Archive for November, 2012

What Uday Shankar learnt from a Delhi widow

29 November 2012

Star India CEO Uday Shankar, a former editor at Aaj Tak, on the defining moment of his journalistic career, from the 8th anniversary special issue of Impact.

By UDAY SHANKAR

I remember an incident almost 10 years ago, that brought home to me the power of the media and its ability to impact people’s lives.

It happened when I was the editor of Aaj Tak in 2001-2002.

India hadn’t seen live or ‘breaking news’ in its true sense until then. The channel had redefined news and TV journalism by taking the viewer to the location. We had introduced a hardcore news bulletin in the morning called ‘Subah Aaj Tak’, and I used to go office very early, at about 3.30am, for an edit meeting for that show.

One day, after I was done with my newsroom work, my secretary Shashi told me that some woman had called me. She was in the ministry of defence, she claimed.

I didn’t pay much attention in the day. Then I got busy and Shashi kept telling me the whole day that the woman had called again and again.

I got annoyed.

Shashi told me that the caller insisted on speaking to the editor of Aaj Tak. Finally, I spoke to her and what she told me that day changed my life forever.

She said, “Mr Uday Shankar, I was a very passionate viewer of Aaj Tak. Until today, it was a part of my life. But today, I want to stop watching the channel”.

It transpired that she that she was a widow and lived in Noida with two young kids. She said she watched Aaj Tak the whole day because it was her source of comfort. As long as Aaj Tak kept reporting that the world was OK, for her the world was OK.

But she was shocked that we had wrongly reported that a Delhi Public School, Noida bus had met with an accident. It was her kids’ school, and she had just put them on the bus. Back home, she had been taking shower when she heard the voice of the reporter announcing the accident.

Utter panic had made her rush out of the house in inappropriate clothing, with water streaming all over her body. She was sure that whatever happiness remained in her life too was in jeopardy. Not for a moment did she doubt that Aaj Tak’s story could be wrong.

It was actually a DPS bus from another part of the city, not Noida, and we immediately apologized for our mistake. But for the five minutes that we ran the story, we never imagined the kind of trauma we had caused. This woman had called to tell me that we had let her down. I apologized that day. She wasn’t angry at all.

All she said was, “From today, your channel is like any other channel.”

I still get goosebumps whenever I recall my conversation with her. It made me realize the intensity of the relationship between media and its consumers/viewers. Since then, whenever I am in doubt, I imagine what this woman would think in the situation – would she be disappointed?

I am grateful to her for giving me such a moral lesson in media, and at every channel that I have worked, I make sure that I never disappoint my viewer.

Photograph: courtesy Indian Television

Also read: How a martyr’s wife changed Arnab‘s outlook

What time did you break your story yesterday?

28 November 2012

As newsrooms integrate, with reporters also filing for the digital editions, the Hindustan Times makes a point on its front page in New Delhi, by including the time at which a story on chief minister Sheila Dikshit‘s health was broken on the world wide web the previous night.

Image: courtesy Hindustan Times

How a martyr’s wife changed Arnab’s outlook

28 November 2012

The bumper 318-page eighth anniversary issue of Impact, the media magazine from Anurag Batra‘s exchange4media group, features dozens of print, electronic, digital and radio professionals recounting their personal stories.

Among them is the 2012 television editor of the year, Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of Times Now*:

By ARNAB GOSWAMI

In August 2007, Sanjay Dutt was being moved from Arthur Road jail to Yerawada jail in Poona and we were following it keenly. Everybody was in the middle of this crazy chase, looking desperately for a shot, a sound byte, a picture….

In the midst of it all, I received a phone call from a viewer in Bangalore who said that he had been following my career and Times Now for a long time, but he wouldn’t do it anymore.

I was very surprised and asked him why he felt that way.

The person said he had a friend, a colonel in the Indian Army named Vasanth Venugopal, who had died fighting on the border. His body was being brought back to Bangalore but not a single news channel was bothered, so busy they were covering Sanjay Dutt.

There wasn’t even a mention of this martyr on any channel, while Dutt was being covered like there was nothing else happening in the world.

I was very upset and felt very guilty.

I told the gentleman that we would send a cameraman and get pictures of the cremation and do a story on it. That night, after we had done the story, I requested this gentleman and come and talk about his friend.

When I started my programme, and asked the producer whether the person had come, he said, ‘She is here.’

I told him I was expecting a gentleman, not a lady.

The producer replied, “Colonel Vasanth’s wife has come.”

Subhashini Vasanth had witnessed the last rites of her husband barely four hours back, yet she came to our studio.

Nothing has ever moved me as much as what she said that day.

She spoke about her family and her husband’s martyrdom, making me realise that journalism can sometimes lose its way and that we have an obligation to our viewers that goes beyond the narrow perspective of covering a movie star.

Since then, the way we cover the armed forces, internal security, issues relating to Pakistan is far more detailed than any other channel. That incident shaped the work that we do now.

* Disclosures apply

Photograph: courtesy Apoorva Salkade/ Outlook

Will Britannia pay TOI for such ‘bad news’ in ads?*

23 November 2012

Advertising innovations on the front pages of newspapers is a work in progress. Each morning turns up something new, something scarier, something educative—and we haven’t seen the end of the beginning. Yet.

Today’s Times of India is one such morning.

An “innovation” on the front page of the paper has gold biscuits floating happily all over the front page to promote a gold coin scheme for customers to mark the 125th anniversary of Britannia.

Advertisers usually like to be in a “happy ambience”, but even their deep pockets cannot control the flow of news.

Result: the biscuit major’s admirable desire to spread cheer and happiness in our lives by handing out “22-carat gold coins every hour for every 10 hours a day” ends up in places they wouldn’t want to be caught dead in.

In Delhi, the glad tidings pop out of a news item announcing Taliban revenge for the execution of Ajmal Kasab. In Bombay, it brings a smile on readers looking at a double murder (and a suicide that wasn’t). In Bangalore, good fortune smiles on MBA students going abegging. And in Calcutta, it fills up the pocket of a commando who hasn’t got his due.

Have a Good Day.

Hat-tip: Naresh Fernandes

***

* Offer valid till 31 December 2012. Good Day biscuits also available without this offer. Terms and conditions apply.

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Also read: Selling the soul or sustaining the business?

Selling the soul or sustaining the business?—part II

Nehru fellowships for T.N. Ninan, Harish Khare

23 November 2012

Two top journalists, T.N. Ninan of Business Standard, and Harish Khare, formerly of The Hindu and The Times of India, have been awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru fellowships this year.

The TOI lensman who nailed Ajmal Kasab’s fate

22 November 2012

Sebastian D’Souza, the photo editor of Mumbai Mirror, with the photograph that he took of Ajmal Kasab inside Victoria Terminus on the night of 26 November 2008

Sebastian D’Douza, then photo editor of Mumbai Mirror, took 19 photographs on the night of 26 November 2008, including the iconic one of Ajmal Kasab striding across the corridors of Bombay’s Victoria Terminus station, spraying bullets.

Now retired, “Saby”, as the lensman is known to friends and colleagues, testified before the trial judge, M.L. Tahiliyani, who called his testimony “blemishless”.

In August this year, the Supreme Court noted:

“While dealing with the VT carnage, we must take note of two witnesses (Saby and Shriram Vernekar). Their evidence is extraordinary in that they not only witnessed the incident but also made a visual record of the event by taking pictures of the two killers in action and their victims… Both the witnesses, caring little for their own safety and displaying exemplary professionalism, followed the killers,” said the SC.

After Kasab was hanged yesterday, The Times of India quotes Sebastian D’Souza as saying:

“While I can’t be happy over anybody’s death, Kasab’s hanging does put an end to this sordid chapter and may help the victims get some closure.”

***

Thomas Fuller profiled D’Souza for the International Herald Tribune:

When the gunfire started, Sebastian D’Souza was well placed to respond. From his office directly across the street, D’Souza, the photo editor of Mumbai Mirror, grabbed his Nikon and two lenses and headed out into the blood-soaked night.

Peering from behind pillars and running in and out of empty train cars, he emerged with the singular iconic image of the attacks: a clear shot of one of the gunmen.

“I was shaking, but I kept shooting,” D’Souza said as he scrolled through his pictures of the attacks in a recent interview at his office.

D’Souza’s photo of Muhammad Ajmal Kasab confidently striding through Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus carrying an assault rife with one hand, finger extended toward the trigger, has been printed and reprinted in newspapers here and flashed daily on television screens.

Sebastian D’Souza recounted the story in The Times of India:

“In the distance we saw two dark figures carrying rucksacks but weren’t sure who they were.”

Saby asked the constable to fire. One of the two figures swung at the sound and fired back. Looking over the barrel of a government-issue rifle Saby took his first shot of the night. Seconds later, he saw the owner of the book stall at the platform slump down, writhing in pain.

This was Saby’s second shot before he saw Shashank Shinde’s lifeless body. “It was the first realisation I had that I was in a far more serious situation than anything I’d covered before.” He watched the gunmen pump two more bullets into the book stall owner to make sure he was dead.

He also saw, from his hiding place, an old woman in an orange navwari sari walk past, oblivious as a sleepwalker; the gunmen looking at her and then away for other targets.

“I was terrified for her but they just let her walk by. I wonder why.”

By now he was hiding in one of the empty train compartments where he fitted the telephoto lens onto his Nikon D-200, and then crouching out barely a few inches he shot a couple of frames of one of the terrorists. He was no more than a boy, hair cut like Shah Rukh Khan in his Baazigar days, dressed in neatly ironed gray cargos, black tee-shirt, and carrying a bag that seemed heavier than his weight.

In the other hand he carried a Kalashnikov which, Saby saw clearly through his lens now, was raised in his direction.

Link via M.V.J. Kar

Also read: ‘I wish I had a gun rather than a camera’

External reading: Supreme Court praises TOI photographers

How Tavleen Singh fell out with Sonia Gandhi

21 November 2012

The columnist Tavleen Singh has just penned what she calls her “political memoirs”.

Titled Durbar (Hachette, 324 pages, Rs 599), the book charts Singh’s view of the corridors of power in Delhi from the inside out—from Indira Gandhi‘s Emergency in 1975 to her assassination in 1984; from Rajiv Gandhi‘s rise to his downfall and death in 1991.

The book jacket describes how Singh, at various times a reporter for The Statesman, Delhi; The Telegraph and Sunday, Calcutta; The Sunday Times, London:

“observed a small, influential section of Delhi’s society—people she knew well—remain strangely unafffected by the perilous state of the nation…. It was the beginning of a political culture of favouritism and ineptitude that would take hold at the highest levels of government, stunting India’s ambitions and frustrating its people well into the next century.”

In chapter 14, titled Euphoric Early Days and a Plot, Singh chronicles throws light on how her friendship with Rajiv’s window Sonia Gandhi waned—and the role played by a 1986 profile of the current Congress president in India Today magazine.

***

By TAVLEEN SINGH

By the middle of 1986, my relations with M.J. Akbar had become so fraught that I decided I was better off going freelance. I was writing regularly by then for the Sunday Times, London, which brought in more money than I earned at the Telegraph.

I came to an arrangement with Aroon Purie, owner and chief editor of India Today, to do some freelance work for him as well and with a considerable degree of pleasure sent Akbar my resignation. His tantrums and sulks had now become so routine as to make constant difficulties for me professionally….

So it was that I happened to be in the India Today office on the afternoon the news came that someone had tried to shoot Rajiv Gandhi when he was visiting Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial, Rajghat, on 2 October 1986. The failed assassin was a twenty-four-year-old Sikh called Karamjit Singh, who was such an amateur that he used a country-made pistol as his weapon….

When I heard that Sonia had been with Rajiv at Rajghat, I called her to find out what had happened. She said that what had upset her most was that when they heard the shots the first people to duck were Rajiv’s new and supposedly highly trained bodyguards from the special protection group (SPG).

I must have mentioned our conversation in the India Today office that afternoon because immediately afterwards Aroon Purie summoned me to his room to ask if I could do an interview with Sonia Gandhi.

He said that people were blaming her for the negative stories that were beginning to pollute the atmosphere around Rajiv and everyone was curious about what kind of person she was and whether she really controlled the prime minister as people said she did. Although she went everywhere with the prime minister nobody knew anything about her at all.

What did her voice sound like?

How did she spend her days?

What did she think of India?

I called Sonia and told her that India Today wanted to do an interview with her and emphasised that her image was really bad and that it might help her to give an interview and clarify some of the things that were being said about her.

I told her that she was being blamed for interfering in government affairs and such things as throwing Arun Nehru out of the circle of Rajiv’s closest advisors…. She listened in silence and remained silent for a few moments before saying that she would check with the prime minister’s media managers and see if they thought she should give an interview to India Today.

They did not think it was a good idea. So we agreed to do an interview disguised as a profile and that only Sonia and I, and of course India Today, would know that the profile was done with her cooperation. I asked her all the questions that Aroon wanted me to and produced a profile that was so anodyne that Aroon said, ‘I don’t mind being considered a chamcha of Rajiv Gandhi, but of Sonia…’

I pointed out that I had said right from the start that I would not be able to say anything negative about her since we were doing the profile with her cooperation. Aroon was unconvinced and said that the very least we should do was put in the things that people were saying about her. He suggested that we put some bite into the piece by getting my colleague Dilip Bobb to work with me so that if I had problems with Sonia afterwards I could put the blame on Dilip.

So on the cover of the 15 December 1986 issue of India Today there appeared a profile titled ‘The Enigmatic First Lady of India’.

I am going to quote here the first two paragraphs and admit that the writing of them had more to do with Dilip than me. My contribution was to provide information about Sonia’s likes and dislikes, her friends and her life as the prime minister’s wife:

Had fate – in the form of assassins’ bullets – not intervened, she would have probably been quite content to linger in the shadow of her formidable mother-in-law, her assiduously protected privacy undisturbed by the fact that she belonged to the most famous family in the land. But destiny – and dynasty – willed otherwise. Unwarned, Sonia Gandhi was suddenly pitch-forked into the position she would have least wanted – India’s First Lady.

It is, as the last two years have painfully revealed, a role she is not comfortable in. Compared to the relaxed style of her debonair husband, she appears awkward and wooden. Though impeccably attired and carefully groomed, her face, framed by luxuriant chestnut hair, is an immobile mask. Perhaps deliberately, her public personality has given her the image of a mere ceremonial appendage to the Prime Minister. She is not a Lalita Shastri, but neither does she seem cut out to be Nancy Reagan or a Raisa Gorbachova. And the fate of someone who falls between two stools is not a happy one.

The article went on to charge Sonia with being the power behind the throne ‘plotting the downfall of opponents, through cabinet reshuffles (she didn’t trust Arun Nehru) and advising her husband on everything from the Kashmir coalition to Pepsi Cola’s entry into India.’

The profile was not flattering but it was not as bad as it could have been. Considering how much vicious gossip there was about the Quattrocchis by then, the piece was not unfair. There was only an illusion to her friends using her name when they threw their weight around Delhi’s drawing rooms and government offices. This was mentioned in passing.

So, when I called Sonia to find out what she thought of the profile I did not expect the frosty response I got.

I asked her if she had seen the profile and what she thought about it, and I remember being surprised by the icy tone in which she replied that she did not think she was like the person I had described in the profile. In what way, I asked, and she mentioned the reference to her friends using her name.

I said, ‘Look, Sonia, there are people using your name. I don’t want to give you details over the phone. But let’s have coffee and I will tell you exactly what is going on and who is doing what.’

We agreed to meet the next day or the next, but an hour before our scheduled meeting Madhavan, her personal assistant, called to say that Mrs Gandhi was unable to keep our appointment as she was accompanying the prime minister to Kashmir. He had been instructed to tell me that she would call when she returned to fix another time.

She never did.

Some weeks later I wrote to her to offer condolences on her father’s death and got a polite handwritten reply in her neat, carefully formed handwriting. My New Year’s card in January 1987 was not written by hand and signed by both of them as it was the year before. It came from the prime minister’s office and was formally signed by Rajiv Gandhi.

I had been dropped.

***

Book excerpt: courtesy Hachette

Photo illustration: courtesy Amarjit Siddu via Al Arabiya

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Also visit: Tavleen Singh‘s website

Follow her on Twitter: @tavleen_singh

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Also read: Vinod Mehta on Arun Shourie, Dileep Padgaonkar

Kuldip Nayar on Shekhar Gupta, N. Ram & Co

B.G. Verghese on the declaration of Emergency

Bal Thackeray’s banter at FPJ’s ‘Malayali Club’

20 November 2012

T.J.S. George, the founder-editor of Asiaweek magazine, who worked under the legendary S. Sadanand at the Free Press Journal in Bombay, on their common-colleague and staff cartoonist, Bal Thackeray:

“Spicy coffee-house theories spread that Thackeray had developed a personal grudge against South Indians. There was talk that he was jealous of R.K. Laxman who started out in FPJ and went on to glory while he, Thackeray, was denied his due. In fact, Thackeray not only had high regard for Laxman, but counted South Indians among his buddies in FPJ.

“There was a good deal of banter. Thackeray called the FPJ news desk the Malayali Club. The celebrated crime reporter M.P. Iyer constantly  showered friendly abuse on Thackeray. But Thackeray would not take offence because Iyer used colloquial Marathi with a brilliance Thackeray could not command.

“At least on one occasion, Thackeray paid public tribute to Iyer and S.Sadanand, FPJ’s founder, holding them up as models for young journalists to follow.”

Read the full article: A cartoonist with a sense of humour

Illustration: Mario Miranda for Upper Crust

Justice Katju ‘Sorry’ for calling journos idiots

20 November 2012

Within days of his appointment as the chairman of the Press Council of India in October 2011, immediately following his retirement as a judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Markandey Katju ran afoul of his colleagues on the council with his sweeping remark that he had a “poor opinion” of most journalists.

The “tendentious and offensive” remarks, which amounted to the fence eating the crop it was supposed to defend, were roundly criticised by the editors guild of India and the broadcast editors’ association, and by media itself.

Katju was also, often, boycotted by the industry representatives on the press council.

Now, over a year later, some kind of rapprochement has been reached with Justice Katju expressing his “regret” to the Indian newspaper society (INS), the association of media promoters and publishers.

Below is the full text of the INS press release, issued by V. Shankaran, secretary-general of INS:

New Delhi, 19 November 2012

The executive committee of the Indian Newspaper Society (INS), which met at New Delhi, considered the regret expressed by Mr Markandey Katju, chairman, press council of India, vide his letter dated 21.09.2012 addressed to the President, INS on his remarks that “majority of media people are of poor intellectual level”.

The members of the Executive Committee after deliberations decided to accept the regret now expressed by Mr. Katju.

What listening to the radio teaches that TV can’t

17 November 2012

Former BBC radio disc jockey Dave Lee Travis greets Aung San Suu Kyi during her visit to the BBC studios in London in June 2012

As her four-day visit to India, the first in 25 years, winds down, Aung San Suu Kyi has a series of interviews in magazines and on TV stations.

In an interview with Pranay Sharma in Outlook* magazine, the Burmese leader whose only window to the world in the long years of house arrest was the radio, talks of her love affair with the medium.

Radio used to be your only link with the outside world during your detention. But now that you are out in the open and find other options like the internet, TV, mobile, etc, does radio still have a special place?

Yes, I think it is special. Because the thing about the radio is that you listen very carefully. And years of listening to the radio has been a good training for me. You learn to recognise nuances that otherwise you wouldn’t.

Would you recommend that to the younger generation?

I think so. Listening is a very good thing. I have found that very few people really listen.

On the first day of her visit to Britain in June 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi visited the BBC studios and met the staff of the BBC Burmese service:

“Because of the BBC I never lost touch with my people, with the movement for democracy in Burma and with the rest of the world…. I feel that the BBC World Service is not as versatile as it used to be – or perhaps I’m not listening at the right times. There used to be so many different programmes, and every time I listen to it now, it’s news and commentaries. I miss the other old programmes… Bookshelf, Just a Minute, and so many others which I don’t seem to hear now…”

Former BBC RJ Dave Lee Travis (in picture), whom Aung San Suu Kyi met, was recently arrested in the Jim Savile sexual abuse investigation .

* Disclosures apply

Also read: What Aung San Suu Kyi learnt from a ‘Hindu‘ man

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