Monthly Archives: March 2008

A rural newspaper that’s a voice of the women

The district it is located in is one of India’s 200 poorest. There is practically no industry worth its name and the local economy survives on rain-fed agriculture. Literacy levels are abysmal, and only one in three women knows how to read and write. The sex ratio is skewed in favour of men. And incidents of sexual violence are high.

What happens a group of lower-caste and tribal women join hands to launch a newspaper, because the existing media in the area was not reporting on issues that concerned them, because they wanted to enter a male domain, because they wanted to prove that they too could make it as journalists?

The result is Khabar Lahariya, a 4,000-circulation rural newspaper that reaches over 150 villages in Chitrakoot district. And doesn’t accept advertisements that promote casteism, fundamentalism, sexism, violence or superstition.

Kalpana Sharma writes in the Sunday magazine of The Hindu:

Khabar Lahariya is a small shining star on the media horizon. Its circulation figures are not so important as the very fact that it exists, that it comes out every fortnight and that it exposes the hollowness of much that masquerades as “news” in mainstream media.

Read the full column: And now the good news

Tintin publisher Leblanc passes away

Sans Serif records with regret the demise of Raymond Leblanc, the Belgian publisher behind the comic-book hero Tintin. He was 92. The iconic boy-reporter, created by Herge, had first appeared as a character in 1929, but it wasn’t until the association with Leblanc began that he became a global hero. Tintin first appeared in a  fortnightly magazine in 1946, and later became a stand-alone star of the Lombard publishing house.
Also read: All fun and no work makes Tintin a good boy

If Steven Spielberg has a problem in casting Tintin…

Billions of blue blistering barnacles!!!

Alltop: aggregation without the aggravation

There are several ways for journalists, journalism students, journalism educators and journalism consumers to stay on top of what they want from the world wide web. You can surf. You can search. You can subscribe. . You can customise, depending on your interests. You can scan, using an aggregator. Etc.

The indefatigable Guy Kawasaki has now unveiled Alltop, a “dashboard,” “table of contents,” or even a “digital magazine rack” that displays the news from the top publications and blogs. Inspired by popurls, Alltop does “single-page aggregation”, without the aggravation, listing the latest five stories from thirty or more sites in over 40 categories.

“Alltop sites are starting points—they are not destinations per se. The bottom line is that we are trying to enhance your online reading by both displaying stories from the sites that you’re already visiting and helping you discover sites that you didn’t know existed. In this way, our goal is the “cessation of Internet stagnation.”

So, if it’s journalism you are looking out for, bookmark as your one-stop online newspaper, magazine, blog rack.

‘It’s all about irreverence, not subservience’

Indian journalist Seema Mustafa on the genesis of her opposition to the India-US nuclear deal, which some speculate could have contributed to M.J. Akbar being eased out of his position as editor of The Asian Age:

“It had to do with a certain commitment with which I joined the profession—a belief that journalism was powerful enough to change the world.

“I was fortunate in working with the greatest editors in Indian journalism, who not just added to this conviction, but also taught me that a good journalist was not one who made his or her peace with the establishment (as that is very easy and very comforting), but who questioned policy and wrote about the pitfalls.

“Journalism, they said, was all about irreverence, and had nothing to do with subservience.”

Excerpted from a column by Seema Mustafa in India Abroad

Ramnath Goenka Journalism Awards

The Ramnath Goenka Foundation is inviting entries for the third annual Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards. India’s biggest media awards, with 23 categories and over Rs 25 lakh as prize money, has added one more category, Excellence in Civic Journalism, this year.

The awards will be for the following categories:

  • Journalist of the Year (Print & TV),
  • Reporting from J&K and the Northeast (Print & TV);
  • Excellence in Journalism, Hindi (Print & Broadcast);
  • Excellence in Journalism, Regional Languages (Print & Broadcast);
  • Reporting on Environment (Print & Broadcast);
  • Reporting India Invisible (Print & Broadcast);
  • Foreign Correspondent Covering India ( Print, Radio or TV);
  • Business and Economic Journalism (Print & Broadcast);
  • Political Reporting (Print & TV);
  • Sports Journalism (Print & TV);
  • Film & TV Journalism (Print &TV);
  • Books (Non-fiction);
  • Reporting on HIV/AIDS (Print, English & Marathi); and Civic Reporting (Print).

The award for HIV/AIDS reporting is instituted in association with USAID, Avert Society and Health Communication Partnership/Johns Hopkins University (HCP/JHU). The two award winners, one each in English and Marathi, will be nominated to attend the three-week Leadership in Strategic Health Communication Workshop at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health/Centre for Communication Programs in Baltimore, USA, in June 2008.

The new award for civic reporting has been instituted in memory of the former Resident Editor of The Indian Express in Pune, Prakash Kardaley. This award will honour a print journalist whose sustained effort highlights a civic issue and forces the authorities to find a solution to it. Kardaley, who defined pro-active journalism in Pune, was also one of the prime movers behind the Right to Information Act.

The presenting sponsor of the RNG Awards for Excellence in Journalism this year will be S. Kumars Nationwide Limited. The last date for submission of entries is 15 April 2008. Reports published or telecast between 1 April 2006, and 31 December 2007, are eligible to be submitted for this year’s awards.

When a newspaper is no longer a newspaper

THEJAS H.K. writes from Madras: There was a time not too long ago when I used to walk a couple of miles to get a copy of The Hindu in Mysore. Here, in the City of its birth, it is delivered to my room at 6 am, but over the last few years, a strange feeling of unease, even disgust, makes me run away from a newspaper I used to pursue.

Today, when the paper lands at my doorstep, I wonder if it is the same publication that professors used to goad us to read for its English; if it is the same publication that parliamentarians used to cut and quote; if it is the same publication that our parents used to say was the last word in correctness and credibility.

The unease, the disgust, has been building up for a while now.

Contributing factor number one has been the ridiculous reverence of all things communist: The one-sided coverage of the killings in Nandigram, which even the readers’ editor K. Narayanan noticed; the exaggerated coverage of the affairs of the CPI(M) and AIDWA despite the magnitude of their influence in society; the flip-flop on the nuclear deal.

Contributing facgtor number two has been reverence of all things DMK: M. Karunanidhi is called “a statesman of our time”; the distribution of free colour TV sets is hailed as a giant leap forward in terms of establishing social equality; the violence of M.K. Azhagiri, the splurge of money on the huge banners and cut-outs of M.K. Stalin go unquestioned.

And when the Cauvery tribunal hands out its award, the daily forgets that it is not just a Madras newspaper but a South Indian paper also published from Bangalore, and rejoices, hailing the decision of the tribunal to ask Karnataka to release double the amount of water it can keep for itself. Its sister publication, Frontline, runs it as a cover story.

Some of those actions can be traced to ideological kinks (“avoiding the traps of anti-left campaign journalism that various other newspapers and television channels”, as editor-in-chief N. Ram put it in response to the criticism of the Nandigram coverage), and to keep its core constituency—Tamils—happy.

But it is the national paper’s coverage of matters concerning China—be it its claim over Arunachal Pradesh or the uprising of Tibetans in Lhasa last week—that is deeply troubling, and has well and truly turned me off.

Exhibit A: When the Chinese foreign minister asserted during a visit to India that Arunachal Pradesh belonged to India, the paper ignored the report, but carried a mysterious editorial suggesting that the border row can be solved by adopting a “give and take policy”. India should give and China should take?

Exhibit B: The uprising of Tibetans in Lhasa has seen The Hindu go overboard, censoring, blacking out, polishing and giving a spin to everything, as if it is China’s National Newspaper, not India’s. And this after a recent piece on the Dalai Lama resulted in a Tibetan protest in front of the head office of the paper.

Just one example will suffice. On the day, the Dalai Lama was talking of “cultural genocide“, on the day The Times of India was saying that “Tibet unrest spreads beyond Lhasa“, The Hindu was saying, “Lhasa returns to normality“.

Result: “The Mahavishnu of Mount Road” is collecting labels by the lorryload. B. Raman calls the paper the “People’s Daily of China“. Nitin Pai calls the paper “Beijing’s Mouthpiece“.

Which is all so surprising.

When N. Ravi and Malini Parthasarathy were removed as editor and executive editor of the paper in an overnight bloodless coup in 2003, and replaced with N. Ram, joint managing director N. Murali (elder brother of Ram and Ravi) was quoted as saying this: “It is true that our readers have been complaining that some of our reports are partial and lack objectivity.”

The Hindu is open to precisely the same charges of partiality and lack of objectivity now. In fact, if anything, things have only gotten far worse. And this when Deccan Chronicle is around and this when The Times of India is slated for launch soon. Yet there is not a whisper at what this motivated and slanted coverage is doing to the core strengths of a great newspaper, built over 125 years by the sweat and toil of scores of journalists and non-journalists.

A newspaper is entitled to its views, of course, but when it starts twisting and distorting the news to suit the ideological inclinations of those at the helm, and his ideological blood-brothers, we have a problem on hand.

As it is, some newspapers now sell their editorial space to the highest bidder, there are wheels within wheels in advertising, and so on. If a newspaper, revered and trusted by hundreds of thousands of South Indians, joins the ranks, we have Big Trouble in Little China indeed.

Either we could be seeing a great institution being dismantled, brick by red brick, or we could be seeing the end of a free, fair, unbiased, vibrant media. Or both.

Cross-posted on churumuri

How Indian TV slayed a dangerous superstition

In a moment of pure television, an Indian rationalist has challenged a black magician to kill him on live TV—and survived to tell the tale.

On March 3, Sanal Edamaruku of Rationalist International found himself opposite Pandit Surinder Sharma, a tantrik who claims to be a consultant for top Indian politicians and is a wellknown face on TV.

During a discussion on “Tantrik power versus Science” on the ultra-tabloid India TV run by Rajat Sharma, Sharma claimed he was able to kill any person he wanted within three minutes using black magic.

The rationalist challenged him. The tantrik chanted special mantras, used water, his fingers and a knife, but failed. All this, while the TV station ran the item as “Breaking News” with a super in Hindi that read, “Now Everything Will Happen Live”. Then the tantrik claimed that the technique worked only at night.

The rationalist accepted the challenge again, and the TV show spilled well over its scheduled time. This time, the tantrik used mantras, paper, butter oil, peacock feathers, mustard seed, wheat flour dough, and his finger nails. But he failed again.

Over a couple of hours, a dangerous and widespread Indian superstition had been slayed in the studios, while the channel laughed all the way to the top of the ratings’ chart.

Photographs: courtesy India TV/ Rationalist International

Read the full story: The only place black magic works is in your mind

‘Too many junkets at stake to make enemies’

Kesava Menon, the former Islamabad correspondent of The Hindu, reviewing ‘Anatomy of an Abduction—How the Indian Hostages in Iraq Were Freed‘ by V. Sudarshan, former diplomacy correspondent of Outlook:

“The Indian media has a relationship with the country’s diplomatic corps that is somewhat peculiar when compared with its approach to other arms of the government such as the Administrative and Police Services. There have been a few instances when the press has pounced on ill-considered remarks by officers of the Indian Foreign Service — the rumpus over Ronen Sen’s remarks at the height of the debate over the 123 Agreement being a prime example. But, by and large, journalists in this country, irrespective of their views on different aspects of foreign policy, have seldom criticised the professional performance of IFS officers. That diplomatic activity is shrouded in secrecy is only one of the reasons. A more pertinent reason is that journalists have distaste for being on the wrong side of the diplomatic corps. To put it bluntly, there are too many junkets at stake.”

Read the full review: Pawns in a global chess game

Does good news about Islam make bad news?

VINUTHA MALLYA writes from Kuala Lumpur: Sans Serif, of course, hasn’t carried even a word on the subject, but the “anti-terrorism” call sent out by one of the oldest and most orthodox Islamic seminaries in South Asia, the Dar-ul-Uloom in Deoband (Uttar Pradesh), has received scant square centimetres in our so-called “national newspapers”.

Which is so true to type: we are quick off the block when Dar-ul-Uloom decrees that co-education is “unlawful”. When it says television is sinful and un-Islamic and issues a fatwa against it, we shout from the rooftops.

Even when Muslim enrolment in Karnataka shows a rise, we somehow find a reason to suspect madrassas.

The irony is unmistakeable. Each time, there is a terror attack, every time, talking heads on television and other sage voices in print, believe that time has come for “moderate Muslims” to speak up. But when a major Muslim body—a “radical seminary” at that—states that terror is un-Islamic, silence, deafening silence!

The newspapers were perhaps exhausted after covering the arrests in Karnataka, of suspected ‘terrorists’ and the discovery of several camps in the forests.

Which is not to say there was nothing in the media. There was. On the morning after Dar-ul-Uloom declared that terrorism did not have credence in Islam, most newspapers dutifully reported in 300-500 words what we already knew—that terrorism has no sanction in the religion.

The only ‘news’ found to be worth reporting was that the February 25 conference was the first of its kind, which brought together Islamic scholars from across the country to discuss, define and condemn terrorism. If there was a debate within the august gathering while the landmark declaration was being formulated, it wasn’t considered important enough to be reported.

The editorials appearing over the next few days followed the same cursory tone. One suggested that this was an opportunity for groups of other faiths to start a dialogue with the ulema. Another hailed it for defining terrorism and for being the first Islamic institution of India, not to mention the most orthodox, to give such a declaration.

One said that along with the declaration the religious leadership should look at reforms within and focus on providing liberties to the community, and guide the “misguided youths”. Each leader writer and op-ed writer agreed on one thing: this was a first step and more needs to be done.But this is like motherhood and apple pie, who can disagree with these predictable reactions?
The only detailed reportage, in English, of the conference itself, and who-said-what-and-why, came from scholar Yoginder Sikand.

Almost all the angrezi reporters missed one key aspect: The deliberations at the conference were not intended to send out a message to the ‘terrorists’ to give up fighting in the name of the religion. Instead, it was a message to all those who have fallen in the trap of equating Islam with terrorism. So, while the convent-educated newspersons were euphoric, thinking that a “stand” had been taken by the respected scholars, the truth was that the ulema wanted to dispel perceptions which non-Muslims have about their religion.

In the declaration issued after the conference, titled ‘Concept of Peace And Condemnation of Terrorism in Islam’, the ulema have addressed all the scenarios of terrorist activities such as attacks on innocent people, hijacking of aircraft, and most importantly the concept of ‘Jehad’. Quoting extensively from the Koran to make their point, the scholars have tried to convince the finger-pointing Islamophobes about the peaceful and tolerant nature of Islam.

The document does not fail to bring up the classical conspiracy theory of the West and the Zionists against Islam. It labels the Indian media ‘subservient’ in its role by helping these ‘elements’ link Islam with terrorism, instead of being objective and neutral. Not to be outdone, the US Government sent a delegation to Deoband last week to show support and to make it known that contrary to perception the US is not ‘anti-Islam’.

On the point that the Indian media (by which one refers here to the English-language media) has not been objective and neutral, I agree with the ulema. But it is also reflective of the social milieu we are now part of. For the majority of non-Muslims, including journalists, Islam and its social and religious institutions are totally alien. Despite having co-existed for centuries, the majority of India is at a loss when it comes to figuring out this religion, which is now on the defensive. And the majority has stopped wanting to know. Unfortunately so have the journalists graduating from media schools, leaving it to the Urdu press to discuss these matters.

India is shining and the economy, Bollywood and urban lifestyles make for better copy and ‘breaking news’.

A negative story like arrests of suspected terrorists makes more headlines than examining the details of one of the largest conferences organized by an Islamic seminary. Not only does it take less home work to cover the arrests, but the sensational value of the story is an absolute gold mine!

But the poor coverage and analysis of the Dar-ul-Uloom “Terror is Un-Islamic” conference is not the only exhibit of how the Indian media is feeding the fears and fantasies of the middleclass masses.

Three days earlier to that, a bunch of Muslim MPs, cutting across party lines, proposed an alternative plan to do away with the Haj subsidy. At a time when the Andhra Pradesh government was facing criticism for considering subsidies to Christians similar to the Haj subsidy, this piece of news went unnoticed by everyone else and was reported only in The Telegraph, Calcutta, by Radhika Ramaseshan on February 22.

When the Centre rejects a proposal to hike Haj fares, we go ballistic. We ask why there shouldn’t be similar subsidies for Hindus going to Kailash-Mansarovar or Vaishnodevi, but when there is a proactive attempt by Muslim MPs themselves to do away with Haj subsidies, we go weak in the knees.

Is that because good news on Muslims makes bad news?

Also read: Where has all our compassion and tolerance gone?

Cross-posted on churumuri

Khushwant Singh on his last day at the Weekly

The dirty old man of Indian journalism, Khushwant Singh, has used the occasion provided by M.J. Akbar‘s unceremonious exit from The Asian Age to describe his own departure from The Illustrated Weekly of India in the latest issue of Outlook:

“The journal, like all others published by Bennett Coleman, including The Times of India, had been restored by the government to the Jain family. As soon as they took over, they started meddling in my business. My contract was terminated and my successor appointed. I had one week to go. I wrote a tearful piece of farewell, wishing the Illustrated Weekly future prosperity. It was never published. When I arrived at the office in the morning to tidy up my desk, I was handed a letter asking me to quit immediately. I picked up my umbrella and walked back home.

“It was an undeserved, deliberate insult. It still rankles in my mind. The Jain vendetta continues to this day. Even functions held in my honour presided over by people like Amitabh Bachchan, Maharani Gayatri Devi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while reported in the Times of India, never carry my name or photograph. That is how small-minded people with pots of money and power can be.”

Read the full article: F*** all editors