Monthly Archives: June 2008

Who decides what we should/shouldn’t watch?

News has not been in short supply in the global village in the satellite age.

There are the “Indian” English news channels: NDTV 24×7, CNN-IBN, Times Now, Headlines Today. And the Hindi news channels: Aaj Tak, Star News, NDTV India, IBN 7, DD News, India TV. And the language news channels: Udaya, Sun, Suvarna, TV9, Teja, IBN Lokmat. And the business news channels: CNBC-TV18, NDTV Profit, UTVi. And the “foreign” English news channels: CNN, BBC, Fox.

Why, in this veritable welter of vaartha, do we not receive Al Jazeera?

The ground-breaking Qatar-based Arabic channel launched an English version more than a year-and-a-half ago. Staffed with big names, not short of resources, and not short of good ideas, “Al-Jazeera English” provides a much-needed respite from the stuffiness of its western competitors and from the itsy-bitsyness of their Indian counterparts. Yet, few Indian homes receive the Arab view of the world.

And so, it transpires, don’t homes in the land of the free and the independent.

America’s ultra-patriotic cable networks have steadfastly refused to carry “Al Jazeera English”. Result: the channel is only available to those who choose to sample its fare online on YouTube, or buy a dish antenna.

The channel has been accused of “hate-mongering” towards Americans; of inciting “violence, hatred and murder” against Israelis and Jews; of waging a “soft, subtle, cultural jihad”; of being a propaganda tool—charges that could be flung on those making them with equal efficacy. Nonetheless, the manner in which Al Jazeera English has been blacked out in the United States raises the simple question: who decides what we should watch, and what we shouldn’t?

The tiny town of Burlington (population 39,000) in “liberal” Vermont is an exception (along with Toledo, Ohio). There, the City owns the cable network, and has been offering subscribers “Al Jazeera English”. After complaints from pro-Israeli groups, public hearings have been held, where those in favour of the channel outnumbered those against 6-1 and a decision will soon be made.

“Al Jazeera is an opportunity for us to learn more. If anyone doesn’t want to learn more, there is a simple solution: they can switch to a different channel.”

“There is a cable news network that I personally think if full of hatred, full of propaganda, full of half-truths, and that is Fox News.”

Cross-posted on churumuri

A comedian who was more than just a comedian

sans serif records with regret the demise of George Carlin, the gold standard for standup comedians in Santa Monica, California, on Sunday. He was 71.

Irreverent and strangely philosophical, Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” comedy routine were central to the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation, in which a narrow 5-4 decision by the justices affirmed the government’s right to regulate Carlin’s act on the public airwaves.


Also read: George Carlin quotes

New York Times’ obituary

‘Seven words you can never say on TV’

‘Indian journalists take themselves too seriously’

A case of exploding mangoes,’ the fictional account of the mysterious death of Pakistani president General Zia-ul-Haq by Mohammed Hanif (in picture), the air force man turned journalist who now heads the BBC’s Urdu service in London, has been acclaimed as the fiction debut of the year. So far.

In an interview with Nikhil Lakshman, editor-in-chief of and India Abroad, Hanif handles a series of email questions, including one on journalists, with aplomb:

Nikhil Lakshman: Unlike Indian writers who, to my mind, are incapable of achieving the heights of Swiftian satire which you have scaled, I am always amazed by the breathtaking verve with which Pakistani writers use satire to unveil the deficiencies and foibles of the Pakistani system. Do you think working within the limits enforced by military dictatorships and intolerant regimes like [Benazir] Bhutto‘s and [Nawaz] Sharif‘s have spawned a grand tradition of satire, to bypass censorship and the limits on free speech? Do you believe democracy is a deterrent to great satire?

Mohammed Hanif: I’ll happily swap this so-called grand tradition of satire for a semblance of democracy. But I think you are being unfair to Indian writers by suggesting they have no sense of humour. I think Vikram Chandra is very funny. I think Nayyar Masud has probably written the funniest and saddest stories I have read in any language.

I think more than fiction writers, it’s the Indian media, journalists like you and me, who take themselves very seriously, and try to do their nationalistic duty. We have got Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gillani for that purpose. We should let them get on with their jobs.

I also think equating dictatorships with the Bhutto and Sharif regimes is a bit unfair. It might look the same from the outside but there is a slight difference which we journalist tend to forget.

Read the full interview: ‘A mullah general can only happen in a Bollywood film’

Photograph: courtesy Random House

My first night, there was a gentleman called Bob

It’s easy to forget, but phone sex operators are real human beings, too, with their own hopes, dreams, desires, fears, ambitions, motivations—and reasons for what they do to earn a living.

Mother Jones has a fine photo essay of some of them pouring their hearts out for Laura McClure, Gary Moskowitz, and Mark Murrmann. These pictures are included in the book Phonesex, which will be published in September by Twin Palms.

“My first night, there was a gentleman who called himself Bob.

“He explained that he had no one he felt comfortable telling his desires to, and I felt a strange intimacy between us.

“I think it’s easier to release repressed desires to a non-judgmental, fictional person, because there are no consequences in the outside world.”

View the entire photo blog: Phone sex operators

Photograph: courtesy Mother Jones

#4: Insert a pair of scissors into foetus’s skull

Contract Advertising’s newspaper advertisement against female foeticide which won the gold at the Cannes Lions 2008 in the public awareness category. The ad was created for the NGO, Aadhar.

Executive Creative Director: Ravi Deshpande
Creative Director: Raghu Bhat/Manish Bhatt
Copywriter: Anshumani Khanna
Art Director: Manan Mistry/Vimal Singh
Typographer: Manan Mistry

Link courtesy Anamika

Crossposted on churumuri

How media went overboard in Padmapriya case

A. NARAYANA writes from London: Enough and more has been said about the media’s overzealousness in the Padmapriya Bhat case.(The wife of a law-maker in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, Padmapriya went missing for three days and was later found dead in the national capital, New Delhi, 2500 km away.)

More than the overreach what also stood exposed was the regressive thinking—and the immaturity of men and women in the media—in their understanding of human lives and relationships.

In some cases, it was not just the media’s drive to sell more copies or clock up more TRPs which seemed to have prompted them to put out what they did.

In question is their very motive.

Consider these:

# “He has got an MA in sociology but what has he chosen to do?” questioned a headline in the Manipal edition of Udayavani, referring to Atul Rao, the aide of Udupi MLA Raghupati Bhat, even when no one knew the facts behind his role in her death.

And Udayavani wrote as if it was an established case of ‘Kidnap’ even after home minister V.S. Acharya‘s own admission that it was a ‘half-kidnap’ case. He is yet to clarify what that ‘half’ really is. What was Udayavani‘s source or motive in pronouncing prematurely that it was a case of kidnap?

# A Kannada Prabha report summarily suggested that it was a murder. On what basis?

#Vijaya Karnataka‘s reporter questioned Padmapriya’s decision to discard “a life in which she had wealth and prestige”. “Idella bekitte (was all this required?)” he asks. How did the reporter know that the woman was happy in her marriage?

# The Hindu, of all the newspapers, found it fit to publish every word that Padmapriya’s mother uttered while grieving in front of her young daughter’s body, that too with the wrong translation from Tulu. These are the words every bereaved parent in such a situation would utter. Should they be published verbatim? Et tu, Hindu?

# Deccan Herald and Praja Vani are sister publications produced in the same building but while the English paper said Atul was an engineering diploma holder who resigned from his government job and did civil contracts, the Kannada paper report said Atul did his MA, continued in his government job and did contracts in his wife’s name. (However, it is also a fact the best matter-of-fact reports were filed by the Delhi bureau of these two newspapers.)

# All Kannada newspapers in their esteemed judgment started addressing Atul in the singular from day one while the police still maintained that he was only a witness and not an accused.

There are many more things that could be said about the media coverage of Padmapriya, its ethics, its calibre and its self-righteousness. But, more importantly, there is something to be said about the role of the State.

From the statements of the police and the home minister, it becomes amply clear that they came to know from the second day, if not the first day itself, that it was a case of strained personal relationships and Padmapriya chose to go to Delhi on her on volition.

If this was the case (and there is nothing on record to suggest otherwise so far), the State had absolutely no role to play except making it clear to the public what it came to know.

Going by the facts of the case known as of today, it is also a case of the State exceeding its limits to save an MLA of the ruling party from what would have been considered in our society a loss of face for him.

(A. Narayana is a scholar at the Institute of Development Studies, UK)

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: 20 unanswered questions in l’affaire Padmapriya

Cross-posted on churumuri

‘Skewed Crude Fuels Pump Slump’

Despite his vast, wide and well-earned notoriety, Rupert Murdoch continues to maintain—unlike any Indian newspaper publisher, may we add—that he wants to make The Wall Street Journal “the best newspaper in the world.”

Yet, the thought of the owner of ultra-sleazy tabloids The Sun, News of the World, and The New York Post being at the helm of WSJ leaves many wondering if he will turn the business broadsheet into a business tabloid.

David Friend in Vanity Fair thinks up some headlines that a tabloid WSJ might come up with (in the spirit of “Headless Body in Topless Bar”):





Pix Inside: CitiGroup-Grope



Photograph: courtesy Vanity Fair

From their own correspondent: the inside story

G.N. MOHAN forwards a picture of a Lakshmamma, an agricultural labourer from Andhra Pradesh, doing to three journalism students of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Bangalore on Tuesday what they will eventually do later in their careers to everybody else.

The woman and four of her colleagues from the community media trust of Deccan Development Society of Andhra Pradesh have been handling cameras and creating documentaries of how their lives have changed since globalisation, and have created some 35 of them so far.

The documentaries have been screend in Peru, London, Philippines, Kenya, Germany, Mali and Indonesia to rave notices.

15 great ideas (or 15 trite ideas) for newspapers

Lee Abrams, the chief innovation officer of the Tribune newspapers in the United States, has a blog in which he lists the 15 ways to grow newspapers:

1) Compartmentalise: If grocery stores were organized like newspapers, you’d wear out your shoes looking for vegetables, as carrots would be in aisle 6, tomatoes in aisle 8, etc…

2) Don’t assume: If you have “a reporter who spent 4 years in Baghdad. Dodging bullets… the paper should have photos of the reporter with Iraqi kids… writing diaries. Don’t assume the reader knows.”

3) Be intelligent, not intellectual: Smart, not elite.

4) Brag about what you do: If you do an exclusive, tel the world. Not sensational, but a little swagger.

5) Liberate the designers: They are the ones that will package the information into greater engagement. Eye power.

5 (b) Liberate the photographers

7) Be consistent: Compelling writing, great graphics, every page, every day.

14) Make it easy: Newspapers have a habit of making things so hard to read absorb and engage in.

Read the full story: 15 points that will grow newspapers

Howard Owens: 15 trite ideas

Also read: 20 ways to kill a newspaper

170 intellectuals protest case against edit writer

170 academics, writers, film makers, journalists, activists, and other public intellectuals drawn from several countries have expressed their strong protest against the charges of criminal offence brought against political psychologist and sociologist Ashis Nandy over an editorial page article written by him in The Times of India in January this year, in the aftermath of Narendra Modi‘s victory in the Gujarat elections.

“This is the latest case of harassment of intellectuals, journalists, artists, and public figures by anti-democratic forces that claim to speak on behalf of Hindu values sometimes and patriotism at other times, especially in Gujarat, but who have little understanding of either.

“What is pernicious in this case is that the charge of criminal offence against Nandy levied under Section 153 (A) and (B) for his newspaper article “Blame the Middle Classes,” was brought by the head of the Gujarat Branch of the National Council of Civil Liberties.

The State Government of Gujarat, by giving its permission for filing the case, has shown its own complicity in the case.

“It seems part of the strategy of the most intolerant sections of Indian society today to make a cynical use the language of civil liberties to achieve ends that are the opposite of what the aspirations to civil liberties and the struggles over them represent… We demand that all the charges against Professor Nandy be immediately dropped.

“We understand that there is a great deal of anxiety in Gujarat today about its lost honour. It might help to remind ourselves that this honour or asmita will not be gained by acts of violence and intimidation but by recovering or discovering the humanity of each other. Gujarat can and will regain its own destiny by remembering the politics of nonviolence, as one of its sons by the name of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi once taught the nation and the world.”

Also read: ‘A disgraceful assault on media freedom’