Posts Tagged ‘Salman Rushdie’

‘Media freedom bleaker with Ambani domination’

5 June 2014

The takeover of Network 18 group with its myriad news, business and entertainment channels has received scant review in the Indian media, but the author Pankaj Mishra bells the cat in Bloomberg View:

“There is no denying that the future of media freedom in India looks even bleaker than ever after Mukesh Ambani’s Silvio Berlusconi-style domination of both news and entertainment content and delivery mechanisms.

“At the very least, such violation of the rules of the free market should be exposed to intense public scrutiny, even criticism, of the kind the deal between Comcast and Time Warner has provoked in the U.S.

“But a near-total silence from politicians and the mainstream media greeted the extraordinary doubling of gas prices in India.

“When Reliance attempted to throttle the book [by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta] about it, those columnists who had denounced Penguin for agreeing to withdraw Wendy Doniger’s “The Hindus: An Alternative History” went oddly quiet.

“And given the “toadification” of large parts of the Indian media, to paraphrase Salman Rushdie, it may even croak out some malicious joy as more independent-minded journalists depart what does look increasingly like a toad-breeding swamp.”

Infographic: courtesy Outlook*

Read the full article: India’s newest media baron embraces censorship

* Disclosures apply

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

Rajya Sabha TV tears into Reliance-TV18 deal

EPW on the Reliance-ETV-RIL deal within a deal

Anant Goenka: WaPo, Amazon, HT and the Reliance-TV18 deal

Free speech gets a major boost (in the a**)

30 January 2013

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So, young Indians cannot tell their friends in what they like on Facebook, without being “pre-screened” by Harvard types (or hauled into a police station by Shiv Sena goons). So, bloggers cannot publish their “online private diaries” without the sword of 66(A) hanging over their heads.

So, tweeters can be blocked and Savita bhabhi‘s enviable lifestyle is subject to some faceless babu’s sense of humour (or voyeurism). So, the Mahatma‘s life is beyond scrutiny in the land of you-know-who. So (oh!), Aamir Khan‘s film will miraculously not be screened, also in the land of you-know-who.

Or his TV show.

So, TV stations cannot show protests without threatened by the information and broadcasting ministry (or corporate titans). So, newspapers cannot report what their reporters see without being told that the tap of government advertisements could be turned off.

So, M.F. Husain cannot die in his own country. So, A.K. Ramanujam‘s interpretation of the Ramayana hurts somebody.

So, Ashis Nandy cannot drop his pearls on corruption without offending Dalits, tribals and OBCs. So, Salman Rushdie cannot go to a lit-fest in Jaipur (or Calcutta) without offending Islamist fundoos. So, Shah Rukh Khan cannot write what’s in his heart without offending.

So, Kamal Hassan‘s new film can be banned by a government run by a former film actor.

Sometimes, you do have to remind yourself it is a free country, don’t you?

Image: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today

That was the year that was in the ‘free’ Republic

3 January 2013

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GEETA SESHU writes from Bombay: The year 2012 ended with a Kannada TV reporter, Naveen Soorinje, in jail for more than 50 days after the Karnataka High Court denied him bail.

Mangalore-based Soorinje, was incarcerated on November 7, 2012 after police charged him under the UAPA and under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for reporting on the raid on a homestay party by a Hindu fundamentalist group in July.

Soorinje’s bail application was rejected on December 26.

The same month, a television journalist, Nanao Singh, was shot dead in a police firing in Manipur.

In 2012, India was a grim place for free speech. It recorded the death of five journalists. Another 38 were assaulted, harassed or threatened.

There were 43 instances of curbs on the Internet, 14 instances of censorship in the film and music industry, and eight instances of censorship of content in the print medium.

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The year began with the brutal killing of journalist Chandrika Rai (42), his wife Durga (40) and their two teenage children — son Jalaj (19) and daughter Nisha (17) — at their residence in Madhya Pradesh’s Umaria distict in February.

Other journalists to die this year were Rajesh Mishra in Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, Chaitali Santra in Kolkata and Raihan Naiyum, in Assam.

We list and detail below all the incidents which occurred in the course of the year.

That the death toll of journalists would have been higher, is clear by the brutality of the assaults and threats to journalists: Thongam Rina, associate editor of Arunachal Times, was shot at and critically injured in July; Kamal Shukla in Chhattisgarh was assaulted by a local politician because he wrote a story on illegal tree-felling in Koelibeda, the constituency of the state’s forest minister Vikram Usendi; in Gujarat’s Palampur district, television journalist Devendra Khandelwal was attacked with iron pipes by relatives of MLA Mafatlal Purohit for reporting their involvement in illegal construction.

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Sec 66 (a) and internet freedom: The 41 instances of free speech violations related to internet use in the Free Speech Hub’s ‘Free Speech Tracker’ testify to the growing use and abuse of this medium.

Shaheen Dhada and Renu Srinivasan, two young Facebook users, in Palghar, Maharashtra, in October, were arrested under the draconian Sec 66 (a) of the Information Technology Act, one for posting a critical status comment on the shutdown of the city in the wake of the death of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray and the other for ‘liking’ the post!

The nation-wide protest that followed forced a review of the charges against them and a closure report by police. However, they will still have to wait till January 2013 for the formal dropping of charges against them.

Already, the fears over the misuse of the controversial Section (66 A) of the Information Technology Act, 2000, were confirmed by other instances: the arrest of two Jadavpur University professors in April 2012 for their e-mails on the cartoons poking fun at that projected West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee; the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi for sedition, for insulting national honour and for sending offensive messages under Sec 66 (a) of the IT Act in August 2012: two employees of Air-India, Mayank Sharma and K.V.J. Rao, who were sacked (and reinstated after the protests) after their arrest over a Facebook post, three youth arrested in Kashmir for allegedly anti-Islamic posts and the arrest of industrialist A.S. Ravi for tweeting about Karti Chidambaram, son of Union minister for P. Chidambaram.

Earlier, in June 2012, the union government ordered the blocking of more than 250 sites and web pages following the widespread panic and exodus of people from the North East out of Pune, Delhi and Bangalore.

Some accounts that disproved the morphed pictures and the propaganda were also blocked.

The Google Transparency Report put India top on the list of countries making demands to take down content.

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Censorship in other media: Censorship continued in all arenas, from the literary and cinematic worlds, to art and theatre.

Protests of vigilante groups against all manner of expression continued with political parties and social groups taking offence against film songs, dialogues and titles of movies, art exhibitions and theatre performances and even the use of mobile phones by women.

In May, the Human Resources Development Ministry’s attempt to expunge cartoons from NCERT and CBSE textbooks for their alleged anti-Dalit connotations sparked an inconclusive debate on casteism in educational content while the cancellation of Salman Rushdie’s proposed visit to the Jaipur Literary Festival in January only showed the pusillanimity of the state administration.

Covert state surveillance was on the rise, with an increase in government interception and monitoring of emails and telephone conversations, privacy violations and hate speech cases are also under the scanner.

(Veteran journalist Geeta Seshu hosts the free speech hub at the media blog, The Hoot)

Also read: 3 deaths, 14 attacks on journos in 2011

Salman Rushdie, Satanic Verses & India Today

22 September 2012

The launch of Salman Rushdie‘s memoirs, Joseph Anton, written in third person, has seen a flurry of TV interviews, and profiles, reviews and soft stories in the newspapers.

Hindustan Times runs this short excerpt from the book which chronicles how The Satanic Verses ended up getting banned in India:

On the day he received the bound proofs of The Satanic Verses he was visited at home on St Peter’s Street by a journalist he thought of as a friend, Madhu Jain of India Today.

When she saw the thick, dark blue cover with the large red title she grew extremely excited, and pleaded to be given a copy so that she could read it while on holiday in England with her husband. And once she had read it she demanded that she be allowed to interview him and that India Today be allowed to publish an extract.

Again, he agreed.

For many years afterwards he thought of this publication as the match that lit the fire.

And certainly the magazine highlighted what came to be seen as the book’s ‘controversial’ aspects, using the headline AN UNEQUIVOCAL ATTACK ON RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM, which was the first of innumerable inaccurate descriptions of the book’s contents, and, in another headline, ascribing a quote to him – MY THEME IS FANATICISM – that further misrepresented the work.

The last sentence of the article, ‘The Satanic Verses is bound to trigger an avalanche of protests…’ was an open invitation for those protests to begin.

Madhu Jain offers an explanation in Open magazine:

When I returned to Delhi my editor in India Today asked me to write a review before anybody else did. Since the book was yet to be launched, I called Salman in London for permission to publish a review. He said yes….

Unfortunately, the editor of the books pages of the magazine at the time, who later went on to edit a national daily, plucked some of the more volatile extracts from the novel—those about the Prophet’s wives—and inserted them into the book review.

Not too long after the IFS bureaucrat-turned-politician Syed Shahabuddin read the excerpts (not the book as he admitted ) and demanded that The Satanic Verses be banned. Protests erupted in India and Pakistan.

In Karachi, a few protesters died when they were fired upon. It is believed that Ayatollah Khomeini watched this on television and ordered the fatwa.

Madhu Jain writes that Rushdie stopped talking to her after the review and even snubbed her when she offered an explanation of what had happened.

But in Joseph Anton (pages 112-13), Rushdie writes:

“With the passage of time came forgiveness. Rereading the India Today piece many years later, in a calmer time, he would concede the piece was fairer than the magazine’s headline writer had made it look, more balanced than its last sentence. Those who wished to be offended would have been offended anyway. Those who were looking to be inflamed would have found the necessary spark.

“Perhaps the magazine’s most damaging act was to break the traditional publishing embargo and print its piece nine days before the book’s publication, at a time when not a single copy had arrived in India. This allowed Mr Shahabuddin and his ally, another opposition MP named Khurshid Alam Khan, free rein. They could say whatever they pleased about the book, but it could not be read and therefore could not be defended.

“One man who had read an advance copy, the journalist Khushwant Singh, called for a ban in the Illustrated Weekly of India as a measure to prevent trouble. He thus became the first member of the small group of world writers who joined the censorship lobby. Khushwant Singh further claimed that he had been asked for his advice by Penguin and had warned the author and publishers of the consequences of publication.

“The author was unaware of any such warning. if it was ever given, it was never received.”

Read the HT review: Joseph Anton

Madhu Jain: The deadly review

Penguin sacks ex-Gentleman, David Davidar

12 June 2010

David Davidar, the former magazine journalist who rose to become publisher of such stellar Indian literary names as Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie, Khushwant Singh and Shobha De, has been sacked from Penguin Canada following charges of sexual harassment.

Davidar, 52, part of the team at the now defunct monthly, Gentleman launched by Minhaz Merchant, has been “asked to leave” the firm after a former rights and contracts director at the company, Lisa Rundle,  “brought an action” against him, Penguin Canada said in Toronto on Friday.

The new statement was in marked contrast to an earlier release on June 8 that suggested Davidar had left the company on his own to return to India to pursue his writing projects and other endeavours. Davidar is the author of two novels, The House of Blue Mangoes and The Emperor of Solitudes.

“I just felt I wanted to see if I could do something other than managing a company,” Davidar, had said in a boiler-plate exit interview. He said he and his wife were planning to return to India to live.

In a new interview, Davidar confirms he had a “friendship with my colleague” that went on for three years but says he is “dismayed Penguin Canada chose to respond to the charges by directing me to leave Penguin”:

“Earlier this week it was announced that I would be leaving Penguin Canada.  At Penguin’s request, I agreed to publicly state that my departure was voluntary.  The truth is that a former colleague accused me of sexual harassment and Penguin terminated my employment.”

Saturday’s Globe and Mail has further details of the scale of the alleged harassment as detailed by Lisa Rundle in her complaint before the Ontario superior court of justice on June 9. It suggests that Rundle was sexually harassed repeatedly over three years culminating in “outright assault” at the Frankfurt book fair last fall.

The accusations are accompanied by quotations from several e-mail messages Davidar allegedly sent to Rundle, whom he described as “utterly gorgeous,” “a vision in pink sipping a champagne cocktail.”

The court statement says:

“At the Frankfurt book fair last October Davidar appeared at Rundle’s hotel room door, ‘wearing excessive cologne, with buttons on his shirt undone down his waist’.

“Lisa stood in her hotel room into which Davidar had bullied his way, with her arms crossed, still near the door, and asked what he needed to discuss. He told her to relax and just let him come in. She refused and said she wanted to go to sleep.

“Rundle claims she climbed on a windowsill to avoid her boss and again asked him to leave. ‘He forcibly pulled her off the ledge and grabbed her by the wrists, forcing his tongue into her mouth’.”

David Davidar, who launched the Indian imprint of Penguin for the Anand Bazaar Patrika (ABP) group, moved to Canada in 2003 as head of Penguin Canada. August 15 is to be his last day at work.

Photograph: courtesy The Globe and Mail, Toronto

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Read more here:

Toronto Globe & Mail: Davidar forced out

The Star: Davidar was forced to leave Penguin

The National Post: Davidar was asked to leave

Straight.com: Sexual lawsuit filed

Akhand of Swot: David Davidar‘s exit

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

4 December 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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By BARKHA DUTT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No dos and don’ts were provided by officials.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The viewer, to that extent, is king.

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

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

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

And the last word belongs to him.

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