Monthly Archives: June 2010

The curious case of Zakir Naik & Shekhar Gupta

The gentleman on the right of the frame wants India to be ruled by Shariat laws. He recommends death for homosexuals. He supports Osama bin Laden if he is “fighting the enemies of Islam”. He says revealing clothes make women more susceptible to rape.

Yet, the gentleman on the left, Shekhar Gupta, introduced him as the “rockstar of tele-evangelism” in March 2009, on his NDTV show Walk the Talk:

“…but surprise of surprises, he is not preaching what you would expect tele-evangelists to preach. He is preaching Islam, modern Islam, and not just Islam but his own interpretation of all the faiths around the world.”

In February this year, the paper edited by the gentleman on the left, the Indian Express, ranked the gentleman on the right 89th on its list of the most powerful Indians in 2010, ahead of  Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, with large numbers dripping all over:

“His sermons on Peace TV-English boast of a viewership of 100 million. The channel is aired in 125 countries. Peace TV Urdu has 50 million viewers. He has given 1,300 public talks including 100 in 2009, 10-day peace conference attened by 2 lakh…”

Now, with the British government announcing that the gentleman of such affection—the gentleman on the right, Dr Zakir Naik—will not be allowed into Britain because of numerous comments that are evidence of “unacceptable behaviour”, the journalist-author Sadanand Dhume writes in The Wall Street Journal:

“If you’re looking for a snapshot of India’s hapless response to radical Islam, then look no further than Naik. In India, the 44-year-old Dr. Naik—a medical doctor by training and a televangelist by vocation—is a widely respected figure, feted by newspapers and gushed over by television anchors….

“When the doctor appears on a mainstream Indian news channel, his interviewers tend to be deferential. Senior journalist and presenter Shekhar Gupta breathlessly introduced his guest last year as a “rock star of televangelism” who teaches “modern Islam” and “his own interpretation of all the faiths around the world.”

“A handful of journalists—among them Praveen Swami of The Hindu, and the grand old man of Indian letters, Khushwant Singh—have questioned Dr. Naik’s views, but most take his carefully crafted image of moderation at face value.”

But the Indian Express is, if nothing else, extremely touchy when its judgments are questioned.

With Dhume’s article doing the rounds, it has run an editorial in response to the British decision, curiously titled “Talk is Cheap”:

“By disallowing Zakir Naik from delivering his lecture in Birmingham, Britain has simply made him a cause and handed him a megaphone, ensuring that his voice is amplified on blogs, social networks and other forums where disenfranchised and angry Muslims gather.

“This is not to say that Naik’s televangelism is not entirely free of objectionable or sometimes plain ridiculous content…. Naik is simply one corner in a larger field, and his ideas have been debated, endorsed or demolished, as the case may be, on very public platforms…. Words must be fought with words alone, not clumsy state action.

“Zakir Naik talks of ideas that some might abhor, but some others take all too seriously. Not permitting open discourse is to constrict the free play of disagreeement and disputation.”

Photograph: courtesy NDTV 24×7

Read the full column: The trouble with Dr Zakir Naik

Follow Sadanand Dhume on Twitter

Has R.K. Laxman drawn his last cartoon?

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: A question mark hangs over India’s most famous exclamation mark after a further slip in health of Rasipuram Krishnaswami Laxman, the iconic cartoonist of The Times of India.

The 86-year-old Laxman, who has drawn cartoons for ToI for 63 years, has been airlifted to Bombay, reportedly after suffering a “mild stroke”, and is receiving treatment at the Breach Candy hospital, family sources say.

(A report in The Times of India says he suffered three mini-strokes between Thursday and Saturday.)

Already a shadow of his former self after a first stroke seven years ago which affected his left hand, R.K. Laxman, as he is known to newspaper readers, was first admitted to the Sahyadri hospital in Poona, where he currently lives, but was airlifted to Bombay on Sunday evening.

(A PTI report in The Hindu says the three mild strokes have affected the right side of his body as also his speech.)

Mysore-born Laxman was last spotted at the engagement ceremony of his grand-niece in Bombay earlier this year.

Despite his first stroke, Laxman returned to draw the “You Said It!” pocket cartoon for The Times of India every morning, although the state of his health showed in the scraggly lines and often times in the cartoon being desultorily buried in the inside pages.

On days he doesn’t come up with a cartoon, ToI dips into its archives.

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Also read: Making all of us smile can make one of us cry

Look who inspired R.K. Laxman‘s common man!

External reading: The Ramon Magsaysay foundation citation

‘Indian journalism is regularly second-rate’

Indian media doesn’t know. That is the conclusion that has been reached by Aakar Patel, formerly of Asian Age, Deccan Chronicle, Mid-Day and Divya Bhaskar, as he tears into the Indian media in a column in Lounge, the Saturday supplement of the business daily Mint.

Indian journalists do not know how to ask questions. Indian journalists look for validation of their views rather than fresh information. Indian newspaper proprietors are more knowledgeable than editors. Indian writers are rarely asked to write for publications abroad because they are so bad.

And, since he is writing in a business paper, Patel takes care not to bite the hand that feeds.

“There are good journalists in India, but they tend to be business journalists. Unlike regular journalism, business journalism is removed from emotion because it reports numbers. There is little subjectivity and business channel anchors are calm and rarely agitated because their world is more transparent.

“Competent business reporting here, like CNBC, can be as good as business reporting in the West. This isn’t true of regular journalism in India, which is uniformly second rate….

“You could read Indian newspapers every day for 30 years and still not know why India is this way. The job of newspapers is, or is supposed to be, to tell its readers five things: who, when, where, what and why. Most newspapers make do with only three of these and are unlikely to really you ‘what’….”

Where would Indian journalism be if it weren’t for its columnists?

Photograph: courtesy My Space

Also read: SEBI chief: Business journalism or business of journalism?

Raju Narisetti: ‘Good journalists, poor journalism, zero standards’

New York Times: Why Indian media doesn’t take on Ambanis

CNBC barbs that resulted in a Rs 500 crore lawsuit

Pyramid Saimira, Tatva, and Times Private Treaties

How come none in the Indian media spotted Satyam fraud

Vir Sanghvi lashes out at Mint ‘censorship’

When a music mag (Rolling Stone) takes on Goldman Sachs

When Jon Stewart does the business interview of the year

External reading: Aakar Patel on working at The Asian Age

‘Tehelka’ announces its school of journalism

The Times of India, The Indian Express, Malayala Manorama, The Pioneer, Aaj Tak, NDTV… all have set up journalism schools. Now, Tehelka joins the club.

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

Yet another ranking of India’s best J-schools

Another day, another ranking of India’s top-10 institutes of mass communication. This time from Outlook* magazine’s annual ranking of India’s best professional colleges, conducted by the market research agency MDRA.

* Disclosures apply

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

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

How media kept Bhopal’s quest for justice alive

The Bhopal Gas Tragedy—not the 1984 one but the 2010 repeat—had everything going for it to be quickly consigned to the deepest crevices of our consciousness. A ridiculously long overdue verdict, a farcical sentence, poor (mostly Muslim) victims in a non-metropolitan city, the short memory of the public.

And then the fact that 1984 happened before the era of satellite TV.

Will media activism secure justice for Bhopal?” was, therefore, a question well worth asking on 8 June, after Judgment Day saw the eight accused get a comical two-year term (with a proviso for immediate bail) for killing 15,274 and maiming 574,000 people 25 years and six months earlier.

Would the media go hyper like it had done for Aarushi, Jessica and Ruchika, was a doubt on many a cynic’s lip.

To its redounding credit, it has.

The Bhopal issue has had an incredible run over the last two weeks, each day unravelling new and unknown facts and facets of the complicity of politicians, bureacurats, diplomats, industrialists—all those who allowed the tragedy to happen, all those who let the killers to run away, all those who want us to forgive some and forget the rest.

The media is often accused of lacking stamina and hunting in a pack. But for once, print and television—and indeed online—rose to the challenge, in India and the United States. And if the prime minister has had to constitute a group of ministers, the other reason is media pressure; the main reason of course is obvious.

The grid above gives a sampling of the vast array of people the media tapped over the last 12 days. Quotes, photographs, videos, official documents, CIA reports, newspaper clippings have all been unearthed to get to the bottom of the story and piece together the jigsaw.

So much so that former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson‘s house was staked, and his wife was interviewed at her doorstep.

The media hasn’t done a favour to the nation, of course, but a service that is expected of it. But in the ocean of cynicism that surrounds the media—of political patronage, ideological bias, paid news, corruption, etc— surely there is no harm in saluting a passing island?

The K-word, the P-word, the G-word, the A-word

The ghosts of Jammu & Kashmir seem to repeatedly haunt the BJP Rajya Sabha member and editor-in-chief of The Pioneer, the very erudite Chandan Mitra.

Over a decade ago, the journalist-activist Kuldip Nayar, then a member of the upper house, moved a privilege motion for an overly enthusiastic editorial that questioned Nayar’s patriotism.

In February this year, Mitra had to issue a front-page condemnation for the “wilful misrepresentation of views” expressed by him by a Kashmiri commentator in Kashmir Times.

Wrote Mitra:

“I am aghast at the diabolical attempt by certain persons with obvious separatist sympathies to distort my article “A ‘moth-eaten’ India?” by Ifthikar Gilani. A canard is being spread by a Kashmiri commentator Iftikhar Gilani, who writes for the Kashmir Times, that I have argued against the BJP’s stand on Jammu & Kashmir and advocated “free Kashmir or joint sovereignty” for the State. I am truly appalled by the deliberate and motivated distortion of my beliefs by Gilani and his ilk.”

And now this self-explanatory apology for a piece by G.N. Shaheen, general secretary of the J&K high court bar association, which carried the G-word thrice and began thus:

“Prime Minister Manmohan Singh talks of ‘zero tolerance’ on human rights abuses, but does nothing to rein in the Army from implementing a new policy of genocide which targets children—this renders his calls for peace bogus.”

The piece also carried this paragraph:

“Under the new pattern of genocide carried out by the authorities, young school-going children are targeted purposefully to deter future generations from embarking on the path of freedom. Asiya and Nelofar’s double murder at Shopian, the death of a class 7 student, Wamiq Farooq of Rainawari, the killing of class 9 student Zahid Farooq of Brian Nishat are but symbolic of this official policy. None of these children were militants or remotely connected with any political party, yet they had to loose their lives at the hands of the armed forces.”

Read the original piece here: New genocide policy in J&K

Also available here: Defence Forum of India

Also read: How Chandan Mitra has his halwa and hogs it too

The best editor The Pioneer never had?

Why (perhaps) the BJP sent Chandan Mitra to Rajya Sabha