Monthly Archives: June 2010

‘Hindu and HT were worst offenders in 1975’

With  nearly 60% of India reputedly being under 25 years of age—in other words, with three out of five Indians having been born after 1985—it stands to reason that the 35th anniversary of the declaration of Emergency by the Indira Gandhi government should have come and gone without creating a ripple.

That, and the fact that the news channels and newspapers were too busy celebrating panchamda R.D. Burman‘s birthday and the World Cup to be bothered of the more serious things affecting life and democracy.

Nevertheless, the press censorship during the Emergency is one of the darkest periods in contemporary Indian media history, when promoters, proprietors, editors and journalists quietly acquiesced to the firman of the government to not publish anything that was considered antithetical to the national interest.

Censors sat over editors in newspaper offices and crossed out material (including cartoons and pictures) that didn’t conform to the official policy; criticism of the government was a strict no-no; over 250 journalists were arrested; 51 foreign correspondents were dis-accreditated, 29 were denied entry, seven were expelled.

In The Sunday Guardian, the weekly newspaper launched by M.J. Akbar, the veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar recounts life under censorship, names the pussies and lions, and says the media today is “too niminy-piminy, too nice, too refined” if such a disaster were to strike again.



L.K. Advani was right when he told journalists, “You were asked to bend, but you crawled.” Even then, the courageous part was that nearly 100 journalists assembled at Delhi’s press club on 28 June 1975 and passed a resolution to condemn press censorship. But subsequently, fear took over and they caved in.

They were afraid to speak even in private.

The press council of India (PCI), the highest body to protect press freedom, became a part of the establishment. The then chairman, Justice Iyengar, stalled a resolution to criticise press censorship by local members of the PCI. Justice Iyengar informed the information minister V.C. Shukla about his achievement in not letting the resolution of condemnation passed.

Except for the Indian Express, the leading light during the Emergency, practically all papers preferred to side with the government.

The two of the worst were The Hindu and the Hindustan Times.

Hindu’s editor G. Kasturi became a part of the establishment. He headed Samachar, the news agency that was formed after the merger of PTI, UNI and Hindustan Samachar. He obeyed the government diktat on how to purvey a particular story or suppress it. He could not withstand government pressure.

The Hindustan Times, owned by the Birlas, was always with the Congress. K.K. Birla, then its chairman, took over as chairman of the Indian Express and changed its editor by replacing incumbent S. Mulgaonkar with V.K. Narasimhan, who proved to be a tough nut to crack. Birla was the complete opposite of Ramnath Goenka, the owner of the Indian Express. Goenka fought the government tooth and nail and staked all that he had built in his life….

The Times of India was edited by Sham Lal, who had impeccable credentials. Girilal Jain, the resident editor in Delhi, too stood by the principle of free press. Both were pro-Indira Gandhi but against press censorhip. However they felt handicapped because the management wanted to play it safe. Not that Shantilal Jain, who owned the paper, was in any way pro-Emergency, but he had burnt his fingers when the paper was taken over by the government at the instance of T.T. Krishnamachari, then the finance minister, who doubted the paper on certain matters.

Leading regional papers were against the Emergency but did not want to face government wrath. Eenadu, under Ramoji Rao, refused to toe the government line but stayed within the contours of the Emergency to avoid trouble.

Ananda Bazaar Patrika owner Ashoke Sarkar was a man of courage and gave his blessings to his principal correspondent Barun Sengupta’s fight against the emergency. The paper, however, managed to escape the wrath of the then West Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray, who was the author of the Emergency.

My friend K.M. Mathew, the owner of the vast empire of Malayala Manorama, stood his ground and despite the pressures on him showed where his sympathies lay when he invited to open a photo exhibition at Kottayam after my release from jail. The country was still in the middle of the Emergency. Yet, Mathew showed his annoyance in his own way.”

Text: courtesy The Sunday Guardian

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu


Discreet inquiries after the publication showed…

A front-page mea culpa in The Times of India, Bangalore, to the vice-president of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), K. Govindraj. Govindraj had hit the headlines in June 2006 when he was reported as having allegedly molested a masseuse at the Commonwealth games in Melbourne.

Image: courtesy The Times of India

Read the original report here or the cache

English news channels have 0.4% viewership!

Cynics and critics of the media cannot stop bad-mouthing the English news channels and their shrieking, shouting, table-thumping, finger-wagging anchors. Talking heads move heaven, earth and everything else in between to appear on them. Advertisers drop everything else to flock to them. Yet….

Yet, is this all very futile?

Using data collated by the television audience measurement agency (TAM), Archna Shukla of the Indian Express reports that this is all very misplaced. That, despite its growing social and rural acceptance, English news channels boast of such a minuscule viewership that it probably does not even count.

From a snapshot of television consumption in India in the Sunday Indian Express:

1. There are 134 million households which own television sets in India; 70 million are in rural areas, 64 million in urban India

2. India is the world’s second largest broadcast market in viewership base as well as the total number of channels (500)

3. An average Indian watches television for two and a half hours a day, South Indians are glued to the idiot box for longer

4. There are more news channels (81 and counting) than general entertainment channels

5. News and current affairs channels has 7.5% viewership share; GECs have 51%.

6. Hindi has 43% reach and audience; the regional language channels put together account for 37%

7. Hindi speaking market is larger but South Indians watch TV for longer, spending close to three hours a day

8. English channels, news and otherwise, gets only 11% of viewership share

9. English news channels have a 0.4 per cent viewership

10. Men watch sports, news and movie channels; women watch soaps and serials

Read the full story: How India watches television

Television in India

How an editor christened a Pierre Cardin model

Dileep Padgaonkar, The Times of India‘s former editor who made the revealing claim that he held the “second-most important job in the country” after the prime minister, is back in the paper, handling the opinion page.

Padgaonkar writes in The Sunday Times of India of the small role he played (as the paper’s Paris correspondent in 1971) in giving France’s first coloured model—the Bombay girl Phyllis Mendes who dazzled Pierre Cardin enough to become his muse and business manager—her stage name.

“The day after dinner [with the Padgaonkars] Phyllis reported for work at Cardin’s plush offices on the elegant rue du Faubourg St Honore. That afternoon she called me to say that her bosses were unhappy with her first name since it did not sound Indian enough.

“Would I suggest one?

“I suggested ‘Geetanjali‘ — Rabindranath Tagore‘s work was known in France thanks to a fine translation by Andre Gide —but Phyllis thought it was too long. Besides, the French might not be able to pronounce it correctly.

“So I shortened ‘Geetanjali’ to ‘Anjali’ and told her that the worst they could do was to call her ‘en jolie‘ and ‘jolie‘, in French, meant ‘lovely’. From then on the world knew her as Anjali Mendes though for me, as for those who had known her in Bombay, she would always be Phyllis.

Anjali Mendes, passed away alone and abadoned in her home in the south of France last week at the age of 64.

Photograph: courtesy Goan Voice

Also read: How Padgaonkar‘s Sakaal Times dream became a nightmare

Why media houses must maintain a proper library

The library has become an endangered section in Indian media houses in the age of the internet—and in a business culture populated by philistines that frowns upon the concept of a “newspaper of record”.

But India’s original newspaper of record, The Hindu, has just shown the invaluable role a well-maintained archive can play in shaping (and reshaping) a country’s discourse.

A specially constituted group of ministers recently cited “contemporary news reports” (of The Hindu‘s legendary political correspondent, G.K. Reddy) to exonerate former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi‘s role in release of Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson in the aftermath of the Bhopal gas disaster.

The readers’ editor of The Hindu, S. Vishwanathan, had only the previous day dredged up old files to reveal G.K. Reddy’s reporting from 1984 on the story.

Now, The Hindu has pulled out its issues of December 8 and 9, 1984 to show that the GOM’s conclusions is “either a careless misreading of the reports or, more likely, a clumsy attempt at a cover-up.”

The paper’s report shows that Anderson was taken into protective custody after the central government’s intervention; that although Rajiv Gandhi was not consulted, he was “informed” of the release; and that the group of minister’s claim that there were no records of who Anderson met, was a big lie.

Read the full story: Bhopal: sloppiness or coverup?

Image: courtesy The Hindu

Also read: How media kept Bhopal’s quest for justice alive

Bhopal, Raajkumar Keswani & Pablo Bartholomew

Paparazzi pic of Bollywood babe sans makeup

If Indian journalism is uniformly second-rate, you ain’t seen nothing yet, Aakarbhai.

Let Kanchan Gupta of The Pioneer tell you a story:

“The popular Gujarati newspaper Sandesh had an interesting story about aspiring journalists who appeared for this year’s entrance test for the media course offered by Saurashtra University.

“I have no idea about the quality of the course, but it would be safe to presume that those who applied for admission are from average middle-class families, representatives of what political parties, particularly the Congress, refer to as aam admi—the common man, average Indian, or whatever term you may want to use for the masses.

“The answer scripts have revealed that among the applicants are those who believe Warren Anderson is a Hollywood superstar and (though not connected with the Bhopal tragedy) Teesta Setalvad is a Bollywood actress.”

Journalism students please note: activist Teesta is a former journalist at Ashok Advani‘s Business India. Sandesh is India’s first stock-market listed newspaper

Read the full piece: Rip van Winkle wakes up to Bhopal

Also read: Outlook magazine ranking of top-10 J-schools-2010

Hindustan Times‘ ranking of top-10 J-schools—2010

Hindustan Times‘ ranking of top-10 J-schools—2008

Tehelka announces its school of journalism

Ramnath Goenka: Courage of the 2 o’clock kind

Ramnath Goenka, extreme right, with C.R. Irani of The Statesman, Khushwant Singh and Kuldip Nayar, in protest against the defamation bill, in 1988

India’s foremost jurist, Fali S. Nariman, on India’s bulldog of a publisher, Ramnath Goenka of the undivided Indian Express, in his just-published memoirs Before Memory Fades*:

“Ramnath Goenka was founder and managing editor of the The Indian Express, and he had, what Napoleon called, courage of  “the two o’ clock-in-the-morning-kind”—unprepared courage that is necessary to meet an unexpected occasion!

“Goenka faced the Emergency of June  1975 with grit and determination. For the entire period that it lasted (upto March1977), he stood erect and defiant, a towering figure–the symbol of the free press in India.

“During the Internal Emergency, the Express group of newspapers faced criminal prosecutions all around the country prosecutions under the Companies Act, 1956, for not filing certain documents with the registrar and/or filing them beyond the stipulated time.

“Invariably, the magistrates (who looked upward for guidance) would not dispense with the personal appearance of the managing director, and Ramnathji spent most of his waking hours shuttling from one place in India to another, dutifully putting in his personal appearance before the courts across the country. But he was not deterred.”

*Before Memory Fades, Hay House, published pages 549, Rs 599

Also read: How Ramnath Goenka made Arun Shourie an editor