Posts Tagged ‘New Delhi Television’

Should the media be honouring politicians?

8 February 2009

Should a designated prime ministerial candidate of a mainstream political party be chosen and given an award by a television channel which might have to cover him if and when he takes charge? Should the candidate so eagerly accept such a public honour?

The candidate is L.K. Advani of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the channel is New Delhi Television (NDTV). On 20 January 2009, in the midst of its annual awards ritual, Prannoy Roy‘s channel called Advani on stage and handed him the “Lifetime Achievement Award”.

According to a news item put up on Advani’s website, the NDTV citation read:

“He (L.K. Advani) is a grassroot (sic) leader and is credited with having made the BJP a formidable force in Indian politics, through clarity of vision, precise statements and an astute sense of timing. Always in favour of anti-terrorism laws, he abolished Press Censorship and repealed anti-press legislation during his tenure in 1977-1979 as the I&B Minister. BJP has named him as a Prime Ministerial candidate for the party and the National Democratic Alliance for the 2009 general elections.”

There were two surprising things about this:

1) Advani was being given an award from an English language television station that he and others of his ilk have firmly cast in the “pseudo-secular” mould, a cynical portmanteau that is Advani’s sad and singular contribution to the English language.

2) The jury comprising, besides Roy, Anu Aga, executive chairperson, Thermax group; Fali S. Nariman, senior advocate, Supreme Court; William Dalrymple, historian and writer; Harsha Bhogle, cricket commentator; Rahul Bajaj, businessman; Shashi Tharoor, former UN official, were reportedly not aware that such an award was being bestowed on Advani.

There is a third element that is even more unsettling: the unwholesome sight of a major journalism outlet handing out a “lifetime achievment award” by talking of his pro-media stand 33 years ago, while ignoring his more recent “contributions” to Indian society.

The media website, The Hoot, run by Sevanti Ninan, wife of Business Standard editor T.N. Ninan, has picked holes in the ethics behind the handout.

“What exactly, some of us want to ask, have been Advani’s  contributions to Indian politics which deserve an award? Setting in motion the events that led to the destruction of the Babri masjid?  And contributed  to a heightened  communalising of the Indian polity?

“An award coming from a channel that helped to expose the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat which took place under the watch of a BJP government? The party Advani is leading into the elections this year? A channel that doubtless sees itself as a champion of secularism?”

The seven-member jury, according to The Hoot, had not voted to give Advani an award on awards’ night.

It was also not made clear to the audience at the NDTV awards’ function or the audience viewing the spectacle back home that the jury had no role in choosing Advani for a lifetime of achievements.

Indeed, two members of the jury wrote to Roy on the issue, with one of them reportedly saying “he would not want to be associated with any award which gave prizes to communal hatemongers”.

(At least one member of the jury, Anu Aga, is known for having confronted Advani’s protege, Narendra Modi, with the situation prevailing in the relief camps set up in the state for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat pogrom.)

Roy reportedly clarified that it has been “normal practice every eyar for NDTV to reserve the right for its editors to select and present one or more non-jury awards.”

***

Just who NDTV’s editors picked in previous years is uncertain, but one of the strongest criticisms for this year’s choice has come from Siddharth Varadarajan, the strategic affairs editor of The Hindu.

On his blog, Varadarajan writes:

“After all, Advani was widely acknowledged as being one of India’s worst Home ministers when he held the job between 1998 and 2004. And he’s no great shakes in his current avatar as Leader of the Opposition either.”

Varadarajan then goes on to make a “brief list” of Advani’s “achievements” during just 11 years of his life, starting 1992, a period NDTV clearly ignored in its citation, while waxing eloquent on his “anti-terror” stance:

1. Demolition of Babri Masjid (contribution to conspiracy thereof), 1992
2. Hijacking of IC 814 and release of deadly terrorists like Masood Azhar, 1999
3. Massacre of Sikhs by terrorists at Chittisinghpora, 2000
4. Massacre of Kashmiri Pandits at Nadimarg, March 2003
5. First-ever terrorist attack on Amarnath yatris, 1999
6. Terrorist attack on Parliament, December 2001
7. Godhra and the Gujarat massacre of Muslims, 2002
8. Terrorist attack on Akshardham and Raghunath temples in 2002
9. Harassment of media from Tehelka to Iftikhar Gilani
10. Failure to take any decision on dozens of death row mercy petitions pending before him from 1998 to 2004 and now demanding the Congress government move swiftly on the mercy petition of Afzal.

So,does L.K. Advani really deserve a “lifetime achievement” award? Should a media organisation be giving an award to a potential prime minister it might have to cover? Should a potential prime minister be so over-eager to receive it?

Adapted from a longer article on churumuri.com

Also read: ‘The man who sowed the dragon seeds of hatred’

‘Weak Manmohan, yes, but what about Advani?’

CHURUMURI POLL: Is L.K. Advani lying on IC-814?

NDTV: ‘Navy chief’s comment defamatory’

8 December 2008

New Delhi Television (NDTV) has issued a formal statement on the criticism of the channel for its coverage of the Novemebr 26 attack on Bombay, in particular the old charge dredged up by the chief of the navy staff, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, of the channel endangering lives in Kargil by asking a military officer to trigger a Bofors gun for its cameras:

“Some media reports have alleged that television channels compromised operations during the terror attack in Bombay, in particular, by telecasting the air-dropping of commandos at Nariman House.

“We would like to assert, that this operation was NOT telecast live on any of NDTV’s channels. We telecast images 45 minutes after the operation had begun on NDTV 24×7, and with a 25-minute delay on NDTV India.

“Similarly, NDTV would like to state that security cordons were determined by officials on site, and not by the media and these were respected at all times.

“As an admirer and supporter of our armed forces, NDTV would never, knowingly or unknowingly, put the lives of our soldiers at risk. In this context, there has also been an allegation that NDTV coverage during the Kargil conflict involved asking a Colonel to trigger a Bofors gun for the camera.

“NDTV wants to emphatically state that the allegation is a falsehood and no such incident ever occurred. It would be extraordinary to even presume that a senior army officer would commit such an act in a conflict situation at the behest of the media!

“There is an official acknowledgment of this motivated falsehood from those who supervised the 1999 conflict. NDTV has formally complained about and asked for an immediate retraction of comments that we believe amount to defamation.”

Also read: ‘The media is not the message. The viewer is king.’

‘The media is not the message. Viewer is king’

4 December 2008

The aftermath of the terror attack on Bombay has seen the tiresome game of shoot-the-messenger being played with great glee by news consumers who were lapping up the non-stop coverage only hours earlier.

Questions have been raised over the media compromising the safety of commandos by getting too close to the action or giving out too many details, intruding into the grief of victims and relatives by thrusting cameras into their faces, etc.

The chief of the Indian Navy, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, facing flak for not reacting to intelligence warnings that warned of the Bombay attack, has gone to the extent of threatening to “chop the heads off” two reporters who aired an embargoed interview ahead of schedule.

Barkha Dutt, the group editor (English news) of India’s premier English news channel, New Delhi Television (NDTV), has in particular come in for a vicious attack. On Facebook, a group called “Can U please take Barkha off air?” has attracted over 2,500 5,149 members.

Dutt has offered a stout and much-needed defence of the media coverage on the NDTV website, reproduced here in full without permission.

***

By BARKHA DUTT

Sixty hours of live television at the best of times is impossibly difficult. But when it involves an ongoing and precarious terrorist operation and a potential danger to the lives of hundreds of people, it throws up challenges of the kind that none of us have ever dealt with before.

Even those of us who have reported for years, on conflict, war and counter insurgency weren’t prepared for what we encountered in Bombay: an audacious attack on a city that was more in the nature of an invasion of India, than terrorism in any form, that we have known before.

As India debates where to go from here and whether a “war on terror” is the borrowed slogan that should define our response, I notice there is a different sort of civil war brewing; one that places us in the media on the other side of the enemy line.

For every Mumbaikar who believes we did the best we could in very trying circumstances—and we have received thousands and thousands of such messages—there are some others who are now questioning our ethics, our integrity and our professionalism.

On the streets of Bombay, I only met people who thanked us for providing a larger sense of community to a city seething with rage and grief. But as I fly back to Delhi, I am told that “hate” groups are trying to compete with “fan” communities on social networking sites like Facebook and Orkut.

The Internet apparently is buzzing with vitriol and we, in the media in general, and sometimes, me in particular, are being targeted with a venom that is startling.

I understand that India is angry, nerves are frazzled and emotions heightened.

Even so, many of the charges are not just offensive, malicious and entirely untrue; they are a convenient transference of responsibility.

This is not to say, that we made no mistakes—I am sure we inadvertently made a few—as did every department of government, when faced with a situation that India has never dealt with before. But to park concocted and slanderous charges at our door is simply unacceptable, grossly unfair and saddening.

I would also like to stress though that this eruption of allegations is only one small part of a larger picture. In the past week, we have also received countless words of support and encouragement—from thousands of people—Indian citizens of every hue and ilk across the country, as well as some better known ones, like Narayana Murthy, Salman Rushdie, Shashi Tharoor, Sunil Khilnani and Suketu Mehta, to name just a few.

When asked in an interview on NDTV, what struck him watching the events unfold on television, Narayana Murthy, said it was the “finest piece of TV journalism in a decade.”

But in journalism, we know that, praise and criticism are twins that travel together. And we welcome both and try and listen to both carefully.

So, for those who wrote in to tell us that we got it right, Thank You so much. Your words encourage us.

But for those who charged us with crimes we absolutely assert we have not committed, here is our response. Some of it is answer to general questions about the media and some to specific charges made against our organization.

1. Please do note that at all times, the media respected the security cordon—a cordon that was determined by the police and officials on site—and NOT by the media.

If, as is now being suggested, the assessment is that the media was allowed too close to the operations, here is what we say: we would have been happy to stand at a distance much further away from the encounter sites, had anyone, anyone at all, asked us to move.

In the 72 hours that we stood on reporting duty, not once were we asked to move further away. We often delayed live telecasting of images that we thought were sensitive so as to not compromise the ongoing operation. Not once, were we asked by anyone in authority, to switch our cameras off, or withhold images. When we did so, it was entirely our own assessment that perhaps it was safest to do so.

Across the world, and as happened in the US after 9/11, there are daily, centralized briefings by officials to avoid any inadvertent confusion that media coverage may throw up. Not so in Bombay. There was no central point of contact or information for journalists who were often left to their own devices to hunt down news that they felt had to be conveyed to their country.

No dos and don’ts were provided by officials.

While we understand that this situation was new for everyone involved, and so the government could not have been expected to have a full plan for media coverage, surely the same latitude should be shown to us? The NSG chief even thanked the media for our consistent co-operation. Later the NSG commandos personally thanked me for showcasing their need for a dedicated aircraft—which they shockingly did not have—they have now been given there after NDTV’s special report was aired.

We have only the greatest respect and admiration for our armed forces, and throughout the coverage repeatedly underlined how they are our greatest heroes. But we were taken aback to hear the Navy Chief, branding us as a “disabling force,” for reporting on an ongoing operation.

If that is the case, why were his own officers briefing us on camera, bang in the middle of an ongoing operation and that too when they only had a few rushed moments at the site of encounters? Before the encounter was over at either the Taj or the Oberoi, his marine commandos even held a hastily called press conference that was telecast live, with their permission, across channels.

If we were indeed the obstacle, or the “disabling force” why did they have time for us in the middle of an operation?

While shooting the messenger is convenient , the government also needs to introspect and determine whether it has an information dissemination system in place that is geared for such crises. Blanking out channels—as was done for a few hours—may not be the ideal solution. It only leads to more rumour mongering, panic and falsehoods spreading in already uncertain situation.

2. Why did we interview waiting relatives who staked out at the hotels as they waited for news on their families and friends? Quite simply, because they WANTED to talk.

Allegations that I or any of my colleagues across the industry shoved a microphone in the faces of any waiting relative, are untrue in the extreme. Television, for many of these people, became a medium to express pain, grief, anger and hope.

Sometimes, they expressed the desire to speak, because as they said, they just wanted to feel like they were doing something, instead of sitting by on the pavement for endless, countless hours. Many did not want to speak or be filmed, and they were neither pressured nor asked. Many personally asked me for my telephone number, and got in touch, requesting whether they could come on our shows and make their appeals.

And besides, wasn’t the issue at hand as much about their potential loss and anxieties, as it was about an ongoing gunbattle? Wasn’t it important to touch upon the human dimension and not just the military one? I believe strongly that it was.

Capturing suffering on live television is a delicate issue that needs the utmost sensitivity. We believed we showed that sensitivity, by not thrusting microphones in people’s faces, by respecting privacy if people asked for identities or images to be withheld, by never showing a ghoulish close-up of a body, and by respecting the limits set by the people themselves. Those limits were different for different people and had to be adapted to subjectively.

But every interview of a relative that was aired on any of my shows, was done so with the full consent and participation of the people speaking. If they wanted to share their story, vent, give an outlet for their grief or just make an appeal for peace—and the emotions varied—-how can other people out there determine that they should not be speaking? But to say that we had no business talking to families is an entirely naive and misplaced criticism. They chose to talk. In every case, it was their choice to share and to speak. And their voices were in fact the real tragedy and needed to be heard and told.

Similarly, when the rescued hostages first emerged from the hotels many of them WANTED to speak because they wanted to let their families know they were safe. The unfortunate absence of a cordon created an avoidable crowding in of journalists. But every rescued hostage who appeared on any of our shows did so entirely voluntarily.

Every participant on We the People, including Shameem, a man who lost six members of his family at the CST railway station was there because they wanted to share their tragedy or miraculous escape or trauma in a wider community. Shameem, who said he did not have money to bury his dead, has since been offered help and rehabilitation by our viewers. In that moment, television provided a wider sense of community, when no one else had the time of wherewithal to talk to the waiting relatives.

3. Could we have been more aware of the suffering and tragedy of those killed in the first few hours at the CST railway station and not got singularly focused on the two hotels? On this one point, I would concede that perhaps, this was a balance we lost and needed to redress earlier on during the coverage.

But, mostly our attention was on the hotels, because they were the sites of the live encounters, and not because of some deliberate socio-economic prejudice. Still, when many emails poured in on how important it was to correct this imbalance, most of us, stood up, took notice, and tried to make amends for an unwitting lack of balance in air time.

4. Should there be an emergency code of dos and don’ts for the coverage of such crises? We in the media would welcome a framework for sensitive events and are happy to contribute to its construction.

But it is important to understand that in the absence of any instructions on site and in the absence of any such framework we broke NO rules.

Both the NSG chief and the special secretary untrue took place and we have an official aknowledgment of that, including from then Army Chief V.P Malik. I would urge Admiral Sureesh Mehta to read General V.P Malik’s book on Kargil for further clarity. General Malik was the Army Chief during the operations and puts to rest any such controversy in his book.

In a formal letter, NDTV has also asked for an immediate retraction from the Navy and officially complained that the comments amount to defamation. Several writers have already pointed out how the Navy Chief has got his facts wrong. (DNA, Indian Express, Vir Sanghvi in The Hindustan Times, Sankarshan Thakur in The Telegraph). This, incidentally, was the same press conference where the Admiral threatened literally to “chop the heads off” of two other reporters who aired his interview ahead of schedule.

I believe that criticism is what helps us evolve and reinvent ourselves. But when malice and rumour are regarded as feedback, there can be no constructive dialogue.

Viewing preferences are highly subjective and always deeply personal choices, and the most fitting rejection of someone who doesn’t appeal to your aesthetics of intelligence, is simply to flick the channel and watch someone else.

The viewer, to that extent, is king.

But, when, comments begin targeting character, morality and integrity of individuals and the commentary becomes more about the individual, than the issue, then frankly, the anger is just destructive and little else.

More than anything else, it is tragic that at this time, we are expressing ourselves in this fashion. Surely, India has bigger lessons to learn and larger points to mull over, than to expend energy over which television journalist tops the charts or falls to the bottom.

The viewer has his own way, of settling such matters.

And the last word belongs to him.

Behind a very successful face there is a woman

26 November 2008

Prannoy Roy‘s NDTV (New Delhi Television) turned 20 years old yesterday, and the channel’s best known face used the occasion to pay a rich and heart-warming tribute to its least known one: co-founder and life partner, Radhika Roy, with a clip from The World This Week, which made its debut as a half-hour show on November 25, 1988, on India’s national broadcaster, Doordarshan.

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