Monthly Archives: June 2008

Zero to one-eighty in nine seconds (& stitches)

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY forwards an example of fine public service advertising, against overspeeding.

Also read: If public service is God’s service…

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‘Proud to have held the powerful accountable’

Leonard Downie Jr, executive editor of The Washington Post, has announced that he will step down in September, after 44 years at the paper. On Wednesday, he took questions from readers:

Reader from Alexandria, Virginia: A question I usually ask in an exit interview is: “What are you most proud of in your career and what do you think was your biggest disappointment?” How would you answer that for yourself?

Leonard Downie Jr.: I am most proud of the journalism I helped produce as a reporter and editor that held the powerful accountable to others in our society, the kind of journalism that has won us many prizes and, most importantly, brought about the righting of wrongs and constructive change. My biggest disappointment is those times, such as in the run-up to the Iraqi war, when we were not succeeding as much as I would have liked in featuring such accountability journalism.

Read the full transcript: Post newsroom leader to retire

On the eve of the 33rd anniversary of Emergency

The dictionary defines “atrocity” as “the quality of being shockingly cruel and inhumane”. If that is an acceptable definition, what constitutes an “atrocity” against the scheduled castes and tribes?

Is a Lok Ayukta raid against a corrupt SC/ST official an “atrocity” against dalits? Is sacking or suspending an incompetent SC/ST employee an “atrocity” against dalits? Is questioning, criticising , shouting slogans against, or burning an effigy of an SC/ST public figure an “atrocity” against dalits?

Can the media dispassionately write about or comment on individuals and institutions of the scheduled castes and tribes, as they should any other community, without attracting the charge of “harassment”?

In other words, are dalits above the laws of the land? Or are the scheduled castes and tribes taking advantage of the special status that the Constitution of India confers on them?

The answers are blindingly obvious to most, but to the Congress government of Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, they are not so. Last night, AP police swooped down on the offices of the Telugu daily, Andhra Jyothy, and arrested its editor (K. Srinivas) and two journalists (N. Vamsi Krishna and N. Srinivas) under section 3 (1) (x) of the SC/ST (prevention of atrocities) Act.

Section 3 (1) (x) reads:

“Whoever, not being a member of a scheduled caste or a scheduled tribe… intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a member of a scheduled caste or tribe in any place within public view.”

Their crime?

The Maadiga Reservation Porata Samithi (MRPS) president Manda Krishna Madiga had lodged a complaint with the police on 28 May 2008 that the staff of the newspaper had abused him by his caste when they had taken out a protest march the previous day. According to one report, Krishna Madiga “showed the photos where the editor and others were present when the agitators were beating his effigy with chappals”.

The reason Andhra Jyothy staff had taken out the protest march?

Activists of the MRPS had attacked the offices of Andhra Jyothy in Hyderabad, Warangal and Vishakapatnam on 27 May 2008 and vandalised them in protest against an article it had published on 26 May 2008. Two cars were also damaged.

Without naming any Dalit leader in particular, the article in question referred to “hired leaders” and “saleable commodities” who¬† were only pandering to their interests rather than working for the interests of their community.

MRPS leaders claimed Andhra Jyothy had published the news item “with the specific intent of tarnishing the image of leaders who were crusading for the uplift of the weaker sections for decades”.

Almost a month later, on the eve of the 33rd anniversary of the Emergency, the police came knocking and took away the editor and the two contributors. The charge against the reporters was that they had burnt the effigy of Krishna Madiga and slapped it with chappals during the rally on 27 May 2008.

A police officer is quoted as saying, prima facie, there is “clinching evidence” against all three.

The arrest of the Andhra Jyothy staff comes in the middle of a surcharged media atmosphere in the Congress-ruled State, and the journalists’ bodies are smelling more than a rat.

Ramoji Rao, the proprietor of the State’s largest daily Eenadu, has been the subject of a sustained legal and financial scrutiny. The chief minister’s son, Jaganmohan Reddy, has just launched a multi-edition, all-colour newspaper called Saakshi to take on Eenadu and Andhra Jyothi. And the film star Chiranjeevi, whom Andhra Jyothy is seemingly backing, is slated to announce the launch of a political party soon.

Photograph: Andhra Jyothy editor K. Srinivas being taken away in a police jeep upon his arrest (courtesy Andhra Jyothy )

Also read: ‘A disgraceful assault on media freedom

Cross-posted on churumuri

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.

[odeo=http://odeo.com/show/9956813/]

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 rediff.com 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