Monthly Archives: March 2011

In the sushi bowl, even a tsunami feels good

One of the biggest earthquakes ever, registering 8.9 on the Richter scale. A tsunami wave that has killed thousands, left hundreds homeless, and destroyed billions worth of assets. And a nuclear disaster that is just waiting to erupt.

But guess how Bangaloreans are being reassured that all is well in the bubble they inhabit?

That, thank heavens, their sushi meal won’t be affected despite all this misery; that the Japanese restaurants in the City have stocked up on six months’ supplies.

Image: courtesy The Times of India

Advertisements

How The Hindu got hold of Wikileaks’ India cables

The Hindu has a massive, six-million-word scoop today.

The newspaper has gained access to the 5,100 US embassy cables with the State department, thanks to Wikileaks, and has begun publishing them in tranches. (So far, only 40 or so cables relating to India have seen the light of day.)

The cables, in the words of the paper’s editor-in-chief N. Ram, provide:

unprecedented insights into India’s foreign policy and domestic affairs, diplomatic, political, economic, social, cultural, and intellectual“.

Besides, Ram, five senior journalists have pieces in today’s paper, analysing the cables: Suresh Nambath, Nirupama Subramanian, P. Sainath, Siddharth Varadarajan and Hasan Suroor.

The Hindu reportage is also remarkable for the candour with which the paper reveals how it got hold the cables and how it proceeded to put them out.

“Hopes of getting our hands on the entire India Cache rose in the second half of December when [Wikileaks founder] Julian Assange spoke, in a newspaper interview, of  “the incredible potential of the Indian media” in a context of “a lot of corruption” (waiting to be exposed), a rising middle class, and growing access to the internet – and specifically mentioned and praised The Hindu.

“Our active contacts with WikiLeaks resumed in mid-February 2011. A breakthrough was achieved without any fuss, resulting in a detailed understanding on the terms and modus of publication, including redacting (where, and only where, necessary) and compliance with a security protocol for protecting and handling the sensitive material – and we had the whole cache of the India Cables in our hands in early March.

“Unlike the experience of the five western newspapers, which were involved in a prolonged and complex collaborative venture even while making independent publication choices (described in two books published by The Guardian and The New York Times), The Hindu’s receipt, processing, and publication of the cables is a standalone arrangement with WikiLeaks, which, as in the case of the five newspapers, has no say in the content of stories we publish based on the cables.

“We quickly assembled a team of experienced journalists – writers, including foreign correspondents, and editors – as well as digital information and data specialists for the India Cables publication project, to which we gave no particular name.

“The team worked long hours in a secured office space, practically without a day’s break, sifting through the data, categorising, segmenting, and speed-reading the cables, searching with keywords, redacting if necessary, making a large first selection of what seemed most relevant and interesting, and re-reading the cables to write dozens of stories, formatting and uploading the cables online for global reach.

“Quiet, controlled excitement reigned for the most part within the confined environment, even when fatigue set in and nerves were frayed. It is still work in progress.”

The paper also places on record, upfront, that “the India Cables have been accessed by The Hindu through an arrangement with WikiLeaks that involves no financial transaction and no financial obligations on either side.”

Elsewhere, on the edit page, the paper’s deputy editor Siddharth Varadarajan, while analysing the cables on Iran’s nuclearisation, carries this curious paragraph:

“The challenge for Washington was to get India off the fence, especially when this would be seen in India as siding with the U.S. “An op-ed by a reliably anti-American reporter for The Hindu on September 1 encouraged the GOI to stand by Iran as the ‘litmus test’ of India’s willingness to pursue an ‘ independent’ foreign policy,” the cable noted.

Meanwhile, Varadarajan has clarified on Twitter just who the said “reliably anti-American repoter for The Hindu” was: Amit Baruah, former Islamabad and Colombo correspondent of the paper who joined BBC Hindi as its head.

Why an editor took two empty suitcases to Libya

There is little doubt, as the Niira Radia tapes showed, that journalistic integrity in India is at an all-time low—despite the manifold increase in salaries—especially since the liberalisation process began in 1991 and the notional capital of the media moved from Bombay to Delhi.

Whispers of editors who own power plants and mines, of reporters who are joint venture partners in shopping complexes and apartment blocks, of honchos who buy helicopters, fix arms deals, etc, are now so common that it barely registers on the shock-o-meter these days.

Worse, the epidemic has spread far and wide, from beyond Bombay and Delhi to the hinterland, to the State capitals and big cities, where journalists, cutting across language barriers, have mastered the art of “monetising” their positions and visiting cards.

But, no names!

Working under the Khushwant Singh motto that dead men can’t sue, and using the ongoing eruption in the Middle East as the peg, Outlook editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta drops a couple of names in the latest issue of the weekly newsmagazine:

“Now that Muammar Gaddafi is the flavour of the month, let me recount the story of two flamboyant Indian editors, R.K. Karanjia (Blitz) and Ayub Syed (Current) who, alas, are no longer with us. Both made annual visits to Gaddafi’s tent in Tripoli.

“Ayub, who could be disarmingly candid, once mentioned to me that he was off to Libya to meet the great leader. “I never forget to take two empty suitcases with me when I meet him and on the way back I always stay for one day at Zurich.”

“Russi was much more cunning and made no such admission, but he also went on his annual pilgrimage and came back loaded. At that time these were the only two journalists/editors who had direct contact with Gaddafi.

“Incidentally, it was one of these gentlemen who came back with the offer Gaddafi made to Indira Gandhi: sell me the bomb technology and India will never be short of oil.

“One afternoon Ayub was buying me lunch. He looked relaxed and seemed in no hurry to get back to the office. I was. When I asked him to call for the bill, he said, “What is your hurry? For the next two weeks I have no work. My issues are full of The Green Book.” (This was a Gaddafi-authored manual on how to run a country undergoing a perpetual people’s revolution). And then he laughed uproariously.”

Also read: Russy K. Karanjia: rest in peace

Sudheendra Kulkarni: ‘A creative, courageous, commited editor’

Chameli Devi Award for hounded Tehelka journo

Shahina K.K., a former reporter for Tehelka magazine, has bagged the 2010 Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding woman mediaperson.

Shahina was in the news late last year after Karnataka police charged her with intimidating witnesses in the Bangalore blasts case. This followed her report in Tehelka questioning the incarceration of Abdul Nasar Madani in the case.

The charges led to a petition:

“We are gravely concerned about the charges framed by Karnataka police against Shahina K.K., a journalist working for the Tehelka magazine, for interviewing witnesses and publishing a report on the case relating to Abdul Nasar Madani, the chairman of People’s Democratic Party (PDP), who is one of the accused in the Bangalore bomb blasts.

“After the publication of her report, ‘Why is this man still in jail?’ (Dec 4, 2010) Shahina has been facing harassment and intimidation from the Karnataka Police. A case has been registered against her at the Somawarpet Police Station (No. 199/10) and Siddhapura Police Station (No. 241/10) under Section 506 for allegedly intimidating the witnesses.

“We strongly condemn this attitude of the police in framing false charges on this reputed journalist with such high credentials in a nationally reputed magazine. We also feel that Shahina’s case is yet another example of how the State apparatus acts against its marginalized and minority communities and pushes them outside the orbit of legal justice and human rights. Madani’s acquittal without any charges/strictures after 10 long years of incarceration without bail in an earlier case proves that there has been victims of such an ideological bias.

“We also know that by registering a case for criminal intimidation against a journalist, the Karnataka Police has cut at the very root of democratic and media freedoms in our country. We strongly feel that this is not a case against her as an individual but a warning to the entire press community, women and minorities and anyone who questions the logic of a repressive State. Moreover, we are aware that if the police can go to this extent in the case of a reputed journalist, the status of ordinary members of the marginalized and minority communities remains highly threatened.”

18 top Kerala journalists also petitioned the Kerala chief minister against the charges slapped on Shahina. She has since hopped across to Open magazine as its Trivandrum correspondent.

Link via Shobha S.V.

Photograph: courtesy Counter Media

***

Previous Chameli Devi award winners

Rupashree Nanda: ‘Journalism: mankind’s greatest achievement’

Nirupama Subramanian: ‘India’s freedom as fragile as its neighbours”

Chaos, golmaal, jugaad… all in a day’s work

The television commercial for The Times of India‘s 2011 campaign theme, “A day in the life of India“.

The contest, inviting readers to send in photos, videos, cartoons, and jokes and anecdotes, also saw ToI advertise on the pages of rival Hindustan Times. . The last date for entries is March 15.

2010: ToI, Jang, Geo unite to give peace a chance

2009: The finest example of campaign journalism?

***

Also read: Any number will do when the game is of numbers

Shoma Chaudhury in ‘150 most powerful’ list

Shoma Chaudhury, managing editor and one of the promoters of the weekly magazine Tehelka, has been named among the “150 Women Who Shake the World” in the re-launch issue of the American newsweekly, Newsweek.

“Champions women in India’s celebrated newsmagazine Tehelka,” is the seven-word caption for Chaudhury.

Newsweek has been relaunched this week under Tina Brown, former editor of Tatler,  Vanity Fair, New Yorker and Talk, who currently runs the webzine The Daily Beast.

Chaudhury had interviewed Brown during her 2007 India visit and written for The Daily Beast founded by her in 2009. Tehelka editor Tarun J. Tejpal interviewed Tina Brown during the Jaipur literature festival in 2009, was crowned muckraker-in-chief by the webzine earlier this year.

Tina Brown has been quoted as saying that “Tehelka is one of the most exciting news magazines in the world. Its probing in public interest, its vitality, enterprise and tenacity give it influence beyond the subcontinent.”

Also read: Arun Shourie: ‘Intolerant, abusive, dictatorial’

Newsweek: Who, why, when, how, where, what, what the…

Sudip Mazumdar: How a slumdweller became a Newsweek reporter