Monthly Archives: February 2008

Should Hitler have been asked to explain?

The media has been a key player in Raj Thackeray‘s hate campaign against “outsiders” in Bombay. In giving him the oxygen of publicity, in editorialising news, in fanning the flames by repeatedly showing file pictures, in not dealing with the issue with balance and proportion, the media has come under scrutiny from the Union cabinet, from independent analysts, and from sections of the media itself.

Thackeray himself has used the local Marathi media adroitly in turning this into an “us versus them” issue. He has written a signed article in Maharashtra Times (of The Times of India group), he has responded to an open letter in Lok Satta (of the Indian Express group), and he has kept his media conferences out of bounds to English and Hindi media (whom he sees as antithetical to the local interests he is championing).

The veteran journalist Jyoti Punwani has some fine questions on all this:

# Should a newspaper offer its pages to a politician who has been promoting hatred against other Indians on the basis of region and language, and whose followers have assaulted unarmed innocents on that basis?

# If that politician uses the space offered to him to justify and further his hate campaign, should the newspaper carry his piece without any strong editorial rebuttal alongside?

# As a political leader entitled to invite to a press conference journalists of his/her choice, based on language/region? In that case, what should be the response of journalists, especially those invited?

# Should TV cameras telecast incidents of violence during communal riots again and again without specifying that these are file pictures?

# Finally, how should the media report on the acts of a politician leading a hate campaign based on region and language?

Read the full article: Lending hate campaigns a platform

‘Horse carriage makers didn’t make the cars’

Netscape founder Marc Andreessen in an interview with Frank Hornig of Der Spiegel:

“The Internet is becoming real now in a way it has never been before. It’s becoming the main medium in which consumers engage to get information and to communicate. You can see this happening in advertising, you can see it happening in telecom, video with YouTube, with music, with newspapers and magazines. It is all shifting en masse, and all consumers are basically moving over to the Internet. We all talked about it in the 1990s, but it didn’t happen then. Those were just experiments. But now it is really happening….

“TV and the press have always functioned according to the same sets of rules and technical standards. But the Internet is based on software. And anybody can write a new piece of software on the Internet that years later a billion people are using. My theory is: Every year there is a new killer app. One year it’s eBay, the next year it’s Craigslist, then it’s Napster, then Paypal, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and so on.”

Read the full interview: The Marc Andreesen interview

In a dark subway, an unlikely grammar figure

Louis Menand, an English professor at Harvard, has called its use “impeccable”. Lynne Truss, the author of Eats shoots and leaves, has called it a “lovely example”. Geoffrey Nunberg of the University of California at Berkeley sees it as a burgeoning sign of “punctuational literacy”.

On the pages of The New York Times, Neil Neches, a writer in the New York City Transit agency’s marketing and service information department, is earning plaudits for properly inserting the semi-colon into the subway placard that reads “Please put it in a trash can; that’s good news for everyone.”

Read the full story: Celebrating the semicolon in a most unlikely location

Will paper tigers last longer than real ones?

In The Vanishing Newspaper, Philip Meyer says the last newspaper will be printed, sold, (hopefully) read and then crumpled and thrown into the dustbin sometime in the first quarter of the year of the lord 2043. In other words, even if this dire prognosis turns out to be true, paper tigers will roam the urban jungles for another 35 years.

The tiger conservationist Valmik Thapar has made an astounding claim vis-a-vis the latest tiger census in India which shows that the number of tigers in the country has fallen to 1,411 from 3,642 in the last five years. He told Karan Thapar on CNBC that at this rate the Indian tiger will vanish in the next 5—yes, five—years, but for a couple of pockets.

Will real tigers meet their end before paper tigers?

Photograph: Sharath Rangaswamy

Also read: In Nagarahole, tigers are like city buses…

Did the Tiger of Mysore really tame a tiger?

RAJAN: 1993-2006, rest in peace

The perils of an Indian correspondent in the US

K.P. Nayar in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“For an Indian journalist based in the United States of America, the worst professional nightmare these days is the sudden appearance of a red “Breaking News” banner on the CNN screen, announcing yet another university shooting.

“It invariably sends me and my colleagues from other Indian newspapers in Washington scrambling for the telephone numbers of international student faculty advisers and office-bearers of Indian student associations in the US university where the latest gun violence has erupted.

“This month, in just one week between February 7 and 14, when the most recent carnage occurred in Northern Illinois University near Chicago, I had to cancel appointments and reorganize my schedule on five days to check on breaking television news for possible Indian or Indian-American students or academics among the victims of America’s campus gun-culture.”

Read the full article: Shot in the school

Business journalism or the journalism of business?

The quality of Indian journalism has been under question for as long as Indian journalism has been around, especially by those who found the news and views contrary to their own closely-held beliefs, assumptions and ideologies.

Quibbles like the agendas of publishers and editors; the bias and prejudice of journalists; the unethical trade and professional practices; the growth of monopolies, have been around for ages. In recent times they have been joined by complaints of corruption, commodification, dumbing down, trivialisation, and celebrity culture. At the end of the day, though, there was little that the reader/viewer/listener lost in material terms from such news and views.

But what when she does?

As the stock market culture has taken root, the business channels on television have become the primary source of information, advice and guidance for investors. But how much of what they put out as “expert opinion” is the result of adequate inhouse research, and how much of it is hype and advertising? And how can we be sure that the channels, anchors and reporters are not susceptible to “market pressures”, to put it mildly?

The outgoing chairman of the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) M. Damodaran has spoken with characteristic candour in an interview with Shekhar Gupta of the Indian Express for NDTV’s Walk the Talk. Presumably referring to the debacle of the Anil Ambani-promoted Reliance Power IPO, Damodaran said he had received a copy of a letter from an aggrieved investor on his penultimate day in office:

“In a letter sent to a TV person along with a few media houses and a copy endorsed to me, the investor asked, ‘I saw you guys saying everything was good about a particular issue till it listed below the issue price. And now I find you saying everything is wrong and talking it down. What happened to you guys?’

“I think there’s considerable merit in it (the letter)…. How is it that suddenly on listing, all the virtues that you thought resided in some particular issue disappeared? I think the media has a very large role to play and I am afraid that that role is not being played to the best of its ability�”

Business channels, anchors and reporters can go wrong with stocks, shares and companies, just like news channels, anchors and reporters can go wrong with elections, opinion polls, exit polls. It cannot be the rule, of course, but it is a occupational hazard. But with business journalism, the news consumer puts his hard-earned money on the line. Surely, he is entitled to receive news and views unsullied by corporate or personal motives and motivations?

Rumours of business channels having conflicts of interest, and rumours of business anchors and “experts” playing the market with insider information, and “talking up” or “talking down” the market, have been in the air for nearly five years now. On the overcrowded business TV screens, the distinction between news and advertising has all but disappeared. But Damodaran is the first to point this all out in so many words.

“When we heard the term anchor-investors first, I thought an anchor investor was the guy that brings in a lot of money initially into a project around whose reputation others invest. I am beginning to believe at the end of my three-year tenure that an anchor investor is one who is an anchor and an investor put together. I am worried that (they are) those who are responsible… who take the message to a billion plus people who will hopefully, one day be interested in the market. If that message gets distorted, what happens?

“There are people who make statements that are very clear indications of talking up or talking down stocks. And what do we have by way of investor protection? A disclosure that says, is this person having a position in that stock? Earlier, we had statements like “not really”, “maybe”, “it’s likely that my clients have”. Today, you get a broad spectrum such as “It is entirely possible that I have this.”

“Is this disclosure? It is clearly not. I would want to know before someone gives me advice whether you are giving me that advice because you will benefit. Current disclosures are far too routine. In fact, people have been saying things like “We are running out of time, can you make the disclosure to us. Disclosure is complete if you make it to the right audience, not to a television anchor. It is to the investor who is going to put his money. Filing disclosures is not good enough.”

Obviously, with million making decisions on the basis of the business channels, there is a need for a code of conduct. Damodaran says both his predecessors made moves in that direction. The first time, SEBI was told that the channels would draft one themselves, but there was no motion. The second time, SEBI said it would come up with a code, but there were no takers. Damodaran says SEBI has also tried to individually engage people, but he says a lot more needs to be done.

Also read: Ethical journalism is a bad word at CNBC-TV18

MTV isn’t the only channel making a bakra out of you

The media and the stock market collapse

Cross-posted on churumuri

‘Did we fight Emergency for this kind of media?’

The media coverage of the verbal and physical violence in Bombay over the influx of outsiders continues to draw attention. Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) reports that at the Union cabinet meeting on February 14, senior ministers “expressed their outrage” at the reporting which some of them felt sparked panic and led to a mass exodus from the metropolis to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Cabinet sources told IANS that once Railway Minister Lalu Prasad raised the issue, some ministers described as “irresponsible” and “provocative” the media coverage of the MNS protests that began Feb 3.

Home Minister Shivraj Patil pointed out that television news channels had been beaming pictures of sporadic trouble frequently giving a “false impression about the violence and thereby creating panic”.

A cabinet minister told IANS: “For once, every minister was furious and everyone agreed that the media coverage caused more trouble.”

One minister felt that it was the media that made Raj Thackeray, “a person who tried to strengthen his party by dividing the country,” into a hero.

“The media should not forget its social responsibilities when it reports such events. It is high time that there should be some control over such reporting,” a minister told reporters on condition of anonymity.

In The Indian Express, Peter Ronald DeSouza, director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Simla, writes that the media coverage raises doubts about “the role of the press as a sentinel of freedom, of news not massaged, of media as the mirror of reality”, and goes so far as to ask if fighting for media freedom has proved to be futile.

“Is this then the same free media for which we fought the Emergency? Thinking about this question I have the sinking feeling that the ground has shifted, that the moral reasons on which we fought for a free press are no longer so clear and firm. The story of the frog and the hot water keeps coming to mind. Throw a frog into a pot of boiling water and it will jump out. Immerse it in a pot of lukewarm water, and put the pot to boil, and the frog will remain there quite unaware that it is being boiled. Which frog is the media today? Which frog is the reader-viewer today?”

Read the full story: Who’s that in the mirror?