Monthly Archives: July 2011

Why Indian media can’t laugh at Murdoch’s plight

SANJAY JHA writes from Bombay: Rupert Murdoch, the emperor of media leviathan News Corporation, shuttled on a transatlantic flight over a tumultuous week-end that saw a popular British Sunday tabloid bite the dust, never to rise again.

News of the World (NOTW) was founded prior to the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857, but closed with a 72-hour notice period in tragic infamy on account of startling revelations about its surreptitious hacking of private mails and messages, in a manner both macabre and sleazy.

For Murdoch, the closure was not a generous act to protect the Holy Grail but a calculated trade-off for acquisition of the more alluring BSkyB.

Greed is a driving ambition, often meeting a ruinous end.

It could happen in India too.

Despite much heart-burning and pious pontification, the Press Council of India report on paid news accumulates dust in dark dungeons, like used files. It does manifest our questionable standards, the media’s inability to smother its own insuperable demons.

While we hyperventilate to the world, our own backyard emits a sordid stench. Paid coverage is stealthy advertising, which legitimizes self-promoting campaigns on unsuspecting readers posing as dispassionate reporting. It is indeed an ethical violation of astronomical proportions, but everyone seems nonchalant, blissfully blasé about it.

Dileep Padgaonkar once famously stated that The Times Of India editor was the “second most important man in India”. That was not hubris or a silly exaggeration , it was a near-factual assessment. But today no media big gun can make such lofty claims.

Multiple channels and news publishers have made mass distribution of news our new business reality.

Once I waited every Sunday morning to read Khalid Mohamed’s review of a Bollywood blockbuster. Now several experts miserly dole out glittering stars on Friday itself, even as thousands of faceless bloggers become the new film critic.

It’s literally first day, first show.

Media is now truly democratized; so truly there are no king-makers. With Facebook, Twitter and blogs gathering high-speed on the social networking highway, media activism has also assumed formidable power to influence public opinion, so far considered the sacrosanct preserve of an elite club.

India’s subterranean media revolution is underway.

Media organizations must also frequently take core ideological or strategic positions on sensitive issues, it will enhance their quality. That’s what often distinguishes the print media from television. The snarling watchdog needs to be just that; it can’t have a shrill bark, a toothless bite and lazily snooze when Rome burns, reacting only under extreme provocation.

For instance, last year when Shiv Sena became a quasi-sarkar in threatening to black-out Shah Rukh Khan’s My Name is Khan, the conventional protocol of TV channels of giving both sides a voice was rather superfluous , even preposterous.

Even to a naïve outsider, Shiv Sena was indulging in unlawful transgressions exploiting media platform shamelessly to espouse its parochial claptrap. The worst indictment of the media is when it willingly succumbs to made for TV manufactured events.

Whatever happened to professional discretion?

Aren’t leaked reports also obtained often with at least moral illegality with an in-built clause of quid pro quo?

In a country bedeviled by innumerable scams, a deadly diabolical nexus between criminal elements, political leaders and business-builder behemoths, media is critical. But discharging that onerous responsibility is not a child’s play.

Like WikiLeaks, one foresees alternative mediums to emerge to fill the gaping vacuum created by status quo coverage these days . Investigative journalism has become comatose in a commercially dictated news content age. Something is gone missing.

Are we becoming tabloid-like, allowing any bearded spiritual free-agent, violent wife-beater or a just-released bone chopper to capture India’s attention? Can we then be so self-righteous as to take umbrage under “mere reporting”?

Oh, come on! For all the political faux pas of the government, the media should have used its own grey cells to fathom Baba Ramdev’s bona fides. The modern-media is society’s crucial “ influencer”, not a reseller of titillating tales. Media integrity is a non-negotiable instrument. We need to enforce it.

I hear several grumble ; why does the media never do a comprehensive follow-up to serious unresolved issues instead of chasing the next wife-thrashing maverick promoting his televised marriage? Whatever happened to several disproportionate assets cases against powerful CMs?

Who really covertly leaked the Radia tapes, and why?

How is Lalit Modi “ officially absconding” and purchasing large mansions in downtown London without a valid passport? Whatever happened to the Srikrishna report on the Bombay riots?

Narayan Rane had publicly stated that he was aware of powerful people who knew about 26/11 terrorist attacks—really? If so what happened? Despite singular success stories like Jessica Lal, the CWG and 2G scams, Gujarat riots and several successful petitions, paradoxically enough, media itself is losing the perception battle.

Aamir Khan’s Peepli Live! ridiculed media to atrocious levels but to appreciative applause.

In India, where our daily lives resembles a cacophonous collage of absurd and horrendous tales, news television often degenerates into infotainment category. The truth is that good news is boring.

It’s like breathing. It’s predictable, monotonous, rhythmical, but it is also bloody necessary.

Or else we have the kiss of death.

We are too often celebrating India’s unseen imminent demise, our own pornography of grief. It is time we appreciated that even thorns have roses. At least one channel has begun to share a daily dose of cheer.

Competitive journalism is natural marketing warfare, after all, newspapers and TV channels are not in the charity trade. But intent is pivotal. Phone hacking is unambiguously unethical. Bribery pay-offs of police personnel is contemptible. Killing news to protect favoured parties is equally lamentable.

But isn’t paid news also guilty of disingenuous, distorted presentation of facts?

In the long-run , media houses that practice quintessential consecrated ethical behaviour will survive. Others will flounder.

The editor is media’s conscience-keeper, its guardian angel. They are the ones who must separate the wheat from the chaff, and ensure that the chaff does not get headline attention. But the quarter to quarter pressures of EPS for the publicly listed media companies can result in editorial compromises.

The editors need to be sacrosanct, inaccessible to advertisers and CEO’s business plans, working behind a Chinese wall. Editors should have no employee stock options, and must not be on boards of these companies either; that will eliminate conflict of interest issues.

Instead, they should be compensated by equitable fixed salaries, benefits, bonuses, and given flexibility for research projects, reimbursed higher learning expenses and encouraged to author books and take up teaching assignments.

We need to de-link organizational bottomline numbers with editorial policy.

Editorial independence is a must; they cannot be the brand managers with brains. Also, celebrity editors could do with relative anonymity . Anonymity powers the personal brand. Proximity to suave glib talking industrialists or political power-brokers can be jeopardous as was evident in the Radia tapes.

David Cameron flushes crimson on his selection of the arrested former head of NOTW, Andy Coulson. Tony Blair too is red-faced. And more is still to surface.

Every media company must make public its own independent advisory board with an ombudsman , besides an industry watchdog. Ethical workshops are needed, as young recruits can be susceptible to short-cut methods for quick career windfalls.

Press, public relations , big business and the politicians will have to tread with circumspection as there could be grave overlaps on account of the vested , conflicting interest of each. The unholy nexus is no longer a well-concealed secret. The path is slippery , shaky and serpentine. It is easy to become the news of the world. Very easy.

Good night and good luck!

(Banker turned web entrepreneur, Sanjay Jha is the founder of Cricket Next. This piece originally appeared on the website Hamara Congress)

Image: courtesy Time

Did news TV twist Rahul 99% line on terrorism?

BASUDEV MAHAPATRA writes from Bhubaneshwar: The manner in which AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s statement on stopping terror attacks before they occur was reported by TV journalists last week, and the way it was presented by news channels, hardly fulfilled any purpose of journalism.

On the contrary, it exposed news television’s passion for tabloid journalism.

As someone who was present at the Rahul Gandhi press meet where he made the statement attributed to him, I was shocked at how the statement was first reported by news channels, and even more shocked that no news channel tried to convey the true sentiment of the statement.

With one channel sparking the controversy by manipulating the statement, every other channel just wanted to do the same to steal the show. On some channels, the statement was spliced into pieces and carried one after another in different bulletins through the day.

Soon after Rahul’s session with media representatives in Bhubaneswar was over, the first piece of his statement that appeared on some news channels was:

“…terrorism is something that is impossible to stop.”

I, being the representative of a 24X7 Hindi news channel, was immediately asked by my desk whether Rahul Gandhi had made such a statement.

My reply was obviously, ‘No’.

Even though I tried to clarify saying, “Rahul never said that, but what he meant was that it’s not possible always to stop a terror attack before it happens”, I felt I was not believed to be telling the truth. However, I maintained my stand in the live “phono” I was asked to give instantly.

I soon crosschecked the the video of the Rahul’s session with media and found that the piece carried by some channels was an engineered one and unfaithful to what Rahul Gandhi meant.

Here’s what happened: replying to a question on whether terror attacks could be stopped before they happen (the question came after Rahul had broached the issue of corruption and insisted that strong measures should be initiated to stop corruption before it takes place), Rahul said:

“It’s very difficult to stop every single terrorist attack. The steps that have been taken by our government over the last couple of years are quite profound steps – the improvement in our intelligence, the way we did about fighting terrorism, the ideas that we have to fight terrorism at the local level, we have improved in lips and mouth.

“But terrorism is something that is impossible to stop all the time.

“There is an attack on Bombay that has taken place. But you will not have heard of all the attacks that will be stopped. So, it is something that we will fight, it is something that we will defeat, and it is something that we work towards. But, it is very very difficult to stop every single attack.”

Further to clarify, Rahul said that he didn’t mean it impossible but difficult to stop.

The complete statement hardly found a space in any of the bulletins of the TV channels. But the piece that was used in bulletins did plenty to negate the true intent of the statement, which I found was completely a wrong way of using anybody’s statement and an unethical practice of journalism as well.

While the whole statement in its complete form was never shown, reactions on the manipulated piece were taken from leaders of different parties to create a political controversy and add more life to the news item.

We may edit or engineer somebody’s statement or sound bite in order to make it fit to our space or time. But, in every case, as a display of the journalist’s obligation to the truth, the intent of the statement must be intact and clear from the part that is used.

This very first principle of a journalist was openly sacrificed by most TV news channels just to make a sensational item out of a portion of the statement.

Such a practice will never help in creating a healthy environment for the media to grow and exercise its freedom. It may bring some instant TRPs and momentary business but, on the other hand, it may also increase the risk of losing the credibility and trust of the general public permanently.

‘TV coverage of 13/7 no different from 26/11’

Mint editor R. Sukumar on the coverage of the July 13 Bombay blasts by TV newschannels:

“As a journalist, what made me really angry was the way television channels covered the blasts. For some time now, the channels have been trying to convince anyone who cares to listen that they have reformed and that, if a terror attack were to happen, they would not cover it the way they did 26/11.

“The events of 13/7 prove beyond doubt that nothing has changed.

“Reporters and anchors displayed none of the restraint that was expected of them. The coverage was, at best shallow and immature and at worst, melodramatic and hysterical. And, at least to this writer, it looked as if the reporters for most TV channels wanted policemen responding to the emergency on 13 July to speak to them first and then go about their work.

“Between them, the channels made a strong case for something I have been vehemently arguing against: Media regulation. I have always believed that newspapers, news websites, and TV channels need to regulate themselves.… I am not as sure now.”


The Indian Express expresses a different view in an editorial:

“While TV channels were freely fantasising about the strike in an information vacuum, giving away vital details on air and plonking every nerve about the human tragedy of 26/11, their response [on 13/7] has been relatively dignified and restrained this time. The urgency of breaking news has not vaporised all editorial filters, nor has the sense of competition led them into wild error. If they seemed to be winging it for major parts of 26/11 coverage, this time round, they seem to have internalised a rough emergency protocol.

“They largely stuck to the facts as they were gleaned, and conducted sober interviews with officials and political leaders. The reason TV channels are expected to act with utmost care is because they can be so easily exploited by terrorists. If terrorism creates the bang, 24-hour news TV brings in the echo and reverberation.

“If our TV channels have come to realise that their outsized power must come with stronger internal checks, then that’s a highly welcome development.”

Read R. Sukumar’s article: Blasts and the press

Read the Indian Express edit: As seen on TV

Also read: Why Mint didn’t run the Niira Radia tapes

Vir Sanghvi lashes out at Mint ‘censorship’

Vir Sanghvi‘s first HT blog again targets Mint

Entries invited for Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize

PRESS RELEASE: The Shakti Bhatt foundation is inviting entries for the 2011 Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize in memory of the late journalist and books editor.

Entries from first-time authors of Indian origin are welcome in the following genres: poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction (travel writing, autobiography, biography and narrative journalism), and drama.

The prize carries a cash award of Rs one lakh.

A two-member advisory board will shortlist six books published between 1 July 2010 and 30 June 2011 for the prize. The shortlisted books will be sent to the 2011 panel of judges: graphic novelist and illustrator Sarnath Bannerjee, writer and blogger Jai Arjun Singh, and novelist Palash Mehrotra.

The deadline for publishers/authors to send their entries is 15 July 2011. The winner will be announced in the second half of November. The prize presentation will take place in December.

Three copies of the books may be sent to The Shakti Bhatt Foundation,  8B main road, 166/A Rajmahal Vilas Extension, Bangalore 560 080.  Email shaktibhattprize [at] gmail [dot] com for further details.

Also read: Mint deputy editor bags Shakti Bhatt prize

Rajeev Shukla: from reporter to minister of state

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from Delhi: Rajeev Shukla, the journalist who began his career as a lowly reporter in the Hindi daily Northern India Patrika in Kanpur in 1978 before turning to politics in 2000, is to become a minister in the Manmohan Singh government this evening.

The 52-year-old will be the minister of State in charge of parliamentary affairs.

Shukla, a member of the Rajya Sabha from his home-state Uttar Pradesh, earned his journalistic spurs during his three-year stint in the late 1980s at the weekly Hindi magazine Ravivar, where under its then editor Udayan Sharma, he broke a story on the former prime minister V.P.  Singh.

Singh, a bugbear of the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi on the Bofors issue, had signed away large tracts of land he held as the “Raja of Manda”. Shukla reported that Singh’s wife had objected to the sale, saying he was not in his right mental balance at the time.

That story propelled Shukla into the Congress orbit.

Shukla later held several senior editorial positions later in the ABP-owned Sunday and The Sunday Observer, which had been purchased by Dhirubhai Ambani‘s Reliance Industries.

The arrival of satellite television saw Shukla host a weekly interview programme on Zee called Rubaru, before he branched off to launch his own production house called BAG Films (BAG for Bhagwan, Allah, God) with wife Anuradha Prasad (sister of BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad) in tow.

The couple now own a news channel (News24), an entertainment channel (E24), a radio station (Dhamaal 24), and a school of media and convergence studies.

Shukla entered the Rajya Sabha in 2000 as a member of the short-lived Uttar Pradesh Loktantrik Congress, winning votes disporportionate to his political lineage and vintage from the BJP, Congress and the BSP. His vote tally set tongues wagging in Lucknow.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan of Frontline magazine reported:

“The grapevine said during the run-up to the elections that two powerful industrial groups backed Shukla.”

Shukla soon become a prominent functionary in the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI), rising to be vice-president.  DNA reported that a firmed owned by him had bought a stake in Shah Rukh Khan‘s Kolkata Knight Riders, at whose matches Rahul Gandhi has been one of the more famous faces from the VIP box.

When Shah Rukh Khan was detained in the United States in the run-up to his film My Name is Khan in 2009, he famously said that the first person he called to bail him out was Rajeev Shukla.

Anuradha Prasad watches her husband Rajeev Shukla take oath as minister in this photograb from the couple's news channel, News24

The journo married to the Rs 100,000 crore heir

In all the wide-eyed reporting on the gold tumbling out of the vaults of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum, reporters have (generally) missed out on one delicious fact: the fact, that one of our ilk is married into the erstwhile royal family of Travancore.

That lucky somebody is M.D. Nalapat (left), former resident editor of The Times of India in Bangalore and Delhi, and the eldest of the three sons of the late poet Kamla Das.

‘Monu’—as Nalapat is known—is married to Thiruvathira Tirunal Lakshmi Bayi, the 12th princess of Travancore.

By a happy coincidence both husband and wife have a column on the discovery of humongous caches of gold in Padmanabhaswamy temple in the latest issues of the newsweeklies: Monu in India Today, and Lakshmi Bayi in Outlook.

Despite their extraordinary wealth—the discovery is now valued at between Rs 100,000 crore and Rs 500,000 crore—the erstwhile princess and the commoner had a simple, civil wedding, and the buzz in media circles has long been that it cost them all of Rs 125.

In the late 1980s, Monu, who was then at Mathrubhumi, was at the centre of a share-swap deal with The Times of India, an arrangement through which the English daily was to print from Kerala and the Malayalam daily from Bombay.

Opposition to the deal from Mathrubhumi shareholders led by the paper’s current chairman and managing director M.P. Veerendra Kumar saw the deal crumble. Consequently Monu and his two brothers Chinnen Das and Jayasurya Das were accommodated in The Times.

After leaving The Times, Nalapat is currently a professor of geopolitics at Manipal University and writes a weekly column in M.J. Akbar‘s The Sunday Guardian. For her part, Lakshmi Bayi is a published poet who also played a part in the Mallika Sherawat film, Hisss.

NDTV reporter puts an indecent proposal in print

With everybody stabbing everybody’s back in the Congress, NDTV anchor and reporter Sunetra Choudhury has set tongues wagging in Delhi with her account of an interaction with a politician in the news, in DNA:

“It wasn’t really a big, exclusive interview. He’d spoken to a rival channel and made wild allegations, and my editor wanted me to interview him as well.

“Dogged as we are, I landed at his place after he’d dodged my calls for 24 hours. I patiently sat with my cameraman while his flak catchers told me how busy “sir” had been all this while.

“‘Sure, I just need five minutes,’ I said.

“‘So, you’ve managed to track me down,’ he announced as we entered his study, accompanied by his young, female assistant. ‘But, sir, isn’t this the first time you named him?’ I asked.

“‘Well, you know, if you were to share a bed with me, then at night I’d be grinding my teeth and saying his name as well.'”

Photograph: via Facebook

Read the full article: Pervy politician needs to get his act together

The Guardian, Nick Davies and News of the World

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from Delhi: Most journalists who succeed in bringing down a minister or a bureaucrat, or a government, wear it as a badge of honour.

How about Nick Davies, who has brought down a 138-year-old newspaper, the News of the World—and its mighty owner Rupert Murdoch—with his searing expose of the phone hacking scandal?

Ironies abound in this story, from an Indian perspective.

For starters, dog eats dog: the former being The Guardian, London, which played the lead role in nibbling away at the heels of News International. Quite unlike Indian newspapers, magazines and TV stations which refuse to go after their peers and competitors, because of a pigheaded belief that dog does not eat dog.

Because, anything goes in the name of “freedom of the press”.

Two, the response of advertisers. Starting with Ford, a number of advertisers pulled out advertising from NOTW—derisively called Screws of the World for its obsessions with matters carnal—after the full scale of the scandal became known. Unlike India, where advertisers are party if not prodders to most of the vilest transgressions in the media.

Because, anything goes in the name of “market forces”.

And three, the response of news consumers—the reading, viewing, surfing public. Murdoch shut down NOTW because the negative reaction from readers and advertisers and MPs got too hot. Unlike India, where the media’s “ethics deficit” is seen as a problem of the media alone, not of the reading public. Or the Republic.

External reading: How The Guardian broke the story

When Manu Joseph met Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Manu Joseph, editor of Open magazine, in The New York Times:

“Nine years ago, I was invited by the Art of Living Foundation to interview Mr Shankar.

“Mr Shankar was in the house of a wealthy businessman in South Mumbai.

“In the living room he sat on a large, embellished, thronelike chair as about 50 of Mumbai’s rich and famous sat on the floor, among them the film actor Vinod Khanna and the actress Nagma.

“At Mr Shankar’s feet sat a newspaper reporter, taking down notes as he spoke.

“All the interviews that evening were supposed to be conducted in this manner, with the reporter on the floor, at his feet, and he on the throne.

“When it was my turn, an absolute silence filled the room as I dragged a chair toward him. When I sat down, there was an audible moan from his followers. The interview did not go well. Most of his answers were snubs that elicited loud guffaws from his audience.”

Read the full article: Indian spiritualism made for the new age

NDTV reporter wins domestic violence case

Jennifer Arul, the longtime face of NDTV from Madras, is in the news, with the settlement of the domestic violence case she had filed against her husband.

While the story makes it to the city pages of the Madras editions of both The Times of India and Deccan Chronicle, there is no mention of it in The Hindu, although she did a stint at NDTV-Hindu as editorial advisor.

Newspaper image: courtesy The Times of India

Link via Nagarathna Sitaram