Monthly Archives: April 2009

Nobody can accuse BBC of parachute journalism

A team of 40 BBC journalists from 12 languages began an 18-day tour of India on a special train on Saturday to cover the ongoing Indian elections. The journalists will visit Ahmedabad, Bombay, Patna, Calcutta, Bhubaneswar, Allahabad and Hyderabad. Here, BBC assignment editor Mark Perrow flags off the journey for the cameras.

Photograph: courtesy Rajeev Bhatt/ The Hindu

How the Indian media covered the 2009 poll

Blogs, internet chats, Jaago Re, Jai Ho!, Lead India, microsites, rock concerts, TV commercials… The 2009 general election has not been short of media noise. But has it really spurred youngsters to shut up and vote? Or is it all blather and brand building with an embedded social message?

Meenakshi Ravi of Al Jazeera‘s media show The Listening Post reports on how the Indian media has covered the world’s largest democratic exercise.

Also read: Sashi Kumar on media in the melting pot

Pyramid Saimira, Tatva & Times Private Treaties

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SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: A nice little question mark hangs over Times Private Treaties, the controversial investment arm of The Times of India group, after India’s stock market regular yesterday barred 230 persons/entities from dealing in the securities market following their “prima facie” involvement in a forgery scam involving Pyramid Saimira Theatre Limited, an entertainment company which owns movie halls.

Pyramid Saimira is a Times Private Treaty (TPT) client—and one of the 230 persons/entities barred is Rajesh Unnikrishnan, an assistant editor of The Economic Times, the business daily published by The Times group.

Those debarred, including the two promoters of the company, were allegedly involved in forging a letter in December last year and passing it off as a letter from the Securities and Exchanges Board of India (SEBI) to manipulate Pyramid Saimira‘s stock, resulting in subtantial losses to investors.

The forged SEBI letter, asked one of the promoters P.S. Saminathan, chairman and managing director of Pyramid Saimira, to make an open offer for an additional 20 per cent stake at a price not less than Rs 250 at a time when the company was quoting around a fourth of that price.

The other promoter Nirmal Kotecha had sold over 15 lakh shares on Monday, December 22, the day some newspapers published a story based on the forged letter.

The Economic Times‘ Unnikrishnan, according to the SEBI order, played a key role  “played a key role in the forgery, dissemination of information and misleading the media to believe its authenticity”, along with Rakesh Sharma, then an executive with the PR firm, Adfactors, who helped circulate the forged SEBI letter to three of his friends in the media.

In 2008, Adfactors and The Times of India group together floated a public relations firm called Tatva, a 67:33 joint venture between the PR firm and the newspaper.

According to SEBI, Rakesh Sharma of Adfactors and Rajesh Unnikrishnan of ET were colleagues at Business Standard.

“These persons/entities prima facie have been found to have played a key role in the forgery, dissemination of the information contained in the forged Sebi letter to the media and misleading the media to believe the authenticity of the information that was circulated to them. They also derived illegal profits,” SEBI said in its 54-page order.

According to the Sebi order, the tower location of the mobile telephones used by Sharma, Kotecha and Unnikrishnan indicated the three met on December 20, around the time when the forged letter was circulated to the media.

Sharma, whose service was terminated by Adfactors on December 23, had in a statement to SEBI which he later retracted, also admitted that Unnikrishnan and he went to Kotecha’s residence to mail the forged letter to “media friends.”

Asked for a comment by Indian Express (which owns Financial Express where Rajesh Unnikrishnan worked earlier), on the involvement of a staffer in the scam, Rahul Joshi, executive editor of The Economic Times, said:

“We have seen the order. We are studying it.”

In an article on the ethics of the private treaties, India’s most famous business investigative journalist Sucheta Dalal, a former Times employee, had quoted from a 2007 letter from Rahul Joshi to his colleagues:

“At ET, we are carving out a separate team to look into the needs of Private Treaty clients. Every large centre will have a senior editorial person to interface with Treaty clients. In turn, the senior edit person will be responsible, along with the existing team, for edit delivery. This team will have regional champions along with one or two reporters for help—but more importantly, they will liaise with REs (Resident Editors) and help in integrating the content into the different sections of the paper. In this way, we will be able to incorporate PT into the editorial mainstream, rather than it looking like a series of press releases appearing in vanilla form in the paper.”

The Private Treaties, in which The Times Group picks up stakes in up and coming companies in return for guaranteed advertising and editorial exposure, has been a contentious affair in the company, and contributed to rumours surrounding the resignation of The Times of India‘s then executive editor Jaideep Bose aka JoJo last April.

The Economic Times carried an ET bureau report of the debarment of Rajesh Unnikrishnan, calling him an “employee” of ET but without referring to his editorial duties.

There was no mention of the scandal in The Times of India.

The Times group’s main competitor in Bombay, DNA, played a key role in unearthing the scam, with DNA Money special correspondent N. Sundaresha Subramanian churning out story after story.

Photo montage: courtesy DNA

Also read: Business journalism or the journalism of business?

Salil Tripathi: The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility

Supreme Court notice toCNBC-TV18 analyst

Sushma Ramachandran: Corruption in business journalism

Is Indian media in denial on Indian recession?

P. Sainath, the Magsaysay Award-winning rural affairs editor of The Hindu, writes in today’s paper:

“At least two major newspapers have informed their desks that the word “recession” is not to be used in connection with India. Recession is something that happens in the United States, not here. The word stands exiled from the editorial lexicon. If a rather disastrous situation has somehow to be indicated, the term “downturn” or “slowdown” will suffice — and it is to be used with some discretion. But not recession….

“Now many of the publications and channels into this kind of evasion have also been laying off employees in droves, including several journalists. Those poor souls (many with large home loan EMIs contracted when the economy was in even less of a “downturn” than it is now) are losing their jobs because of — well, whatever.

“Imagine you were one of them, working at the desk, filtering copy for your readers to reassure them that all is well. In the evening, you’re exorcising the columns of the ghosts of recession. Next afternoon, you find you are a victim of what you’ve purged. The hypocrisy of the media in acting the opposite of what they tell their audiences is the reality — gee, that’s part of business strategy. Scare the public and there will be less spending. Which means less advertising, less revenue, less etc.”

Read the full article: No issues: a recession of the intellect

‘FIR is not a license to titillate or sensationalise’

Eight women’s groups protested before the headquarters of The Times of India group in Bombay on Saturday, accusing the tabloid Mumbai Mirror of sensationalising the story of a rape victim and violating her right to privacy.

The tabloid, ironically edited by a woman (Meenal Baghel), had published in entirety the statement made by the victim to the local police, detailing her age, her country of origin, her home-state, the course she was enrolled in at the Tata Institute of Social Sciencies (TISS), the name of her course coordinator, etc.

The cover story, under the joint byline Deeptiman Tiwary and Dipti Sonawala, did not reveal the victim’s name but by revealing the other details in an inside story by Tiwary, left no scope for her identity to remain confidential, say the groups.

Mirror carried an apology on Saturday after many readers wrote in to complain about the graphic descriptions of the rape but the groups want the paper to apologise to the 23-year-old victim.

“An FIR may be a public document, but it’s not a document that is meant to titillate or sensationalise,” Nandita Gandhi of the group Akshara was quoted by The Hindu as saying.

Read the full article: Women’s groups protest newspaper report

Photograph: courtesy Vivek Bendre/ The Hindu

Link courtesy V. Anand

‘The media is as guilty of neglect as politicians’

Is the Indian media as guilty as those in the Indian polity in the “neglect” of the country it covers (and uncovers)? At least two well-known journalists, from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum,  seem to think so.

Kalpana Sharma, formerly of The Hindu, writes on the media website, The Hoot:

“Elections are a time when the media discovers India, the real India.  If people complain that their Members of Parliament only visit their constituencies once in five years, the same can be said about the media.  In the run up to any election, municipal, assembly or parliament, you find newspapers full of stories about the “real” conditions in which people live, stories that could have been written at any point in the previous five years.”

Tavleen Singh writes in The Indian Express:

“We in the media are almost as much to blame as the political class because we spend far too much time talking about stupid things and ignoring what is crucial. Throughout the election campaign we have spent so much time discussing the foibles and failings of the Gandhi progeny that we have found little time to talk of real issues. I got so tired of hearing important journalists discuss the badness of Varun Gandhi and the goodness of Rahul and Priyanka that I stopped watching the news channels. How many times did we hear serious discussion of why our public services are such a mess or why after 60 years of Independence our political leaders are unable to provide clean drinking water? Or why unplanned urbanisation has put Bharat Mata well on the road to becoming a continent of slums by 2050.”

Is this just heroic self-flagellation?

After all, aren’t there islands of sanity in the media, print and electronic, which cover the bijli-sadak-pani issues on a realtime basis day after day, month after month, year after year?

If frivolous media “brands” erected on the 4Fs—food, fun, fashion and fornication—thrive to the point of wiping out the serious media, what does it say about the concerns of the lay reader, viewer, listener, surfer?

Is the news consumer too guilty of neglect?

Read the full articles: Poll time reality check

Vote for governance

Also read: How the media misses the woods for the trees

Blogger breaks into India’s most powerful list

Businessweek magazine has compiled its latest list of the “50 Most Powerful People in India”. There are four media people on it—a pioneer-entrepreneur who founded an advertising agency, a software company and an internet portal; a publisher who inherited the world’s biggest selling English language newspaper; a writer who founded a pathbreaking webzine turned magazine—and a blogger.

“Blogger Amit Varma brings a particular libertarian point of view to his columns and blog items, but also a risqué sense of humor that keeps readers hooked. He won the 2007 Bastiat Prize for his columns in Indian business paper Mint, and for a select group of Indians, he represents a libertarian, anti-tax and anti-government sensibility that is still quite rare in the country.”

The other three media mavens are: Ajit Balakrishnan, 61, founder of rediff.com; Vineet Jain, managing director, Times Group; and Tarun J. Tejpal, editor of Tehelka.

Photograph: courtesy The Mad Man/ Flickr

Also read: 26% of most powerful are media barons

The 11 habits of India’s most successful media pros