Monthly Archives: December 2007

‘Modi has punctured vanity of corporate media’

Sheela Bhatt, managing editor (national affairs),, and one of the few journalists who predicted the Gujarat elections accurately, on the strange symbiosis between the media and chief minister Narendra Modi:

“In Gujarat, many people wondered: “Look, how powerful is Modi. He can even defeat the media.”

“Today, the common belief is that the corporate media wields power. And the media, too, has come to believe in its power. But Modi has punctured the vanity of the corporate media. He ignored the media barons. Modi is the first Indian politician to transcend India’s corporate media. The result was predictable. He got so much bad publicity that the people started sympathising with him, concluding that he was a victim of the ‘power-wielding’ media.

“When the media delivered brickbats to Modi, BJP supporters gave him bouquets. His image of being a lone ranger also came in handy for Modi even as the media mauled him with epithets. The common man felt, “The poor fellow—the media is just not allowing him to work for Gujarat’s progress.”

“The Congress’s biggest mistake was to believe the anti-Modi propaganda. Some of it was actually planted by its leaders. They were trapped in their own web when they started believing the so-called logical arguments and not looking at the emotional fervour within the masses.”

Read the full column: Understanding the alchemy of Modi’s victory

Photograph: courtesy

‘Credibility is like virginity. You lose it only once’

The following is the full text of the speech delivered by Vinod Mehta, editor-in-chief, Outlook, on receiving the International Press Institute Award 2007 in New Delhi:


It is an honour and a privilege for me accept this coveted award on behalf of the Outlook Group. I would like to especially congratulate Saikat Datta, the correspondent and Ajith Pillai, his editor. Saikat pursued this story for over six months, putting it together for all of us was like a roller-coaster drive.

Ladies and gentlemen, in India 2007 numerous challenges face the media. There is the reluctance of the media, especially the electronic media, to regulate itself. And simultaneously we see daily the eagerness of our political masters to impose a code on the profession which will effectively castrate it.

Then there is the strange but seemingly irresistible animal called sting journalism, which when it is good is very good, but when it is bad, shames us all.

Then there is the media’s myopia regarding how its credibility is being eroded. To the extent that journalism today is often confused with being part of the entertainment industry.

Then there is the challenge of the markets. What is the media for? Is it only for making money? Once you treat the media as if it is no different from running an ice-cream parlour, journalism loses out to commerce.

Then there is the accusation, hurled by politicians, that the media creates cynicism about politicians. Thanks to the media, our politicians maintain, the public views its leaders and the very process of governing, with suspicion and mistrust. Our netas say a pervasive climate of cynicism leads to the sense that a whole range of problems are beyond the control of mere politicians, beyond solutions altogether. This in turn breeds frustration, hopelessness and lack of faith in government. I don’t accept this highly exaggerated accusation, but I concede it is on the table. And the media needs to counter it, probably with the response that politicians by their conduct create the cynicism, we journalists merely spread it around.

And last but not least, what checks and balances should the media impose on itself in India 2007, where the intense competition, both in print and TV, is threatening professional ethics? As journalists we need to remember that a newspaper’s credibility is like the virginity of a woman. You can lose it only once.

I now come to my main concern. There is one more critical challenge, one that is rarely discussed in journalism seminars or among serious editors. But I notice advertising managers and self-styled media pundits pontificate on it endlessly—and they have by now signed and sealed the argument. They have given us a new mantra. When these guys speak in the excellent and proliferating media and advertising journals, they assume the pose of Moses. Their words are written on tablets of stone. And what is their subject? It is the nature of editorial content in television and print. They have come to the considered conclusion that the highest responsibility of the media is to give the reader or the viewer what he or she wants. Any other kind of journalism is irrelevant, indeed an insult to the public!

I believe this is a crucial issue for the media. Alas, the wrong guys are discussing it, the wrong guys are giving us the solutions.

I say this with much humility, but brand managers, with honourable exceptions, are congenitally incapable of understanding the nature and purpose of journalism. They simply cannot understand it by virtue of their background: which is sales in order to maximise profits. They can never understand that content is more, much more, than what readers want. It also has a social dimension. Thus, content is a mix of what the reader wants and what he does not want. The trick is to marry the two and make money.

Accompanying the mantra, is much loose talk that the old journalism is dead and a new journalism has been born. This new journalism is entirely based on reader or viewer demands. So, we are told the reader is king and it is the job of a responsible media organisation to provide cent per cent satisfaction.

This proposition is now so widely accepted that to argue against it is like whistling in the dark. Those who believe otherwise are seen as cranks, out of touch with the contemporary market—in other words the reader. If journalism is a consumption item like butter chicken, then why not give the customer the flavour and taste he wants. That, after all, is the first rule of free market capitalism.

Ladies and gentlemen, in my nearly 30 years as editor, I have heard a lot of nonsense talked about journalism and its role in India, but this piece of nonsense is outrageously and self-evidently absurd and dangerous. To demolish it is urgent. To let it become the benchmark of our profession is to put in peril everything we have worked for in 60 years.

I ask you this: If some readers or viewers wish to see or read about paedophilia, should we oblige? If some readers or viewers wish to see or read about wife-beatings, should we oblige? I could go on. The whole idea is preposterous and I dare say most editors would end up in jail if they followed the mantra.

I will just provide three examples of the confusion in readers minds regarding their expectations from the media.

One: Research shows unambiguously that most readers desire to read more international news. Yet, the international pages of a paper are the least read. International news may be good for the soul but it does nothing for circulation.

Two: Readers insist that the price of their morning paper does not matter. It is such a vital part of their life that they would happily pay the extra rupee for it. Yet, as Mr Rupert Murdoch and Mr Samir Jain have demonstrated, print publications are extremely price-sensitive. You can bleed the opposition by cover price cuts. The phrase “invitation price” terrifies rival publishers.

Three: Readers will tell you that they want a single-section, compact morning paper. They don’t want sections and supplements dropping out. Yet the opposite is true. Papers with multi-sections prosper, others suffer.

I think I have made my point.

We must lead readers, not be led by them. Really great journalism must do more than merely give people what they want. There has to be room for the unexpected, for stories the public has no idea it wants until it sees them.

The reader is a paradox. He frequently complains about negative news being constantly reported. But for all his clamouring for positive news, surveys show that people are more interested in negative news, sensational news, news about crime, violence and corruption. The reader, ladies and gentlemen, is not king; actually he is a nice hypocrite.

Editors in India are an endangered species, but only a good and professional editorial team can decide what is news and what is humbug.That is the sum of what I have learnt in 30 years. Thank you.


For Modi, like Bush, either you’re with us, or…

Sagarika Ghose writes that in the “opposition-free environment” of Gujarat, it is the media that is the only opposition to the alpha-male of Gujarati asmita, Narendra Modi. And like the masses he lords over, he has ensured that there is a sharp polarisation among the messages carrying his word to them.

Those who sing in his praise get first preference for interviews even if they risk being labelled “fascist sympathiser” or “closet saffron”. Those who don’t, like the English media, are “left-inclined upper class Nehru-style firangis who, ever since the neglect of Sardar Patel by the Congress, have failed to give Gujarat its due.”

The idea is to set up a Delhi vs Gandhinagar battle. The reason, writes Ghose, is that Gujarat 2002, was India’s first televised riot:

Television images branded themselves so powerfully on the national consciousness that normally apolitical people were galvanized into outrage, commissions and courts gasped in horror and took pro-active steps, conscientious folk found themselves becoming activists and secular society at large got the demon that it collectively and subconsciously yearned for.

“Seeing” has meant doing. Media images of the riots have spurred a courageous activist movement which has systematically followed cases and provided legal aid. A prosecution and investigation that was simply not neutral was challenged. Witnesses who were being paid off or threatened were provided protection. Perhaps because of this media-inspired activist movement, many of the injustices of 2002 have been realized and fought.

Read the full column: The politics of seeing

Television is sinful and un-Islamic, says new fatwa

A radical Islamic seminary in India has issued a fatwa against Muslims watching television, calling the device “haram (sinful)”. The fatwa was issued by the Dar-ul Uloom in Deoband, near Muzaffarnagar, in response to a madarsa teacher’s plea to clarify whether watching Islamic channels and televised debates on religious issues was right.

The teacher, a resident of Saharanpur, had asked whether watching an Islamic TV channel showing a debate on religious topics was right or wrong. Dar-ul Uloom took the stand that in the due course of watching television, people inevitably browse through channels that show “immoral” and “vulgar” programmes.

“The Prophet said… you should see from whom you are taking your religious lessons,” the fatwa stated.

“Matters of religion should be learnt from authentic and pious people. Television is a tool of entertainment and enjoyment. It is most widely used for unlawful and prohibited things. If lawful matters are learnt from authentic people even then it is unlawful to listen to it through the TV, since it includes more or less haram things. And while watching religious programmes on TV a person slowly starts browsing through other programme as well,” the fatwa read.

The clerics clarified their fatwa was not binding. However, Islamic scholars slammed the interpretation.

“Is watching religious programmes, like the Haj pilgrimage, on television not acceptable, too,” one of them was quoted  by The Telegraph, Calcutta, as saying.

Maulana Khalid Rashid Firangimahli, the youngest member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and Imam of Lucknow Eidgah told Mail Today: “Jamat-e-Ulema, the highest body of the Dar-ul Uloom itself invites TV channels to cover its programmes and then its members watch it themselves. They also demand live telecast of Haj procession. Many Islamic organisations themselves deploy video camerapersons to shoot their programmes and provide to TV channels for telecast. I strongly oppose such kind of fatwas which keep your young away from information and technology.”

Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, Shia scholar and vice-president of AIMPLB said: “Such fatwas bring a bad name to the community. I would rather propagate the use of TV for good things. We come to know about entire world from TV only. How can we be aloof from our surroundings.”

If you thought Michael Jackson was mad, then…

When Michael Jackson dangled his youngest baby upside down over a Berlin hotel lobby five years ago, it resulted in an international uproar, followed by the pop star’s apology. A German newspaper called the act “foolish”, a British tabloid called it “lunatic”, and yet another labelled him the “mad bad dad”.

What will the world make of this video, courtesy Eenadu Television, which shows what a wealth of stories there is in the rural countryside that our market-driven newspapers and TV stations do not tap?

Mahesh V. Shetagar reports that in village Indipatna in Karnataka’s Bijapur district, 162 were thrown off the 20-foot tall temple balcony as part of the Sadguru Shanteeshwara village fair yesterday, in a bizarre ritual that is said to usher in good health for the infants between 6 and 8 months of age.

The babies are caught in a trampoline kind of ring that relatives and other devotees hold below. Babies born after this year’s fair will qualify for the ceremony next year. The custom has apparently been followed for generations.

Madness? Ignorance? Superstition? Devil-may-care desi tradition?

A wake-up call for the media?

Spread the news, Brabender is a good PR man

He sends out press releases for SummerSleds which work on grass and for Litecubes which glow in the dark. His most latest release is for Fish n’ Flush (in picture), a toilet fish tank designed to turn your bathroom into the most-talked-about room of the house. And, as if all that was surprising enough, his name is Todd Brabender.

All of 41 years of age and a former media person himself, Brabender is the kind of PR guy journalists hate to love—but love nevertheless. An old-fashioned press agent with newfangled powers.

“It’s all Todd, generating PR for us,” says David Parrish of AquaOne Technologies Inc., in Orange County, Calif. AquaOne designs leak-control hardware and uses a clear-plastic showroom toilet tank to display it. “We were standing around one day,” Parrish recalls, “and I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if we had fish in it and you flushed it and the fish didn’t go down?'”

Read the full story: Are your clients happy now, Mr Brabender?

The UNICEF photo of the year award goes to…

Each year, UNICEF, the United National Children’s Emergency Fund, recognises photographers who portray the hardships faced by children around the world. This year’s winner is Stephanie Sinclair.

During her stay in Afghanistan, the American photographer was struck by how many young girls are married to much older men. This is a 40-year-old bridegroom and his 11-year-old child bride during their wedding in Damarda, Afghanistan.

Photograph: courtesy UNICEF via The Daily Telegraph, London

A letter-writer asks the Indian media a question

A powerful politician murderously gunned down by a younger brother one early morning. The son of the deceased caught in a drug overdose with the secretary of the deceased less than a month later. A hurried marriage for the son of the deceased with a childhood sweetheart. A hurried arangetram into the youth wing of a party which decries “dynastic politics” for the daughter of the deceased. Wifebeating charges against the son of the deceased followed by the filing for divorce of the new couple. A surprisingly quick conviction for the killer-brother.

It is easy to tch-tch-tch about India’s most dysfunctional political family, The Mahajans, and shed a tear or ten for a mother whose world turned upside down in the space of a few weeks. But a letter-writer in today’s Deccan Herald cuts to the chase that exposes a major failure of the Indian media:

“The recent front page coverage of Rahul Mahajan’s separation from his wife again reinforces the view that our media creates hype and sells hype in their business interest. Mahajan is a non-entity who neither holds any important position in the BJP nor is a celebrity by any yardstick to command such coverage.

“The real point is how the late Pramod Mahajan, a small-time teacher and a sangh parcharak, amassed such huge wealth which allowed his prodigal son to have this sort of life style. This was never hammered by our press.”

Bhartendu Sood

Also read: Is Pramod Mahajan a Rs 2,000 crore man?

Ramachandra Guha: How come nobody called Mahajan a fixer?

‘Lots of bylined stories ahead for print journos’

Khushwant Singh, narrates an interesting incident that took place during his tenure as editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India in the 1970s. The weekly forecast (probably by Bejan Daruwalla) hadn’t arrived in time. With very little time to go for the issue to be put to bed, the self-advertised “dirty old man of Indian journalism” says he read up the zodiac for the previous few weeks, caught the drift, and dashed off the predictions himself.

Surprise, surprise. There wasn’t a squeak from a single reader. Either the readers did not notice. Or they did not bother even if the magazine got it hopelessly wrong. Or, it is possible, just possible, for anybody who can string a few sentences together, to predict anything with some degree of accuracy as long as the strokes are broad and general.

Or, it could be an apocryphal yarn a pseudo-rationalist is spinning.

This is where a gentleman called Daivajna Kudinalli Narasimha Somayaji aka Daivajna K.N. Somayaji, who does the weekly forecast on ETV, the Kannada television channel, comes in.

According to published news reports, the 48-year-old vedic scholar specialises in Karma Kanda, Jyotishya, Vaastu and Tantra Shastra. He runs something called the Kalpatharu Research Academy, an oriental learning centre. He is also the dharmadhikari of the Shringeri Sarada Mutt in Bangalore.

He was the one who got into trouble for telling H.D. Kumaraswamy that B.S. Yediyurappa would never become chief minister. He claims he advised Monica Lewinsky. And, oh yes, he advises powerful publishers who have bought well established newspapers on the vaastu-compliance of their new acquisitions.

Anyway, on ETV every Sunday morning, at eight, Somayaji sits down to tell the “humble peoples of Karnataka” what is in store for them in the week ahead. And to say that Somayaji makes rather sharp, pinpoint predictions is to underestimate the size of his crystal balls.

Here, sample these gems from yesterday’s episode:

Mesha: Profitable business for real estate dealers, and financial institution employees. Big work order for those in export business.

Vrushabha: Good week for R&D employees and engineers. Stock market investors will profit. Good news for medical representatives and marketing executives. And farmers, especially vegetable farmers. Foreign travel likely for music artistes.

Mithuna: Good opportunities steel and cement businessmen. Pressure to face elections for politicians. Civil contractors will sign new deals. Success for professional sportsmen.

Karkataka: Invitation from foreign companies for travel. Harmonious ties for employees with management team. Silk growers will profit. Travel agents will have unceasing work.

Simha: Mine workers, carpenters, stone workers will strike it rich. Dreams of restaurateurs to build a big hotel will come good. Good time for wholesale grain merchants.

Kanya: Working journalists, especially those in print media, will be extremely busy and will write a lot of byline stories. Good news for civil service exam candidates. Tussle for leadership for those in politics, but victory will be yours. Social workers will find fame, stature. Computer sellers, software and hardware, will get do well.

Tula: Perfume sellers will have a good week. Those in education sector too.

Vrushchika: Politicians will be engaged in “secret” talks. Lots of work for policemen, unexpected travel
export opportunities for leather product makers. Silk garment sellers, especially dealing with products for women, will have a profitable week.

Dhanassu: Travel in the offing for professionals, especially advocates. Those in politics will be busy, with planning and “secret” talks. Partnership businesses will enjoy great profit

Makara: Officials will have to take strict action. Corporate employees will travel far on company work. Contractors will receive their dues from the government.

Kumbha: Success for those in social sector. Farmers especially those growing grains and fruits will have good news. Transfers for employed children. Commission agents and lorry owners, drivers and those in transport department, including taxi drivers, will have a good week.

Meena: You will meet big influential people, officials or politicians. Those in excise department will have lots of work, and meet with success.

Of course, the proof of the predicting is in the prediction. And only realtors, taxi drivers, commission agents, silk garment makers, computer sellers, print journalists, et al, who depend on Somayaji’s GPS (global prediction system) to show them the way, can vouch for the accuracy of his predictions.

But the questions arising from such a public display of sticking-the-neck-out bravado are all very obvious.

Were our vedas and shastras so far ahead of their time to have seen the rise of such professions? Or are Somayaji’s techniques of interpretation so advanced that he can use even ancient texts to deliver such precise predictions? What are the texts that may contain even a passing mention of these modern professions?

On the other hand, is Somayaji just a supersmart shastri; a soothsayer who knows his “target audience”—well-heeled politicians, exporters, contractors, excise department employees—and tells them what they would like to hear, and maybe hear a bit more if only they would make a short trip to Shankar Mutt road?

Rationalists like Abraham Kovoor might be rolling in their grave, but is Somayaji filling a vital social blank, by filling hope and optimism in the hearts of those who are not adventurous enough to face each day as it is served up to them? Or, are our media fanning the flames of obscurantism by giving space for such claptrap?

If psephologists, opinion pollsters, researchers, journalists—and so many other astrologers, tarot card readers, etc—are entitled to get it wrong, on TV, should we zero in on Somayaji? Or, in an era when news has been reduced to entertainment, is futurology not too behind?

Video courtesy: ETV Kannada

Crossposted on churumuri

Mother of slain Iraqi reporter needs your help

Ali Shafeya Al-Moussawi, a reporter for Alive in Baghdad, has been killed at his home in Baghdad, in firing by the Iraqi National Guard. The morgue report says that Ali took 31 bullets between the chest and the head and died immediately. He was 23. He is the third member of his family to perish in fighting. His mother and sister are displaced Iraqis leaving in Syria without employment. His two brothers were killed in the Firdos Square bombing in 2005.

Alive in Baghdad is collecting donations for the funeral and his family. You can make a donation via Paypal to smallworldnews (at) . If you would like to make a donation by mail or via a different payment service please email us directly at the previous address. We have raised nearly $600 until now, but more will help. No amount is too small, and anything will be appreciated.

Read the full article here: Reporter killed at home