Monthly Archives: February 2011

The minister, the prime minister & the advisor

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Was the information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni invited to the prime minister’s inquisition on television? Or not?

Depends on which paper you read.

If you read The Indian Express (top) on Monday, for instance, she was informed by the PMO about the interaction but then told about the space crunch and asked to stay away. If you read the Hindustan Times (below) on Tuesday, it was all the handiwork of the PM’s media advisor Harish Khare.

Images: courtesy Indian Express (top), Hindustan Times

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Also read: Why the PM is hopelessly wrong about the media

How well is Harish Khare advising the prime minister?

Because when dog bites dog, it’s news—I

Because when dog bites dog, it’s news—II

Never believe anything until it’s officially denied

Rajeev Chandrasekhar buying a Malayalam daily?

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the mobile phone baron turned media entrepreneur, is spreading his news media presence wings some more in the South.

After buying Asianet News in Kerala and launching Suvarna News in Karnataka, the Rajya Sabha member is about to obtain controlling stake in Kannada Prabha, the Kannada daily owned by the New Indian Express group.

Now, the New Indian Express reports that Chandrasekhar is looking at picking up a 49% stake in the Malayalam daily, Mangalam.

“Consultations are at a final stage for the deal between Mangalam daily and Asianet News, which may turn out  as a big financial breather for  the cash-strapped Mangalam group of publications.

“The idea is to float a joint stock venture with a common banner and bring the daily, which claims a fourth position in the regional language circulation-wise, and its future development under the new company.

“Though the Mangalam group was reportedly angling for a Rs 100 crore through the deal, Asianet News is willing to spare only Rs 20 crore plus for the JV. As per the proposal, various other publications of  Mangalam will be retained by the old company…. The editions of  the Mangalam daily, currently at five, is likely to be doubled as part of  the revamp.”

There is also plenty of buzz in the market that Rajeev Chandrasekhar is contemplating the launch of a web venture and an English news channel directed at markets in the South.

Link via Ramesh P.

Illustration: courtesy The Telegraph

Also read: Rajeev Chandrasekhar eyeing Kannada Prabha?

It’s official: Rajeev ChandrasekharKP alliance

Rajeev Chandrasekhar among India Today media barons

Why the PM is hopelessly wrong about media

T.J.S. GEORGE writes: Does the media distort facts? The Prime Minister thinks so. By “focussing excessively” on scam after scam, does the media spoil India’s image? The Prime Minister thinks so. For the leader of a government that is neck-deep in scams, it is natural to think as the Prime Minister does. But that does not make it right. In fact the Prime Minister is hopelessly wrong.

Manmohan Singh was in conversation with television editors. A great deal can be said in criticism of news channels. Generally speaking, they are amateurish, childish in their “me first” claims, irritating in their competitive sensationalism, more irritating in their loudness, superficial, repetitive and often plain unprofessional. But, like newspapers, they are essentially mirrors.

News journalism may have its weaknesses, but functionally it merely reflects the reality around it. It does not generate governmental corruption, it only reports it. If scams demoralise the nation and spoil the image of the country, the blame lies squarely with politicians and officials and fixers who produce the scams and benefit from them. The Prime Minister must attack the scamsters, not the mirrors.

Actually, the media is doing an incomparably valuable national service by bringing corruption to public attention. After all, if the media had resolved not to do anything that would “spoil India’s image,” what would have happened? The shame of India would have spread anyway as the world would have known that India was a country where a roll of toilet paper could be sold for Rs 4000, and where decisions on spectrum allocations were made in Chennai’s Gopalpuram area, and where there were billionaires with more illegal funds in Swiss banks than billionaires in the top five countries put together. It is the people of India who would have remained in the dark about the extent of their rulers’ criminalities.

Worse, India would have sunk deeper and deeper into corruption since the corrupt would have been emboldened by the fact that they would never be exposed. The media, for all its excesses, has put the fear of god into the hearts of the criminally inclined politician, bureaucrat and “crony capitalist”. That even their private conversations may someday become public property is one of the best disincentives we have against corruption. The Prime Minister would have been smart to acknowledge this instead of suggesting that the media was negative in its attitude.

It is true that the media also has developed a taste for corruption. It has a long way to go before it can be called mature and creative. But even in its present three-fourth-baked state, it performs the function of a conscientious opposition. Without the media playing this role, Indian democracy would lose much of its substance especially since the formal opposition in Parliament is playing a petty obstructionist’s role.

Both in Delhi and in the various states, the Opposition’s role is to oppose – oppose for the sake of opposing. If the Government says the sun rises in the West, the Opposition will say: No, it rises in the North. In no other democracy is Parliament’s functioning completely blocked as a form of Opposition politics. Even on urgently needed social and electoral reforms, they never show the unanimity they readily bring out when their salary increase bills come up for passing. When corruption cases come up, different parties take different positions as all are entrenched in corruption in different ways.

In such an environment the media becomes the only reliable forum for actionable information and democratic mobilisation. Even those who get the wrong end of the stick really have no reason to grumble.

As Ram Mohan Roy explained:

“A government conscious of rectitude of intention cannot be afraid of public scrutiny by the Press since this instrument can be equally well employed as a weapon of defence”.

Those who are beyond defence cannot of course use the weapon. But Manmohan Singh should have known that the real scoundrels who spoil India’s image are outside the media.

‘Bollywood journalism is about PR & pimping’

Nandita Puri, journalist and wife of actor Om Puri, in an interview in Tehelka magazine:

Q: What are the biggest problems in Bollywood journalism today?

A: Bollywood journalism is about PR and pimping. Of course, stars have glamours personal lives everyone wants to know about, but now that has become the core of film reportage. Occasionally, you hear about an actor doing a good job. There is a very sleazy side to it. They raise a person to the sky and when the PR companies are off the payroll, they hit back. The media is on a high now but eventually it will get exhausted.

Also read: Khalid Mohamed on ToI, DNA, HT and the stars

It takes 3 Idiots to call the bluff of pauper tigers

Jug Suraiya takes on Amitabh Bachchan

Singer accuses reviewer of sexual assault

In its golden jubilee year, ET gets a new design

Quietly, almost as if it doesn’t want anybody to notice, India’s oldest and largest business paper,The Economic Times, has undergone a redesign. On top is the front page of the launch issue of the paper in its new avatar (Monday, 14 February 2011) and below is the paper from exactly a week before.

The pagination of the paper from The Times of India stable, which turns 50 this year, remains more or less the same. There are no new pages or sections. In other words, old wine in slick new bottle is enough to ward off the design challenge posed by the Hindustan Times‘ business paper, Mint.

The key changes are in the colour of the masthead from blue to black; new headline fonts; a tighter body font taking it closer towards the body font of ToI; and plenty of icons and logos, even in headlines. Keen observers of design will notice subtle shades of inspiration from designs of The Guardian, The Observer and International Herald Tribune.

The top-secret redesign, which has been subtly introduced sans announcement, has reportedly been executed by Itu Chaudhuri Associates, which designed the original template for Open magazine and was behind some of India’s best book covers in the late 1990s, including Arundhati Roy‘s Booker Prize winning God of Small of Things.

Images: courtesy The Economic Times

Also read: Good heavens, another Mario Garcia redesign

Yet another paper redesigned by Mario Garcia

How come Mario Garcia didn’t redesign this one?

Finally, a redesign not done by Mario Garcia

Less is better for the new, redesigned rediff.com

A new editor for Udayavani. New editions next?

Udayavani, the Kannada daily published by the Pais of Manipal, has a new editor from today: Ravi Hegde.

Hegde, former editor of the Rajeev Chandrasekhar-owned 24×7 Kannada news channel Suvarna News, joins the paper published from Bangalore, Mangalore and Bombay at a time of great churning in the Kannada media. He has been designed group editor, and there is a front-page, column one announcement in today’s edition.

The former Vijaya Karnataka editor Vishweshwar Bhat joined Kannada Prabha as editor-in-chief ten days ago. Ravi Hegde was executive editor of Kannada Prabha, before leaving to join the Suvarna stable.

The Kannada daily market is dominated by Vijaya Karnataka, owned by The Times of India group, and Praja Vani, belonging to the Deccan Herald group. The two are followed by Samyukta Karnataka and Kannada Prabha.

The Pais of Manipal—pioneers in banking and education—intend giving the 5th placed, 42-year-old Udayavani (average issue readership 8.9 lakh, IRS Q3, 2010) a push with the new editor and new editions.

Sudhakar Babu, till recently marketing head of Vijaya Karnataka, has joined the Manipal Group as director marketing in a move replete with possibilities.

Image: courtesy Udayavani, photograph via Facebook

How well is the PM’s media advisor advising him?

Of all the reasons being trotted out for prime minister Manmohan Singh‘s declining equity, his media management skills rank somewhere near the very top. Despite a full-fledged media advisor in his entourage, the bush telegraph is that Manmohan has been poorly served by Harish Khare, the former deputy editor of The Hindu.

Although Manmohan Singh has addressed the Indian media more often in the last nine months than he ever did under four years of his previous advisor Sanjaya Baru (currently editor of Business Standard), Khare is variously seen to be stern, selective, stentorian, staccato.

In other words, just too straight-forward when the job profile demands greater “adjustment” and malleability.

A one-on-one interview with the resident of 7, Race Course Road, is out of the pale of probability, of course. But even background briefings offering an inside view of what’s happening are rare and spinning a story to show the administration in good light is almost non-existent in the former opinion writer’s thesaurus.

In fact, the one story that probably prompted the scam-tarred PM to call the TV “editors” and anchors to come to his residence—the S-band scam which puts the prime minister’s office in the spotlight—was published in Khare’s previous place of work: The Hindu.

At yesterday’s pow-wow, when Arnab Goswami cleared his throat to ask a supplementary question, Khare admonished him on live TV. “Mr Goswami, this is not an interrogation of the prime minister,” Khare reminded the Times Now editor-in-chief.

Result: easy meat. First for reporters and then for cartoonists.

Cartoon: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today

Also read: Because when dog bites dog, it’s news—I

Because when dog bites dog, it’s news—II

Never believe anything until it’s officially denied