Posts Tagged ‘The Statesman’

President speaks of paid news, dumbing down

28 February 2014

Chandan Mitra, editor-in-chief of The Pioneer, Delhi, is honoured by President Pranab Mukherjee at the INS platinum jubilee celebrations. INS president Ravindra Kumar of The Statesman is at right.

The following is the full text of the speech delivered by the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, at the inauguration of the platinum jubilee celebrations of the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) in New Delhi on Thursday, 27 February 2014:

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By PRANAB MUKHERJEE

“Seventy-five years ago, the world was a very different place. Our country was yet to take its place in the comity of nations. Millions of Indians were engaged in the struggle for freedom.

“Your Society came to life on the eve of World War II.

“Newspapers of the time not only survived the  shortages that war brought in its wake, but also engaged themselves in the difficult task of informing people of the momentous events of a contentious period in our history.

“It took resolve, vision and a sense of destiny on the part of the founding fathers to have formed a Society that could take up issues of common interest for its members.

“INS can also be proud that it helped create and nurture institutions like the Press Trust of India and the Audit Bureau of Circulation.  INS members have played a vital role in nurturing a free Press which is a critical component of our democracy.

“Over the years, INS members have informed society and promoted debate on the important questions that confront our nation.

“Be it the ravages wrought by war or those inflicted by the man-made Bengal Famine, the trials and tribulations of a nation torn asunder by Partition or the building of modern day India, newspapers have played a crucial role in educating Indians and giving expression to the diversity of views in our society, upholding thereby the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.

“The plurality of media in our country has its roots in our freedom struggle.

“The Press in India evolved, not through the aegis of the Government but due to the commitment of individuals who used it as a tool to fight enforced opinions and create platform for social reform movements across the country.

“It is matter of pride that between 1780 until India’s Independence in 1947, more than 120 newspapers and periodicals were launched in almost in every Indian language. Each of these publications vowed to carry the ideals of democracy to the doorsteps of the people and spread the message of independence.

“As the media landscape undergoes change, the media has assumed different roles of being a facilitator, protector and enabler of democratic institutions and processes.

“Our vast, varied and vibrant media is a national asset.

“The media as a whole not only keep people informed but also performs a very crucial function of presenting ideas and alternatives in the domain of policy formulation and implementation.  The media space thus becomes an important component in the fabric of a functional democracy by not merely reporting the ‘dialogue of democracy’ but also by taking an active part in that dialogue.

“As India grows in the 21st century, it is extremely important that media reaches out to the inaccessible areas and the under-served population of this country.

“It is critical that the media provides an enabling environment for the spirit of inclusive growth to be ushered in and that the varied tools of communication are able to disseminate the “India Story” in a positive, accurate and focused perspective.

“Even as iconic newspapers and magazines around the world are ceasing to print, our newspaper industry, one of the largest in the world, continues to grow. The market for Indian newspapers, with over 90 million copies in circulation, is expected to grow at a double-digit Compounded Annual Growth Rate of 10% and emerge as the world’s sixth-largest newspaper market by 2017.

“The regional and vernacular print sector, in particular, is growing on the back of rising literacy and low print media penetration as well as the heightened interest of advertisers wanting to leverage these markets.

“Today, according to industry sources, print media has a combined market penetration of only 14%. There is considerable potential, therefore, to expand readership across the national canvas.

“These are changing times and it is not possible for the newspapers to be spared from the consequences of the evolution of ideas and the embrace of technology. It is essential for newspapers to be alive to the challenges of technology, and to harness responsibly the opportunities that present themselves.

“The history of the Press in India bears testimony to the fact that the pioneers created strong and durable institutions as well as traditions.  That is your inheritance and you must build on it. It is incumbent upon you as a Society of newspapers and periodicals to weed out such aberrations as might have crept into the functioning of the media.

“Let me point out in this regard that it is distressing to note that some publications have resorted to “Paid News” and other such marketing strategies to drive their revenues.  There is need for self-correcting mechanisms to check such aberrations.

“The temptation to “dumb down” news should also be resisted.

“The nation faces critical challenges that go well beyond the pressure of ‘Breaking News’ and immediate headlines.

“While you must continue to be effective raconteurs, you must also be visionary nation builders.  You are after all the crystal ball that millions of Indians gaze at. It is your responsibility and your bounden duty to ensure that ideas are debated dispassionately and thoughts articulated without fear or favour so that opinion is always well informed.

“The influence, credibility and quality of our media is well recognized. Newspapers must be keepers of the conscience of our country.  They have to be active participants in our continuing endeavour to nurture a democratic republic committed to achieving justice and fundamental freedoms for all citizens.

“Journalists must bring to public notice the array of ills and deprivations that continue to beset large numbers of our people – be it malnourishment, continuance of discriminatory practices against sections of society, particularly dalits, or the burdens and tragic consequences of indebtedness. They must shape and influence public opinion even as they provide objective and balanced coverage of news.

“The media has an important role to play in cleansing public life.  However, to undertake this role, the conduct of the media itself should be above board.  It must be always kept in mind that ends and means are both important.

“The highest standards  of ethics must be maintained at all times.

“Sensationalism should never become a substitute for objective assessment and truthful reporting.

“Gossip and speculation should not replace hard facts.

“Every effort should be made to ensure that political or commercial interests are not passed off as legitimate and independent opinion.

“Integrity and independence are two sides of the same coin and both must be equally important for our media and for every one of us.  There should be recognition that the media is accountable to its readers and viewers at large and through them to the entire nation.

“As the fourth estate, the media is the mediator between the public and public servants. It is a watchdog of public interest. It gives voice to the downtrodden and dispossessed. It is inherent in the role of a watchdog that the media draws attention to what is wrong. But, gloom and dark alone should not dominate news coverage.  A conscious effort must be made to highlight the positive and inspire change for the better.  The power of the media should be used to engage in a nation-wide endeavour to reset our moral compass.

“I call upon INS and all its members to remain torch bearers of responsible journalism. They must always be a voice for justice and equally, spokespersons of hope and reason.

“In conclusion, let me remind that one of the most prolific and influential journalists as well as publishers of our nation was Mahatma Gandhi. His thoughts on journalism are most illuminating and must guide our media.

“Gandhiji wrote in My Experiments with Truth:

The sole aim of journalism should be service. The newspaper press is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges whole countrysides and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy. If the control is from without, it proves more poisonous than want of control. It can be profitable only when exercised from within.”

He also wrote:

Week after week I poured out my soul in its columns and expounded the principles and practice of satyagraha as I understood it.  I cannot recall a word in these articles set down without thought or deliberation or a word of conscious exaggeration, or anything merely to please.  Indeed, the journal became for me a training in self-restraint and for friends a medium through which to keep in touch with my thoughts.”

‘You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war’

13 June 2013

Modern journalists not used to the thrills and travails of sending despatches on the telegram and the teleprinter and the telex machine from the back of beyond will not understand the hoo dash ha in today’s papers on the decision of the Bharat sanchar nigam limited bracket open BSNL bracket close to wind up the telegraphic service stop Our sympathies stop para The innocent little tykes probably do not even remember William Randolph Hearst‘s famous telegram to his correspondent that features in the greatest film ever made comma Citizen Kane stop para 

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In The Pioneer, the paper’s editor and member of Parliament Chandan Mitra goes down memory lane:

“When I became a journalist, working with The Statesman in Kolkata, I had to sometimes send my reports that way. Press persons were issued P&T cards which enabled us to file copies by telegram and telex (a relatively new innovation) and even make trunk calls to the headquarters without paying cash as the cards were postpaid by the organisation.

“Reporting on terrorism in Punjab in 1984, one evening I reached Ludhiana to find the telex machine at the GPO out of order. Given the urgency of the report, I was left with no option but dictate my entire story to the grumpy telegraph operator whose machine went tappity-tap to the Morse code.

“Later, the News Editor said my story had run into an extravagant 22 sheets with many undecipherable words (the reluctant babu’s faulty English to blame!) and took over three hours to retype!

“District correspondents too often filed this way. As Chief of the Times of India News Service in the late 1980s, it was my lot to sort out telegram sheets, each line pasted on the form, and punctuation marks spelt out.

“A joke of telegram’s nascent years was that in Britain stingy businessmen found a way to beat the cost by sending only punctuation marks, which were free (that is, not counted as a word). So, one shipper from London sent a telegram to his shipping agent thus (;).

“Spelt out, it reached the agent as semicolon.

“The agent replied next day, saying (:).

In case you haven’t figured this out, the message was “see my coal on” and the reply “coal on”!

There is also the delightful but possibly apocryphal story of a foreign correspondent based in the far-east who, when laid off by his paper, got the operator to punch and send the entire Hong Kong telephone directory by telegram so that the “bastards back home”—the accountants—would learn a lesson.

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Read the full article: 160 years on, the telegram retires

Also read: An urgent telegram to Shri Rupert Murdoch

How Chandan Mitra has his halwa and hogs it too

The best editor The Pioneer never had?

How Tavleen Singh fell out with Sonia Gandhi

21 November 2012

The columnist Tavleen Singh has just penned what she calls her “political memoirs”.

Titled Durbar (Hachette, 324 pages, Rs 599), the book charts Singh’s view of the corridors of power in Delhi from the inside out—from Indira Gandhi‘s Emergency in 1975 to her assassination in 1984; from Rajiv Gandhi‘s rise to his downfall and death in 1991.

The book jacket describes how Singh, at various times a reporter for The Statesman, Delhi; The Telegraph and Sunday, Calcutta; The Sunday Times, London:

“observed a small, influential section of Delhi’s society—people she knew well—remain strangely unafffected by the perilous state of the nation…. It was the beginning of a political culture of favouritism and ineptitude that would take hold at the highest levels of government, stunting India’s ambitions and frustrating its people well into the next century.”

In chapter 14, titled Euphoric Early Days and a Plot, Singh chronicles throws light on how her friendship with Rajiv’s window Sonia Gandhi waned—and the role played by a 1986 profile of the current Congress president in India Today magazine.

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By TAVLEEN SINGH

By the middle of 1986, my relations with M.J. Akbar had become so fraught that I decided I was better off going freelance. I was writing regularly by then for the Sunday Times, London, which brought in more money than I earned at the Telegraph.

I came to an arrangement with Aroon Purie, owner and chief editor of India Today, to do some freelance work for him as well and with a considerable degree of pleasure sent Akbar my resignation. His tantrums and sulks had now become so routine as to make constant difficulties for me professionally….

So it was that I happened to be in the India Today office on the afternoon the news came that someone had tried to shoot Rajiv Gandhi when he was visiting Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial, Rajghat, on 2 October 1986. The failed assassin was a twenty-four-year-old Sikh called Karamjit Singh, who was such an amateur that he used a country-made pistol as his weapon….

When I heard that Sonia had been with Rajiv at Rajghat, I called her to find out what had happened. She said that what had upset her most was that when they heard the shots the first people to duck were Rajiv’s new and supposedly highly trained bodyguards from the special protection group (SPG).

I must have mentioned our conversation in the India Today office that afternoon because immediately afterwards Aroon Purie summoned me to his room to ask if I could do an interview with Sonia Gandhi.

He said that people were blaming her for the negative stories that were beginning to pollute the atmosphere around Rajiv and everyone was curious about what kind of person she was and whether she really controlled the prime minister as people said she did. Although she went everywhere with the prime minister nobody knew anything about her at all.

What did her voice sound like?

How did she spend her days?

What did she think of India?

I called Sonia and told her that India Today wanted to do an interview with her and emphasised that her image was really bad and that it might help her to give an interview and clarify some of the things that were being said about her.

I told her that she was being blamed for interfering in government affairs and such things as throwing Arun Nehru out of the circle of Rajiv’s closest advisors…. She listened in silence and remained silent for a few moments before saying that she would check with the prime minister’s media managers and see if they thought she should give an interview to India Today.

They did not think it was a good idea. So we agreed to do an interview disguised as a profile and that only Sonia and I, and of course India Today, would know that the profile was done with her cooperation. I asked her all the questions that Aroon wanted me to and produced a profile that was so anodyne that Aroon said, ‘I don’t mind being considered a chamcha of Rajiv Gandhi, but of Sonia…’

I pointed out that I had said right from the start that I would not be able to say anything negative about her since we were doing the profile with her cooperation. Aroon was unconvinced and said that the very least we should do was put in the things that people were saying about her. He suggested that we put some bite into the piece by getting my colleague Dilip Bobb to work with me so that if I had problems with Sonia afterwards I could put the blame on Dilip.

So on the cover of the 15 December 1986 issue of India Today there appeared a profile titled ‘The Enigmatic First Lady of India’.

I am going to quote here the first two paragraphs and admit that the writing of them had more to do with Dilip than me. My contribution was to provide information about Sonia’s likes and dislikes, her friends and her life as the prime minister’s wife:

Had fate – in the form of assassins’ bullets – not intervened, she would have probably been quite content to linger in the shadow of her formidable mother-in-law, her assiduously protected privacy undisturbed by the fact that she belonged to the most famous family in the land. But destiny – and dynasty – willed otherwise. Unwarned, Sonia Gandhi was suddenly pitch-forked into the position she would have least wanted – India’s First Lady.

It is, as the last two years have painfully revealed, a role she is not comfortable in. Compared to the relaxed style of her debonair husband, she appears awkward and wooden. Though impeccably attired and carefully groomed, her face, framed by luxuriant chestnut hair, is an immobile mask. Perhaps deliberately, her public personality has given her the image of a mere ceremonial appendage to the Prime Minister. She is not a Lalita Shastri, but neither does she seem cut out to be Nancy Reagan or a Raisa Gorbachova. And the fate of someone who falls between two stools is not a happy one.

The article went on to charge Sonia with being the power behind the throne ‘plotting the downfall of opponents, through cabinet reshuffles (she didn’t trust Arun Nehru) and advising her husband on everything from the Kashmir coalition to Pepsi Cola’s entry into India.’

The profile was not flattering but it was not as bad as it could have been. Considering how much vicious gossip there was about the Quattrocchis by then, the piece was not unfair. There was only an illusion to her friends using her name when they threw their weight around Delhi’s drawing rooms and government offices. This was mentioned in passing.

So, when I called Sonia to find out what she thought of the profile I did not expect the frosty response I got.

I asked her if she had seen the profile and what she thought about it, and I remember being surprised by the icy tone in which she replied that she did not think she was like the person I had described in the profile. In what way, I asked, and she mentioned the reference to her friends using her name.

I said, ‘Look, Sonia, there are people using your name. I don’t want to give you details over the phone. But let’s have coffee and I will tell you exactly what is going on and who is doing what.’

We agreed to meet the next day or the next, but an hour before our scheduled meeting Madhavan, her personal assistant, called to say that Mrs Gandhi was unable to keep our appointment as she was accompanying the prime minister to Kashmir. He had been instructed to tell me that she would call when she returned to fix another time.

She never did.

Some weeks later I wrote to her to offer condolences on her father’s death and got a polite handwritten reply in her neat, carefully formed handwriting. My New Year’s card in January 1987 was not written by hand and signed by both of them as it was the year before. It came from the prime minister’s office and was formally signed by Rajiv Gandhi.

I had been dropped.

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Book excerpt: courtesy Hachette

Photo illustration: courtesy Amarjit Siddu via Al Arabiya

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Also visit: Tavleen Singh‘s website

Follow her on Twitter: @tavleen_singh

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Also read: Vinod Mehta on Arun Shourie, Dileep Padgaonkar

Kuldip Nayar on Shekhar Gupta, N. Ram & Co

B.G. Verghese on the declaration of Emergency

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.

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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

Why N.J. Nanporia bought a carved table

27 August 2012

sans serif records with regret the demise of N.J. Nanporia, the half-Parsi, half-Japanese former editor of The Times of India and The Statesman in Poona. He was 88 years old.

Sunanda K. Datta-Ray pays a warm tribute in Business Standard:

“No other Indian I have known in 54 years in journalism has been so reluctant to push himself into the limelight. George Arthur Johnson, my first editor, and Nanporia were both silent men whose power lay in their pens. Neither was a pretentious phony prancing around the country and world. Both knew everything that happened without venturing out of the editor’s room. Nanporia’s editorial maturity, wisdom and breadth of knowledge were sorely missed in the vacuum after he was pushed out in 1975.

“One manifestation of his catholicity was the expansion into other fields of his collection of Chinese porcelain. A Ming vase needed a carved table, so he bought one. The table couldn’t stand on the bare floor. He got the right period carpet. The wall behind called for suitable decoration. And so it went on. I didn’t see his treasures. But he showed me photographs and letters from Christie and Sotheby authenticating his pieces.”

In his recent memoir, Kuldip Nayar wrote about Nanporia:

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

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

Photograph: courtesy The Times of India

Kuldip Nayar on Shekhar Gupta, N. Ram & Co

5 July 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph: courtesy Jitender Gupta/ Outlook

Rajya Sabha TV tears into Reliance-TV18 deal

15 January 2012

The fears over what happens when a big business house with deep pockets and political influence across parties funds a big media house to legitimise its hitherto-hidden media interests, are coming true even before the controversial Reliance Industries -Network18/TV18-Eenadu Television deal can be inked.

Obviously, the political class is silent. Obviously, TV18’s competitors won’t touch the story for reasons not difficult to imagine. Obviously, The Hindu won’t even publish a media column for reasons not difficult to fantasise.

But there has been no serious discussion of the implications of the deal on the media or on democracy in the mainstream media. Not on any of Network18’s usually high-decibel shows since the tie-up was announced on 3 January 2012. Not even on Karan Thapar‘s media show on CNN-IBN, The Last Word.

Print media coverage too has at best been sketchy. Even the newspapers and newsmagazines which have attempted to probe the complexities of the menage-a-trois, The Economic Times and The Indian Express, Outlook* and India Today, have barely managed to go beyond the numbers into the nuance.

Rajya Sabha TV, the newly launched television channel of the upper house of Parliament, has filled the breach somewhat with a no-holds barred discussion on the subject.

Anchored by Girish Nikam, a former Eenadu reporter who wrote five years ago on Eenadu‘s travails, the RSTV debate—with an honourable mention for sans serif in the third segment—flags all the important issues raised by the deal and underlines the role public service television can play in the service of the public when the corporate media gives up—or gives in.

Some of the comments made by three of the four participants on The Big Picture:

S. Nihal Singh, former editor of The Statesman: “My first reaction [on reading of the deal] was that it was time for India to have a really good anti-monopoly law for media, which is the norm in all democratic countries in the world, including the most advanced….

“The press council of India is totally dysfunctional because of the new chairman Justice Markandey Katju, who is baiting the media, who doesn’t believe in conversing with the media, or exchanging views with the media.”

***

Madhu Trehan, founder-editor of India Today and director, content, of the soon-to-be-launched media site, News Laundry: “It need not have happened if the government and corporates were more alert. One person owns much too much….

“Already every policy is decided by corporates as the 2G tapes (of Niira Radia) show. Not only is it dangerous that Mukesh Ambani will be deciding what policy will be decided, as you know has happened in the past, but he will also decide whether we can talk about it, or criticise it or expose it….

“Why is Reliance interested in media? It is not for money; it is obviously for influence. Rupert Murdoch was endorsing PMs and Presidents in three continents. Now we have the richest man in the country owning the largest network. Yes, there is an independent trust, but I don’t believe that. The purpose is to control the media. You are influencing policy, you are influencing how the government decides, and now you are going to decide how the people will hear about about you and the government….

“When a politician or a government spokesman speaks, we don’t believe them, but when somebody like Rajdeep Sardesai or Sagarika Ghose speaks, or anyone at IBN7 or TV18 comes on, we presume we should believe them. Now there is a big question mark [when RIL has indirect control over CNN-IBN]….

“In a deal of this size we are looking at very subtle plants of stories, subtle angles, subtly putting things in a certain way so that people think along in a certain way for a particular way. I don’t know if anyone can shut the door. It’s too late.”

***

Dilip Cherian, former editor Business India, head Perfect Relations: “Globally we have seen when big capital enters media, that is exactly what we are about to replicate for ourselves.

“Oligopolistic tendencies are visible in global media today, whether it is Silvio Berlusconi or Rupert Murdoch, the fact is they exercise humongous influence not on media but politics. Are we headed down the same road? At this time, the answer seems to be yes. Is it good? The universal answer from the question is that it isn’t, not just because it affects the quality of news but because it affects the quality of politics….

“The entry of big capital is not new or news. What has happened in this case is a big distinction between foreign investment and domestic. Because of 4G, because the same business house owns the pipe, owns the content, there could also be another issue of monopoly. If I were the owner, I would say there needs to be a publicly visible ombudsmanship [to dispel the doubts]….

“There is room for concern, there is room for elements of self-rgulation. As a country we are not able to legislate for two reasons. One because of the influence business houses have on policy making. And two, when you bring in legislation (on regulation) up, the other group that is affected are politicians who own media houses of their own. You are talking about now a coalition of forces which the public is incapable of handling. You won’t see Parliament doing the kind of regulation they should, in an open manner, because there are interests on all sides.”

* Disclosures apply

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

6 pages for Ambedkar; 393 pages for ‘The Family’

6 December 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: For all the lip service it pays “dalits and the downtrodden”, for all the tokenism of a Dalit as speaker of Lok Sabha, and for all the buzz about a possible Dalit replacement for Manmohan Singh as prime minister, the Congress-led UPA government has issued a measly six pages of ads in 12 newspapers to mark the death anniversary of the father of the Indian Constitution—and the icon of Dalits—Dr B.R. Ambedkar.

In contrast, the State government of Uttar Pradesh, headed by Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party, has issued seven pages in the same 12 newspapers surveyed by sans serif.

The Centre’s six pages of ads for Ambedkar is in stark contrast to the 393 pages of ads issued by various ministries and departments of the Union government and Congress-run State governments to mark the three birth and three death anniversaries of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi in 2011.

While various ministries were falling over each other to sing hosannas for the three ex-PMs, only the ministry of social justice and empowerment is in evidence for Dr Ambedkar. The only State government advertiser is the Delhi commission for safai karmacharis.

***

The breakup of the Ambedkar ads today are as under:

Hindustan Times: 24-page main issue; 2 Ambedkar ads amounting to 1½ broadsheet pages

The Times of India: 26-page issue; 1 ad amounting to 1 broadsheet page

Indian Express: 20-page issue; 1 ad amounting to 1 broadsheet page

Mail Today (compact): 36-page issue; 1 ad amounting to 1 compact page

The Hindu: 20-page issue; 1 ad amounting to 1 broadsheet page

The Pioneer: 16-page issue; 1 ad amounting to 1 broadsheet page

The Statesman: 16-page issue; 1 ad amounting to 1 broadsheet page

The Telegraph: 24-page issue; 0 ads amounting to 0 broadsheet pages

***

The Economic Times: 24-page main issue; 0 ads

Business Standard: 14-page issue; 0 ads

Financial Express: 18-page issue; 0 ads

Mint (Berliner): 24-page issue; 0 ads

***

Last year, on the 19th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, the historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in an edit-page article in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”

Photograph: courtesy Sepia Mutiny

Also read: Nehru birthday: 58 ads amounting to 26¼ pages

Nehru death anniversary: 24 ads over 11 pages

Rajiv birthday: 108 ads across 48 pages

Rajiv death anniversary: 69 ads, 41 pages in 12 papers

Indira Gandhi birthday: 64 ads, 32 pages

Times, Express groups get most anniversary ads

EPW, the ‘Economist’ of emerging countries?

26 November 2011

The former West Bengal finance minister, economist and left ideologue, Ashok Mitra, in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“Gentlemen do not engage in public brawl; if they have a grievance to air, they write to the London Times. That was the British code…. The Indian gentry, as could only be expected, inherited the code of the ruling nation….  For all of them, the British convention of unburdening one’s point of view in letters to newspaper editors became the accepted mode.

“A geographical distribution of the load of the letters that got written took place almost in the natural course. Gentlemen in the south — and occasionally ladies — would write to the stodgy Hindu owned by the Kasturi family. Those in the west wrote to The Times of India, managed by the Bennett Coleman group, which had already passed on to Indian hands.

“Letters from the northern region would crowd into the office of the Hindustan Times, owned by the Birlas and edited by the Mahatma’s son, Devdas Gandhi. For the East, the preferred destination was the Chowringhee Square address in Calcutta of the still-British-owned Statesman, slightly hoity-toity, but at least continuing to be jealous of the elegance of its language and grammar.

“The habitué of the writing-letters-to-the-editor club are miffed to no end by the steady plebeianization of the entire lot of what were once described as national newspapers; these look more and more tabloid with every day and have ceased to be ambassadors of daily tidings from all over the country and the world. The intellectual community, in particular, is disconcerted; it is, it feels, beneath its dignity to have its contributions besmirched by being printed next to pictures of damsels in G-strings and money-crazy cricketers caught red-handed for spot-fixing — those pearls of wisdom deserve a better receptacle for display. It is now increasingly turning to the Economic & Political Weekly. A weekly publication with its limited circulation is not quite the same thing. Even so, the EPW has at least the imprimatur of respectability; it is supposed to be the leading social science journal coming out of Asia; it is, some say, the Economist of the emerging countries.”

Read the full article: If the price is right

Also read: EPW journalist bags Appan Menon award

EPW: Top-6 dailies devote 2% coverage on rural issues

The Economist: How to get from B to A

The Economist: A newspaper that’s a genuine viewspaper

Times, Express groups get most anniversary ads

19 November 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: For the final anniversary of the year of India’s “Family No. 1″—the birth anniversary of the nation’s first woman prime minister Indira Gandhi—there are 70 advertisements amounting to 32 published pages in 12 English newspapers that have been surveyed through the year by sans serif.

With this anniversary, the total number of government ads to mark the three birth and three death anniversaries of the three former prime ministers from the family—Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi—in the year of the lord 2011 goes up to 393.

In effect, the government has bought space amounting to 190¼ pages in the 12 newspapers.

# The Times of India is the biggest beneficiary of the ad blitz to mark the six anniversaries among the general-interest newspapers with 65 published ads followed by Indian Express 62, Hindustan Times 57, The Hindu 42, The Pioneer 41, Mail Today 36, The Statesman 25 and The Telegraph 18 ads.

# The Economic Times and Business Standard top the list of the busines dailies with 14 ads each, followed by the Financial Express with 11 ads. Mint (from the Hindustan Times stable) has received just one ad for the six anniversaries.

# As a group, the Times group has received 79 ads in all, the Express group 73 ads, and the Hindustan Times 58 ads.

While it is natural that ToI and HT should garner so many ads given their large circulations in the national capital, the second place for the Express group is revealing considering it sells less than five per cent of market-leaders ToI and HT in the Delhi market, which both sell in excess of 5 lakh copies.

The tabloid Mail Today, which has the third highest circulation among the Delhi newspapers, too gets fewer ads than the Indian Express.

***

The affection of various Union ministries, departments and State governments for the three departed leaders of the family is revealing.

While Rajiv Gandhi tops the charts with 177 advertisements amounting to 89 pages for his birth and death anniversaries, Indira Gandhi comes second with 134 ads amounting to 64 pages, followed by Pandit Nehru at a lowly 82 ads amounting to 37¼ pages.

***

The breakup of the Indira Gandhi ads today are as under:

Hindustan Times: 24-page main issue; 10 Indira ads amounting to 4¼ broadsheet pages

The Times of India: 32-page issue; 11 ads amounting to 4¾ broadsheet pages

Indian Express: 28-page issue; 14 ads amounting to 5¾ broadsheet pages

Mail Today (compact): 42-page issue; 7 ads amounting to 5½ compact pages

The Hindu: 24-page issue; 5 ads amounting to 2 broadsheet pages

The Pioneer: 20-page issue; 8 ads amounting to 3 broadsheet pages

The Statesman: 18-page issue; 6 ads amounting to 2¾ broadsheet pages

The Telegraph: 26-page issue; 0 ads amounting to 0 broadsheet pages

***

The Economic Times: 16-page main issue; 3 ads amounting to 1¼ broadsheet pages

Business Standard: 18-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1½ pages

Financial Express: 22-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1¼ pages

Mint (Berliner): 12-page issue; 0 ads

This computation is only for 12 English newspapers; many other English papers have been left, as indeed has the entire language media which are more numerous than the English ones, several times over.

Among the advertisers wishing the dear departed leader happy birthday this year are the ministries of information and broadcasting, commerce and industry, steel, women and child development, health and family welfare, culture, water resources, statistics and programme implementation, north eastern region, micro small and medium enterprises, social justice and empowerment.

The state governments advertising their love are those of Rajasthan, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh. Besides, there are ads of the national commission for women.

***

Last year, on the 19th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, the historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in an edit-page article in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”

Also read: Nehru birthday: 58 ads amounting to 26¼ pages

Nehru death anniversary: 24 ads over 11 pages

Rajiv birthday: 108 ads across 48 pages

Rajiv death anniversary: 69 ads, 41 pages in 12 papers

Indira Gandhi birthday: 64 ads, 32 pages

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