Posts Tagged ‘M.J.Akbar’

The investigative TV journo who now sells sarees

6 March 2014

dib

The state of mainstream Indian journalism, it can be argued, is somewhat reflected by the number of journalists churning out books; leaving for greener PR, corporate communications and “policy”) pastures; joining thinktanks; going on sabatticals, etc—and it is probably no different from the rest of the world.

But nobody drives home the issue better than Dibyojyoti Basu.

Once chief of bureau at M.J. Akbar‘s Asian Age in Calcutta. Once the director of Calcutta Doordarshan’s first news-based private television show Khas Khabar (a la Aaj Tak). Once the head of Ananda Bazaar Patrika‘s television wing. Once host of Khoj Khabar on Tara Bangla. And now…

And now, the proud owner of Woven, a lounge in Delhi’s Meher Chand marker, for Bengali sarees.

Basu, who hosted his last show in 2011  on Akash Bangla before it was pulled off by its Left-leaning promoters, sees this as a hibernation period, before he achieves his life ambition of starting his own TV station.

Visit Dibyojyoti Basu’s shop: Woven

Jessica Lal, Tehelka, Bina Ramani & the media

15 February 2014

bird-in-a-banyan-tree-bina-ramani

It was in South Delhi socialite Bina Ramani‘s Tamarind Court restaurant that Jessica Lall, a “model who worked as a celebrity barmaid”, was shot dead in 1999 by Manu Sharma, the son of Congress politician Venod Sharma.

Initially exonerated of the charges, the case turned full turtle for Sharma following a sting operation by Harinder Baweja, then with Tehelka magazine. Manu Sharma was eventually found guilty.

As the owner of the restaurant which was the scene of the crime, Bina Ramani spent nine days in jail in the case. She has an interview with Tehelka this week following the release of her book Bird in a Banyan Tree:

You have been sharply critical of the role media played in the aftermath of the Jessica Lal trial. Yet, it was a Tehelka investigation that brought out the truth. Do you think media can ensure justice?

It is not a guarantee that the media can ensure justice but it can certainly carve the path to it. Conversely, it can derail justice when it becomes over-zealous about its point of view. The media in India is extremely powerful and can wield a lot of influence—it should therefore be thorough i its investigation.

For the record, the news channel NewsX is now owned by Kartikeya Sharma, brother of Manu Sharma, through his company Information TV.

The Sharma family’s Piccadilly group also now owns M.J. Akbar-founded The Sunday Guardian, whose chairman is Ram Jethmalani, whose interview with Karan Thapar is must-watch television.

Also read: Note to directors: It was Shammy, nor Barkha

‘International Herald Tribune’ becomes INYT

14 October 2013

iht

The legendary International Herald Tribune (IHT) has published its last print issue today with its current mastead. From tomorrow, 15 October 2013, it will be sold under the name-plate “International New York Times” (INYT).

IHT’s name-change isn’t the first.

The New York Herald, launched in 1887 in Europe, became the New York Herald Tribune, which became the International Herald Tribune. International New York Times marks the complete takeover of the IHT by NYT after The Washington Post pulled out of the collaboration a few years ago.

The Indian edition of IHT has been published by the Deccan Chronicle out of Hyderabad despite the group’s extraordinary troubles, by a complex circumvention of publishing laws. And despite his exit from The Asian Age, also published by DC, M.J. Akbar was IHT‘s titular editor.

Also read: How International Herald Tribune is made

Ex-IHT journalist goes missing from Rishikesh

How corporate ownership shapes TV news?

5 February 2013

Virendra Kapoor, former editor of the Free Press Journal, in his column in M.J. Akbar‘s Sunday Guardian:

Money speaks

The growing intrusion of corporate money into the media is beginning to show in myriad ways.

For instance, ever since a big industrial group made a huge investment in a multi-channel television group, its news channel has become rather staid.

While other English language channels debate major controversies of the day, and generally excoriate the government for its various acts of omission and commission, this channel’s focus has shifted to “soft” or non-controversial topics.

A minister has only to pick up the phone to complain to the corporate boss that untrue things were said about him in a panel discussion for the channel to be chastised by its paymaster. Discretion being the better part of valour, the channel generally steers clear of major controversies, thus leaving the field clear for the other English language channels.

Likewise, thanks to corporate pressures, the channel now feels obliged to use the services of controversial journalists who lack even basic skills of proficient writing and clear articulation.

Read the full column: No holds barred

How Tavleen Singh fell out with Sonia Gandhi

21 November 2012

The columnist Tavleen Singh has just penned what she calls her “political memoirs”.

Titled Durbar (Hachette, 324 pages, Rs 599), the book charts Singh’s view of the corridors of power in Delhi from the inside out—from Indira Gandhi‘s Emergency in 1975 to her assassination in 1984; from Rajiv Gandhi‘s rise to his downfall and death in 1991.

The book jacket describes how Singh, at various times a reporter for The Statesman, Delhi; The Telegraph and Sunday, Calcutta; The Sunday Times, London:

“observed a small, influential section of Delhi’s society—people she knew well—remain strangely unafffected by the perilous state of the nation…. It was the beginning of a political culture of favouritism and ineptitude that would take hold at the highest levels of government, stunting India’s ambitions and frustrating its people well into the next century.”

In chapter 14, titled Euphoric Early Days and a Plot, Singh chronicles throws light on how her friendship with Rajiv’s window Sonia Gandhi waned—and the role played by a 1986 profile of the current Congress president in India Today magazine.

***

By TAVLEEN SINGH

By the middle of 1986, my relations with M.J. Akbar had become so fraught that I decided I was better off going freelance. I was writing regularly by then for the Sunday Times, London, which brought in more money than I earned at the Telegraph.

I came to an arrangement with Aroon Purie, owner and chief editor of India Today, to do some freelance work for him as well and with a considerable degree of pleasure sent Akbar my resignation. His tantrums and sulks had now become so routine as to make constant difficulties for me professionally….

So it was that I happened to be in the India Today office on the afternoon the news came that someone had tried to shoot Rajiv Gandhi when he was visiting Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial, Rajghat, on 2 October 1986. The failed assassin was a twenty-four-year-old Sikh called Karamjit Singh, who was such an amateur that he used a country-made pistol as his weapon….

When I heard that Sonia had been with Rajiv at Rajghat, I called her to find out what had happened. She said that what had upset her most was that when they heard the shots the first people to duck were Rajiv’s new and supposedly highly trained bodyguards from the special protection group (SPG).

I must have mentioned our conversation in the India Today office that afternoon because immediately afterwards Aroon Purie summoned me to his room to ask if I could do an interview with Sonia Gandhi.

He said that people were blaming her for the negative stories that were beginning to pollute the atmosphere around Rajiv and everyone was curious about what kind of person she was and whether she really controlled the prime minister as people said she did. Although she went everywhere with the prime minister nobody knew anything about her at all.

What did her voice sound like?

How did she spend her days?

What did she think of India?

I called Sonia and told her that India Today wanted to do an interview with her and emphasised that her image was really bad and that it might help her to give an interview and clarify some of the things that were being said about her.

I told her that she was being blamed for interfering in government affairs and such things as throwing Arun Nehru out of the circle of Rajiv’s closest advisors…. She listened in silence and remained silent for a few moments before saying that she would check with the prime minister’s media managers and see if they thought she should give an interview to India Today.

They did not think it was a good idea. So we agreed to do an interview disguised as a profile and that only Sonia and I, and of course India Today, would know that the profile was done with her cooperation. I asked her all the questions that Aroon wanted me to and produced a profile that was so anodyne that Aroon said, ‘I don’t mind being considered a chamcha of Rajiv Gandhi, but of Sonia…’

I pointed out that I had said right from the start that I would not be able to say anything negative about her since we were doing the profile with her cooperation. Aroon was unconvinced and said that the very least we should do was put in the things that people were saying about her. He suggested that we put some bite into the piece by getting my colleague Dilip Bobb to work with me so that if I had problems with Sonia afterwards I could put the blame on Dilip.

So on the cover of the 15 December 1986 issue of India Today there appeared a profile titled ‘The Enigmatic First Lady of India’.

I am going to quote here the first two paragraphs and admit that the writing of them had more to do with Dilip than me. My contribution was to provide information about Sonia’s likes and dislikes, her friends and her life as the prime minister’s wife:

Had fate – in the form of assassins’ bullets – not intervened, she would have probably been quite content to linger in the shadow of her formidable mother-in-law, her assiduously protected privacy undisturbed by the fact that she belonged to the most famous family in the land. But destiny – and dynasty – willed otherwise. Unwarned, Sonia Gandhi was suddenly pitch-forked into the position she would have least wanted – India’s First Lady.

It is, as the last two years have painfully revealed, a role she is not comfortable in. Compared to the relaxed style of her debonair husband, she appears awkward and wooden. Though impeccably attired and carefully groomed, her face, framed by luxuriant chestnut hair, is an immobile mask. Perhaps deliberately, her public personality has given her the image of a mere ceremonial appendage to the Prime Minister. She is not a Lalita Shastri, but neither does she seem cut out to be Nancy Reagan or a Raisa Gorbachova. And the fate of someone who falls between two stools is not a happy one.

The article went on to charge Sonia with being the power behind the throne ‘plotting the downfall of opponents, through cabinet reshuffles (she didn’t trust Arun Nehru) and advising her husband on everything from the Kashmir coalition to Pepsi Cola’s entry into India.’

The profile was not flattering but it was not as bad as it could have been. Considering how much vicious gossip there was about the Quattrocchis by then, the piece was not unfair. There was only an illusion to her friends using her name when they threw their weight around Delhi’s drawing rooms and government offices. This was mentioned in passing.

So, when I called Sonia to find out what she thought of the profile I did not expect the frosty response I got.

I asked her if she had seen the profile and what she thought about it, and I remember being surprised by the icy tone in which she replied that she did not think she was like the person I had described in the profile. In what way, I asked, and she mentioned the reference to her friends using her name.

I said, ‘Look, Sonia, there are people using your name. I don’t want to give you details over the phone. But let’s have coffee and I will tell you exactly what is going on and who is doing what.’

We agreed to meet the next day or the next, but an hour before our scheduled meeting Madhavan, her personal assistant, called to say that Mrs Gandhi was unable to keep our appointment as she was accompanying the prime minister to Kashmir. He had been instructed to tell me that she would call when she returned to fix another time.

She never did.

Some weeks later I wrote to her to offer condolences on her father’s death and got a polite handwritten reply in her neat, carefully formed handwriting. My New Year’s card in January 1987 was not written by hand and signed by both of them as it was the year before. It came from the prime minister’s office and was formally signed by Rajiv Gandhi.

I had been dropped.

***

Book excerpt: courtesy Hachette

Photo illustration: courtesy Amarjit Siddu via Al Arabiya

***

Also visit: Tavleen Singh‘s website

Follow her on Twitter: @tavleen_singh

***

Also read: Vinod Mehta on Arun Shourie, Dileep Padgaonkar

Kuldip Nayar on Shekhar Gupta, N. Ram & Co

B.G. Verghese on the declaration of Emergency

Salman Khurshid, India Today & Sunday Guardian

21 October 2012

Salman Khurshid, the Oxford-educated Union law minister, has taken the India Today group to court in Delhi, Bombay, Lucknow and London claiming damages of Rs 243 crore following Aaj Tak‘s sting operation that accused the trust run by his wife, former Sunday magazine journalist Louise Khurshid nee Fernandes, of a discrepancy of Rs 71 lakh.

But ranting on TV against pesky reporters or the threat to meet his detractors with “blood” are not only the excesses of the smooth-talking Khurshid. His supporters are no better.

In The Sunday Guardian edited by M.J. Akbar (who also wears the hat of editorial director of India Today), reporter Abhinandan Mishra writes of the reception he got in Khurshid’s constituency Farukhabad, when he had gone to investigate the truth behind the camps organised by Zakir Hussain memorial trust.

“Once done with our investigation, we moved toward our car to discover that a small group of men had gathered. One of them asked me the purpose of my visit. When I realised that I was verifying the credentials of the disabled, the mob got agitated and asked me to leave.

“They were shouting that I was wasting my time and was trying to malign “SalmanSahab“.

“I understood the gravity of the situation and did not wish to get into further arguments with the men and decided to leave Pithora. But a well built man in his early 30s started following us on a Bullet motorcycle. He started banging the passenger window asking my companion to roll down the glass.

“When we ignored him, he signalled to the driver to roll down the window. I obliged.

“What followed was a string of abuses and threats at me: “Tu nikal yahaan se. Tu Salman Sahab ka kuch nahi bigaad paayege. Farrukhabad se bahar niklo, batate hain tujhe (Get out of this place. You will not be able to do anything to Salman Sahab. I will deal with you once you step out of Farrukhabad).”

“We asked the driver to speed up.

“The next stop was Kaimganj. As I finished with the investigation and was about to exit the city, the second attack happened, much more ferocious and well planned. I heard a loud thud on the window and saw a man who appeared to be in his 40s attempting to break the glass.

“Threatening me, he shouted, “Kar li tehkikat? **&*&* kuch nahee kar paayega tu, kitna bhee likh le Salman ke khilaaf. (Are you done with your investigation? You cannot harm Salman no matter how much you write).” He then asked the driver to stop the car.

“I asked the driver to accelerate the car. However, the attacker caught up with us and shouted, “Bahar nikal tujhey batata hun. Tu yahaan se zinda nahi jaayega. (Get out of the car. You will not return alive from here).” He then raced ahead and parked his bike. We saw three people joining him and then starting to pelt stones and bricks at our car. They missed us narrowly because of the speed at which our driver was driving the car. They followed us till the time we entered the main city of Farrukhabad.

“I called up the superintendent of police, but the number was switched off. I then called up the assistant SP of the district, O.P. Singh, who said to my shock that I should have informed the police before going to these areas.”

In the Hindustan Times, the Cambridge-educated television anchor and interviewer Karan Thapar gives Khurshid a clean chit:

“There’s one question that’s dominated the last week. It’s been asked again and again. Equally significantly, it’s been put by a wide range of people. “Do you believe Salman Khurshid?” My answer is simple and blunt: yes….

“I have three deeper reasons for believing Salman. First, I’ve known him since I was 21 and cannot believe he would forge letters or pilfer money meant for the handicapped. Second, I admire his willingness to subject himself to a rigorous interview less than two hours after returning from London. A man with a guilty conscious would have ducked for cover instead. Third, he wouldn’t sue for defamation if he did not have a credible and convincing defence. Oscar Wilde did that and look where he ended up!”

Cartoon: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today

The new kid on the block announces an eclipse

25 September 2012

The front page of Ei Bela, the new Bengali tabloid launched by the Ananda Bazaar Patrika (ABP) group in Calcutta, as a “buffer” to counter the launch of a Bengali newspaper from The Times of India group, on the day Mamata Banerjee‘s Trinamool Congress walked out of the Congress-led UPA.

This is the second tabloid from the ABP group, after the now-defunct evening daily The Metropolitan under M.J. Akbar.

Also read: Times, Telegraph and the Bengali paper wars

Read our paper, get  Harley-Davidson free!

How the media viewed Express ‘C’ report

5 April 2012

Editorial in Deccan Herald:

“There is reason for deep concern over the report in a national daily, The Indian Express, about an ‘unexpected (and non-notified) movement’ of two army units towards Delhi on the night of January 16-17… To insinuate that General V.K. Singh would attempt a coup to settle scores with the government is downright slanderous. It is an insult to the Indian Army, which has an unblemished record of being an apolitical force. There are enough safeguards in our system to ensure the supremacy of the civilian government over the military.

“It does seem that the newspaper read too much into what was a harmless and routine movement of army units. It should have exercised greater caution and responsibility in reporting the story the way it did.”

Editorial in The Hindu:

“The Indian Express is entirely within its rights to write about a sensitive matter like this, even if its treatment was overblown. Just as it is unfair for anyone to cast aspersions on the Indian Army, it is unfair to question the motives of the journalists who wrote the story.”

Jim Yardley and Hari Kumar in the New York Times:

“The article, splashed across the front page, created a sensation in the Indian news media, stirring a discussion on the country’s all-news channels and on Twitter, where many criticized the Express for, they said, sensationalizing the episode when relations between civilian and military leaders are already fraught….

Uday Bhaskar, a retired Indian Navy commodore, agreed that mistrust between military and civilian leaders had deepened, partly because of the poisonous political environment in New Delhi, which he said was fueled by an increasingly sensationalistic media.”

Sandeep Bamzai in Mail Today:

“A leading daily may have unintentionally extrapolated from the website report and sensationalised the story. Or it may have got it right because as they tell us the event is dated January 16 this year. But to run a story of this magnitude may well be a disservice to media and to national interest. Because now it is not just the Army chief, but the Armed Forces which will be viewed with suspicion.”

Editorial in the Economic Times:

“The overall fallout of the story is to lower both the army chief and the defence minister in public esteem, as those who bumble into a messy civil-military standoff.”

Manoj Joshi in Mail Today:

“In journalism, there are dividing lines that define when a news report informs, analyses, titillates or sensationalises. But there is just one line which separates a report which serves national interest from one which does disservice to it. The report in a national daily, which talks about the movement of two crack Indian Army units towards New Delhi on the night of January 16, not only makes unwarranted conjectures, but in the process, damages the body politic of the country.”

Editorial in the Business Standard:

“A binary choice should not be forced on this discussion. Talk of a coup is absurd and the newspaper report may be alarmist; yet there are questions that must be addressed…. Anything less than direct engagement with the substance of the Express report would serve to further undermine public trust in the institution.”

News item in M.J. Akbar‘s Sunday Guardian:

“Sources involved in tracking sensitive developments claim that a senior minister of the UPA government was the mastermind of the April 4 front page item in a daily newspaper about a suspected coup attempt. The sources claim that the minister is connected – through his close relative – with the defense procurement lobbies gunning for Chief of Army Staff General V K Singh, and that the decision to “trick the newspaper into running a baseless report was to drain away support for General Singh within the political class”, who could be expected to unite against any effort at creating a Pakistan-style situation in India….

“According to these sources,the minister in question “is well-known to senior journalistic levels of the publication” that ran the coup report. A military source was “surprised that the newspaper in question ran such a story,in view of the high level of competence of its senior staff”, but added that ” a senior minister being the source of the initial information would explain their belief in the truth of the report”.

Also read: Indian Express ‘C’ report: scoop, rehash or spin?

Indian Express stands by its ‘C’ report

‘Mail Today’ rises in the land of ‘The Daily Mail’

5 March 2012

Making use of the five-and-a-half hour time gap, Mail Today, the tabloid daily from the India Today group, has expanded its footprint to the United Kingdom.

Editor-in-Chief Aroon Purie explains the move in a note on page 3:

“Targeting the large south Asian population in London, Mail Today wants to connect with the diaspora by bringing the best of Indian news packaged in a modern avatar. It gives us great pleasure to bring a slice of the new rising India.”

Both The Asian Age and The Sunday Guardian launched by M.J. Akbar, currently editorial director of India Today, have editions out of London.

The TV anchor who’s caught Omar Abdullah’s eye

12 September 2011

Nora Chopra, the diarist/ gossip columnist of M.J. Akbar‘s weekly newspaper, The Sunday Guardian, gives a delicious little rumour floating around in Delhi some more oxygen.

“If the Delhi grapevine is to be believed, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah and his wife Payal are getting divorced by mutual consent.

“The reason behind the break-up is apparently a TV anchor from the State, who the 41-year-old CM wants to marry. The anchor is a divorcee and has been in two live-in relationships since her divorce. But the marriage is being opposed by his father Dr Farooq Abdullah and his party, the National Conference, as the lady is not a Muslim. The NC wants Abdullah to marry a Kashmiri Muslim girl….

“Omar had married Payal, the daughter of Major General Ram Nath (retired), a Sikh, in 1994, four years before he entered politics. He has not visited his Akbar road residence in New Delhi, where Payal lives with their two sons, for the last six months. When asked by this columnist, a close Omar Abdullah aide said on the condition of anonymity, ‘All I can say is that they are separated.’

“Mixed marriages are common in the Abdullah family. Farooq Abdullah had married a British lady, Omar Abdullah’s sister Sarah is married to Sachin Pilot. But conservative Kashmiri politics has not allowe these women to make Srinagar their home.”

Update 1 (15 September): The Delhi Times supplement of The Times of India too has jumped into the picture, with a story that claims that the separation of Abdullah and his wife of 17 years, Payal, “can now be safely assumed to be official status”.

“…people Delhi Times spoke to confirmed the fact that the split had been coming for a while, most of them declined to comment on the speculation over the reason behind the split. They did, however, affirm that talk of Omar’s remarriage is on.

“In that context, there are two names doing the rounds – one, a friend of Omar, supposedly his choice (a highprofile mediaperson), and two, a choice preferred by his dad and his party, the sister of politician Nasir Aslam Wani. Wani, believed to be a confidante of the CM, is currently J&K’s minister of state for Home.”

Update 2 (15 September): Meanwhile, Omar Abdullah has responded to the speculation on his Twitter account, posting four messages within minutes of each other, and promising a “separate statement” shortly:

# “Have seen with dismay and anguish the growing tide of speculation in the media about my private life and the status of my marriage

#”While it’s true my wife and i have separated, speculation about the motives and my future actions are unfounded, untrue.

# “stories abt my remarriage are completely false, concocted. It’s a pity, while repeating these lies, no effort was made to ask me the truth

# “I appeal to the media to please allow me and my family privacy. Am sure you will appreciate that i have not let this affect my work

Photograph: Omar Abdullah with wife Payal and their children in happier times (courtesy The Telegraph)

Also read: NDTV reporter puts an ‘indecent proposal’ in print

Wall Street Journal denies minister sent reporter SMS

Everybody loves a good affair between celebrities

In love? Married? A threat to national security?

‘Don’t you have anything more serious to write about?

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