Monthly Archives: December 2009

From all of us to all of you: HAPPY NEW YEAR

sans serif wishes all its readers, in every part of the globe, a very happy new year. May all your hopes, dreams, prayers and fantasies come good in the year ahead. And may each day turn out just the way you want it to.

Also read: The perfect new year resolution for journalists

5 qualities journalists can pick up from a pencil

20 must-have gifts for journalists

From the scriptures into your drawing room

24×7 news television took another small leap at the cremation of the Kannada movie star Vishnuvardhan in Bangalore on Wednesday, 30 December 2009.

Priests conducting the final rites of the devout star chanted vedic hymns into the microphones of the Kannada news channels which were broadcasting the ceremony live.

Video grab: courtesy TV9

As the year ends, a veteran’s lament for media

B.G. Verghese in Deccan Herald:

“As the year closes, one must with sadness and shame pen a lament for the Indian media…. We must lament a disgraceful fall in standards as revealed by well documented stories of the sale of electoral coverage by sections of the news media through ‘packages’ relating to the kind of treatment sought.

“What earlier seemed an isolated, low-level viral outbreak appears to have gained virulence and epidemic proportions.

“Alarm bells  have sounded. The matter is too serious to be left to drift. Maybe the Press Registration Act needs review to entrench the position of the editor who is even now responsible for everything published, including advertisements.

“Can the law require public interest directors to be appointed to boards of all media houses from  tiered panels to act as guardians of the public interest? The establishment of self-regulatory bodies for the broadcast media by no means precludes the necessity for mandatory broadcast regulations as found in every part of the world. This need not curb media freedom. Fast driving requires good brakes. Should ‘private (ads for shares) treaties’ be required to be mandatorily disclosed by the paper/channel concerned? Can the Election Commission compel separate accounting of all advertisements and advertorial support for candidates under election expense?

“These are obviously extremely sensitive and complex matters that impinge on freedom of expression. But when freedom becomes license, democracy is  in peril.”

Read the full article: Lament for the media

Editors’ Guild on paid news, private treaties

The following is the full text of the statement issued  by the Editors’ Guild of India on Wednesday, 23 December 2009, on the issue of “paid-for news”:


The Editors Guild of India is deeply shocked and seriously concerned at the increasing number of   reports detailing  the pernicious practice of publishing “paid news’” by some newspapers and television channels, especially during recent  elections.

The Guild, at its annual general meeting held on 22 December 2009 has strongly condemned this practice which whittles the foundations of Indian journalism and calls upon all editors in the country to desist from publishing  any form of advertisement which masquerade as news.

The Guild noted that it had always stood for publication of news which is in public interest; news which has been gathered due to the professional efforts of journalists; and news which is not influenced by malice, bias, favouritism or monetary influence.

The Guild recognises that news media in print and electronic form, has a genuine right to publish and broadcast advertisements on all issues, subject to the voluntary Advertising Standards Council code and the News Broadcasting Standards Code.

It is imperative that  news organisations have to clearly distinguish between news and advertisements with full and proper disclosure norms, so that no  reader and viewer is tricked by any subterfuge of advertisements published and broadcast in the same format, language and style of news.

It is disturbing that this “paid news” practice is also  being used by companies, organisations and individuals, apart from political parties.

The Guild  further deplores the practice of  “private treaties” where news organisations accept free equity in unlisted companies in lieu of promoting these companies through news  columns and television news programmes.  The news organisations should disclose their commercial and equity interests in such companies to the readers and viewers in a transparent manner.

The Guild decries the unsavoury and unacceptable practice of some political parties and candidates offering payment for “news packages” to news media and its representatives to  publish and telecast eulogising and misleading news reports on the political parties.

Both the media organisations and editors who indulge in it, and the customers who offer payment for such “paid news” are guilty of undermining the free and fair press, for which every citizen of India is entitled to.

Such irresponsible acts by a few media organisations and journalists is discrediting the entire media of the country, which has a glorious tradition of  safeguarding democratic rights and exposing all kinds of injustices and inequities.

Editors and journalists have been at the vanguard of the movement for creation of a just society, both during the days of colonial rule and Independent India. The ugly phenomenon of “paid news” will be a blot on the country’s democratic fabric.

The Guild calls upon publishers, editors and journalists of media organisations to unitedly fight this creeping menace of commercialisation and bartering of self respect of the media.  During the coming months, the Guild will join hands with other media organisations to sensitize the media and civil society, including political parties and the Election Commission, on the need to eliminate  this unacceptable practice.

The Guild will be shortly unveiling an initiative to encourage transparency  regarding “paid news” and “private treaties.”   We appeal to all stakeholders to join us in pushing for a clean, transparent media.

Rajdeep Sardesai, president of the guild, announced the formation of an ethics committee headed by T.N. Ninan,  editor in chief, Business Standard. The members are B G Varghese,  editor & columnist; Sumit Chakravartty, editor, Mainstream, and Madhu Kishwar, editor, Manushi.


Also read: Pyramid Saimira, Tatva & Times Private Treaties

Times Private Treaties gets a very public airing

SUCHETA DALAL: Forget the news, you can’t believe the ads either

Does he who pays the piper call the tune?

SALIL TRIPATHI: The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility

Selling the soul? Or sustaining the business?

PAUL BECKETT: Indian media holding Indian democracy ransom

Does he who pays the piper call the tune?

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA: ‘Indian media in deeply murky ethical territory’

The scoreline: Different strokes for different folks

A package deal that’s well worth a second look

ADITYA NIGAM: ‘Editors, senior journalists must declare assets’

The brave last words of Prabhash Joshi

‘Only the weather section isn’t sold these days’

Journalist Rahul Bedi pedals 40-50 km a day

Sheela Bhatt of reports that Delhi-based journalist Rahul Bedi, longtime defence correspondent of Jane’s Defence Weekly, and an occasional contributor to the The Daily Telegraph, London, and Irish Times,  Dublin, has abandoned his sport utility vehicle and now cycles all around town.

“I have taken to cycling since the last three to four years. In the last two years, I drove my car almost 300 to 400 km a month, but I cycle about 900 km a month. Sometimes I cycle more than 1,000 km a month. I cycle for work and also for pleasure. I surely cycle for 40 to 50 km for about five days a week.”

Photograph: courtesy

View the video here: Pedalling 45 km a day

Read Rahul Bedi’s account here: ‘It’s practical’

‘Only the weather section is not sold these days’

A barely disguised front-page ad in today’s Daily News & Analysis (DNA), the joint venture between Zee News and Dainik Bhaskar, on the “paid news” syndrome that has gained enormous traction in recent weeks.

The Hindu exposed the discrepancy between the Maharashtra chief minister’s ad expenditure and news coverage; The Indian Express did a two-part series on the institutional transgressions; and Outlook* has a cover story.

* Disclosures apply

Also read: Pyramid Saimira, Tatva & Times Private Treaties

Times Private Treaties gets a very public airing

SUCHETA DALAL: Forget the news, you can’t believe the ads either

Does he who pays the piper call the tune?

SALIL TRIPATHI: The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility

Selling the soul? Or sustaining the business?

PAUL BECKETT: Indian media holding Indian democracy ransom

Does he who pays the piper call the tune?

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA: ‘Indian media in deeply murky ethical territory’

The scoreline: Different strokes for different folks

A package deal that’s well worth a second look

ADITYA NIGAM: ‘Editors, senior journalists must declare assets’

The brave last words of Prabhash Joshi

Express Institute of Media Studies, 2010 program

The Express Institute of Media Studies, set up by the Indian Express group, is inviting applications for its 2010 programme. The last date for submission of application forms is 31 January 2010.

Click on the image for a larger frame to view details.

Also read: Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach?

The book, the event, the review, the excerpt

Sentinel House, the book  on the newspaper business by the Bangalore journalist Allen J. Mendonca, who passed away suddenly in late September, is being posthumously published by Raintree, the media company Allen co-founded with his wife, Sandhya.

The book, priced at Rs 225, will be released by Arundhati Nag at the Ranga Shankara in Bangalore on December 16, and by Pratibha Prahlad at the Ambience Mall in Gurgaon on December 19.

Below is a review of the book by S.R. Ramakrishna, resident editor of MiD-DaY, Bangalore, followed by a brief excerpt.



Anyone who knew Allen Mendonca also knew he enjoyed his journalism. Which is why they won’t be surprised at the earnestness and energy in Sentinel House, his novel about the newspaper business.

Allen goes about challenging readers, fellow journalists particularly, to identify real-life media people hiding behind his fictional characters. He is a satirist this moment, and a practitioner of pulp fiction the next, but there isn’t a moment he isn’t having a go at the media world. For that reason, it is likely that journalists will grasp the novel’s nuances better than those with no access to newsroom gossip.

Sentinel House narrates the saga of Harivanshrai aka Harry, a media baron driven as much by his hormones as by the opportunities afforded by the new Indian economy. In a hurry to expand his empire, he transforms his newspaper from institution to product, obscures the once-inviolable line between editorial and marketing, and elevates advertiser over reader.

Many will read Sentinel House as a dramatised chronicle of what Allen saw in the newsrooms of the past two decades. The book also seethes with media-boardroom news and gossip that never made it to print. If journalists sit around at bars and coffee shops with a copy of Sentinel House, smirking, taunting, hooting, or even getting into brawls, you know why.

And unexpectedly, running through all the masala and the action is Allen’s faith in Hindu karma and Christian compassion. When Harry’s crippled son Sid finally finds love, fulfilment, wealth and power, Allen suggests it is all because of his essential goodness. Sentinel House describes crimes provoked by lust and greed, but it is also an optimistic tribute to innocence.

But for all that, Allen’s book is vulnerable, and can be ripped apart easily by any critical book lover. Its sex scenes are inspired by Harold Robbins. Its characters are predictable in what they do when faced with a crisis. (The media czar sleeps around, his wife parties and hits the bottle, their son seeks meaning in art, and older people seek solace in religion). Sentinel House is clearly inclined towards populist fiction and Page 3 reportage.

With this novel, Allen joins the ranks of Bangalorean journalists-turned-novelists Narendar Pani and C.K. Meena, but they take stylistic routes different from his.

If anyone could write this novel, it was Allen. In the decades he spent in journalism, he changed from intrepid reporter to Page 3 heartthrob to independent entrepreneur. He knew this story from the inside. He did many diverse things, including playing the guitar. Allen died of a heart attack late in September, and it is sad that his first novel will also be his last.

I read an advance copy of the book, and don’t know if Allen would have liked to revise it before sending it out to the press, but Sentinel House, even in its present form, can deliver a satisfyingly nasty punch.


Here is an extract from the book, published with the permission of the publishers.



The Rip Van Winkle of Malabar Hill has woken up.

Hip, hip, hurray!

Harivanshrai Kumar a.k.a Harry, the stormy petrel of the Indian media, has given the old man from another century a brand new look.

Imagine The Indian Sentinel in the avatar of good ol’ Rip, emerging all dishevelled and confused from H. G. WellsTime Machine.

He steps out the door into Harry’s state-of-the-art office. He looks around and shouts, “Jeez, I need a makeover.” Harry’s attractive and superefficient secretary (Where does he hire them from?) takes charge. She guides him to the bathroom, crops his hair, gives him a shave, orders him to bathe and throws away his tattered robes.

“Excellent. Now give him one of my suits tailored in Bond Street. And don’t forget the underclothes,” says Harry as he lights up a Cuban.

She gives him a withering look. “As if I’ll ever forget!”

Rip takes on the very personality of Harry.

Harry = The Indian Sentinel.


Analyze it?

It means there is no more room for the conventional, intellectual editor in Harry’s grand scheme.

As far as he’s concerned, the editor is just a high-ranking employee who strings the news together and helms the production of the newspaper. It is the managing editor who dictates policy and content.

In short, professional managers have taken over The Indian Sentinel in every sphere of its existence.

It is limbo for the editors, for they are neither here nor there.

A degree from an IIM, better still, a doctorate in management from some fancy American University, that’s the ticket for a career in The Sentinel.

Goodbye, liberal arts.

Goodbye, Mr. Editor.

Harry’s on record: “The old order had to change and who better than I to herald it?”

Harry’s been harping about television fast replacing the print media as the most popular and quickest purveyor of news.

Five years from now there will be a dozen television stations beaming news and entertainment. We have to reinvent ourselves. Otherwise, newspapers will be relegated to the status of a poor cousin. We have already lost 23 per cent of our ad revenue to television. Our profit margins have begun to drop and will keep plummeting.

Sure, Harry has a case.

Sure, television is seducing our readers. Should we get worried? Is there a need for radical change? Should we change our editorial and management modules?

Should we look at alternative revenue streams to compensate for the drop in business?

Yes and No.

Packaging is only one aspect of presentation. Readers expect news and views. The written word is a habit. You can’t carry your television to the park. Or into the crowded bus or train.

Harry is young and in too much of a hurry.

He doesn’t understand what a newspaper is all about.

He’s a Young Turk who has been handed over a venerable institution on a platter.

Here’s wishing he won’t trip on his own predictions. For in his mad rush to be ahead of the times, he just might lose all touch with the present.

And stumble!

Also read: Allen J. Mendonca: Here’s looking at you, kid

Largest crowd in 40 years for a journalist’s funeral

We’re all maalis in The Great Gardener’s hands

Among his many stand-out traits, the photojournalist T.S. Satyan, who died in Mysore on Sunday, went out of his way to “give back something to the profession that gave them so much”.

Even in his 80s, he was ever ready to travel long distances to speak to young students of journalism; delivered anecdote-filled lectures; opened photography exhibitions; held workshops; took part in debates.

In this file picture, he interacts with photojournalism students of the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media (IIJNM)*, Bangalore, who visited his residence showing off his almost masterly knowledge of plants and flowers. The department head, Saggere Ramaswamy, is to the right of the frame.

* Disclosures apply

Legendary photojournalist T.S. Satyan dead

sans serif records with deep and profound regret the passing away of the legendary photo-journalist Tamabarahalli Subramanya Satyanarayana Iyer better known as T.S. Satyan in Mysore this afternoon.

Mr Satyan was five days away from his 86th birthday.

He is survived by his wife Nagarathna, children, grandchildren and a City (and a profession) he dearly loved till his last breath.

Mr Satyan belonged to a golden generation of the Maharaja’s College in Mysore in the 1940s, from which almost everybody ascended to reach great heights in life. He took to photojournalism at a time when neither photography nor journalism was the first-choice profession and communicated with images the way another famous co-townsman of his (R.K. Narayan) did with words: simply and honestly, without any frills.

His work chiefly appeared in Deccan Herald and The Illustrated Weekly of India, and in Time, Life and Christian Science Monitor.

Fittingly, for someone who was full of zest, Mr Satyan titled his memoirs In love with life. In the last few years, the octagenarian developed a love for the wired world, and wrote several pieces for sans serif, whose friend, wellwisher and guide he remained from the day of its inception.


T.S. Satyan on

Once upon a time, early in the morning

The R.K. Narayan only I knew

Once upon a time during the Quit India movement

Mysore’s shortest man was only in height

The Raja said, ‘Why don’t you go with Mohini?’

The cop who stopped the maharaja

T.S. Satyan on photography

The genius of the Indian villager