Coomi Kapoor in the Indian Express on the journalists’ contingent in the new team of BJP office-bearers.
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
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.
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
The prostitution of Indian journalism by pimps, promoters and proprietors selling editorial space without letting the reader know what is independently verified news and what is a paid-for advertisement in the garb of news, has attained pandemic proportions.
“Paid News”, as the trend has been sadly named, happens not just during election time, but in between elections too. It afflicts not just the language media, but mainstream English media too. It is not just political news that is coloured, but business, sport, cinema and everything else, including the TV listings.
Above all, it is not something that small papers and extortionists are indulging in to keep their business going; it has become a revenue stream for profitable media organisations to keep the ink black on the bottomline, as trust and credibility are thrown to the wolves by suited-booted “managers”.
The Rajya Sabha, the election commission and the press council are all seized of the issue.
The country’s #1 business investigative journalist Sucheta Dalal who has written fearlessly on the subject—a trend that has deep implications for Indian democracy and reader trust in the media in the long run—throws light on a scandal in which India’s top filmmaker was held to ransom by “a leading media house”.
By SUCHETA DALAL
Moneylife has often commented on the brazen sale of news by a leading media house. However, we also acknowledged that the group usually made a win-win offer which was tough for companies to refuse. After all, which company would want to say no to something as lucrative as assured positive coverage, plus a steep discount in advertising tariffs, in return for a small equity stake?
However, in recent times, companies complain about the strong-arm tactics used by the group’s media arm.
Several companies have reported that they are told to appear first on the group’s media channel, during the quarterly results announcements. A print interview is thrown in as a carrot. Or they can face the stick: the prospect of being black-listed by its large circulation dailies.
As for the group’s city supplement, it is not only common knowledge that all its pages are for sale, but it has even dropped the pretence that its news and photographs are anything but paid publicity material.
Yet, the group still managed to shock us, with its recent strong-arm tactics against a top-grossing Hindi movie.
Its director told us how the media-selling arm of the publishing house approached him with a ‘publicity package’ which offered a number of articles and photographs for a price.
The director said a polite ‘No’. He would buy advertisements to publicise the movie, but the editorial would be up to the publication. But he was in for a shock. He was told that if he did not accept the package, there would be no editorial coverage of the movie in any of the group’s publications.
Given the stakes involved in the movie business, the director consulted his partners and friends in Bollywood. Many supported his stand, while there were others who were quite happy to accept the offer. However, our director-friend put his foot down and invited several like-minded producers to discuss the implications of what he calls the ‘dadagiri of this brand’.
The publishing house representative apparently said the director was making a needless fuss. After all, “film journalism is not serious journalism” (suggesting there are no ethical issues in buying editorial coverage).
What is most heartening is that, unlike wimpy corporate India, a dozen top producers and directors got together, discussed the issue and had the courage to say no, even though their stakes are significantly higher. The media house, realising that the issue could get out of hand, then backtracked and actually wrote a letter of apology for trying to pressure the industry.
The story had a happy ending, because the movie went on to set success records.
Why has this not made news? Because Bollywood also realises that it needs big media and is not idiot enough to shoot itself in the foot. Moneylife doffs its cap to the producers who had the guts to say ‘No’.
M.J. Akbar‘s Sunday Guardian dishes out the garam masala of the day, outing the mischievous minister who allegedly sent allegedly inappropriate text messages to an editor of the Wall Street Journal after her recent interview with him.
Last week, the Delhi tabloid Mail Today had mentioned the gossip in its columns, two days in a row.
The minister, at the centre of a row over India’s alleged change of stance on climate change, has been at the receiving end of sections of the media over his u-turn on allowing genetically modified foods.
Newspaper facsimile: courtesy The Sunday Guardian
allegedly Italics: courtesy The Times of India
External reading: Editor the Great
Magsaysay Award-winning former Indian Express editor turned BJP ideologue, Arun Shourie, in conversation with Mahesh Sarma:
How did you get the Indian Express editor’s job?
Emergency had passed [in 1977]. I had got to know [Express proprietor] Ramnath Goenka through many episodes. And the Janta Party had come to power. We were staying in Mr Goenka’s house in Bangalore.
He asked what I was doing and I said, “What do you mean what am I doing? I can’t find a job, I am writing a book.
He said, ‘Stupid, who is going to read your book? No one is going to read it. You are not finding a job, I can’t find any young man, you come. I’ll tell the editor to give you some big title.’
That is my letter of appointment.
Photograph: courtesy The Hindu Business Line
Ronnie Screwvala of UTV, and Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy of NDTV, are the three prominent media names missing in India Today magazine’s annual ranking of the 50 most powerful people in India for the year of the lord, 2010.
Otherwise, this year’s list comprise the usual barons: Samir Jain and Vineet Jain of The Times of India group at No.8; Kalanidhi Maran of Sun TV at No. 16 (up eight places from last year); Raghav Bahl of TV18 at No. 17 (down from No. 15); Subhash Chandra of Zee at No. 22; Ramesh Agarwal and Sudhir Agarwal of Dainik Bhaskar and DNA at No. 30 (up five places from last year); Mahendra Mohan Gupta and Sanjay Gupta of Dainik Jagran at No. 33 (up from 39) ; and Rajeev Chandrasekhar of Asianet and Suvarna at No. 37 (up from 46, although India Today strangely claims he is a new entrant).
But the printer’s devil is in the details.
India Today says Vineet Jain is obsessive about the photogallery of Indiatimes, Samir about the layout of ToI‘s editorial page (an obsession that began in 1989); Maran, an amateur radio operator, is the highest-paid executive in India earning Rs 37 crore per annum; Bahl will publish a book on the political economy of India and China this August; Mahendra Mohan Gupta has acquired an Audi Q7; and Rajeev Chandrasekhar wears Canali suits or jackets, Stemar shoes and Jaeger le Coultre watches.