Posts Tagged ‘AFP’

How Amitabh Bachchan ‘saved’ an AFP journo

14 March 2014

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SUDHEENDRA KULKARNI writes: “Hi Sudheen, how are you?” the caller on my mobile phone asked me the day after I landed in Cairo last month. It was an Indian voice, also somewhat familiar, but I couldn’t quite connect the voice with the name.

It was Jay Deshmukh, a colleague with whom I had worked together many years ago ─ indeed, in the early 1990s ─ in The Sunday Observer and the Business & Politics Observer in Mumbai (Bombay then). I had lost contact with him after I moved to Delhi and I least expected to receive a phone call from him in Cairo of all the places.

Jay had come to know about my arrival in Cairo from the email sent out to mediapersons by the Indian embassy in Egypt, which had organised my talk on ‘Mahatma Gandhi in the Internet Age’ the following day.

We met the same evening at Hotel Flamenco, overlooking the Nile River, where I was staying. The view of the river, and also of the sprawling city of Cairo beyond the river, was enchanting from the tenth floor of the hotel.

Over cups of Egyptian tea, we spoke about ourselves and about the state of the world.

My admiration for Jay grew immensely when I heard about his journalistic journey since he first cut his teeth in the profession two decades ago in Mumbai.

Jay, who is now the Cairo-based Middle East correspondent for Agence France Presse (AFP), is quite simply the only Indian journalist who has worked in so many “interesting places” in West Asia.

For the past fifteen years, he has served as a news agency correspondent in Iraq, Iran, Libya and now in Egypt. Earlier he has also worked in Sri Lanka.

Three years ago, he was expelled from Iran because of his powerful reporting about opposition reports in that country.

It takes courage and a very degree of professional commitment to work as a journalist in this part of the world, especially in countries like Iraq and Libya when they were facing both external wars and bloody internal conflicts.

The risks involved in covering conflict situations are obvious. The risks are all the greater for news agency correspondents who have to be alert 24×7.

For Jay, money is clearly not the attraction for working in these places.

He told me: “I have consciously chosen to specialise as a correspondent in this part of the world because, as I have often told myself, why should only westerners be telling the story of Africa, the Arab world and other West Asian countries like Iran? Of course, as a journalist working for an international news agency, I am a thorough professional, but at heart I remain a proud Indian. And I strongly believe that there should be more Indian journalists working in different parts of the world. Indians should see and understand the happenings in the world from an Indian perspective. Indian media has not paid adequate attention to this aspect.”

I couldn’t agree with Jay more.

Jay recounted one particularly thrilling ─ or scary, if one were in his position ─ experience of his as a news agency journalist while covering the US war in Iraq between 2003 and 2008.

One day he was kidnapped by a militant group, which suspected him to be an American spy. They handcuffed him and dragged him to an unknown place. Their captors used various methods to extract information from him ─ who he was, what he was doing, what information he was passing on, and to whom.

Jay tried to tell them, in his broken Arabic, that he was a journalist working for a news agency, but to no avail. The day wore on, but there was no sign of him being released.

Then a new interrogator came and asked Jay, “Are you from Pakistan?”

“No, I am from India,” Jay replied.

“INDIA? Sholay? Amitabh Bachchan? You know Amitabh Bachchan?”

When Jay convinced his interrogator, through his knowledge of Hindi films ─ and particularly Amitabh Bachchan’s films ─that he was indeed an Indian, the ice suddenly broke.

His Iraqi captor’s attitude turned perceptibly warm. Thereafter he started telling Jay what a big fan of Amitabh Bachchan he was. He then told his colleagues, “This man is a friend of ours. He is from India. Let’s set him free.”

Amazing, isn’t it?

(Sudheendra Kulkarni is former media advisor to Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani)

Photograph: courtesy Asia One

Follow Jay Deshmukh on Twitter: @DeshmukhJay

***

Also read: Sudheendra Kulkarni on Russy Karanjia

Sudheendra Kulkarni ends his Indian Express column

The reporter who scooped Olympic dope scandal

27 July 2013

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In his weekly column National Interest, Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta writes on a pre-internet era incident from the 1988 Olympic Games at Seoul, which he covered for India Today magazine:

On one sleepless night, after India had had one more disastrous day at those medal-less Olympics, my friend Lokesh Sharma (then reporting for The Telegraph) and I were generally whiling away our time, playing with the computers at the Press Centre.

I was, in fact, playing with a new app (the Koreans had invented one then already!), where you hit an athlete’s name and could check out his/her bio-rhythm on any given date. And then Lokesh came sprinting in, as if he had seen a miracle.

Oye, tujhe pata hai kya hua,” he asked.

Kya hua?” I said.

“Oye, woh Ben Johnson, uska su-su….” Lokesh said.

Kya Ben Johnson ka su-su?” I asked.

Oye, woh uska su-su fail ho gaya,” Lokesh was so breathless.

This is just after the Canadian had made history, beating the more fancied Carl Lewis in the 100m sprint. Lokesh had overheard two lab technicians talking about his urine sample having failed the dope test.

We were now sitting on a world scoop.

But at 5.30 in the morning at Seoul (3 am in India) we were past all deadlines and it was no use for me anyway as I worked for a fortnightly, India Today. But Lokesh would always land on his feet. He sold the scoop, his greatest ever, to AFP.

No wonder he soon outgrew sports journalism to rise as India’s most successful sports entrepreneur, a kind of first Indian Jerry Maguire, and has never looked back since.

Photograph: courtesy India Today

Read the full article: Running debate

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

Why foreign media broke news of Sonia illness

6 August 2011

Few things have exposed the state of political reporting in India than the news that Sonia Gandhi is unwell.

Dozens of reporters, most of whom claim more “access” to 10, Janpath than all the rest, cover the Congress party.

Yet, in a throwback to the Cold War days, none knew or none told the world what was wrong, although there had been strong whispers for nearly a year.

****

Neelam Deo and Manjeet Kripalani of the Bombay-based Indian council of global relations, Gateway House:

As TV channels fell over each other [on August 4] to cover in minute detail, the unseemly succession drama of the chief minister of Karnataka, and the CAG’s naming of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit in the graft and corruption surrounding CWG, by 2.30 pm foreign TV agencies, the BBC and Agence France-Presse reported that Sonia Gandhi, had undergone surgery in the United States.

The foreign news reports named Gandhi’s spokesperson, Janardhan Dwivedi, as the source of the information….

The news of Sonia Gandhi’s undisclosed illness and secret departure came as a shock to Indians… Democratic institutions like the media and the Parliament, which should have disclosed Gandhi’s condition as a matter of public knowledge, had kept silent.

The Congress Party carried no notice of its leader’s illness on its website, and it is significant that its spokesperson confirmed the news first to the foreign press.

If it felt it could not trust the Indian media with responsible reportage, the Indian media as a collective, has given it good reason. It is, increasingly part of the cozy nexus of politicians and bureaucrats in Delhi, and is often partisan in its coverage, scoffing at the public’s right to know important events.

For the record, Manjeet Kripalani is former India bureau chief of BusinessWeek magazine.

Illustration: courtesy Thomas Antony

Read the full articleGandhi dynasty, politics as usual

Also readHow come no one spotted Satyam fraud?

How come no one saw the IPL cookie crumbling?

How come no one in the media saw the worm turn?

Aakar PatelIndian journalism is regularly second-rate

Everybody loves a good car, not a good filter

10 December 2009

The announcement of the launch of Tata Nano, the small car produced by the Tatas, saw the media falling over itself heralding the arrival of the “People’s Car”.

The fact that the car was priced at Rs 100,000 was enough to result in long front-page stories; glowing feature articles on Indian engineering and enterprise; breathless test drives; and fawning editorials and interviews with the man behind the car, Ratan Tata.

So, how does the same media treat the launch of Tata Swach, the water filter/ purifier that is priced at Rs 749 and Rs 999, and in a country like India is likely to reach more people and change more lives, and launched by the same man.

In alphabetical order:

AFP (news agency): 540 words

Associated Press:  772 words

BBC: 245 words

Business Standard: 381 words

DNA: 308 words

Press Trust of India: 477 words

Economic Times: 400 words

Indian Express: 415 words

Hindu Businessline: 461 words

Hindustan Times: 162 words on the filter, 333 words of an interview

The Times of India: 202 words

Copenhagen, anybody?

Carbon intensity?

Photograph: courtesy Paul Noronha/ The Hindu Businessline

Also read: And Ratan Tata sang, PR kiya tho darna kya?

If we can get a car for Rs 1 lakh, why can’t we…?

There’s nothing lost if the Nano isn’t produced

‘What Henry Ford did then, Ratan Tata has now’

Can India survive the Nano?

Tata, turtles and corporate social responsibility

CHURUMURI POLL: Should Tatas scrap the Nano?

Media freedom is what separates India & China

5 June 2009

No media debate on Asia is complete with0ut comparing India to China, or vice-versa. Even among middle-class media consumers, there is a barely disguised contempt for the slow pace of growth in democratic India, for all the “obstacles” in the path of progress and development, compared with the frenetic pace in The Middle Kingdom.

But is there a comparison to be made at all?

Is China really in India’s league, notwithstanding the growth rate, the forex reserves, etc? This is a CNN video of its Beijing correspondent attempting to go to Tiananmen Square on 4 June 2009, the 20th anniversary of the massacre, before being engulfed by umbrella-weilding “undercover” police.

As the legendary Atlantic Monthly correspondent James Fallows, now based in Beijing, writes:

“This is the kind of thing that makes you hold your head and say: Rising major power in the world?”

And this, on top of a ban on Twitter and Facebook, and censorship of television stories which begin with “In China today…” or “Twenty years ago in Bei….”

Also read: James Fallows: The June 4 report

T.J.S. George in China: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI

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