Posts Tagged ‘Dileep Padgaonkar’

An Editor explains ‘Arnab Goswami’ to an NRI

19 November 2013

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picture-20For most TV news consumers, Arnab Goswami is both a name and a phenomenon. But there are still large parts of the world to be conquered by Times Now‘s bulldog of an inquisitor.

B.V. Rao, editor of Governance Now, explains the name and the phenomenon to a childhood friend who lives in Canada.

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Dear Sharada

Sometime ago during a Googlegroup discussion you innocently asked: “But who is Arnab?”.

In India not knowing Arnab is against national interest. You are lucky you live in Canada. But if you don’t want to be deported on arrival on your next visit, you better pay attention to this complimentary crash course on the subject.

Arnab, as in Arnab Goswami, is India’s most-watched prime time news anchor and editor-in-chief of Times Now*. But designations don’t even begin to describe him or what he is famous for.

You must have heard about hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Arnab is also a storm, a news-storm that hits India every night via his show, the “Newshour”. Nobody is quite sure how, but somehow Arnab gets to know the questions that the “whole nation” wants answers for, or the sinners the nation wants hanged before midnight that night.

In effect then, Arnab speaks for a “billion-plus people” each time he takes centre-stage.

I can’t say for sure if he took this burden upon himself voluntarily or if his employers made it a contractual obligation. Whatever it is, the fact is that Arnab has come to relish asking the most “simple and direct” questions to the most dubious people demanding instant answers to complex problems because the “nation wants to know” and it wants to know “tonight” as in right now.

That’s how impatient India has become while you’ve been away, Sharada.

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The Newshour airs on weekdays from 9 pm and continues till Arnab’s pleasure lasts. Often the show stretches up to 10.50 pm. That’s actually “News hour-and-three-quarters-and-then-some” but I guess Arnab has not asked himself a “simple, direct” question: how many minutes make an hour?

That, or his primary school maths teacher is not his viewer. In which case it is safe to say Arnab speaks for a billion-plus minus one Indians.

You will see that at the altar of national interest it is not just the hour that is stretched.

About two decades ago, Dileep Padgaonkar was the editor of the Times of India owned by the Jains of Bennett & Coleman who also own Times Now. Padgaonkar had pompously proclaimed that he held the second most important job in the country after the prime minister’s.

Arnab hasn’t said it, but I think he disagrees with Padgaonkar on the pecking order:  it’s now the prime minister who holds the second most important job in the country.

Hence Arnab runs the show like he would run the country or like the prime minister should but doesn’t.

You see, Sharada, there’s an awful lot of stuff the nation wants to know by nightfall but our prime minister isn’t much of a talker. Arnab fills the need gap. He opens his show with a passionate agenda-setting preamble that spells out all the problems of the day and how he wishes to solve them. We gratefully receive this wisdom and call it Arnab’s Address to the Nation, a prime ministerial duty that has fallen on his broad shoulders because the real guy has abdicated it.

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Let me tell you this, however. Arnab is a very reluctant power-grabber. It is not his intent to upstage the prime minister or make him look silly.

He gives the prime minister an entire day to prove his worth and gets to work only at 9 pm when it is clear that the latter can’t handle stuff.

He then solves all outstanding national issues of the day in just one 110 minute-hour of feverish debates where he grills the skin off the back of everybody who dares to stand in the way of India’s national interest.

He is unrelenting in his pursuit of the truth and doesn’t give up unless everybody has agreed with him.

“I am worried”, “I am concerned”, “I won’t let you politicise”, “I don’t agree”, “you can’t get away….” are some of the phrases he uses to suggest he is in complete control and that endears him to a nation starved of decision-makers.

Arnab hates home work. He wants to settle everything here and now, tonight. As a result, in Arnab country, there is no trace of the policy paralysis that has grounded the prime minister in the real country. Here you get resolutions, decisions, orders, diktats, judgements, justice and denouements all in one place, one show, by one man.

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The only people paralysed are the subjects of his grilling and the bevy of experts he gathers around himself, not because he needs them, he doesn’t, but because it must feel awfully good to invite experts and out-talk them on national prime time.

Like confused baboons trapped in little boxes, the experts, who are neatly arranged around Arnab’s own imposing self in the centre of the screen, keep staring into nothingness most of the time.

Yes, you get the drift, Sharada, Arnab is the main dish here. The rest are just intellectual dips.

For most of their airtime the experts keep putting up their hands or calling out “Arnab….Arnab….” to indicate they want to make a point. Arnab is too engrossed in disagreeing with what he has not allowed them to say to care too much.

Some clever guests try to appeal to his Assamese roots by hailing “Ornob…Ornob”. He ignores them as well.

Nationalism, after all, is above parochialism. The cleverer among them have cracked the code: they just agree with Arnab in exchange for a little extra air time. These are usually the people who have paid close attention to Arnab’s Address to the Nation and picked up the right cues on what to say that will get them his benefaction.

It is tough to figure out why Arnab needs any experts at all because he knows the answers to all his questions. Times Now insiders say that more often than not he finds questions to the answers he already has. On his show, politicians can’t politicise, bureaucrats can’t beat around the bush, sportspersons can’t play games and lawyers can’t use legalese.

In fact anybody who is good at something can’t do what they are known to do, to the extent that even civil society can’t be civil, especially if it wants to get a word in sideways. Everybody has to be direct, honest, blunt and keep things simple because that is what the (one-man) nation wants.

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Corruption, political expediency, opportunism, forked tongues, doublespeak, dishonesty and hypocrisy, are red rags to Arnab. He takes them head-on with the help of his reporters who keep throwing up “documentary” evidence ever so often to expose scamsters.

Usually this is a thick sheaf of indistinguishable papers that Arnab holds up threateningly. It could be a bunch of used airline e-tickets for all we know, but since we don’t, he waves the sheaf confidently in the face of the enemies of the nation and it is generally assumed he’s got some incendiary stuff in there.

Arnab’s problem-solving repertoire is not restricted to national boundaries. In fact, he is at his best when dealing with nations that have evil designs on India. The patriot in Arnab is best aroused when he is dealing with that evil, failed, rogue nation called Pakistan.

He deals with Pakistan like no prime minister has ever been able to or decimates it like no Army has ever managed to. Each time a blade of grass bends to the breeze on the LoC, Arnab breathes fire at Pakistan for trying to sneak in terrorists into the country. He lines up a battery of serving and retired generals of Pakistan and conducts the verbal equivalent of a summary execution.

Yet, the same generals keep resurfacing on Arnab’s show each time he feels the urge to have a Pakistani or two for dinner. This causes much wonderment among Newshour hounds on the masochist streak that makes the Pakistani generals offer themselves up as bait repeatedly.

So, it is assumed the money must be good. But since Arnab insists that Pakistan is the way it is only because the generals have sold their country cheap, it is unlikely he is blowing his budget for this routine cross-border target practice. Of course, left to Arnab Pakistan would have existed only as the largest crater on earth since the meteors wiped out all life on the planet. Yes, he would have nuked it many times over by now.

The Times of India, the country’s oldest English newspaper and the mother brand from the Times Now stable runs Aman Ki Aasha (Hope for Peace), the widely-acclaimed campaign for ending India-Pakistan hostilities.

Just as Arnab doesn’t seem to know of this campaign, the Times of India seems quite oblivious of the fact that the last time there was absolute peace on the LoC was when Arnab took a two-week holiday in early September. It could be the marketing genius of the Times group to milk the issue from both ends or it could also be that their internal boundaries are not as porous as our LoC.

Apart from conducting war exercises against Pakistan, Arnab land is eyeball-to-eyeball with China, exposes the double standards of America in almost anything it does and highlights the hypocrisy of racist Australia which loves the education dollars from India but not the brown students who come along with.

His blood boils so much when an old Sikh is roughed up by a bunch of racist women in the UK that he almost gets the whole of Punjab to rise in revolt against the Indian government’s inaction–even though there is nothing it can do as the gentleman is a citizen of the said country–or builds a tide of emotional revulsion against “inhuman” Norway for snatching an infant from his Indian mother’s custody for alleged physical abuse.

I can go on and on, Sharada, but everything good must come to an end and so must my Arnab eulogy.

***

So, in short and in conclusion, here’s what I have to say: Arnab is not just the editor-in-chief of Times Now. He’s India’s protector-in-chief. He is the guy who is keeping India safe while you are away on selfish pursuits. You are lucky you can get away by not knowing him.

For a billion-plus Indians,minus of course his maths teacher, that is not even a distant option. Because, truth told, Arnab is the best we have got!

B.V. Rao

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* Disclosures apply

Photographs: courtesy Unreal Times and Governance Now

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Also read: ‘Arnab Goswami is corrective to babalog media’

Three reasons Arnab Goswami should be PM

There’s a new ‘ism’ in town, it’s Arnabism

Vinod Mehta on Arun Shourie, Dileep Padgaonkar

7 November 2011

“India’s most independent, principled and irreverent editor” Vinod Mehta has just published a memoir. Titled Lucknow Boy, the editor-in-chief  of the Outlook* group of magazines, recaptures his four-decade journalistic journey via Debonair, The Sunday Observer, The Indian Post,  The Independent and The Pioneer.

With trademark candour often bordering on the salacious, the twice-married but childless Mehta reveals that he fathered a child in a tryst with a Swiss girl in his 20s, and that as a young copywriter in Bombay, he posed as a prostitute’s boyfriend to get her sister married off (and was paid Rs 500 for his services).

Along the way, Mehta also slays two very holy cows of Indian journalism, Arun Shourie and Dileep Padgaonkar, revealing their hypocrisy and duplicity in the way they dealt with colleagues while grandstanding in public as suave, softspoken, scholarly men of letters.

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By VINOD MEHTA

Over the years, Arun Shourie and I have not seen eye to eye on many issues—something I don’t regret. Shourie, as editor of the Indian Express, had broken the big Antulay story, ‘Indira Gandhi as Commerce’ [in the early 1980s].

The expose revealed that the Maharashtra chief minister, A.R. Antulay, had started an organisation called the ‘Indian Gandhi Pratibha Pratishtan’ through which he collected illicit funds from builders. The corruption scandal forced Antulay to resign.

Arun Shourie and the Express, now implacably opposed to Indira Gandhi and the Congress, had bagged a big Congress scalp. Among journalists and sections of civil society Mr Shourie was flavour of the month—or shall I say many months.

A young reporter in the Free Press Journal with friends in the Express came to see me. He said he had a story, but was not sure if a recently launched paper like the Sunday Observer had the nerve to publish it. According to him, the chief reporter and several other senior reporters in the Express were sulking because Arun Shourie had hogged all the limelight.

While they acknowledged Shourie’s contribution, much of the legwork for the scoop had been done by the Express bureau, a fact which was never acknowledged in the story. Staff morale apparently was at an all-time low.

‘Shourie and the Penthouse conspiracy’ duly appeared. ‘Penthouse’ was mentioned because Mr Shourie allegedly sat in the Express penthouse with Ramnath Goenka and wrote the expose.

It did not take long for Arun Shourie to come back. He demanded a full rebuttal in the form of an extended interview with him. ‘Your story is a complete fabrication,’ he charged.

Kumar Ketkar, then a young and pugnacious Bombay journalist, jumped into the fray. In a letter to the editor [of The Sunday Observer], he noted: ‘The self-righteous breast-beating of Shourie is a fast spreading gangrene in the profession of journalism. If not checked in time, it could acquire the dimensions of witch-hunting and Macarthyism.’

And concluded: ‘Free from any constraint of veracity, Shourie is always able to provide exclusive stories.’ The debate on our letters page continued for many weeks.

***

On 19 October 1989, The Independent published an eight-column banner headline, ‘Y.B. Chavan, not Morarji Desai, spied for the US.’ For two days the story went largely unnoticed. Except for Mid-Day which carried our Chavan report almost verbatim, the rest of the media kept away.

That did not suit the perenially insecure editor of The Times of IndiaDileep Padgaonkar.

While the other editors in the Times group were troubled by my presence, Dileep had a special and urgent reason to feel troubled. I and my team were producing an English paper every day which looked infinitely better than the paper Dileep was editing, and on many mornings it even read better.

Mr Padgaonkar’s insecurities when word got around that, at a meeting with his senior managers,[Times bossman] Samir Jain mentioned me as a possible editor of The Times of India.

Dileep and the Maharashtra Times editor, Govind Talwalkar, got together to ensure the Chavan story did not go unnoticed. In an editorial on 21 October, the Times viciously attacked me and the Independent. It went so far as to incite physical violence against me, suggesting that if it did occur, it would be my own fault.

Departing from its pompous, lofty, measured tone, the Times launched a series of vituperative onslaughts targeting me, which observers found astonishing since the two papers were ‘sister publications’. One opposition leader told the media that while the (Chavan) story was indeed objectionable, it was the Times group which created the ‘hysteria’ around it.

I hold no grudges against Dileep Padgaonkar. He is who he is. However, the man who once claimed he held ‘the second most important job in the country’ can be legitimately charged with single-handedly opening the door for the denigration and decline of the Editor as an institution.

When Dileep’s bosses asked him to bend, he crawled. Since then it has been downhill all the way for other editors.

(Lucknow Boy by Vinod Mehta, published by Penguin Viking, 325 pages, Rs 499)

Read an excerpt: Vinod Mehta on Radia tapes, Vajpayee, V.C. Shukla

Buy the book onlineIndia Plaza offer prize Rs 299

File photographOutlook editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta, at home in New Delhi in 2008

*Disclosures apply

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Also readS. Nihal Singh on Arun Shourie: Right-wing pamphleteer

Why Khushwant Singh fell out with Arun Shourie

‘Lone Hindu’ Dileep Padgaonkar gets it from M.J. Akbar‘s paper

How Dileep Padgaonkar christened a Pierre Cardin model

How the Sakaal Times dream became a nightmare

Jug Suraiya on MJ, SJ, Giri, Monu & Mamma T

22 July 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from Delhi: Books about The Times of India are like city buses. There isn’t one for years, and then two come along around the same time. And on both occasions, punsters imported from Calcutta are the ones steering the wheel.

Bachi Karkaria came out with Behind the Times, “a poorly structured, poorly sourced and poorly edited… airy tribute to the war-room surgeons who botoxed the Old Lady of Boribunder into a sassy lass,” a few months ago.

Now, Jug Suraiya is out with “JS and The Times of my life“, a two-in-one salute to Junior Statesman where he started off and The Times of India, where he has spent the last 25 years.

Despite making no claims to being an accurate history of Indian journalism, Suraiya’s worm’s eye-view (Tranquebar, 340 pages, Rs 495) throws more light than Bachi’s on the stellar bylines and bolf-faced names, and with none of the unctuousness.

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On M.J. AKBAR: ‘Please, sir, can I submit a short story for publication?’ I looked up from the papers on my desk. No one had called me ‘sir’ before. A thin chap with an aspiring moustache, in shorts and a half-sleeved shirt stood before my desk. I gestured for him to sit.

‘Where’s the short story?’ In reply, he handed over a school exercise book, the last several pages of which were covered with carefully penned handwriting.

‘I’m sorry I couldn’t get it typed. I don’t have a typewriter,’ the young chap said.

‘Don’t worry, I don’t either,’ I said. ‘But you’d better tear out these pages yourself. I’ll make a mess of it.’

He tore out the pages and handed them to me.

‘You haven’t put down your name, for the by-line,’ I said. ‘What is it?’

‘M.J. Akbar,’ said M.J. Akbar.

The short story was published, and MJ—then in class XI at Calcutta boys school)—soon became a regular campus correspondent for the Junior Statesman….

Years later, in 1985, at a memorial service held in Calcuta after Desmond Doig‘s untimely death, MJ spoke about how Junior Statesman—soon to be shortened to JS—had been the launch pad of his journalistic career.

MJ made it sound as though that were the JS‘s greatest contribution to posterity. Who knows? Maybe it was.

***

On SHASHI THAROOR: ‘I though you had the Jungian unconscious in mind when you wrote your short story. Did you?’

The speaker was referring to a short story called ‘The Wall‘ I’d written and which had appeared in the JS.

He was about 12 years old, the only person in shorts at the cocktail party in Desmond’s flat in Calcuta, and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world that he should ask me about the Jungian unconscious. Whatever it was.

His name was Shashi, and he was the son of the advertising manager of The Statesman, a human dynamo called Chandran Tharoor. Even in those days, Shashi had the grace of intellect and the charm of manner to put people far older, less clever than he, at their ease.

***

On C.R. IRANI: Each morning the managing director [of The Statesman] would come to the JS, tucked away on a mezzanine floor of the Statesman building. Striding into Desmond’s cabin, he would ask for the JS team to be summoned.

The MD would address the congregation. ‘Desmond, boys, they’re coming to take me away. I expect them at any moment. But even after I have gone, remember: keep fighting the good fight, keep the flag of freedom unfurled. That’s all. Thank you and God bless till we meet again.’

Then, heels clicking counterpoint to the silent strains of ‘We shall overcome‘, the MD would march out, presumably into the arms of the waiting constabulary.

They never came. In the afternoon, Desmond would phone the MD’s secretary to ascertain his fate.

‘The MD’s gone?’ she’d confirm.

‘To Lalbazar lock-up?’ Desmond would ask.

‘To the Bengal Club for lunch,’ she’d reply. And the next day the entire sequence would be repeated again.

***

On TIME magazine: When Mother Teresa received the Nobel Prize, Dan Sheppard, the then Time correspondent in Delhi, called me in Calcutta. He wanted to kow how much Mamma T weighed.

‘You know the Time style,’ he said. ‘In the piece I write, when I say ‘tiny’, I have to give her weight to back up the adjective. Will you find out for me, please?’

I rang the Missionaries of Charity. Mother was unavailable, out on fieldwork, as she was more often than not. I spoke to one of the sisters.

‘I’m sorry, I know it sounds stupid. But could you tell me how much Mother weighs? It’s for Time magazine.’

There was silence. Then, very gently, ‘Do you really think that Mother herself would know or care?’

In the end I made up a figure: 48 kg, and passed it on to Dan. He seemed happy enough. Presumably so were Time readers.

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GIRILAL JAIN: ‘Condemn or condone?’ said Girilal Jain. It was the tailend of a typical editorial page meeting, chaired by Giri. The air was turgid with debate and tobacco smoke. But even the fug of nicotine fumes couldn’t obscure the sparkle of the discourse. It was a stellar gathering, with one notable exception.

There was Giri himself, of course. Last of the great editors, and very conscious of it too…. Puffing on his pipe, Giri conjured visions of ancient faultlines of caste and creed, of clan and tribe, wanting to open wide their cataclysmic jaws and swallow up in a trice the marvels of modern India….

Towards the end of every edit meeting, Giri would allot the day’s work. Often, though not always, Giri reserved the lead editorial for himself, using it to tell the government what it should or should not do about whatever it was Giri felt it should or should not do.

Having sorted out the government for yet another day, Giri would ask the others for topics they might wish to write about. Someone would suggest Bihar (something or the other, generally the other, was always happening, or not happening, in Bihar); someone else would mention President’s rule somewhere else; another would offer the sarkar’s growing fiscal deficit.

Giri would decide which of the offerings he wanted. Then he’d asked the person wo’d volunteered to write it, a single question: ‘Condemn or condone?’

Was the writer in favour of what it was or was he against it? The writer would give his reply in the same ‘Condemn/condone’ format and the edit page meeting would be over.

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DILEEP PADGAONKAR: Giri’s own heir-apparent was Dileep Padgaonkar. Dileep who had been one of the first of the new guard to be recruited by Gautam Adhikari on Samir Jain‘s instructions was—and is—a Chitpawan Brahmin equally fluent in Sanskrit and French, which he spoke with a Sanskritised accent, or perhaps it was the other way round.

A wonderful raconteur and mimic, his rendition of the 9 0’clock television in raga bhairavi was a treat to hear. He gave the impression of always sporting an invisible beret, a baguette under the arm and a silk cravat around his neck, even in a Delhi summer.

Present at Giri court was Gautam himself and the newcomers he’d recruited, which included Arvind N. Das, who came from the world of academia, Subir Roy, who’d worked with The Telegraph in Calcutta, and Ajay Kumar, who’d been with India Today.

Anikendranath ‘Badshah’ Sen, who’d been with Radio Australia, had been brought in by Dileep.

Badshah’s and Dileep’s cars had happened to stop at the same Delhi red light at the same time. They knew each by sight and had exchanged greetings. Then, on an impulse, Dileep had asked: ‘Where are you working now?’

‘Radio Australia,’ Badshah had said.

‘Would you like to switch to the ToI?’ Dileep had said.

‘Why not?’ Badshah had replied.

And that had been that.

***

SAMIR JAIN: One Saturday evening, Bunny and I, Navbharat Times editor S.P. Singh and his wife Shikha Trivedy, and a couple of others from the Times group had foregathered for dinner at the Nizamudding West flat that Subir Roy and his wife Indrani were renting at the time.

The phone rang and Subir answered it. He hung up, looking sombre.

‘It was Samir Jain,’ he said. ‘He says he’s coming over. With his wife. He says they’ve had their dinner, so not to worry about food.’

There was contemplative silence. At the end of a long week, when you’re having a few drinks with your cronies and letting your hair down, you don’t exactly want your super-boss sitting there listening in to your conversation which, had he not been there, could well have been about him.

‘Oh well,’ said someone philosophically.’Let’s have a drink to that.’

We did and waited for SJ. He and his wife, Meera, turned up. All the men stood up, offering chairs.

‘No, no. Please. Continue,’ said SJ. He led his wife to a corner of the room where there were a couple of seats and they sat down. ‘Please,’ said SJ. ‘Do carry on.’

Eventually we managed to get a conversation going, with SJ sitting in the corner listening attentively. Belly-aching about the office was obviously out of the question. So we stuck to a safe topic: new places in Delhi to drink and eat out in.

Someone mentioned a new Spanish restaurant which did a mean paella.

‘Yeah, I’m told it’s good. But bloody expensive,’ someone else said.

‘Place to go for a special occasion,’ I said.

‘Excuse me,’ said SJ from the corner.

Everyone shut up. For a moment we’d forgotten that he was there. Which, of course, was exactly what he wanted.

‘Excuse me,’ said SJ again.’But you people like to, I mean really like to, spend money? You get some sort of pleasure out of it?’

There was a clumsy silence.

‘Yeah,’ I said at last. ‘We people like, actually like, to spend money. When we have any, that is. On special occasions, once in a while, we might even like to spend more than we can really afford. Maybe that’s partly what makes a special occasion a special occasion.’

SJ nodded. ‘I see,’ he said. ‘You people like spending money. Interesting.’

***

MONU NALPAT: [ToI foreign affairs editor] Ramesh Chandran, who shared an office room with him, would describe to a fascinated audience the daily morning ritual. Monu would stride in briskly and go to his desk without a word of greeting or any acknowledgement of Ramesh’s presence.

Seating himself at his desk, he would take off his spectacles and place them on the desktop. Then he would remove, one by one, all the metallic objects on his person: his watch, the rings on his fingers, the coins from his wallet. He would arrange these with millimetric into precision on the desk.

He would stand up and eyes shut, genuflect several times in one direction. He would turn at an angle of ninety degrees and repeatedly genuflect again, murmuring an inaudible incantation. He would go back to his desk, put his watch and rings on, put the coins back into his wallet.

He would put on his spectacles, looking at Ramesh, giving him a beaming smile, and say, ‘Good morning, Ramesh! How’s it going?’

***

SAMIR JAINDiana dead. It was humongous news. The most humongous of the year. Maybe of the decade. All the editorial pages of all the newspapers in the wold would have lead editorials about Diana’s death.

With one big huge glaring exception. The ToI. Whose-edit-page in-charge was the only journo in existence who hadn’t got the news till it was too late to do anything about it.

The next day when I got to the ToI office, my edit page colleagues told me that Samir Jain—or VC, as we all called him, for vice-chairman (of Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd)—had already come by the department.

‘What did he say?’ I asked.

‘He said, “The edit page editor must be having a very good reason to give to the publishers as to why the ToI is the only newspaper not to have an editorial on Diana,” said a colleague.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Well, if he comes by again just tell him that the ToI edit page doesn’t believe in knee-jerk reactions.”

Also read: When Samir served a thali, Vineet a scoop

Why Indian media can’t laugh at Murdoch’s plight

18 July 2011

SANJAY JHA writes from Bombay: Rupert Murdoch, the emperor of media leviathan News Corporation, shuttled on a transatlantic flight over a tumultuous week-end that saw a popular British Sunday tabloid bite the dust, never to rise again.

News of the World (NOTW) was founded prior to the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857, but closed with a 72-hour notice period in tragic infamy on account of startling revelations about its surreptitious hacking of private mails and messages, in a manner both macabre and sleazy.

For Murdoch, the closure was not a generous act to protect the Holy Grail but a calculated trade-off for acquisition of the more alluring BSkyB.

Greed is a driving ambition, often meeting a ruinous end.

It could happen in India too.

Despite much heart-burning and pious pontification, the Press Council of India report on paid news accumulates dust in dark dungeons, like used files. It does manifest our questionable standards, the media’s inability to smother its own insuperable demons.

While we hyperventilate to the world, our own backyard emits a sordid stench. Paid coverage is stealthy advertising, which legitimizes self-promoting campaigns on unsuspecting readers posing as dispassionate reporting. It is indeed an ethical violation of astronomical proportions, but everyone seems nonchalant, blissfully blasé about it.

Dileep Padgaonkar once famously stated that The Times Of India editor was the “second most important man in India”. That was not hubris or a silly exaggeration , it was a near-factual assessment. But today no media big gun can make such lofty claims.

Multiple channels and news publishers have made mass distribution of news our new business reality.

Once I waited every Sunday morning to read Khalid Mohamed’s review of a Bollywood blockbuster. Now several experts miserly dole out glittering stars on Friday itself, even as thousands of faceless bloggers become the new film critic.

It’s literally first day, first show.

Media is now truly democratized; so truly there are no king-makers. With Facebook, Twitter and blogs gathering high-speed on the social networking highway, media activism has also assumed formidable power to influence public opinion, so far considered the sacrosanct preserve of an elite club.

India’s subterranean media revolution is underway.

Media organizations must also frequently take core ideological or strategic positions on sensitive issues, it will enhance their quality. That’s what often distinguishes the print media from television. The snarling watchdog needs to be just that; it can’t have a shrill bark, a toothless bite and lazily snooze when Rome burns, reacting only under extreme provocation.

For instance, last year when Shiv Sena became a quasi-sarkar in threatening to black-out Shah Rukh Khan’s My Name is Khan, the conventional protocol of TV channels of giving both sides a voice was rather superfluous , even preposterous.

Even to a naïve outsider, Shiv Sena was indulging in unlawful transgressions exploiting media platform shamelessly to espouse its parochial claptrap. The worst indictment of the media is when it willingly succumbs to made for TV manufactured events.

Whatever happened to professional discretion?

Aren’t leaked reports also obtained often with at least moral illegality with an in-built clause of quid pro quo?

In a country bedeviled by innumerable scams, a deadly diabolical nexus between criminal elements, political leaders and business-builder behemoths, media is critical. But discharging that onerous responsibility is not a child’s play.

Like WikiLeaks, one foresees alternative mediums to emerge to fill the gaping vacuum created by status quo coverage these days . Investigative journalism has become comatose in a commercially dictated news content age. Something is gone missing.

Are we becoming tabloid-like, allowing any bearded spiritual free-agent, violent wife-beater or a just-released bone chopper to capture India’s attention? Can we then be so self-righteous as to take umbrage under “mere reporting”?

Oh, come on! For all the political faux pas of the government, the media should have used its own grey cells to fathom Baba Ramdev’s bona fides. The modern-media is society’s crucial “ influencer”, not a reseller of titillating tales. Media integrity is a non-negotiable instrument. We need to enforce it.

I hear several grumble ; why does the media never do a comprehensive follow-up to serious unresolved issues instead of chasing the next wife-thrashing maverick promoting his televised marriage? Whatever happened to several disproportionate assets cases against powerful CMs?

Who really covertly leaked the Radia tapes, and why?

How is Lalit Modi “ officially absconding” and purchasing large mansions in downtown London without a valid passport? Whatever happened to the Srikrishna report on the Bombay riots?

Narayan Rane had publicly stated that he was aware of powerful people who knew about 26/11 terrorist attacks—really? If so what happened? Despite singular success stories like Jessica Lal, the CWG and 2G scams, Gujarat riots and several successful petitions, paradoxically enough, media itself is losing the perception battle.

Aamir Khan’s Peepli Live! ridiculed media to atrocious levels but to appreciative applause.

In India, where our daily lives resembles a cacophonous collage of absurd and horrendous tales, news television often degenerates into infotainment category. The truth is that good news is boring.

It’s like breathing. It’s predictable, monotonous, rhythmical, but it is also bloody necessary.

Or else we have the kiss of death.

We are too often celebrating India’s unseen imminent demise, our own pornography of grief. It is time we appreciated that even thorns have roses. At least one channel has begun to share a daily dose of cheer.

Competitive journalism is natural marketing warfare, after all, newspapers and TV channels are not in the charity trade. But intent is pivotal. Phone hacking is unambiguously unethical. Bribery pay-offs of police personnel is contemptible. Killing news to protect favoured parties is equally lamentable.

But isn’t paid news also guilty of disingenuous, distorted presentation of facts?

In the long-run , media houses that practice quintessential consecrated ethical behaviour will survive. Others will flounder.

The editor is media’s conscience-keeper, its guardian angel. They are the ones who must separate the wheat from the chaff, and ensure that the chaff does not get headline attention. But the quarter to quarter pressures of EPS for the publicly listed media companies can result in editorial compromises.

The editors need to be sacrosanct, inaccessible to advertisers and CEO’s business plans, working behind a Chinese wall. Editors should have no employee stock options, and must not be on boards of these companies either; that will eliminate conflict of interest issues.

Instead, they should be compensated by equitable fixed salaries, benefits, bonuses, and given flexibility for research projects, reimbursed higher learning expenses and encouraged to author books and take up teaching assignments.

We need to de-link organizational bottomline numbers with editorial policy.

Editorial independence is a must; they cannot be the brand managers with brains. Also, celebrity editors could do with relative anonymity . Anonymity powers the personal brand. Proximity to suave glib talking industrialists or political power-brokers can be jeopardous as was evident in the Radia tapes.

David Cameron flushes crimson on his selection of the arrested former head of NOTW, Andy Coulson. Tony Blair too is red-faced. And more is still to surface.

Every media company must make public its own independent advisory board with an ombudsman , besides an industry watchdog. Ethical workshops are needed, as young recruits can be susceptible to short-cut methods for quick career windfalls.

Press, public relations , big business and the politicians will have to tread with circumspection as there could be grave overlaps on account of the vested , conflicting interest of each. The unholy nexus is no longer a well-concealed secret. The path is slippery , shaky and serpentine. It is easy to become the news of the world. Very easy.

Good night and good luck!

(Banker turned web entrepreneur, Sanjay Jha is the founder of Cricket Next. This piece originally appeared on the website Hamara Congress)

Image: courtesy Time

When Samir served a thali, Vineet served a scoop

15 April 2011

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: As it approaches its dosquicentennial, India’s biggest English language newspaper, The Times of India, truly deserved a meticulous biography to tell the world on “what goes on inside this amazing media machine”.

Sadly, Bachi Karkaria‘s Behind the Times (Times Books, 325 pages) is not that.

Poorly structured, poorly sourced and poorly edited, Karkaria’s is an airy tribute to the war-room surgeons who botoxed the Old Lady of Boribunder into a sassy lass, but it airbrushes the foot soldiers in the trenches, on whose sweat, toil and guard stands “The Masthead of India” across the nation.

As Karkaria’s creation “Alec Smart” would have said:

Marwadiya! It’s a bloody Parsimonious salute, dikri!”

Yet, despite its Bombay Gym view of Dadabhoy Naoroji road, Behind the Times has its moments in demystifying some of the myths built around its formidable helmsmen— the brothers Samir Jain and Vineet Jain—and in humanising a gigantic group.

***

On SAMIR JAIN, vice-chairman (VC): On the international Response (advertising) conferences—holidays really—the participants not only wallowed in VC’s generosity, they also learnt about cost consciousness from him. Once Indira Deish [of Times Response], while taking her room key, instructed the receptionist to give her a wake up call, and send a pot of bed tea with it. She felt a tap on her shoulder, turned around and saw VC. “He put his hand into his suit pocket, pulled out something, and put it in my palm. It was a couple of tea bags. After that, I always carried a box of these, and ordered only hot water. I learnt the value of thrift.”

Much earlier Indira learnt a similar lesson during the sesquicentennial celebrations in Delhi where she was part of the reception team. At the accompanying dinners, Samir Jain taught us “never to change a plate mid-meal. It unnecessarily added to the caterer’s bill.”

Thrift lesson #3 came from a regular office advice. Samir Jain, preempting the later global fashion, sent detailed instructions on how to recycle, reuse, and refuse to waste. He made it a ‘criminal offence’ to send a fax on a letterhead. The ‘grains’ pixelation of the printed header added three minutes more to the transmission time; so it was far more economical to photocopy and then fax….

Mahendra Swarup was inducted to bring his global marketing skills to Vineet’s baby Times Internet Limited. Before formally starting he naturally had to meet Samir Jain. Swarup had been struck by flu, but he went anyway at the appointed time to Jain House at 6, S.P. Marg, then still the whole family’s address.

If he had been less of a newbie, he would have postponed the meeting because Samir Jain is extremely susceptible to colds, and immediately dispenses with anyone with the slightest sniffle. However, Swarup recalled an extremely solicitous Samir Jain not dispensing with him, but dispensing medication. He summoned a minion to bring out an array of ayurvedic pills and potions, and discussed their various powers. And that was the sum total of the 40-minute ‘interview’. Later in the day, he even sent more vials to Swarup’s house….

For Swarup [who came from Pepsi], the early differentiator between the MNC and VC styles was the dining table. “Whenever we were at lunch, he observed what I relished in the lavish thali, and what I was ignoring. He told me what was good for me, and what I shouldn’t eat. Not just that, he served me personally. And would often show up at my house followed by the driver staggering in with a large hot-case. He’d say, “Mahendraji, aaj aap ki favourite kadhi banayi thi.”

***

On VINEET JAIN, managing director (MD): Vineet Jain rolls up his sleeves—-meticulously in v. neat folds—and buckles down to the nitty-gritty in all the media that exercises him at that time. he even orchetrates news stories on Times Now, as he did during the rescue of Prince, the little Rajasthani boy who fell into an open 60-ft-deep borewell, in 2006. His social connections enable him to add muscle or masala to a report.

And on one memorable occasion, the MD actually one of the big news stories of 2009: that Manu Sharma, the politically connected main accused in the high-profile Jessica Lal murder case, was out on parole ostensibly to meet his ailing mother, but actually partying….

The MD was on the case like a proper newshound. He alerted Vikas Singh, the Delhi resident editor; he told the Delhi Times reporter not to file the story till he had vetted it himself. He then called Vikas again, and told him to hold the story because “there’s too much hearsay. Tell the reporter to go back and get the bar manager’s quotes. On tape, and clandestinely if necessary.”

In the meanwhile, Vikas had a run-in with his immediate boss, Jojo (executive editor Jaideep Bose), who was hollering him on the line from Mumbai pressuring him to release the story for all editions so that no one else out-scooped the ToI.

Vikas told him, “The reporter says it will hold.”

Jojo thundered: “Who the hell is this reporter?”

Vikas replied: “MD”.

***

On R.K. LAXMAN, cartoonist: The most notable feature of the creator of the common man was that he was completely lacking in the common touch. To all but a close circle of personal friends and a coterie of the editors he worked with, R.K. Laxman was arrogant to the point of rudeness….

Laxman and [his wife] Kamala had gone to Qatar as guests of the sheikh. A public lecture was part of the deal. The opening line of his speech left his audience and his princely host stuned. He said, “Ever since I have set foot in your country, I have been most unhappy, in fact down right miserable.”

He then went on, “If a car is to pick me up at 10, it is always there at five to 10, with the AC switched on. I never have to open the door, the smartly uniformed chaffeur has always jumped out to do this for me. My heart sinks every time I drive through your country. The ride is always smooth with none of the potholes I am used to back home. Every street light is working. The walls are clean without a single blob of betel juice. How do you expect me, a person from Bombay, not to feel totally depressed about this?”

***

On DILEEP PADGAONKAR, former editor: Dileep was, in his colleague [former Bombay resident editor] Dina Vakil‘s memorable phrase, an ‘impresario editor’…. Dileep presided over a fine dining table and the TOI, many would aver, in that order. One of the nuggests in the newsroom’s annals is that the only time he sent out a memo and one steeped in aged balsamic at that, was when The Sunday Times of India appeared with ‘bouillabaise’ misspelt. For the Francophile and foodie editor it was a crime worse than a murdered filet mignon.

***

On GIRILAL JAIN, former editor: As DileepPadgaonkar described him: “He was given to making Spenglarian statements covering vast ages and aeons in a single sentence. he was a blend of Curzonian ambitions and Haryanvi conceits.” No surprise then that when he went to Iran to interview the Shah, he is supposed to have ended up tutoring the Pahlavi monarch on matters of geo-political strategy. On an evening, Giri would walk in the Lodhi gardens, puff at his cigar and come up with statements that would flummox even the lofty companion he had chosen. he would pronounce, ‘The Hun will be pitted against the Hindu.”

***

On  SHAM LAL, former editor: When Sham Lal retired, the newsroom (which he had never stepped into) gave him a farewell. It was held in the 6th floor canteen where the aam janata, not ‘invited’ to the august directors’ lunch room, ate. Sham Lal was seldom seen in the latter, so he probably did not even known of the existence of the former. He was escorted up in the lift and into the huge hall. News editor, chief reporter, subs, peons, all sung his fulsome (sic) praises. The quiet but universally admired editor was presented ‘floral tributes’ and a salver.

Then the master of ceremonies grandly announced, ‘Now Mr Sham Lal will give a speech.’ Sham Lal slowly shuffled to his feet, cleared his throat, and as the packed hall waited in anticipation for an outpouring of enlightenment from the man who had attained intellectual nirvana, he merely said, ‘Thank you’. Then he went back to his chair and sat down….

At a party in Mumbai, Sham Lal was cornered by a large, garrulous American woman. After a 15-minute monologue, she stopped mid-flow and asked, “Am I boring you?” and Sham Lal replied with extreme and genuine courtesy, “Yes I am afraid you are.”

***

On PREM SHANKAR JHA, former assistant editor: The editorial HQ was still Mumbai, and he wouldn’t roll up to the portico in a taxi like his colleagues. He arrived with his bulk perched incongruously on a frail moped. He would come directly from his morning tennis at the Bombay Gym and would fluster into the edit meeting invariably late, dripping with sweat and clumsily dropping his helmet and racuqet. Sham Lal would mildly glower and Prem would clasp his podgy hands and say, ‘Maaf kijiye, Sham Lalji, maaf kijiye’….

One day, hearing hysterical screams from the inner cabin, the long-suffering Iyer entered to find his portly boss balanced precariously on a chair, quaking in impotent terror and staring at a cockroach on his desk. As soon as he saw his steno, he ordered him to swat it. Iyer froze at such an unBrahminical directive, with Prem getting more and more apoplectic by the minute. He finally shouted, ‘Kill it, kill it, you f***ing vegetarian.’ Iyer fled.

***

On J.C. JAIN, former general manager: J.C. Jain was among the most powerful GMs of the time when this was top executive position. He had a reedy voice, sometimes cruelly described as ‘having one vocal chord’. The story goes that on a visit to Hollywood, JC met the smokey-voiced beauty, [Humphrey Bogart's wife] Lauren Bacall. Trying to think of something smart to say to this icon, he quipped: ” Miss Bacall, is it true that you are sometimes mistaken for a man?” The lady arched her famous eyebrows and retorted, “No. Are you?”

***

On T.N. NINAN, former Economic Times editor: T.N. Ninan was extremely possessive about his editorial domain. Samir Jain was raring to bring many innovations into ET, but Ninan, more as a matter of principle, was less than enthusiastic. One of these was ear panels, but Ninan resisted on the belief that the masthead should not be devalued by small ads on either side.

Irritated, the VC called the Bangalore branch head, Sunil Rajshekhar, and said, “This is what I want, and it has to be in ET there tomorrow.” Sunil passed on the VC’s instructions to the RE, Nageswaran, who mentioned this in a routine mail to his boss. Ninan blasted him, “Do you report to me or to Sunil Rajshekhar?” The hapless guy spluttered, “But, Mr Ninan, the VC asked for it to be done.” Ninan thundered, “I don’t care who asked. I am the Editor.” Yes, he was. But not for long.

***

On JUG SURAIYA, edit page editor: Some time in 1987, Ashok Jain summoned Gautam Adhikari, and said, “I am told there are no good young journalists in India outside the Times.” Gautam said, “No, sir, there are many good journalists, and I am sure they would be happy to join us.” The chairman said, “Give me a note.” Gautam made out a spreadsheet which included their brief bios, even a ballpark estimate of their current salaries…. Gautam’s list included Chandan Mitra, Swapan Dasgupta and Jug Suraiya from The Statesman.

When Gautam called his old quizzing friend and said, “Could we meet?” Jug thought he wanted to join The Statesman, and sounded out the editor. Sunanda Datta-Ray removed his cigarette-holder from his lips and replied, “He will be an asset. Ask him to telephone me.” But when they met at the Elphin bar, it was Gautam who was doing the offering. To everyone’s surprise, Suraiya was willing.”

***

On SWAMINATHAN AIYAR, former Economic Times editor: The economics whiz Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar had many quirks. As a genius he was entitled to the full quota. One of these was unqiue: he always carried his cup of tea to the 3rd floor loo in Times House, Delhi.

***

On PRITISH NANDY, former editor, Illustrated Weekly of India: Some-time Science Today editor Mukul Sharma had acted in Paroma, an edgy film made by his ex-wife, the well-known actresses-turned-director Aparna Sen. He played the foreign-returned photographer who had an affair with his subject, a traditional Bengali house. The beauteous Rakhee essayed the title role. Mukul boasted to his friend Pritish that when he lay atop her for a bedroom shot, he counted 29 golden flecks in her amber eyes. Nandy smirked and said, “36”.

***

On PRADEEP GUHA, former response head: Two years into Pradeep Guha’s powerful stewardship of Response, and his raking in the moolah by the shovelful for the group, the chairman Ashok Jain turned to his son, Samir just after PG left the room, and ingenuously asked, “Achcha, yeh banda karta kya hai?‘ (What exactly does this chap do in the organisation?)

***

On DINA VAKIL, former Bombay resident editor: In December 2003, Salman Rushdie returned to his boyhood city, Mumbai, after a gap of 16 years. The interview team comprised three people: resident editor Dina Vakil, who had published an excerpt from Midnight’s Children in the Indian Express and had met Salman when he was a young tyke, and was allegedly featured as Mina Vakil in the Ground Beneath her Feet. The other was Rushdie fan Nina Martyris. Bringing up the rear was the veteran photographer Shriram Vernekar.

Terrified that Shriram would innocently discuss the ‘scoop’ with his photographer friends in other publications, Dina threatened him with dire consequences as her car drew up to the Taj. “I will kill you,” was her (usual) refrain as she wagged a perfectly manicured finger in his mystified face. Shriram, whose storming ground was the Sena shakha and Ganesh visarjan, didn’t know what the fuss was all about.

While shooting them, the genial Shriram did his bet to put a slightly awkward Rushdie at ease, by engaging him in small talk. He lowered his camera, looked up at the celebrated writer and said conversationally, “First time in Mumbai?” Even as Dina rolled her eyes and looked like she wanted to throttle Shriram, an unfazed Rushdie twinkled, “Not quite.”

***

On RAJDEEP SARDESAI, former assistant editor: Why just the stenos, even the peons were totally clued in and, when it came to Byzantine state politics, the Maharashtrian ones could teach a thing or two to the younger assistant editors. Once Rajdeep Sardesai, hot off the dreaming spires of Oxford, wrote a whole three-part series on the rising presence of the Shiv Sena without, it was whispered, meeting a single sainik or visiting a single shakha. On that occasion, it was left to the more hands-on Kalpana Sharma to fill in the gaps.

External reading: The Economic Times review of the book

The Times of India review of the book

The Business Standard review of the book

The ‘Lone Hindu’ gets it from M.J. Akbar’s paper

27 October 2010

Dileep Padgaonkar, The Times of India’s former editor who once said he held the second-most important job in the country, has been named one of three interlocutors in Kashmir by the UPA government.

However, the usually softspoken Francophile has been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons in his new job, even as he offers a quote to anybody who sticks out a mike before him.

And in M.J. Akbar‘s Sunday Guardian, diarist Nora Chopra sticks it in:

“Dileep Padgaonkar, a non-working journalist, is [J&K chief minister] Omar Abdullah‘s choice. He was a part of prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee‘s Kashmir committee, which was a non-starter. Omar was with the NDA at the time. After the UPA came to power, Padgaonkar became the lone Hindu member in the National Minority Commission (sic) with a  salary of around Rs 2 lakh per month.”

For the record, Padgaonkar is not a non-working journalist; he returned to the Times as editor of the edit page after the exit of another Times‘ loyalist, Gautam Adhikari. And at Akbar’s former abode, The Asian Age, Padgaonkar, an acknowledged foodie, most famously wrote a letter to the editor on the recipe for Egg Benedict.

Also read: How Padgaonkar christened a Pierre Cardin model

How the Sakaal Times dream became a nightmare

How an editor christened a Pierre Cardin model

27 June 2010

Dileep Padgaonkar, The Times of India‘s former editor who made the revealing claim that he held the “second-most important job in the country” after the prime minister, is back in the paper, handling the opinion page.

Padgaonkar writes in The Sunday Times of India of the small role he played (as the paper’s Paris correspondent in 1971) in giving France’s first coloured model—the Bombay girl Phyllis Mendes who dazzled Pierre Cardin enough to become his muse and business manager—her stage name.

“The day after dinner [with the Padgaonkars] Phyllis reported for work at Cardin’s plush offices on the elegant rue du Faubourg St Honore. That afternoon she called me to say that her bosses were unhappy with her first name since it did not sound Indian enough.

“Would I suggest one?

“I suggested ‘Geetanjali‘ — Rabindranath Tagore‘s work was known in France thanks to a fine translation by Andre Gide —but Phyllis thought it was too long. Besides, the French might not be able to pronounce it correctly.

“So I shortened ‘Geetanjali’ to ‘Anjali’ and told her that the worst they could do was to call her ‘en jolie‘ and ‘jolie‘, in French, meant ‘lovely’. From then on the world knew her as Anjali Mendes though for me, as for those who had known her in Bombay, she would always be Phyllis.

Anjali Mendes, passed away alone and abadoned in her home in the south of France last week at the age of 64.

Photograph: courtesy Goan Voice

Also read: How Padgaonkar‘s Sakaal Times dream became a nightmare

How the Sakaal Times dream became a nightmare

7 December 2008

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Nothing is bringing home the seriousness of the global economic downturn to Indian media practitioners better than the breakneck speed with which media plans are being revised or revoked.

Just a few months ago, it all seemed hunky-dory—a 20 per cent growth for the media and entertainment industry in 2006, followed by an 18 per cent growth last year.

International behemoths were rushing to launch Indian editions or getting into tieups with local players when not outsourcing work here. Indian groups were launching more editions (and a TV station with some spare cash). Regional players were planning excursions into newer and hitherto unexplored avenues.

The share prices of listed media houses were defying gravity on Dalal Street—and the salaries (and ESOPs) of journalists was achieving near-escape velocity on India’s Fleet Street, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg.

The profits of at least two entities (HT Media and Jagran Prakashan) doubled year-on-year; another listed company Deccan Chronicle upped advertising rates by 30 per cent even as it launched cut-price editions in Madras and Bangalore to crown itself the “The Face of the South”.

With media employment growing by 27 per cent in 2007, the Union labour ministry hinted deliciously that by 2013, the media would create more, yes more, jobs than the information technology and IT-enabled services and automotive industries!

Forbes was quoting a Pricewaterhouse Coopers forecast that the Indian media would outpace the economy till 2011:

“Rising incomes and consumer spending fueled by the country’s robust economic growth will combine with expanded information delivery options over mobile phones and the Internet to drive a boom that will benefit all segments of the industry, from home video to radio to newspapers.”

But, suddenly, it doesn’t look so rosy.

The India launch of Financial Times is nearly off; no one is talking of the Hindi business paper that Dainik Jagran wanted to bring;  the Donnelly press that Network 18 had bought with great flourish is reportedly up for sale.

The fate of the launch of at least two magazines is in the balance. One prominent newspaper group is reworking employee contracts for the coming year; on the anvil is an across-the-board 30 per cent cut in cost to company.

On the television front, Debashis Basu writes in MoneyLife that with the collapse of the stocks of the major TV networks NDTV, TV18, UTV, the question is not why but what had kept the share prices spiralling up all this while?

“Continuous expansion into new businesses, set up through associates and subsidiaries which mesmerised the so-called strategic investors who pumped money into these entities. This created embedded valuation for the listed entity that everybody hoped would be unlocked to another set of suckers in the stock market.”

However, few of these developments can match the manner in which the Sakal dream has come crashing down.

The Marathi language newspaper group owned by Abhijit Pawar, the nephew of India’s powerful agriculture minister Sharad Pawar (whose daughter, the parliamentarian Supriya Sule is on the board), decided to grab a slice of the promised pie earlier this year.

The group’s English daily Maharashtra Herald was relaunched as Sakaal Times in Poona in May, in collaboration with a company set up by former Times of India editor Dileep Padgaonkar. Plans for a pan-India “rollout”, including an edition in New Delhi, were feverishly announced. A foreign affairs magazine materialised out of thin air.

So far, so good.

On the last day of November, staffers working at the Delhi office of Sakaal Times turned up for work only to be greeted with a notice that announced that their services were no longer required.

Below is the full text of an anonymous chainmail that chronicles how little stamina bottomline-obsessed publishers and managers have to stay the course; how The Great Indian Media Dream turned into a nighmare overnight for a regional group aspiring (and perspiring) to make it big on the national scene; and how journalists got trapped in the very bubble they had helped create.

***

Hi Friends.

Do you remember the BiTV (Business India Television) lockout?

Something worse than that happened on the 30th of November, 2008.

Sakaal Times, the English daily brought out in May (renaming the existing Maharashtra Herald) by the Sakal group of Poona (of the Marathi daily Sakal fame) and helmed by wannabe media baron Abhijit Pawar (nephew of Nationalist Congress Party leader, Union minister and former BCCI president Sharad Pawar), suddenly decided to close down its Delhi operations without any prior intimation to any of its employees, leaving nearly 80 people jobless at one go.

Those impacted are not worthless people—all of them, including me, had left secure jobs in respected media houses to join what sounded like an ambitious media venture from one of the most-respected media houses of Maharashtra.

The plans were big—following the Poona edition, there would be editions from places like (New) Bombay, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, and even a small edition from Delhi.

The paper looked impressive, with well thought-out stories and a nice design.

“Welcome to the Sakal family. Here all employees are treated like family members. Please visit our Pune headquarters sometime to know how we work like a family,” were the golden words from Arun Barera, the CEO of the Sakal Media Group during his interaction with a bunch of us around July-August, when the paper’s Delhi office was still in APCA House in Noida (on the outskirts of Delhi).

APCA, helmed by Dileep Padgaonkar and Anikendra Nath (Badshah) Sen, had taken charge of recruiting people and launching the venture as a BOT (build-operate-transfer) project. They did the job nicely and handed over the project to the Sakal group on November 1, 2008. Everything seemed good for all of us.

Then, since about a month ago, things began to go wrong.

About 8-10 people were asked to leave, but resident editor Dhananjay Sardeshpande called in groups to assure that nobody from the news bureau and features would be touched.

“Our plans have got delayed because of the market condition, but we will launch our Delhi edition by the end of this fiscal and our other plans are still there. We need all you people to be part of our vision,” he told us.

Just about two days ago, one colleague, who called him up, was told by Anand Agashe, director-editor of the newspaper, that whatever rumours were floating around were baseless. He, of course, said there will be a reduction of the number of pages, and a decision would be taken around December 2-3.

Suddenly, on the morning of November 30, a “Notice”, actually a print out on a blank sheet of paper (not the company letterhead), signed by an “authorized signatory” whose name or designation was not mentioned, was found pasted on the locked gates of the premises at the 1st floor of Pratap Bhawan on Bahadurshah Zafar Marg, saying the Delhi operations are being wound up.

The letter was dated November 30, while the termination notice, with a cheque for part of our salaries for this month and one more month (minus the allowances which are paid against bills submitted) were sent through SpeedPost™ to all of us individually at our residence addresses from Poona on November 29 (some of us got the mails on December 1 while others are yet to get their individual copies).

The so-called ‘Notice’ said:

(For the information of the employees working for Sakaal Times)

Subject: Operations of Sakaal Times at Delhi

The new daily is incurring heavy expenses on Delhi operations resulting into substantial losses to the company. You are aware that this is further compounded by the present serious downtrend in the economy. Due to the same the circulation and the revenue generation of the newspaper has been seriously affected. Due to this it has become inevitable for the company to restructure its operations. On account of the said restructuring the Editorial work so far carried out at Delhi is no longer required to be continued. As a result, the operations are stopped forthwith and the persons working for Sakaal Times operations are being relieved. The necessary communication has already been sent to the individual employees on their postal address registered with the company. The relevant employees need not attend the office from today onwards.

The work of Magazines and TV will continue after some modifications of the premises for which the same will be closed for few days.

For Sakal Papers limited

Authorized Signatory

There was a rubber stamp of Sakal Papers Limited, New Delhi, affixed next to the illegible signature, which looked like an “A”.

Agitated employees gathered during the day itself on Sunday, November 30, to discuss the matter.

Quite astonishingly, colleagues who were working till late night on November 29 had no inkling of what was going to happen in the morning. In fact, one colleague was in Rajasthan covering the elections there when the lock out was announced!

The employees, finding that the premises have been locked out with some of their valuable belongings inside (eg, bank pass books, cheque books, etc) decided to register a complaint with the IP Estate Police Station regarding this. Photo Editor K.K. Laskar, as the convenor of the Committee of Sakaal Times Employees formed to fight the sudden lockout, registered the complaint.

Till then, nobody who has a say in Sakaal TimesAbhijit Pawar, Anand Agashe, Arun Barera, Dhananjay Sardeshpande, HR director Pradeepkumar Khire—picked up numerous phone calls made by senior journalists who wanted to find out the exact situation.

But within one hour of filing the police complaint, Pawar called up Laskar, claiming there had been a “communication gap” and things should not have been done as they have been. He “requested” Laskar to ask all employees to come to office on Monday, December 2, to discuss the matter with a team from Poona.

Almost at the same time, Pawar, Khire, Agashe gave contradictory and false statements to media persons who contacted them on the developments: “Abhijit Pawar, managing director of the 76-year-old Sakaal Media Group, said staffers had been informed earlier.

It has just been brought to my attention that the communication hadn’t reached everyone, and I’m sorry if that is the case. I have been told that a communication had been made informally to senior members of the staff in Delhi and it was supposed to have reached everyone. Everyone is being adequately compensated,” Pawar added.

Just look at the casual stance he has taken. Saying just a mere “sorry” for snatching the livelihoods of around 80 people.

Just look at the way he claims “I have been told.”

Do you “informally” communicate to senior staff or any staff members about a lock out (which anyway is a blatant lie as there was no such communication to anyone)? “It was supposed to reach.” The sheer insensitiveness of this man seeps through every word of his quote.

Sakal Papers’ Director, Human Resources and Operations, Pradip Khire denied the charge of the staff that they had not been informed about the impending closure. ‘It was communicated to them that their services are no more required and their dues are being settled,’ Khire told Indo-Asian News Service in Poona.).

Another blatant lie.

Can he provide any proof that staff had been informed about the closure?

Even the “termination of contract” letter received by some people on December 1 (posted on November 29, but received only by some on Dec 1) does not mention anything about the closure. It only talks about the company’s “right” to “terminate your services without assigning any reason by giving one month’s notice or a notice pay in lieu of notice—the company has decided to exercise this right and is terminating your contractual employment w.e.f 30-11-2008 after working hours”.

Where is the mention of the lockout? Can you find another such example of fork-tongued speak? (sic)

As we all know, there is a standard procedure for lock outs. Businesses may and do go bad, but the way Sakaal Times has done it, is pure evil. If it reminds everyone of how some chit fund operators vanish after pocketing money of investors, well, you are not at fault.

Any ethical company would have taken its employees into confidence, told them that they would have to shut down, and would have given them at least a month’s time so that they can look out for alternative jobs. But this is what a 75-year-old media group does.

This is what an aghast observer wrote to various e-groups:

“…The lock-out is illegal as they have not followed labour laws. The journalists have formed an action committee that plans to move court. The nearly 50 journalists are angry and aghast at such despicable treatment. This is an insult to journalists all over India who should rise to the occasion and send their condemnation to Sakal Papers Ltd. This is a paper with deep pockets thanks to its Marathi print monopoly….”

This is just for information of all media people, because if in future this group tries to hire you, beware and don’t fall for its so-called reputation. It’s a den of cheats and liars.

And please forward this mail to all mediapersons you know.

Also read: Old habits die hard for a ‘new’ newspaper

THE HOOT: Pink slip time

Old habits die hard for a ‘new’ newspaper?

20 May 2008

Sakaal Times, the English newspaper owned by Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar‘s nephew Abhijit Pawar, designed by Mario Garcia with former Times of India editor Dileep Padgaonkar playing a key editorial role, has run into trouble less than a fortnight after its launch in Poona.

The blog Pen Pricks has detected plagiarisation of content in an editorial published yesterday, 19 May 2008 on healthcare. The piece has allegedly lifted a huge chunk (highlighted above) from an article by Leena V. Gangolli, Ravi Duggal and Abhya Shukla published at cehat.org.

Read the full article here: Mottled dawn: Sakaal Times plagiarises editorial

Editorial image: courtesy Pen Pricks

Why JoJo might want to leave The Times of India

19 April 2008

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Well-placed sources in command central of The Times of India group confirm that the paper’s executive editor, Jaideep Bose aka JoJo, has indeed put in his papers as has been rumoured for the last couple of days, but not even editors who have his ear are in a position to say if this means the end of his long association with the Old Lady of Bori Bunder.

The buzz over JoJo’s exit turned into a blaze this morning when Mint, the business daily owned by Hindustan Times, put out a story that he was on his way out, possibly to head the Indian edition of Financial Times that is slated to come out of the stable of Network 18, which owns CNBC-TV18 and has major plans in the print space including a Hindi business daily and a slew of magazines starting with Forbes.

For the record, Bose delivered a “no-comment” to Mint:

“I have just come back from Chennai after successfully launching the paper (The Times of India). I am very much with the Times. I have no comments (on the buzz on my departure)”.

To give the JoJo-is-not-leaving version its due, there has been no outward sign of his wanting to quit The Times group, where he served as editor of The Economic Times before being summoned by Samir Jain nearly four years years ago to take over as executive editor of The Times of India.

JoJo was present at the inauguration of the Times School of Journalism on April 7 where he said “We are all set to launch four new editions in the coming months and our appetite for journalists is insatiable”. He was there at the launch of the Madras edition on April 14 and stationed himself there all through the launch week. And he has disregarded a small mountain of resignation letters that had accumulated on his table when he returned to Bombay on April 18.

“If he wanted to leave, he would have let his trusted aides go, too, to flex his editorial muscle in a manner of speaking,” says one Times editor.

However, PR companies have been circulating a long list of Times staffers who are leaving for various editorially greener pastures (including Charles Assisi national business editor who is leaving to join Forbes). National features editor Manu Joseph, too, is watching the exit sign over the newsroom floor afer putting in his papers, possibly to join a new magazine coming out of the RPG group.

One blogger, who recently called JoJo the best editor of his generation, is emphatic that Samir Jain is in no danger of losing his top editorial staff since there is some “unfinished business” at The Times.

However, to give the JoJo-is-leaving version its due, there are many in The Times who say that JoJo, who is seen to have earned the trust of Samir Jain with his low profile and strong work ethic, would not have let word about his possible exit to leak out, if there was no truth to it or if he didn’t want to send some signals. In other words, there is a spark behind the smoke.

So if it is not posturing, what could be the reasons for JoJo to leave?

1) More money: The word in the Times‘ building is that Network 18 has offered him a Rs 3 crore per annum package, with generous stock options, which could add another Rs 25-30 crore to his bank balance over five years.

2) More control: Times insiders say JoJo has been angling for greater editorial control over group’s publications and products, including Economic Times and the Times Now channel, but there has been some resistance within the group, especially from the marketing men who run the paper, who believe journalists shouldn’t get too big for their boots.

3) General fatigue: JoJo has been there, done that, and bought the lousy tee-shirt too many times. Having helped take The Times of India national, there might not be too much fun in cracking the egg again and again for him. In other words, it’s time to do something new, even if it is small, over which he can claim proprietorship.

4) Content is king: Regardless of Times‘ perceived editorial successes, the marketing men walk away with all the glory. For instance, despite JoJo’s presence, brand director Rahul Kansal did all the talking on the Madras edition. So the desire “to do something on my own” “where the editor is respected” could be a motivating factor.

However, there could be two other small but key reasons for word leaking out that JoJo is on his way out.

The first might be to tell the Jains that he cannot be taken for granted. When Hindustan Times and DNA were being launched in Bombay three years ago, The Times‘ marketing mavens gave sufficient legroom for editorial under JoJo to retain domination of the Times‘ place of birth. It was seen by many to have made The Times a much, improved paper that no longer thought its readers to be frivolous fools.

But with the threat posed by HT petering out and with DNA settling down comfortably enough not to rattle the motherhen, there is a feeling among the Times‘ journalists that the marketing men are running haywire once again, leaving editorial credibility in tatters.

The “private equity treaties“, by which the group invests in companies in return for guaranteed advertising, is seen by many journalists in The Times as a killer blow in a group where the distinction between news and advertisement has almost completely been obliterated. In Delhi, many journalists say that the marketing intrusions have gotten even more brazen in recent times.

An equally key reason could be a signficant realignment of stars within the Times‘ planet.

For long, after bossman Ashok Jain’s death, his widow Indu Jain was chairman of the company, with sons Samir and Vineet Jain being vice-chairmen and managing directors. But there are indications that the reclusive older brother Samir may have made way for his younger sibling, to avoid the kind of intra-family squabbles that have consumed family-owned papers like The Hindu and Deccan Herald.

Businessweek suggests that Vineet may now be completely in charge of Bennett, Coleman & Co as chairman and managing director. In fact, it no longer lists Samir Jain among the key executives of the organisation or on the board of directors. If that report is accurate, it means JoJo, who was seen to be close to Samir, may not share the same vibes with Vineet, who himself might want somebody else for the job.

Rumour and speculation, yes, but the only other option is reading tea leaves.

Besides the Financial Times venture with Network 18, the buzz on the Times‘ newsroom floor in Bombay is that JoJo might be looking at a possible entry of Rupert Murdoch‘s Star group in the print media space, in collaboration with the Ananda Bazar Patrika group, where JoJo served earlier in The Telegraph.

But with Network 18 and Star all cut from the same Bennett, Coleman loincloth that has run Indian media credibility into the ground in boom time, will the softspoken but quietly assertive JoJo, who edited a large newspaper without once sounding like Dileep Padgaonkar (who called it “the second most important job in the country“) want to jump from the third floor into the fire?

Watch the cubicle next to R.K. Laxman‘s.

This is the second time in four years that JoJo’s exit has been the subject of media speculation. In May 2005, when the launch of DNA was in the air, it was rumoured that JoJo would be joining the small mob of his colleagues that had joined the paper. JoJo admitted as much to close friends. But he was wooed back by the Jains. Will they do so again? Or is it one time too many?

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