Posts Tagged ‘Pritam Sengupta’

‘Shekhar Gupta has done a fantastic job at IE’

9 July 2013

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A new son rises in the west. Anant Goenka, the scion of the Indian Express (Bombay) group of Viveck Goenka, and the grandson of Ramnath Goenka, has given an interview to the Mint on the digital future he has envisioned for the paper.

The 27-year-old talks about his father’s superstitions, about growing up in a house in Nariman Point with a press in the basement, of the ravages caused to what was once India’s largest newspaper group by the split in the family in the mid-1990s—and of the fine job done by its current editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta in restoring some of its lost lustre.

When did you realize you were interested in the newspaper business?

I always loved it. There are photographs of Ramnath-ji taking me to the press at a very young age. The press was in my house, it was in the basement of the Express Towers (in Mumbai), so every night I would always take a walk down with dad or mom.

I’ve always had a lot of love, passion and affection for Express because of the kind of stories that you hear about it, kind of change it’s made with the Emergency stories. It’s too inspiring to be able to walk away from. It’s always been something that I wanted to do….

What kind of relationship do you share with the editor?

I think Shekhar (Gupta) has done a fantastic job with Express.

If you look at the last 13 years, we have had some really rough patches. I think ever since the family fight, and ever since Express was split three ways, it really cost the group. Real estate, what is worth about a billion dollars now, went to Ramnathj-ji’s daughter-in-law, Saroj Goenka. Manoj Kumar Sonthalia, my uncle, got The Indian Express in the south.

We had to let go of Express Towers in Noida. In Delhi, we have been very unlucky. We pay market rent on this building (Express Building on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg) to Saroj Goenka, dadiji as I call her.

The position that we have today is something that has worked but it also worked because of Shekhar’s complete editorial independence. And he has ruthlessly cut costs. We have come down from 4,000 to 2,400 people.

Photograph: Pritam Sengupta

Read the full interview: Anant Goenka

Also read: The Express journo who broke the chopper scam

RSS chief Bhagwat ‘notice’ to news TV channels

6 February 2013

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PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: The prickly republic has been pricked again.

Rajiv Tuli, a “citizen of Bharat” residing in west Delhi and a follower of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has sent off a “notice” to eight national TV news channels for broadcasting “potentially defamatory content” on the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat earlier this year.

After the Delhi gangrape victim’s death, Bhagwat had first been quoted as saying that rapes took place in India, not Bharat. Then, on January 6, he was quoted by TV stations as saying that marriage was sacrosanct; not a contract which could be revoked or severed at any time.

It is on the latter, during which Bhagwat was also reported to have said “Women should be housewives, men should be breadwinners,” that Tuli, a lawyer, has accused TV news channels of “false, erroneous and malicious reporting ” as a result of which his client had to face a “hellish” situation.

It is not known if newspapers which ran Bhagwat’s quote have heard from Shri Tuli.

The operative paragraphs of Tuli’s notice reads:

Your channel was conscious of the power and impact of the audio-visual medium and the phenomenal reach of their news channels, and to cause incalculable harm your channel has reported as if the Sangh pramukh has said “Women should be housewives, men should be breadwinners”, for Bharatiya marriage, which he never said as is evident from full speech delivered on 6 January 2013, at Indore.

“RSS respects every woman as equal to other and marriage as a sacrament and a permanent bond. You have mischievously twisted the facts and the news reports are not only distorted but are highly defamatory. This is a deliberate attempt to lower the image of the Swayamsevak in public.

“By virtue of this broadcast, you have not ensured impartiality and objectivity in reporting or neutrality. It has occurred to arouse passions to endanger the national security and tranquillity. The ethics and broadcasting standards have been violated by you and the reporting has been done unfairly to tarnish the image of the swayamsevaks and RSS….

“When you comment on a person’s views you ought to project it in the totality of the entire gamut of ideas presented by the speaker. On the contrary your conduct has been one of gross irresponsibility and misuse of the freedom of the press and you have let loose an attack on Mohanji Bhagwat who is held in high esteem by crores of Bharatiyas.

“You did it with the ulterior motive to tarnish the image of the RSS and crores of swayamsevaks in and out of Bharat.

“Your conduct is intentional, motivated, and with view to scandalise and malign the person and the organisation. You mischievously and maliciously, broadcast a false, distorted version of the speech and rushed to insensible conclusions and let loose through your channel reaching the general populace of the country and the world at large.

“You are fully aware that law laid down by the hon’ble Supreme Court is binding under Article 141 of the Constitution. In the case of S. Khushboo vs Kanniammal reported in AIR 2010 SC 3196 the Hon’ble Supreme Court reflected as under…

“It is therefore not only desirable but imperative that electronic and news media should also pay a positive role in presenting to general public as to what actually transpires during the course of hearing and it should not be published in such a manner so as to get unnecessary publicity of its own paper or news channel. Such a tendency should be stopped as without knowing the reference in context of which questions were put forth by the Court, the same were misquoted which raised unnecessary hue and cry.”

The notice contends that the news channels, without due care and attention, had caused “grave injury to the reputation of my client as also the reputation of all other swayamsevaks”.

“After the dissemination of your highly false, distorted and malicious news, my client had to face a “hellish” situation”. He was put to shame and embarrassment even at the hands of his friends and persons acquainted with him….

“Therefore, you are called upon to broadcast a sincere apology on your channel several times prominently, for such mischievous, scandalous and defamatory content… and further take action against the person(s) responsible for unfair, unethical broadcasting.”

In recent months, a number of politicians have taken legal sometimes against other politicians (Nitin Gadkari vs Digvijay singh, or Smriti Irani vs Sanjay Nirupam) but mostly against media (Salman Khurshid vs Aaj Tak, Mukesh Ambani vs everybody)

Also read: Mukesh Ambani ‘sues’ TV channels on Kejriwal

Arvind Kejriwal taunts Mukesh Ambani on TV ‘sue’ threat

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?

Will RIL-TV18-ETV deal win SEBI, CCI approval?

9 January 2012

PRITAM SENGUPTA in New Delhi and KEERTHI PRATIPATI in Hyderabad write: Media criticism in India, especially in the so-called mainstream media, has never been much to write home about.

Operating on the principle that writing on another media house or media professional means exposing yourself to the same danger in the future, proprietors, promoters and editors—most of whom have plenty to hide—are wary of taking on their colleagues, competitors and compatriots.

That risk-averse attitude amounting to a mutually agreed ceasefire pretty much explains why the biggest media deal of the decade—Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) funding Network 18/ TV 18 group to pick up ETV—has been reported with about as much excitement as a weather report.

That the newspaper which issues P. Sainath‘s monthly cheque, The Hindu, declined to publish media critic Sevanti Ninan‘s fortnightly column on market rumours about the impending deal (without telling readers why) provides a chilling preview of what lies in store as the shadow of corporates lengthens over the media.

In 2008, New York Times‘ columnist Anand Giridharadas wrote of why the Indian media does not take on the Ambanis of Reliance Industries in an article titled “Indian to the core, and an oligarch“.

“A prominent Indian editor, formerly of The Times of India, who requested anonymity because of concerns about upsetting Mr Ambani, says Reliance maintains good relationships with newspaper owners; editors, in turn, fear investigating it too closely.

“I don’t think anyone else comes close to it,” the editor said of Reliance’s sway. “I don’t think anyone is able to work the system as they can.”

***

First things first, the RIL-Network18/TV18-ETV wedding is an unlikely menage-a-trois.

Reliance Industries Limited is a behemoth built by Dhirubhai Ambani and his sons Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani using a maze of companies and subsidiaries built on a heady cocktail of mergers and demergers, using shares, debentures, bonuses and other tricks in the accounting book—and many beyond it.

The only known interest of the Ambanis in the media before this deal was when they bought a Bombay business weekly called Commerce and turned into the daily Business & Political Observer (BPO) to match the weekly offering, The Sunday Observer, which they had acquired from Jaico Publishing.

(Top business commentators like John Elliott and Sucheta Dalal have alluded to a blog item to convey that Mukesh Ambani’s media interest goes beyond the recent announcement.)

Anyway, BPO, launched under the editorship of Prem Shankar Jha, was long in coming unlike typical Reliance projects. Suffice it to say that in 1991, when India was at the cusp of pathbreaking reforms, some of India’s biggest names in business journalism were producing dummy editions of BPO.

The Ambani publications were under the gaze of the more media-savvy younger brother, Anil Ambani, who operated with R.K. Mishra, the late editor of The Patriot, as chairman of the editorial board. The Observer group shuttered before the beginning of the new millennium.

As Mani Ratnam‘s film Guru based on Sydney Morning Herald foreign editor Hamish McDonald‘s book The Polyester Prince makes clear, the Ambanis have always cultivated friends across the political divide, but they have been identified with the Congress more than the BJP.

Raghav Bahl‘s Network18/TV18 is in some senses an ideal fit for RIL.

Till its latest cleanup came about a year and a half ago, it was difficult to understand which of its myriad companies and subsidiaries came under which arm. It too has friends on either side, but suffice it to say, CNN-IBN‘s decision not to run the cash-for-votes sting operation in July 2008 revealed where its political predilections lay.

Eenadu and ETV, on the other hand, is a long, different story.

***

The ETV network of channels was launched by Ramoji Rao, the founder of the Telugu daily Eenadu. Rao has many claims to fame (including launching Priya pickles), but he is chiefly known as the media baron behind the transformation of the Telugu film star N.T. Rama Rao into a weighty non-Congress politician.

Rao and his men are known to have crafted speeches that tapped into dormant Telugu pride for the politically naive NTR. The massive media buildup in Eenadu—Ramoji Rao pioneered multi-edition newspapers with localised supplements—saw NTR become the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh just nine months after launching the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 1982.

Two years later, when NTR was removed from office by a pliant governor (Ram Lal) working at the behest of Indira Gandhi‘s rampaging government, Ramoji Rao played a key role in protecting the numbers of TDP MLAs by having them packed off to Bangalore and Mysore, and building public opinion through his newspapers.

When NTR’s son-in-law N. Chandrababu Naidu walked out of TDP to “save” TDP, Ramoji Rao backed Naidu and played a hand in his ascension as CM. Thus, Ramoji Rao galvanised non-Congress forces in the South leading to the creation of the National Front, which installed V.P. Singh as PM in 1989 after the Bofors scandal claimed Rajiv Gandhi.

In 2006, Ramoji Rao placed his political leaning on record:

“I submit that until 1983 the Congress was running the State in an unchallenged and unilateral manner for the past 30 years. The Congress party became a threat to democracy and in view of the single party and individual rule by Indira Congress, the opposition in the state was in emaciated condition. It has been reduced to the status of a nominal entity. The dictatorial rule of the Congress proceeding without any hindrance. I submit that as the opposition parties were weak and were in helpless situation where they were unable to do any thing in spite of the misrule by the ruling party, Eenadu played the role of opposition. I submit that in the elections of the State Assembly held in 1983, the Congress for the first time did not secure a majority in the elections and lost the power to the newly formed Telugu Desam Party. I submit that on the day of poling i.e. January 5, 1983, I issued a signed editorial on the front page of Eenadu supporting the manifesto of Telugu Desam Party and calling on the electorate to vote for Telugu Desam Party giving cogent reasons for the stance taken by me.”

In short, the marriage between RIL-Network18/TV18 and Ramoji Rao is one between a largely pro-Congress duo and a distinctly non-Congress one.

***

Indeed, Ramoji Rao’s troubles that has resulted in substantial sections of his ETV network getting out of his grasp and into RIL’s, are largely because of his consistently anti-Congress stance, which gained an added edge in 2005 when the Congress under Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy (YSR) trumped the TDP under Chandrababu Naidu in the assembly elections.

Reported The Telegraph:

A slew of news reports in Eenadu and programmes on ETV since 2005 have accused Congress ministers, politicians and senior government officials of corruption and hanky panky. One report, for instance, debunked the official claim that the number of suicides by farmers had dropped. Another attacked construction by Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy, the chief minister’s brother, on disputed land. A third said that Eenadu had discovered, based on a survey, that voter lists for elections for local bodies had omitted the names of opposition party sympathisers.

It didn’t take long for YSR to hit back.

It was a two-pronged attack: his son Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy launched a project to own launch his own newspaper and newschannel house to take on the might of Eenadu and ETV. Simultaneously, a Congress MP from Rajahmundry attacked Ramoji Rao where it hurt most: his finances.

Arun Kumar Vundavalli, the MP, revealed that Rao’s Margadarsi Financiers had started dilly-dallying about repaying depositors, even after their deposit period had expired. Kumar showed that Margadarsi Financiers—a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) company, of which the karta was Ramoji Rao—had collected deposits from the public, although a 1997 RBI law forbade HUFs from doing so.

Margadarsi Financiers owned a 95% stake in Ushodaya Enterprises, Ramoji Rao’s company which owned Eenadu and ETV.

A one-man committee of enquiry constituted by the Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy government revealed that Rs 2,600 crore of money was collected from the public in violation of RBI norms. Although his companies were not in great shape, Ramoji Rao assured the Andhra Pradesh high court that he would repay the full amount of Rs 2,600 crore due to the depositors.

Enter Blackstone.

In January 2007, the world’s largest private equity player indicated that it wanted to pick up 26% in Ushodaya Enterprises group for Rs 1,217 crore. At the time, it was reported to be India’s single largest foreign direct investment (FDI) in the print media.

The Blackstone offer placed the value of Ramoji Rao’s company at Rs 4,470 crore.

But the FDI proposal got stuck in the I&B ministry for months, allegedly at the behest of Vundavalli, who raised a variety of concerns over the Blackstone-Eenadu deal. In January 2008, when the clearance for the Blackstone investment was still not coming, Mint asked:

“Does the promoter of an Indian company, who is selling a stake in his family’s media firm to a foreign investor, have the right to do what he wants with that money, in this particular case, pay off liabilities of another company that his family separately also owns?….”

“FIPB records then show that the finance ministry, specifically citing Vundavalli’s claims, ‘has observed that prima facie, it appears that the purpose of securing funds from M/s Blackstone is not for advancing the business of Ushodaya Enterprises Ltd, but for repaying the deposits taken by M/s Margadarsi Financiers.”

When the Blackstone deal did not materialise, Nimesh Kampani of JM Financial stepped in as Ramoji Rao’s white knight although, as Sucheta Dalal writes, Kampani was never known to have any interest in the media except in deal-making.

According to VC Circle, Kampani picked up 21% of Ushodaya Enterprises for Rs 1,424 crore, which valued the company at Rs 6,780 crore, or over 50 per cent more than what Blackstone was willing to accept.

“The first public report of Kampani’s investment came in early February 2008, or around 10 days after stock markets crashed globally.”

Now, YSR got after Kampani.

Andhra Pradesh police issued a “look-out” notice for Kampani. Nagarjuna Finance, of which Kampani had been director, had allegedly defrauded depositors. Although Kampani had resigned from the independent directorship of the company nine years earlier, it was a sufficient handle to beat him with.

For months, Kampani had to stay out of India, fearing arrest. It was only after his bete noire YSR met with a bloody death in a helicopter crash in September 2009 that Kampani could return home.(YSR’s death in the aircrash was itself not without controversy involving the Ambanis.)

In May 2010, rumours surfaced of Mukesh Ambani buying up JM Financial but they soon fizzled out.

Shortly before buying into ETV, Kampani had recently sold his stake in a joint venture with Morgan Stanley to his foreign partner for $440 million and had the cash. The Margadarsi bailout, it was assumed, was in his personal capacity. It took a petition in 2011 filed by YSR’s widow seeking an inquiry into Chandrababu Naidu’s assets assets for the penny to drop.

Enter RIL.

YSR’s widow, Y.S. Vijayalakshmi, an MLA, alleged that when gas reserves were found in the Krishna Godavari basin in Andhra Pradesh in 2002, the Chandrababu Naidu government wilfully surrendered its right over the discovery in favour of Reliance, “while allowing Naidu’s close associate Ramoji Rao to be the vehicle of the quid pro quo.” (page 32)

“In consideration for the favour done by the Respondent No. 8 (Chandrababu Naidu) in allowing the State’s KG basin claim to be brushed under the carpet, the Reliance group facilitated the payout of Ramoji Rao’s debts to his depositors. This was carried out through known associates and friends of Mukesh Ambani.

“Two of these known associates of Ambani and the Reliance Group are Nimesh Kampani (of JM Financial) and Vinay Chajlani (of Nai Duniya).

“Kampani extended himself in ensuring that Ramoji Rao would be bailed out. Within a short span of 37 days between December 2007 and January 2008, six “shell companies” were floated on three addresses, which are shown as Sriram Mills Compound, Worli, which is the official address of Reliance Industries Limited. Reliance diverted Rs 2,604 crores of its shareholders money through the shell companies to M/s Kampani’s Equator Trading India Limited and Chajlani’s Anu Trading.”

In other words, RIL’s involvement in Eenadu through Kampani became known only recently in response to Vijayalakshmi’s petition, but it was market gossip for quite a while.

T.N. Ninan, the chairman of Business Standard and the president of the editors’ guild of India, wrote in a column in January 2011:

“If reports in Jagan Reddy’s Saakshi newspaper are to be believed, Mukesh Ambani is a behind-the-scenes investor in Eenadu, the leading Telugu daily.”

Vijayalakshmi’s 2011 petition makes several serious allegations.

That Ramoji Rao entered into the deal with Kampani’s Equator just 23 days after it was registered although it had no known expertise or business; that Ushodaya sold Rs 100 shares to Equator at a premium of Rs 5,28,630 per share; and that Ushodaya’s valuation had been pumped up by Rs 1,200 crore by its claims over a movie library.

Vijayalakshmi’s petition concluded:

“The interest shown by Reliance group in coming to the rescue of Ushodaya Enterprises headed by Ramoji Rao is clearly in defiance of any prudent profit-based corporate entity (since) Reliance does not gain any returns by virtue of that investment.”

***

It is this RIL baby that is now in Network18/TV18′s lap.

The timing of the RIL-Network18/TV18-ETV deal also hides a small story.

It comes when the probe into the assets of Naidu and his associates (including Ramoji Rao) has moved from the High Court to the Supreme Court. It comes when a parallel probe into Vijayalakshmi’s son Jagan Mohan Reddy’s assets has entered a new and critical phase. It comes when the KG basin gas controversy is heating up. And, above all, it comes when 2014 is looming into the calendar.

Several questions emerge from this deal which has politics, business and media in varying measures:

1) What does it mean for Indian democracy when India’s richest businessman becomes India’s biggest media baron with control over at least two dozen English and regional news and business channels?

2) What kind of control will Mukesh Ambani have over Raghav Bahl’s Network18/TV18 when and if RIL’s optionally convertible debentures (OCDs) are turned into equity?

3) What kind of due diligence did the financially troubled Network18/TV18 do on the Kampani-Ambani investment in ETV before agreeing to pick up RIL’s stake for Rs 2,100 crore?

4) How will CNBC-TV18, which incidentally broke the news of the split among the Ambani brothers in 2005, report news of India’s biggest company (or its political and other benefactors) now that it is indirectly going to be owned by it?

5) Is there a case for alarm when one man has a direct and indirect stamp over three of the five major English news channels (CNN-IBN, NewsX and NDTV 24×7), three business channels (CNBC-TV18, IBN Awaaz, NDTV Profit), and at least five Hindi news channels?

6) Do Raghav Bahl and team who ran a handful of channels heavily into debt, have the expertise to run two dozen or more channels, especially in the language space where there are bigger players like Star and Zee?

7) Is the ETV network really worth so much, especially when Ushodaya’s most profitable parts, Eenadu and Priya Foods, are out of it? Or is RIL using Network18/TV18′s plight to turn a bad asset into a good one?

8) Is RIL really tying with Network18/TV18 with 4G in mind, or is this just spin to push an audacious deal past market regulators such as SEBI and the Competition Commission of India (CCI)?

9) How immune are Mukesh Ambani and Raghav Bahl from political forces hoping to use the combined clout of RIL-Network18/TV18 to blunt negative coverage ahead of the 2014 general elections?

10) And have Network18/TV18 investors got a fair deal?

***

Infographic: courtesy Outlook

Also read: The sudden rise of Mukesh Ambani, media mogul

The Indian Express, Reliance & Shekhar Gupta

Niira Radia, Mukesh Ambani, Prannoy Roy & NDTV

Times, Express groups get most anniversary ads

19 November 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: For the final anniversary of the year of India’s “Family No. 1″—the birth anniversary of the nation’s first woman prime minister Indira Gandhi—there are 70 advertisements amounting to 32 published pages in 12 English newspapers that have been surveyed through the year by sans serif.

With this anniversary, the total number of government ads to mark the three birth and three death anniversaries of the three former prime ministers from the family—Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi—in the year of the lord 2011 goes up to 393.

In effect, the government has bought space amounting to 190¼ pages in the 12 newspapers.

# The Times of India is the biggest beneficiary of the ad blitz to mark the six anniversaries among the general-interest newspapers with 65 published ads followed by Indian Express 62, Hindustan Times 57, The Hindu 42, The Pioneer 41, Mail Today 36, The Statesman 25 and The Telegraph 18 ads.

# The Economic Times and Business Standard top the list of the busines dailies with 14 ads each, followed by the Financial Express with 11 ads. Mint (from the Hindustan Times stable) has received just one ad for the six anniversaries.

# As a group, the Times group has received 79 ads in all, the Express group 73 ads, and the Hindustan Times 58 ads.

While it is natural that ToI and HT should garner so many ads given their large circulations in the national capital, the second place for the Express group is revealing considering it sells less than five per cent of market-leaders ToI and HT in the Delhi market, which both sell in excess of 5 lakh copies.

The tabloid Mail Today, which has the third highest circulation among the Delhi newspapers, too gets fewer ads than the Indian Express.

***

The affection of various Union ministries, departments and State governments for the three departed leaders of the family is revealing.

While Rajiv Gandhi tops the charts with 177 advertisements amounting to 89 pages for his birth and death anniversaries, Indira Gandhi comes second with 134 ads amounting to 64 pages, followed by Pandit Nehru at a lowly 82 ads amounting to 37¼ pages.

***

The breakup of the Indira Gandhi ads today are as under:

Hindustan Times: 24-page main issue; 10 Indira ads amounting to 4¼ broadsheet pages

The Times of India: 32-page issue; 11 ads amounting to 4¾ broadsheet pages

Indian Express: 28-page issue; 14 ads amounting to 5¾ broadsheet pages

Mail Today (compact): 42-page issue; 7 ads amounting to 5½ compact pages

The Hindu: 24-page issue; 5 ads amounting to 2 broadsheet pages

The Pioneer: 20-page issue; 8 ads amounting to 3 broadsheet pages

The Statesman: 18-page issue; 6 ads amounting to 2¾ broadsheet pages

The Telegraph: 26-page issue; 0 ads amounting to 0 broadsheet pages

***

The Economic Times: 16-page main issue; 3 ads amounting to 1¼ broadsheet pages

Business Standard: 18-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1½ pages

Financial Express: 22-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1¼ pages

Mint (Berliner): 12-page issue; 0 ads

This computation is only for 12 English newspapers; many other English papers have been left, as indeed has the entire language media which are more numerous than the English ones, several times over.

Among the advertisers wishing the dear departed leader happy birthday this year are the ministries of information and broadcasting, commerce and industry, steel, women and child development, health and family welfare, culture, water resources, statistics and programme implementation, north eastern region, micro small and medium enterprises, social justice and empowerment.

The state governments advertising their love are those of Rajasthan, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh. Besides, there are ads of the national commission for women.

***

Last year, on the 19th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, the historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in an edit-page article in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”

Also read: Nehru birthday: 58 ads amounting to 26¼ pages

Nehru death anniversary: 24 ads over 11 pages

Rajiv birthday: 108 ads across 48 pages

Rajiv death anniversary: 69 ads, 41 pages in 12 papers

Indira Gandhi birthday: 64 ads, 32 pages

323 ads, nearly 160 pages to mark 5 anniversaries

14 November 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: There are 58 government advertisements amounting to 26¼ pages in 12 English newspapers today to mark the birth anniversary of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. In contrast, there were 108 ads amounting to 48 pages to mark his grandson, Rajiv Gandhi‘s birthday in August.

All told, so far this year, between three death anniversaries (Nehru’s, Rajiv’s, Indira Gandhi‘s) and two birth anniversaries (Rajiv’s and Indira’s), various ministries of the Union government and Congress-ruled State governments have spent taxpayers’ money in buying 323 advertisements amounting to 158¼ published pages in the 12 surveyed newspapers.

The breakup of the Jawaharlal Nehru ads are as under:

Hindustan Times: 24-page main issue; 11 Nehru ads amounting to 4½ broadsheet pages

The Times of India: 30-page issue; 9 ads amounting to 3¾ broadsheet pages

Indian Express: 24-page issue; 9 ads amounting to 4¼ broadsheet pages

Mail Today (compact): 36-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 2¼ compact pages

The Hindu: 24-page issue; 7 ads amounting to 2¾ broadsheet pages

The Pioneer: 16-page issue; 5 ads amounting to 2¼ broadsheet pages

The Statesman: 16-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1½ broadsheet pages

The Telegraph: 22-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1 broadsheet page

***

The Economic Times: 30-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1½ broadsheet pages

Business Standard: 16-page issue; 2 ads amounting to 1 page

Financial Express: 22-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1½ page

Mint (Berliner): 24-page issue; 0 ads

This computation is only for 12 English newspapers; many other English papers have been left, as indeed has the entire language media which are more numerous than the English ones, several times over.

Among the advertisers wishing the dear departed leader happy birthday this year are the ministries of information and broadcasting, commerce and industry, steel, women and child development, health and family welfare, human resource development, micro small and medium enterprises, youth affairs and sports.

The state governments advertising their love are those of Rajasthan and Delhi. Besides, there are ads of Nehru Yuva Kendra and the national book trust.0

Last year, on the 19th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, the historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in an edit-page article in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”

Also read: Rajiv Gandhi death anniversary: 69 ads, 41 pages in 12 papers

Jawaharlal Nehru death anniversary: 24 ads over 11 pages

Rajiv Gandhi birthday: 108 ads across 48 pages

Indira Gandhi: 64 ads, 32 pages; Vallabhbhai Patel: 9 ads, 3 pages

Is the media manufacturing middle-class dissent?

21 August 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from Delhi: The media coverage of the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement, like the movement itself, is a story in two parts—and both show the perils of the watchdog becoming the lapdog in diametrically opposite ways.

In Act I, Scene I enacted at Jantar Mantar in April, sections of the Delhi media unabashedly played along with the establishment in a “crude and disgusting character assassination”, discrediting civil society members in an attempt to strangulate the joint Lokpal drafting panel, without  showing any remorse.

In Act II, three scenes of which have been enacted in the past week at Tihar Jail, Chhatrasaal Stadium and now the Ramlila Grounds, there has been no need to invoke Armani and Jimmy Choo, after the government’s spectacular cock-ups at the hands of high-IQ, Harvard-educated lawyers who recite nursery-school rhymes to wah-wahs from unquestioning interviews.

On the contrary, it can be argued that the pendulum has swung to the other end this time round.

The Times of India and Times Now, both market leaders in number termshave made no attempt to hide where their sympathies lie in this “Arnab Spring”, when the urban, articulate, newspaper-reading, TV-watching, high-earning, high-spending, apolitical, ahistorical, post-liberalised, pissed-off-like-mad middle-class gets worked up.

When the market leaders go down that road, the others are left with no option but to follow suit.

Obviously neither extreme can be the media’s default position. However, unlike last time when there was little if not no criticism of the “orchestrated campaign of calumny, slander and insinuation“, at least two well known media figures  have found the courage to question this kind of wide-eyed, gee-whiz reporting.

Sashi Kumar, the founder of India’s first regional satellite channel Asianet and the brain behind the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), in Outlook*:

“In the race for eyeballs, a section of the media—some TV channels in particular—give the impression of sprinting ahead of the story and dragging it along behind them. What defies imagination, even as it stretches journalistic credibility, is that the messengers become the lead players, directing the route the story will take, conjuring up twists and turns where there are none, and keeping the illusion of news-in-the-making breathlessly alive….

“The relationship between such media and their essentially middle class consumers is becoming uncomfortably incestuous. When respondents cluster around a camera for a vox pop, they are not so much required to offer their independent view on an issue as add to the chorus of opinion orchestrated by the channel. A photo op masquerades as a movement. Dissident voices get short shrift. It is more like a recruitment drive than a professional journalistic exercise to seek and purvey news.

“Increasingly, the channel’s role seems to be to trigger and promote a form of direct democracy by the middle class. Politics and politicians are routinely debunked; even representative democracy doesn’t seem to make the grade.”

NDTV group editor and star anchor Barkha Dutt too strikes a similar note in the Hindustan Times:

“Critics of the Hazare campaign have questioned the media narrative as well, accusing wall-to-wall TV coverage of holding up a permanent oxygen mask to the protests. It’s even been pointed out that Noam Chomsky’s scathing commentary on the mass media -‘Manufacturing Consent’ would be re-written in TV studios today as Manufacturing Dissent.

“But again, if the TV coverage of the protests is overdone, it only proves that the UPA’s perennial disdain for the media — and the diffidence of its top leaders — has given its opponents the upper hand in the information battle. There is something so telling about the fact that 74-year-old Anna Hazare made effective use of the social media by releasing a YouTube message from inside jail and the PM of India’s oldest political party is still to give his first interview to an Indian journalist.”

*Disclosures apply

Photograph: Besides temporary studios set up by almost all the news channels, nearly a dozen Jimmy Jib cameras (swinging cameras on cranes) hover over the heads of those assembled at Anna Hazare‘s fast at the Ramlila grounds in New Delhi on Friday.

Also read: The ex-Zee News journo on Anna Hazare team

Ex-Star News, ToI journos on Anna Hazare team

Jug Suraiya on MJ, SJ, Giri, Monu & Mamma T

22 July 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from Delhi: Books about The Times of India are like city buses. There isn’t one for years, and then two come along around the same time. And on both occasions, punsters imported from Calcutta are the ones steering the wheel.

Bachi Karkaria came out with Behind the Times, “a poorly structured, poorly sourced and poorly edited… airy tribute to the war-room surgeons who botoxed the Old Lady of Boribunder into a sassy lass,” a few months ago.

Now, Jug Suraiya is out with “JS and The Times of my life“, a two-in-one salute to Junior Statesman where he started off and The Times of India, where he has spent the last 25 years.

Despite making no claims to being an accurate history of Indian journalism, Suraiya’s worm’s eye-view (Tranquebar, 340 pages, Rs 495) throws more light than Bachi’s on the stellar bylines and bolf-faced names, and with none of the unctuousness.

***

On M.J. AKBAR: ‘Please, sir, can I submit a short story for publication?’ I looked up from the papers on my desk. No one had called me ‘sir’ before. A thin chap with an aspiring moustache, in shorts and a half-sleeved shirt stood before my desk. I gestured for him to sit.

‘Where’s the short story?’ In reply, he handed over a school exercise book, the last several pages of which were covered with carefully penned handwriting.

‘I’m sorry I couldn’t get it typed. I don’t have a typewriter,’ the young chap said.

‘Don’t worry, I don’t either,’ I said. ‘But you’d better tear out these pages yourself. I’ll make a mess of it.’

He tore out the pages and handed them to me.

‘You haven’t put down your name, for the by-line,’ I said. ‘What is it?’

‘M.J. Akbar,’ said M.J. Akbar.

The short story was published, and MJ—then in class XI at Calcutta boys school)—soon became a regular campus correspondent for the Junior Statesman….

Years later, in 1985, at a memorial service held in Calcuta after Desmond Doig‘s untimely death, MJ spoke about how Junior Statesman—soon to be shortened to JS—had been the launch pad of his journalistic career.

MJ made it sound as though that were the JS‘s greatest contribution to posterity. Who knows? Maybe it was.

***

On SHASHI THAROOR: ‘I though you had the Jungian unconscious in mind when you wrote your short story. Did you?’

The speaker was referring to a short story called ‘The Wall‘ I’d written and which had appeared in the JS.

He was about 12 years old, the only person in shorts at the cocktail party in Desmond’s flat in Calcuta, and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world that he should ask me about the Jungian unconscious. Whatever it was.

His name was Shashi, and he was the son of the advertising manager of The Statesman, a human dynamo called Chandran Tharoor. Even in those days, Shashi had the grace of intellect and the charm of manner to put people far older, less clever than he, at their ease.

***

On C.R. IRANI: Each morning the managing director [of The Statesman] would come to the JS, tucked away on a mezzanine floor of the Statesman building. Striding into Desmond’s cabin, he would ask for the JS team to be summoned.

The MD would address the congregation. ‘Desmond, boys, they’re coming to take me away. I expect them at any moment. But even after I have gone, remember: keep fighting the good fight, keep the flag of freedom unfurled. That’s all. Thank you and God bless till we meet again.’

Then, heels clicking counterpoint to the silent strains of ‘We shall overcome‘, the MD would march out, presumably into the arms of the waiting constabulary.

They never came. In the afternoon, Desmond would phone the MD’s secretary to ascertain his fate.

‘The MD’s gone?’ she’d confirm.

‘To Lalbazar lock-up?’ Desmond would ask.

‘To the Bengal Club for lunch,’ she’d reply. And the next day the entire sequence would be repeated again.

***

On TIME magazine: When Mother Teresa received the Nobel Prize, Dan Sheppard, the then Time correspondent in Delhi, called me in Calcutta. He wanted to kow how much Mamma T weighed.

‘You know the Time style,’ he said. ‘In the piece I write, when I say ‘tiny’, I have to give her weight to back up the adjective. Will you find out for me, please?’

I rang the Missionaries of Charity. Mother was unavailable, out on fieldwork, as she was more often than not. I spoke to one of the sisters.

‘I’m sorry, I know it sounds stupid. But could you tell me how much Mother weighs? It’s for Time magazine.’

There was silence. Then, very gently, ‘Do you really think that Mother herself would know or care?’

In the end I made up a figure: 48 kg, and passed it on to Dan. He seemed happy enough. Presumably so were Time readers.

***

GIRILAL JAIN: ‘Condemn or condone?’ said Girilal Jain. It was the tailend of a typical editorial page meeting, chaired by Giri. The air was turgid with debate and tobacco smoke. But even the fug of nicotine fumes couldn’t obscure the sparkle of the discourse. It was a stellar gathering, with one notable exception.

There was Giri himself, of course. Last of the great editors, and very conscious of it too…. Puffing on his pipe, Giri conjured visions of ancient faultlines of caste and creed, of clan and tribe, wanting to open wide their cataclysmic jaws and swallow up in a trice the marvels of modern India….

Towards the end of every edit meeting, Giri would allot the day’s work. Often, though not always, Giri reserved the lead editorial for himself, using it to tell the government what it should or should not do about whatever it was Giri felt it should or should not do.

Having sorted out the government for yet another day, Giri would ask the others for topics they might wish to write about. Someone would suggest Bihar (something or the other, generally the other, was always happening, or not happening, in Bihar); someone else would mention President’s rule somewhere else; another would offer the sarkar’s growing fiscal deficit.

Giri would decide which of the offerings he wanted. Then he’d asked the person wo’d volunteered to write it, a single question: ‘Condemn or condone?’

Was the writer in favour of what it was or was he against it? The writer would give his reply in the same ‘Condemn/condone’ format and the edit page meeting would be over.

***

DILEEP PADGAONKAR: Giri’s own heir-apparent was Dileep Padgaonkar. Dileep who had been one of the first of the new guard to be recruited by Gautam Adhikari on Samir Jain‘s instructions was—and is—a Chitpawan Brahmin equally fluent in Sanskrit and French, which he spoke with a Sanskritised accent, or perhaps it was the other way round.

A wonderful raconteur and mimic, his rendition of the 9 0′clock television in raga bhairavi was a treat to hear. He gave the impression of always sporting an invisible beret, a baguette under the arm and a silk cravat around his neck, even in a Delhi summer.

Present at Giri court was Gautam himself and the newcomers he’d recruited, which included Arvind N. Das, who came from the world of academia, Subir Roy, who’d worked with The Telegraph in Calcutta, and Ajay Kumar, who’d been with India Today.

Anikendranath ‘Badshah’ Sen, who’d been with Radio Australia, had been brought in by Dileep.

Badshah’s and Dileep’s cars had happened to stop at the same Delhi red light at the same time. They knew each by sight and had exchanged greetings. Then, on an impulse, Dileep had asked: ‘Where are you working now?’

‘Radio Australia,’ Badshah had said.

‘Would you like to switch to the ToI?’ Dileep had said.

‘Why not?’ Badshah had replied.

And that had been that.

***

SAMIR JAIN: One Saturday evening, Bunny and I, Navbharat Times editor S.P. Singh and his wife Shikha Trivedy, and a couple of others from the Times group had foregathered for dinner at the Nizamudding West flat that Subir Roy and his wife Indrani were renting at the time.

The phone rang and Subir answered it. He hung up, looking sombre.

‘It was Samir Jain,’ he said. ‘He says he’s coming over. With his wife. He says they’ve had their dinner, so not to worry about food.’

There was contemplative silence. At the end of a long week, when you’re having a few drinks with your cronies and letting your hair down, you don’t exactly want your super-boss sitting there listening in to your conversation which, had he not been there, could well have been about him.

‘Oh well,’ said someone philosophically.’Let’s have a drink to that.’

We did and waited for SJ. He and his wife, Meera, turned up. All the men stood up, offering chairs.

‘No, no. Please. Continue,’ said SJ. He led his wife to a corner of the room where there were a couple of seats and they sat down. ‘Please,’ said SJ. ‘Do carry on.’

Eventually we managed to get a conversation going, with SJ sitting in the corner listening attentively. Belly-aching about the office was obviously out of the question. So we stuck to a safe topic: new places in Delhi to drink and eat out in.

Someone mentioned a new Spanish restaurant which did a mean paella.

‘Yeah, I’m told it’s good. But bloody expensive,’ someone else said.

‘Place to go for a special occasion,’ I said.

‘Excuse me,’ said SJ from the corner.

Everyone shut up. For a moment we’d forgotten that he was there. Which, of course, was exactly what he wanted.

‘Excuse me,’ said SJ again.’But you people like to, I mean really like to, spend money? You get some sort of pleasure out of it?’

There was a clumsy silence.

‘Yeah,’ I said at last. ‘We people like, actually like, to spend money. When we have any, that is. On special occasions, once in a while, we might even like to spend more than we can really afford. Maybe that’s partly what makes a special occasion a special occasion.’

SJ nodded. ‘I see,’ he said. ‘You people like spending money. Interesting.’

***

MONU NALPAT: [ToI foreign affairs editor] Ramesh Chandran, who shared an office room with him, would describe to a fascinated audience the daily morning ritual. Monu would stride in briskly and go to his desk without a word of greeting or any acknowledgement of Ramesh’s presence.

Seating himself at his desk, he would take off his spectacles and place them on the desktop. Then he would remove, one by one, all the metallic objects on his person: his watch, the rings on his fingers, the coins from his wallet. He would arrange these with millimetric into precision on the desk.

He would stand up and eyes shut, genuflect several times in one direction. He would turn at an angle of ninety degrees and repeatedly genuflect again, murmuring an inaudible incantation. He would go back to his desk, put his watch and rings on, put the coins back into his wallet.

He would put on his spectacles, looking at Ramesh, giving him a beaming smile, and say, ‘Good morning, Ramesh! How’s it going?’

***

SAMIR JAINDiana dead. It was humongous news. The most humongous of the year. Maybe of the decade. All the editorial pages of all the newspapers in the wold would have lead editorials about Diana’s death.

With one big huge glaring exception. The ToI. Whose-edit-page in-charge was the only journo in existence who hadn’t got the news till it was too late to do anything about it.

The next day when I got to the ToI office, my edit page colleagues told me that Samir Jain—or VC, as we all called him, for vice-chairman (of Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd)—had already come by the department.

‘What did he say?’ I asked.

‘He said, “The edit page editor must be having a very good reason to give to the publishers as to why the ToI is the only newspaper not to have an editorial on Diana,” said a colleague.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Well, if he comes by again just tell him that the ToI edit page doesn’t believe in knee-jerk reactions.”

Also read: When Samir served a thali, Vineet a scoop

Rajeev Shukla: from reporter to minister of state

12 July 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from Delhi: Rajeev Shukla, the journalist who began his career as a lowly reporter in the Hindi daily Northern India Patrika in Kanpur in 1978 before turning to politics in 2000, is to become a minister in the Manmohan Singh government this evening.

The 52-year-old will be the minister of State in charge of parliamentary affairs.

Shukla, a member of the Rajya Sabha from his home-state Uttar Pradesh, earned his journalistic spurs during his three-year stint in the late 1980s at the weekly Hindi magazine Ravivar, where under its then editor Udayan Sharma, he broke a story on the former prime minister V.P.  Singh.

Singh, a bugbear of the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi on the Bofors issue, had signed away large tracts of land he held as the “Raja of Manda”. Shukla reported that Singh’s wife had objected to the sale, saying he was not in his right mental balance at the time.

That story propelled Shukla into the Congress orbit.

Shukla later held several senior editorial positions later in the ABP-owned Sunday and The Sunday Observer, which had been purchased by Dhirubhai Ambani‘s Reliance Industries.

The arrival of satellite television saw Shukla host a weekly interview programme on Zee called Rubaru, before he branched off to launch his own production house called BAG Films (BAG for Bhagwan, Allah, God) with wife Anuradha Prasad (sister of BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad) in tow.

The couple now own a news channel (News24), an entertainment channel (E24), a radio station (Dhamaal 24), and a school of media and convergence studies.

Shukla entered the Rajya Sabha in 2000 as a member of the short-lived Uttar Pradesh Loktantrik Congress, winning votes disporportionate to his political lineage and vintage from the BJP, Congress and the BSP. His vote tally set tongues wagging in Lucknow.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan of Frontline magazine reported:

“The grapevine said during the run-up to the elections that two powerful industrial groups backed Shukla.”

Shukla soon become a prominent functionary in the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI), rising to be vice-president.  DNA reported that a firmed owned by him had bought a stake in Shah Rukh Khan‘s Kolkata Knight Riders, at whose matches Rahul Gandhi has been one of the more famous faces from the VIP box.

When Shah Rukh Khan was detained in the United States in the run-up to his film My Name is Khan in 2009, he famously said that the first person he called to bail him out was Rajeev Shukla.

Anuradha Prasad watches her husband Rajeev Shukla take oath as minister in this photograb from the couple's news channel, News24

The Guardian, Nick Davies and News of the World

8 July 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from Delhi: Most journalists who succeed in bringing down a minister or a bureaucrat, or a government, wear it as a badge of honour.

How about Nick Davies, who has brought down a 138-year-old newspaper, the News of the World—and its mighty owner Rupert Murdoch—with his searing expose of the phone hacking scandal?

Ironies abound in this story, from an Indian perspective.

For starters, dog eats dog: the former being The Guardian, London, which played the lead role in nibbling away at the heels of News International. Quite unlike Indian newspapers, magazines and TV stations which refuse to go after their peers and competitors, because of a pigheaded belief that dog does not eat dog.

Because, anything goes in the name of “freedom of the press”.

Two, the response of advertisers. Starting with Ford, a number of advertisers pulled out advertising from NOTW—derisively called Screws of the World for its obsessions with matters carnal—after the full scale of the scandal became known. Unlike India, where advertisers are party if not prodders to most of the vilest transgressions in the media.

Because, anything goes in the name of “market forces”.

And three, the response of news consumers—the reading, viewing, surfing public. Murdoch shut down NOTW because the negative reaction from readers and advertisers and MPs got too hot. Unlike India, where the media’s “ethics deficit” is seen as a problem of the media alone, not of the reading public. Or the Republic.

External reading: How The Guardian broke the story

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