Posts Tagged ‘Shashi Tharoor’

In new law mag, Sunanda Pushkar post-death pix

11 March 2014

There’s a new magazine on your news stand: India Legal.

The 84-page magazine, priced at Rs 100, and edited by former India Today executive editor Inderjit Badhwar is published out of Delhi.

Writes Badhwar in the editorial of the launch issue:

“The thrust of our magazine—as should be the endeavour of all competent news journalism—is a mix of investigations, trends, breaking stories, thought-inspiring features, fresh information, views and insight.

“Where we depart from the ordinary is with the realization of a new paradigm: that a breaking story usually involves a powerful legal angle. And here is where we break from the crowd in order to offer a stimulating and useful reading experience.

“Yet, the magazine is not a handbook or a legal digest for special interest reading. All of India Legal‘s stories and articles revolve on a recurring spin: they are reported, written and presented within the legal framework that drives them.”

Accordingly, the cover story of the launch issue is built around former Tehelka editor Tarun J. Tejpal‘s incarceration. An exclusive inside touts six pictures of injuries on minister Shashi Tharoor‘s wife Sunanda Pushkar ‘s body after she was found dead.

Read the issue online: India Legal

Why media shouldn’t name Delhi rape victim

7 January 2013

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The British newspaper Sunday People has outed the name of the Delhi gangrape victim, but the Indian media has not fallen for the bait—yet—although it has been trending on Twitter.

Here Rajeev Gowda, chairman of the centre for public policy at the Indian institute of management (IIM), Bangalore, argues why it is best not to name the girl.

***

By RAJEEV GOWDA

Should the Delhi rape victim’s name be revealed? At least for the purpose of honouring her (with her parents’ consent) by naming revised anti-rape legislation after her, as Union Minister of State for HRD, Shashi Tharoor has suggested?

The issue is substantially more complicated.

The Indian media has been admirably restrained so far by not revealing the names of the victim or her companion. Instead, she has been given different monikers like Nirbhaya, Damini, Amanat and Jagruti to describe her fighting spirit.

But the media has also twisted Tharoor’s tweets as if he were interested in making public her name, thus causing needless controversy.

A more diligent media would have instead focused on what inspired Tharoor to make this suggestion. His inspiration comes from United States where names are often attached to laws, especially to add a poignant human angle to legislative changes.

But this little media episode demonstrates a key lesson on why it’s better for India to refrain from going down the path of honouring the victim by naming the bill after her.

Naming this victim potentially gives a license to name other rape victims and that can cause incalculable damage to victims and their families in an India where values are in flux and rape-related stigma is cruelly real.

Further, it is quite likely that we will get into political wars over the naming of future bills and parties that thrive on symbolic huffing and puffing rather than concrete content would just divert attention from the actual work that needs to be done and probably hold up parliament over such non-issues.

Various commentators refer to Megan‘s Law, named after a child killed by a released sex offender, as an example of how the USA names laws. In the USA, numerous other laws are named after the legislators who promote them. But in the American context, unlike in India, there is tremendous scope for individual Congresspersons and Senators to initiate and pass legislation.

Megan’s Law itself is part of a set of initiatives involving naming and shaming, which has also been raised in India as a policy option after the recent Delhi tragedy.

The recently deceased News of the World tried to launch a campaign for a Megan’s Law-type bill in the UK. This media campaign resulted in attacks on people who resembled the perpetrators of crimes and also triggered violent vigilante attacks. Such outcomes may satiate the anger and passions of mobs but certainly do not strengthen the rule of law.

In a decade-old book chapter, I had examined the political and media processes that led to the passage of Megan’s Law and similar laws across the USA using the Social Amplification of Risk framework. I emphasized the importance of politics and contrasted the American experience with how the British dealt with the News of the World campaign.

The British were suitably restrained, appropriately so.

Based on those experiences, I would assert that it’s better to retain the anonymity of victims (and possibly perpetrators too) and focus instead on the harder tasks of changing societal attitudes and improving governance to prevent such crimes from ever taking place.

Otherwise, the collateral damage from name-related moves can be substantial. The twisting of Tharoor’s well-intentioned tweets is just a hint of how counterproductive things can get.

Also read: Free, frank, fearless? No, greedy, grubby, gutless

Prabhu Chawla, Pritish Nandy & Modi 87:13

2 December 2012

Narendra Modi‘s detractors (and drumbeaters) went into overdrive recently when The Times of India reported that 46% of the Gujarat chief minister’s one million Twitter followers were “fake”, 41% were “inactive”, and only 13% were “good”.

TOI used a newly launched internet website to check fakers on Twitter to arrive at the numbers. Status People deems followers as fake when they have “few or no followers and few or no tweets. But in contrast they tend to follow a lot of other accounts.”

Generally speaking, celebrities tend to attract more fake and inactive followers.

Here’s how 32 of India’s tweeters from the media world—reporters, editors and columnists; hacks, flacks and wonks—fare when subjected to the same test as Modi. Jonathan Shainin of The Caravan magazine who has over 11,000 followers has the highest percentage of “good” followers (52%); Shashi Tharoor with over 15 lakh followers is neck and neck with the PM’s office for the most “fake” followers (43%).

Former Illustrated Weekly of India editor Pritish Nandy, with over 275,000 followers, has the fewest “good” followers: 13%. Both Nandy and former India Today editor Prabhu Chawla, who has 97,000 followers, have as many “fake” and “inactive” followers as Narendra Modi: 87%.

The chairman of the press council of India, Justice Markandey Katju, with 6,000 followers, has 40% “inactive” followers.

***

@bdutt: 36% fake, 49% inactive, 15% good

@sardesairajdeep: 31% fake, 51% inactive, 18% good

@virsanghvi: 34% fake, 50% inactive, 16% good

@sagarikaghose: 43% fake, 41% inactive, 16% good

@prabhuchawla: 39% fake, 48% inactive, 13% good

@nramind: 36% fake, 46% inactive, 18% good

@pritishnandy: 44% fake, 43% inactive, 13% good

@thejaggi: 8% fake, 47% inactive, 45% good

@swapan55: 16% fake, 47% inactive, 37% good

@tavleen_singh: 12% fake, 54% inactive, 34% good

@kanchangupta: 11% fake, 48% inactive, 41% good

@malikashok: 11% fake, 59% inactive, 30% good

@sachinkalbag: 9% fake, 48% inactive, 43% good

@waglenikhil: 22% fake, 49% inactive, 29% good

@suchetadalal: 10% fake, 54% inactive, 36% good

@madhutrehan: 11% fake, 55% inactive, 34% good

@smitaprakash: 32% fake, 52% inactive, 16% good

@praveenswami: 22% fake, 45% inactive, 33% good

@mint_ed: 11% fake, 43% inactive, 46% good

@jonathanshainin: 7% fake, 41% inactive, 52% good

@mihirssharma: 30% fake, 45% inactive, 25% good

@shivaroor: 9% fake, 48% inactive, 43% good

@madversity: 25% fake, 40% inactive, 35% good

@fareedzakaria: 15% fake, 52% inactive, 33% good

@svaradarajan: 24% fake, 41% inactive, 35% good

@dilipcherian: 9% fake, 50% inactive, 41% good

@suhelseth: 23% fake, 60% inactive, 17% good

@acorn: 8% fake, 42% inactive, 50% good

@pragmatic_d: 6% fake, 47% inactive, 47% good

@shashitharoor: 43% fake, 42% inactive, 15% good

@PMOIndia: 45% fake, 44% inactive, 11% good

@katjuPCI: 9% fake, 40% inactive, 51% good

Will Barack Obama be page one news tomorrow?

7 November 2012

Will Barack Obama‘s reelection be front-page news in your newspaper tomorrow?

Not if your paper has a “jacket advertisement” in this Diwali season, in which case it will technically be on page 3. Not if your paper two jacket ads, in which case it will be on page 5.

In many ways, Indian newspapers have overturned the traditional importance of the front page (the disease now afflicting even The Guardian, London) although there are many  media watchers who believe a newspaper is well within its rights to monetise its most important space.

***

The veteran editor Surendra Nihal Singh addresses the issue in the latest issue of Society magazine:

In this age, the advertisement department has more sway than the editorial. What do you have to say about it?

Nihal Singh: The front pages of mainstream newspapers are plastered with adverts. This is happening very often. These newspapers are killing the essence of the front page.

The Statesman had strict restrictions on front-page advertisements. During my editorship of the paper in Calcutta, the advertisement manager Chandran Tharoor (father of politician Shashi Tharoor) would beg me for an xtra half-centimetre of space for a front-page advert, but I used to turn down his request.

The contrasts could not be starker with today’s media. In many newspapers, it is the advertisement department that sets the terms. The newspaper owner has given himself the title of editor.

Then again, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi was not front-page news in “India’s national newspaper”. Reason: The Hindu only carried ads on page one in the innocent days of 1948.

Also read: Selling the soul or sustaining the business?

Arun Shourie: a Hindu right-wing pamphleteer

Jug Suraiya on MJ, SJ, Giri, Monu & Mamma T

22 July 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from Delhi: Books about The Times of India are like city buses. There isn’t one for years, and then two come along around the same time. And on both occasions, punsters imported from Calcutta are the ones steering the wheel.

Bachi Karkaria came out with Behind the Times, “a poorly structured, poorly sourced and poorly edited… airy tribute to the war-room surgeons who botoxed the Old Lady of Boribunder into a sassy lass,” a few months ago.

Now, Jug Suraiya is out with “JS and The Times of my life“, a two-in-one salute to Junior Statesman where he started off and The Times of India, where he has spent the last 25 years.

Despite making no claims to being an accurate history of Indian journalism, Suraiya’s worm’s eye-view (Tranquebar, 340 pages, Rs 495) throws more light than Bachi’s on the stellar bylines and bolf-faced names, and with none of the unctuousness.

***

On M.J. AKBAR: ‘Please, sir, can I submit a short story for publication?’ I looked up from the papers on my desk. No one had called me ‘sir’ before. A thin chap with an aspiring moustache, in shorts and a half-sleeved shirt stood before my desk. I gestured for him to sit.

‘Where’s the short story?’ In reply, he handed over a school exercise book, the last several pages of which were covered with carefully penned handwriting.

‘I’m sorry I couldn’t get it typed. I don’t have a typewriter,’ the young chap said.

‘Don’t worry, I don’t either,’ I said. ‘But you’d better tear out these pages yourself. I’ll make a mess of it.’

He tore out the pages and handed them to me.

‘You haven’t put down your name, for the by-line,’ I said. ‘What is it?’

‘M.J. Akbar,’ said M.J. Akbar.

The short story was published, and MJ—then in class XI at Calcutta boys school)—soon became a regular campus correspondent for the Junior Statesman….

Years later, in 1985, at a memorial service held in Calcuta after Desmond Doig‘s untimely death, MJ spoke about how Junior Statesman—soon to be shortened to JS—had been the launch pad of his journalistic career.

MJ made it sound as though that were the JS‘s greatest contribution to posterity. Who knows? Maybe it was.

***

On SHASHI THAROOR: ‘I though you had the Jungian unconscious in mind when you wrote your short story. Did you?’

The speaker was referring to a short story called ‘The Wall‘ I’d written and which had appeared in the JS.

He was about 12 years old, the only person in shorts at the cocktail party in Desmond’s flat in Calcuta, and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world that he should ask me about the Jungian unconscious. Whatever it was.

His name was Shashi, and he was the son of the advertising manager of The Statesman, a human dynamo called Chandran Tharoor. Even in those days, Shashi had the grace of intellect and the charm of manner to put people far older, less clever than he, at their ease.

***

On C.R. IRANI: Each morning the managing director [of The Statesman] would come to the JS, tucked away on a mezzanine floor of the Statesman building. Striding into Desmond’s cabin, he would ask for the JS team to be summoned.

The MD would address the congregation. ‘Desmond, boys, they’re coming to take me away. I expect them at any moment. But even after I have gone, remember: keep fighting the good fight, keep the flag of freedom unfurled. That’s all. Thank you and God bless till we meet again.’

Then, heels clicking counterpoint to the silent strains of ‘We shall overcome‘, the MD would march out, presumably into the arms of the waiting constabulary.

They never came. In the afternoon, Desmond would phone the MD’s secretary to ascertain his fate.

‘The MD’s gone?’ she’d confirm.

‘To Lalbazar lock-up?’ Desmond would ask.

‘To the Bengal Club for lunch,’ she’d reply. And the next day the entire sequence would be repeated again.

***

On TIME magazine: When Mother Teresa received the Nobel Prize, Dan Sheppard, the then Time correspondent in Delhi, called me in Calcutta. He wanted to kow how much Mamma T weighed.

‘You know the Time style,’ he said. ‘In the piece I write, when I say ‘tiny’, I have to give her weight to back up the adjective. Will you find out for me, please?’

I rang the Missionaries of Charity. Mother was unavailable, out on fieldwork, as she was more often than not. I spoke to one of the sisters.

‘I’m sorry, I know it sounds stupid. But could you tell me how much Mother weighs? It’s for Time magazine.’

There was silence. Then, very gently, ‘Do you really think that Mother herself would know or care?’

In the end I made up a figure: 48 kg, and passed it on to Dan. He seemed happy enough. Presumably so were Time readers.

***

GIRILAL JAIN: ‘Condemn or condone?’ said Girilal Jain. It was the tailend of a typical editorial page meeting, chaired by Giri. The air was turgid with debate and tobacco smoke. But even the fug of nicotine fumes couldn’t obscure the sparkle of the discourse. It was a stellar gathering, with one notable exception.

There was Giri himself, of course. Last of the great editors, and very conscious of it too…. Puffing on his pipe, Giri conjured visions of ancient faultlines of caste and creed, of clan and tribe, wanting to open wide their cataclysmic jaws and swallow up in a trice the marvels of modern India….

Towards the end of every edit meeting, Giri would allot the day’s work. Often, though not always, Giri reserved the lead editorial for himself, using it to tell the government what it should or should not do about whatever it was Giri felt it should or should not do.

Having sorted out the government for yet another day, Giri would ask the others for topics they might wish to write about. Someone would suggest Bihar (something or the other, generally the other, was always happening, or not happening, in Bihar); someone else would mention President’s rule somewhere else; another would offer the sarkar’s growing fiscal deficit.

Giri would decide which of the offerings he wanted. Then he’d asked the person wo’d volunteered to write it, a single question: ‘Condemn or condone?’

Was the writer in favour of what it was or was he against it? The writer would give his reply in the same ‘Condemn/condone’ format and the edit page meeting would be over.

***

DILEEP PADGAONKAR: Giri’s own heir-apparent was Dileep Padgaonkar. Dileep who had been one of the first of the new guard to be recruited by Gautam Adhikari on Samir Jain‘s instructions was—and is—a Chitpawan Brahmin equally fluent in Sanskrit and French, which he spoke with a Sanskritised accent, or perhaps it was the other way round.

A wonderful raconteur and mimic, his rendition of the 9 0’clock television in raga bhairavi was a treat to hear. He gave the impression of always sporting an invisible beret, a baguette under the arm and a silk cravat around his neck, even in a Delhi summer.

Present at Giri court was Gautam himself and the newcomers he’d recruited, which included Arvind N. Das, who came from the world of academia, Subir Roy, who’d worked with The Telegraph in Calcutta, and Ajay Kumar, who’d been with India Today.

Anikendranath ‘Badshah’ Sen, who’d been with Radio Australia, had been brought in by Dileep.

Badshah’s and Dileep’s cars had happened to stop at the same Delhi red light at the same time. They knew each by sight and had exchanged greetings. Then, on an impulse, Dileep had asked: ‘Where are you working now?’

‘Radio Australia,’ Badshah had said.

‘Would you like to switch to the ToI?’ Dileep had said.

‘Why not?’ Badshah had replied.

And that had been that.

***

SAMIR JAIN: One Saturday evening, Bunny and I, Navbharat Times editor S.P. Singh and his wife Shikha Trivedy, and a couple of others from the Times group had foregathered for dinner at the Nizamudding West flat that Subir Roy and his wife Indrani were renting at the time.

The phone rang and Subir answered it. He hung up, looking sombre.

‘It was Samir Jain,’ he said. ‘He says he’s coming over. With his wife. He says they’ve had their dinner, so not to worry about food.’

There was contemplative silence. At the end of a long week, when you’re having a few drinks with your cronies and letting your hair down, you don’t exactly want your super-boss sitting there listening in to your conversation which, had he not been there, could well have been about him.

‘Oh well,’ said someone philosophically.’Let’s have a drink to that.’

We did and waited for SJ. He and his wife, Meera, turned up. All the men stood up, offering chairs.

‘No, no. Please. Continue,’ said SJ. He led his wife to a corner of the room where there were a couple of seats and they sat down. ‘Please,’ said SJ. ‘Do carry on.’

Eventually we managed to get a conversation going, with SJ sitting in the corner listening attentively. Belly-aching about the office was obviously out of the question. So we stuck to a safe topic: new places in Delhi to drink and eat out in.

Someone mentioned a new Spanish restaurant which did a mean paella.

‘Yeah, I’m told it’s good. But bloody expensive,’ someone else said.

‘Place to go for a special occasion,’ I said.

‘Excuse me,’ said SJ from the corner.

Everyone shut up. For a moment we’d forgotten that he was there. Which, of course, was exactly what he wanted.

‘Excuse me,’ said SJ again.’But you people like to, I mean really like to, spend money? You get some sort of pleasure out of it?’

There was a clumsy silence.

‘Yeah,’ I said at last. ‘We people like, actually like, to spend money. When we have any, that is. On special occasions, once in a while, we might even like to spend more than we can really afford. Maybe that’s partly what makes a special occasion a special occasion.’

SJ nodded. ‘I see,’ he said. ‘You people like spending money. Interesting.’

***

MONU NALPAT: [ToI foreign affairs editor] Ramesh Chandran, who shared an office room with him, would describe to a fascinated audience the daily morning ritual. Monu would stride in briskly and go to his desk without a word of greeting or any acknowledgement of Ramesh’s presence.

Seating himself at his desk, he would take off his spectacles and place them on the desktop. Then he would remove, one by one, all the metallic objects on his person: his watch, the rings on his fingers, the coins from his wallet. He would arrange these with millimetric into precision on the desk.

He would stand up and eyes shut, genuflect several times in one direction. He would turn at an angle of ninety degrees and repeatedly genuflect again, murmuring an inaudible incantation. He would go back to his desk, put his watch and rings on, put the coins back into his wallet.

He would put on his spectacles, looking at Ramesh, giving him a beaming smile, and say, ‘Good morning, Ramesh! How’s it going?’

***

SAMIR JAINDiana dead. It was humongous news. The most humongous of the year. Maybe of the decade. All the editorial pages of all the newspapers in the wold would have lead editorials about Diana’s death.

With one big huge glaring exception. The ToI. Whose-edit-page in-charge was the only journo in existence who hadn’t got the news till it was too late to do anything about it.

The next day when I got to the ToI office, my edit page colleagues told me that Samir Jain—or VC, as we all called him, for vice-chairman (of Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd)—had already come by the department.

‘What did he say?’ I asked.

‘He said, “The edit page editor must be having a very good reason to give to the publishers as to why the ToI is the only newspaper not to have an editorial on Diana,” said a colleague.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Well, if he comes by again just tell him that the ToI edit page doesn’t believe in knee-jerk reactions.”

Also read: When Samir served a thali, Vineet a scoop

‘Dubai is a haven of information for journalists’

28 April 2010

Dubai is a recurring theme in the ongoing tragicomedy in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

Shashi Tharoor, who has to give up his ministership, was a consultant with a Dubai firm before taking the plunge in electoral politics. His close friend Sunanda Pushkar lives there. The new head of the Cochin IPL franchise Harshad Mehta is a resident of the city. Etc.

Plus, there are is the betting and matchfixing angle with a Dubai edge.

K.P. Nayar explains in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“For a journalist with a ‘nose’ for information, Dubai is one of the most open places in the world. Once a newsman has won the trust of an Arab, howsoever sensitive his position may be, he will share information with you which will be wrapped in multiple layers of secrecy in most other countries.

“In my decade-long experience in Dubai, people share information with trusted journalists in the full knowledge that it will not be written about — until after decades, as in the case of this narrative. Unless, of course, the journalist is seeking a one-way plane ticket out of the Emirate.”

Read the full article: The edge of a precipice

Photograph: courtesy Follow the money

Shashi Tharoor ain’t the only Tweetiya in town

7 October 2009

Indian minister Shashi Tharoor isn’t the only one getting into trouble with his Twitter updates.

Indian-born journalist Raju Narisetti too is.

The former editor of the business daily Mint, now a managing editor at The Washington Post looking after features and its website, has fallen foul of the paper’s ombudsman Andrew Alexander for his tweets about the US health care debate and an age limit on politicians (he is in favour of both).

Result: Narisetti made a decision to stop tweeting and shut down his Twitter account.

“He now realises that his tweets, although intended for a private audience of about 90 friends and associates, were unwise.”

One more result: The Post issued new guidelines for its employees on social media which, net-net, said it was problematic for an editor to be seen to have an opinion, in case it gave “ammunition” to those who believe the Post to be biased.

Read the full story: Clipping the wings of journo tweeters

Watch your mouth

Also read: ‘Good journalists, poor journalism, zero standards’

Pseudonymous author spells finis to Mint editor?

His Master’s Voice varies from his Man Friday’s

26 September 2009

Minister of state for external affairs, Shashi Tharoor, is a) the son of a journalist of The Statesman, Calcutta, b) a longtime columnist with The Illustrated Weekly of India, The Hindu and The Times of India, and c) a career diplomat who spent a good part of his life at the United Nations writing books and press notes.

But in his first 100 days in office, Tharoor’s core competency is what has deserted him as he puts both his feet in his mouth with increasing regularity.

First came the cattle-class comment on his Twitter feed, and now this. A comment on Mail Today, the tabloid newspaper owned by the India Today group, at sharp variance with his own officer on special duty Jacob Joseph‘s surmise of the paper a few days earlier.

Censorship in the name of ‘national interest’?

21 September 2009

sachin

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: The coverage in the Indian media of conditions along the India-China border from where reports of “military incursions, shooting incidents and even imminent conflict along the Line of Actual Control” are being reported on an almost-daily basis has invoked a strange reaction from the government.

On the one hand, there has been a denial from the very top of the government and armed forces, with the national security advisor even uttering the words “media hype”, even as the two heads of the external affairs ministry (S.M. Krishna and Shashi Tharoor) are battling the after-effects of five-star comfort and Twittermania.

And, on the other hand, the Union home ministry has reportedly decided to file a First Iinformation Report against two reporters of The Times of India. The reporters, Nirmalya Banerjee in Calcutta and Prabin Kalita in Guwahati, filed a front-page story last Tuesday, September 15, of two soldiers of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) being injured in firing by the Chinese in northern Sikkim.

The reported quoted “a highly placed intelligence source, who is not authorized to give information to the media” and also mentioned that ITBP officials in New Delhi “declined to confirm the incident”.

The disclaimer notwithstanding, ToI carried this clarification on the following day on its inside pages:

“Responding to a ToI report, ‘2 ITBP jawans injured in China border firing’, the ITBP had clarified that no such incident of firing has taken place on the India-China border and no member of the ITBP had been injured.”

Clearly, the clarification failed to cool the embers in the corridors of power.

On Sunday, September 20, The Hindu carried a news story, bylined “New Delhi Bureau”.

“We have taken this story very seriously. We are going ahead with our decision to take criminal action against the two reporters and we will soon file an FIR. They have quoted some highly placed intelligence source in their story. Let them appear before the court and tell who is this source who gave them information,” unnamed “top home ministry sources” were quoted as saying in The Hindu.

The reporters’ crime according to the unnamed top home ministry sources?

Indian law proscribed promotion of enmity with other countries.”

The rest of the Indian media has ignored the travails of the The Times of India‘s reporters, and as has become the norm these days, the Indian Express, which reports the story on its front page today, doesn’t even bother to name the paper.

The attempt to tone down the war mongering in the media is understandable. After all, the sight of two gigantic countries , both nuclear powers, staring eyeball to eyeball in a confrontation is not a very pretty one.

Still, some questions need to be asked:

1) Is the government over-reacting to one story in one newspaper? Have other newspapers and other TV channels been calmness personified?

2) By targetting ToI, is the government trying to send signals to other bellicose media which have been itching for action? Is this pre-war media management?

3) Is this story on injured Indian jawans the only “wrong” story on this issue, or any other issue, that merits government reaction? If so, why?

4) Is the government implicitly accusing the media of making up stories? Or is it trying to find out the media’s sources? If it is the latter, isn’t the government chasing the wrong end of the animal?

5) Is The Times of India‘s responsibility to the reader or to the home and defence ministries?

6) Is The Times of India‘s reporters within their rights to not reveal their intelligence source/s, if any, even in a court of law?

7) Does threat of an FIR and criminal action amount to censorship in the name of “national interest”?

8) Who in the government decides whether a story is acceptable or not to the “national interest”, and on what basis, and how often?

Newspaper facsimile: courtesy The Indian Express

Also read: Because your TV cannot devote 23 minutes

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

4 December 2008

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

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

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

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

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

***

By BARKHA DUTT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No dos and don’ts were provided by officials.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The viewer, to that extent, is king.

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

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

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

And the last word belongs to him.

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