Monthly Archives: October 2010

‘If we don’t get it first, why should we want it?’

Network 18 bossman, Raghav Bahl, receives some loaded questions from Sunil Jain of the Financial Express, in an interaction with journalists of the The Indian Express group:

Sunil Jain: The SEBI chief [M. Damodaran] once spoke of  “anchor-investors”. Also, how do you justify your getting into private treaties?

Raghav Bahl: On “anchor-investors”, I never quite understood what Damodaran was saying. It is easy to accuse. I went to the SEBI chairman and said, “If there an iota of evidence, please give it to me in confidence. I assure you action will be taken.” But there was nothing. No evidence.

On paid news, a business journalist is under suspicion ab initio. This is what I have learnt in 20 years. Because when you say something is good, the first inference is that this guy is on the take. It is a cross that a business journalist carries. But I don’t think that is true.

At the end of the day, in my experience of 20 years, I don’t think anybody has ever produced anything tangible against any of our journalists. Errors, yes, they certainly happen. Do you get setup by somebody? Yes, you do. You can make a mistake but you correct it quickly.

Coming to private treaties, we did treaties of the value of Rs 30 to 40 crore. That’s all we did. We believe commercially, it is a loss-making model. Because 45 per cent of your non-cash revenues are out of your pocket on Day 1–in service tax and income tax. So we believe it is a loss-making model. We stopped it.

Sunil Jain: What about the ethics of it?

Raghav Bahl: Ethics can be compromised even without a treaties deal. Why will you do a treaty to compromise ethics? If you need to compromise ethics, why will you take your money in cheque, backed by 10 pages of an agreement? So I do not buy the ethics point at all. It’s a revenue earning mechanism, but is an extremely inefficient mechanism. I think it is a legitimate use of your editorial position.

Sunil Jain: How do you justify CNBC walking out of interviews if another channel gets them first?

Raghav Bahl: I think it’s a legitimate use of your editorial position. Don’t you do it? If the prime minister is giving you an appointment, won’t you want it first? It is a legitimate effort by a journalist to get it first.

Also read: What Raghav Bahl could learn from Samir Jain

Business journalism or business of journalism?

Is ethical journalism is a bad word at CNBC-TV18?

MTV isn’t the only channel making a bakra out of you

The media and the stock market collapse

Ramnath Goenka excellence in journalism awards

The Ramnath Goenka Memorial Foundation is inviting entries for the 2009 Excellence in Journalism awards.

The awards are open for both print and broadcast journalists in 18 categories with cash prizes and scholarships on offer. The last date for entries is 15 November 2010.

Visit www.expressindia.com/rngf for further details.

Email: rngf@expressindia.com

Image: courtesy The Indian Express

B.G. VERGHESE: The declaration of Emergency

The former Indian Express and Hindustan Times editor B.G. Verghese has just released his memoirs, First Draft (Tranquebar). This excerpt, carried by HT last week, captures the declaration of Emergency and the introduction of press censorship by Indira Gandhi‘s regime in 1975.

***

By B.G. VERGHESE

A little before 2 am on June 26 [1975], the phone rang in my bedroom. It was Abhay Chajjlani, editor of Nai Dunia from Indore. Was anything happening in Delhi, he asked anxiously? I asked why he thought so. He said his premises, like those of other newspapers in Indore, had been raided, the presses stopped and all newspaper bundles seized. Political leaders had been arrested.

I said I would find out and call back if I could.

Another call followed immediately thereafter from Romesh Chandra of The Hind Samachar, Jullundur, sounding a similar alarm. I rang Romesh Thapar, who exclaimed, “My God, so it’s happened!”

I called the HT. The city edition was still in the midst of its first run. I asked the news editor to summon the bureau chief, chief reporter, photographers and all possible hands to scour the city and to alert our state correspondents and be prepared to run a new late edition or a special supplement. I would be coming over immediately.

…I got to the HT by 2.30 am by when one or two others had trickled in. We added a ‘stop press’ insertion to the late city edition under printing. We also prepared to bring out an early-morning supplement, to hit the streets as soon as possible with whatever news we could gather, and with whatever staff was available, as many sub-editors, compositors and press workers had gone off the night shift.

A reporter rang to say the Cabinet had been summoned for an urgent meeting at 6 am at the prime minister’s residence…. The promulgation of the internal Emergency was conveyed to a subdued Cabinet on the 26th morning with only Swaran Singh raising a mildly questioning voice.

Meanwhile, the first posters went up in the HT press noticeboards stating that the editor and a clique of anti-people journalists could not put the livelihood of the press workers and staff in jeopardy. By now the management was astir and had summoned the watch and ward to bar us from entry to the press, and shut it off.

With great difficulty we managed to get, maybe, a couple of hundred copies of our June 26 Emergency Supplement printed before the rotary ground to a halt. We collected those precious copies and carried them out for selective private distribution by journalist staff.

I retained a copy. It is probably now a collector’s item.

Photograph: Femina editor Vimla Patil interviews Indira Gandhi, with H.Y. Sharada Prasad, then the prime minister’s press secretary, in the background, in 1974 (courtesy Vimla Patil)

Also read: A deep mind with a straight spine who stands tall

Kuldeep Nayar: Hindu, HT were the worst offenders in 1975

H.Y. Sharada Prasad: Middle-class won’t understand Indira

People, not the press, are the real fourth estate in India

Income, outgo, assets, liabilities, profit and loss

With journalistic integrity, both individual and institutional, increasingly under question with the spurt of paid news, private treaties, mediating, brokering and other wheeling and dealing, there have been growing calls for journalists to also declare their assets and liabilities, much like politicians, judges and bureaucrats.

Ravi Belagere (in picture), the colourful and sometimes controversial editor of the Kannada tabloid Hi Bangalore!—whose ad-free menu is a heady cocktail of crime, cinema, sleaze, politics and literature—has been doing just that on the pages of his paper for years now.

Every September, the popular and prolific Belagere, who also writes and publishes books, hosts television shows, acts in movies, and runs a school on top of his journalistic duties, publishes not so much a list but a confessional of what he holds and what he owes.

This is Belagere’s deeply personal “P&L statement” for the year gone by (translated from the original Kannada), published in the October 7 issue of Hi Bangalore!.

If nothing else, it offers a start.

By RAVI BELAGERE

“It is account-giving time once again.

“For someone who rode to Bangalore on his motorcycle with Rs 380 in his pocket, if I am anything today, it is because of Hi Bangalore!. For 15 years, I have been a humble servant of you, my reader, and it is my duty to present my accounts before you, my master.

“Except for two buses which I purchased for Prarthana School, I did not obtain any moveable assets  this year. For my personal use, I have a Skoda and Volkswagen, with the Skoda being put to greater use. But, as you are aware, in the second-half of the last year, my movements were restricted [due to an illness].

“There is a Maruti Omni in the garage for the use of the office staff. The Ind-Suzuki and Bullet motorcycles that are so dear to me, continue to remain parked there.

“I did not buy any new clothes either but I did buy books as if they were going out of fashion.

“I purchased a house-site in ‘Karishma Hills’ on the outskirts of Bangalore in the name of [third son] Karna and work on a new house has begun. I have bequeathed my Padmanabhnagar house, Amma, and a flat to my daughter Bhavana. The other house in Seshadripuram is already with my other daughter Chetana. At the moment, my wife Lalitha, mother-in-law, children, grandchildren, me and the dog stay in our Banashankari house, Ammi Jaan.

“Last year, I had purchased a house that [woman Friday] Nivedita had bought and donated it to Seena (nick name of Srinivas), who has been with me and been my shadow for nearly 30 years.

“As for my office, my friends keep teasing me,  ‘This is your Brindavana’. In Brahmin patois, Brindavana means final resting place. This office is my own.

“I have only one bank account, at Karnataka Bank, and have debts of nearly Rs 4 crore.

“Last year, I paid income-tax of Rs 54,44,450.

“Both the newspaper and the publishing house are in the black. The monthly employee costs of Hi Bangalore! is about Rs 4,20,000, and Nivedita is the highest-paid employee.

“There are 349 employees in Prarthana School which has 5,900 students. Their annual wage bill is Rs 2,00,82,000. Prarthana has four buildings of its own, and a small playground. Besides, I have rented two rooms. This year,too, principal Sheela was honoured by the government for the 100% pass-rate in SSLC.

“As you are aware, I devote a portion of my profits for poor students and the sick and ailing. Several children, all the way up to engineering and medical students, are availing the scholarship instituted in the name of my friend ‘SitanadiSurendra. The good news this year is that one of the girls is appearing for the IAS. Tens of heart and kidney patients, cancer victims, HIV-afflicted are benefitting from the donations.

“All the money for these ventures comes from you, the reader. My task is merely to distribute it.

“This year, thanks to my laziness, I did not write a single book. The publication of O Manase suffered hiccups for the same reason.

“From the moment Hi Bangalore! was born, my friend R.T. Vittal Murthy has been with me through thick and thin. He is my biggest asset.

“After this declaration, what more is there to admit?”

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: ‘Editors and senior journalists must declare assets’

Ayodhya headline gets Times of India in a jam

India’s “liberal” English media, the pet hate of the RSS-BJP-VHP for its “pseudo-secular” way of looking at its actions and transgressions, has once again become the favourite target of “pseudo-nationalists” emboldened by the Allahabad high court judgement in the Ayodhya title dispute.

On the evening of the judgement, the BJP’s Ravi Shankar Prasad, a counsel for one of the petitioners, spent plenty of airtime patting himself on the back, strutting around as an apostle of peace, and barking at English TV anchors from Barkha Dutt to Rajdeep Sardesai.

The print media has not been immune from criticism either.

The Times of India apparently received much criticism for its “2 parts for Hindus, 1 part for Muslims” banner headline (above) to the lead story by senior editor Manoj Mitta, an accurate summation of the court verdict which trifurcated the disputed land.

So much so, the paper has a clarification on the front page today.

Also read: The newspaper cartoon that offended Christians

Why ToI was right to use The Last Supper motif

Newspaper cartoon that’s offending Israelis

Newspaper cartoon that’s offending Aussies

A deep mind with a straight spine who stands tall

B.G. Verghese, the Magsaysay Award-winning editor, author and columnist, has penned his memoirs, First Draft, “a worm’s eye-view of history as an individual saw it“.

“George”, as Mr Verghese is better known, did a stint as media advisor to then prime minister Indira Gandhi. Appointed editor of the Congress-friendly Hindustan Times in 1969, he grew critical of her actions. When he suggested that “her annexation of Sikkim was less than proper”, the K.K. Birla-owned paper sacked him.

The veteran editor, author and columnist T.J.S. George pays tribute to a gentle giant who stands tall.

***

By T.J.S. GEORGE

Out of the blue, as it were, a new and wholly unexpected voice broke above the newspaper din in India in 1959.

In a politics-obsessed world, this voice began talking about development projects—Bhakra Nangal, Damodar valley, Hirakund, Nagarjunasagar—and then about “brand names of distinction” like HAL, HMT, BHEL, ONGC etc.

These were all new terms at that time and the overall picture that came through was that of a massive change under way in the thinking as well as structural composition of India.

It was as good as a scoop.

That was B.G. Verghese’s entry into public attention. He had entered journalism ten years earlier, unplanned and unprepared, and spent time writing editorial notes until he got himself transferred to reporting. His ground-breaking reportage on “the temples of Modern India” was a departure for journalism itself.

Verghese’s editors in the Times of India recognised this and published his series on the front page. (Those were days when the ToI was a NEWSpaper led by some of the finest journalists India has known.)

The freshness of his “Bharat Darshan” tours and the importance of the message his reports conveyed remained the trademarks of Verghese’s journalism ever since. It made him a unique institution not comparable to anybody else in the vast galaxy of Indian journalism.

It gave his career a historical edge.

Hence the relevance of his just-published autobiography, a big-ticket 573-page tome called First Draft: Witness to the Making of Modern India (Tranquebar).

Frank Moraes, once Verghese’s editor, titled his political autobiography Witness to an Era. Both men were witnesses to great events and both were professionals to the core. But there the comparison ends. Moraes was ideologically partisan: Pro-American, pro-big business, anti-communist.

Verghese has strong views, but no ideological hangups.

Verghese crammed several lives into one. He was a reporter, an editor, a traveller, a bureaucrat as information adviser to the Prime Minister, visiting professor at the Centre for Policy Research, fellow of the Administrative Staff College of India, Chairman of the Commonwealth Human Rights Commission and of course author.

The journalist prevails over all others in the writing of this autobiography. So his account of events, his references to the dramatis personae and his summing-up observations have the appeal of honesty, not the evasiveness of diplomacy.

His stint as adviser to Indira Gandhi allows him to speak frankly about the reality of high-level activities—how drafts for after-dinner speeches are finalised only after the dinner has started, how the Government does not work out a world view and relies instead on tired slogans, “the haphazard manner in which government functioned and the Prime Minister’s inexperience in so many matters”.

Verghese’ assessment of Indira Gandhi is a highlight of the book. He pays tribute to her qualities of leadership, the dignity of her deportment, her pride in India. But he is unsparing in his condemnation of the Emergency, the “savage and thoroughly illegal demolition orgy” of Sanjay Gandhi and of Indira’s own “split personality”.

B.G.Verghese is a serious person, concerned with serious, “un-sexy” topics like water resources. That makes his humour more appealing. The quality of his mind is reflected in the lightness with which he describes his introduction to the Prime Minister’s secretariat.

“There was no airconditioner in the room as the previous incumbent was a mere deputy secretary who ‘as per rules’ was not entitled to feel overly hot. The official theory was that the blood grew thinner with ascending seniority, entitling the officer to one, two or more airconditioners. The same theory worked for arm rests, back rests and foot rests….. Nor did I allow my chaprassi to hover around the car park in the morning to relieve me of my briefcase the moment I arrived. Official research had established that senior officers carry so much responsibility that the weight of a briefcase could do incalculable damage to their spine.”

His briefcase tightly held in his own hand, Verghese kept his spine straight and walked tall.

Photograph: B.G. Verghese with grand-daughters Naina and Diya at the launch of his memoirs, First Draft, in New Delhi on Wednesday (courtesy Oinam Anand/ The Indian Express)

Also read: As the year ends, a lament for the media

How Arun Shourie slighted B.G. Verghese et al