Posts Tagged ‘Girish Nikam’

‘The Hindu’ issue more complex than you think’

24 October 2013

Predictably, the “private” TV news channels do not have too much on the resignation of Siddharth Varadarajan as editor and removal of Arun Anant as CEO of The Hindu after the family-owned newspaper decided to restore status quo ante on Monday.

Newspaper reports have been sketchy and superficial, and web interviews and Twitter feeds of the various players involved have only given a one-sided, black or white view of the Mount Road Mahavishnu‘s brief flirtation with professionals.

A Rajya Sabha Television (RSTV) panel discussion, featuring S. Nihal Singh, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Rahul Dev and Dilip Cherian suggests the “family vs professionals” issue is more complex and layered than we think.

Also read: In a family-owned paper, only furniture is fixed

V.N. Subba Rao: a ‘shishya’ remembers his Guru

12 October 2012

There are few more misleading terms in Indian journalism than the phrase “national media”.

Only those who flit around in the rarefied circles of Delhi and Bombay, rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty, qualify; everyone else is “upcountry”. Only the bold-faced names from big English media houses are supposed to be national; everyone else is smalltime, moffusil—even “downmarket”.

In reality, our media is richer because of the sweat and toil of hundreds of fine journalists in far corners, who carry on manfully for years, if not decades, without reward or recognition and often times without the expectation of both. Here, a veteran  journalist remembers his first “Chief” who hired him 41 years ago; a guru who would have been a “national” name if only he didn’t suffer from the fear of flying.

***

By A. SURYA PRAKASH

Indian journalism lost a giant earlier this week with the passing of V.N. Subba Rao, a top-notch political analyst, a prolific writer and a guru who trained hundreds of journalists in a career that spanned six decades.

Subba Rao’s interests were catholic.

He was arguably the best-informed political journalist in Karnataka in his hey day; a lover of cinema with an authoritative grip on the history and art of film making and a film critic of repute; a lover of art and culture; and an authority on Kannada literature.

VNSR, as he was affectionately known, also had other qualities which put him way ahead of his peers in the world of journalism. He was a brilliant teacher and a builder of teams and, given his varied interests, a man who could boast of friends in every walk of life.

***

VNSR was also a lover of words and produced eminently readable copy at a pace unmatched by anyone in his time. His day would begin early and he would walk into the office of the Indian Express on Queen’s Road, Bangalore, around 9 pm with more than a couple of news stories under his belt.

He would order some tea, set paper to typewriter and get down to doing the story of the day. From then on, all one heard was the clatter of the typewriter, with the peon walking in every ten minutes to take the typed sheet, which VNSR would yank out of the machine, to the desk, which would be waiting anxiously for what would invariably be the lead story in the paper next morning.

But, VNSR’s output for the day would not end with this important political copy.

He would have other things to write about—a film review, an interview, or even a routine announcement of a theatre or film festival from a press conference he had attended.

He was equally prolific in Kannada.

So, after a hard day’s work, VNSR and many of us who were just hanging around, waiting for “The Chief” to finish, would hop into what we called “the sheep van” or “the dog van” – those rowdy, robust mid-sized trucks in which newspapers were dispatched past midnight to various destinations in the state – and get dropped at our homes.

Given this routine, some of us were late risers, but for VNSR, his phone would start ringing from seven in the morning. Often the first caller would be the Chief Minister of the day: D. Devaraj Urs, R. Gundu Rao, Ramakrishna Hegde et al.

The caller would invariably praise VNSR for his deep insight into the political games the ministers were playing behind his back. This would be followed by phone calls from ministers offering fresh inputs or from the director and the stars of the movie which he had reviewed.

Everybody loved reading him because when VNSR had something good to say about a person or his work, the person written about would love to cut and frame Subba Rao’s piece.

***

I first met VNSR in 1971 when I walked into the Express office wanting a job.

VNSR made a simple offer. He said he would give me assignments for a week. If he felt I would fit into his team, he would hire me. “I need to see if you have news sense and if you can write clean copy” he said.

A few days down the line he said “you are hired!”

That decision of VNSR changed the course of my life. Since then, it has been a roller-coaster ride for me and has taken me from print to television to media teaching and scholarship and to my current status as a columnist and author.

By the mid-1970s VSNR had a bureau in Bangalore which was the envy of every other newspaper. Since he kept a punishing 14-16 hour work schedule,that became the norm for all his “boys” and so, most of us would hang around till the late hours and plan stories and features.

VNSR hired and trained hundreds of journalists and it’s impossible to remember all of them.

K.S. Sachidananda Murthy, currently resident editor, The Week; Prakash Belawadi, national award-winning film director; Chidananda Rajghatta, foreign editor, Times of India; Anita Pratap, former South Asia bureau chief, CNN and former correspondent, Time; Ramakrishna Upadhya, political editor, Deccan Herald; E. Raghavan, former resident editor, Economic Times, Bangalore and Girish Nikam, anchor, Rajya Sabha TV are a few names that immediately come to mind.

Apart from those whom he hired and trained, he was the Guru to hundreds of journalists from other print and television establishments who sought him out each day for a better understanding of events and personalities. Among those who belonged to this extended Shisyavarga of VNSR was Kestur Vasuki, a seasoned television and print journalist, who is currently with The Pioneer and many young television journalists who would catch up with him at his favourite watering hole– The Bangalore Press Club.

He demanded nothing but complete commitment to work and had his own unobtrusive way of teaching us. That is why, on his passing the Samyukta Karnataka described him as “The Dronacharya of Journalism”.

VNSR was also a builder of teams and encouraged team work and this produced excellent results when big events happened in the state. One event that is often remembered in the Indian Express family is our coverage of the landmark Chickmagalur by-election in November 1975 1978 (in which Indira Gandhi contested against Veerendra Patil) that attracted global attention.

The Express’ coverage of Chickmagalur was unmatched.

VNSR held many senior editorial positions in several newspapers and wrote for many more. Kannada Prabha, Samyukta Karnataka, Deccan Herald, Vijaya Karnataka, Newstime, Mid-Day and the Kannada political weekly Naave Neevu and film magazine Tara Loka of which he was the founder-editor. But, he gave much of his blood and sweat to The Indian Express and was the pillar of the Bangalore Edition of that newspaper during the days when the fiery Ramnath Goenka ruled the roost.

In VNSR’s departure, I have lost my Guru and Indian media has lost a consummate journalist and a legend.

(A. Surya Prakash is former chief of bureau, Indian Express, New Delhi; former executive editor, The Pioneer, and former editor, Zee News)

External reading: Goodbye, my mentor

Also read: V.N. Subba Rao, an Express legend, is no more

Rajya Sabha TV tears into Reliance-TV18 deal

15 January 2012

The fears over what happens when a big business house with deep pockets and political influence across parties funds a big media house to legitimise its hitherto-hidden media interests, are coming true even before the controversial Reliance Industries -Network18/TV18-Eenadu Television deal can be inked.

Obviously, the political class is silent. Obviously, TV18’s competitors won’t touch the story for reasons not difficult to imagine. Obviously, The Hindu won’t even publish a media column for reasons not difficult to fantasise.

But there has been no serious discussion of the implications of the deal on the media or on democracy in the mainstream media. Not on any of Network18’s usually high-decibel shows since the tie-up was announced on 3 January 2012. Not even on Karan Thapar‘s media show on CNN-IBN, The Last Word.

Print media coverage too has at best been sketchy. Even the newspapers and newsmagazines which have attempted to probe the complexities of the menage-a-trois, The Economic Times and The Indian Express, Outlook* and India Today, have barely managed to go beyond the numbers into the nuance.

Rajya Sabha TV, the newly launched television channel of the upper house of Parliament, has filled the breach somewhat with a no-holds barred discussion on the subject.

Anchored by Girish Nikam, a former Eenadu reporter who wrote five years ago on Eenadu‘s travails, the RSTV debate—with an honourable mention for sans serif in the third segment—flags all the important issues raised by the deal and underlines the role public service television can play in the service of the public when the corporate media gives up—or gives in.

Some of the comments made by three of the four participants on The Big Picture:

S. Nihal Singh, former editor of The Statesman: “My first reaction [on reading of the deal] was that it was time for India to have a really good anti-monopoly law for media, which is the norm in all democratic countries in the world, including the most advanced….

“The press council of India is totally dysfunctional because of the new chairman Justice Markandey Katju, who is baiting the media, who doesn’t believe in conversing with the media, or exchanging views with the media.”

***

Madhu Trehan, founder-editor of India Today and director, content, of the soon-to-be-launched media site, News Laundry: “It need not have happened if the government and corporates were more alert. One person owns much too much….

“Already every policy is decided by corporates as the 2G tapes (of Niira Radia) show. Not only is it dangerous that Mukesh Ambani will be deciding what policy will be decided, as you know has happened in the past, but he will also decide whether we can talk about it, or criticise it or expose it….

“Why is Reliance interested in media? It is not for money; it is obviously for influence. Rupert Murdoch was endorsing PMs and Presidents in three continents. Now we have the richest man in the country owning the largest network. Yes, there is an independent trust, but I don’t believe that. The purpose is to control the media. You are influencing policy, you are influencing how the government decides, and now you are going to decide how the people will hear about about you and the government….

“When a politician or a government spokesman speaks, we don’t believe them, but when somebody like Rajdeep Sardesai or Sagarika Ghose speaks, or anyone at IBN7 or TV18 comes on, we presume we should believe them. Now there is a big question mark [when RIL has indirect control over CNN-IBN]….

“In a deal of this size we are looking at very subtle plants of stories, subtle angles, subtly putting things in a certain way so that people think along in a certain way for a particular way. I don’t know if anyone can shut the door. It’s too late.”

***

Dilip Cherian, former editor Business India, head Perfect Relations: “Globally we have seen when big capital enters media, that is exactly what we are about to replicate for ourselves.

“Oligopolistic tendencies are visible in global media today, whether it is Silvio Berlusconi or Rupert Murdoch, the fact is they exercise humongous influence not on media but politics. Are we headed down the same road? At this time, the answer seems to be yes. Is it good? The universal answer from the question is that it isn’t, not just because it affects the quality of news but because it affects the quality of politics….

“The entry of big capital is not new or news. What has happened in this case is a big distinction between foreign investment and domestic. Because of 4G, because the same business house owns the pipe, owns the content, there could also be another issue of monopoly. If I were the owner, I would say there needs to be a publicly visible ombudsmanship [to dispel the doubts]….

“There is room for concern, there is room for elements of self-rgulation. As a country we are not able to legislate for two reasons. One because of the influence business houses have on policy making. And two, when you bring in legislation (on regulation) up, the other group that is affected are politicians who own media houses of their own. You are talking about now a coalition of forces which the public is incapable of handling. You won’t see Parliament doing the kind of regulation they should, in an open manner, because there are interests on all sides.”

* Disclosures apply

Also read: Will RIL-TV18-ETV deal win SEBI, CCI approval?

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