “Journalist among 11 arrested for ‘plotting terror in Karnataka’,” the description of some journalists who were purportedly targeted by the alleged plotters as ones “known for their virulent anti-minority columns” was unfair and unwarranted, and escaped gatekeeping mechanisms that are in place to keep such editorialising comments out of the news columns of this newspaper. That description, as well as the loose and imprecise reference to the “divergent ideologies” of two terrorist organisations are regretted and may be deemed as withdrawn. — The Editor

Also, in a surprising first, The Times of India has a rare good word for rival Deccan Herald, where Siddiqui worked:

“Hard disks from the computers used by the journalist at his workplace and other documents have been seized. The employers of the journalist have cooperated with us,” police sources said.

Also read: Bangalore journo in plot to kill editor, columnist?

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