Posts Tagged ‘Anna Hazare’

Absolute Annarchy, and what’s more it is online

30 January 2012

An online exhibition of cartoons by E.P. Unny, the chief political cartoonist of The Indian Express has gone live. Curated by Sundara Ramanathaiyer of the Centre for Comic Arts (CCA), the cartoons examine the Anna Hazare campaign through the eyes of India’s foremost political linesman.

Visit the exhibition: E.P. Unny

Was Anna Hazare a creation of the media?

5 January 2012

With the MMRDA grounds in Bombay not quite turning out to be the Ram Lila grounds of Delhi, and with the Lok Pal bill floundering in Parliament, it is time for introspection in the media of the media’s role in the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement.

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Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN, at First Post:

“At the 2011 CNN IBN Indian of  the Year awards, Anna Hazare candidly admitted that it was the media which was responsible for his rise from a regional figure in  Maharashtra to a national icon. ‘If your cameras ‘had not followed me everywhere, who would know me?’ was the activist’s honest response.

“There is little doubt that over the last nine months, Hazare’s advisers used the media quite brilliantly. Prime-time press conferences, made-for-TV spectacles, social networking campaigns: Anna Hazare did benefit from saturation media coverage.

“Yes, some of  it was high-pitched,  and, yes, some journalists did become Anna cheerleaders. But to see Anna as purely a media phenomenon would be a misreading of  the mood on the street. Crowds were attracted to Anna not because the TV cameras were there, but because he appeared the antithesis of  a morally bankrupt political leadership beset with a series of  scams….

“In the end, both the state and Team Anna mistook the medium for the message. Team Anna saw the frenzied coverage as its main weapon, forgetting that democratic politics is not a repetitive television serial, but a tortuous process of  negotiation and conciliation. The state, on the other hand, failed to recognise that cacophony will be part of  a media environment in which there are more than 350 news channels and several hundred OB vans across India.

“The media will be a loudspeaker of  grievances, not just of Team Anna, but of  many other protest movements in the future. Strong leaders will not be swayed by the noise, a wise civil society will seek legitimacy beyond the camera lens.”

Manu Joseph, editor of Open magazine, in the International Herald Tribune:

“The Indian news media generate public interest through two distinct kinds of stories — the reporter’s story and the editor’s story. In 2005, when Parliament passed the Right to Information Act, it was the result of a long and difficult process of influencing public opinion by reformers and persistent reporters.

“The anti-corruption movement, on the other hand, was an editor’s story from the very beginning, from the moment Anna Hazare arrived in New Delhi in April, sat on a wayside with his supporters and threatened to starve to death if the government did not create the Lokpal.

“Television news quickly converted Hazare into a saint who had arrived from his village to fight the corrupt authorities in New Delhi. On the first day of his fast, there were no more than 300 people around him, but the cameras framed the fast in such a way that it gave the impression that something big was going on.

“The television news media, which are largely headquartered in New Delhi, had very little understanding of Hazare, who is from Maharashtra. Until last April, his influence was confined to rural parts of Maharashtra. By the time the anchors asked the important question — “Who exactly is Anna Hazare?” — it was too late. They had already proclaimed him a modern saint, and he had amassed millions of supporters in a matter of days. As it turned out, Hazare is not a man the urban middle class would normally call a saint.”

Also read: Anna Hazare: 17 interviews in 11 hours

How The Times of India pumped up Team Anna

The ex-Zee News journalist behind Anna Hazare show

Ex-Star News, ToI journos behind ‘Arnab Spring’

Is the media manufacturing middle-class dissent?

Should media corruption come under Lok Pal?

How The Times of India pumped up Team Anna

31 August 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Six minutes and 20 seconds into his vote of thanks at the culmination of Anna Hazare‘s fast-unto-death last Sunday, the RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal heaped plaudits on the media for the support it had lent to the Jan Lok Pal bill agitation by “articulating the outrage of the nation”.

Pointing at the jungle of anchors, reporters, cameramen and crane operators in the media pen in front of the stage at the Ramlila maidan, Kejriwal said the “media weren’t just doing their job… they are now part of the movement”.

Verbatim quote:

Hum in saari media ke shukr guzaar hain. Yeh aap dekhiye, abhi bhi camera lekar, tadapti dhoop mein khade hain, yeh log. Yeh zaroori nahin, kewal inki naukri nahin thi.  Yeh log ab andolan ka hissa hain. Raat-raat bhar, chaubis-chaubis ghante, bina soye in logon ne hamari andolan mein hissa liya, hum media ke saathiyon ko naman karte hain.”

Kejriwal’s general gratitude was for television whose frenetic and fawning coverage instantly took the message to parts of the country print wouldn’t dream of reaching in the next half a century. (A TV critic wrote last week that a survey of TV coverage of Hazare’s Jantar Mantar fast in April found 5592 pro-Anna segments versus just 62 that were anti-Anna.)

But if Kejriwal had to choose one English language publication in particular for rounding up “Middle India” in round two of the fight for a strong anti-corruption ombudsman, the honour should surely go to The Times of India.

From the day after Anna Hazare was prematurely arrested on August 16 to August 29, the day he ended his fast, the New Delhi edition of The Times of India took ownership of the story and played a stellar role in mobilising public opinion and exerting pressure on the political class.

# Over 13 days, the main section of the Delhi edition of The Times of India, covered the Anna Hazare saga over 123 broadsheet pages branded “August Kranti” (August Revolution), with 401 news stories, 34 opinion pieces, 556 photographs, and 29 cartoons and strips.

# On seven of the 13 days of the fast, the front page of Delhi ToI had eight-column banner headlines. The coverage, which included vox-pops and special pages, even spilled over to the business and sports pages, with the Bofors scam-accused industrialist S.P. Hinduja offering his wisdom.

# In launching a toll-free number for readers to give a “missed call” if they wanted a strong Lokpal bill, ToI was almost indistinguishable from the India Against Corruption movement behind Hazare. ToI claims that over 46 lakh people have registered their vote.

In short, backed by an online campaign titled “ACT—Against Corruption Together” plus the Arnab Goswami  show on Times Now, the Times group provided substantial multi-media heft to the Jan Lok Pal campaign.

In its almost completely uncritical coverage of Round II, The Times of India provided a sharp contrast to the almost completely cynical coverage of Round I by The Indian Express four months ago, the former batting out of his crease for for the wider constituency of the reader, consumer, voter and citizen.

Remarkably, also, for a publication of its size and girth, ToI took an unhesitatingly anti-establishment stand in its headlines and choice of stories, showing where it stood on corruption—an issue agitating readers in its core demographic—in a manner in which most large newspapers are loathe to do.

There were only token negative pieces like the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid calling the protest “anti-Islam”; Dalits wanting a Bahujan Lokpal bill; or Arundhati Roy calling Hazare’s stand “undemocratic”. On the whole, though, ToI coverage was gung-ho as gung-ho goes, especially judging from some of the mythological, militaristic headlines.

Just what was behind the ToI‘s proactive stand still remains to be deciphered.

Was it merely reflecting the angst and anger of its middle-class readership? Was it taking the scams, many of which it broke and which brought the Lok Pal issue to the head, to its logical conclusion? Or, does the involvement of its in-house godman in the proceedings, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living, lend a clue?

Was it willy-nilly taking part in the dark rumours of “regime-change” swirling around Delhi? Or, was it just doing what a good newspaper is supposed to do: taking a stand, making sense of an increasingly complicated world to a time and attention strapped reader, and speaking truth to power?

Whatever be the truth, the fact that ToI took such a popular-with-readers, unpopular-with-government stand when it is involved in a no-holds-barred campaign to stall the implementation of the Majithia wage board recommendations for newspaper employees, speaks volumes of its conviction on the Lok Pal issue.

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August 17: Coverage on 14 pages, 34 news stories, 2 opinion pieces, 41 photographs, 1 cartoon

Lead headline: Govt can’t stop August Kranti—Morning arrest turns into nightmare for Centre as Anna refuses to leave Tihar unless allowed to protest

Other headlines: 1) A million mutinies erupt across India; 2) Congress’s big blunders; 3) Emergency is the word for Gen Y; 4) Anna held, people hurt; 5) Intellectuals draw parallels with Emergency, JP movement; 6) Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Govt is being arrogant; 7) The Indian protester rediscovers Gandhigiri; 8) Emergency makes a comeback to political lexicon; 9) Annacalypse Now! Angry India on the streets; 10) Emergency redux, say legal experts

Editorial: Wrongful arrest—government action against Anna Hazare leaves it isolated and sans goodwill

Opinion: State vs Anna—Hazare’s arrest serious questions about India’s ‘democratic’ claims

Opinion poll: 92% say govt’s handling of Anna is undemocratic

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August 18: Coverage on 10 pages, 36 news stories, 3 opinion pieces, 56 photographs, 4 cartoons

Lead headline: People march, govt crawls—sledgehammered by nationwide outrage, UPA withdraws almost all its earlier curbs on Anna protest

Other headlines: 1) Global bank VP on ‘fasting leave’ from Hong Kong; 2) India Inc backs Anna; 3) Dabbawallas, NGOs building ‘Anna Army'; 4) This way or no way, says Anna; 5) Govt fails to move Mount Anna; 6) In Hazare and Baba Ramdev, govt has two powerful adversaries; 7) ‘9 months to arrest Suresh Kalmadi, 3 mins for Anna'; 8)

Editorial: Anna wins the day—With public anger swelling, government must take a stand on corruption

Opinion headlines: 1) Have a referendum on sticking points; 2) Let an independent arbiter decide; 3) Are you an Anna dater, a Jokepalwalla or, worst, a piggyback passionista? 4) Civil society frustrated at lack of government action

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August 19: Coverage on 9 pages, 26 news stories, 4 opinion pieces, 27 photographs, 3 cartoons

Lead headline: Judiciary out of Lokpal? Team Anna softens stand

Other headlines: 1) Brand Anna is a rage: youth wear him on T-shirts; 2) Protesters rename Chhatrasal stadium after Anna; 3) Sensing hour of reckoning, Tihar protesters give war cry; 4) ‘Gandhi’ takes world media by storm; 5) Indian editorials slam govt handling; 6) Fight to go on for generations, says Aung San Syu Ki; 7) Expatriates in south east Asia rally round Anna;

Editorial: Seize the day—reform is a powerful anti-corruption tool

Opinion headlines: 1) It’s the middle class, stupid; 2) 10 measures to reduce corruption

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August 20: Coverage on 8 pages, 30 news stories, 3 opinion pieces, 46 photographs, 2 cartoons

Lead headline: Anna rides wrath yatra, ups ante

Other headlines: 1) On fourth day of fast, 74-year-old outsprints cops; 2) He gives supporters a run for their money; 3) ‘I am Anna’s Krishna in the Mahabharata against graft'; 4) Cap fits: no weakening satyagraha—gives call for ‘second freedom movement’, will fight till last breath; 5) Amma Hazares join the cause; 6) Protest tourism: why Anna catches their (foreigners’) fancy; 7) ‘Parliament isn’t supreme, public is’

Editorial: When khaki met khadi—a confused cop learns about being civil, through agitation

Opinion headlines: 1) Which democracy do we want? 2) Reclaiming moral authority

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August 21: Coverage on 8 pages, 25 news stories,  2 opinion pieces, 36 photographs, 1 cartoon

Lead headline: Angry tide forces Manmohan’s hand

Other headlines: 1) 35% drop in crime during Hazare’s fast; 2) Parents bring kids to Anna ki pathshala; 3) Painter plans to capture ‘Anna legacy’ till passage of bill; 2) Parents want kids to see history being made; 5)  Over one million join ToI anti-graft drive;

Opinion headlines: 1) Arrest corruption, not those who protest against it; 2) Why I’d hate to be in Hazare’s chappals

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August 22: Coverage on 7 pages, 23 news items, 1 opinion piece, 28 photographs, 3 cartoons

Lead headline: All roads lead to Annapolis

Other headlines: 1) Crowding glory—over one lakh throng Ramlila ground; 2) Protestors take metro, ridership at New Delhi jumps by 50%; 3) Religious lines blur for Anna’s cause; 4) Anna gives call for revolution to surging masses; 5) Lockedpal: earn our trust, team Anna tells govt; 6) Anna’s  army pickets netas’ homes

Opinion headline: Re-negotiating democracy

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August 23: Coverage on 10 pages, 30 news stories, 2 opinion pieces, 46 photographs, 1 cartoon

Lead headline: Govt may relent, put PM under Lokpal

Other headlines:  1) Gen Y  rocks to Anna’s beat; 2) At maidan, 80,000 celebrate carnival against corruption; 3) Behind the public face, a very private man; 4) Aam admi thinks bill is cure-all; 5)  Anna proves the power of the big idea: management gurus

Editorial: Start talking—dialogue and flexibility can break the Lokpal logjam

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August 24: Coverage on 9 pages, 35 news items, 1 opinion piece, 38 photographs, 3 cartoons

Lead headline: Govt bends 70%, Anna seeks 90%

Other headlines: 1) 22 newborns in MP named after Anna; 2) ‘Don’t let them take me'; 3) Unsung soldiers: they sacrifice daily bread for Anna; 4) Maidan doesn’t sleep, volunteers up at dawn; 5) Anna critic Aruna Roy briefs Rahul on grievance bill, calls on Jairam Ramesh; 6) Anger against plutocracy legitimate, says Prakash Karat

Opinion headline: Beyond Anna’s India—is anger against corruption blinding us to other evils?

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August 25: Coverage on 8 pages, 30 news items, 4 opinion pieces, 38 photographs, 2 cartoons

Lead headline: From breakthrough to breakdown

Other headlines: 1) Braveheart Hazare baffles doctors; 2) Judge follows his conscience, speaks out for Jan Lokpal bill; 3) Destination Ramlila maidan: get a free auto ride; 4) Critic Aruna Roy comes calling; 5) Aamir Khan is brain behind picketing MPs; 6) ‘542 VIPs are making a fool of 120 crore people’

Editorial: The Lokpal moment—it’s a good time for Anna to end his fast and join the discussions

Opinion headlines: 1) Fasting as democracy decays; 2) Celebrities endorse Anna movement in large numbers—they are citizens too

Online toll: 22.7 lakh join ToI online campaign against graft

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August 26: Coverage on 8 pages, 32 news items, 3 opinion pieces, 38 photographs, 3 cartoons

Lead headline: PM walks extra mile, Anna unmoved

Other headlines: 1) 5,000 cops to fortify PM, but Anna army sneaks past posts; 2) Witnessing power of people, says Army chief; 3) Hardliners holding up Lokpal resolution; 4) Angry Anna: UPA ministers take the hit in virtual world; 5) ‘Sonia Gandhi would have handled situation better’

Editorial: Seize this opportunity—Anna Hazare shows flexibility, the govt must do so too

Opinion headline: Finding the middle ground

Online toll: 25,30,251 votes

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August 27: Coverage on 11 pages, 34 news items, 3 opinion pieces, 50 photographs, 3 cartoons

Lead headline: House hopes to send Anna home

Other headlines: 1) Downcast but steadfast; 2) Fast hits country’s financial health—reforms put off because of Anna stir, may take a toll on growth; 3) Sports icons one with Team Anna

Editorial headline: A carnival called India—from Gandhigiri to Annagiri, it’s dhak-dhak go

Opinion headline: Saintliness in politics cuts both ways

Online toll: 32,09,129 votes

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August 28: Coverage on 9 pages, 35 news items, 2 opinion pieces, 64 photographs, 1 cartoon

Lead headline: Anna wins it for the people—To break fast at 10 am today as Parliament bows to Hazare’s khwahish and PM sends letter

Other headlines: 1) Anna’s next: India tour for clean leaders; 2) Anna superfast arrives; 3) Anna sets House in order

Opinion headlines: 1) Don’t mess with the middle-class; 2) How to reverse the trust deficit

Online toll: 39,74, 515 votes

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August 29: Coverage on 12 pages, 31 news items, 4 opinion pieces, 48 photographs, 2 cartoons

Lead headline: Only deferred fast, fight goes on: Anna

Other headlines: 1) Can’t trust govt, have to keep watch: Prashant Bhushan; 2) ‘Battle is won, war has just begun'; 3) ‘This victory is our second freedom'; 4) Anna among top brands online

Editorial: Dance of democracy

Opinion headlines: 1) Has Anna really won? 2) Ways to fit the bill—accommodating Anna’s three key demands will require imaginative lawmaking

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Also read: Is the Indian Express now a pro-establishment paper?

Is the media manufacturing middle-class dissent?

Should media corruption come under Lok Pal?

Should ‘media corruption’ come under Lokpal?

25 August 2011

The more-than-just-a-neutral-observer position taken by sections of the media on the Anna Hazare agitation has clearly begun to rile politicians, and at least two of them cutting across party lines have argued in the last couple of days that the media too must be brought under the purview of the proposed anti-corruption legislation.

Exhibit A: Union minister for law and social justice, Salman Khurshid.

According to a report in The Hindu, Khurshid asked Headlines Today executive editor Rahul Kanwal as to why media corruption should not be investigated under the Team Anna version of the Lokpal bill.

“Do I need to go back to the Niira Radia tapes? Now you are asking why the government has not investigated. If we go ahead with the investigation, we would be accused of being insensitive. If we do, there would be a mass moment for the media.”

Exhibit B: Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Again, according to a report in The Hindu, Mulayam’s demand that the media also be brought under the Lokpal was met with thumping of desks by his colleagues.

“We [Samajwadi Party] suffered in the hands of media [during the polls],” he said during a debate on corruption. Even as a section of the treasury and opposition benche demanding that “media corruption” be also inquired into by Lokpal, Mulayam went on to state that it had become a practice for electronic channels to collect money during polls and air views in support of one party.

Also read: POLL: How has the media covered Anna movement?

Photograph: Television reporters deliver their piece to camera at the Ramlila grounds in New Delhi, against the backdrop of the stage on which Anna Hazare is fasting for the Lokpal bill

Is the media manufacturing middle-class dissent?

21 August 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from Delhi: The media coverage of the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement, like the movement itself, is a story in two parts—and both show the perils of the watchdog becoming the lapdog in diametrically opposite ways.

In Act I, Scene I enacted at Jantar Mantar in April, sections of the Delhi media unabashedly played along with the establishment in a “crude and disgusting character assassination”, discrediting civil society members in an attempt to strangulate the joint Lokpal drafting panel, without  showing any remorse.

In Act II, three scenes of which have been enacted in the past week at Tihar Jail, Chhatrasaal Stadium and now the Ramlila Grounds, there has been no need to invoke Armani and Jimmy Choo, after the government’s spectacular cock-ups at the hands of high-IQ, Harvard-educated lawyers who recite nursery-school rhymes to wah-wahs from unquestioning interviews.

On the contrary, it can be argued that the pendulum has swung to the other end this time round.

The Times of India and Times Now, both market leaders in number termshave made no attempt to hide where their sympathies lie in this “Arnab Spring”, when the urban, articulate, newspaper-reading, TV-watching, high-earning, high-spending, apolitical, ahistorical, post-liberalised, pissed-off-like-mad middle-class gets worked up.

When the market leaders go down that road, the others are left with no option but to follow suit.

Obviously neither extreme can be the media’s default position. However, unlike last time when there was little if not no criticism of the “orchestrated campaign of calumny, slander and insinuation“, at least two well known media figures  have found the courage to question this kind of wide-eyed, gee-whiz reporting.

Sashi Kumar, the founder of India’s first regional satellite channel Asianet and the brain behind the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), in Outlook*:

“In the race for eyeballs, a section of the media—some TV channels in particular—give the impression of sprinting ahead of the story and dragging it along behind them. What defies imagination, even as it stretches journalistic credibility, is that the messengers become the lead players, directing the route the story will take, conjuring up twists and turns where there are none, and keeping the illusion of news-in-the-making breathlessly alive….

“The relationship between such media and their essentially middle class consumers is becoming uncomfortably incestuous. When respondents cluster around a camera for a vox pop, they are not so much required to offer their independent view on an issue as add to the chorus of opinion orchestrated by the channel. A photo op masquerades as a movement. Dissident voices get short shrift. It is more like a recruitment drive than a professional journalistic exercise to seek and purvey news.

“Increasingly, the channel’s role seems to be to trigger and promote a form of direct democracy by the middle class. Politics and politicians are routinely debunked; even representative democracy doesn’t seem to make the grade.”

NDTV group editor and star anchor Barkha Dutt too strikes a similar note in the Hindustan Times:

“Critics of the Hazare campaign have questioned the media narrative as well, accusing wall-to-wall TV coverage of holding up a permanent oxygen mask to the protests. It’s even been pointed out that Noam Chomsky’s scathing commentary on the mass media -‘Manufacturing Consent’ would be re-written in TV studios today as Manufacturing Dissent.

“But again, if the TV coverage of the protests is overdone, it only proves that the UPA’s perennial disdain for the media — and the diffidence of its top leaders — has given its opponents the upper hand in the information battle. There is something so telling about the fact that 74-year-old Anna Hazare made effective use of the social media by releasing a YouTube message from inside jail and the PM of India’s oldest political party is still to give his first interview to an Indian journalist.”

*Disclosures apply

Photograph: Besides temporary studios set up by almost all the news channels, nearly a dozen Jimmy Jib cameras (swinging cameras on cranes) hover over the heads of those assembled at Anna Hazare‘s fast at the Ramlila grounds in New Delhi on Friday.

Also read: The ex-Zee News journo on Anna Hazare team

Ex-Star News, ToI journos on Anna Hazare team

Ex-Star News, ToI journos behind ‘Arnab Spring’

19 August 2011

In today’s Mail Today, Headlines Today executive editor Rahul Kanwal adds another name to the roster of journalists working with the Anna Hazare campaign against corruption: former Star News anchor Shazia Ilmi.

He also throws light on the media strategy adopted by the team to craft India’s “Arnab Spring”:

# Never start a press meet at 7.30pm. That’s when TV news channels run sports shows; they will not cut out cricket to show you.

# Avoid live briefings at 2.30pm, that’s when Hindi news channels run Saas- Bahu shows, which fetch very good ratings.

# Keep the message fresh: Supply ‘breaking news’, like letters to the prime minister or Sonia Gandhi, at regular intervals.

# Use symbols to get the message across, like Ana Hazare making a detour to Raj Ghat when few expected him to.

On last night’s NDTV,  Shivendra Singh Chauhan (a former journalist from the Hindi daily Navbharat Times of The Times of India group) and identified as currently being part of Times Internet Limited (again of ToI), popped up as the man behind the social media use of the Hazare campaign.

Image: courtesy Mail Today

Also read: The ex-Zee News journo on Anna Hazare team

The ex-Zee journalist in the Anna Hazare show

18 August 2011

The TV and newspaper coverage of the growing anti-corruption movement has been singularly personality-driven.

In fact, it is almost as if there is just one man behind it all—the 74-year-old Anna Hazare—and the four five other civil society members giving him company on the Lokpal joint drafting committee: the lawyers Prashant and Shanti Bhushan, the former top cop Kiran Bedi and the former Supreme Court judge, Santosh Hegde, and the former IRS officer Arvind Kejriwal.

The Indian Express reveals some of the other faces and brains behind the campaign, including that of a former journalist of the Subhash Chandra-owned Zee News—Manish Sisodia–who was arrested alongside Hazare and was the first to come out of Tihar Jail on Tuesday night.

The website of public cause research foundation (of which Kejriwal and Sisodia are founder-members) also lists former TV news reporter Abhinandan Sekhri, who now writes political satire for NDTV shows such as Gustakhi Maaf and The Great Indian Political Tamasha, and Aswathi Muralidharan, a mass communications post-graduate who worked in a business magazine, as being part of the team.

Read the full story: The many faces of team Anna

Also read: ‘Zee News is the only news channel making money’

Our media only bothers about elite, middle-class

28 May 2011


SHAH ALAM KHAN writes from New Delhi: In April this year the media went into a loud and vulgar rapture as Anna Hazare continued his four-day fast against corruption at Jantar Mantar in the capital.

Hyperventilating TV newscasters repeatedly declared that the issue of corruption has “touched a cord” with the middle class.

The circus at Jantar Mantar ended on a happy note with an amazing display of rhapsody for millions of urban, educated, elite Indians as they saw the government kneel to the demands of Anna in re-formulating the Lok Pal bill.  But this was more than a month back.

In Indian politics, one month is a long period. With a short public memory and an equally uncaring public attitude, it is easy to comprehend why another fast in another corner of the country has evoked minimal response.

Social activist and Gandhian, Medha Patkar has been on an indefinite fast for seven days at Mumbai in protest against the land grab at the Golibar slum, next to the Mumbai airport.

The contrast is striking.

No high profile players, no well known public figures, no lavish tents, no Bharatmata cut outs, no mineral water bottles for the attendees and,of course, minimal media glare. All the goodies of Anna Hazare’s protest are missing from Medha Patkar’s remonstration.

What is most conspicuous is the “wretched” clientele for whom Medha is fasting.  Medha’s indefinite fast is for the basic rights of 26,000 families, which dwell the Golibar slum.

Slum dwellers!

People who are a road block in the conversion of Mumbai to Shanghai.

Medha is protesting the blatant callousness of the Maharashtra government and its nefarious slum rehabilitation authority (SRA). SRA is the by-product of the political-land mafia nexus aimed at usurping those living in the slums of Mumbai. This futuristic Shanghai has more than 60 percent of its population living in slums with Golibar being the second largest slum of the city.

The SRA aims to authorize private builders to redevelop slum land. The result can be anyone’s guess. Private builders take up the slum land by force, forgery or on cheap rates. The resale value of these prime locations brings phenomenal wealth in the general property market. Even more despicable is the Clause 3K of the SRA, which gives a single builder right to redevelop a slum without inviting any tenders.

What is most deafening in this protest is the silence of the media (electronic, paper and alternative) which stood with Anna Hazare in his high profile fight against corruption. No Facebook pages, no Twitter messages, no hourly news updates.

Surely something is amiss “now” as compared to “then”.

Was it the personal charisma of Anna Hazare, who was largely unknown to elite Indians till April this year, which drew the masses and the media? Or was it a will of the media to suddenly awaken to the reality of corruption in this country?  It baffles me.

Surely, Anna Hazare’s well-orchestrated (and hence well funded) fight against corruption was more appealing to the urban middle class Indian then a fight for the slum dwellers of a small locality of Mumbai. Although to evaluate the efficacy of a protest on the basis of number of people benefited by it is not only dangerous but purely foolhardiness par excellence!

Protests represent the core values for which a society stands, not the number of people affected by its success. May be it is for this very reason that our very conscientious media fails to represent decisively the issues raised by Irom Sharmila, who has been on fast for the last ten years against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

Having said this, it may be noted that media has played a significant role in “individualistic protests” like those demanding justice for Jessica Lall or Priyadarshani Mattoo.

Although it is easy to find instances of media manufactured struggles in India if the victims are elite, educated or middle class but to say the same for this very media taking up the causes of the underprivileged, oppressed or rural masses is difficult. No wonder there is hardly any coverage of Vidharba farmer suicides or of atrocities on dalits across the length and breadth of the country.

In India the amalgam of forces that drive a protest are also an important determinant for its adoption by the media.

In Anna’s case high caste, elitist composition with a cosmetic supplementation by commoner Indians and fuelled by well-funded corporate driven NGOs, formed an ideal diet for high TRPs.  A ready meal for media digestion!

Unfortunately these ingredients of manufactured protest are lacking when it comes to core issues of human survival as in Medha Patkar’s demonstration in Mumbai.

The role of media in a democratic set-up cannot be over emphasized. But with more corporate control it is not difficult to discern what this integral pillar of democracy will support or rather avoid to support. With economic liberalization the media has become an important tool to formulate, channelize and direct popular protest; and there lies the danger for an unequal and unjust society like ours.

Highlighting the correct story is a morally responsible task that has to be done without fear or favour.

Medha Patkar and Irom Sharmila need an equal share of bytes & columns as Anna Hazare or Jessica Lall’s sister. Injustices cannot be compared, weighed and then sold to the general public wrapped in a piquant newspaper or an exciting television show.

Discriminations cannot have different colors.

Biases cannot be silent or loud.

Inequality can never be less or more.

(Dr Shah Alam Khan is an orthopaedic surgeon at the nation’s premier medical college and hospital, the all India institute of medical sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi. Visit his blog: India and Bharat)

Also read: Why Ram Pyari couldn’t take her daughter home

IPL’s thugs are no better than Maoists and Naxals

Is Indian Express now a pro-establishment paper?

21 April 2011


PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: The Indian Express of Ramnath Goenka is an unputdownable chapter in the book of Indian journalism. Unlike many of its English counterparts—whose grammar was constricted by Wren & Martin, and the Raj—Express was the archetypal desi bully.

“Anti-establishment,” was the Express‘ calling card.

Its reputation was built on stones pelted at the power elite: taking on dictatorial prime ministers (Indira Gandhi for the Emergency, Rajiv Gandhi for the anti-defamation Bill), slimy corporate chiefs (Dhirubhai Ambani of Reliance industries) and corrupt chief ministers (A.R. Antulay of Maharashtra, R. Gundu Rao of Karnataka).

“Pro-people,” was the Express‘ middlename.

Unlike its servile peers who crawled when asked to bend, Express‘ founder himself took part in Gandhi‘s march from Champaran and led the protest against the anti-defamation Bill. The paper backed Jayaprakash Narayan‘s Bihar movement, and battled for civil liberties and human rights, some times at the risk of closure of the company.

Whatever its other motives and motivations (and there were a few), the Indian Express sent the unambiguous signal to Indians that the Express was theirs; a paper that would speak truth to power, a paper they could bank on in taking on the bold-faced names of the establishment.

An Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on Goenka accurately calls him a “crusader against government corruption”.

On his birth centenary seven years ago, Express launched a website on the “man who had the courage to stand up for truth.”

So, how would Ramnath Goenka look at his baby today, as its editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta leads an extraordinary ad hominem attack on the Anna Hazare-led “people’s movement” against corruption, pillorying NGOs, the middle-class and “civil society”—and allowing itself to be become the weapon of first choice in what Express columnist Soli J. Sorabjee calls the “crude and disgusting character assassination” of its lead players, the lawyers Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan?

***

Since the day Anna Hazare sat on the fast-unto-death at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on April 5, demanding the constitution of a joint government-civil society committee for the drafting of the Lokpal bill—and especially after he succeeded in his mission—The Indian Express has bared its fangs in a manner that few would expect any independent newspaper to do.

At least, few would have expected an “anti-establishment”, “pro-people” paper whose tagline is “Journalism of Courage” to do.

Over a 16-day period (April 6 to 21), through 21 news reports, seven editorials, 15 opinion articles, three cartoons and one illustration, almost all of them variations of the same theme, the northern and western editions of the Express (the southern editions are under a different editorial management after the Goenka family split) has left no one in doubt on whose side—and which—side of the debate it is.

Against the sentiment on the street and in the homes and offices of its readers—and with the political-business-bureacuratic-fixer-operator cabal in whose interest it is to spike the bill in whatever form it may emerge, by tarnishing its movers and shakers.

The only place there has been any space for the other side in the Express since the protest began and ended, has been in its letters’ column, with one letter (from a former Express staffer) getting pride of place on the op-ed page as an article.

Otherwise, it has been a relentless torrent of scepticism, cynicism, criticism, distortion, inneundo, insinuation and plain abuse in The Indian Express. Words like “illiberal”, “fascist”, “dangerous”, “self-righteous”, “self-appointed”, “authoritarian”, “dictators”, “Maoist” and—pinch yourself—“missing foreskins” have spewed forth from the paper’s news and views pages to convince the world why the movement is the worst thing to have happened for Indian democracy.

Here’s a sampling of the headlines, introductions and blurbs over the 16-day period:

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# April 6, news report, by Maneesh Chibber, headline “Activists’ Bill calls for Lokpal as supercop, superjudge”, text “The Jan Lokpal Bill…. includes a set of highly unusual provisions….”

# April 7, news report, by Maneesh Chibber and Seema Chisti, headline “Cracks appear in Anna’s team”, intro “Justice Santosh Hegde objects to ‘certain’ clauses’, Aruna Roy warns: can’t bypass democratic principles”

# April 7, news feature, by Vandita Mishra, headline “Anna’s fast, main course: feed politicians to vultures & dogs”

# April 7, editorial headline “They, the people”, intro “Illiberal, self-righteous sound and fury isn’t quite the weapon against corruption.”

# April 7, opinion, by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, headline “Of the few, by the few”, intro “Lokpal Bill agitation has a contempt for politics and democracy”, blurb “The claim that people are not represented by elected representatives, but are represented by their self-appointed guardians is disturbing. Anyone who claims to be the ‘authentic’ voice of the people is treading on very thin ice indeed”

# April 8, news report, headline “First political voices speak: cause just, method fascist”, intro “Self-selected can’t dictate terms, says SP; who will choose 50% civil society, asks Raghuvansh [Prasad]”

# April 8, news report, by D.K. Singh, headline “UPA problem: NAC shoe is on the other (NGO) foot”, text: “…the anti-corruption legislation looks set to land in the turf war between competing gorups of civil rights activists.”

# April 8, gossip item, headline “Lady in hiding?”, text “When the fiesty retired IPS officer (Kiran Bedi) was not seen, it naturally set off talk, with people wondering whether she had quietly withdrawn from the campaign.”

# April 8, editorial, headline “Carnival society”, intro “There is nothing representative about the ‘civil society’ gathering at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar”

#April 9, news report, by Seema Chisti, headline “Jantar Mantar core group lost out last year, struck back with Anna”

# April 9, editorial, headline “Make it better”, intro “This anti-politics juggernaut is both contentless and dangerous”

# April 9, opinion, by BaijayantJayPanda MP, headline “Cynicism vs hope”, intro “How odd that we should undermine democracy in this year of pro-democracy movements”, blurb “The Jantar Mantar movement is now poised at a crucial juncture. It could get irretrievably hijacked by those of Hazare’s supporters who have scant respect for politics. If wiser heads prevail—those who respect the institutions of democracy like parliament and the courts—then we could well be at the cusp of a magical moment.”

# April 10, news report, headline “[Baba] Ramdev attacks ‘nepotism’ in bill drafting committee: pita mukhiya, beta sadasya?”

# April 10, news report pointer, headline “Ally NCP speaks out: joint committee will be joint pain for constitution and democracy”

# April 11, opinion, by Mihir S. Sharma, headline “Not a very civil coup”, intro “Snuff out those candles: democratic society should trump civil society, every time”,  blurb “Let us not glorify middle-class anger when it is expressed as an antipathy to where democracy’s gotten us, as fury at not having more power than is gifted by the vote you share with a villager. That way lies the pain and disillusionment of a dozen cuddly dictators”

# April 12, editorial, headline “Rs 100, a sari, a bottle”, intro “That’s all Hazare says a vote means. Who gains from such disdain for democracy?”

# April 12, opinion, by Neera Chandhoke, headline “The seeds of authoritarianism”, intro “Democracy needs civil society. But not Anna Hazare’s version, contemputous of ordinary voters”

# April 12, opinion, by Madhu Purnima Kishwar, headline “Why tar all politicians with the same brush?”, intro “We need to reboot corrupt systems, instead of demonising our political class”, blurb “Politicians can be removed through elections, whereas we self-appointed representatives cannot be voted out when we exceed our brief”

# April 13, news clipping quoting New Age, view from the left, “Anna Hazare afterthought”

# April 13, opinion, by Seema Chisti, headline “We the bullied”, intro “Can our basic democratic procedures be so easily dispensed with?”, blurb “The quick and easy path in this case is also the more dangerous road, and it is one on which we have already embarked—all because there are some people around who talk loud enough to make claims about representing ‘the people’. We, the electors and those we elected, have just given them a walkover.”

# April 13, opinion, by Ashwini Kulkarni, “Governance comes before a Lokpal”, intro “For a Lokpal bill to work, you would need systems that create the paper trails necessary for prosecution”

# April 13, opinion, by Nityanand Jayaraman, headline “The halfway revolution”, intro “Am I wrong in suggesting that the candle-holding middle-class Indian is not very different from the Maoist in ideology?”

# April 14, editorial, headline “Over to the MPs”, intro “On the Lokpal bill, Veerappa Moily is falling all over himself—and could trip Parliament too”

# April 14, opinion, by Javed Anand, headline “Why I didn’t join Anna Hazare,” intro “In his post-corrupt utopia, we should look forward to leaders like Narendra Modi“, blurb “I do not wish to spoil the show for those celebrating the ‘second movement for Independence’ that Anna has won for us. But I cannot hide the fact that I, with my missing foreskin, continue to feel uneasy about the Anna revolution—for more reasons than one.”

# April 15, news report, headline “CEOs, banks, firms in list of donors put up on website of Hazare movement”

# April 15, news report, “Doubt your role as good lawmaker: SP leader to Shanti Bhushan”

# April 15, opinion, by Farah Baria, headline “See the spirit of Anna’s movement”, intro “Don’t nip our fledgling civic consciousness in the bud”

# April 16, news report, headline “Lokpal talks off to CD start”

# April 16, news report, headline “My view is keep judges out, says Anna, colleagues disagree”

# April 16, news report, headline “The other society: CIC, Aruna Roy, Justice Verma to hold parallel meet”

# April 17, news report, by Swaraj Thapa and Amitabh Sinha, headline “Lokpal should have powers to tap phones, prosecute: non govt reps”

# April 17, news report, by Seema Chisti, headline “Why the hurry, and do we really need more laws, ask legal luminaries, activists”

# April 17, opinion, by Meghnad Desai, headline “Which Hazare?’

# April 17, opinion, by Sudheendra Kulkarni, headline “MODI-fy the Lokpal debate”

# April 17, opinion, by Tavleen Singh, headline “Our sainted NGOs?”

# April 19, editorial, headline “law and lawgivers”, intro “So will Anna Hazare respect Parliament’s supremacy after all?”

# April 20, news report, by Pragya Kaushika and Ritu Sarin, headline “Bhushans get two prime farmhouse plots from Mayawati govt for a song”, intro “No lottery, no auction in allotment of two 10,000 sq m plots to Shanti Bhushan and son Jayant

# April 20, editorial, headline “Case must go on”, intro “The judicial process must remain disconnected from the Bhushans-Amar Singh spat”

# April 20, opinion, by A.P. Shah and Venkatesh Nayak, “A gigantic institution that draws powers from a statute based on questionable principles”, blurb “Clauses 8 and 17 turn the Lokpal into a civil court that will reverse the decisions of the executive such as grant of licences, permits, authorisations and even blacklist companies and contractors. This is not the job of an Ombudsman-type institution.”

# April 21, news report, headline “Mess spreading, Sonia washes her NAC hands of Lokpal Bill”, intro “Reminds Anna Hazare that he knew NAC was at work on Bill until fast forced the issue”

# April 21, news report, by Krishnadas Rajagopal and Tanu Sharma, headline “On plots allotted by govt, the Bhushans have high standards—for others”

# April 21, news report, by Tanu Sharma, headline “Shanti Bhushan may not have been in panel if plot known: Santosh Hegde”

# April 21, opinion, by Sandeep Dikshit, MP, headline “Whose bill is it anyway?”, intro “The fight against corruption cannot be appropriated by a clique”, blurb “The very reason why this committee was formed was because it was argued that we need more opinions and contributions to the Lokpal Bill. Having accepted this, can the protagonists then state that every opinion, every fear expressed by those outside this group is an attempt to sabotage this bill?

# April 21, opinion, by Dilip Bobb, headline “In search of civil society”, intro “Anna Hazare has given ‘civil society’ an identity card, but who qualifies for membership?”, blurb “Is civil society the preserve of groups predefined as democratic, modern and ‘civil’, or is it home to all sorts of associations, including ‘uncivil society’?”

# April 21, news clippings quoting Organiser, view from the right, headlines “Whose Hazare?”, “Check that bill”

***

It is no one’s case that the campaign for the Lokpal bill, or the clauses contained in the draft Jan Lokpal bill, is without its flaws. It is also no one’s case that those behind the movement are angels, who cannot be questioned or scrutinised.

But when viewed through a journalistic prism, the Express campaign raises two questions.

One, can a newspaper—notwithstanding its right to take a stand it likes on any issue—can a newspaper shut out the other side completely as if doesn’t exist? And is such a newspaper a newspaper or a pamphlet?

Example: on April 19, “civil society” representatives led by NAC members Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander, condemned the campaign to malign Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan. The Indian Express ignored the news item that found place in most newspapers.

And two, whose cause is the Express championing in indulging in such a hit job on a campaign that has struck a chord with millions?

Express fires from the safe shoulders of “democracy”—a word that invokes titters among many ex-Express staffers. But is the Express really speaking for the people, or has it become a plaything of the “establishment” which was shamed into acting on a piece of legislation that had been languishing for 43 years?

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None of this is to downplay the first-rate journalism that the Indian Express still delivers on most days of the week.  Even in as messy a story as the Amar Singh-Shanti Bhushan CD in the current anti-Hazare campaign, Express demonstrated far greater rigour than its compatriots Hindustan Times and Times of India, which fell hook, line and sinker for the “establishment” story.

Nevertheless, there is no denying that Express has begun to play a meeker role in exposing corruption in high places.

In the last three years, Express has been wrongfooted by its compatriots on all the big corruption stories that have gripped the nation’s attention and spurred the campaign for the Lokpal bill: the 2G spectrum allocation (The Pioneer) and S-band (The Hindu) scams; the CWG, IPL and Adarsh housing scams (The Times of India); the black money and Swiss bank accounts story (Tehelka); Wikileaks (The Hindu); and the Niira Radia tapes (Outlook and Open).

Simultaneously, Express, which increasingly shares a strange symbiosis with Indian and American thinktanks, has veered disturbingly closer to the government, be it in reflecting the UPA government’s thrust for the Indo-US nuclear bill; its muscular approach to tackling the Maoist threat in mine-rich tribal areas; in demonising the Chinese, or in plumping for road, airport, dams, infrastructure and nuclear projects, overriding environmental and social concerns.

Indeed, from being a paper deeply suspicious of big business, it has become the go-to newspaper for corporate honchos seeking to put out their story. Ratan Tata‘s first interview after the Radia tapes hit the ceiling was with Shekhar Gupta for NDTV‘s Walk the Talk show. And for a paper deeply suspicious of power, the paper now publishes arbitrary “power lists”, without ever revealing the jury or the methodology behind the rankings. (Shekhar Gupta was decorated with the nation’s third highest civilian honour, the Padma Bhushan, by the UPA government in 2009.)

The question that arises is: are all these concentric circles somehow linked in the Express‘ astonishingly one-sided campaign against the anti-corruption movement and the people behind it?

***

Historically, in India, large publications (think Times of India and The Hindu), have tended to play along with the establishment because of the kind of business and other interests involved. But a small-circulation paper bending backwards to stroke the crooked and the corrupt doesn’t present a pleasant sight.

It doesn’t sound civil, but it is a question that must be courageously asked: has Ramnath Goenka’s bulldog of a paper become a lapdog of the power elite, luxuriating among the rich and famous, while peeing at the feet of the people it was supposed to defend?

In other words, has The Indian Express become a pro-establishment newspaper?

Illustration: courtesy C.R. Sasikumar/ The Indian Express, April 20

***

Also read: Arnab edges out Barkha on Express power list

The curious case of Zakir Naik and Shekhar Gupta

A columnist more powerful than all media pros

‘Editors and senior journos must declare assets’

Anti-corruption campaigner’s error of judgement

20 April 2011

An item in Raisina Tattle, the gossip colum in the Delhi tabloid, Mail Today.

Image: courtesy Mail Today

Also read: Bangalore journos named in site allotment scam

Only in India: 90% off for journalists!

Cash transfer scheme is already here for journalists

Media houses are sitting on plots leased at one rupee!

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