Monthly Archives: May 2010

Why Manmohan should talk to the media more

B.V. RAO writes from New Delhi: Today, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will address a press conference in New Delhi to unveil the report card of his government’s performance in its first year.

The press conference is going to be unlike any other before it.

It will not be limited to Delhi journalists. Reporters from Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Lucknow will be present by video to pose questions to the prime minister. Maybe a few questions will be taken from foreign capitals too.

According to Harish Khare, the information adviser to PM, about 250 news channels and 1,500 print journalists will cram Vigyan Bhawan, the venue.

Admittedly, to use a common television phrase, it doesn’t get bigger than this. This is quite the manna from heaven for any journalist, so why is it that you sense a lack of admiration or gratefulness in our mood?

Because this will be the first time in three long years and only the second in his six longer years in office that the prime minister will have deigned to subject himself to open scrutiny by the media. His interviews to Indian media have been few and far between while he has been generous with foreign media.

So we have effectively had a prime minister who is not only thought to be a puppet but a puppet on mute.

For a government that boasts of ushering in the Right to Information era in this country, that’s a dismal record.

World over heads of government have well established and structured interactions with their peoples through the media. The president of the United States talks every day to the nation through the White House spokesperson and comes on himself regularly to face the media.

These interactions only increase, not decrease, when in the midst of a national emergency, controversy or crucial debate.

These leaders talk to the media not to help it fill space but because it is their duty to reach the people on whose behalf they govern. We love to refer to the iron curtain of China, but ask any reporter assigned the PMO beat what opaqueness in administration means. For most part covering the prime minister means waiting out on the road outside his residence or office looking desperately for a byte like a hungry dog looks for a bone.

Of course, prime ministers are busy people and can’t be talking to the press all the time. That is why they have press advisors, mostly senior journalists from the print media. Their job is ordinarily understood as having to facilitate the media’s interaction with the prime minister or establish a routine for giving out information on his/her behalf.

On the contrary, they busy themselves exclusively with planting favourable stories in a media that is hungry for any crumbs from the PMO. The media advisors themselves become the great wall of China between the media and the prime minister. They think nothing of the instant metamorphosis from journalists seeking information to information advisors blocking information.

There are three people who matter most in the country and all three of them hardly speak. They do not allow themselves to be questioned on their beliefs, their core concerns, their crucial decisions, how and why they arrived at those decisions, etc.

Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are politicians and can at least claim they talk to people directly and don’t need the media as middleman. But the prime minister is duty-bound to tell the nation why, for example, he decided to sack Shashi Tharoor or decided not to sack Jairam Ramesh or why he dare not touch A. Raja or reprimand Mamata Banerjee. Or why in three years his government has not written to the Swiss authorities asking for the details of the billions of billions of slush money stashed away there.

In the absence of first hand information from his office, all reportage of his work and thinking is hearsay. Right to Information does not mean the people of this country come in with their RTI queries only after the event is dead and done with.

A crucial component of right to information is the duty to reveal, duty to be answerable, sometimes even as things are unfolding.

So when on Monday and later you are told that this government has done something out of the ordinary by presenting its report card, don’t be swayed. Accountability is not a once-in-three-years media jamboree. It is being open every day of every year in office.

Sorry prime minister, we cannot be grateful for the crumbs that you throw at us.

Please talk to us more, prime minister.

Talk to us a damned lot more.

B.V. Rao is the editor of Governance Now, where this column originally appeared

Also read: Does Manmohan Singh not trust the Indian media?

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Sailing with the doves, supping with the hawks?

Kanchan Gupta, associate editor of The Pioneer and a part of Atal Bihari Vajpayee‘s PMO, kicks where it hurts most in the matter of the tainted Pakistani TV journalist, Hamid Mir.

The Geo TV anchor, who has interviewed Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden thrice, now stands accused in the court of public opinion of instigating the murder of a kidnapped hostage at the hands of the Taliban.

“Geo TV belongs to Independent Media Corporation, which owns the Jang group of newspapers. And as we all know, the Jang group is the Pakistani partner of a well-known Indian group of newspapers in a joint venture called ‘Aman ki Asha’ which aims to promote cross-border harmony and peace.

“It would be perfectly in order to ask how can a media group that has die-hard Islamists with links to terrorist organisations vehemently opposed to peace with India in senior positions be a trans-border peace partner.

“It would also serve some purpose if we were to be told as to why the Jang group was selected over other newspaper groups or independent dailies like the Daily Times, which has played a leading role in exposing and outing Hamid Mir.

“Chinese whispers are not exactly reliable. But there could be some truth to the story doing the rounds that it was neither aman nor asha that prompted the partnership between the two media groups.”

Read the full article: The secret diary of Hamid Mir

Also read: When journo bites journo, it’s a ‘Super Exclusive’

Can newspapers bring peace between India, Pakistan?

‘The Lone Ranger of Loony Hindutva’ versus…

Do “anonymous people” not count for media?

Death—ordinary, unglamourous, “smalltown” death—increasingly catches the glitzy, big-city English media on the wrong foot.

Unlike the “26/11” siege of Bombay, in which almost as many people were killed as in the Mangalore air crash, you do not find TV and print journalists falling over each other to catch the “first flight” to the spot.

Or, crawling on all fours to shoot a piece to camera, or to provide what used to be known simply as copy but is now fancifully called “narrative”.

As if death by any cause other than “terror” is no death.

As if death in any city other than Bombay and Delhi is no death.

As if death outside of a five-star hotel or two is no death.

The wisecrack of the day comes from Pritish Nandy, former editor of the now-defunct The Illustrated Weekly of India, as if the media did “anonymous people” a favour by giving them airtime on a day like 22 May 2010. Otherwise, they might as well not have existed as far as the media was concerned.

As if, otherwise, the media’s mandate is to merely bring home celebrities and “people like us”? PLUs like the food writer killed in 26/11? The banking executive who had a narrow escape? The board of directors who were smuggled out of the chimney?

Is making people “famous”—manufacturing fame—the media’s sole business?

Also read: ToI food writer Sabina Sehgal Saikia is dead: RIP

Gulf News staffer among Mangalore crash victims

The background of all those who perished in Saturday’s air crash in Mangalore is still unclear. But among those killed are a staffer of the Dubai newspaper, Gulf News, and her husband and their daughter who was probably headed for a career in journalism.

Manirekha Poonja worked in the finance department of the newspaper, and her family was on a short visit to Mangalore for a wedding. None of the three survived, according to a report on the paper’s website.

Manirekha’s daughter, Harshini Poonja, was a student of media and communication. Harshini tweeted before she boarded the illfated Dubai-Mangalore plane last night.

The profile on her blog, last updated yesterday, reads:

I am not done becoming me yet.

Her location on Twitter reads, “Infinite Universe”.

Death of a Foreign Correspondent Foretold

Death scribbled an ugly autograph today, but the book of life is really about life.

Tens of men and women who shackled their seatbelts in Dubai after dinner last night, with their children in tow, hoping to have breakfast with their near and dear ones in Mangalore, didn’t get to see them although they were waiting just a few minutes away; although they whizzed past where they were waiting.

So, who is to say what tomorrow holds when we don’t know what the next minute does?

***

Tiziano Terzani was an Italian foreign correspondent based in New Delhi for several decades. In 1976, a Chinese fortune teller, whom he had come across by sheer chance in Hong Kong, warned Terzani against flying.

Not in 1976 or 1977, but precisely in the year of the lord, 1993.

Beware! You run a grave risk of dying in 1993. You mustn’t fly that year. Don’t fly, not even once.”

Terzani, a correspondent for the German weekly Der Spiegel, was a un-believer. He admitted he was momentarily taken aback by the fortune-teller’s prediction but not deeply disturbed. But by 1992, he had grown tired of his job and was beginning to question the value of his work.

He saw the 1993 prophesy as a chance to see the world through new eyes.

So, when the fateful year dawned, Terzani submitted to the warning despite the nature of his job. All that year and a month more, he travelled, sometimes with wife Angela Staude in tow, by ship, car, bus and train through 11 countries, including Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Mongolia.

The result was a 13,000 miles of journeys, and a book called A fortune-teller told me.

“The prophecy lent me a sort of a third eye with which I saw things, people and places I would not have otherwise seen. It gave me an unforgettable year.

“It also saved my life.

“On March 20, 1993, a UN helicopter in Cambodia went down, with 15 journalists on board. Among them was the German colleague who had taken my place.”

Terzani passed away in 2004.

Image: courtesy Amazon.com

Read The Guardian obituary: Tiziano Terzani

Crash coverage: BASTARDS WHO HAVE BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS

And the VIPs said: ‘Issue a condolence message’

Harshi wasn’t done becoming Harshi yet, won’t

Mangalore air crash: pictures that tell the tale

CHURUMURI POLL: Plane trouble or human error?

When journo bites journo, it’s a ‘Super Exclusive’

Journalism is somewhat pompously described by its practitioners as a dog-eat-dog business. In reality, dog never eats dog; it just comes close to smelling its backside.

At least in India, where media tigers are ever so ready to reveal the ugly innards of government, bureaucracy, police, cinema, business, sport, etc, but not rival media tigers.

Take the recent case of you-know-who!

On the other hand, take the case of Hamid Mir, the hotshot executive editor of the Pakistani television station, Geo (of the Jang group), whose reported 13-minute conversation with a Taliban spokesman on a hostage being held by them was revealed by the rival Daily Times with unreserved glee.

In the conversation, Mir describes the hostage as a CIA collaborator, questions his Islamic credentials, and accuses him of playing a treacherous role in the 2007 Red Mosque siege in which over 100 people were killed. After Mir delays the hostage’s release, the bullet-marked body of the hostage is found on a roadside with a warning note to other “American spies”.”

In other words, Pakistan’s most famous anchor stands instigated the murder of a kidnapee.

There are plenty of question marks of course, starting with the timing and motive of the leak.

Hamid Mir has questioned the authenticity of the transcript, sued the paper, charged his country’s president of trying to defame him, claimed it’s an attempt to muzzle the media, and so on and so forth. His paper has instituted a probe, while the Taliban has given him a clean chit.

Still, the chutzpah of the Pakistani media, operating under the shadow of the gun, should leave its mighty subcontinental democratic counterparts, i.e. us, wondering.

Read the full transcript here: Daily Times

Photograph: Hamid Mir (left) with Al Qaeda supremo Osama bin Laden, whom he has met three times

P. Sainath: ‘A media politically free, but chained by profit’

The Dawn editorial: Hamid Mir saga

International Press Institute Blog

China wants to be a media tiger, too. India?

The American newsmagazine Newsweek is up for sale.

C. Raja Mohan, the strategic affairs editor of The Indian Express, writes that Chinese academics are salivating over the prospect of picking it up as part of the grand media strategy the Middle Kingdom seems to have embarked upon.

Writes Raja Mohan:

Bi Yantao, director of the communications research centre at Hainan University laid out the case for China buying the American journal. He declares that China has the talent to run Newsweek on a thoroughly professional basis and make it profitable once again.

“Prof. Bi argues that “One can’t learn to swim on land. If China is going to improve its international influence, it needs to jump into the media pool.” Only by operating news outlets in foreign countries and reporting international affairs from a Chinese perspective can China master the battle of world opinion,” he concluded.”

How come Indian media majors and investors, flush with cash and entertaining visions of India as a superpower, aren’t interested in Newsweek as a property?

Or are they?

Image: courtesy The Indian Express

Also readWho, why, when, how, where, what, what the…

Newsweek‘s Fareed Zakaria gets Padma Bhushan