Monthly Archives: March 2010

Tomorrow’s news today: spot the difference

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: The first clear indications of the shape of things to come at Kannada Prabha, the struggling Kannada daily of Manoj Kumar Sonthalia‘s New Indian Express group, have appeared on its imprintline today.

What, till yesterday, used to be an “Express Publications (Madurai) Ltd” publication (left) has overnight become a “Kannada Prabha Publications Limited” publication.

In recent weeks, media circles in Bangalore have been aflame with rumours that the former BPL Mobile scion and Rajya Sabha member Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who now owns the recently revamped 24×7 Kannada news channel Suvarna News, was eyeing Kannada Prabha.

Hiving off Kannada Prabha into a separate company with its own financials was an imperative, if not Sonthalia’s strategy to sell the paper in whole or part, or to attract strategic investments, without the baggage of the New Indian Express, which is also published by the same holding company.

Only yesterday, Kannada Prabha front-paged an opinion poll on the upcoming civic body elections in Bangalore, conducted in collaboration with Suvarna News.

Also read: Rajeev Chandrasekhar eyeing Kannada Prabha?

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Indian Express vs The Hindu, N. Ram vs N. Ravi

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The Indian Express, Delhi, has a front-page “exclusive” on the fracas in the family controlling The Hindu, Madras.

The main points the Express story (also simultaneouly carried in its sister-business daily Financial Express) by media correspondent Archna Shukla makes are:

a) disagreements over the “proposed retirement” of publisher and editor-in-chief N. Ram;

b) the stripping of powers of his brother N. Murali as managing director of the company; and

c) Ram’s recent appointment of family members to the paper allegedly without the board’s consent: his daughter Vidya Ram as the new European correspondent of The Hindu Business Line and Narayan Lakshman as the Hindu’s new Washington correspondent.

N. Ram hit back within hours of the Express story, stating that he would launch “civil and criminal” defamation proceedings against the Express reporter, editor-in-chief, editor and publisher.

“These reports are riddled with demonstrable falsehoods and defamatory assertions, some of them attributed to unnamed sources, made with reckless and malicious disregard for the facts and the truth. And this despite the professional courtesy I extended to the journalist and the newspapers by responding precisely and factually to five specific questions emailed to me on March 24 by Ms Shukla.”

Ram also put out the news of his seeking legal recourse to his 6,562 followers on the micro-blogging site, Twitter.

If rumours of the family rift are true, this is the second round in the battle for control of The Hindu.

N. Ram was at the centre of the first one, too. In the early 1990s, then editor G. Kasturi had made way for Ram’s youngest brother N. Ravi and their cousin Malini Parthasarathy at The Hindu, while Ram was shafted off to edit Frontline and Sportstar.

Ten years later, Ram later teamed up with Kasturi to stage a return.

It now looks like payback time with Kasturi’s son K. Balaji being made managing director of the company at the February 20 board meeting, sharing wideranging responsibilities and supervisory powers over several departments: accounts, production, industrial relations, EDP, purchase of newsprint and other raw materials.

The Express story says Ravi and Malini Parathasarathy have now objected to the manner in which…

“Kasturi’s resources, financial as well as editorial, were used to further the interests of some board members”.

As if to underline the substance of the Express story, N. Ravi revived his Twitter acount after four months to say what he thought of N. Ram’s tweet on (and threat of) the defamation case against Express.

And as if to leave the world in no doubt about who stands where in the undivided Hindu family, Malini Parthasarathy retweeted N. Ravi’s tweet, with her own tweet on Twitter.

Internecine family battles are par for the course in the Indian media. The Deccan Herald group went through it in the mid-1990s, as has the Indian Express reporting The Hindu strife, though both have found ways and means of dividing labour within the family without further bloodshed.

More recently, the Amar Ujala group was also in the middle of a messy family battle, which hit the headlines after some worthies including India Today editor Prabhu Chawla‘s son were caught passing a bribe.

What lends The Hindu vs The Indian Express legal battle an added edge is the abrasive nature of the two people at the helm: Hindu editor-in-chief Ram and Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta. (Ram came in at No. 70 in the Express powerlist published in January this year.)

Secondly, The Indian Express and The Hindu are at opposite ends of the political and ideological spectrum. While the former is a gung-ho supporter of all things America (nuclear deal, GM foods, etc), the latter, under the CPM card-carrying Ram, is decidedly less so.

If the defamation case goes ahead, it will be interesting for more reasons than one.

The resident editor of Express in Delhi (responsible for news selection under the law) is Seema Chishti, wife of CPM leader Sitaram Yechury.

N. Ram and CPM general secretary Prakash Karat have been bosom buddies since their days at Madras Christian Loyola College, where they were together with home minister P. Chidambaram, now ironically seen to be close to Shekhar Gupta.

Meanwhile, as rumours of a fresh board meeting gain ground, clearly the sudden turn of events is causing much mirth in rival publishing houses, too, even if they share the same name as the paper that broke the story.

Aditya Sinha, editor-in-chief of The New Indian Express—the new name given to the southern editions after the Indian Express split following the death of Ramnath Goenka—does his bit to fan the rumour mills through his Twitter account.

The decentralisation of paid-for news begins

The election commission of India likes to pretend that it came to know of the phenomenon of “paid news”—advertisements being slipped in under the garb of news to circumvent expenditure norms— only after recent reports of its widespread use during the 2009 recent general elections.

Well, here’s more news for the EC.

A journalist with Citizen Matters, a civic awareness magazine published from Bangalore, writes that she was offered money to write about candidates from three mainstream political parties contesting elections to the civic body in India’s IT capital.

Vaishnavi Vittal writes that an aide of a first-time candidate in ward no. 177 (J.P. Nagar)  tried to slip her a bunch of 100-rupee notes neatly folded in his palm. “Nimma expenditurege (for your expenditure), madam”, he said sheepishly. Less than an hour later, in the same ward, another candidate pulled out wads of 500-rupee notes from his pocket and asked me, “Hana yenadaru kodabeka? (Should we pay you any money?)”

“A similar incident occurred with a party candidate contesting from Sarakki (Ward 178). After the interview, the candidate’s spouse and campaign coordinator repeatedly asked me if they need to pay me for the interview. They went on to add, laughing all the while, that they are ready to pay money even if we don’t ask for it.

“The two of them gave me a copy of a local Kannada publication in which there were several reports, profiling some of the candidates. They told me that they had paid for a report on their party candidate on the front page.”

Read the full article: Cash for coverage comes to BBMP elections too

Link via Kanchar Kaur-Hariharan

Complete coverage: Editors’ Guild on paid news, private treaties

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’

It takes 3 Idiots to call the bluff of Pauper Tigers

If you trust polls, trust in Indian media dips

RSS feed: New BJP chief spikes journalists

Coomi Kapoor in the Indian Express on the journalists’ contingent in the new team of BJP office-bearers.

Also read: For the BJP, is the pen mightier than the trishul?

Who are the journalists running, ruining BJP?

L.K. Advani: PM maybe but not a very good sub

Don’t laugh: do journalists make good politicians?

‘The lone ranger of loony Hindutva’ versus…

How Chandan Mitra has his halwa and hogs it too

Rajeev Chandrasekhar eyeing ‘Kannada Prabha’?

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: Bangalore’s media circles are abuzz with rumours that Kannada Prabha, the struggling Kannada newspaper owned by the New Indian Express group, is being eyed by the Rajya Sabha member Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who also owns the 24×7 Kannada news channel Suvarna News.

Obviously, there are no confirmations or denials of the rumoured deal from either side, but well placed sources say a “strategic investment” is on the way from the cash-flushed former BPL Mobile scion—No. 37 on the India Today powerlist—who has been aiming to expand his print presence in the Kannada media.

Sources in Madras, however, hint at a full-stake sale, rumoured to be in the region of Rs 100 crore.

Those in the know claim a change in the imprint line of the 52-year-old Kannada Prabha could appear as early as April 1, but then it could all turn out to be an April Fool’s joke considering that such rumours have emerged (and died peacefully) several times before.

To be sure, though, Chandrasekhar, 45—who made his pile first in 2005 when he sold BPL mobile after a fallout with his father-in-law and then in 2008 when he sold a majority stake in the Malayalam channel Asianet to Rupert Murdoch—has been looking for print acquisitions in Karnataka and Kerala for a while now.

In 2007, he toyed around with Deccan Herald, till his offer was rebuffed. He revamped the Suvarna News channel largely with print staff who had hopped over from Kannada Prabha. A new paper  with the working title Suvarna Prabha/ Suvarna Karnataka, was on the anvil, till word of a Kannada Prabha buyout broke.

The deal, if it comes through, will be a win-win for both Chandrasekhar and Express bossman Manoj Kumar Sonthalia.

For the former, it will mean one competitor less, a ready network and infrastructure, and a known brand of long vintage but somewhat questionable potential. For the latter, it will mean not having to bleed further in pushing an also-ran product, which has never had a chance, caught as it has been in the crossfire between the Times of India-owned Vijaya Karnataka and Deccan Herald-owned Praja Vani.

The Times of India shut down its translated Kannada language edition ten days ago.

However, both the New Indian Express and Kannada Prabha are published by same holding company, Express Publications (Madurai) Limited, and it is unclear whether Sonthalia has attracted Chandrasekhar’s bulging wallet only in Kannada Prabha or in the English paper as well.

However, there are some who aver that these rumours could just be “dirty tricks” by the Suvarna group—largely comprising ex-Kannada Prabha staffers—to rattle their alma mater. Nearly two dozen KP staffers have left the paper in recent months, many in anticipation of a new paper from the Suvarna stable.

Kannada Prabha was recently in the eye of a storm after it translated and republished a 2007 Taslima Nasrin essay without her permission. Two people lost their lives in the ensuing trouble.

Image: courtesy Rajeev Chandrasekhar

No Holes Barred when Express journalists reunite

The late Indian Express chief sub-editor H.Y. Sharada Prasad—later, media advisor to three Indian prime ministers—wrote famously that “nostalgia is no longer what it used to be”. In other words, there is nothing more tiresome than someone who harks back to the “good old days”.

Nevertheless, journalists coming together is always a cause for much mirth, leg-pulling and tch-tching of how much better things were—although, like much else in Indian journalism, rarely documented.

Journalists of Sharada Prasad’s old paper—of the late 1980s to mid-1990s vintage—met recently at the press club in Bombay, an event captured evocatively by the paper’s former sports editor (and ace Facebook status updater), Natarajan Hariharan.

***

By H. NATARAJAN

The Express Reunion scored over the much-anticipated, much-hyped IPL3 opening night—according to media reports!

It was wonderful to see people readjusting their schedules and some travelling long distances to make it for the bash. Manjiri Gokhale came all the way from Pune. Masky, am told, came from Ahmedabad, Jaideep Marar cut short his Dubai trip.

Vijay Singh was planning to come all the way from Times of India next door; he didn’t because he felt it’s the thought that counts!

Many of the journos have meandered into other walks of life… The elusive Nitin Padte finally made an appearance after years in the hiding. Nitin is now an educationist: after a long stint at Kodai international school in Kodaikanal, he is now deputy head of secondary at the elite Ecole Mondiale world school in Mumbai.

Some others were “gainfully unemployed,” as Deepa Deosthale said.

It was nice to see Mrs Shireen Vakil and Mrs Talim–both looked almost the same as they were a decade back! Geeta Seshu, who left Express long before many of the gathering got into Express Towers, came and bonded with the rest.

With the press club terrace, apparently, taken away for screening the IPL game, the Express reunion was scheduled at the conference hall. The first impression one got on entering the hall was that it was a press conference rather than a press reunion party: chairs neatly laid out, with tabla and mike on a dais at one end!

I thought someone was going to get a DJ! But forget a DJ, we did not even have J. Dey!

Sadly, two people in the forefront of organizing the event, Swati Deshpande and Sai Suresh, could not be at the event because of medical emergencies. A few others like Sesha Sai, B.V. Rao, Sandeep Unnithan and Sujata Anandan wrote to tell that they could not make it.

But there were others who neither turned up nor informed us they could not come. Poor Shiv Kumar could not enjoy the party; all he did the entire evening was going around and collecting money like a bhai!

The latecomers walked in nonchalantly as if they were in time to make the dak edition, but within minutes they lifted the mood of the party. Yogesh Pawar was greeted with a roar. Instead of asking him how he was, people were more interested in his pole. No, no, not that pole!!! For the uninitiated, Yogesh is probably more known for his pole dancing than as a television journalist for NDTV.

And when journalists meet, can gossip and bitchiness be far behind?

The howlers of the past that created unwanted history were gleefully recalled. Yogesh related how Pankaj Updhayay asked a new girl to rush with whatever headline she could think of to beat the deadline and the young girl came up with a classic: “No holes barred…”

Yogesh also recalled how a sub-editor had used the spell check to replace the word “Sri” with “Mr” in accordance with the Indian Express stylebook and the next day the entire report had “Mr Lanka” instead of Sri Lanka!

I recalled a headline in the sports page. We had interviewed Rohini Khadilkar at a time when she was aiming to become India’s first woman’s chess grandmaster. The headline error in her interview saw it appear in print as “My ambition is to become a Bandmaster!”

Nilkanth Khadilkar, Rohini’s father and editor of Nava Kaal, was furious after reading the Indian Express. He rang up the sports desk . The chap who committed the mistake was probably snoring at home, but the guy who walked in first at the sports desk the next day was taken to the cleaners by Rohini’s dad.

“Band baja diya!” Well, it was time to face the music, anyway.

Yogesh played the role of a raconteur to perfection. He also recalled the time Chidanand Rajghatta walked in floral shorts a few days before he was to take over as the resident editor of the Mumbai edition, and walked up to where typists Rajan and Salian were sitting and introduced himself.

Rajan extended his hand and said: “U.R. Rajan.”

To which, Chidu apparently said, “No, I’m Chidanand Rajghatta!”

Then he went to Salian, who replied: “U.R. Salian.

Chidu again had to tell him that he was Chidanand Rajghatta. The IE desk within hearing distance was in splits and Chidu’s baptism by fiery madness at IE Mumbai left him wondering if the place was filled with loonies!

Fun and laughter walk hand in hand whenever Rama is around. Subdued by his standards, he still did some fine mimicking of Chandramohan Puppala, of course after he had left! Rama is now a truly multi-faceted personality—writer, author, director, producer, street theatre actor/activist—and “looking to do all kinds of work to make myself and my bank manager happy” as his Facebook profile proclaims.

I also learnt last night that he captained Maharashtra in three sports at the sub junior level: handball, basketball and chess. To the best of my knowledge, he was the only one among those who came for the party who left by his own chauffeur-driven car.

One man who was missed and very fondly recalled by all was the late D.N. Moorthy. He would have been the life and soul of this party as he was in any. The gathering raised a toast to the good soul who, am sure, would be his maverick self in the other world as well.

Photographs: Between 9.05 pm and 10.56 pm, the texture and composition of the Express reunion sees a dramatic  change. Those who made it to the reunion: Mrs Talim, Mrs Sherene Vakil, Vidyottama Sharma, Geeta Seshu, S. Ramachandran (Rama), Manjiri Gokhale, Shiv Kumar, Prasanna Khapre-Updhayay, Jaideep Marar, Anand Venkatraman, Arun Janardhan, Harish Nambiar, Mascarehnas (Masky), Dhaval Desai, Sandeep Sarkar, Yogesh Pawar, Deepa Deoshtalee, Dharmendra Jore, Seema Sinha, Sudeshna Chatterjee, Chandramohan Puppala, Nitin Padte, Kartik Upadhyay and H. Natarajan.

If you trust polls, trust in Indian media dips

As the blizzard of paid-for news, cooked-up results, corruption scandals, cross-media ownership, conflict of interest, etc blows across the Indian media landscape, the 2010 Edelman trust barometer shows a sharp drop in trust in the news media in India over the past two years.

# Trust in business magazines: down to 47% from 72%

# Trust in TV news: down to 36% from 61%

# Trust in newspapers: down to 40% from 61%

The survey was produced by the research firm StrategyOne and consisted of 25-minute telephone interviews from September 29 to December 6, 2009. The survey sampled 4,875 respondents in 22 countries in two age groups (25-34 and 35-64).

The Edelman survey results are exactly opposite to the findings of the national election survey 2009 by the Lokniti team of the centre for study of developing societies which found that 45% greatly trusted what they read in newspapers, and a similar number somewhat trusted newspaper reports.

Visit the website: 2010 Edelman trust barometer

Also read: Editors’ Guild on paid news, private treaties

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’

It takes 3 Idiots to call the bluff of Pauper Tigers