Posts Tagged ‘Sharanya Kanvilkar’

Mukesh Ambani ‘sues’ TV channels on Kejriwal

10 January 2013

ambani_keriwal_0111

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, and India’s most powerful business house, Reliance Industries, are believed to have served a legal notice on several TV news channels for airing anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal‘s allegations against them in October and November last year.

However, it is not known if Kejriwal, a former IRS officer, and his advocate-partner, Prashant Bhushan, have heard from RIL’s lawyers on the charges made by them at the  press conferences which were covered “live” by the TV channels with accompanying commentary.

It is also unclear if  newspapers which reported Kejriwal’s allegations of Ambani’s Swiss bank accounts and hanky-panky in the Krishna-Godavari basin by RIL have attracted similar legal attention from the less-litigious of the two Ambani brothers.

In the seven-page legal notice shot off in the middle of December 2012, Mukesh Ambani and RIL have demanded “a retraction and an unconditional apology in the form approved and acceptable to our clients” within three days from the receipt of the notice.

The notices have been served by the Bombay legal firm, A.S. Dayal & Associates.

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Besides accusing the channels of “deliberately and recklessly” airing “false and defamatory statements” with an intent to “defame our clients and bring them into disrepute”, the legal notice makes the following points:

# “Your TV Channel provided a platform and instrumentality for wide dissemination of the false and defamatory statements and allegations made at the said press conference.”

# “Live telecast of these press conferences amounts to permanent publication of defamatory material relating to our client by you.”

# “Each of the two press conferences were telecast live without making any attempt to verify the truth or veracity of the statements and allegations being made during the press conference.”

# “Apart from having telecast the press conferences live, Your TV Channel  in the course of several television programmes and televised debates that followed after the said press conferences, continued to telecast, transmit and retransmit the defamatory footage of the press conferences.”

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More ominously, the Ambani-RIL notice reminds the channels:

# “Our clients have instructed us to state that Your TV Channel is bound by the Guidelines for Uplinking and Downlinking from India dated 5th December 2011, issued by the ministry of information & broadcasting, government of India.

# “Our clients have instructed us to state that since Your TV Channel is a news and current affairs TV Channel, the provisions of the Uplinking and Downlinking Guidelines apply to Your TV Channel, which inter alia provide that a Company, like Your TV Channel, which runs a news and current affairs TV channel, is obliged to comply with the Programme Code as laid down in the Cable Television Network (Regulations) Act, 1995, and the Rules framed thereunder.

# “Our clients have instructed us to state that in telecasting the aforesaid press conferences and repeating the false and defamatory material relating to our clients in the manner aforesaid Your TV Channel is in complete violation of the said Uplinking Guidelines, and the said Downlinking Guidelines as also in complete and material breach of the Programme Code prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules.”

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The RIL legal notice brings to question the wisdom of broadcasting “live” Kejriwal’s near-weekly press conferences towards the end of last year, sans any filters or fetters.

On the other hand, the authoritarian tone of the legal notice—reminding the recipients of uplinking and downlinking norms—throws light on the egg-shells on which private TV stations are walking in the “free” Republic.

The legal notice also swings the spotlight on big business ownership of and shadow over the media, especially when it is alleged to have both the main political parties, the Congress and BJP, in its pocket.

For the record, RIL is in the media business too. Both CNN-IBN and IBN7 are part of the Reliance stable following a controversial and circuitous takeover at the turn of 2012 that now has earned the OK of the competition commission of India (CCI).

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Photograph: courtesy IBN Live

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Also read: ‘RIL has no direct stake in media companies’

Mint says SEBI looking into RIL-Network18/TV18-ETV deal

Rajya Sabha TV tears into RIL-Network18-ETV deal

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

The sudden rise of Mukesh Ambani, media mogul

The Indian Express, Reliance & Shekhar Gupta

Niira Radia, Mukesh Ambani, Prannoy Roy & NDTV

Why the Indian media doesn’t take on the Ambanis

Media barons wake up together, sing same song

15 June 2011

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: The proprietors, promoters and publishers of India’s newspapers and magazines haven’t had a word to say on some of the biggest issues confronting Indian media—and directly impacting the trust and faith of the reader—in recent years.

Paid news, in which advertisements are couched as news? Silence.

Private treaties, in which vested interest is touted as ads? Silence.

Medianet, in which anybody can buy his or her way into the paper? Silence.

Cross-media ownership, which results in monopolies shutting out choice? Silence.

Dubious ownership, in which crooks, criminals and the corrupt become media barons—and underwrite major industry conventions? Silence.

Predatory pricing, which strangles small newspapers? Silence.

Dumping of copies to pump up circulation numbers? Silence.

Complicity of journalists with lobbyists? Silence.

The killing of journalists in the line of duty? Silence.

But the big guns of the Indian Newspaper Society (INS)—which represents 1.017 small, medium and large members—have suddenly sprung into life as one in slamming the recommendations of the G.R. Majithia wage board with the undisguised intent of blocking its implementation.

In just the first 15 days of this month, The Times of India has published four articles on the subject:

# June 2: The paper’s CEO Ravindra Dhariwal weighs in on the subject in an edit-page piece titled “Muzzling the Media

# June 4: “Wage board proposal will force many newspapers to shut down: INS

# June 6: “Wage boards challenged in Supreme Court” on the Ananda Bazaar Patrika group filing a petition in the Supreme Court

# June 9: INS president Kundan R. Vyas authors another editor-page piece titled “Future of Press at stake?

And now, ToI and The Economic Times have published an INS advertisement on its pages, essentially encapsulating the key points wage board opponents have been making for years.

For good measure, Ashish Bagga, the CEO of the India Today group and a prominent functionary on INS, has written an opinion piece titled “How to kill the print media” in the latest issue of the magazine, and Hindustan Times has a report titled, “Wage board outdated: experts“.

The theme of all the pieces is the same: 1) The newspaper industry is the only industry in the country to have a statutory wage board; even other sectors of the media, like TV, radio, internet don’t. 2) The wage hike recommended takes salaries of non-journalistic staff way beyond what the government itself pays its staff. 3) The wage board recommendations could end becoming a convenient tool for the government to turn the screws on inconvenient newspapers and agencies.

All fair points, no doubt, when viewed purely through the prism of the bottomline. But it is not so much the loyalty of journalists that INS is bothered about in opposing the wage board recommendations (most in the big newspapers are now on contract) but the disloyalty of non-journalists in not falling in line.

Easy hire-and-fire policies may yet be a legitimate objective to follow for proprietors, promoters and publishers to achieve efficiency, but where is the INS when other questions of importance confront journalists and journalism, many of which affect the small players in whose name they are fighting the battle against the Majithia board?

Also read: INS: “We reject wage board recommendations”

External reading: Wageboard for journalists

When cricket journalists go to Brian Lara’s home

10 June 2011

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Itinerant sports reporters usually tag along with their compatriots during assignments on foreign shores, partly because of the chummy nature of sports journalists but also because it makes sense, i.e. it is paisa vasool.

Newspapers and magazines pay a decent-enough per diem these days, but it’s never enough to enable each reporter to go out on his own and do stories without blowing a big hole in the expense account. So sharing a cab, rooming together, splitting meals, etc, is par for the course.

Most times, such clubbiness results in identical stories on the same day. Sometimes, it can result in hilarious situations, like it did with three cricket writers covering India’s tour to the West Indies: Bharat Sundaresan of the Indian Express, K. Shriniwas Rao of The Times of India, and Amita Gupta of Bangalore Mirror.

In Port of Spain, Trinidad, the three of them decide to gatecrash into the great Brian Lara‘s home in St. Clair. And, well, each can only hope that their readers do not read the accounts of their partners!

Hear it in their own words:

Bharat Sundaresan: “On Tuesday, I meet the latest in the line of fascinating cab drivers…. Without second thoughts, I ask Clifford to take me to Chancellor Hill, the private hillock on which Lara’s house is located…. It’s around 7 in the night.

“Led by Clifford, we walk up to the main gate. It takes only one press off this buzzer for the light to come on behind the curtains. I hold my breath. The door opens. It’s the man himself….

“‘We’re a bunch of Indian journalists, Brian. We just wanted to come in and see your house and see how the Prince of Trinidad lives,’ I shout elatedly…’Oh, I just had an event at home and the house is in a mess. Or else I would have certainly invited you boys in. Sorry,’ he says.

“‘Oh, that’s all right, Brian. Thanks, anyway,’ I reply.”

***

Shriniwas Rao: “Oh yeah, he lives on top of that hill, there,” says the cab driver, pointing to one of the many hills that stand between the island of Trinidad and the Atlantic Ocean. “But which hill?” I ask. “It’s a private hill, man. It’s for the super rich,” says a shopkeeper.

“So, I hail a cab and along with a couple of other scribes, ask the driver to show me the Prince’s house…. We press the buzzer half a dozen times. Finally, the lights come on and the door opens at last. “Yeah, who’s that?”

“‘We’re Indian journalists,’ we blurt out in excitement and add embarrassingly… ‘We came to see your house.’

“Lara doesn’t know how to answer that. He’s shocked someone can just walk into his house, ring the bell, wake him abruptly and say he wants to see the house. But he’s kind. To our utter surprise, he actually considers the request for a few seconds and says, ‘I’m sorry but I had an event here and it’s actually quite messy inside.’

“‘It’s okay. Please don’t bother. We’ll come some other time,’ we tell him. Sheepishly, we get back into the cab and Lara walks back in.”

***

Amit Gupta: “Three of us — myself and two other journalists — were at Port of Spain’s main square. Our cabbie, a man of Indian origin, was so amicable that we could have a free conversation…. Instantly, we decided that we were going to Brian Lara’s house….

“We buzzed about four-five times, there was no response. But my friends spotted another door bell at the big gate too. We decided to take a chance.

“This time someone switched on the light in one of the rooms. The door swung open and it was the great man himself.

“Dressed in shorts and a half-shirt, the man with 11, 953 Test runs asked us: ‘Yes, who is this?’ One of us answered: ‘We are a bunch of Indian journalists who have come to see your house.’ The small pause gave us hope that the legend would ask us to come in. That was wishful thinking. ‘It’s a bit of a mess inside. I had an event here, so may be some other time,’ Lara said.

“We didn’t insist otherwise. After all we had no business knocking his door. But our evening was made. Brian Charles Lara opening the door for us.  Imagine something like this happening with foreign journalists at Sachin Tendulkar’s place. Just no chance.”

Photograph: courtesy Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday

‘Hindu Business Line’ to get a non-family editor

25 April 2011

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Less than a week after the board of directors of The Hindu “decided” to appoint a professional from outside the family as the editor of the 132-year-old newspaper, the group’s business daily, The Hindu Business Line, is also slated to go the same way.

The paper’s joint editor, K. Venugopal—son of former Hindu editor G. Kasturi, a key player in the current round of the great HINDU mahayudh—who is in charge of Business Line, told a meeting of the paper’s reporters in Bombay today that Business Line would be getting a professional as editor in the next three months.

Venugopal is also reported to have indicated that, instead of looking for a name from outside the paper, a current staffer could don the role. Among the front-runners are D. Sampath Kumar, senior associate editor, and T.C.A. Srinivasa-Raghavan, associate editor.

Hindu Business Line is in the midst of a management and editorial restructuring exercise being conducted by the global consultancy firm, McKinsey. Code-named “Project Kamadhenu”, the exercise has already seen Venugopal, a director in the company, play less of a role in the daily’s editorial operations.

As per published news reports, it was Venugopal’s brother, K. Balaji, who proposed the move to keep family members away from editorial positions at last week’s board meeting, where the name of The Hindu‘s Delhi bureau chief, Siddharth Varadarajan, was proposed as the next editor of the paper.

Also read: The four great wars of N. Ram on ‘Hindu‘ soil

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.

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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.”

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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”.

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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?”

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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?”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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”.

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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?)

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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.”

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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

Is it all over for DNA in the battle for Bombay?

26 September 2010

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: The October 8 issue of Forbes magazine, from the CNBC-TV18 group, carries a four-page story that reads more like an advance obituary for DNA, the English broadsheet daily newspaper that was launched by the Dainik Bhaskar and Zee television groups to humble The Times of  India in urbs prima in Indus.

Five years and Rs 1,100 crore later, writes Rohin Dharmakumar evocatively citing the 1961 film Guns of Navarone, DNA’s original ambition lies in tatters, although the “theory” was perfectly feasible.

# DNA’s Bombay readership is down 15% from its 2009 peak, while The Times of India’s is 2.5 larger.

# DNA’s ad rates are one-third ToI’s on paper, but closer to one-seventh due to discounting.

# DNA’s revenue was Rs 148 crore last year, up 22% over the year before, but still Rs 70 crore short of covering its operating costs.

# DNA is now a distant No.3 in Bombay and Bangalore to Hindustan Times and Deccan Chronicle, respectively, and both are reportedly close to dislodging it from that position.

# Only current executive editor R. Jagannathan remains from DNA’s original star cast, many of whom were lured from The Times of India and hired at high salaries.

In hindsight, DNA’s faulty subscription drive, the launch and free distribution of Mumbai Mirror with ToI and the increase of ToI’s cover price to suck the newspaper budget of households so that a second newspaper cannot be bought, are seen to have been the key drivers in ToI fighting off the challenge.

Rahul Kansal, the chief marketing officer of ToI, is quoted as saying:

DNA came in with a lot of overconfidence. Heady with their launches in Gujarat and Rajasthan, they thought The Times of India would be a sitting duck. They started their outdoor campaign four months in advance, giving us adequate time to launch a new paper. I think they displayed their hand way too early, so by the time they launched, we had already soaked up a lot of the reading appetite.”

The southward turn in DNA’s fortunes is reflected in Subhash Chandra of Zee edging out partner Sudhir Agarwal of Dainik Bhaskar for a more hands-on role. Cost-cutting is the mantra of DNA’s CEO K.U. Rao, a former Shell executive in his first media stint.

“Probably the most stark sign of DNA’s transformation comes from Bangalore, where just over a year after it spent Rs 100 crore to put up a state-of-the-art press, it is now using it to print over 200,000 copies of Bangalore Mirror for The Times of India,” writes Rohin Dharmakumar.

The Forbes piece will be available online after October 7.

What Raghav Bahl could learn from Samir Jain

12 September 2010

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Some time in the mid-20th century, the legendary New Yorker writer (and foodie) A.J. Liebling famously said, “freedom of the press belongs to those who own one“.

For proof in the early 21st, he might like to take a look at Raghav Bahl.

The founder, editor, controlling shareholder and managing director of Network 18—the company behind CNBC-TV18 and Awaaz; CNN-IBN, IBN7 and IBN Lokmat, Forbes India, in.com and a myriad dotcoms—has just penned his debut book on India and China titled Super Power?: The Amazing Race between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise.

But judging from the unabashed promotion, further promotion, continuing promotion and continuing further promotion of the book on the Network 18 platform, it would seem as if James Joyce has returned to rework, well, Balika Vadhu.

# For days before the launch of the book on August 17, senior editors across Network 18 channels burnt the midnight oil sending off invitations (and reminders) to assemble a sizeable “power” audience.

# In April, four full months before the launch of the “Superbook on Superpowers”, CNN-IBN featured a 2-minute, 3-second report on the book by the network’s best known voice, Shereen Bhan, with accompanying text helpfully reminding viewers that the “brilliantly written, superbly documented, rich and comprehensive account” is already being called as “one most definitive books on the subject.”

# On moneycontrol.com, the financial portal owned by Network 18, an announcement of the book’s launch by Penguin said the book offered “telling insights”.

# By a happy coincidence in April, Bahl received a nice little plug on CNN-IBN‘s breakfast show following his inclusion in a book by an Australian lawyer of corporate India’s bigwigs: “Raghav Bahl among top 30 Indian businessmen.”

# In May, Forbes ran a piece by Bahl titled 2050, An economic odyssey on how India and China would reclaim their positions as economic giants, with the author intro saying the book “is forthcoming from Penguin Allen Lane.”

# In July, Bahl took part in a discussion on Karan Thapar‘s CNBC show India Tonight, with Pranab Bardhan, whose book on the India-China theme ‘Awakening giants of clay‘ was published around the same, as co-panelist.

# In August, all the network’s channels carried the book’s grand launch in Delhi, with their websites carrying Bahl’s opening remarks and the panel discussion moderated by CNN-IBN editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai.

# Promotional advertisements on the book have crawled on screens of the network’s channels for months now. On the group’s portal in.com, an anonymous guest posted a discussion urging readers to “Kindly promote this book in institutes“.

# On the CNN-IBN website, a 4,876-word extract of the book was posted on the day after the book’s launch in August.

# Using the group’s portal in.com, a dedicated channel called superpower.in.com was created to showcase the book (along with a Hindi section titled superpowerhindi.in.com).

# Readers of the August 13 issue of the Indian edition of Forbes magazine, received a free 48-page booklet containing an “exclusive excerpt” from Bahl’s book.

# The following issue of Forbes contained a four-page debate between Bahl and Yasheng Huang, an MIT professor of Chinese origin, on the India vs China issue.

# The day after the launch, CNN-IBN declared on its website that “the book was drawing praise from the stalwarts of India Inc and the government,” with a 1-minute, 41-second news report even exhorting viewers to get their copy in “English or Hindi”.

# Readers of the September issue of Entrepreneur, published by Network 18,  received a free 48-page booklet of Bahl’s book containing another “exclusive excerpt”.

# On the network’s Hindi business channel, CNBC Awaaz, Bahl featured in a debate with Congress and BJP leaders moderated by the channel’s editor, Sanjay Pugalia.

# In early September, Bahl gave an interview to Shereen Bhan on CNBC-TV18 again, on the “amazing race between India and China“.

# In early September, as the issue of land acquisition for infrastructure projects gathered steam, Bahl popped up on CNBC-TV18‘s special show Fixing India’s Governance, offering the Chinese example.

# At last week’s broadcasters’ association awards fete, all participants of panel discussions received a complimentary copy of Superpower, and so on.

To be fair, Bahl’s debut book has received plenty of press outside the Network18 platform.

The launch was widely reported by The Indian Express, The Asian Age, DNA, Zee News, Financial Express, Hindustan Times (Delhi 1) and (Delhi 2), and  Hindustan Times (Bombay), and assorted industry publications like exchange4media, afaqs!, and Indian Television,

And the book has (so far) been reviewed by The Hindu, Businessworld, and India Today, and more are forthcoming.

Nevertheless, the issue at hand is one of Bahl, Network 18 and Superpower?.

The boilerplate excuse is, if an owner cannot push his own book on his own network, what use is his ownership? A good counter question is, would any other debutant author get so much play and promotion across so many media vehicles over so many months?

It can aslo be argued that Bahl is not the first media personality to use his baby is for self-promotion.

The Hindu routinely carries news items of its editor-in-chief N.Ram‘s speeches. The Times of India is full of promotions of its various “brands”, including pictures from Vineet Jain‘s annual Holi parties. India Today and Outlook routinely sneak in pictures of this or that group event on its pages.

Yet, there is such a thing as overdose when it involves the bossman. As a first-generation media mogul, Bahl might like to pick up a lesson from ToI‘s Samir Jain or Anand Bazar Patrika‘s Aveek Sarkar, both of whom maintain a very low profile in their publications.

Or, maybe, Bahl will take comfort from A.J. Liebling’s other famous line: “The function of the press in society is to inform but its role is to make money.”

***

Photo-illustration: courtesy Forbes

***

Also read: Is this man the new media mogul of India?

How serious is the trouble at CNBC and CNN-IBN?

The end-game is near for both TV18 and NDTV

26% of India’s most powerful are media barons

The 11 habits of India’s most powerful media pros

Has R.K. Laxman drawn his last cartoon?

21 June 2010

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: A question mark hangs over India’s most famous exclamation mark after a further slip in health of Rasipuram Krishnaswami Laxman, the iconic cartoonist of The Times of India.

The 86-year-old Laxman, who has drawn cartoons for ToI for 63 years, has been airlifted to Bombay, reportedly after suffering a “mild stroke”, and is receiving treatment at the Breach Candy hospital, family sources say.

(A report in The Times of India says he suffered three mini-strokes between Thursday and Saturday.)

Already a shadow of his former self after a first stroke seven years ago which affected his left hand, R.K. Laxman, as he is known to newspaper readers, was first admitted to the Sahyadri hospital in Poona, where he currently lives, but was airlifted to Bombay on Sunday evening.

(A PTI report in The Hindu says the three mild strokes have affected the right side of his body as also his speech.)

Mysore-born Laxman was last spotted at the engagement ceremony of his grand-niece in Bombay earlier this year.

Despite his first stroke, Laxman returned to draw the “You Said It!” pocket cartoon for The Times of India every morning, although the state of his health showed in the scraggly lines and often times in the cartoon being desultorily buried in the inside pages.

On days he doesn’t come up with a cartoon, ToI dips into its archives.

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Also read: Making all of us smile can make one of us cry

Look who inspired R.K. Laxman‘s common man!

External reading: The Ramon Magsaysay foundation citation

Has Twitter found Mark Tully’s character assassin?

2 April 2010

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Can a nearly spotless journalistic career of 45 years—30 of those for one of the most trusted broadcasters in the world—be tainted, tarbrushed and tarnished by a pathetic paperback written under a pseudonym?

If your name is Sir William Mark Tully, OBE, the answer has to seem, yes.

And the book that is causing all the damage to the reputation of the man India knows as Mark Tully is the 166-page Hindutva, Sex and Adventure written under the nom de plumeJohn MacLithon“, and published by Roli books, whose promoter once published the Sunday Mail newspaper from Delhi.

For 30 years, the Calcutta-born Tully was the BBC’s voice of India; his classic, halting signoff “Mark Tully, BBC, Delhi” as much a reassurance that all was right with the world as a stamp of authority of what we had just heard. After retirement in 1994, he settled down to write columns and books, many of them on the land of his birth (No full stops in India, India in slow motion, India’s unending journey, et al).

So much did Tully sahib endear himself to the establishment that he was decorated with India’s third and fourth highest civilian awards, the Padma Bhushan and Padma Sri.

Now, a nice little question mark has been hung at his door at No. 1, Nizamuddin (East) by a cowardly, scurrilous and unimaginative roman à clef that makes no pretence of hiding who it is based on and worse, hangs the entire body of work of a 74-year-old on his alleged political leanings without giving him the chance to respond in public.

MacLithon doesn’t, of course, take Tully’s name in the book, but in discussing the life and times and adventures of “Andrew Lyut, a radio journalist who is posted to India because he was born there and speaks a smattering of Hindu”, reviews and reviewers are doing the damage:

# In his India Today review, Dilip Bobb writes “the book is so obviously based on Mark Tully, the ex-BBC bureau chief and media star who spent almost his entire career in India, covering the region.”

# The Times of India‘s Crest edition says the “protagonist Andrew Luyt has plenty of similarities with Mark Tully. Luyt can be an anagram for Tuly. Like the famous BBC correspondent, he is born in India, works as radio journalist and quits his job over a disagreement with his boss.”

# The tabloid Mail Today newspaper remarks that “the author’s bio is both impressive and suspiciously familiar: he has interviewed six Indian prime ministers, dodged bullets on the India-Pakistan border and has covered the Mumbai riots (Is he Mark Tully? Or [former Fortune correspondent] John Elliot? The speculative list just gets bigger.)

# All three items in the gossip column of Outlook magazine’s books pages this week are devoted to the book with Mark Tully‘s name finding mention eight times, without a single mention of the name of the pseudonymous author.

So, who is causing the damage to Tully more—the book and its author and publisher, or the reviewers of newspapers and magazines, for most of whom Tully has written before—is a fair question to ask.

***

An equally good question to ask is which part of Hindutva, Sex and Adventure is causing discomfiture to Tully: the Hindutva part, the sex part or the adventure part?

It surely can’t be the sex. A 2001 profile of Tully on BBC reveals unabashedly that he “womanised and drank to excess” as an undergraduate at Cambridge. He considered becoming a priest at the Church of England but dropped out after two terms.

Reason?

“I just knew I could not trust my sexuality to behave as a Christian priest should. And I didn’t want to be a cause of scandal.”

And then, there is the small matter of his girlfriend Gillian Wright, with whom he stays while in Delhi, and his wife and mother of his four children, Margaret, with whom he stays when in London.

It can’t also be the “adventure” part of the title. From the wars with Pakistan to the Bhopal gas tragedy, from the Emergency to Operation Bluestar, from the killing of Indira Gandhi to that of her son Rajiv Gandhi, Tully saw plenty of adventures, upclose and upfront.

What probably rankles Tully, or perhaps, what really the pseudonymous author wants to irritate Tully with, is the veiled accusation that he was a closet Hindutva supporter all along without letting the mask drop before his listeners, readers, employers and other benefactors.

Here are three of many quotes from the book that the author uses to underline Andrew Luyt’s veering towards a soft Hindutva vision:

# “I am an Anglican and some of my clergy think yoga is very un-Christian, but how can you dislike something born in your country, that has taken the world by storm.”

# “The first question he asked Benazir Bhutto was about Kashmir, since she was the one who had called for ‘Azad Kashmir’, a Kashmir free from India, which had triggered ethnic cleansing of most Hindus of the valley of Kashmir.”

# “He had expected a rabid fundamentalist, a dangerous man. Actually, Andrew discovered over the years, L.K. Advani was a gentle soul, who would probably be unable to hurt a bird.”

If this is proof of Tully’s leanings, it is old hat.

In fact, in 2003, seven years before John MacLithon’s book was published, the political commentator Amulya Ganguli wrote this in the Hindustan Times:

“For several years now, the BBC’s Mark Tully has provided indirect support to the BJP’s Hindutva cause. His contention, as reiterated in a new TV documentary, Hindu Nation, is that secularism is unsuitable for India. The reason: it is a doctrine which keeps religion out of public life, an attempt which is bound to fail —and has failed—in a country as “deeply religious” as India. Hence, the Congress’s decline and the BJP’s rise.”

Much earlier, in 1997, the remarks reportedly made by Tully while addressing the National Hindu Students’ Forum in Britain had created a big buzz.

According to the Asian Age newspaper reporting it, Tully said:

I do profoundly believe that India needs to be able to say with pride, ‘Yes, our civilisation has a Hindu base to it.‘ And for Hindus to be able to say with pride that they are Hindus.””

Stunningly, or perhaps not, the author introduction on the back cover of the book and on the website of the publisher has the exact same line as the Asian Age quote.

“Some of John MacLithon’s admirers were shocked when he declared a few years ago: ‘I do profoundly believe that India needs to be able to say with pride, ‘Yes, our civilisation has a Hindu base to it’.”

So, in a sense, the book doesn’t tell us anything humanity didn’t know or had not suspected about Tully’s political leanings; it just packages it for posterity especially with two imputations: a) We should take Tully’s overall “objective” output with a pinch of salt, and/or b) that somehow he has done Hindutva some disservice by not aligning himself openly with the cause” (as perhaps the pseudonymous author has).

# In its short review of Hindutva, Sex and Adventure, The Times of India writes that the “Hindutva bits are quite forgettable”.

# Dilip Bobb says in his review that after quitting his job, MacLithon’s protagonist Andrew Luyt settles down “with a ‘partner’ to write books which go soft on Hindutva and Hinduism.”

# An unnamed reviewer in the Hyderabad-based Deccan Chronicle writes that Luyt’s “very protestant upbringing and secular outlook shapes the way he views the events around him and with every passing episode his stance on Hindutva softens.”

Whether Mark Tully dislikes the Hindutva hint no one knows for sure, although one editor who has known the BBC correspondent, says the Tully’s views on Hindutva and Hinduism “do not in any way reflect” Luyt’s; in fact, he says, he would “disagree with them profoundly”.

But it is quite clear that the pseudonymous foreign correspondent’s motive is to throw mud at Tully and to draw him into the debate on his “soft Hindutva leanings”, which Tully has resisted so far. At least in public.

***

So whodunit? Who could be behind the book on Tully?

According to the Outlook bibliophile, while signing the contract with Roli Books 18 months ago, the pseudonymous author took great pains to protect his identity, even inserting a clause that treated the “divulging of his real name as a breach of contract.”

But unnamed friends of Tully are quoted by the magazine as saying that the “strangely written” prose and the hero’s “unusual sex” antics are a giveway.

“Mark’s friends say the man behind the book is a French journalist and avid Hindutva supporter, who, like Tully, has been based in India for decades but unlike Tully, is married to an Indian. This journalist published an autobiographical novel in French in 2005.”

Mail Today, which has run two items on the book, claims that after the first piece appeared, the author got in touch with them.

“After we reported the guessing game set off by the soon-to-be launched book, the author chose to ‘come out’ in a manner of speaking and get in touch with us on email: ‘It should be absolutely normal to defend Hindus in a country where 80 per cent of the population comprises Hindus and which has shown throughout the ages that it is pluralist and tolerant. But unfortunately ‘ Hindu’ has become a dirty word in modern India.’

“The mysterious author says that he has spent many years working on the novel—which has lots on the sexual peccadilloes of a Hindutva-loving foreign correspondent in India—but had always known that his peers would brand him immediately after the publication of the book.”

If nothing else, the phraseology of the Mail Today-John MacLithon correspondence suggests that the pseudonymous is obsessed with two of the three elements in the title: Hindutva and sex.

One editor claims he received an email out of the blue from the suspected author asserting that Mark Tully was the author but that he had written it under a pseudonym “because he is scared of coming out openly…. But I have not and I am much more radical than Tully.”

But, surely, if Tully wanted to out himself, he would have chosen a more dignified way of doing so, at least by writing a book in better English with a better publisher?

On his Twitter account, the editor-in-chief of the Madras-based New Indian Express, Aditya Sinha, asks this question:

As if on cue, the said French author, Francois Gautier, has a piece on the books’ pages of The New Indian Express on Sunday, in which he drags the names of other people—Bernard Imhsaly, David Housego, John Elliot and Gautier himself—who could have written the book under a pseudonym but zeroes in on Tully (click on the image for a larger frame).

Already, in its short life, the book has kept the gossip mills active, but in the long term, is it likely to end up besmirching the BBC and its voice in India?

Then again, the Hindutva herd, uncomfortable with the idea of independent journalism, is likely to ask another question: has it become a crime for a journalist or a journalism organisation to be associated with Hindutva?

Photograph: courtesy Outlook magazine

Also read: MARK TULLY: The 7 habits of highly effective journalists

‘In India, we realise nothing ever dies finally’

‘Learn to take the rough with the smooth’

Old wine in very old bottle is still old wine

26 September 2009

toi

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: The Times of India has unveiled its ‘Crest Edition‘ in Bombay and Delhi with a 40-page offering at an “introductory price” of Rs 6 per copy. (The ‘Crest Edition‘ branding is embedded below the masthead in italics.)

“Why another newspaper or magazine, you may well ask. Don’t we already have enough? To begin with, Crest isn’t really a new paper or magazine. It is The Times of India unbound, with narrative pieces that sparkle with rich reporting, great perspective and Aha! moments. We will leverage TOI’s unequalled network of correspondents, analysts, writers and editors to anticipate the changes bubbling below the surface of society as well as enhance our understanding of the world around us. Crest is for the curious mind; it hopes to be every intelligent reader’s guide to politics and policy, art and culture, environment and education, and more,” writes The Times of India‘s editorial director Jaideep Bose in an introductory edit.

The new paper’s menu, self-explanatory, is as under:

menu

The colour theme is: aquamarine with promise of ‘seas unsailed and shores unhailed’.

“Aquamarine is the colour of adventure, surprise and delight. It stimulates, it excites, and it’s cool. It invokes sky, ocean and earth.”

***

All things considered, Crest, coming from the house of the world’s largest English newspaper, breaks no fresh ground and is in fact reminiscent of the Sunday edition of The Indian Express in its design and stories.

Nothing about the new paper—the price (double the regular Times‘ Saturday cover price of Rs 3), the quality of the newsprint (standard), the choice or display of stories—suggests “premium”, “lofty” or “high road”, terms used by Times in promoting its newest baby.

In fact, the tiny masthead of the new Crest edition suggests that Times, which burnt its hands with its earlier premium offerings in Bombay—The Independent and The Metropolis in Bombay—is playing it extra-safe in an uncertain advertising scenario and in markets where the perception is growing that ToI is feeling the heat from a variety of sources, including the competition, for keeping reader interest subservient to the advertiser’s.

The registration number and issue date of the Crest edition is that of the regular paper and the editors are the same as that of the regular Saturday paper (Derrick B D’Sa in Bombay market and Vikas Singh in Delhi market), suggesting that Crest far from being a new paper is just a new, souped-up edition of the old one, issued in the hope that the daily reader will graduate to the new edition over the weekend and help The Times bottomline floundering in the face of the paper’s private treaties and other misadventures.

In earlier days, newspapers had the dak (postal) edition, which was printed earlier than the City edition and mailed to faraway centres or transported over long distances by road and rail.

The Crest edition is a similar venture but legal experts in the print industry might like to look at a juicy question:

Can a newspaper with the same title, same registration number, same volume number, same issue number, and same editor be sold at different cover prices in the same City on the same day?

The RNI number for the main edition of The Times of India in Bombay on Saturday is 1547/57.

The RNI number for the Crest edition launched on Saturday is 1547/57. The volume number (CLXXII) is the same for the main edition and the Crest edition, and the issue number (227) is the same too.

So, has the Times taken a legally questionable step in publishing and selling a different edition of the paper at a different cover price?

Also read: A lofty title takes the high road at premium price

Readers take rest. Premium readers take Crest

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