Monthly Archives: March 2011

Will The Sunday Standard set the Yamuna on fire?

Dummy editions of The Sunday Standard, the weekly newspaper from the Madras-based New Indian Express group, have begun doing the rounds. The eight-page dummy printed on standard newsprint seems to suggest that the 21st century weekend paper will have a conventional, 1990s design.

Edited by former India Today editor Prabhu Chawla, the paper was originally slated to be launched on March 20, and is now rumoured to see the light of day in “early April“.

The Sunday Standard will compete with M.J. Akbar‘s Sunday Guardian, and the Crest edition of The Times of India for weekend readership. Former India Today executive editor, the cartoonist Ravi Shankar, is among the more familiar bylines in the dummy issue of The Sunday Standard.

The Sunday edition of the original Indian Express of Ramnath Goenka used to be sold under The Sunday Standard masthead, before the split in the family. The old title is being revived by the south-based Manoj Kumar Sonthalia to gain a foothold in Delhi in a manner that will circumvent the no-compete clause with the north and west-based Viveck Goenka.


Has Indian media aided ban on Gandhi book?

VINUTHA MALLYA writes from Ahmedabad: The ban masters are back in business. And as usual, vibrant Gujarat leads the way, but this time the Centre is not too far behind.

Narendra Damodardas Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat and renowned terminator of artistic freedom, has just announced the State’s “ban” on the book, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his Struggle with India by Pulitzer-winner and former New York Times journalist, Joseph Lelyveld.

The book’s sin: to have elicited reviews that hinted at the Mahatma’s bisexuality, despite the author’s denial of it.

Modi won the dash to the ban on Wednesday after Union law minister (and alleged author), M. Veerappa Moily, had announced in Poona earlier in the day that the Centre too was considering proscribing the book.

As the man in charge Gandhi’s homestate, “hands-on” Modi obviously couldn’t let somebody else be seen to be protecting its asmita before him. (For the record, the Congress government in Shiv Sena land, Maharashtra, too has announced a ban.)

None of the crusaders of Gandhi’s reputation have thought it worthy to read the book before publicly denouncing its content and conclusions:

“We have to think how to prevent such writings. They denigrate not only a national leader but also the nation,” said Moily.

Anyone remember Article 19? Anyone remember that Moily is both a lawyer and an author.

Modi, an old hand at ban baaja, has used this strategy in the past to his advantage: Jaswant Singh’s book on Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and his support in the unofficial banning of the films, Parzania and Fanaa, to name just two. While in the three instances, the issue was of inconvenient truths, in this case, he is angered that:

“The apostle of truth, peace and non-violence has been represented in a perverted manner”.

Look who’s talking about the apostle of truth, peace and non-violence, when Gandhi’s own great grandsons—Gopalakrishna Gandhi and Rajmohan Gandhi—and great grandson Tushar Gandhi have no problem!

Appropriating Gandhi is as fashionable as “denigrating” him, it seems.


More than the politicians pavlovian response to a book they haven’t seen, read or understood, it is the Indian media’s faithful participation in the process leading upto the ban that is the most disturbing. It is action replay of the ban on Salman Rushdie‘s Satanic Verses in 1989 based on a review of the book in India Today.

The question the Indian media need to ask themselves today is: Are reviews in Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph or The Wall Street Journal the last word on books or on Gandhi? Should we not read and make up our own mind as a mature democracy? At the very least, should we not expect the proscribers to know what they are talking about?

Gujarat’s (and Maharashtra’s) ban on the Gandhi book comes despite Lelyveld ‘s clarification that he had not said anything about Gandhi’s bi-sexuality, and that had he not claimed in his book that Gandhi was a racist.

So, what gives?

In Pratibha Nandakumar’s story of reactions from Bangaloreans in the Bangalore Mirror titled ‘Fashionable to slander Gandhi’, she states without provocation: “If this was a strategic publicity campaign, his agent gets full credit. Everybody wants to get a copy.”

At this rate, we just might not.

Lelyveld is no lightweight, fly-by-night author trying to rack up some sales by creating some buzz. He is a two-time executive editor of the New York Times whose previous tome was on apartheid in South Africa.

Yet, he finds his book banned despite his clarification to the Times of India in a story it ran on 29 March 2011.

In the ToI report, Ahmedabad-based Gandhian scholar Tridip Suhrud was reported not only to have interacted with Lelyveld when he was researching the book but also as having read it:

“He (Suhrud)  is aghast with the reviews and swears by Lelyveld…. Suhrud goes on to give full marks to Lelyveld and the book. He says it is the first political biography of Gandhi by an expert on apartheid,” says the ToI report.

This did not stop the world’s most-selling English daily’s city supplement, Ahmedabad Times, from posting two pages of “reactions” from “celebrities” on 30 March. Not one of them had read the book, and of the 19 celebrities interviewed only three were aware that the author had denied having made any of the claims that were doing the rounds in the UK and US media.

The others reacted variously to what they had read in the media, that it was wrong (of the author) to talk of Gandhi in this way. A sketchy paragraph that did not clarify the issue introduced this photo feature. The paper did not make it clear to the reader that the author had denied having called Gandhi a bisexual or racist.

Nor did it differentiate between the book and the reviews, making them both sound synonymous.

One wonders if the Daily News and Analysis (DNA) had access to the book when it quoted passages in the story it ran on 28 March, or if it simply borrowed the passages from what was floating around online.

On 30 March, in a comment appearing on Hindustan Times online, the writer reproduces a quote by Suhrud that appears in the book (“They were like a couple”) by dropping a key word (“They were a couple”), completely misrepresenting Suhrud in the process. Such is the rush of the press.

In an interview to The Indian Express on 29 March, Lelyveld told journalist Mandakini Gahlot:

“The reason Western media reports are highlighting the ‘bisexual and racist’ aspect is ‘because of the atmosphere we live in where anything is plucked off and reported everywhere as news. The news aggregators are full of it this morning. There is no real reporting, people have not even read the book.”

The God is in the details though.

Whether or not the author questioned Gandhi’s sexuality, Indians have always been uncomfortable with Gandhi’s own honesty.

At a seminar on Gandhi, which was organised by the women’s studies department of NMKRV College in Bangalore in the late 1990s, two young students were at the receiving end of Gandhians’ ire. Their offence was to publicly discuss, from a feminist perspective, his nocturnal experiments with the teenaged nieces.

When they wondered aloud, just as any young woman would (should?), if he had considered the impact of his experiment on the young 17-year-old’s mind, many members in the audience stormed out of the auditorium.

No debate, no discussion.

The latest ban is proof that nothing has changed, only the players have.

Photograph: Mahatma Gandhi (left) with the jewish bodybuilder Hermann Kallenbach (right), with whom he is alleged to have shared a relationship even while being happily married.

ET’s ‘Mint-killer’ sneaks in quietly on Sunday

First, a redesign of the paper. Then, a code of ethics. Now, a new look for the Sunday edition in a tabloid format. It’s all happening at India’s biggest business paper, The Economic Times, from The Times of India stable, in its golden jubilee year.

The 32-page, 10-rupee paper, internally touted as the “Mint-killer”—in other words, ET‘s response to Mint‘s weekend edition Lounge—arrives sans any announcement or advertisement, much like the redesign that was quietly introduced without any dhoom-dhamaka.

In its size, look and feel, the new paper bears likeness to ET Wealth, the weekly personal finance tabloid that was launched by ET in December 2010, under the helmsmanship of former Business Today editor Rohit Saran.

Image: courtesy The Economic Times

Home truths from the man behind Sachchi Baat

Former India Today editor Prabhu Chawla continues to enthrall with his answers on the website of The New Indian Express.

Volume I. No II.


Q: I haven’t got any news on the launch of Sunday Standard in Delhi. Have you shed your plans or postponed its launch? If so, when are you going to launch it?

A: We delayed the launch due to some technical problems and holi holidays. We would now be on news stands early next month.

Q: In what ways, are you going to launch Sunday Standard as something different from that of TOI Crest or Sunday Guardian?

A: We are not competing with anyone. There is no alternative to the Express DNA left behind by great Ram Nath Goenka.

Q: Why are there no Indian literary magazines, in English, of the stature of Granta or New Yorker? The New Indian Express group publishes a good one in Malayalam called ‘Malayalam Varika‘. Why not a good literary magazine in English?

A: Good idea. We will think about it.

Q: These days, when the highest selling newspapers peddle infotainment at the expense of serious journalism, is there any space left for newspapers to do any serious journalism, like in the late 70s and 80s?

A: Media must change with the times and also cater to the taste of new and young readers. But Indian Media, by and large, hasn’t given up serious reporting. Only a small percentage of its total space has been given to entertainment sector.

Q: When journos become power broker what would happen to free media?

A: We will lose freedom of expression. But Indian media is still the most fearless and independent. All the latest scams have been broken by the media only.

Q: I personally feel that the news content published on Sunday Express is less when compared to other papers published on Sundays. Would you take steps to increase the content?

A: Even if our quantity may be less, but quality of our news is much better. We will try to give more of more news.

Q: Why is TNIE not covering all the recent negative developments in Orissa?

A: What do you mean by negative developments? We cover news on merit and not because of it negative or positive nature. We don’t have any agenda other than reporting without fear or favour.

Q: Why are all the fearless columnists missing now in Editorial/OpEd pages? Almost all articles appearing in the paper now look like they’re being sponsored. Is this the end of TNIE?

A: Please let me know the names of so called fearless columnists you are missing.

Q: It looks like Aditya Sinha‘s departure and your entry have brought an end to the neutral stand taken by the TNIE? Do you have any plan to make the TNIE another pseudo-secular media?

A: Individuals like me come and go and they don’t matter. Institutions do and they survive individuals. TNIE group remains what it was when great Ram Nath Goenka started it- fearless.

Q: The New Indian Express is way behind its competitors in TN, AP and Karnataka. With the Deccan Chronicle and TOI eyeing the Kerala market, the NIE is bound to lose its strong base in Kerala too. Do you have any plans to end the marginalisation?

A: Please competition brings the best out of you. It is great news for us as all of us will be able to create new readership for English newspapers. Finally, readers will have many more options. They will choose the best. We are better than the best!

Q: The Hindu is serialising ‘WikiLeaks’ documents. It says that no money has been paid for the documents. The Hindu is known for its Marxist-Islamist agenda. They are certain to doctor the WikiLeaks documents in favour of CPM, China and Iran. Would you agree?

A: Sorry. I differ with you. The Hindu is doing a great professional job on Wikileaks.

Q: Why don’t you dispatch the New Indian Express (Chennai Edition) by air to Mumbai like ‘The Hindu‘ does?

A: We can do it only if a subscribe sends us a request because it involves extra cost. We are finding some solution.

Q: I believe your answer in this section as TNIE editor will always be a diplomatic one. Is there any other platform where we can get Mr. Prabhu’s personal opinion?

A: I am not a duplicitous personality.

Also read: Straight drives from the man behind Seedhi Baat

The Times of India ‘apology’ for fixing report

The Times of India has said mea culpa to a story published on its website, suggesting that there was more to the February 21World Cup match between Australia and Zimbabwe.

In the match played at Ahmedabad, the Aussies scored 0-5 off their first two overs and were 0-28 after 11 overs. Australia eventually made 262 for 6 of their 50 overs. Zimbabwe were bowled out for 171.

“The slow rate of scoring in the first two overs was scrutinised by the ICC anti-corruption and security unit,” the website of the Indian Express said in a report from Press Trust of India, according to The Australian newspaper.

However, an “apology” has come from The Times of India.

A correction

NEW DELHI:The Times of India carried a story on its website on March 22 alleging that the match between Australia and Zimbabwe had been spot-fixed. We apologise to Australia, Cricket Australia and ICC for any embarrassment caused by this.

We also accept that at no stage has the ICC ever confirmed or suggested the match was fixed.

The story has since been taken off the website.

Link via Shobha S.V.

What the media toilet at PMO says about India

The state of Indian newspapers and news channels (and magazines*) can be judged by the condition of their toilets. And so, it seems, can the state of the most important address in the country—that of the prime minister of the democratic, socialist, secular republic of India.

A correspondent for an English news channel forwards a picture of what passes off as a toilet for the media scrum waiting outside the prime minister’s office at 7, Race Course Road in New Delhi.

The correspondent writes: 

“Till 2006, the media was allowed to wait for visitors to the PM’s house at a media stand built during the prime ministership of Atal Behari Vajpayee and located inside the сompound of the PM’s residence.

“”It had a covered roof to give protection to reporters and cameramen against sun and rain, and given its location some amount of care was taken for its upkeep and maintenance.

“In 2006, the special protection group (SPG) guarding the PM ejected the media from the precincts of the PMO after some TV channels made the trespassing of two girls and a boy a breach-of-security issue.

“The media gaggle now waits on the other side of the road (near Race Course). Visitors to the PMO now have to walk across the road and talk to them. Needless to say, many media people spend the whole day here.

“The PMO has erected a temporary toilet for the media, facing the exit gate of 7, RCR. The media and police share the toilet and more often than not, it is dirty and stinking.” 

Newspapers used to bribe voters in Tamil Nadu

The second tranche of American diplomatic cables published by The Hindu today in collaboration with Wikileaks, throws light on how newspapers—yes—have become a delivery vehicle for politicians and parties to deliver cash to voters at the time of elections.

The paper quotes from a cable sent by Frederick J. Kaplan, acting principal officer of the US consulate-general in Madras, to the State department, after meeting M. Puttarajan, an aide of Union chemicals and fertilisers minister M.K. Azhagiri, son of the Tamil Nadu chief M. Karunanidhi:

“In an instructive and entertaining section titled ‘Can I get another morning paper?’ Kaplan explained the modus operandi for cash distribution adopted by the DMK in Thirumangalam: “Rather than using the traditional practice of handing cash to voters in the middle of the night, in Thirumangalam, the DMK distributed money to every person on the voting roll in envelopes inserted in their morning newspapers.

“In addition to the money, the envelopes contained the DMK ‘voting slip’ which instructed the recipient for whom they should vote.” This, Kaplan noted, “forced everyone to receive the bribe.” Patturajan , he wrote, “confirmed the newspaper distribution method of handing out money, but questioned its efficiency. He [Patturajan] pointed out that giving bribes every voter wasted money on committed anti-DMK voters, but conceded that it was an effective way to ensure the cash reached every potential persuadable voter”.

The Kaplan cable reports that Patturajan expected difficulties in replicating the Thirumangalam model in the 2009 parliamentary election because the Lok Sabha constituency was seven times the size of the Assembly seat.

According to the cable:

“Azhagiri has been forced to ratchet the payment back down to more typical levels, but he still plans on giving it to every voter through the newspaper distribution method.”

Little wonder every politician and political party wants to start a newspaper?

Cartoon: courtesy Keshav/ The Hindu

Also read: How The Hindu got hold of the Wikileaks India cables

How the US hunted down Reuters’ staffers