Posts Tagged ‘NDA’

How Congress regime stepped in to help Tehelka

13 April 2010

The Indian Express has got hold of 82 pieces of correspondence between prime minister Manmohan Singh and the president of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, after the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government came to power in May 2004, using the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

One of the first letters between the head of the government and the head of the party, published in today’s Express, deals with Tehelka, the trail-blazing e-zine, which was hounded out of operation by the previous BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) after its Operation Westend sting, before it morphed into a weekly magazine.

Read the entire article: Respected Soniaji

Image: courtesy The Indian Express

Also read: ‘Media is now part of the conspiracy of silence’

Tehelka promoters vindicated by official papers

The Tehelka man behind the biggest story of our times

Gandhian activism, fiery journalism & cocktails

How come nobody heard or saw the worm turn?

29 May 2009

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Hindsight, as the moronic aphorism goes, is always 20/20.

And we have been seeing plenty of hindsight dressed as foresight over the last fortnight following the announcement of the results of the general elections, which bucked the “anti-incumbency” cliche and put the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance back in power.

# Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta has said the politics of aspiration trumped the politics of grievance. CNN-IBN editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai writes that it is a vote for decency in public life. Outlook editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta sees it as a vote against hate and abuse.

# Journalists aligned to the BJP like Swapan Dasgupta have said the BJP failed to keep pace with the realities of a new India. The BJP spokesman Sudheendra Kulkarni has said stability won over change. Atanu Dey says the Congress managed the media better.

# Many analysts have seen in the surprise Congress win, a vote for youth. Political psychologist Ashis Nandy detects a vote against arrogance. The economist Bibek Debroy among others has attributed the Congress win to its social welfare programmes. Pratap Bhanu Mehta has said the era of votebank politics is over.

And so on and on.

And on and on.

The grim truth is that all this is post-facto rationalisation by media sages, policy wonks and psephologists, ever so wise, as so many of us usually are, after the event.

Like the blind men who felt the elephant, they touch different parts of the gargantuan electoral animal now that it has come to rest, and they feel different things.

The reality is nobody in our media—television, newspapers, magazines—and nobody at the top, bottom or middle, knew what was going on. And what we were being peddled for days and weeks was drivel as wisdom.

Why?

And how does this happen election after election?

In 2004, the media had “called the election” in favour of the BJP-led alliance and was acting as if “We, the People” should only go to the polling booths and fulfil their prophecy.

Well, “We, the People” decided to spring a surprise and put the Congress-led alliance in office.

In 2009, most media vehicles somewhat got the winning alliance right, but chastened perhaps by the 2004 experience, weren’t willing to stick their neck out beyond giving a wafer-thin margin for the UPA over the NDA.

In reality, the huge gap of over 100 seats between the victor and the vanquished; the surprise showing of the Congress in States like Uttar Pradesh where it had been written off; the number of first-time MPs belowed the age of 40 (58); the number of women elected (59), etc, shows that there is something truly, incredibly, unbelievably wrong in our mass media’s connect with the masses.

Of course, the term “media” is a loose, general one because there is no one, single media oeprating uniformly, homogenously in every part of the land. There are various shades to it, in various languages, in various forms, in various States and regions, etc. And then some more.

Still, how could almost all of them get so much so palpably wrong?

Did the tide turn in the favour of the Congress inside the secrecy of the voting booths preventing our esteemed men and women in the media from knowing what was happening?

Or was it building up slowly but we were too busy or distracted to notice?

If it was the latter, why?

Is there a disconnect between mass media and the masses? Is the undercurrent of democracy too difficult to be spotted? Or are our media houses and personnel not equipped with the equipment and wherewithal to detect these trends?

Given the poor presence and even poorer coverage of the mainstream media in the rural countryside, it is understandable that we were unable to get the rural countryside wrong.

Why, even the one English paper with a “rural affairs editor” was backing the wrong horse which, it turns out, wasn’t even in the race at all, all the while.

Little wonder, the electoral magic being ascribed to the National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) scheme and the farm loan waiver—moves which were dismissed as wasteful expenditure by the neoliberals in the “free market” media—went largely unnoticed.

But what about the urban pockets?

The powerhouses of our media pride themselves on being fiercely urban and urbane; serving the aspirations of the middle-class and the wannabes. Yet, the fact that so few of them could detect the ground shifting from underneath the urban, middle-class BJP’s feet shines an unkindly light.

The Congress and its allies (DMK, Trinamool, NCP) won all the metros—Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Madras—except Bangalore and Ahmedabad. Why, for example, was it difficult to detect the anger of the urban middle-classes against the BJP’s abuse of prime minister Manmohan Singh before counting day?

Or their thirst for fresh, young faces before they were elected and sworn in?

Certainly, the function of the media is not to serve as a soothsayer. It is not expected to tell us what will happen in the future. Nevertheless, it is expected to have a finger on the pulse. Two successive electoral failures suggest that we are consistently holding the wrong vein and coming to the wrong prognosis.

Indeed, on current record, we seem to be living in an echo chamber, hearing our own voices, and relaying it to the world as gospel truth. Or selling our space and airtime without batting an eyelid.

As a piece on the Satyam scandal on this site asked:

Is journalism that doesn’t shed light journalism?

Or puff?

Or PR?

Or Advertising?

Caveat emptor!

Also read: How come media not spot Satyam fraud?

Media owners, journalists holding democracy ransom

Tehelka promoters ‘vindicated’ by official papers

9 February 2009

First Global, the brokerage promoted by Shankar Sharma and Devina Mehra which had a 14.50 per cent stake in the webzine turned magazine Tehelka, has scored a major victory with official documents reportedly showing that the firm had been harassed by market regulators on trumped-up charges, after the then BJP-led government had been shamed by a Tehelka expose that caught the BJP president taking a cash bribe on camera.

According to a story in Business Standard, official documents obtained from the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) under the Right to Information (RTI) Act show that First Global had no “advance knowledge” of the stock market crash of March 2001 following the Tehelka story.

Titled “Operation Westend“, the investigation by journalists Aniruddha Bahal and Matthew Samuel resulted in the resignation of the then BJP chief Bangaru Laxman, defence minister George Fernandes, and plenty of egg on the BJP’s face.

But it also resulted in a massive witchhunt against the webzine and its promoters.

Documents obtained under RTI show that the brokerage—first Asian firm outside of Japan to become a member of the London Stock Exchange —had no role in hammering down the stock markets. In fact, it did not figure in the list of the top-50 sellers from mid-February to mid-March 2001.

But, because of its links to Tehelka, First Global was stripped off its registration; Shankar Sharma and his wife and partner Devina (a former Business India journalist) were arrested as they were about to board a flight to London (Shankar was arrested two more times); and hundreds of cases were lodged against the duo in an extraordinary act of political vendetta that eventually resulted in the closure of Tehelka online before its resurrection as an offline magazine.

First Global, which “paid more taxes than companies like Proctor & Gamble, Ranbaxy, and Titan“, was also forced to shut shop.

The assault on Tehelka resulting in its closure, was one of two standout cases of media harassment by the former BJP government, whose prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani was recently decorated by India’s leading English language broadcaster NDTV with a “lifetime achievement” award.

“Always in favour of anti-terrorism laws, he abolished Press Censorship and repealed anti-press legislation during his tenure in 1977-1979 as the I&B Minister,” read the citation. Advani is also credited for his Emergency era comment on the Indian press: “When you were only asked to bend, many of you chose to crawl.”

Photograph: courtesy rediff.com

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’

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