Posts Tagged ‘Sandeep Bamzai’

Karan Thapar takes on Shekhar Gupta on credit

15 September 2013

Even after a quarter-century or thereabouts of television interviewing, Karan Thapar‘s competitive edge has far from dimmed.

In his weekly column in the Hindustan Times (whose failed TV venture Home TV he helped set up in the 1990s), Thapar takes offence at the Indian Express and Mail Today for not crediting him for an interview with Union minister Kamal Nath; in fact going so far as to accuse them of “unethical practices”.

Briefly, Nath told Thapar for his CNN-IBN show Devil’s Advocate on September 7 that the CBI was well within its rights to question the PM in the coal scam if need be.

The interview, he says was recorded at 1 pm on Saturday; by 3 pm CNN-IBN began running news clips; by 3:15 pm excerpts were placed on IBN Live, the channel’s website; and by 5 pm emailed to the press, including Express and Mail Today.

Thapar writes:

“Imagine my surprise when on Sunday (September 8) I discovered that the Express and Mail Today had done identical interviews, with Kamal Nath making exactly the same point.

“Was this a coincidence? Or was it just conceivable they had seen the news clips and the excerpts and decided to put the same question to Kamal Nath so they could claim he had given the same answer to them as well?

“In other words, had they cleverly converted our interview into their own?

“Curious but also upset, I telephoned the minister. He confirmed my suspicions. Shortly after CNN-IBN began running news clips, the papers contacted him and asked the same questions about the PM and the CBI….

“I felt this was unethical. In fact, to be honest, it felt like ‘theft’. So I smsed a complaint to Shekhar Gupta, the editor of the Express, and Sandeep Bamzai, the editor of Mail Today.

“Shekhar didn’t respond. Sandeep did. He accepted what had happened was “bad form” and promised a clarification on Monday (September 9). It appeared on page 24. If I hadn’t known it was coming, I would have missed it….

“But these days honesty, it seems, is a diminishing virtue. On that count, sadly, journalists can’t claim to be very different from politicians.”

For the record, Thapar acknowledges that Press Trust of India, Business Standard and The Hindu carried Thapar’s interview, duly crediting CNN-IBN.

Also, for the record, Shekhar Gupta hosts the Walk the Talk interview show on NDTV that competes with Thapar’s Devil Advocate.

But the questions are obvious: can a TV interviewer who sends out a press release before an interview is aired claim exclusivity if a newspaper approaches the same interviewee with the same questions? Are Union ministers like Nath really “exclusive” material?

Read the full column: Honesty is a diminishing virtue

The angst of the editor searching for his roots

20 June 2012

On world refugee day, Mail Today editor Sandeep Bamzai writes:

“Displaced in your own country, willy nilly ignored by different political parties and in many ways expunged from the national discourse. That in many ways sums up the plight of Kashmiri Pandits in India. One of the greatest human tragedies since partition, a lost community and perhaps at one level a lost generation….

“I must confess that I am not a refugee, though I was born in the land of my ancestors, very much in the Vale of Kashmir. Against that, I would like to believe that I am an Indian first, having lived and worked in three of the biggest metropolitan cities of this wonderful country — Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and now once again in the rajdhani . But at another level, I am also a Kashmiri, my roots call out to me constantly.

“They ask me searching questions, they probe, they irritate my sub conscious wanting to know what I have done about my heritage, legacy, call it what you will. This Wednesday, the World Refugee day is to be celebrated, though I wonder how a refugee can celebrate his displacement.”

For the record, Sandeep Bamzai’s sister Kaveree Bamzai is editor of India Today.

Read the full article: Refugees in their own country

How the media viewed Express ‘C’ report

5 April 2012

Editorial in Deccan Herald:

“There is reason for deep concern over the report in a national daily, The Indian Express, about an ‘unexpected (and non-notified) movement’ of two army units towards Delhi on the night of January 16-17… To insinuate that General V.K. Singh would attempt a coup to settle scores with the government is downright slanderous. It is an insult to the Indian Army, which has an unblemished record of being an apolitical force. There are enough safeguards in our system to ensure the supremacy of the civilian government over the military.

“It does seem that the newspaper read too much into what was a harmless and routine movement of army units. It should have exercised greater caution and responsibility in reporting the story the way it did.”

Editorial in The Hindu:

“The Indian Express is entirely within its rights to write about a sensitive matter like this, even if its treatment was overblown. Just as it is unfair for anyone to cast aspersions on the Indian Army, it is unfair to question the motives of the journalists who wrote the story.”

Jim Yardley and Hari Kumar in the New York Times:

“The article, splashed across the front page, created a sensation in the Indian news media, stirring a discussion on the country’s all-news channels and on Twitter, where many criticized the Express for, they said, sensationalizing the episode when relations between civilian and military leaders are already fraught….

Uday Bhaskar, a retired Indian Navy commodore, agreed that mistrust between military and civilian leaders had deepened, partly because of the poisonous political environment in New Delhi, which he said was fueled by an increasingly sensationalistic media.”

Sandeep Bamzai in Mail Today:

“A leading daily may have unintentionally extrapolated from the website report and sensationalised the story. Or it may have got it right because as they tell us the event is dated January 16 this year. But to run a story of this magnitude may well be a disservice to media and to national interest. Because now it is not just the Army chief, but the Armed Forces which will be viewed with suspicion.”

Editorial in the Economic Times:

“The overall fallout of the story is to lower both the army chief and the defence minister in public esteem, as those who bumble into a messy civil-military standoff.”

Manoj Joshi in Mail Today:

“In journalism, there are dividing lines that define when a news report informs, analyses, titillates or sensationalises. But there is just one line which separates a report which serves national interest from one which does disservice to it. The report in a national daily, which talks about the movement of two crack Indian Army units towards New Delhi on the night of January 16, not only makes unwarranted conjectures, but in the process, damages the body politic of the country.”

Editorial in the Business Standard:

“A binary choice should not be forced on this discussion. Talk of a coup is absurd and the newspaper report may be alarmist; yet there are questions that must be addressed…. Anything less than direct engagement with the substance of the Express report would serve to further undermine public trust in the institution.”

News item in M.J. Akbar‘s Sunday Guardian:

“Sources involved in tracking sensitive developments claim that a senior minister of the UPA government was the mastermind of the April 4 front page item in a daily newspaper about a suspected coup attempt. The sources claim that the minister is connected – through his close relative – with the defense procurement lobbies gunning for Chief of Army Staff General V K Singh, and that the decision to “trick the newspaper into running a baseless report was to drain away support for General Singh within the political class”, who could be expected to unite against any effort at creating a Pakistan-style situation in India….

“According to these sources,the minister in question “is well-known to senior journalistic levels of the publication” that ran the coup report. A military source was “surprised that the newspaper in question ran such a story,in view of the high level of competence of its senior staff”, but added that ” a senior minister being the source of the initial information would explain their belief in the truth of the report”.

Also read: Indian Express ‘C’ report: scoop, rehash or spin?

Indian Express stands by its ‘C’ report

Don’t laugh: Do journos make good politicians?

23 June 2009

PRITAM SENGUPTA in New Delhi and SHARANYA KANVILKAR in Bombay write: The stunning defeat of the BJP in the general elections has been dissected so many times and by so many since May 16 that there is little that has been left unsaid.

What has been left unsaid is how the BJP’s defeat also marks the comeuppance of a certain breed of journalists who had chucked all pretence to non-partisanship and made it their mission to tom-tom the party, in print and on air, for a decade and more.

The Congress and the Left parties have had more than their share of sympathetic “left-liberal” journalists, of course. And for longer. But most were closet supporters unwilling to cross the divide from journalism into politics, or unwilling to be seen to be doing so.

However, the rise of the “muscular” BJP saw the birth of a “muscular” breed of journalists who unabashedly batted for the party’s politics and policies—without revealing their allegiance while enjoying its fruits “lavishly“—in a manner that would have embarrassed even the official spokesmen of the “Hindu nationalist party”.

Little wonder, Arun Shourie, the granddad of journalists turned BJP politicians, alleged at the party’s national executive meeting that “the BJP was being run by six journalists.” There are different versions doing the rounds on who the “Gang of Six” were, but some names are no longer in the realm of speculation.

# Sudheendra Kulkarni an assistant editor at The Sunday Observer and executive editor at Blitz, rose to be a key aide to both prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and prime minister-in-waiting L.K. Advani, even drafting the latter’s controversial Jinnah speech.

# Chandan Mitra, an assistant editor at The Times of India, editor of The Sunday Observer, and executive editor of Hindustan Times, found himself “mysteriously becoming the proprietor of The Pioneer, without spending a rupee thanks to the generosity of the BJP and more particularly that of L.K. Advani“.

# Swapan Dasgupta, the scion of Calcutta Chemicals (which makes Margo soap), rose to be managing editor of the weekly newsmagazine India Today, before emerging the unofficial media pointsman of sorts for Arun Jaitley and through him for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

# Balbir K. Punj, the sugar correspondent of The Financial Express, who churned out masterly theses on conversions and other sundry diversions for Outlook magazine, was nominated to the upper house of Parliament by the BJP like Mitra.

# And then there’s a motley crew of fulltimers and freelancers, including India Today editor Prabhu Chawla, Pioneer associate editor Kanchan Gupta, who did a spell in Vajpayee’s PMO, and weighty political correspondents and editors of The Times of India, The Economic Times and Dainik Jagran.

“Journo Sena” was what the tribe came to be called, an allusion to the “Vanara Sena” (army of monkeys) that helped Lord Rama fight the armies of Ravana in Ramayana.

However, in the unravelling political epic, the “Journo Sena” stands trapped in the crossfire of a party struggling to come to grips with a gigantic electoral loss, firing wildly at each other—or are being fired at by the big guns.

***

First, Sudheendra Kulkarni’s “candid insider account” in Tehelka, a magazine whose website was hounded out of business by the Vajpayee government, came in for searing criticism from Anil Chawla, a classmate of his at IIT Bombay, for blaming the RSS for the BJP’s plight.

“The patient is being blamed for all that has gone wrong, without in any way blaming either the virus or the team of doctors who have brought the patient to the present critical state,” he wrote in a widely circulated “open letter”.

Kanchan Gupta, who many believe was eased out of Vajpayee’s PMO by Kulkarni, took a potshot at his erstwhile colleague.

“Kulkarni who undid the BJP’s election campaign in 2004 with the ‘India Shining’ slogan and fashioned the 2009 campaign which has taken the BJP to a low of barely-above-100 mark has written an article for Tehelka, the magazine which tarred the NDA government, causing it irreparable damage, and is now the favourite perch of those who inhabit the BJP’s inner courtyard, blaming all and sundry except those who are to blame,” Gupta wrote on rediff.com.

In a rejoinder in Tehelka, Swapan Dasgupta welcomed Sudheendra Kulkarni’s mea culpa calling it “a welcome addition to the ever-growing literature on the BJP’s 2009 election experience,” but couldn’t resist himself from sticking the knife in.

“Kulkarni has provided some interesting insights but has also cluttered the picture with red herrings. This isn’t surprising.

There are many in the BJP who insist that the problem with Advani was Kulkarni“.

When former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha resigned from party posts, ostensibly miffed at the elevation of Arun Jaitley as leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha despite leading the party to defeat, Dasgupta rushed to Jaitley’s defence, wondering how the resignation letter had made its way to NDTV.

“TV editors I have spoken to have indicated that there were two parallel points of leak. The first was through an associate of Pramod Mahajan (who hates Jaitley) and the other was was the unlikely figure of a cerebral Rajya Sabha MP.

“I gather that the follow-up was done by a disagreeable journalist (one who signed the 20-points during the Emergency) whose nomination to the Rajya Sabha has been blocked by Jaitley on two separate occasions,” he wrote on his blog.

At the BJP’s national executive meeting, the “cerebral Rajya Sabha MP” Arun ShourieMagsaysay Award-winning former investigative journalist and author who became a minister in the Vajpayee government—“blamed six unnamed journalists who, he said, were responsible for articles damaging the [BJP] party interest.”

Whether the journalists were all members of the BJP or merely sympathetic to it, Shourie didn’t make clear.

In drawing attention to the journalists in specific, the former journalist may only have been indulging in the nation’s favourite sport of shooting the messenger but he was also underlining the role his compatriots were playing in the BJP’s affairs.

In his column in the media magazine Impact, Sandeep Bamzai writes:

“Arun Jaitley and his band of journalists-turned-politicocs misread the ground realities and the tea leaves completely. Buoyed by several wins in key States, this core team thought that the mood in the States would be mirrored at the Centre when the general hustings came along.

“Price spikes, terror threats and fulminations against a decent PM Manmohan Singh were the new imperatives crafted by Jaitley and his journo boys.

“The entire strategy fell flat on its face and all the journos who hogged prime time on new telly in the run up to the elections turned into disillusioned critics immediately after the results.”

In the India Today cover story on the BJP’s travails, Swapan Dasgupta’s former boss, Prabhu Chawla, seen to be close to incumbent BJP president Rajnath Singh, found fault with Singh’s bete noire Arun Jaitley for being spotted at Lord’s, applauding a boundary by Kevin Pietersen during the India-England Twenty20 match:

“Jaitley, a hardcore cricket buff, was in London with his family on holiday while his party back home was imploding, just like the Indian team.”

On a yahoogroup called “Hindu Thought”, the former Century Mills public relations officer turned columnist Arvind Lavakare, attacked Swapan Dasgupta, presumably for urging the BJP to junk the “ugly Hindu” image engendered by its commitment to Hindutva.

“After quitting a salaried job in a reputed English magazine a few years ago, Swapan’s livelihood may well be depending on his writings being published in a wide range of prosperous English newspapers which are anti-Hindu and therefore anti-BJP. If that is indeed so, Swapan simply cannot afford to project and push the Hindu line beyond the Laxman rekha. Poor dear,” wrote Lavakare.

The comment would perhaps have gone unnoticed, but Dasgupta gave it some oxygen by responding in kind in a post-script on his blog:

“I have no intention of affirming my credentials. To do so would be to dignify Lavakare’s personal attacks as a substitute for an informed debate on ideas.

“I merely hope that the attacks on where I write, who went to college with me and who are my friends are not in any way an expression of envy. It is a matter of satisfaction for me that I get a platform in the mass media (cutting across editorial positions).

“Engaging with the wider world is daunting but much more meaningful than gloating inside a sectarian ghetto. I strong recommend Lavakare also tries earning a livelihood out of writing for “a range of prosperous English newspapers”. It could be a humbling experience.”

Among the few journalists to have spotted the travails of the “Journo Sena”, or at least among the few to have had the courage of conviction to put it on paper, is Faraz Ahmed.

He writes in The Tribune, Chandigarh:

“When the BJP lost power in 2004, all the branded BJP editors—Kanchan, Swapan, A. Surya Prakash and Udayan Namboodri—were pensioned off to Chandan Mitra’s Pioneer. Today, however, each one of them is finding fault with Advani, the BJP and some even with the Sangh.

“These are ominous signs of the demise of a political party and reminds one of the slow and painful death of Janata Dal in the early ’90s when the ‘Dalam’ was dying and BJP was on the upswing and everyone was joining it or identifying with it because that was the most happening party.

“To be fair to these people who naturally represent the rising middle class, they waited patiently for five years in a hope that the UPA government would be a one-election wonder and would die a natural death in the next round. So much for their political understanding.”

Obviously, everybody loves a winning horse and doubtless the antics of the “Journo Sena” would have made for more pleasant viewing had the election verdict been the other way round.

Still, their antics in the aftermath of defeat raise some fundamental questions about their grand-standing in the run-up to the elections: Are all-seeing, all-knowing journalists cut out for politics? Do they have the thick skin, large stamina, and the diplomatic skills required for the rough and tumble?

From the embarrassment they have caused and are causing to their party of choice, it is clear that there is an element of truth to BJP president Rajnath Singh’s statement that he can “neither swallow nor spew out” the journalists.

Then again, L.K. Advani started his career as a journalist.

Also read: How come no one saw the worm turn?

The sad and pathetic decline of Arun Shourie

How Chandan Mitra has his halwa and hogs it too

Advani: Prime minister maybe, but not a good sub

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