He began his career as an ordinary newsreader on the State-controlled All India Radio and Doordarshan television channel. But is this man the unsung hero of Indian media? A real visionary who saw the television explosion before any of his peers and compatriots with decades and centuries of journalism in their blood could?
We are talking of Raghav Bahl, the bossman of TV18 group, who now runs two business channels (CNBC and Awaaz), two news channels (CNN-IBN and IBN-7), a clutch of websites including moneycontrol.com, is rumoured to be buying a newspaper (Business Standard), and today inked a deal with Viacom for general entertainment channels, which will also bring MTV and Nickleodeon into his stable.
To understand the Raghav Bahl phenomenon, all we need to do is look at the rest of the crowd.
The Times of India, technically 169 years old, still can’t launch and run a credible news channel for all its assumed marketing acumen. Hindustan Times, nearly 80 years old, had to quickly shut its television venture with the BBC. India Today‘s Aroon Purie‘s success with Aaj Tak came unstuck with Headlines Today.
Prannoy Roy deserves all credit for setting the benchmark with his NDTV stable but the numbers are not very encouraging. Zee head Subhash Chandra has never been able to replicate his success, either in television or in print (DNA). Ramoji Rao is still struggling to meet ends meet with Eenadu.
In contrast, Raghav Bahl’s rise has been steady and unwavering. His companies are listed, his investors are happy, the deals are coming in fast and quick with global majors. There is always the danger of speaking too early, and there is such a thing as quality, but are we looking at the new media mogul of India?
Circulation, revenue and imagination-challenged newspapers and magazines are turning their publications into playgrounds for readers. Reader generated text, photographs and video, polls, blogs, talkbacks, social networking are all being added and heralded as the possible manna from user-generated heaven. Short of setting her own crossword clues, the reader can do just about anything.
All this interactive stuff passes off as democratisation of the media. Instead of being talked down to from the ivory towers, say publishers, there is more variety, less bias, and greater participation. But is there? Or are we turning devaluing journalism into a joke where anything goes?
Richard Schickel, the film critic of Time magazine, has a powerful and pretty convincing piece in the Los Angeles Times on the folly of it all. Taking on an assertion in a recent New York Times article that the shrinking of space for books is “as an inevitable transition toward a new, more democratic literary landscape where anyone can comment on books,” Schickel says:
“Criticism—and its humble cousin, reviewing—is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author’s (or filmmaker’s or painter’s) entire body of work, among other qualities.”
“What seems to bother him most is that he and other well-paid critics are losing their oligopoly on publicly available wisdom. Loving something is not the only credential for being a critic. But it’s a hell of a start.”
The Karnataka Komu Sauharda Vedike (Karnataka Forum for Communal Harmony) organised a two-day workshop on “Communalism and the Media” in Mangalore on May 18 and 19, and the the star of the show on the concluding day was the Booker Prize winning author and activist Arundhati Roy. This is the full video of her presentation.
In particular, on the media, Arundhati says it is time we knew a bit more of how our media organisations are funded and who calls the shots. Who funds the Indian Express, for example? What kind of a stranglehold do advertisers have in an era when 90 per cent of a publication’s revenue comes from advertising?
Arundhati was especially scathing of the role of the media in the December 13 Parliament attack case, in which Mohammed Afzal Guru was convicted. The courts, she said, had clearly said that there was no evidence to link Afzal Guru, but it was sentencing him to set an example, a point which the media ignored.
She also came down heavily on a Hindustan Times reporter called Neeta Sharma, accusing her of being a handmaiden in the hands of the police. That same reporter, she said, had now joined NDTV, a channel general considered to be balanced and responsible, and where she was peddling the same “lies”, putting police videos of “confessions”.
On days when his health doesn’t permit him to draw, The Times of India is only too glad to republish R.K. Laxman from the archives. The redesign of The Hindu saw Keshav being moved out permanently off the front pages into the edit page. Unny appears on page one of the Indian Express in the north, on the op-ed page in the south. Deccan Herald hasn’t found a replacement for B.V. Ramamoorthy‘s pocket cartoon slot, even three years after his demise.
H.L. Mencken once said, “Give me a good cartoonist and I can throw out half the editorial staff.” In India, it seems, the opposite is happening as editors and proprietors run scared of bold political cartoonists who may—possibly may—have a point of view not in sync with their own.