Posts Tagged ‘Rupert Murdoch’

Why Shobhana Bhartia was late for PM’s breakfast

12 April 2014

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As is only to be expected, a number of journalists figure in former Economic Times, Times of India and Financial Express journalist Sanjaya Baru‘s book ‘The Accidental Prime Minister‘ (Penguin), on his days as the PM’s media advisor.

But a few publishers and head honchos do too, including Prannoy Roy of NDTV, Samir Jain of The Times of India and his mother Indu Jain, and Shobhana Bhartia of Hindustan Times.

***

In May 2005, as the UPA approached its first anniversary, reports began to appear that the PM was reviewing the performance of his ministers.

On 9 May, when he was in Moscow, NDTV ran a story that external affairs minister Natwar Singh had secured a ‘low’ score on the PM’s ‘report card’ and was likely to be dropped from the Cabinet.

Natwar was most unhappy and took the day off on ‘health grounds’.

This news reached the PM in Moscow when he was in the midst of a briefing at his hotel. He asked me to find out what exactly NDTV had reported.

When I brief him he burst out angrily, ‘Tell Prannoy to stop reporting these lies.’

I called Prannoy Roy and had just begun speaking to him when the PM asked for my mobile phone and spoke to Prannoy himself, scolding him like he was chiding a student who had erred, saying, ‘This is not correct. You cannot report like this.’

Indeed, the relationship between him and Pranny was not that of a PM and senior media editor but more like that of a former boss and a one-time junior,. This was because Prannoy had worked as an economic adviser in the miistry of finance under Dr Singh.

After a few minutes, Prannoy called me back.

‘Are you still with him?’ he asked

I stepped out of the room and told him that I was now alone.

‘Boy, I have not been scolded like that since school! He sounded like a headmaster, not a prime minister,’ complained Prannoy.

***

Rupert Muroch (of Star TV and News Corp) tried a trick to secure an appointment (with the PM).

Having failed on one occasion to meet Dr Singh, he made a second attempt by letting it be known that he was not interested in talking about his media business. Rather, he wanted to talk about China.

The PM was amused and granted him an appointment. Murdoch did duscuss China and explained where he saw China going. But, as he got up to leave, he expressed the hope that the Indian government would be more receptive to his media plan than China had been.

***

Within the PMO, (former national security advisor) Mani Dixit’s imperious style inevitably came into conflict with my own more freewheeling and irreverent style of functioning.

Our first disagreement was on who could travel with the PM on his official plane.

Seeing the name of Times of India journalist Siddharth Varadarajan, who later served as editor of The Hindu, on the media list, Mani sent me a note informing me that Siddharth was not an Indian national but an American citizen and, as a foreign national, was not entitled to travel on the PM’s plane.

I was aware of Siddharth’s citizenship, since this matter had come up when I had hired him as an assistant editor of the Times of India.

I chose not to make an issue of it then and Samir Jain, vice chairman of Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd, the publishers of The Times of India, who took particular interest in the hiring of editorial writers, did not object either. Now the matter had surfaced again.

***

I arranged a series of breakfast meetings with important editors, publishers and TV anchors. As an early riser Dr Singh would schedule his breakfast meetings for half past eight being late to bed and late to rise, editors and TV anchors would protest but turn up on time.

When I invited a group of publishers, the only ones to arrive late were Shobhana Bhartia of Hindustan Times because, as she tole me, she took a long time to dry her hair and Indu Jain, chairperson of the Times of India, because she had to finish her morning puja.

Also read: Kuldip Nayar on Shekhar Gupta, N. Ram & Co

B.G. Verghese: a deep mind with a straight spine who stands tall

Vinod Mehta on Arun Shourie, Dileep Padgaonkar, et al

Jug Suraiya on MJ, SJ, Giri, Monu and Mama T

When Samir Jain served a thali, Vineet served a scoop

’50-60% China coverage in TOI, HT adversarial’

11 November 2013

A six-month study of India-China coverage in the top-two English newspapers in New Delhi shows that between 50 and 60 per cent of the stories are of adversarial nature, “establishing a pattern of clear negative China coverage”.

The Delhi editions of The Times of India and the Hindustan Times, both of which have correspondents based in Beijing, were surveyed by Debasish Roy Choudhury, who works for the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

“Though a substantial part of their coverage is also neutral, even peaceable, the numerically dominant frames are clearly antagonistic. These frames identify China as an aggressive power… and convey remedies such as arming, border build-up and alliances with other powers. The adversarial frame is propagated through other kinds of stories as well where the general tone is conflictual….

“A closer look at how China is portrayed in top English-language papers can broadly be taken as a proxy for how it is generally portrayed in Indian newspapers….

“English-language dailies do not all follow a consistent line or pattern of coverage on any subject. For example, The Hindu, a hugely respected and highly circulated paper in southern India with an edition in Delhi, and The Telegraph, a comparatively smaller paper but the market leader in eastern India, are noticeably conciliatory and balanced in overall tone towards China, and differ substantially from the China coverage of, say, the Times of India. “

In a story in the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, where he works as a business news editor, Roy Chowdhury quotes the veteran jurist A.G. Noorani.

“Shrill, jingoistic and embarrassing,” is how A.G. Noorani describes Indian media’s China reportage. “Every now and then the media breaks into a patriotic frenzy over anonymously sourced reports of border violations without bothering to explain the intricacies of our tangled frontiers.”

Infographics: courtesy Debasish Roy Choudhury

Also read: Role of the press in India-China relations

China Daily hands back occupied areas to India

Hu, Wen and why China scorns Indian media

Media freedom is what separates India from China

Rupert Murdoch on India, China and democracy

The Hindu had a discernible pro-China tilt on Tibet’

The Hindu‘ and a scribe who was told to ‘shut up’

EPW tears into TV’s ‘hawks, hotheads, hysteria’

‘You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war’

13 June 2013

Modern journalists not used to the thrills and travails of sending despatches on the telegram and the teleprinter and the telex machine from the back of beyond will not understand the hoo dash ha in today’s papers on the decision of the Bharat sanchar nigam limited bracket open BSNL bracket close to wind up the telegraphic service stop Our sympathies stop para The innocent little tykes probably do not even remember William Randolph Hearst‘s famous telegram to his correspondent that features in the greatest film ever made comma Citizen Kane stop para 

***

In The Pioneer, the paper’s editor and member of Parliament Chandan Mitra goes down memory lane:

“When I became a journalist, working with The Statesman in Kolkata, I had to sometimes send my reports that way. Press persons were issued P&T cards which enabled us to file copies by telegram and telex (a relatively new innovation) and even make trunk calls to the headquarters without paying cash as the cards were postpaid by the organisation.

“Reporting on terrorism in Punjab in 1984, one evening I reached Ludhiana to find the telex machine at the GPO out of order. Given the urgency of the report, I was left with no option but dictate my entire story to the grumpy telegraph operator whose machine went tappity-tap to the Morse code.

“Later, the News Editor said my story had run into an extravagant 22 sheets with many undecipherable words (the reluctant babu’s faulty English to blame!) and took over three hours to retype!

“District correspondents too often filed this way. As Chief of the Times of India News Service in the late 1980s, it was my lot to sort out telegram sheets, each line pasted on the form, and punctuation marks spelt out.

“A joke of telegram’s nascent years was that in Britain stingy businessmen found a way to beat the cost by sending only punctuation marks, which were free (that is, not counted as a word). So, one shipper from London sent a telegram to his shipping agent thus (;).

“Spelt out, it reached the agent as semicolon.

“The agent replied next day, saying (:).

In case you haven’t figured this out, the message was “see my coal on” and the reply “coal on”!

There is also the delightful but possibly apocryphal story of a foreign correspondent based in the far-east who, when laid off by his paper, got the operator to punch and send the entire Hong Kong telephone directory by telegram so that the “bastards back home”—the accountants—would learn a lesson.

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***

Read the full article: 160 years on, the telegram retires

Also read: An urgent telegram to Shri Rupert Murdoch

How Chandan Mitra has his halwa and hogs it too

The best editor The Pioneer never had?

What to do when a rival hijacks your story

18 January 2013

oprah winfrey scan

How should a newspaper which has been pursuing a scandal for over a decade react when a rival journalist scoops a confessional interview with the personality at the centre of the story? Or looks likely to lob softball questions?

If you are Rupert Murdoch, you advice the interloper.

Oprah Winfrey‘s interview with cycling champ turned cheat Lance Armstrong, recorded on Monday, will air tonight on Discovery, and the channel has advertisements in Indian newspapers today announcing the show timings.

But in the run-up to the recording, the Chicago Tribune, the home-paper of the City where Oprah’s channel OWN is headquartered, The Sunday Times of London took out an advertisement, with 10 questions Oprah should ask.

The questions come from chief sports writer David Walsh who spent 13 years investigating allegations that Armstrong had taken performance enhancing drugs.

Rajya Sabha TV tears into Reliance-TV18 deal

15 January 2012

The fears over what happens when a big business house with deep pockets and political influence across parties funds a big media house to legitimise its hitherto-hidden media interests, are coming true even before the controversial Reliance Industries -Network18/TV18-Eenadu Television deal can be inked.

Obviously, the political class is silent. Obviously, TV18’s competitors won’t touch the story for reasons not difficult to imagine. Obviously, The Hindu won’t even publish a media column for reasons not difficult to fantasise.

But there has been no serious discussion of the implications of the deal on the media or on democracy in the mainstream media. Not on any of Network18’s usually high-decibel shows since the tie-up was announced on 3 January 2012. Not even on Karan Thapar‘s media show on CNN-IBN, The Last Word.

Print media coverage too has at best been sketchy. Even the newspapers and newsmagazines which have attempted to probe the complexities of the menage-a-trois, The Economic Times and The Indian Express, Outlook* and India Today, have barely managed to go beyond the numbers into the nuance.

Rajya Sabha TV, the newly launched television channel of the upper house of Parliament, has filled the breach somewhat with a no-holds barred discussion on the subject.

Anchored by Girish Nikam, a former Eenadu reporter who wrote five years ago on Eenadu‘s travails, the RSTV debate—with an honourable mention for sans serif in the third segment—flags all the important issues raised by the deal and underlines the role public service television can play in the service of the public when the corporate media gives up—or gives in.

Some of the comments made by three of the four participants on The Big Picture:

S. Nihal Singh, former editor of The Statesman: “My first reaction [on reading of the deal] was that it was time for India to have a really good anti-monopoly law for media, which is the norm in all democratic countries in the world, including the most advanced….

“The press council of India is totally dysfunctional because of the new chairman Justice Markandey Katju, who is baiting the media, who doesn’t believe in conversing with the media, or exchanging views with the media.”

***

Madhu Trehan, founder-editor of India Today and director, content, of the soon-to-be-launched media site, News Laundry: “It need not have happened if the government and corporates were more alert. One person owns much too much….

“Already every policy is decided by corporates as the 2G tapes (of Niira Radia) show. Not only is it dangerous that Mukesh Ambani will be deciding what policy will be decided, as you know has happened in the past, but he will also decide whether we can talk about it, or criticise it or expose it….

“Why is Reliance interested in media? It is not for money; it is obviously for influence. Rupert Murdoch was endorsing PMs and Presidents in three continents. Now we have the richest man in the country owning the largest network. Yes, there is an independent trust, but I don’t believe that. The purpose is to control the media. You are influencing policy, you are influencing how the government decides, and now you are going to decide how the people will hear about about you and the government….

“When a politician or a government spokesman speaks, we don’t believe them, but when somebody like Rajdeep Sardesai or Sagarika Ghose speaks, or anyone at IBN7 or TV18 comes on, we presume we should believe them. Now there is a big question mark [when RIL has indirect control over CNN-IBN]….

“In a deal of this size we are looking at very subtle plants of stories, subtle angles, subtly putting things in a certain way so that people think along in a certain way for a particular way. I don’t know if anyone can shut the door. It’s too late.”

***

Dilip Cherian, former editor Business India, head Perfect Relations: “Globally we have seen when big capital enters media, that is exactly what we are about to replicate for ourselves.

“Oligopolistic tendencies are visible in global media today, whether it is Silvio Berlusconi or Rupert Murdoch, the fact is they exercise humongous influence not on media but politics. Are we headed down the same road? At this time, the answer seems to be yes. Is it good? The universal answer from the question is that it isn’t, not just because it affects the quality of news but because it affects the quality of politics….

“The entry of big capital is not new or news. What has happened in this case is a big distinction between foreign investment and domestic. Because of 4G, because the same business house owns the pipe, owns the content, there could also be another issue of monopoly. If I were the owner, I would say there needs to be a publicly visible ombudsmanship [to dispel the doubts]….

“There is room for concern, there is room for elements of self-rgulation. As a country we are not able to legislate for two reasons. One because of the influence business houses have on policy making. And two, when you bring in legislation (on regulation) up, the other group that is affected are politicians who own media houses of their own. You are talking about now a coalition of forces which the public is incapable of handling. You won’t see Parliament doing the kind of regulation they should, in an open manner, because there are interests on all sides.”

* Disclosures apply

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

Why Indian media can’t laugh at Murdoch’s plight

18 July 2011

SANJAY JHA writes from Bombay: Rupert Murdoch, the emperor of media leviathan News Corporation, shuttled on a transatlantic flight over a tumultuous week-end that saw a popular British Sunday tabloid bite the dust, never to rise again.

News of the World (NOTW) was founded prior to the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857, but closed with a 72-hour notice period in tragic infamy on account of startling revelations about its surreptitious hacking of private mails and messages, in a manner both macabre and sleazy.

For Murdoch, the closure was not a generous act to protect the Holy Grail but a calculated trade-off for acquisition of the more alluring BSkyB.

Greed is a driving ambition, often meeting a ruinous end.

It could happen in India too.

Despite much heart-burning and pious pontification, the Press Council of India report on paid news accumulates dust in dark dungeons, like used files. It does manifest our questionable standards, the media’s inability to smother its own insuperable demons.

While we hyperventilate to the world, our own backyard emits a sordid stench. Paid coverage is stealthy advertising, which legitimizes self-promoting campaigns on unsuspecting readers posing as dispassionate reporting. It is indeed an ethical violation of astronomical proportions, but everyone seems nonchalant, blissfully blasé about it.

Dileep Padgaonkar once famously stated that The Times Of India editor was the “second most important man in India”. That was not hubris or a silly exaggeration , it was a near-factual assessment. But today no media big gun can make such lofty claims.

Multiple channels and news publishers have made mass distribution of news our new business reality.

Once I waited every Sunday morning to read Khalid Mohamed’s review of a Bollywood blockbuster. Now several experts miserly dole out glittering stars on Friday itself, even as thousands of faceless bloggers become the new film critic.

It’s literally first day, first show.

Media is now truly democratized; so truly there are no king-makers. With Facebook, Twitter and blogs gathering high-speed on the social networking highway, media activism has also assumed formidable power to influence public opinion, so far considered the sacrosanct preserve of an elite club.

India’s subterranean media revolution is underway.

Media organizations must also frequently take core ideological or strategic positions on sensitive issues, it will enhance their quality. That’s what often distinguishes the print media from television. The snarling watchdog needs to be just that; it can’t have a shrill bark, a toothless bite and lazily snooze when Rome burns, reacting only under extreme provocation.

For instance, last year when Shiv Sena became a quasi-sarkar in threatening to black-out Shah Rukh Khan’s My Name is Khan, the conventional protocol of TV channels of giving both sides a voice was rather superfluous , even preposterous.

Even to a naïve outsider, Shiv Sena was indulging in unlawful transgressions exploiting media platform shamelessly to espouse its parochial claptrap. The worst indictment of the media is when it willingly succumbs to made for TV manufactured events.

Whatever happened to professional discretion?

Aren’t leaked reports also obtained often with at least moral illegality with an in-built clause of quid pro quo?

In a country bedeviled by innumerable scams, a deadly diabolical nexus between criminal elements, political leaders and business-builder behemoths, media is critical. But discharging that onerous responsibility is not a child’s play.

Like WikiLeaks, one foresees alternative mediums to emerge to fill the gaping vacuum created by status quo coverage these days . Investigative journalism has become comatose in a commercially dictated news content age. Something is gone missing.

Are we becoming tabloid-like, allowing any bearded spiritual free-agent, violent wife-beater or a just-released bone chopper to capture India’s attention? Can we then be so self-righteous as to take umbrage under “mere reporting”?

Oh, come on! For all the political faux pas of the government, the media should have used its own grey cells to fathom Baba Ramdev’s bona fides. The modern-media is society’s crucial “ influencer”, not a reseller of titillating tales. Media integrity is a non-negotiable instrument. We need to enforce it.

I hear several grumble ; why does the media never do a comprehensive follow-up to serious unresolved issues instead of chasing the next wife-thrashing maverick promoting his televised marriage? Whatever happened to several disproportionate assets cases against powerful CMs?

Who really covertly leaked the Radia tapes, and why?

How is Lalit Modi “ officially absconding” and purchasing large mansions in downtown London without a valid passport? Whatever happened to the Srikrishna report on the Bombay riots?

Narayan Rane had publicly stated that he was aware of powerful people who knew about 26/11 terrorist attacks—really? If so what happened? Despite singular success stories like Jessica Lal, the CWG and 2G scams, Gujarat riots and several successful petitions, paradoxically enough, media itself is losing the perception battle.

Aamir Khan’s Peepli Live! ridiculed media to atrocious levels but to appreciative applause.

In India, where our daily lives resembles a cacophonous collage of absurd and horrendous tales, news television often degenerates into infotainment category. The truth is that good news is boring.

It’s like breathing. It’s predictable, monotonous, rhythmical, but it is also bloody necessary.

Or else we have the kiss of death.

We are too often celebrating India’s unseen imminent demise, our own pornography of grief. It is time we appreciated that even thorns have roses. At least one channel has begun to share a daily dose of cheer.

Competitive journalism is natural marketing warfare, after all, newspapers and TV channels are not in the charity trade. But intent is pivotal. Phone hacking is unambiguously unethical. Bribery pay-offs of police personnel is contemptible. Killing news to protect favoured parties is equally lamentable.

But isn’t paid news also guilty of disingenuous, distorted presentation of facts?

In the long-run , media houses that practice quintessential consecrated ethical behaviour will survive. Others will flounder.

The editor is media’s conscience-keeper, its guardian angel. They are the ones who must separate the wheat from the chaff, and ensure that the chaff does not get headline attention. But the quarter to quarter pressures of EPS for the publicly listed media companies can result in editorial compromises.

The editors need to be sacrosanct, inaccessible to advertisers and CEO’s business plans, working behind a Chinese wall. Editors should have no employee stock options, and must not be on boards of these companies either; that will eliminate conflict of interest issues.

Instead, they should be compensated by equitable fixed salaries, benefits, bonuses, and given flexibility for research projects, reimbursed higher learning expenses and encouraged to author books and take up teaching assignments.

We need to de-link organizational bottomline numbers with editorial policy.

Editorial independence is a must; they cannot be the brand managers with brains. Also, celebrity editors could do with relative anonymity . Anonymity powers the personal brand. Proximity to suave glib talking industrialists or political power-brokers can be jeopardous as was evident in the Radia tapes.

David Cameron flushes crimson on his selection of the arrested former head of NOTW, Andy Coulson. Tony Blair too is red-faced. And more is still to surface.

Every media company must make public its own independent advisory board with an ombudsman , besides an industry watchdog. Ethical workshops are needed, as young recruits can be susceptible to short-cut methods for quick career windfalls.

Press, public relations , big business and the politicians will have to tread with circumspection as there could be grave overlaps on account of the vested , conflicting interest of each. The unholy nexus is no longer a well-concealed secret. The path is slippery , shaky and serpentine. It is easy to become the news of the world. Very easy.

Good night and good luck!

(Banker turned web entrepreneur, Sanjay Jha is the founder of Cricket Next. This piece originally appeared on the website Hamara Congress)

Image: courtesy Time

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

Thrice bitten, will FT find love after 20 years?

4 May 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: For a newspaper that likes to think it is the handbook for global executives on how to run their businesses, Financial Times hasn’t quite had a textbook entry into India.

Twenty years ago, when the doors of the economy were opened ajar and the rumours of the iconic British business newspaper being published from India gained steam, The Times of India group tripped FT by launching a weekly supplement to The Economic Times, mischievously calling it Financial Times. A long courtroom battle over trademark violation ensued between the two groups.

Boxed into a corner, FT got into a tieup with what was then India’s no. 2 business newspaper, Business Standard, becoming the first foreign company to make a major investment in Indian media. FT‘s representatives sat in the BS news and board rooms, but that relationship went sour in 2008, with FT divesting its 13.85% stake in the paper.

Three years ago, rumours of Raghav Bahl‘s Network 18 launching the India edition of FT hit the roof, with rumours of then ToI executive editor Jaideep Bose being wooed to head the operation. ToI again hit back, retaining “Jojo”, as Bose is known, and elevating him to editorial director. The global downturn also helped put the project in cold freeze.

Today, the Indian Express group of Viveck Goenka, which owns the Financial Express, has announced a “content partnership” with the Financial Times, exactly two years to the day after it started printing a facsimile edition of FT‘s rival, The Wall Street Journal.

“In addition to daily news and features from the Financial Times, readers will benefit from access to reporting from FT bureaus around the world and columns by eminent writers such as Martin Wolf, Lucy Kellaway and Simon Schama,” reads a front-page announcement in the Express.

Express is already in a similar “content partnership” with The Economist, which is half-owned by Pearson, the publishers of FT, publishing a co-branded page a day.  The Rupert Murdoch-owned WSJ, besides printing its editions in Express presses, is in a “partnership” with Mint, the business daily owned by the Hindustan Times.

Thrice bitten, will Financial Times find lasting love in relationship no. 4 with the Express group? And will the consummation of the marriage see the birth of FT in the 20th year of reforms? More to the point, is there an unseen hand, with nascent interests in news television, behind the Express-Economist-FT partnership?

‘Media standards not keeping pace with growth’

18 April 2011

Sanjaya Baru, editor of Business Standard and former media advisor to prime minister Manmohan Singh, delivered the second H.Y. Sharada Prasad memorial lecture on media, business and government at the India International Centre on Sunday, 17 April. This is the full text of his address:

***

By SANJAYA BARU

I first met H.Y. Sharada Prasad in 1982 in the very room in which I later sat in the Prime Minister’s Office. He knew me only as Rama’s husband!  I was in Delhi on a visit from Hyderabad where I was a University lecturer and went to call on him because Rama had asked me to.

I would meet him occasionally during my days at the Economic Times and Times of India and tried hard to get him to write for the editorial page of the TOI, when I was in charge of it in 1994-96. He always declined the invitation with a smile. Finally, when he chose to write a column I had already left TOI and it was M.J. Akbar who managed to get him to do so for The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle.

Perhaps as a consolation he called me one day and told me that he had informed Encyclopedia Britannica that he would stop writing the chapter on India that he had written every year for close to fifty years, and henceforth they should approach me for the chapter.

I was flabbergasted, flattered and honoured.

The editor of Britannica wrote me a warm letter saying that I must be someone very special because after a “life long” association with EB, “Mr Prasad has chosen you to inherit his annual contribution to the Britannica.” I have written that chapter since, every year.”

On 2 June 2004 I joined the PMO in the morning and called on “Shouri mama” (as Sharada Prasad was called by his friends and family) the same evening to seek his blessings and take his advice. He spoke to me at length about the office itself, and the significance of every nook and corner.

“You are sitting in the same room in which Jawaharlal Nehru first sat as Prime Minister,” he told me, referring to the corner room next to the cabinet room. Nehru had to wait for a month to move into what is now the PM’s room, since that room’s earlier occupant, Girija Shankar Bajpai, would not vacate it till the room assigned to him was ready, that being the present principal secretary’s room.

I too had occupied that very room briefly till I moved into the much larger adjacent room, the one Shouri had occupied with great distinction for almost two decades. After letting me know that I was sitting in Nehru’s first room in the PMO, he added with a mischievous smile, “of course Natwar (Singh) also sat there!”

He regaled me with stories about the various occupants of the PMO during his decade and a half there, about their egos and their foibles. He gave me valuable advice on how I should discharge my duties both as media advisor and speech writer that stood me in good stead throughout my four-and-a-half years in the job.

On a couple of occasions when I had difficulty convincing the PM and his senior aides about my media strategy in dealing with an issue, I would called Shouri and having received his endorsement of my plan inform the PM that Mr Sharada Prasad has approved my idea. The PM would instantly fall in line and allow me to go ahead, over ruling the dissenters. Securing Shourie’s imprimatur was enough.

For a man who wielded a powerful and elegant pen for the Prime Minister of India, who had the unquestioned trust and confidence of a powerful Prime Minister like Indira Gandhi, who had travelled around the world with her, hearing her read out his prose, whom generations of Indians had seen in Films Division documentaries and front page photographs sitting next to Mrs Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, here I was with him on my first day in the PMO in his two-room, Punjabi Bagh DDA flat.

Every day of my four-and-a-half years in the PMO, I would recall that first evening that I spent with Shouri.

Don’t fool yourself, I would tell myself, you may be here today, but one day you too will have a modest apartment to retire to. Shouri was among the very few who worked with Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi who had no Vasant Vihar or New friends Colony or Maharani Bagh house to leave for his children. It is the combination of his wisdom and simplicity, his prose and wit, his deep knowledge of both India and the world that makes him a truly unique occupant of that all powerful corner of Raisina Hill. This memorial lecture is dedicated as much to Shourie as to the values he embodied.

***

One of the things that Shouri said to me when I met him the evening of my first day at the PMO was that during his long tenure at the PMO he kept in regular, almost daily contact, with key interlocutors in just five newspapers – Hindustan Times, Indian Express, The Statesman, The Hindu and Times of India. That was a different world.

While India reported less than 500 newspapers in the years Shouri first came to deal with them, and only one television channel, by 1991 there were 923 newspapers and still only one TV channel. But Shouri regarded dealing with just the top five English dailies adequate to influence the rest of the media. These five, he presumably believed, set the tone and the agenda for all others to follow. It is also possible he believed having these five on one’s side is what mattered as far as the PM was concerned.

In 2008, the year I left PMO, the Registrar of Newspapers reported that 2,337 newspapers were in circulation in India. In 2004 there were already several news TV channels, but by 2008 the number had more than tripled. By the time I left my position in mid-2008 I would normally be dealing with at least a couple of dozen newspapers and TV channels every day.  The era when one could happily say that the PM’s media advisor kept in touch with just five top English newspapers was long gone. Not only had Indian language TV and print become more important, but even English language TV and print had burgeoned and the internet had arrived.

It was during my last days in office that I acquired a Facebook account and Outlook magazine put me on their cover, along with some celebrities, for being the first PMO official with a Facebook account. Twitter had not arrived by the time I left office. Today Shouri would not be able to recognise, much less relate, to the media scene in India. My 84-year-old parents take pride in letting me know that they neither watch TV news, nor spend more than a few minutes reading a newspaper. They have opted out of daily news.

But, the rest of India has not. Nowhere has there been a bigger boom in media than in India.

At the last World Association of Newspapers convention in Hyderabad in 2009, India was hailed as the great global hope for media, especially print. The WAN invitation to the Hyderabad convention said:

“Developing literacy and wealth are part of but far from all the story: Great credit needs also to be given to Indian newspaper professionals, who are re-inventing the newspaper to keep it vibrant and compelling in the digital age……. Although broadband and mobile are booming in India, print newspapers are growing right along with them. The country has more daily newspapers than any other nation and leads in paid-for daily circulation, surpassing China for the first time in 2008. Twenty of the world’s 100 largest newspapers are Indian. Newspaper circulation rose a further 8 percent last year.”

Salivating at the India numbers, News Corp top executive James Murdoch told a FICCI–Frames conference in Mumbai last month that “India’s media industry is a ‘sleeping tiger’  waiting to be awakened.” He described global media firms as “grey and tired”. “The impressive achievements of the last two decades have not even begun to fulfill the potential of this great land,” said the son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

This boom is witnessed in every language, with Hindi’s Dainik Jagran emerging as the great success story in print media. But with growth have come its wages. The quantitative expansion of Indian media continues to outpace its qualitative development. Extreme inequality in compensation structures means there are some journalists who get world class compensation that would be the envy of even developed economy media, and there is a mass of under-paid staff, many of whom with low skills and lower motivation.

Speaking at the Silver Jubilee of the Chandigarh Press Club in September 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said:

“With the rapid growth of media in recent times, qualitative development has not kept step with quantitative growth. In the race for capturing markets, journalists have been encouraged to cut corners, to take chances, to hit and run. I believe the time has come for journalists to take stock of how competition has impacted upon quality. Consider the fact that even one mistake, and a resultant accident, can debar an airline pilot from ever pursuing his career. Consider the case that one wrong operation leading to a life lost, and a doctor can no longer inspire the confidence of his patients. One night of sleeping on the job at a railway crossing, an avoidable train accident, and a railway man gets suspended. How many mistakes must a journalist make, how many wrong stories, and how many motivated columns before professional clamps are placed? How do the financial media deal with market moving stories that have no basis in fact? Investors gain and lose, markets rise and fall, but what happens to those reporters, analysts, editors who move and make markets? Are there professional codes of conduct that address these challenges? Is the Press Council the right organization to address these challenges? Can professional organizations of journalists play a role?”

Apart from the problem of quantitative growth outpacing qualitative development, there is also the challenge of conflicting objectives and a clash of cultures. News media has become subsumed into the larger business of information and entertainment. This is in large part a consequence of the growing dependence of media, especially news media, on advertisement revenues, though India still has a substantial segment of the market that is still willing to pay for news.

One of the consequences of this growing dependence on advertising revenues, as opposed to subscription revenue, and the competition from competing media is that news media has become increasingly a mish-mash of news, views and plain entertainment.

A recent  FICCI- KPMG report, Hitting the High Notes on the Indian media and Entertainment Industry in 2011 not only unabashedly refers to ‘media and entertainment’ as one industry, but also points to the growing inter-linkages between the two sides of business. News is entertainment and entertainment is news! And, the stakes are high.

According to KPMG, the Indian Media and Entertainment (M&E) industry stood at US$ 12.9 billion in 2009. Over the next five years the industry is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 13 per cent to reach the size of US$ 24.04 billion by 2014.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report titled ‘Indian Entertainment & Media Outlook 2010’ predicts that the industry is poised to return to double digit growth to touch US$ 22.28 billion growing cumulatively at a 12.4 per cent CAGR to 2014.

Apart from the phenomenal growth prospects, which have become the envy of media companies around the world, and therefore attracting many of them to India, it is important to also note that there has been a vertical and horizontal integration, along the technological spectrum, of news, entertainment and communication. Print, TV, radio, film, music, gaming, mobile telephony, internet and banking and finance are all getting integrated. New technologies will integrate the businesses and the markets even more.

The KPMG report adds, “While television and print continue to dominate the Indian M&E industry, sectors such as gaming, digital advertising, and animation VFX also show tremendous potential in the coming years. By 2015, television is expected to account for almost half of the Indian M&E industry revenues, and more than twice the size of print, the second largest media sector.  The contribution of advertising revenue to overall industry pie is expected to increase from 38 percent in 2007 to 42 percent in 2012.”

When news and entertainment become two sides of the same coin, indeed some would say the same side of one coin, with advertising revenue being the other side of the coin, and when the distinction between news and views gets blurred, journalism enters an uncharted territory where there are as yet no professional yardsticks to judge either purpose or performance. But it is not just the integration of businesses that is having an impact on media. It is the integration of business with politics and politics with business that is now shaping news media, and not just at the national level.

*** Read the rest of this entry »

Why is Rupert Murdoch taking on Samir Jain?

23 February 2011

New Delhi’s media circles have agog all this week with news of a “sting” operation on The Times of India by The Sunday Times of London.

The question: why would Rupert Murdoch‘s paper take on Samir Jain‘s, especially when it is not revealing anything particularly new?

Is something afoot between the media giants?

Has a deal gone sour?

Have the first shots been fired in a war between News Corp and Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd?

The Sunday Times article has, however, been unavailable to readers because of paper’s paywall and because newspapers which subscribe to The Sunday Times syndication service have refrained from running it.

Below is the full text of the article, carried without the permission of the publishers. And in the dock is not just ToI but Hindi heavyweights like Dainik Bhaskar, Dainik Jagran and Aaj, the first two of whom are listed on the stock exchanges.

***

India’s media demand cash to run favourable news

By Nicola Smith/ Delhi

The Indian government has condemned a rise in so-called “paid news”, in which newspapers and television channels accept money to run favourable articles about politicians, companies and celebrities.

The move by Ambika Soni, the broadcasting minister, follows a damaging report commissioned by the Press Council of India, which revealed that the practise of playing for positive coverage in the Indian media was widespread.

Soni, who proposed a new body to regulate broadcasting, said the phenomenon was undermining the credibility of new reports. “The paid news issue does not crop up during the elections but at other times as well,” she said.

The Press Council report criticised newspapers and broadcasters that demand money from politicians to run sympathetic stories about them. It said some papers misrepresent paid-for advertising as news and enter “private treaties” with companies that guarantee favourable coverage in exchange for free shares.

The report quoted a long list of politicians who disclosed that newspaper had asked them to pay large sums to write about their campaigns during state elections in 2009.

Harmohan Dhawan, a former aviation minister, was told that if he wanted coverage, he would have to pay two local newspapers, Dainik Jagran and Dainik Bhaskar, up to one million rupees (£13,600) each.

“Representatives of the print medium came to me and asked for money. They said their newspapers (would) give coverage if I paid them money. They offered a ‘package’ to me and in one such package I was told editorials would be written in my favour,” he said.

The story was echoed by Santosh Singh, a candidate for the ruling Congress party in Uttar Pradesh, who said he had been offered packages costing up to one million rupees by the Dainik Jagran and Aaj newspapers.

“The representatives of these newspapers who me said they were merely following orders given to them by their managements,” he said.

The Press Council report also highlighted the role of Medianet, a company created Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd, which publishes The Times of India, The Economic Times and a range of other leading titles.

Medianet, for a price, openly offers to send journalists to cover launches or personality-related events, or arranges “news stories” based on a particular product to appear in the newspaper supplements.

A Sunday Times reporter telephoned Medianet last week posing as the public relations agent of a company wanting coverage for a party at Emporio, an exclusive shopping mall in Delhi.

Chandru Sambasivan, the head of Medianet’s Delhi office, said space could be bought in the Delhi Times supplement, the Times‘ society pages, for £27 a centimetre on the front page, of £16 inside.

He said it could “definitely” be dressed up as a genuine news story, as along it met a “celebrity quotient”. Celebrities were available to attend the event at an extra cost, he said.

“Once you are able to share it (the launch product) with us, we could always build a story around it and make an interesting article for the readers,” he said. “Basically, if you are looking at a launch, then it can go on ‘launch pad’, on page 3 of Delhi Times.”

Sambasivan confirmed that the latest launch pad feature, in which Katrina Kaif, the Bollywood star, promoted Uni-ball pens, had been paid for by a marketing company. The article, which has no writer’s name attached, does not make clear that it was sponsored.

In it, Kaif, 26, gushed: “I’m excited about being the face of a youthful, high-quality, international brand, which I have personally grown up with in the UK; and I particularly love Uni-Jetstream, which I think is the smoothest pen in the world.”

Ravi Dhariwal, the chief executive of The Times of India, said yesterday: “There is no paid in news in any of our main papers and titles. We do have advertising and promotional supplements which sometimes carry paid features.”

The practice of “paid news” has been widely criticised.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, one of the authors of Press Council report, said adverts posing as new were “cheating” readers.

Also read: Good morning! Your paper is free of paid news

Roy Greenslade: India’s dodgy ‘paid news’ phenomenon

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