Monthly Archives: December 2011

Why hasn’t India thrown up a media mogul?

Indian media houses, promoters and practitioners are gung-ho about foreign direct investment (FDI) in all sectors except the media, under the specious argument that the media is not a “commodity”, etc.

Media barons who justify the worst excesses of modern Indian media under the this-is-what-the-consumer-wants logic, somehow find it convenient to block FDI in media although this is also what the consumer might want.

Raghav Bahl, the founder of the heavily bleeding TV18 network (and reported to be considering a dalliance with Reliance Industries’s Mukesh Ambani), gives the protectionist argument some more air in a supplement brought out by the Indian Express, to explain why India hasn’t thrown up a media mogul:

“In India, thanks to the liberal FDI policies and the high proportion of English language speakers, a Google will come and set up base and then use this to gradually move into local Indian languages. In China, however, a Google can’t enter and you need a Baidu. So a Baidu will get market cap in China, while in India it will be Google or Facebook.

“The inroads global media firms have made in India is good from its citizen’s point of view but when it comes to creating value and scale for a local media firm, this is not good news…

“The largest Indian media firm Zee TV has a market cap of $2.5 billion—thats puny by global standards. Few Indian media firms can, for instance, buy a Newsweek but a Baidu can easily do this. Can I compete with a Google or Facebook? The only other company (other than Zee) to get scale of that sort is Network 18. UTV sold out and no newspaper has really created meaningful scale, But we have a market cap of just $300-400 million even after being the biggest to scale up and we have a very levereaged balance sheet because of this,…

“The short point is that India’s advantages for a thriving media industry will be disadvantageous for the Indian who dreams to become the next media mogul. For such an aspiration, countries with closed media markets, such as China, offer an advantage since this allows local firms to build up the capital base that is essential to becoming a serious player in the technology space, so vital to being a global media firm.”

External reading: Network 18: mega hotch-potch of companies

Also read: What the prime minister told Raghav Bahl

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

What Raghav Bahl could learn from Samir Jain

Business journalism or business of journalism?

The endgame is near for TV18 and NDTV

Is this man the new media mogul of India?

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‘Objectivity is horse shit. We have our biases’

Journalism schools and media houses with codes of conduct spend an awful lot of time chasing “objectivity”.

Arun Gupta, the Indian-American journalist who straddles the worlds of politics and journalism and is co-founder of The Occupied Wall Street Journal, the mouthpiece of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, says objectivity is a whole load of codswallop.

In an interview in the Indian Express, he says:

“I do not believe in the notion of objectivity. I think that’s essentially horse shit. Everyone has biases and any scientist will tell you that. I think rather than trying to be objective you need to be more upfront about your biases and be rigorous in terms of fact-checking, context and history.”

Read the full article: ‘I don’t believe in objectivity’

Also read: Objectivity: now you see it, now you don’t

‘Time for old rules of journalism to change’

Should political journalists vote in elections?

N.S. Jagannathan, ex-editor, Indian Express: RIP

sans serif records with regret the passing away of N.S. Jagannathan, former editor-in-chief of The Indian Express and Financial Express, in Bangalore on Saturday, 24 December 2011. He was 89 years old.

NSJ, as he was known to friends and colleagues, succeeded Arun Shourie in the Express chair and held the post till 1992 after which he shifted to Bangalore.

T.C.A Srinivasa Raghavan writes in The Hindu Business Line:

“NSJ started his working life as a member of the Indian Revenue Service, a calling that soon palled on his finely developed senses. So he quit and became a writer for a small economic journal in Calcutta.

“From there he moved as Assistant Editor to the Hindustan Times in the late 1960sand to Delhi…. But in the mid-1970s the paper made a series of misjudgements, one of which was the summary removal of the Editor, B. G. Verghese, because he had the temerity to utter some home truths about Indira Gandhi’s style of governing.

“NSJ was appalled and chose to quit as well. He joined the Statesman and stayed there till 1980 when he retired. A few months later, he became the editor of the Financial Express where he stayed till he became the editor of the Indian Express for a few months preceding the death of Ram Nath Goenka, the owner.”

Mr Jagannathan edited Kamba Ramayana, the 12th century version of the epic, translated by his friend, P.S. Sundaram.

Photograph: courtesy The Indian Express

External reading: N.S. Jagannathan on Tambrahms

N.S. Jagannathan on the year 2003

Swamy and his media friends (and enemies)

In the latest issue of Tehelka magazine, Ashok Malik has a profile of the “irrepressible” Subramanian Swamy, the maverick economist-politician behind the 2G spectrum allocation scam.

The profile is occasioned by Harvard University’s recent decision to not renew Swamy’s teaching contract for a venomous column in DNA in July on “How to wipe out Islamic terror“:

“There’s an old story about Subramanian Swamy that even if apocryphal and probably untrue still merits retelling simply because it’s part of urban folklore in Lutyens’ Delhi.

“One day, a powerful editor with a blackmailing tendency walked into Swamy’s basement office in his south Delhi residence, and threw a sheaf of papers on the table.

“‘Dr Swamy,’ he thundered, ‘I have a file on you.’

“Unperturbed, Swamy reached out for a folder in his bottom drawer, placed them on the desk and said, calmly, with the chilling certitude so typical of his voice, ‘Mr Editor, I have a file on you’.”

Swamy, who is currently seeking to re-enter Parliament through the BJP, brought down the Atal Behari Vajpayee government in 1998 by getting arch-rivals Sonia Gandhi and Jayalalitha to drink tea together; another matter of course that Sonia is now a prime target of Swamy and Jayalalitha’s recent court appearances are based on a Swamy plea.

“At the end of the day, Swamy is trusted by few but ignored by even fewer. He can plug into extremely diverse social groups — serious economists, the loony right, the Janata parivar, the TamBrahm fraternity. He can hold both Ram Setu and N. Ram [the Marxist editor-in-chief of The Hindu] close to his heart (or profess to).

“For all his right-wing politics, the Hindu has been a loyal platform and publisher. His dogs have come from N. Ram’s litter, as indeed have Sonia Gandhi’s dogs — but that’s another contradiction, for Swamy to spin another day.”

Elsewhere, Swamy becoming persona non grata for Harvard thanks to his newspaper columns provides occasion for James Fallows, the national correspondent of The Atlantic Monthly, to recount the role played by Swamy in his getting into journalism:

“In the late 1960s, I had been a freshman at Harvard, ready to study around the clock in preparation for medical school. To earn extra money I had signed up as an ad salesman for the Crimson, and during the unbelievably bleak and frigid January “reading period” of my sophomore year, I was in the newspaper’s office one night, laying out an ad dummy for the next day’s paper.

“All the regular writers and editors were gone, cramming before final exams to make up for the courses they had skipped through the semester. So when a variety of fire alarms and sirens started going off, for what proved to be a big fire at the Economics Department building, I was the one on hand to run out after grabbing a camera and a reporter’s notebook.

“I had seen snow only once in my life before going to college; and in my high school jobs, manning smudge pots in the local Southern California orange groves on “cold” nights, we would trade tales about whether human beings could actually survive exposure to temperatures that dipped below 32F. But at the Economics Department, it was so cold — well below 0 F back in those pre-warming days — that the Cambridge Fire Department had trouble putting out the fire: water from the hoses would freeze in the air.

“I saw an upset-looking gentleman alongside me watching the fire. I asked why he was there. He said that all the notes and research for his current book, inside that building, was literally going up in smoke. That was Subramanian Swamy, then a young economics instructor. I wrote up his story in the paper — my first story for the Crimson, and the beginning of my shift from the ad staff (and pre-med) to the news staff.”

Let the record show that Swamy’s daughter Suhasini Haidar is a journalist with CNN-IBN; his sister-in-law Coomi Kapoor is a consulting editor with the Indian Express as is her husband Virendra Kapoor, a former editor of the Free Press Journal.

Let the record also show that James Fallows had narrated this story in 1996 at a commencement address at the Meddill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Photograph: courtesy Shailendra Pandey/ Tehelka

Also read: Does Swamy‘s DNA column amount to incitement?

Is UPA hitting back at TOI, India Today, DNA?

Swamy & friends: a very, very short story

‘Fake’ Jhunjhunwala takes on real Shekhar Gupta

That dead-tree journalists are cut off from the digital world is evident from the manner in which they react to blogs, tweets and status updates that don’t consider them god’s gift to journalism.

Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta is without doubt one of the top journalists of his generation, with a magazine, newspaper and television profile that is the envy of most.

But even a man who has covered wars, tribal insurgencies, terrorism, massacres, missile attacks, jihad doesn’t have it all covered in the new age, it seems.

In his weekly column today, Gupta, 57, quotes from the Twitter feed of “Fake Jhunjhunwala”, assuming it to be from the real one, the stock broker Rakesh Jhunjhunwala.

The operative portion of Gupta’s piece reads:

“The upper caste, creamy layer of our society is the most prejudiced, and yet the most dominant minority in any democracy in the world. That is why even the person representing Mayawati on otherwise brilliant funny-man Cyrus Broacha’s show on CNN-IBN always has a blackened face (Dalits are supposed to be dark-skinned, no?) and that is why the man described by breathless anchors of our blue (business) channels as India’s Warren Buffett, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, sends out tweets like this: “Don’t think [Kapil] Sibal even understands the internet. This happens when you make a lawyer an IT Minister. Like hiring Mayawati for an item song.” Of course, Mayawati could return the compliment by gifting him a very large mirror. But can you imagine the real Warren Buffett getting away with saying something like this about Michelle Obama?

Little wonder, Jhunjhunwala has hit back with a series of tweets (here, here, here, here).

For the record, Jhunjhunwala’s Twitter’s profile reads:

“I invented Twitter. I’m humble. I’ve attained omni God mode. Aspire/ don’t envy.

Disclaimer: I’m Fake Jhunjhunwala. The real parody writer of the Secret Journal of Rakesh Jhunjhunwala

The Express slip-up comes about a month after the gossip column of the paper made the same mistake of thinking it was from the real Jhunjhunwala.

Also, for the record, Fake Jhunjhunwala has a column under the byline “Fake Jhunjhunwala” in the Hindustan Times in Bombay, and was recently quoted as “Fake Jhunjhunwala” in an Outlook* magazine story on Kapil Sibal’s attempt to “pre-screen” internet content.

ToI apology that meets Justice Katju’s standards

Typically, newspaper apologies in India are buried in some far corner, regardless of the extent of the error, so that no one really notices.

Market leader The Times of India sets a precedent with a 15 cm x 15 cm, three-column apology on page 3 of its New Delhi edition for a February 2008 story that had cast aspersions on the “character and background” of two young adults involved in a road accident in the national capital.

“While we did make an attempt at clarifying the inaccuracy of details through an article dated October 3, 2008, published in the Noida Plus edition [where the story was originally published], by mentioning regrets for some comments of parents, we understand that it did not explain the situation completely as the allegations/comments of the parents were false and inaccurate…. Through this article, we sincerely regret the unwarranted pain, anguish, suffering and ill-fame caused to the departed souls, Anirudh Rawat and Sneha Kapoor, and their families, by way of our news article.”

Covering 225 square centimetres, the size of the ToI apology works out to the equivalent of approximately Rs 8 lakh of advertising calculated using its Delhi ad tariff card, where each square centimetre of black-and-white space for a display ad costs Rs 3,455.

Anchors, editors, motormouths & other nuisances

It’s that time of year once again, when columnists crawl out of their quilts, double-dip their quills in vitriol and go for kill (yes, it’s a punny time of year, too).

The veteran journalist Jawid Laiq—with Indian Express, New Delhi, Economic & Political Weekly on his resume—does the needful in Mail Today, with a list of politicians and “other public nuisances” he would like to see less of in the year of the lord 2012.

In his firing line: two news television anchors—Barkha Dutt of NDTV 24×7 and Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN-IBN—and a newspaper editor, Chandan Mitra of The Pioneer.

Images: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today

Also read: When Rajdeep Sardesai got it left, right and centre