Posts Tagged ‘Sham Lal’

The house that Raj Rewal built for a TOI editor

9 June 2014

sham lal

The national gallery of modern art (NGMA) in the capital is playing host to an exhibition by the architect Raj Rewal. And among the many works on display is Rewal’s design for the residence of the former editor of The Times of India, Sham Lal in New Delhi’s Gulmohar Park area.

A true man of letters, Mr Sham Lal wrote a weekly editorial-page column titled “Life and Letters”.

When T.N. Shanbag the owner of Strand Book  Stall in Bombay passed away, Namita Devidayal wrote in The Times of India:

“There was a time when the senior editors of The Times of India would go to Strand after lunch, browse and catch up with Shanbhag, and then stroll back through the arched arcades of Dadabhoy Naoroji Road, as part of their daily constitutional.

“‘Sham Lal’s wife hated me because he spent all his time and money on books,’ Mr Shanbhag used to joke about the former Times editor.

In her book on The Times, Bachi Karkaria wrote:

When Sham Lal retired, the newsroom (which he had never stepped into) gave him a farewell. It was held in the 6th floor canteen where the aam janata, not ‘invited’ to the august directors’ lunch room, ate.

Sham Lal was seldom seen in the latter, so he probably did not even known of the existence of the former. He was escorted up in the lift and into the huge hall. News editor, chief reporter, subs, peons, all sung his fulsome (sic) praises. The quiet but universally admired editor was presented ‘floral tributes’ and a salver.

Then the master of ceremonies grandly announced, ‘Now Mr Sham Lal will give a speech.’ Sham Lal slowly shuffled to his feet, cleared his throat, and as the packed hall waited in anticipation for an outpouring of enlightenment from the man who had attained intellectual nirvana, he merely said, ‘Thank you’. Then he went back to his chair and sat down….

At a party in Mumbai, Sham Lal was cornered by a large, garrulous American woman. After a 15-minute monologue, she stopped mid-flow and asked, “Am I boring you?” and Sham Lal replied with extreme and genuine courtesy, “Yes I am afraid you are.”

An epitome of an ivory-tower editor, Mr Sham Lal was once famously accosted in the ToI corridors by a studious looking young man as he stepped out.

“Who are you?” he is said to have asked the young man.

“Sir, I am your assistant editor.”

Also read: Man who educated Bombay journalists is dead

Khalid Mohamed on Sham Lal

Kuldip Nayar on Shekhar Gupta, N. Ram & Co

5 July 2012

Kuldip Nayar, 89, the grand old lion of Indian journalism—former editor of the Statesman in Delhi, former managing editor of the United News of India news agency, former correspondent of the London Times, former media advisor to the late prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, former high commissioner of India to the United Kingdom, and above all a secular, liberal peace monger—has just published his memoirs.

Titled Beyond the Lines (Roli Books, Rs 495), the book brings home a man who can legitimately claim to have seen Mahatma Gandhi at prayer, quizzed Jawaharlal Nehru, watched Mohammed Ali Jinnah closely, worked with Shastri and Govind Ballabh Pant, all figures who are part of history books to whole generations.

The book also throws light on Nayar, the lionhearted journalist who opposed the Emergency and rubbed shoulders with generations of journalists and proprietors:

***

SHANTI PRASAD JAIN, The Times of India: T.T. Krishmachari was still in the cabinet when Shastri assigned to me the task of findings out from Shanti Prasad Jain whether he would be willing to sell Bennett Coleman, which published the Times of India, Nav Bharat Times and other publications. They were being run by a board that the government had appointed when TTK told Nehru that the owners had been found indulging in malpractices.

Shanti Prasad and his talented wife, Rama Jain, were known to me as we played bridge together. Shanti Prasad had told me to start a Hindi UNI service which he promised to subsidize. I was embarrassed to have to carry Shastri’s message to him. He was upset. He told me that even if he had to sell all his business, including the house in which he was living, he would never sell the Times of India. Shastri returned Bennett Coleman to him.

***

C.R. IRANI, The Statesman: I was unhappy in the Statesman. Irani had reduced me to the position of consulting editor from resident editor. He then wanted me to vacate my room as well, and asked me to sit somewhere else. Subsequently, he withdrew my peon and telephone too.

What hurt me most was that a colleague and a friend S. Nihal Singh, tried to effect the changes. It was in fact he who conveyed Irani’s decision to me. Nihal’s attitude exuded authority which was humiliating. I could understand Irani’s action but not those of Nihal who himself subsequently suffered at Irani’s hands and had to leave the Statesman.

The only person who stood by me during those days was my secretary, G. Barret. She refused to work with Nihal and preferred to stay on with me. I was reduced to writing only my weekly column, ‘Between the Lines’. Irani tried to stop that too but did not succeed because the editor N.J. Nanporia refused to permit that.

***

SHEKHAR GUPTA, The Indian Express: I hired many journalists but two of the recruits, Shekhar Gupta and Madhu Kishwar, became celebrities. Shekhar Gupta called me his ‘guru’ but showed no respect when he stopped my fortnightly column. By then he had become all in all in the Express, circumstances having helped him to occupy the position of editor-in-chief. He also became abnormally affluent as well as arrogant.

I liked him when he was a simple straightforward journalist at Chandigarh. Now, Shekhar Gupta was infatuated with himself. His personal views and other considerations shaped the Indian Express which was once India’s most anti-establishment newspaper.

(Update: On its website, Roli Books has issued this clarification: “The new edition of Kuldip Nayar’s widely popular autobiography, Beyond the Lines, now comes with several changes including his remarks relating to Shekhar Gupta, Editor, the Express Group, and his reference to a former president of Sikh Student’s Union, both of which he retracted and regretted for at the launch. All subsequent editions of the book come with these changes.”)

***

RAMNATH GOENKA, The Indian Express: What shocked me was that RNG removed V.K. Narasimhan, who as editor-in-chief had kept the defiant stance of the Indian Express intact, a couple of days after Indira Gandhi lost power. His name was removed from the print line and substituted by S. Mulgaonkar’s, without Narasimhan’s knowledge.

He resigned to register his protest. The entire senior editorial staff signed a petition against Goenka’s action. I was approached to sign it. I told them that I would not do so but after speaking to Goenka who was in the guest-house. I asked if the news about Narasimhan’s removal was correct.

He said he had to restore Mulgaonkar to his position to correct the wrong done to him. ‘Was it necessary to do so in the manner you have,’ I asked. He said that he should have reverted Narasimha to his original position at the Financial Express and seemed regretful.

When I told him about the revolt in the office he said they should not forget what he has gone through during the Emergency. I could see repentance on his face. He wanted me to go to Narasimhan’s house and bring him back. I went there and found him sitting in the floor having a cup of coffee his wife had prepared. I requested him to rejoin as editor of the Financial Express and assured him that RNG was apologetic.

For Narasimhan, the question of joining the Express group again did not arise. He asked me how long had I known RNG. Before I could reply, he said: ‘Kuldeep, I have known him for 30 years. Goenka has not changed. He is as selfish as ever.’

How courageous and noble a man was Narasimhan, I thought. He had no job to go to and yet took a stand whenever there was attack on his dignity. I had close relations with the Deccan Herald family and got him posted as editor-in-chief of the newspaper.

***

AVEEK SARKAR, Ananda Bazaar Patrika: I resumed my syndicated weekly column, ‘Between the Lines’ after my return from the UK. Even within the brief period of a year when I was in London, Indian journalism had changed dramatically and become owner-driven.

For instance, Anand Bazar Patrika reflected Aveek Sarkar’s views. His father, Asok Sarkar, was a friend of mine so I treated Aveek like a member of the family. He once told me that he was the second most important person in West Bengal after Jyoti Basu, who was then alive.

Much earlier the Rajasthan Patrika had stopped publishing my column. The owner, R.C. Kulish, was a personal friend but could not tolerate my criticism of the BJP position. ‘I am not against Muslims and I have one servant from the community but they have to be kept in their place,’ he told me once. Never did I suspect that he would go so far as to stop the publication of the column. I vainly tried to meet him in Jaipur. Once when in the city, I learnt he was critically ill, so I went to his house and waited to see him but he refused to meet me.

In the case of Dainik Bhaskar, I stopped my columns because it refused to publish my piece on ‘paid news’. Although I did not name anyone the newspaper still refused to publish the column. I wrote a letter of protest to the owner and received no response.

***

N. RAM, The Hindu: My experience with N. Ram, the editor of the Hindu was disappointing. I used to write an opinion piece for the newspaper twice a week and a human rights column once a month. He stopped them because I was a friend of Malini Parthasarthy who, along with N. Ravi, was pushed out of editorial control when they were reduced to a minority in the public limited company that the Hindu is.

Ram joined G. Kasturi and a few others to constitute a majority. Ravi, modest and unassuming, and Malini, a talented journalist, suffered the most but stoically bore the humiliation. When newspapers turn themselves into companies and the majority begins to prevail, the newspaper becomes a purely commercial proposition like any corporate house.

***

SAMIR JAIN, The Times of India: Sham Lal once told me that he as the editor of the Times of India, was never rung up by Shanti Prasad Jain, the then owner of the newspaper, and that the latter did not even remotely suggest to him which line he should adopt on any particular subject. Throughout Shamlal’s long tenure, Shanti Prasad never expressed his disapproval of anything the editor wrote.

By contrast, the attitude of his son, Ashok Jain, who inherited Bennett Coleman & Co, was quite different. He was committed to commercial success and would ensure that the newspaper did not come into conflict with his business interests or those he promoted.

Girilal Jain, the then editor of the Times of India, rang me up one day to ask whether I could speak to Ashokj Jain, whom I knew well, to get Samir Jain, his son, off his back. Giri said that Ashok Jain, whatever his preferences, treated him well but Samir’s attitude was humiliating.

Inder Malhotra once recounted to me how senior journalists were made by Samir to sit on the floor in his room to write out the names of invitees on cards sent by the organization.

I flew to Bombay and spoke to Ashok who frankly said he would have no hesitation in supporting his son because the latter had increased the revenue tenfold, from Rs 8 lakhs to 80 lakhs. ‘I can hire many Giri Lal Jains if I pay more but not a Samir,’ said Ashok. I conveyed this to Giri who did not last long with the newspaper.

Photograph: courtesy Jitender Gupta/ Outlook

When Samir served a thali, Vineet served a scoop

15 April 2011

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: As it approaches its dosquicentennial, India’s biggest English language newspaper, The Times of India, truly deserved a meticulous biography to tell the world on “what goes on inside this amazing media machine”.

Sadly, Bachi Karkaria‘s Behind the Times (Times Books, 325 pages) is not that.

Poorly structured, poorly sourced and poorly edited, Karkaria’s is an airy tribute to the war-room surgeons who botoxed the Old Lady of Boribunder into a sassy lass, but it airbrushes the foot soldiers in the trenches, on whose sweat, toil and guard stands “The Masthead of India” across the nation.

As Karkaria’s creation “Alec Smart” would have said:

Marwadiya! It’s a bloody Parsimonious salute, dikri!”

Yet, despite its Bombay Gym view of Dadabhoy Naoroji road, Behind the Times has its moments in demystifying some of the myths built around its formidable helmsmen— the brothers Samir Jain and Vineet Jain—and in humanising a gigantic group.

***

On SAMIR JAIN, vice-chairman (VC): On the international Response (advertising) conferences—holidays really—the participants not only wallowed in VC’s generosity, they also learnt about cost consciousness from him. Once Indira Deish [of Times Response], while taking her room key, instructed the receptionist to give her a wake up call, and send a pot of bed tea with it. She felt a tap on her shoulder, turned around and saw VC. “He put his hand into his suit pocket, pulled out something, and put it in my palm. It was a couple of tea bags. After that, I always carried a box of these, and ordered only hot water. I learnt the value of thrift.”

Much earlier Indira learnt a similar lesson during the sesquicentennial celebrations in Delhi where she was part of the reception team. At the accompanying dinners, Samir Jain taught us “never to change a plate mid-meal. It unnecessarily added to the caterer’s bill.”

Thrift lesson #3 came from a regular office advice. Samir Jain, preempting the later global fashion, sent detailed instructions on how to recycle, reuse, and refuse to waste. He made it a ‘criminal offence’ to send a fax on a letterhead. The ‘grains’ pixelation of the printed header added three minutes more to the transmission time; so it was far more economical to photocopy and then fax….

Mahendra Swarup was inducted to bring his global marketing skills to Vineet’s baby Times Internet Limited. Before formally starting he naturally had to meet Samir Jain. Swarup had been struck by flu, but he went anyway at the appointed time to Jain House at 6, S.P. Marg, then still the whole family’s address.

If he had been less of a newbie, he would have postponed the meeting because Samir Jain is extremely susceptible to colds, and immediately dispenses with anyone with the slightest sniffle. However, Swarup recalled an extremely solicitous Samir Jain not dispensing with him, but dispensing medication. He summoned a minion to bring out an array of ayurvedic pills and potions, and discussed their various powers. And that was the sum total of the 40-minute ‘interview’. Later in the day, he even sent more vials to Swarup’s house….

For Swarup [who came from Pepsi], the early differentiator between the MNC and VC styles was the dining table. “Whenever we were at lunch, he observed what I relished in the lavish thali, and what I was ignoring. He told me what was good for me, and what I shouldn’t eat. Not just that, he served me personally. And would often show up at my house followed by the driver staggering in with a large hot-case. He’d say, “Mahendraji, aaj aap ki favourite kadhi banayi thi.”

***

On VINEET JAIN, managing director (MD): Vineet Jain rolls up his sleeves—-meticulously in v. neat folds—and buckles down to the nitty-gritty in all the media that exercises him at that time. he even orchetrates news stories on Times Now, as he did during the rescue of Prince, the little Rajasthani boy who fell into an open 60-ft-deep borewell, in 2006. His social connections enable him to add muscle or masala to a report.

And on one memorable occasion, the MD actually one of the big news stories of 2009: that Manu Sharma, the politically connected main accused in the high-profile Jessica Lal murder case, was out on parole ostensibly to meet his ailing mother, but actually partying….

The MD was on the case like a proper newshound. He alerted Vikas Singh, the Delhi resident editor; he told the Delhi Times reporter not to file the story till he had vetted it himself. He then called Vikas again, and told him to hold the story because “there’s too much hearsay. Tell the reporter to go back and get the bar manager’s quotes. On tape, and clandestinely if necessary.”

In the meanwhile, Vikas had a run-in with his immediate boss, Jojo (executive editor Jaideep Bose), who was hollering him on the line from Mumbai pressuring him to release the story for all editions so that no one else out-scooped the ToI.

Vikas told him, “The reporter says it will hold.”

Jojo thundered: “Who the hell is this reporter?”

Vikas replied: “MD”.

***

On R.K. LAXMAN, cartoonist: The most notable feature of the creator of the common man was that he was completely lacking in the common touch. To all but a close circle of personal friends and a coterie of the editors he worked with, R.K. Laxman was arrogant to the point of rudeness….

Laxman and [his wife] Kamala had gone to Qatar as guests of the sheikh. A public lecture was part of the deal. The opening line of his speech left his audience and his princely host stuned. He said, “Ever since I have set foot in your country, I have been most unhappy, in fact down right miserable.”

He then went on, “If a car is to pick me up at 10, it is always there at five to 10, with the AC switched on. I never have to open the door, the smartly uniformed chaffeur has always jumped out to do this for me. My heart sinks every time I drive through your country. The ride is always smooth with none of the potholes I am used to back home. Every street light is working. The walls are clean without a single blob of betel juice. How do you expect me, a person from Bombay, not to feel totally depressed about this?”

***

On DILEEP PADGAONKAR, former editor: Dileep was, in his colleague [former Bombay resident editor] Dina Vakil‘s memorable phrase, an ‘impresario editor’…. Dileep presided over a fine dining table and the TOI, many would aver, in that order. One of the nuggests in the newsroom’s annals is that the only time he sent out a memo and one steeped in aged balsamic at that, was when The Sunday Times of India appeared with ‘bouillabaise’ misspelt. For the Francophile and foodie editor it was a crime worse than a murdered filet mignon.

***

On GIRILAL JAIN, former editor: As DileepPadgaonkar described him: “He was given to making Spenglarian statements covering vast ages and aeons in a single sentence. he was a blend of Curzonian ambitions and Haryanvi conceits.” No surprise then that when he went to Iran to interview the Shah, he is supposed to have ended up tutoring the Pahlavi monarch on matters of geo-political strategy. On an evening, Giri would walk in the Lodhi gardens, puff at his cigar and come up with statements that would flummox even the lofty companion he had chosen. he would pronounce, ‘The Hun will be pitted against the Hindu.”

***

On  SHAM LAL, former editor: When Sham Lal retired, the newsroom (which he had never stepped into) gave him a farewell. It was held in the 6th floor canteen where the aam janata, not ‘invited’ to the august directors’ lunch room, ate. Sham Lal was seldom seen in the latter, so he probably did not even known of the existence of the former. He was escorted up in the lift and into the huge hall. News editor, chief reporter, subs, peons, all sung his fulsome (sic) praises. The quiet but universally admired editor was presented ‘floral tributes’ and a salver.

Then the master of ceremonies grandly announced, ‘Now Mr Sham Lal will give a speech.’ Sham Lal slowly shuffled to his feet, cleared his throat, and as the packed hall waited in anticipation for an outpouring of enlightenment from the man who had attained intellectual nirvana, he merely said, ‘Thank you’. Then he went back to his chair and sat down….

At a party in Mumbai, Sham Lal was cornered by a large, garrulous American woman. After a 15-minute monologue, she stopped mid-flow and asked, “Am I boring you?” and Sham Lal replied with extreme and genuine courtesy, “Yes I am afraid you are.”

***

On PREM SHANKAR JHA, former assistant editor: The editorial HQ was still Mumbai, and he wouldn’t roll up to the portico in a taxi like his colleagues. He arrived with his bulk perched incongruously on a frail moped. He would come directly from his morning tennis at the Bombay Gym and would fluster into the edit meeting invariably late, dripping with sweat and clumsily dropping his helmet and racuqet. Sham Lal would mildly glower and Prem would clasp his podgy hands and say, ‘Maaf kijiye, Sham Lalji, maaf kijiye’….

One day, hearing hysterical screams from the inner cabin, the long-suffering Iyer entered to find his portly boss balanced precariously on a chair, quaking in impotent terror and staring at a cockroach on his desk. As soon as he saw his steno, he ordered him to swat it. Iyer froze at such an unBrahminical directive, with Prem getting more and more apoplectic by the minute. He finally shouted, ‘Kill it, kill it, you f***ing vegetarian.’ Iyer fled.

***

On J.C. JAIN, former general manager: J.C. Jain was among the most powerful GMs of the time when this was top executive position. He had a reedy voice, sometimes cruelly described as ‘having one vocal chord’. The story goes that on a visit to Hollywood, JC met the smokey-voiced beauty, [Humphrey Bogart's wife] Lauren Bacall. Trying to think of something smart to say to this icon, he quipped: ” Miss Bacall, is it true that you are sometimes mistaken for a man?” The lady arched her famous eyebrows and retorted, “No. Are you?”

***

On T.N. NINAN, former Economic Times editor: T.N. Ninan was extremely possessive about his editorial domain. Samir Jain was raring to bring many innovations into ET, but Ninan, more as a matter of principle, was less than enthusiastic. One of these was ear panels, but Ninan resisted on the belief that the masthead should not be devalued by small ads on either side.

Irritated, the VC called the Bangalore branch head, Sunil Rajshekhar, and said, “This is what I want, and it has to be in ET there tomorrow.” Sunil passed on the VC’s instructions to the RE, Nageswaran, who mentioned this in a routine mail to his boss. Ninan blasted him, “Do you report to me or to Sunil Rajshekhar?” The hapless guy spluttered, “But, Mr Ninan, the VC asked for it to be done.” Ninan thundered, “I don’t care who asked. I am the Editor.” Yes, he was. But not for long.

***

On JUG SURAIYA, edit page editor: Some time in 1987, Ashok Jain summoned Gautam Adhikari, and said, “I am told there are no good young journalists in India outside the Times.” Gautam said, “No, sir, there are many good journalists, and I am sure they would be happy to join us.” The chairman said, “Give me a note.” Gautam made out a spreadsheet which included their brief bios, even a ballpark estimate of their current salaries…. Gautam’s list included Chandan Mitra, Swapan Dasgupta and Jug Suraiya from The Statesman.

When Gautam called his old quizzing friend and said, “Could we meet?” Jug thought he wanted to join The Statesman, and sounded out the editor. Sunanda Datta-Ray removed his cigarette-holder from his lips and replied, “He will be an asset. Ask him to telephone me.” But when they met at the Elphin bar, it was Gautam who was doing the offering. To everyone’s surprise, Suraiya was willing.”

***

On SWAMINATHAN AIYAR, former Economic Times editor: The economics whiz Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar had many quirks. As a genius he was entitled to the full quota. One of these was unqiue: he always carried his cup of tea to the 3rd floor loo in Times House, Delhi.

***

On PRITISH NANDY, former editor, Illustrated Weekly of India: Some-time Science Today editor Mukul Sharma had acted in Paroma, an edgy film made by his ex-wife, the well-known actresses-turned-director Aparna Sen. He played the foreign-returned photographer who had an affair with his subject, a traditional Bengali house. The beauteous Rakhee essayed the title role. Mukul boasted to his friend Pritish that when he lay atop her for a bedroom shot, he counted 29 golden flecks in her amber eyes. Nandy smirked and said, “36”.

***

On PRADEEP GUHA, former response head: Two years into Pradeep Guha’s powerful stewardship of Response, and his raking in the moolah by the shovelful for the group, the chairman Ashok Jain turned to his son, Samir just after PG left the room, and ingenuously asked, “Achcha, yeh banda karta kya hai?‘ (What exactly does this chap do in the organisation?)

***

On DINA VAKIL, former Bombay resident editor: In December 2003, Salman Rushdie returned to his boyhood city, Mumbai, after a gap of 16 years. The interview team comprised three people: resident editor Dina Vakil, who had published an excerpt from Midnight’s Children in the Indian Express and had met Salman when he was a young tyke, and was allegedly featured as Mina Vakil in the Ground Beneath her Feet. The other was Rushdie fan Nina Martyris. Bringing up the rear was the veteran photographer Shriram Vernekar.

Terrified that Shriram would innocently discuss the ‘scoop’ with his photographer friends in other publications, Dina threatened him with dire consequences as her car drew up to the Taj. “I will kill you,” was her (usual) refrain as she wagged a perfectly manicured finger in his mystified face. Shriram, whose storming ground was the Sena shakha and Ganesh visarjan, didn’t know what the fuss was all about.

While shooting them, the genial Shriram did his bet to put a slightly awkward Rushdie at ease, by engaging him in small talk. He lowered his camera, looked up at the celebrated writer and said conversationally, “First time in Mumbai?” Even as Dina rolled her eyes and looked like she wanted to throttle Shriram, an unfazed Rushdie twinkled, “Not quite.”

***

On RAJDEEP SARDESAI, former assistant editor: Why just the stenos, even the peons were totally clued in and, when it came to Byzantine state politics, the Maharashtrian ones could teach a thing or two to the younger assistant editors. Once Rajdeep Sardesai, hot off the dreaming spires of Oxford, wrote a whole three-part series on the rising presence of the Shiv Sena without, it was whispered, meeting a single sainik or visiting a single shakha. On that occasion, it was left to the more hands-on Kalpana Sharma to fill in the gaps.

External reading: The Economic Times review of the book

The Times of India review of the book

The Business Standard review of the book

Khalid Mohamed on ToI, DNA, HT and the stars

28 January 2011

Khalid Mohamed, longtime film critic of The Times of India and sometime editor of Filmfare—who hopped over to DNA and then to Hindustan Times in Bombay after making four films in the interim—talks about his 32 years in journalism and the stars he met along the way, in the January issue of Society magazine.

# “Of course, I had to do all escort service. If Shah Rukh Khan had to address a meeting, I would be an escort. ToI were always demanding. Bring this one and that one. DNA was releasing a supplement and I was asked to get Urmila Matondkar. That’s not the job of a journalist. I found the whole thing demeaning. I gave up for that reason.”

# “This era is all about marketing. Suppose I was reviewing a film and the evening before I was asked, ‘How many stars are you giving it? If you are giving it three or four stars, we can get ads.’ I said: ‘I am not interested.” It is peculiar and happens everywhere. ToI does in the form of Medianet, but other papers do it in other forms. In fact, journalists don’t know that stars say things like ‘Usko teen lakh mein kharid liya‘ (that journalist was bought for three lakh rupees).”

#”Pradeep Guha was the only guy who I like to call boss. I really looked up to him and he is a marketing genius. Even at the Filmfare awards, I was a bystander while he was the showman. Having said that, I haven’t been much in touch.”

# “I always saw myself as a ToI person and not a Filmfare person. I don’t think there has been an editor like Sham Lal. Today, do you know who the editor of The Times of India is?

# “At DNA, I was asked to take Isha Koppikar out to lunch. Later I asked marketing guys, ‘Did you get the ad?’ They said no. They had got dinner coupons on which they will take their clients out. I said, ‘Not happening’.”

# “Everyone wants to be ToI. They all end up going that way. If ToI did a story which DNA didn’t do, there would be a lot of hulchul. I never understood that. No one had a distinct vision though DNA was supposed to have one. I felt downsized. Maybe the editor didn’t like me. Even if I did a hard hitting story, it would land up on the 14th page instead of the first. However, I got the highest money.”

# “I like being in a startup operation. Pradeep Guha and I had reformulated Filmfare. Dina Vakil and I had started the Sunday Review. [At Hindustan Times] We needed a competitor to Bombay Times so we thought of starting the HT Cafe. The resident editor Samar Halarnkar didn’t like my face from the very beginning. We had verbal slanging matches.”

# People I really looked up to were Behram Contractor, Sham Lal, Bikram Singh and Khushwant Singh. I liked what Shobhaa De wrote in Stardust and Society. Where are the journalists of that time? It may sound a bit academic. I am not a perfectionist but I’ll see every comma, every heading and caption in place. If I have become outdated because of that, too bad for me.”

Also read: Khalid Mohamed‘s blog

When Rajdeep Sardesai got it left, right & centre

3 December 2010

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: There were two “key takeaways”—as TV anchors remind us every night, two “key takeaways”—from the post-Niira Radia chintan baithak organised by  the Editors Guild of India, the Press Club of India, and the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) in New Delhi on Friday.

The first takeaway is what the mainstream media (MSM) will report happily. Which is that senior editors in India (as the BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder who attended the meeting reports) are “considering putting in place systems to ensure ethical practices in journalism”.

Meaning: aal iz well.

In other words, the grey hairs bowing before their Old Monk™ have fully grasped the import of the scandal that has enveloped the profession, following the publication of tapes and transcripts of conversations Radia had with Barkha Dut, Vir Sanghvi, Prabhu Chawla et al, and are poised to act.

The other takeaway is what only the tabloids would waste ink on (feel free to stop right here if your choice is broadsheet or berliner).

Which is that the president of the Editors’ Guild of India, Rajdeep Sardesai—whose favourite offline excuse for  ethical concerns in the profession is “Hamaam mein sab nange hain (everybody is naked in the public bathroom)”—actually had to stand unprotected under a very heavy downpour on a winter afternoon in Delhi today, for an hour if not more.

A downpour of criticism, that is.

The joint EGI-PCI-IWPC meeting started off well, as most introspection meetings do, with Outlook* chief editor Vinod Mehta not taking the names of the accused (because the matter is now in court and also because “my wife told me to be careful”) and striking the right balance of common sense and pragmatism, two commodities that have generally been in short supply.

“I keep hearing that this issue is sensitive and complicated, that it is not a black and white issue. I can’t understand what is so complex here. It doesn’t require an Albert Einstein or a rocket scientist.

“If you are talking to a hotel PRO and he tells you, ‘our hotel is the no.1 hotel in Asia’, it doesn’t mean you come and write that his hotel is the no.1 hotel in Asia. You check and verify before you report.

“The claim that they [Barkha and Vir] were stringing along their sources is complete bullshit. Do you think somebody like Radia would keep on giving information knowing that her instructions weren’t being followed?”

Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN, who took the mike next, rightly spoke of the dichotomous times we live in—when the media which has been behind some of the most impactful stories this year stands accused in the public eye of betraying their trust, a point he had made in his HT column earlier in the day.

Sardesai’s sage wisdom would have earned a few plaudits had he stopped right there.

But, as the cameras rolled, he launched into what seemed like a set piece, enlightening the captive audience comprising largely of journalists of his “problems” with the Outlook* expose—not contacting Barkha and Vir and giving them a chance to reply; running raw footage on the website (which also incidentally features his name a couple of times); the use of pictures of journalists not connected with the 2G scam on the cover and so on.

“This is shock and awe journalism… This is bad journalism inverting the principles of basic journalism…. This rot is not new, it has been around for three decades…. In this competitive age, access is information….”

“There is no proven quid pro quo…. The concerned journalists are guilty of professional misjudgement not professional misconduct… Reputations have been damaged…,” said Sardesai in a thinly disguised defence of his former NDTV colleague Barkha Dutt.

“I think what Outlook and Open have done is completely unethical…. A lot of criticism, let us admit, is also because of a certain envy.”

Hardly had Sardesai placed the mike on the table than Poornima Joshi of Mail Today was on her belligerent feet, urging him to spare the audience his pontification.

“I find it absolutely disturbing and disheartening that the president of editors’ guild is not only condoning but also justifying carrying of messages from a corporate to Congress,” Joshi, a former Outlook staffer, said.

Radhika Ramaseshan of The Telegraph [where Sardesai worked before he joined NDTV], took objection to Sardesai’s claim that this was all old hat, that there was nothing new in what was happening, that this has been happening, so why bother.

Neena Vyas [of The Hindu] has been covering BJP for 30 years. Nobody ever accused her of misusing her access. Likewise, there are a number of journalists who have never succumbed,” she said to applause.

Vyas, daughter of former Times of India editor Sham Lal, contradicted Sardesai in his face of  a statement he attributed to her of a BJP politician’s tacit condition that he would go soft on him in exchange for information.

When Vyas regaled the audience of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi “blackmailing” BJP bosses to throw RSS leader Sanjay Joshi out—after a sting operation of Joshi in a sexual act was shown on India TV (which Vyas alleged was owned by Narendra Modi),—CNN-IBN cameras telecast her allegation “live”.

“If Rajdeep Sardesai is so concerned about the raw footage of the Radia conversations being shown or reported, without giving the other side the chance to reply, how come he is showing this,” hissed a member of the audience audibly.

Vidya Subrahmaniam, also of The Hindu, contested Sardesai’s claim that there was no quid pro quo. The tapes, she said, carried enough evidence of quid pro quo since the journalists appeared to be doing exactly what they promised.

From that point on, it was downhill at top speed all the way for Sardesai, in front of several of his senior colleagues, including Bhupendra Chaubey, Vivian Fernandes and Ashutosh who had assembled in the front rows for what they had presumed would be a champagne show by their boss.

# One unidentified voice from the back rows asked, “How can you hold forth on ethics after CNN-IBN’s dubious role in the infamous cash-for-votes scandal [when it reportedly went back on a promise to telecast a sting operation commissioned by the BJP during the vote on the civilian nuclear bill].”

# Another demanded mandatory declaration of assets and liabilities by editors. “How do journalists manage to become owners of channels,” shouted the young voice, echoing former Hindustan Times‘ editor and Prasar Bharati chief Mrinal Pande‘s call for greater transparency in ownership.

# “Amitabh Bachchan read the news on your channel when he was trying to promote his film Rann, without CNN-IBN ever revealing that it was a promo for his film. You should have just said no, if you want to take the high moral ground on ethics,” said Akshay Mukul of The Times of India.

The restive audience wanted more time to question Sardesai but he beat a hasty exit before the meeting ended, citing lack of time and a prior engagement. And as he left, another voice shouted, within earshot of his wife Sagarika Ghose, “Did we just hear the president of the editors guild of India, or the editors’ guilt of India?”

Inside, at the bar, as the old residents reassembled, a young reporter chipped in: “Twitter and Facebook and all the social media have been delivering a simple message to old media in India: look within. Looks like someone’s just too happy listening to his own loud voice.”

Also read: Rajdeep Sardesai heckled over defending Vir, Barkha

The Hindu coverage of the Editors’ Guild debate

The New Indian Express: Heated debate

‘Hindu and HT were worst offenders in 1975′

29 June 2010

With  nearly 60% of India reputedly being under 25 years of age—in other words, with three out of five Indians having been born after 1985—it stands to reason that the 35th anniversary of the declaration of Emergency by the Indira Gandhi government should have come and gone without creating a ripple.

That, and the fact that the news channels and newspapers were too busy celebrating panchamda R.D. Burman‘s birthday and the World Cup to be bothered of the more serious things affecting life and democracy.

Nevertheless, the press censorship during the Emergency is one of the darkest periods in contemporary Indian media history, when promoters, proprietors, editors and journalists quietly acquiesced to the firman of the government to not publish anything that was considered antithetical to the national interest.

Censors sat over editors in newspaper offices and crossed out material (including cartoons and pictures) that didn’t conform to the official policy; criticism of the government was a strict no-no; over 250 journalists were arrested; 51 foreign correspondents were dis-accreditated, 29 were denied entry, seven were expelled.

In The Sunday Guardian, the weekly newspaper launched by M.J. Akbar, the veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar recounts life under censorship, names the pussies and lions, and says the media today is “too niminy-piminy, too nice, too refined” if such a disaster were to strike again.

***

By KULDIP NAYAR

L.K. Advani was right when he told journalists, “You were asked to bend, but you crawled.” Even then, the courageous part was that nearly 100 journalists assembled at Delhi’s press club on 28 June 1975 and passed a resolution to condemn press censorship. But subsequently, fear took over and they caved in.

They were afraid to speak even in private.

The press council of India (PCI), the highest body to protect press freedom, became a part of the establishment. The then chairman, Justice Iyengar, stalled a resolution to criticise press censorship by local members of the PCI. Justice Iyengar informed the information minister V.C. Shukla about his achievement in not letting the resolution of condemnation passed.

Except for the Indian Express, the leading light during the Emergency, practically all papers preferred to side with the government.

The two of the worst were The Hindu and the Hindustan Times.

Hindu’s editor G. Kasturi became a part of the establishment. He headed Samachar, the news agency that was formed after the merger of PTI, UNI and Hindustan Samachar. He obeyed the government diktat on how to purvey a particular story or suppress it. He could not withstand government pressure.

The Hindustan Times, owned by the Birlas, was always with the Congress. K.K. Birla, then its chairman, took over as chairman of the Indian Express and changed its editor by replacing incumbent S. Mulgaonkar with V.K. Narasimhan, who proved to be a tough nut to crack. Birla was the complete opposite of Ramnath Goenka, the owner of the Indian Express. Goenka fought the government tooth and nail and staked all that he had built in his life….

The Times of India was edited by Sham Lal, who had impeccable credentials. Girilal Jain, the resident editor in Delhi, too stood by the principle of free press. Both were pro-Indira Gandhi but against press censorhip. However they felt handicapped because the management wanted to play it safe. Not that Shantilal Jain, who owned the paper, was in any way pro-Emergency, but he had burnt his fingers when the paper was taken over by the government at the instance of T.T. Krishnamachari, then the finance minister, who doubted the paper on certain matters.

Leading regional papers were against the Emergency but did not want to face government wrath. Eenadu, under Ramoji Rao, refused to toe the government line but stayed within the contours of the Emergency to avoid trouble.

Ananda Bazaar Patrika owner Ashoke Sarkar was a man of courage and gave his blessings to his principal correspondent Barun Sengupta’s fight against the emergency. The paper, however, managed to escape the wrath of the then West Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray, who was the author of the Emergency.

My friend K.M. Mathew, the owner of the vast empire of Malayala Manorama, stood his ground and despite the pressures on him showed where his sympathies lay when he invited to open a photo exhibition at Kottayam after my release from jail. The country was still in the middle of the Emergency. Yet, Mathew showed his annoyance in his own way.”

Text: courtesy The Sunday Guardian

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Man who educated Bombay journalists is dead

28 February 2009

sans serif records the demise of T.N. Shanbhag, the founder of Bombay’s legendary book store, Strand Book Stall, in Bombay on Friday morning. He was 84.

Mr Shanbhag, who was once so poor that he couldn’t afford 75 paise to buy a paperback, built his enterprise, now happily expanded to Bangalore and Mysore, on the motto that no young person should walk out of his store without a book in hand.

For his rigours, he was awarded the nation’s third highest civilian honour, the Padma Shri.

Strand’s location in the busy “Fort” area of India’s commercial capital, also made it a chattering hole for journalists working in nearby addresses.

Writes Namita Devidayal in The Times of India:

“There was a time when the senior editors of The Times of India would go to Strand after lunch, browse and catch up with Shanbhag, and then stroll back through the arched arcades of Dadabhoy Naoroji Road, as part of their daily constitutional.

“‘Sham Lal’s wife hated me because he spent all his time and money on books,’ Mr Shanbhag used to joke about the former Times editor. The writer Khushwant Singh [former editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India published by The Times group] once declared, on a BBC show, that Strand was the only ‘personal bookshop’ in India.”

Read the full obituary: He spent a lifetime serving the written word

DNA obituary: End of an era for book lovers

Also read: Khushwant Singh on his last day at The Illustrated Weekly

Vinod Mehta on Sham Lal: Editors are only as good as their papers

SHAM LAL: Rest In Peace

23 February 2007

sans serif records with deep regret the passing away of Sham Lal, a 22-carat man of letters, on Friday, 23 February 2007. He was 95 years old.

Born in 1912, Sham Lal took a master’s degree in English literature in 1933, joined the Hindustan Times in 1934 and worked there for 12 years. After a three-year stint at the now-defunct Indian News Chronicle, he joined The Times of India and was its editor from 1967 to 1978.

His weekly literary column ‘Life and Letters’ was the first to introduce many Indian writers to scores of writers and thinkers who left their mark on post-war literature and social thought.

“The brilliant Sham Lal was as deeply read in modern Western thought as in the philosophical traditions of India,” Octavio Paz said of Sham Lal.

***

In 2005, Sugata Srinivasaraju interviewed Sham Lal for the 10th anniversary special issue of Outlook magazine.

Do you think our media has become frivolous because it has started focusing on a wider and younger audience?

There is nothing wrong in catering to a wider public with a short attention span and which is not interested in understanding difficult issues related to foreign or economic policy. Nor is there anything wrong in papers supporting one political party or the other. This inevitably reflects divisions in our society. But the papers also have a duty to address those interested in public affairs or those involved in shaping policy. It is important for them to be well-informed of not only big changes at home but also the forces that are bringing about a global transformation. The trouble with Indian media is that by reading papers or watching the coverage of events on TV, one just doesn’t get a proper idea of the event or the deeper changes the society is undergoing.

Read the full interview here: “Why can’t we invest to gain expertise on, say, China?”

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