Monthly Archives: December 2007

‘The English media is being pigeon-holed’

The branding of the “English media” in India as “elitist, pseudo-secular, left-wing, liberal, disconnected, rootless, pro-Muslim, anti-Hindu, pro-Congress, anti-BJP”—as if the English media is one animal; as if all of us receive our assignments and paycheques from Prakash Karat if not the Pope himself—would have gone down as one of the most successful campaigns undertaken under the right-wing captaincy of L.K. Advani, if only it weren’t so subversive in its intent.

Essentially, the premise has been as kindergarten-ish as George W. Bush: either you are with “us” or against “us”.

If you can tom-tom Hindutva as the greatest liberating force on earth, you are with “us”; if not you are anti-Hindu. If you can wear your blinders (supplied) and only see Gujarat’s stratospheric rise under Narendra Modi, you are with “us”; if not you are anti-Gujarat. If you can suspend your disbelief and applaud slaughter as statecraft you are with “us”, if not you are pro-Muslim. If you can call Sonia Gandhi names, you are with “us”, if not you are pro-Congress. Etcetera.

Certainly, the “English media” is not without fault. We get many things wrong; probably, we get everything wrong. We must be questioned, criticised, scrutinised, corrected.

But the result of this Goebbelsian campaign is an extraordinary (and growing) cynicism of the “English media” that plays right into the hands of those who sowed it and pays them rich dividends. Picking holes and splitting hairs has become a fine art, and a national pastime especially among adherents to the “cause” who cannot distinguish between journalism and propaganda, news and opinion, journalists and pamphleteers.

That hallucinatory state of mind got amply reflected in a chat that RAJDEEP SARDESAI , the editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN, had with viewers on the channel’s website this evening. In the wake of the victory of Narendra Modi in the Gujarat elections, and the channel’s perceived bias against him, Sardesai ended up batting the usual bouncers.

***

Vijay: The English media is biased against Modi and BJP. “Many” are pro-Congress. An easy way to increase the TRPs is rake up the post-Godhra issue. Why don’t you talk about Godhra or Nandigram?

Rajdeep Sardesai: I think there is an attempt to pigeonhole people, especially the English media, in pro- and anti-camps, especially in the context of Gujarat. Why can’t we discuss issues honestly and dispassionately without attaching labels? At CNN-IBN, we speak on a range of issues from Godhra to post-Godhra to Nandigram.

Raju: Mr. Rajdeep, can you accept it (the victory of Modi) is a defeat of media, particularly CNN-IBN also? Because the media is showing maligning and insulting pictures of Gujarat everytime in the name of Modi!

RS: A victory for Modi is not a defeat for the media, it is the defeat of the Congress party. Far from showing an insulting side of Gujarat, we have attempted to show all sides of the Gujarat story, the good, the bad and the ugly. I might add here that in every poll we did on Gujarat, we said Modi was winning.

Sareeta:Why do you think the media failed miserably to predict such overwhelming majority of BJP despite all odds? The English media was optimistic till the last minute that there would be a Congress swing and anti-establishment buzz throughout the state, but it didn’t happen. Modi dislikes English media strongly for this biased and parochial attitude for the media’s so-called pseudosecular tilt. He has not yet given any interview to any news channel, last time it was bad blood in the Karan Thapar show. How do you foresee the English media’s relationship with Modi will go from now? Will it be anti- or pro-Modi now when the Gujratis have given their verdict in huge numbers?

RS: I think the media and pollsters got Saurashtra horribly wrong. We cannot escape responsibility for that. But let me be honest: at no stage, did I feel that the Congress had any chance in Gujarat. In fact, I’ve just won a single malt bet for predicting more than a 110 seats for the BJP!! I think we need to look at Narendra Modi and Moditva without the ideological blinkers. I think the media tends to look at the Modi phenomenon in black and white terms. We either demonise him or lionise him. We should analyse and report on him in a more complex manner.

Rao: Rajdeep. Don’t you feel that “Moditva” is a creation of the media, now a much used word in elitist English media, to try and draw a line between Modi and BJP?

RS: I think there is a new strand of Hindutva politics that Modi is injecting. It combines an aggressive, muscular commitment to religious identity, but also a strong commitment to governance and developmental issues. The politics of Moditva revolves around the personality of an individual, hence the use of the term.

Whizkid_NO1: Why is Rajdeep Sardesai being seen as someone who has become biased?

RS: Because, as I said earlier, we are dividing people into “them” versus “us” based on our own ideological blinkers. I dream of an India that allows greater space for debate and dissent without accusing people of bias simply if we dont agree with everything they say. As a journalist, my aim is to report what I see.

Suyash: Modi’s positive aspects and what he did for Gujarat were not illustrated by the media. Don’t you think so Rajdeepji? Because it’s quite obivious without this he must have not won the hearts of Gujarat.

RS: Modi has definitely won the minds of a large section of people living in Gujarat. I agree his positive aspects need to be looked at more honestly. The media can’t see Gujarat as an ideological battleground only; it must be also seen as a state on the move.

Aamit: You say, “I think there is an attempt to pigeonhole people, especially the English media, in pro and anti camps.” Then how would describe the concerted and chartered media propaganda against Modi, which we have been seeing on channels like CNN-IBN?

RS: Only last week, a Hindustan Times media critic accused us of being unabashedly pro-Modi! I guess we must be doing something right at CNN-IBN to attract such diverse opinions. We have never run any campaign against Modi. We have, as I said, attempted to present every shade of opinion in and outside the state.

(The transcript has been corrected for spellings, punctuation and grammar)

Read the full text here: The live chat

Photograph: IBN live

Crossposted on churumuri.com

Is the BJP still just a ‘Hindu nationalist party’?

The phrase “Hindu nationalist” has almost always prefaced western media reports of the BJP, and it is no different despite Narendra Modi‘s sensational, conversation-stopping hat-trick. But it is not just fair-skinned whites who feel dutybound to slap the appellation.

# “Hindu Radical re-elected in India,” screams The New York Times. “On Sunday, voters re-elected the politician, Narendra Modi, arguably India’s most incendiary officeholder, as the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, reports Somini Sengupta.

# “Hindu nationalists win key vote,” says The Washington Post. “Hindu nationalists won a solid victory Sunday in a closely watched election in Gujarat, one of India’s wealthiest and most restive states, further weakening the ruling Congress party ahead of national elections,” reports Emily Wax.

“Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist and chief minister of the western state of Gujarat has now staked his claim to leadership of his party—and perhaps his country,” reports Jeremy Page, in The Times, London.

#”The Hindu nationalist BJP has won a key election in the western Indian state of Gujarat, final results show,” says the BBC.

# “Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, admired by corporate India as a model politician and feared by Muslim and Christian minorities as a messianic Hindu icon not averse to violence, scored an emphatic victory on Sunday,” reports Jawed Naqvi in The Dawn, Karachi.

# “Controversial Hindu nationalist party leader Narendra Modi swept back to power in… in the Hindu nationalist bastion… in what was called a national victory over the rival Congress Party,” reports Ajay Jha in Gulf News, Dubai.

# “Controversial Hindu nationalist party leader Narendra Modi swept back to power by a wide margin in India’s religiously divided state of Gujarat yesterday,” reports Agence-France Press in The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong.

***

Should the BJP take offence at being straitjacketed as “Hindu nationalists” like “Islamic fundamentalists”? Should it just not care since this is just the outpouring of what it calls “a pseudo-secular, English media”? Should it be justly proud of the epithet?

Cross-posted on churumuri.com

‘Modi has punctured vanity of corporate media’

Sheela Bhatt, managing editor (national affairs), rediff.com, 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 rediff.com

‘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.

Courtesy: Outlookindia.com

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.”