Posts Tagged ‘Asian Age’

‘Justice Katju’s remarks not wide of the mark’

3 November 2011

In all the primal breast-beating over the new Press Council chairman’s sweeping generalisations, few journalists have tried to sanely dissect Justice Markandey Katju‘s remarks. Indeed, as a tweet ironically noted: “Most of the articles opposing Justice Katju’s interview actually end up proving whatever he said about the media there.”

Kumar Ketkar, the editor of the Marathi daily Divya Marathi, took on the pashas of political correctness on television but was shouted down. The veteran Bombay-based opinion writer Sidharth Bhatia attempts a more nuanced parsing of Justice Katju’s observations in today’s Asian Age.

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By SIDHARTH BHATIA

Anyone who is concerned about the Indian media scene today, whether he is connected to it as a practitioner or as a consumer, would probably agree with many of the comments made by Justice Markandey Katju, the new chairman of the Press Council.

In an interview to Karan Thapar — who chose to play just a straightforward questioner rather than a provocateur — Justice Katju was sharply critical of the media; among other things, he called it obsessed with frivolous matters (filmstars etc), invidious in its approach and anti-people.

These are harsh words and sweeping generalisations but cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Justice Katju has a very poor opinion of the Indian media. He lists three ways in which it is not serving the interests of Indian society: it diverts the attention of the Indian people from real problems (economic issues) by over-focussing on trivia, cricket, Bollywood and the like; it divides the people by highlighting, without evidence, the connection of organisations like the Indian Mujahideen moments after a bomb blast, which subtly conveys the message that all Muslims are terrorists; and instead of enlightening citizens, it propagated superstitions, astrology and the like.

Justice Katju does not mince words in the interview: “The majority (of people in the media), I’m sorry to say, are of a very poor intellectual level… I doubt whether they have any idea of economic theory or political science, philosophy, literature. I have grave doubts whether they are well read in all this, which they should be.”

This is strong language coming from anyone, and when they come from the man who will preside over the Press Council, which often hears complaints against the media, they assume an extra edge. They clearly set the tone of what his tenure will be like.

Those who have been used to the Press Council being a generally benign, even toothless body, would do well to pay attention to what he thinks.

Now much of what Justice Katju says is not new.

In media circles, the falling standards of the profession have been a subject of discussion for a very long time. For example, it is almost universally admitted that younger journalists joining newspapers, magazines or television channels are much less aware of Indian history, politics and society than their counterparts a few decades ago.

This can partly be blamed on the education system, which relies more on rote learning than on genuine enquiry. A system where students can and do get 99 per cent marks can only be an assembly line where talent and intellect is measured by grades which reflect a good memory and little else.

To cater to the demand for journalists, colleges have eagerly taken to offering media courses at the bachelors level, but without the requisite faculty; a lot of the output of these courses is, to put in bluntly, rubbish. But such is the need in a sector that has grown exponentially over the last decade and more, that almost everyone lands a job soon enough, writing or thinking skills be damned.

There are scores of channels and hundreds of publications looking for staff and the general tendency is to just take what you can get and then hope that they will learn something on the job.

The bigger question is, what of the job itself?

Regrettably, Justice Katju’s remarks about the frivolous nature of the media are not wide of the mark. Though it is wrong to paint the entire media scene with one brush — the “media” can include the serious as well as the trashy channels, the quality papers as well as the rags — the perception is that TV channels are about hyperbole and the newspapers are dumbing down news.

The person holding the remote control sees either panellists shouting at each other, film songs, filmstars airing their views on everything, cricket and astrology. And this is on news, not entertainment channels. One often hears viewers ask — why do correspondents get so breathless while reporting, why do anchors shout so much? Bollywood stories make it on the front pages and the supplements are of course full of glamour.

But this is not the whole truth.

There are sober anchors as well as serious and competent reporters (and good journalism too). Many TV channels give us top quality stories on the “real issues”, many newspapers write on important matters that concern the polity. But, as any mediaperson will tell you, perception triumphs reality and Justice Katju is articulating the common perception.

As a judge and as an erudite and analytical mind, one only wishes he had taken a more balanced and nuanced view instead of blindly hitting out at the profession.

The Editors’ Guild has come out with a condemnation of Justice Katju’s remarks. Media practitioners also need to point out to Justice Katju and other critics that such broad brushstroke criticism does not do justice to the many thousands of journalists who do a good and honest job.

The average journalist is not on television, not a columnist with his or her picture in the papers, not someone who regularly hobnobs with the rich and powerful at seminars or parties. Tucked away in small papers (and big too) are journalists who do their work with great competence and sincerity. They do know about history, economic theory, literature and poetry and do understand the role of the media in a democratic and changing society. They do not hanker after sarkari titles or parliamentary seats or even television panel discussions.

Justice Katju wants stronger powers for the Press Council, which he wants to rechristen the Media Council so that television can be brought under its purview. In extreme cases, he wants to suspend licences of publications and channels. This may sound wonderful and path-breaking but is not the silver bullet that will change things overnight. Journalists are not going to become smarter, wiser or more mature.

The media is not going to shed its so-called obsession with trivia.

What is more, managements, who too have some responsibility at the state of affairs, are not likely to mend their ways. All it will do is to set up an antagonistic relationship between the media and the council; the early signs that this will happen are already visible.

Any attempt to “reform” the media and make it more professional will have to be a long drawn, process-driven affair. As chairman of the Press Council, Justice Katju can definitely contribute to that transition, but not if he is holding onto his prejudices and carrying a danda.

(This piece was originally published in the Asian Age and is reproduced here with permission)

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

Editors’ Guild of India takes on Press Council chief

TV news channel editors too blast PCI chief

Has Justice Katju been appointed by Josef Stalin?

26% of India’s most powerful are media barons

6 March 2009

The latest issue of India Today magazine carries the annual ranking of the 50 most powerful people in the country, and 13 media worthies find a mention.

All but two of them have shown an improvement over last year’s ranking. Remarkably, only one major English newspaper group is on the list.

The brothers Samir and Vineet Jain who run The Times of India group, come in at No.8 (up one place from No. 9 last year); Raghav Bahl of Network 18 is at 15 (up from No.18); Ronnie Screwvala of UTV is at No. 20 (up from No. 24); Subhash Chandra of Zee Network is at No. 22 (up from No. 20); Kalanidhi and Dayanidhi Maran of Sun Networkare at No. 24 (up from No. 31); Ramesh and Sudhir Agarwal of Dainik Bhaskar are at No. 35 (up from No. 37);  uncle and nephew Mahendra Mohan and Sanjay Gupta are at No. 39 (up from No. 45); Rajeev Chandrashekhar of Asianet and Suvarna is at No 46 (up from No. 50).

The only media barons whose stock has gone down are Prannoy and Radhika Roy of NDTV who are at No. 42, down 20 places from No. 22 last year.

Missing from last year’s list is T. Venkattram Reddy of Deccan Chronicle and Asian Age.

As always, though, the masala is in the fineprint.

Indu Jain, we are told, no longer visits office. Samir’s daughter Trishala‘s soon-to-be-husband is already ensconced on the fourth floor of Times House in Delhi. Raghav Bahl watches Balika Vadhu. Screwvala has moved into a home in Breach Candy in Bombay that he and his wife Zarina Khote worked on for five years. Subhash Chandra practises Vipassana for 45 minutes every day. Kalanidhi’s “centre of gravity” is his daughter Kaviya. Rajeev Chandrasekhar has Ferraris, BMWs and India’s largest collection of Land Rovers in his fleet, although his favourite is a red Lamborghini.

Also read: The 11 habits of India’s most powerful media pros

Forbes can name India’s second richest woman

Is this man the next media mogul of India?

Editor charges Indian Prime Minister of sabotage

30 June 2008

M.J. Akbar, who the grapevine says was ousted from the editorship of The Asian Age due to his staunch opposition to the Indo-US nuclear deal, goes for the jugular in his column in the Khaleej Times of Dubai:

“The Manmohan Singh government has been unable to bear the burden of an alliance with George W. Bush. The Congress encouraged the illusion, with the help of a cabal of analysts, publicists and lobbyists, that the Left was a lapdog rather than a watchdog, and could be either appeased by a bone or silenced with a stick. When the moment came to choose, the Congress stood with Bush instead of Prakash Karat.

“The official excuse for this decision is energy. But this is deception.

Dr Manmohan Singh deliberately sabotaged a much cheaper and more immediate source of energy for the country when he deliberately undermined the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, raising one false spectre after another to mislead the country, so that it would seem that there was no option but to go ahead with the Indo-US nuclear deal.

“We have forgotten now that the first objection he raised, three years ago, was that financing would be a problem.”

Read the full column: War and consequences

Also read: ‘Never let your head stoop as a journalist

‘Media can’t be in a state of permanent war’

Line, length, swing in the air, nip off the pitch

20 May 2008

Writers Shashi Deshpande and Girish Karnad at the inauguration of an exhibition of cartoons of the late Maya Kamath, cartoonist of the Asian Age and Deccan Herald before her demise, at the Indian Cartoon Gallery in Bangalore, on Monday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Rupert Murdoch eyeing print space in India?

28 April 2008

There have been persistent rumours of it for a while now. Now Business Standard reports that Rupert Murdoch‘s Star group is indeed planning a foray in the print media in India.

Top executives of Star are believed to have visited Bangalore and held talks with liquor baron Vijay Mallya for a possible joint venture. Mallya owned the Tamil satellite channel Vijay TV before he sold it to Star. He also held the Bangalore franchise of Asian Age before letting go of it.

The possibility of Murdoch tying up with Aveek Sarkar‘s Ananda Bazaar Patrika group of Calcutta is also in the air. When rules of foreign direct investment in Indian television changed, ABP picked up Star’s stake. The two groups have also collaborated to launched the Bengali channel, Star Ananda.

Murdoch and Sarkar featured in Nicholas Coleridge‘s biography of the world’s great publishers, Paper Tigers, along with two other Indians, Samir Jain and Ramnath Goenka.

Photograph: courtesy New York magazine

Also read: How Murdoch dumbed down television news

All this, and Star Vijay and Star Bangla

An urgent telegram to Shri Rupert Murdoch

Look, who inspired R.K. Laxman’s Common Man!

25 February 2008

As India gets ready for its annual budget exercise, amid hints of its likely to be a populist one on the eve of a general election, M.J. Akbar, editor-in-chief of The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle, writes in the Khaleej Times:

“The Common Man is getting a budget; does the Common Man have a face? Actually, yes. That brilliant Times of India cartoonist, R.K. Laxman, has given us the emblematic face of the Common Man. I chanced upon a Laxman original of Mahatma Gandhi in a friend’s office, and it struck me that Laxman’s Common Man, who has appeared for decades on the front page of the Times, is a variation of Gandhi. Gandhi redefined India and Indian nationalism, took it away from the grasp of elites and handed it over to the Common Man for safekeeping. Six decades after his death, the Common Man is getting one budget out of five. I suppose the Common Man should be grateful for small mercies.”

Photograph: courtesy The Tribune, Chandigarh

Update/ the full article: Queue and collect

Also read: Making all of us smile can make one of us cry

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