Posts Tagged ‘mamohan singh’

Manmohan, Washington Post & The Caravan

6 September 2012

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The Washington Post article on prime minister Manmohan Singh, by its India bureau chief Simon Denyer, has stirred up yet another media tsunami, after Time magazine’s “Underachiever” cover.

The government’s media handlers have gone into a tailspin, demanding an “apology” from the Post, even labelling it “yellow journalism”, while the government’s detractors are celebrating another ‘new low’ for a government that plumbs new depths on an hourly basis.

The 9pm TV shows went ballistic on Wednesday and Simon Denyer appeared on several of them, forcefully arguing his case.

But there is a developing sideshow as well. Many readers have suggested some similarities in the Post report with a long profile of Manmohan in the monthly magazine The Caravan in October 2011 written by the magazine’s editor, Vinod K. Jose.

Now, one of the people “quoted” in the story, former media advisor to the PM, Sanjaya Baru, has “protested” on his Facebook account (below) that the WaPo reporter had lifted his statement from Caravan.

“Simon Denyer quotes me in WashPo without talking to me. He has merely rehashed what I told Caravan last year,” wrote Baru.

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The prime minister’s media advisor Pankaj Pachauri too has broached the issue of rehashing Baru’s quotes in a letter to the Post.

Simon Denyer offers this response on Twitter (top):

“I spoke to Dr Baru personally on the telephone during the reporting for the story. He confirmed that these sentiments were accurate.”

One other worthy quoted in the WaPo article apparently allowed the reporter to use his Caravan quotes, but there is no suggestion in the Post article that the quotes had appeared elsewhere.

So, are the Indian intellectuals protesting too much, post-facto?

Or, is there more to the WaPo piece than meets the eye?

***

EXHIBIT A

The Caravan: The prominent historian Ramachandra Guha, who has described the current administration as “inept and incompetent beyond words”, told me that he now regards Singh “increasingly as a tragic figure”.

“He’s intelligent, upright, and possesses all this vast experience of working in the government for over four decades,” Guha said. “But the timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty will make him a tragic figure in our history.”

Washington Post: “More and more, he has become a tragic figure in our history,” said political historian Ramachandra Guha, describing a man fatally handicapped by his “timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty.”

***
EXHIBIT B

The Caravan: “He is facing the worst situation in his life,” said Sanjaya Baru, a business journalist who served as Singh’s media adviser from 2004 to 2008. “In politics, it’s alright to be loved or hated, but you should never be ridiculed. And his problem today is that he has become an object of ridicule.”

Washington Post: “In the process, he transformed himself from an object of respect to one of ridicule and endured the worst period in his life, said Sanjaya Baru, Singh’s media adviser during his first term.”

***

EXHIBIT C

The Caravan: “In a 2006 interview with the American talk-show host Charlie Rose, Manmohan Singh described himself, with ostentatious modesty, as a small person put in this big chair.”

Washington Post: “I’m a small person put in this big chair,” Singh told broadcaster Charlie Rose in 2006. “I have to do my duty, whatever task is allotted of me.”

So, lazy journalism, oversight, or is OK?

***

Update: The Washington Post has posted this correction after the sans serif piece:

Correction: An earlier version of this article failed to credit the Caravan, an Indian magazine, for two statements that it originally published in 2011. The assertion by Sanjaya Baru, a former media adviser, that Singh had become an object of ridicule and endured the worst period in his life first appeared in the Caravan, as did an assertion by Ramachandra Guha, a political historian, that Singh was handicapped by his “timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty.” While both men told The Post that the assertions could accurately be attributed to them, the article should have credited the Caravan when it used or paraphrased the remarks. The article has been updated.

Also read: Is slamming govt “yellow journalism”?

External reading: Why is India so touchy?

Why the PM is hopelessly wrong about media

19 February 2011

T.J.S. GEORGE writes: Does the media distort facts? The Prime Minister thinks so. By “focussing excessively” on scam after scam, does the media spoil India’s image? The Prime Minister thinks so. For the leader of a government that is neck-deep in scams, it is natural to think as the Prime Minister does. But that does not make it right. In fact the Prime Minister is hopelessly wrong.

Manmohan Singh was in conversation with television editors. A great deal can be said in criticism of news channels. Generally speaking, they are amateurish, childish in their “me first” claims, irritating in their competitive sensationalism, more irritating in their loudness, superficial, repetitive and often plain unprofessional. But, like newspapers, they are essentially mirrors.

News journalism may have its weaknesses, but functionally it merely reflects the reality around it. It does not generate governmental corruption, it only reports it. If scams demoralise the nation and spoil the image of the country, the blame lies squarely with politicians and officials and fixers who produce the scams and benefit from them. The Prime Minister must attack the scamsters, not the mirrors.

Actually, the media is doing an incomparably valuable national service by bringing corruption to public attention. After all, if the media had resolved not to do anything that would “spoil India’s image,” what would have happened? The shame of India would have spread anyway as the world would have known that India was a country where a roll of toilet paper could be sold for Rs 4000, and where decisions on spectrum allocations were made in Chennai’s Gopalpuram area, and where there were billionaires with more illegal funds in Swiss banks than billionaires in the top five countries put together. It is the people of India who would have remained in the dark about the extent of their rulers’ criminalities.

Worse, India would have sunk deeper and deeper into corruption since the corrupt would have been emboldened by the fact that they would never be exposed. The media, for all its excesses, has put the fear of god into the hearts of the criminally inclined politician, bureaucrat and “crony capitalist”. That even their private conversations may someday become public property is one of the best disincentives we have against corruption. The Prime Minister would have been smart to acknowledge this instead of suggesting that the media was negative in its attitude.

It is true that the media also has developed a taste for corruption. It has a long way to go before it can be called mature and creative. But even in its present three-fourth-baked state, it performs the function of a conscientious opposition. Without the media playing this role, Indian democracy would lose much of its substance especially since the formal opposition in Parliament is playing a petty obstructionist’s role.

Both in Delhi and in the various states, the Opposition’s role is to oppose – oppose for the sake of opposing. If the Government says the sun rises in the West, the Opposition will say: No, it rises in the North. In no other democracy is Parliament’s functioning completely blocked as a form of Opposition politics. Even on urgently needed social and electoral reforms, they never show the unanimity they readily bring out when their salary increase bills come up for passing. When corruption cases come up, different parties take different positions as all are entrenched in corruption in different ways.

In such an environment the media becomes the only reliable forum for actionable information and democratic mobilisation. Even those who get the wrong end of the stick really have no reason to grumble.

As Ram Mohan Roy explained:

“A government conscious of rectitude of intention cannot be afraid of public scrutiny by the Press since this instrument can be equally well employed as a weapon of defence”.

Those who are beyond defence cannot of course use the weapon. But Manmohan Singh should have known that the real scoundrels who spoil India’s image are outside the media.

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