Monthly Archives: February 2009

K.N. Shanth Kumar back as editor of Praja Vani

Exactly two years to the day after he was ejected as editor of the Bangalore-based newspapers Deccan Herald and Praja Vani, K.N. Shanth Kumar (in picture) has been reinstated on the hot seat of the preeminent Kannada daily published by the family-owned The Printers (Mysore) Limited group.

Shanth Kumar took over from elder brother K.N. Tilak Kumar, who had replaced him at the editorial helm of the two papers in a midnight putsch on 14 February 2007. (The removal had been challenged in the courts and later withdrawn.)

Tilak Kumar, however, continues to remain editor of Deccan Herald.

The return of Shanth Kumar marks a clear but happy division of labour in the warring Netkalappa family. Deccan Herald lost its status of market leader to The Times of India in the late 1990s, and in recent years has had to face stiff competition from newer players like Deccan Chronicle and DNA.

Praja Vani, on the other hand, has managed to claw its way back to the top of the discerning Kannada reader’s mind, although Vijaya Karnataka (now part of the Times Group) continues to be ahead in the numbers game. But there is talk of fresh competition in the form of a Kannada daily from the stable of Rajeev Chandrashekhar of Jupiter Communications, which already has a presence in Karnataka through the Suvarna and Suvarna News Kannada channels.

Photograph: courtesy Facebook

Also read: The inside story of the Deccan Herald coup

The sad and pathetic decline of Arun Shourie

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Arun Shourie is one of the strangest cases on the Indian intellectual landscape if not its most disappointing. A living, walking, moving advertisement of how rabid ideology can addle even the most riveting of minds, stripping it of all its nuance and pretence; its very soul and humanity.

***

Once a fiery critic of Reliance Industries as editor of the Indian Express, he was happy to deliver a eulogy at Dhirubhai Ambani‘s first death anniversary; even changing the law as minister to benefit Reliance Industries, as alleged by the son of Girilal Jain, the former Times of India editor who held shares in the company, no less.

Once a symbol of middle-class integrity and probity for various scams unearthed his watch, his stint as disinvestment minister was pockmarked with allegation after allegation (although an unattributed Wikipedia entry claims he was ranked “the most outstanding minister of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government” by 100 CEOs).

A slow, scholarly, Chaplinesque demeanour hides a cold, clinical mind that piles the rhetoric and the stereotypes on the poor, the marginalised and the disenfranchised while taking up high faluting positions on terrorism, governance, internal security and such like, through long, meandering essays whose opacity could put cub journalists to shame.

And, as always, selectively twisting and turning the facts to fit his preconceived conclusion, and hoping no one will notice.

To paraphrase Ramachandra Guha, Shourie has become the Arundhati Roy of the right:

“The super-patriot and the anti-patriot use much the same methods. Both think exclusively in black and white. Both choose to use a 100 words when 10 will do. Both arrogate to themselves the right to hand out moral certificates. Those who criticise Shourie are characterised as anti-national, those who dare take on Roy are made out to be agents of the State. In either case, an excess of emotion and indignation drowns out the facts.”

But what should disappoint even his most ardent fans, and there are many young journalists, is how easily and effortlessly a pacifist penman has regressed from “a concerned citizen employing his pen as an effective adversary of corruption, inequality and injustice” (as his Magsaysay Award citation read) to a hate-spewing ideological warrior with fire blazing through his nostrils.

A son of a Gandhian who now openly advocates “two eyes for an eye and a whole jaw for one tooth” with barely any qualms.

***

At a series of lectures in Ahmedabad on Saturday, Shourie bared his fangs some more:

“India is still a passive country when it comes to taking a stand against terrorism….

It should, in fact, take an extremist stance and must prove that it can also create a Kashmir-like situation in Pakistan.

There are many places like Baluchistan, where a Kashmir-like situation can be created but, “hum abhi bhi Panchsheel ke pujari hain (We still worship the tenets of Panchsheel)”….

“Pakistan has been successfully carrying out destruction in India for the last two decades and has still managed to escape problems, while India on every occasion has failed to present a unified response to terrorism and has suffered as a consequence….”

Really?

An eye for an eye? Two eyes for an eye? A jaw for a tooth?

In the name of Vivekananda, should India do unto Pakistan what Pakistan has done to us? Is this a sign of vision on the part of a man who some believe should be the next prime minister, or tunnel vision?

Is such barely disguised hatred and vengeance, hiding behind vedas and upanishads, going to make the subcontinent a better place to live in? Should the people of Pakistan, the poor, the marginalised, the disenfranchised, pay the price for the sins of the generals?

Should a great, ancient civilisation become a cheap, third-rate, neighbourhood bully?

Has Arun Shourie lost more than his soul and humanity?

Has Arun Shourie just lost it?

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu Business Line

Also read: How Shilpa Shetty halted the Chinese incursions

Crossposted on churumuri

Biggest Corporate Fraud is now Biggest Coverup

From a media perspective, the fraud at India’s “fourth largest Information Technology company” has been remarkable for two things.

One, the failure of the business media in catching a whiff of what was cooking in the accounting kitchens of the disgraced Hyderabad company not just one year, but for seven years.

If that failure is understandable because none of the overseeing institutions did so either, it is remarkable how easily an even larger media circus has allowed “India’s Biggest Corporate Fraud” to slip into “India’s Biggest Coverup” in one month flat.

After the initial flurry when B. Ramalinga Raju fessed up to the fraud on January 7, there has been a stunning reluctance to ask the big, hard-hitting, politically incorrect questions. Instead, the media have happily allowed themselves to be diverted and distracted with safety-first stenography that even Satyam’s public relations men (and women) would have envied.

As if protecting the reputation of a city or its leading IT brand is the duty of the media, not serving the interests of readers.

R. Jagannathan, the managing editor of DNA, has been one of the few business journalists who has managed to retain his eye on the ball and stick his neck out. In an edit page column, he writes of the curious convergence of political, regional and business interests that is conspiring to derail the probe.

He writes of the Bihar connection that has found little or no mention in the rest of the media:

“The prime minister does not want Satyam to sink as it might dent India’s global IT image. The UPA’s political leadership cannot let a corruption scandal damage Andhra chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) in an election year. With him goes the Congress party’s hope of returning to power as head of the next coalition.

“Turfed out of Bihar by the NDA, the political interests of the Lalu Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) mesh well with those of the Congress. It partly explains the Andhra-Bihar nexus in the Satyam probe.

“The man at the centre of it all, company affairs minister Prem Chand Gupta, is from the RJD. The Andhra Pradesh DGP is a Yadav from Bihar, S.S.P. Yadav. The policeman handling the Andhra CID probe is inspector-general of police V.S.K. Kaumudi. When he was with the CBI some years back, Kaumudi probed Lalu’s fodder scam. He obviously knows a thing or two about Lalu’s secrets. Lalu and the Andhra CM, thus, have an interest in helping each other out….

“It is obvious who is really being protected: the Andhra chief minister. The Satyam scandal was essentially about the misuse of corporate funds for private purposes, including the purchase of benami land and wangling lucrative contracts from the Andhra government. It is impossible for land deals to be done in the state without the chief minister’s nod.”

Read the full article: The Bihar Connection

Also read: How come media didn’t spot Satyam fraud

Why Andhra is epicentre of biggest scam

Calcutta editor arrested for Independent article

Many years ago, a news editor of Indian origin was arrested in Dubai for having carried a Peanuts cartoon strip that was not OK with the censors.

In a similar incident, the editor, and publisher and printer, of The Statesman, Calcutta, were arrested yesterday on “a specific complaint” from a resident of Calcutta against the republication of an article from The Independent, London, which was deemed to be offensive to “the religious sentiments of a minority community”.

The editor, Ravindra Kumar, and the printer-publisher Anand Sinha, were later granted bail, but the arrests, under sections 295A (maliciously insulting the religions or the religious belief of any class) and 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code, underlined the growing perils of editors and publishers even in “secular” Bengal.

Only last year, the exiled Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen, who had made Calcutta her home, was forced to flee after a few lines from a short story were deemed offensive.

The original Independent article titled “Why should I respect these repressive religions” was by Johann Hari—the youngest person to be nominated for the Orwell Prize for political writing. The Statesman carried it as per a syndication arrangement with the London paper.

Read the original article: Why should I respect these repressive religions

Sauce for a paper ain’t sauce for a TV channel?

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If it is not all right in the eyes of The Hoot for NDTV to select the BJP’s prime minister-in-waiting L.K. Advani for a “Lifetime Achievement Award” in 2009, was it OK for Business Standard—in which Hoot editor Sevanti Ninan has a staketo invite the leader of the opposition to hand the Business Standard Awards in 2008?

Photograph: courtesy Business Standard

Also read: Should the media be honouring politicians?

Conflict of interest and an interest in conflicts?

Should the government bail out the media?

Just a few months ago, Indian media organisations were prancing around in joy, launching new channels, new editions, new supplements, new “events”, as if there was no tomorrow.

Where there was madness without a method, there is now panic without a method.

Now, suddenly, media managers are acting as if there are ants in their pants. Hundreds of media workers have been laid off, all plans are on hold. Cost-cutting is in as are salary cuts, freeze on recruitment, curtailment of travel, hotel stay, etc. The sizes of most newspapers has seen a decline, as advertisements see a sharp fall.

In the midst of all this, a delegation of three newspaper publishers and editors—Shobhana Bharatia of Hindustan Times, Shekhar Gupta of The Indian Express, T.N. Ninan of Business Standard—has met the officiating information and broadcasting minister Anand Sharma to plead for a “bail out”.

Absent from the delegation were television moguls, who are in worse shape, and magazine publishers, and radio broadcasters…

Questions: Should the government bail out corporate media? Should the corporate media which has often ranted against subsidies for farmers, etc, be asking for artificial sustenance? Will a party/alliance about to face an election lend its hand without attaching strings? Can a media that depends on government help for support really be independent? Or does it not matter?

Also read: Why the media mustn’t bail out the print media

Tehelka promoters ‘vindicated’ by official papers

First Global, the brokerage promoted by Shankar Sharma and Devina Mehra which had a 14.50 per cent stake in the webzine turned magazine Tehelka, has scored a major victory with official documents reportedly showing that the firm had been harassed by market regulators on trumped-up charges, after the then BJP-led government had been shamed by a Tehelka expose that caught the BJP president taking a cash bribe on camera.

According to a story in Business Standard, official documents obtained from the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) under the Right to Information (RTI) Act show that First Global had no “advance knowledge” of the stock market crash of March 2001 following the Tehelka story.

Titled “Operation Westend“, the investigation by journalists Aniruddha Bahal and Matthew Samuel resulted in the resignation of the then BJP chief Bangaru Laxman, defence minister George Fernandes, and plenty of egg on the BJP’s face.

But it also resulted in a massive witchhunt against the webzine and its promoters.

Documents obtained under RTI show that the brokerage—first Asian firm outside of Japan to become a member of the London Stock Exchange —had no role in hammering down the stock markets. In fact, it did not figure in the list of the top-50 sellers from mid-February to mid-March 2001.

But, because of its links to Tehelka, First Global was stripped off its registration; Shankar Sharma and his wife and partner Devina (a former Business India journalist) were arrested as they were about to board a flight to London (Shankar was arrested two more times); and hundreds of cases were lodged against the duo in an extraordinary act of political vendetta that eventually resulted in the closure of Tehelka online before its resurrection as an offline magazine.

First Global, which “paid more taxes than companies like Proctor & Gamble, Ranbaxy, and Titan“, was also forced to shut shop.

The assault on Tehelka resulting in its closure, was one of two standout cases of media harassment by the former BJP government, whose prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani was recently decorated by India’s leading English language broadcaster NDTV with a “lifetime achievement” award.

“Always in favour of anti-terrorism laws, he abolished Press Censorship and repealed anti-press legislation during his tenure in 1977-1979 as the I&B Minister,” read the citation. Advani is also credited for his Emergency era comment on the Indian press: “When you were only asked to bend, many of you chose to crawl.”

Photograph: courtesy rediff.com