Posts Tagged ‘M.J. Akbar’

A businessman behind an iconic common man

6 February 2009

KPN photo

India’s greatest cartoonist, Rasipuram Krishnaswamy Laxman aka R.K. Laxman, inaugurates an exhibition of his work at the Indian Institute of Cartoonists in Bangalore on Friday.

Wheeling the legendary Times of India linesman, at right, is ‘Master’ Manjunath, the boy who played “Swami” in the television show Malgudi Days, based on Laxman’s brother, R.K. Narayan‘s famous work and directed by the late Shankar Nag. Behind Laxman is Ashok Kheny, the controversial businessman whose strange benevolence helped in the creation of the Indian Institute of Cartoonists.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: Making all of us smile can make one of us cry

M.J. Akbar: Look, who inspired R.K. Laxman’s common man!

The slow but sure death of editorial cartoonists

Pseudonymous author spells finis to Mint editor?

28 December 2008

avataraspxPRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Journalists at Mint, the business daily launched by the Hindustan Times group as “an unbiased and clear-minded chronicler of the Indian dream”, are in a state of shock after the dramatic weekend announcement of the resignation of its founding editor, Raju Narisetti (in picture), less than two years after its February 2007 launch.

For the record, the well-regarded Narisetti, 42, maintains there is nothing more to the move than what an internal HT memo stated last week: that it is part of a “leadership transition that is aimed at leading the next phase of Mint” (which has an ongoing editorial arrangement with The Wall Street Journal).

Rajiv Verma, the CEO of HT Media, which publishes Mint, and in whose name the HT internal memo went out, told the media website, exchange4media:

“Raju had come from the US and he has been here with us ever since the paper was announced in 2006. He now wants to move back. However, as Advisory Editorial Director, his association with HT Media would continue.”

Senior HT staffers too claim that Narisetti was on “exit mode” for a while now, and Ranganathan Sukumar had been named as his deputy some months ago with precisely this possibility in mind. (The buzz is Narisetti is headed back to The Wall Street Journal, where he worked in its pre-Rupert Murdoch days, serving as its editorial head in Europe.)

However, the suddenness of the announcement has set journalistic tongues wagging, and there are quite a few within and outside the organisation who believe the exit may have had something to do with the publication of an opinion page article 19 days ago, by a serving IAS officer writing under the pseudonym Athreya (an inference subsequently refuted by Raju Narisetti on 4 January 2009, and termed as “irresponsible…lies”.)

***

In the article “An open letter to the PM,” published on December 10, the pseudonymous IAS officer wrote, among other things:

# “Mr Prime Minister, you were selected, not elected by the people, for just one reason, that you posed no threat to anyone in the Congress party. You were not selected for your excellent PhD or for your integrity; not even for your competence as a civil servant. You were considered the least of all evils…”

# “[Y]our government has lost all credibility with the people, and the buck stops with you…. at least now, when India is under attack on its own soil, please act. And if you can’t act, please get out of the way and allow someone more effective to run the country.”

# “As PM, can you not sack or transfer your national security adviser, the Intelligence Bureau chief, the Coast Guard director general, the navy chief—can you or can you not get rid of your entire top brass and send a signal down the line?”

# “Are you telling us you don’t know that your telecom, environment and shipping ministries are the home of organized mafias looting the exchequer?”

Eight days later, the tone and tenor of the article clearly proved juicy enough for the BJP’s member of Parliament from Bangalore South, H.N. Ananth Kumar, to raise it in a Lok Sabha discussion on the economic slowdown to needle the government.

In response, the new Union home minister P. Chidambaram, went for the jugular:

“He (Kumar) cited an article allegedly written by an IAS officer. I have read the article. I do not know whether the name of that author given in that article is a true name or a pseudo name. I do not know whether he is an IAS officer.

“All I know is either he is a disloyal officer or a coward or both. If he had the courage, he should write the letter, sign in his own name and send it to the Prime Minister. But I hope they (BJP) do not encourage such officers; they did not encourage them when they were in power. So what is the point of citing a pseudonymous or anonymous author’s article taking shelter under it and running away when the reply is to be delivered?”

Mint, which has made its editorial integrity its USP, did not let matters rest there. The paper carried “An open clarification on an open letter” on December 22 with the declaration “Mint does not lie to its readers or knowingly mislead them. Period.”

And then Raju Narisetti himself joined issue the following day with an item on his Mint blog “A Romantic Realist”, with a piece entitled “On open letters and media ethics“.

The essence of the clarification and the blog post was identical. That while Mint‘s code of journalistic conduct doesn’t allow the use of “pseudonyms, composite characters or fictional names…” the said piece had been discussed internally and carried “because the author’s proposed article raised significant and valid questions to spur a national debate.”

Narisetti’s clarification and blog post didn’t stop at that. They reminded Chidambaram of the long tradition of anonymous articles, including a standout one, 71 years ago.

“In November 1937, the Modern Review, then India’s most well-regarded journal of opinion, published an article on Jawaharlal Nehru written by Chanakya, an obvious pseudonym. The author hit out at Nehru’s latent dictatorial tendencies and his “intolerance for others and a certain contempt for the weak and inefficient”. Its author warned: “Jawaharlal might fancy himself as a Caesar.” There were howls of protest from loyalists until it was revealed much later that Nehru himself was the author of this piece.”

Were all members of Parliament and bureaucrats who spoke anonymously to the media “disloyal” or “cowardly”, Narisetti asked.

As news of the resignation made the headlines over the weekend, reader Ganesh posted this comment to Narisetti’s blog post:

“It came as a shock to me that Mr Narisetti is leaving. But, we, Mint readers, need a proper explanation on why Mr Narisetti is leaving? Mint has done some good reporting on other media. Now it is a test for Mint to report on itself.”

Whether Mint will treat Narisetti’s resignation in the same professional way it has employed to report the rest of the media we will soon know.

The Hindustan Times, as a group, has had a number of editorial casualties at the top in the last few years. One editor (V.N. Narayanan) left after he plagiarised 1,240 words of his 1,400-word Sunday column from a Sunday Times, London, column. And one other editor is said to have had to leave because he took on a high government functionary, who has also been mentioned in the article by the pseudonymous IAS officer. The reasons behind the resignations have never been revealed to the reading public.

(An earlier version of this piece carried inferences which have been since excised following a belated clarification from Raju Narisetti.)

Photograph: courtesy LiveMint

Also read: Raju Narisetti: ‘5 reasons to be optimistic of Indian journalism’

M.J. Akbar: ‘Never let your head stoop as a journalist’

In fractured media, the word is the common fact

28 August 2008

M.J. Akbar in The Gazette, Montreal:

“Mass media take a superpower’s monologue into millions of homes. We think of mass media as a fractured range: oratory, print, radio, television, Internet. There is one common fact to this range, the word. The medium may be diverse but manipulation of the message is through the massage of words, and the disorientation between text and context. That is the key to mind-management.”

Read the full article: An axis of equals

Editor charges Indian Prime Minister of sabotage

30 June 2008

M.J. Akbar, who the grapevine says was ousted from the editorship of The Asian Age due to his staunch opposition to the Indo-US nuclear deal, goes for the jugular in his column in the Khaleej Times of Dubai:

“The Manmohan Singh government has been unable to bear the burden of an alliance with George W. Bush. The Congress encouraged the illusion, with the help of a cabal of analysts, publicists and lobbyists, that the Left was a lapdog rather than a watchdog, and could be either appeased by a bone or silenced with a stick. When the moment came to choose, the Congress stood with Bush instead of Prakash Karat.

“The official excuse for this decision is energy. But this is deception.

Dr Manmohan Singh deliberately sabotaged a much cheaper and more immediate source of energy for the country when he deliberately undermined the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, raising one false spectre after another to mislead the country, so that it would seem that there was no option but to go ahead with the Indo-US nuclear deal.

“We have forgotten now that the first objection he raised, three years ago, was that financing would be a problem.”

Read the full column: War and consequences

Also read: ‘Never let your head stoop as a journalist

‘Media can’t be in a state of permanent war’

‘Media can’t be in a state of permanent war’

26 April 2008

“There is nothing called ‘fiercely independent’ or ‘tamely independent’. You are either independent or you are not independent. I don’t believe in media as a crusade. I believe media is for disseminating truth. That’s our job. It’s not our job to go into a permanent war with somebody. I am not interested in a permanent war with anyone, and certainly not with my government.”

M.J. Akbar, former editor-in-chief of The Asian Age, in an interview with Mehre Alam of Khaleej Times

Read the full interview here: ‘It’s not for media to crusade’

Also read: ‘Never let your head stoop as a journalist’

Rest in peace: Jyoti Sanyal

14 April 2008

Sans Serif records with regret the passing away of editor, teacher, writer and language terrorist, Jyoti Sanyal, in Calcutta on Saturday, 12 April 2008.

A former assistant editor with The Statesman, whose stylebook he wrote, Sanyal spent 30 years in the Calcutta newspaper, where he gained a well-earned reputation, in his own words, of being “hot-headed, choleric and impatient.”

As the paper’s editor Ravindra Kumar writes:

“Mercurial and acerbic, Jyoti favoured a personal style that rubbed many people the wrong way. It wasn’t enough to correct someone who, in his view, was talking nonsense; he did so with a raised eyebrow and a sneer that was intended to leave his victim in tatters.”

Over the last decade, he left a lasting imprint on the minds of hundreds of journalism students and student journalists. In 1997, he played a key role in the setting up of the Asian College of Journalism in Bangalore, of which he became dean. He later set up the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media, also in Bangalore.

In recent times, Sanyal had made it his life’s mission to encourage people “to use good contemporary English instead of Raj-day commercialese”. In 2006, he wrote Indlish, a 418-page book on the hotpotch of languages, expressions, meaningless fads “we, 80 millions” like to think is English.

Read the Mid Day obituary here: Enemy of the cliche

The Statesman tribute: A man of style, and great substance

Interview: David Juman in conversation

Tribute: Viju Hegde on her teacher

Visit Jyoti Sanyal’s blog: Plainly Speaking

Photograph: Sanyal (middle) with two titans of Indian journalism, M.J. Akbar (left) and T.J.S. George (courtesy Mid Day)

‘It’s all about irreverence, not subservience’

21 March 2008

Indian journalist Seema Mustafa on the genesis of her opposition to the India-US nuclear deal, which some speculate could have contributed to M.J. Akbar being eased out of his position as editor of The Asian Age:

“It had to do with a certain commitment with which I joined the profession—a belief that journalism was powerful enough to change the world.

“I was fortunate in working with the greatest editors in Indian journalism, who not just added to this conviction, but also taught me that a good journalist was not one who made his or her peace with the establishment (as that is very easy and very comforting), but who questioned policy and wrote about the pitfalls.

“Journalism, they said, was all about irreverence, and had nothing to do with subservience.”

Excerpted from a column by Seema Mustafa in India Abroad

Khushwant Singh on his last day at the Weekly

16 March 2008

The dirty old man of Indian journalism, Khushwant Singh, has used the occasion provided by M.J. Akbar‘s unceremonious exit from The Asian Age to describe his own departure from The Illustrated Weekly of India in the latest issue of Outlook:

“The journal, like all others published by Bennett Coleman, including The Times of India, had been restored by the government to the Jain family. As soon as they took over, they started meddling in my business. My contract was terminated and my successor appointed. I had one week to go. I wrote a tearful piece of farewell, wishing the Illustrated Weekly future prosperity. It was never published. When I arrived at the office in the morning to tidy up my desk, I was handed a letter asking me to quit immediately. I picked up my umbrella and walked back home.

“It was an undeserved, deliberate insult. It still rankles in my mind. The Jain vendetta continues to this day. Even functions held in my honour presided over by people like Amitabh Bachchan, Maharani Gayatri Devi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while reported in the Times of India, never carry my name or photograph. That is how small-minded people with pots of money and power can be.”

Read the full article: F*** all editors

Look, who inspired R.K. Laxman’s Common Man!

25 February 2008

As India gets ready for its annual budget exercise, amid hints of its likely to be a populist one on the eve of a general election, M.J. Akbar, editor-in-chief of The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle, writes in the Khaleej Times:

“The Common Man is getting a budget; does the Common Man have a face? Actually, yes. That brilliant Times of India cartoonist, R.K. Laxman, has given us the emblematic face of the Common Man. I chanced upon a Laxman original of Mahatma Gandhi in a friend’s office, and it struck me that Laxman’s Common Man, who has appeared for decades on the front page of the Times, is a variation of Gandhi. Gandhi redefined India and Indian nationalism, took it away from the grasp of elites and handed it over to the Common Man for safekeeping. Six decades after his death, the Common Man is getting one budget out of five. I suppose the Common Man should be grateful for small mercies.”

Photograph: courtesy The Tribune, Chandigarh

Update/ the full article: Queue and collect

Also read: Making all of us smile can make one of us cry

Will this man be the next US Secretary of State?

25 April 2007

When Indian journalists like M.J. Akbar, Arun Shourie, Chandan Mitra, Sudheendra Kulkarni et al cosy up to politicians, tout a particular ideological line, stand for elections, grab non-journalistic posts, negotiate deals, etc, we look at them with a slight degree of circumspection.

Are they, you wonder, misusing their editorial positions and platforms to advance a personal, political end?

But no such critical examination seems to be in store for Fareed Zakaria, the Indian-born editor of Newsweek International, who is once again being spoken of as a probable candidate for the post of Secretary of State in the next US administration.

The subject came up four years ago when New York magazine profiled him in a piece entitled “Man of the World.” A writer for New York erroneously quoted Zakaria as saying his friends thought he was going to be secretary of state someday. (In fact, it was the writer saying that.)

The ghee-whiz, awshucks possibility of an Indian holding the high office continues unabated four years later.

In an interview to Jon Friedman of Marketwatch, Zakaria, 43—son of the late scholar-politician Rafiq Zakaria and Illustrated Weekly journalist Fatma Zakaria—says speculation about his occupying a cabinet post is “one of the strange burdens” of having such a prestigious reputation.

“I’m flattered, I suppose. But I’m not a ‘party man,’ and you usually have to demonstrate that kind of loyalty to be chosen for government office.”

I asked him bluntly if he would go to Washington. “I won’t be coy with you. I’ll give you an honest answer,” he began. “I’d always be intrigued. But again, it’s unlikely and I’ll die happily if I never have a White House pass.”

Ultimately, Zakaria said: “If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t bet on this.”

Read the full article here: “President Obama? Meet Secretary Zakaria”

Photograph by Sigrid Estrada

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