Monthly Archives: May 2012

MUST READ: ‘Shankar’s Weekly’ final editorial

Media freedom in India id est Bharat has never been a more scarce commodity than in the year of the lord 2012.

The fourth estate is under concerted attack from all three pillars of our democracy—the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. Organisations mandated to protect media freedom (like the press council of India) are happily chomping its heels. Every day the sound of some distant door closing echoes through the internet chamber.

On top of it all, or because of it all, the sparks of public cynicism about the media and its practitioners (thanks to paid news, private treaties, medianet, and this, that and the other) has become a wildfire, its faceless flames licking the very hand that feeds. Regulation and self-regulation is the mantra on every lip.

(Why, supposedly courageous practitioners of journalism themselves don’t hesitate to intimidate those who expose their warts.)

The illiberalism, the intolerance, the control-freakery that have become a part of the accepted discourse in 21st century India was most evident last week when parliament—the so-called temple of democracy—committed the ultimate sacrilege: a Harvard-trained poet agreeing to remove newspaper and magazine cartoons from school textbooks because they could hurt the fragile egos of faceless mobs back where they go out with their bowls every five years.

The ostensible provocation was a 1949 cartoon of B.R. Ambedkar, the Constitution framer and Dalit icon, drawn by P. Shankar Pillai, the legendary cartoonist, in his now-defunct magazine Shankar’s Weekly that had been included in an NCERT textbook in 2006.

But it was clearly a smokescreen to sneak in the scissors to cut out all cartoons about all politicians in all textbooks.

Shankar’s Weekly shut down on 31 August 1975, the very year Indira Gandhi declared Emergency, on whose back rode a beast called Censorship.

In circa 2012, as her daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi thumped the desk when Kapil Sibal eloquently ushered in Censorship without the formal proclamation of Emergency, it’s useful to go through Shankar Pillai’s farewell editorial, which shows that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

***

FAREWELL

“We started with an editorial 27 years ago. We will end with another.

“The world was different in 1948. The Cold War had not taken the sinister overtones that it later did. The atom bomb was in our midst and there was scare of war. But there was no apprehension that life would be wiped out from the earth in a nuclear holocaust.

“The United States was riding high with sole possession of the atom bomb. Communism was to be rolled back by its strength and Time magazine’s brave words. But monolithic communism was already breaking up. In 1946 Yugoslavia was expelled from the Cominform.

“Less than a year after Shankar’s Weekly was born, Mao Tse-tung took over mainland China, for ever changing the dimensions of international affairs. While Europe was still struggling to get over the aftermath of a ruinous war, Asia stood up for the first time as independent entity.

“Soon after Africa emerged from colonial darkness. The old imperialisms watched uneasily at Bandung and Afro-Asian solidarity. Perhaps there was something in Nehru’s non-alignment after all.

“The world of today is very different. The Cold War is still there but played according to already laid ground rules usually. West Europe has been integrated in a sense, although the sense of nationalism is still strong. Africa by and large has not steadied itself except in one or two countries.

“White supremacy is still unchallenged in South Africa and Rhodesia. Asian politics has become uncertain largely due to Sino-Soviet rivalry. Latin America seethes with unrest, but the CIA and multi-nationals are trying to contain discontent. Economically, the world is somewhat better off than 27 years ago despite runaway inflation and drought and so on. But the quality of human life cannot be said to have shown any qualitative change.

“This is what brings us to the nub of the matter. In our first editorial we made the point that the our function was to make our readers laugh – at the world, at pompous leaders, at humbug, at foibles, at ourselves. But, what are the people who have a developed sense of humour? It is a people with a certain civilised norms of behaviour, where there is tolerance and a dash of compassion.

“Dictatorships cannot afford laughter because people may laugh at the dictator and that wouldn’t do. In all the years of Hitler, there never was a good comedy, not a good cartoon, not a parody, or a spoof. From this point, the world and sadly enough India have become grimmer.

“Humour, whenever it is there, is encapsuled. Language itself has become functional, each profession developing its own jargon. Outside of the society of brother-cartoonists, an economist is a stranger, floundering in uncharted territory, uncertain of himself, fearful of non-economic language.

“It is the same for lawyers, doctors, teachers, journalists, and such-like.

“What is worse, human imagination seems to be turning to the macabre and the perverse. Books and films are either on violence or sexual deviations. Nothing seems to awaken people except unpleasant shocks. Whether it is the interaction of the written word and the cinema on society or not, society reflects these attitudes. Hijackings, mugging in the dark, kidnappings, and plain murder are becoming everyday occurrences and sometimes lend respectability by giving it some kind of political colouration.

“But Shankar’s Weekly is an incurable optimist. We are certain that despite the present situation, the world will become a happier and more relaxed place. The spirit of man will in the end overcome all death dealing forces and life will blossom to a degree where humanity will find its highest purpose discharged.

“Some call this God. We prefer to call it human destiny. And on that thought we bid you good-bye and the best of luck.”

Published on Sunday, 31 August 1975

Hat tip: D.D. Gupta

Image: A facsimile of the front cover of Shankar’s Weekly

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How to launch a TV channel at half the cost

On the New York Times site India Ink, Raksha Kumar writes on how the Kannada news channel Public TV got launched:

“I got these lights for just 40 rupees each (76 U.S. cents) when Wipro closed one of its branches in Bangalore,” said H.R. Ranganath, chairman and managing director, pointing at the ceiling.

“These cubicles, which my reporters and editors use, were bought from a shut-down office of Kingfisher,’’ he added, while doors were purchased from a Siemens branch that closed….

“We bought the cameras we use for 200,000 rupees each,” said Shashi Deshpande, facilities manager at Public TV. “Each of them would have cost us one million or more if purchased new….

“According to Mr Ranganath, the cost of starting up a regional television news channel in Karnataka is anywhere from 45 to 50 crores, or 450 million to 500 million rupees ($8.5 million to $9.4 million). He figured that if he could cut capital and operational costs at least in half, then he would be able to build a network without any outside financial help.”

Photograph: courtesy The New York Times

Also read: Editor declares assets, liabilities on live TV

Is there room for another Kannada news channel?

This is your chief minister and here is the news

What they’re saying about Express ‘sue’ report

A 10-page defamation notice sent by the legal advisors of The Indian Express to Open magazine, over an interview granted to the latter by Vinod Mehta, editorial chairman of Outlook* magazine, criticising the Express ‘C’ report, is now in the public domain.

The letter—on behalf of the Express, the paper’s editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta, its reporters Ritu Sarin, Pranab Samanta and Ajmer Singh—seeks the removal from Open‘s website of the offending interview and an apology from the magazine and its employees, failing which it threatens a Rs 500 crore lawsuit (Rs 100 crore for each).

The Open interview was conducted by Hartosh Singh Bal, and like in other Express lawsuits, even the web official who put up the interview online has been named.

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Anonandon:

“There are some things in life that we will perhaps never understand. Like how life came into being. Or the size of the universe. Or the fact that Fifty Shades of Grey and its two follow-ups are bestsellers.

“Or what possessed Shekhar Gupta of the Indian Express to not only sue Open magazine for publishing an interview with Vinod Mehta (in which he criticised Indian Express’s story about a potential army coup), but to sue them for some $95 million.”

Anant Rangaswami on First Post:

“The Indian Express, like all of us, including Firstpost, make such comments every day. As Mehta and Open magazine have done. If Mehta describes the original IE story as the mother of all mistakes, this legal notice might cause the Express the mother of all embarrassments.”

The Hoot:

“Rs 100 crore defamation notices are now par for the course. After Justice Sawant‘s suit against Arnab Goswami, and Times Now‘s legal notice for the same damages to The Hoot, we now have Shekhar Gupta and other authors of the Indian Express page one story on April 4 asking Vinod Mehta and Open magazine for  Rs  100 crore (sic) in damages for defaming them.”

Mumbai Mirror:

“What is perhaps not so well known is the long acrimonious history between Vinod and Shekhar, with Outlook often taking pot-shots at the newspaper. All that bad blood has now come to a boil.

“While Open is examining legal options, Vinod, perhaps the only editor to keep this plaque in his office-Hard Work Never Killed Anyone, But Why Take The Risk-is characteristically mild-mannered. ‘What’s the fuss, he (Shekhar) is perfectly entitled to sue me if he wishes to.’

Sanjaya Baru on Facebook:

“Hartosh is a good journalist, but this interview was bad judgement, and giving the dubious Vinod Mehta free run was wrong editorial judgement. Vinod has no business saying what he has, but then what’s new, he is like that only! Glad Shekhar has taken him to court.”

Sevanti Ninan on MxM:

“Vinod Mehta essentially said it was a planted story and it was a huge mistake to carry it. Considering that the first byline on the story was that of the chief editor, that is quite a statement to make. You are saying the chief editor and his colleague are susceptible to plants, thereby seriously questioning their credibility. So I guess the Express could hardly ignore it.”

* Disclosures apply

Also read: Indian Express ‘C’ report: scoop, rehash or spin?

Indian Express stands by its ‘C’ report

How the media viewed the Indian Express ‘C’ report

Aditya Sinha tears into the Indian Express ‘C’ report

Adolf Hitler reacts to the Indian Express ‘C’ report

“Reliance has no ‘direct’ stake in media cos”

A screengrab of the official press information bureau (PIB) release on 14 May 2012, on the shareholding of Mukesh Ambani‘s Reliance Industries in media companies.

Interesting, if true.

Also read: Mint says SEBI looking into RIL-Network18/TV18-ETV deal

Rajya Sabha TV tears into RIL-Network18-ETV deal

Will RIL-TV18-ETV deal win SEBI, CCI approval?

The sudden rise of Mukesh Ambani, media mogul

The Indian Express, Reliance & Shekhar Gupta

Niira Radia, Mukesh Ambani, Prannoy Roy & NDTV

Why the Indian media doesn’t take on the Ambanis

Sugata Raju is new editor of ‘Vijaya Karnataka’

Vijaya Karnataka, the Kannada daily from The Times of India group, has a new editor: Sugata Srinivasaraju, the former associate editor, south, of Outlook* magazine. He takes over from Vasant Nadiger who was officiating as editor following the sudden death of E. Raghavan in March.

Raghavan had taken over VK from the paper’s longstanding editor Vishweshwar Bhat, who has since moved to Kannada Prabha, the Kannada daily owned by the mobile phone baron turned parliamentarian, Rajeev Chandrasekhar.

ToI bought Vijaya Karnataka in 2006 from the truck operator Vijay Sankeshwar, who launched a new title called Vijaya Vani following the end of the five-year no-compete clause with Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd. Vijaya Karnataka also faces growing competition from former market leader Praja Vani (from the Deccan Herald group).

* Disclosures apply

Photograph: courtesy Outlook

Also read: Ex-TOI, ET editor E. Raghavan passes away

Is Vijaya Karnataka ready for a Dalit editor?

How a Hindi newspaper editor became an MP

An item in the gossip diary in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

Vivek Gupta, the editor of Sanmarg—the Hindi daily that made the cut in Mamata Banerjee‘s evaluation of newspapers that can find a place in Bengal’s libraries—had always dream of visiting the Parliament.

When he took charge of Sanmarg, Gupta informed the Trinamul Congress’s Sudip Bandopadhyay of his wish. Bandopadhyay, the story goes, asked him to come to Delhi and made the necessary arrangements so that Gupta could sit in the visitors’ gallery.

In the evening, he took a flight back to Calcutta, but even bfore he had emerged from the airport, his life had changed—he had been made a Rajya Sabha MP by Didi.

Now that is what we call a fairy tale.

Interesting, if true.

Also read: How journalist Rajeev Shukla became a minister

How journalists are aiding the decadent IPL

The academic, writer and critic Mukul Kesavan in The Times of India:

“The IPL is, in media terms, such a honeypot, that the traditional distinction between pundits in the electronic and print media paid to comment on sport and the commentators contracted to describe and celebrate it on television, has dissolved. We have seen people wearing both hats without the slightest self-consciousness….

“The people who run the IPL and the journalists who cover it, seem to positively celebrate the fact that IPL teams are playthings of the rich and famous….

“When the governors of cricket in India begin to use female bodies to sell tickets and capture television ratings you know that a cricket tournament has lost its bearings and become something else. And when the journalists who enable the tamasha and the audiences who watch it begin to take the dancing girls for granted, there is a larger sickness abroad.”

Read the full article: Decadence and the IPL

Also read: Indian cricket reporters are too soft on cricketers

Why a unique newspaper isn’t covering the IPL

The Times of India, indiatimes.com and IPL-4

How come no one saw the IPL cookie crumbling