Posts Tagged ‘Gautam Adhikari’

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

‘A DISGRACEFUL ASSAULT ON MEDIA FREEDOM’

1 June 2008

What is the role of a newspaper in a democratic society?

Is it just supposed to reassure us that the sun rose majestically in the east this morning? Is it committing a cardinal sin in reporting that the big fellow may have strayed off his path while we were groggy?

Is a newspaper wrong in airing views that may be contrary to its own or to those of its readers, or even the government of the day? Are those writing for a newspaper—staffers and freelancers—duty-bound to write what only makes readers “feel good”?

Is a newspaper wrong in throwing a pebble, creating a ripple; in subversively sowing thoughts that hadn’t infiltrated the craniums of readers before?

Is hearing an opinion, howsoever contrarian, howsoever provocative, injurious to our health and of our democracy?

These are fundamental questions editors and publishers face every day. And they come to us again courtesy the “vibrant” Government of Gujarat.

33 years after Indira Gandhi‘s Emergency, 20 years after Rajiv Gandhi‘s Defamation Bill, Narendra Modi‘s BJP government has responded in kind.

It has decided to file a criminal case against the sociologist Ashis Nandy for an opinion piece he wrote on the editorial page of The Times of India on January 8 this year, in the aftermath of Modi’s resounding victory in the assembly elections.

Prof Nandy’s piece “Blame the Middle Class” had this paragraph:

“Recovering Gujarat from its urban middle class will not be easy. The class has found in militant religious nationalism a new self-respect and a new virtual identity as a martial community, the way Bengali babus, Maharashtrian Brahmins and Kashmiri Muslims at different times have sought salvation in violence. In Gujarat this class has smelt blood, for it does not have to do the killings but can plan, finance and coordinate them with impunity. The actual killers are the lowest of the low, mostly tribals and Dalits. The middle class controls the media and education, which have become hate factories in recent times. And they receive spirited support from most non-resident Indians who, at a safe distance from India, can afford to be more nationalist, bloodthirsty, and irresponsible.”

Certainly, the piece contains gross generalisations about the middleclass. It stereotypes communities in different corners of the country and even draws NRIs into the picture. And it makes charges, and it imputes motives and methods that are difficult to prove.

It may be the truth and nothing but the truth.

On the other hand, it may be all lies, through and through.

But it is not news, repeat, not news.

It is an opinion piece by one of the country’s most renowned sociologists, one of six from the country who figured in a global list of the top 100 intellectuals. The Times of India‘s editorial advisor Gautam Adhikari explained as much in a piece a few days after a YouTube video dissecting and lambasting the piece and calling The Times of India “a banana newspaper” began circulating.

“I have been charged with creating animosity between communities for publishing a column. They want to threaten me but they also know that their case has cannot stand against me,” Nandy tells CNN-IBN.

Is a sociologist who has studied societies for decades, not entitled to his views and air them in public, even if they are completely unpalatable to the majority of the public it reaches? Is a political psychologist’s freedom to express bound by what he chooses to express, failing which the might of the state can be invoked to threaten and silence him and the media vehicle which gave him the platform?

Who was it who said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”?

***

The case against Prof. Nandy comes on the same day the police commissioner of Ahmedabad has decided to file charges of sedition against The Times of India, its (Ahmedabad Market) editor Bharat Desai, and a reporter for news reports accusing him of having had underworld connections in the past, and questioning the propriety of such an appointment vide an opinion poll.

The newspaper contends that the news reports were based on a CBI report.

But that is news, not views, and the newspaper must prove that it was serving the public interest in reporting what it did, and that it has the requisite documentation to prove that it was not making it all up. But in filing charges under sedition, not defamation, is the Narendra Modi government justly going on the offensive against the “pseudo-secular” English media?

In April this year, a $100 million lawsuit was filed by the Indian National Overseas Congress against three prominent Hindu activists for defaming Sonia Gandhi during her visit to the United States last October by taking out a provocative advertisement in the New York Times.

Congress first, BJP now, have our parties lost all sense of balance—and achieved a chilling balance of terror?

Cross-posted on churumuri

‘The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility’

28 January 2008

The Times of India group’s decision to make strategic investments in mid-level companies, in return for guaranteed advertising and editorial exposure in the group’s publications and media vehicles, through the quaintly named “Private Treaties“, has had several other media houses following suit.

Hindustan Times is said to be well on its way to establishing a similar division. Television majors like NDTV and CNBC are following suit. And as if to show that language publications are not lagging behind, influential Hindi groups like Dainik Bhaskar and Dainik Jagran are also off the blocks.

SALIL TRIPATHI, the London-based journalist, formerly with India Today and The Indian Post, and whose work has appeared in Wall Street Journal, Far Eastern Economic Review, and International Herald Tribune, among other publications, writes of the damage these wheels-within-wheels deals cause.

***

By SALIL TRIPATHI in London

Most serious and professional newspapers recognize the need to separate editorial and advertising. The Wall Street Journal goes further, separating fact and opinion. So do other major US newspapers, but WSJ‘s distinctness stems from separate management structures for both.

At the convention of the South Asian Journalists’ Association (SAJA), New York Times editor Bill Keller said that the management structure of the edit page and news pages at the NYT, too, were separate. Which is how it should be, but all newspapers don’t have the luxury of such a roster of writers and management structures.

When editorial and advertising blend, the first casualty is credibility. A reader simply cannot know if a particular company, product, or an idea being promoted is because there’s a mass base of support for it, or because some experts like it, or is it because of financial considerations.

The Times of India‘s new business concept, Private Treaties, is audacious, innovative, and breathtaking. And incredibly underwhelming. It trades advertising for equity in companies.

As described in its poorly-designed, shoddily-edited, and jargon-filled website, it creates intangible value for companies in which the TOI group has a stake, by highlighting its intangible qualities, through the medium of TOI‘s publications.

If all that it means is a promotion restricted to discounted rates for advertising in the TOI, that would be simple enough, and acceptable to most purists in journalism. But with the Times you are never sure. In the past, it has encouraged its reporters to go on junkets to tourist resorts, and not always revealed the nature of the hospitality received.

When the Times group has launched its own businesses such as music, entertainment and so on, using prominent Indian performers, the newspaper’s page 1 has to give way to stories about that event, as though it is the most talked about event in town, if not the only event in town.

I recall in the mid-1990s, there were days of reporting on a modern ballet called Yes!, being staged under the choreography of my classmate from college in Bombay, the gifted dancer Shiamak Davar. The editor-in-chief would call senior Times editors to get hold of writers who’d say nice things about Yes!

A tax raid on TOI‘s owners in the 1980s got barely a mention in the newspaper.

When things got tough, the Jain family’s tax battles with the Indian government were cast as a human rights issue. A writer on the TOI edit page went on a junket with a European pharmaceutical company, and wrote an edit page piece extolling the medicine. Nothing wrong with a story about health on the TOI‘s edit page, but something was rotten in the state of Bori Bunder, if such a story appeared out of the blue, and no rival brand got similar coverage, or even comparison in that piece.

Then, the Times went the whole hog, with features like Impact and Spotlight, when news articles appeared on news pages, which were essentially advertisements.

When a plucky blog, Mediaah! ridiculed some of the practices at the Old Lady of Bori Bunder, the Times‘s legal eagles threatened to sue the website. Pradyuman Maheshwari, the spirited journalist who kept it going, decided to close shop. It is, therefore, refreshing to see Times‘s Gautam Adhikari writing that his paper believes in publish-and-be-damned liberalism.

It is against this background that the Private Treaties are highly suspect.

However much the Times might claim that it keeps editorial and advertising separate – when we know that’s not really the case—there will be an impact. A reporter chasing a story against a company in which the Times group has an equity stake will feel obliged to go softly. A reporter chasing a scandal involving a film star whose music is marketed by the Times group, will view the release of the CD differently.

It is so obvious, that it does not even need stating.

A property scandal, or a scam, involving a company that advertises in the newspaper may be problematic for some editors; how much more complicated it can get when the Times group has an equity stake in that company? And wouldn’t the negative story drive down the value of the investment?

There are sound reasons why across the world, editors try to keep editorial and advertising separate, to enhance the credibility of the editorial matter. When I worked with a US-owned magazine (Far Eastern Economic Review) and wrote an extensive piece on conflict of interest within some leading US investment banks, even though those banks were prominent advertisers in my magazine, at no stage did any editor tell me to go easy on that story.

At the Dow Jones group, reporters cannot own stocks in companies they write about. Other major US papers have similar codes.

In my reporting days in Bombay in the 1980s, I’ve seen, with great dismay, financial reporters of several leading Indian dailies rushing out of a press conference where a company has declared its results, to make phone calls to their brokers to buy or sell shares (there were no cell phones then).

Mint, the new business daily launched by the Hindustan Times group, has transparently placed its code of conduct on the web. It also recently declared to its readers how it would publish advertorials, and how they would be distinct from edit pages, and how edit staff would not be involved in preparing them. (The International Herald Tribune and other American publications do likewise).

Unless the Times institutes similar safeguards, it would seem that Private Treaties marks another step in the journey the Times—“the leader [that] guards the reader”—has taken, transforming the nature of journalism.

In the late 1980s, the Times group had begun distributing promotional products in a plastic bag, together with the magazine, Illustrated Weekly of India, which the Times used to publish. We used to throw those products away, preferring to read the magazine. Now the magazine is gone; the toothpaste remains.

Hopefully, the Times, in its drive to enhance the value of companies it invests in through this innovative mechanism, will also attach some value to its readers.

Disclosure: I write frequently for Mint, and the Wall Street Journal‘s international editions; often for the International Herald Tribune, and on rare occasions for the Times of India. But this is not a case of sour grapes.

Photograph: courtesy saliltripathi.com

Also read: SUCHETA DALAL: Forget the news, you can’t trust the ads either

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