Monthly Archives: March 2013

When Shekhar Gupta met Dawood Ibrahim

In his Saturday column in The Indian Express, editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta recounts his encounter with India’s most wanted man, the Bombay-born underworld don, Dawood Ibrahim, when he was at India Today:

“I had had one long, and partly on-record conversation on the phone with Dawood Ibrahim before the Bombay blasts, set up through my colleague [ editorial director] Sheela Bhatt, who edited the Gujarati edition of India Today and was a veteran on the underworld beat in Bombay.

“This was in 1992, just after Dr Manmohan Singh, as finance minister, was freeing up the economy and opening up imports, even of gold. I called Dawood (in Dubai) and asked if this had not harmed his smuggling business. He said what we called smuggling in India was a legitimate business activity in Dubai, so he was breaking no law.

“He also said he welcomed what “Manmohan ji” had done, except that somebody should have done that much earlier. He did not regret losing some business, he said, as “my country benefited from such reform.” He was at pains to underline his patriotism.

“Even in cricket, he said, he always supported and betted on India and was so distraught (he spoke in language more colourful than this, but unpublishable) that India had lost to the West Indies in the World Cup that morning — that is why we know that the conversation took place on March 10, 1992, when the West Indies walloped India by five wickets at Wellington.

“He said any time I wanted a more proper interview, I only had to let him know….

“He spoke to Sheela Bhatt again after the bombings (published alongside my story in India Today, April 15, 1993) and said he was being victimised by Bombay Police. He fulminated over how badly Muslims were targeted in the Bombay riots, how their women had been humiliated and children burnt, but denied any role in the serial bombings whatsoever. If the government set up an inquiry consisting of RAW and the CBI in Delhi, but excluding Bombay Police, he would even present himself before it. Of course, no such thing was to happen as his gang’s role in the conspiracy became clearer by the day.

I decided now to take him up on his earlier offer of a more “proper” interview, and called him. He said he couldn’t promise that “right now”. But after some cajoling, he agreed to see me if I came to Dubai, though only if I agreed to keep the meeting off the record unless he agreed to come on record.

“I did visit Dubai in the first week of April, 1993 and presented myself at his “workplace”, the 17-storey Pearl Building housing many airline offices in the buzzing Al Fahidi Street, a kind of subcontinental shopping paradise then.

“Dawood and his brother Anees were at their 12th floor office, decorated with gold-inlaid paintings of Ajmer Sharif and Quranic verses. It was just around noon, but I was struck by the fact that the morning’s Times of India (Bombay edition) lay on his table — the don stayed in touch with the latest!

“He was in the news then and, of course, all references to him and Dubai in a front-page story had been blackened out by Dubai censors.

“Dawood was not willing to give an interview now. Not even to acknowledge that he was in Dubai. “When we do the interview, bhai,” he said, “you won’t come to Dubai just like this.” He would call me back again, he said, and then “my car will go and receive you at the tarmac and bring you to me… you will be my guest… and my people will also take you shopping” etc, etc. But for now, he said, please do not even mention that you met me here, “as it creates problems for my hosts”.

“I persisted, nagged and talked around him as reporters usually do, and all he would concede was that I mention I visited his office, without quoting any conversations. And then, as I turned around to leave, making no secret of my dismay and even reluctance, he sensed something.

Ai bhai,” he said, as I turned around, hoping somehow that he had changed his mind.

Dekhna bhai, likhna nahin maine jo kaha (see, brother, do not report what I said)”, “dekho na, achcha nahin hoga (see, it won’t be nice)”.

It felt as if the temperature had suddenly dropped 30 degrees below zero, and yet I was sweating on the forehead. That memory isn’t selective, nor is it convenient. And it hasn’t faded even a bit after two full decades.”

Photograph: courtesy Outlook

Read the full story: Lest we forget


BCCI’s 8-point list of media don’ts for IPL


Giving the kind of brand equity cricket commands, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has been majestically proactive in protecting its rights (and the rights of rights holders) over the game.

Result: representatives of Cricinfo, which is now owned by ESPN, cannot file from the press box and have to watch the match from the stands, because the rights are with Star.

Result: news agencies routinely boycott coverage of matches, especially by way of pictures.

Result: a legend like Jim Maxwell of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) skipped the recent series because ABC didn’t have the rights.

With the Indian Premier League (IPL) around the corner, BCCI’s legal representatives (operating from the safe confines of a post office box number in Bangalore) have shot off letters to print organisations on the use of logos, trademarks, word marks and other “proprietary content”.

The eight-point list of don’ts is revealing:

Please be informed that, without license, your publication/s may not:

i.  use any or all of the IPL Names, IPL Marks and IPL Proprietary Content in conjunction with any advertisement, message, name, logo, trade mark or word mark of any third party;

ii. publish any article, match synopsis, match review, or snap-shot relating to the Pepsi IPL or any previous IPL seasons that uses any or all of the IPL Names, IPL Marks and IPL Proprietary Content in conjunction with any  unlicensed advertisement, message, name, logo, trade mark or word mark of a third party,

iii. publish any photograph that relates to the Pepsi IPL or any previous seasons of the IPL that is sponsored by any third party, or contain catchphrases that refer to any third party (e.g, “Entity A’ Moment of the Match”),

iv. publish third party sponsored or presented score-cards of Pepsi IPL matches,

v. publish third party sponsored capsules or tables containing fixtures, timings and/or venue details of Pepsi IPL matches,

vi. publish any syndicated column that displays any or all of the IPL Names, IPL Marks and IPL Proprietary Content and displays the name, trade mark, word mark logo of any commercial or non-commercial entity/entities,

vii. publish a special page, section or supplement relating to Pepsi IPL that displays any or all of the IPL Names, IPL Marks, and IPL Proprietary Content in conjunction with any advertisement, message, name, logo, trade mark or word mark of a third party, or

viii. publish still images by altering or deliberately removing, replacing or obscuring any logo of a sponsor of the BCCI-IPL, a participating team or a participating player;

Also read: How journalists are aiding the decadent IPL

Why the watchdogs didn’t bark during IPL loot

Why a unique newspaper isn’t covering the IPL

How come no one saw IPL cookie crumbling

The Times of India, India Times and IPL-4

How the Press Council of India took shape

As the fulminations of the chairman of the Press Council of India, Justce Markandey Katju, swing from the ludicrous to the ridiculous, time to look at the day—50 years ago—the PCI took seed, not for its quixotic chief to plead for a convict’s sentence to be commuted or for a sovereign nation to be declared fake, but for the high ideals of the media to be protected.

From The Hindu, dated 23 March 1963:

“A Bill to set up the Press Council will be introduced in the next session of Parliament, said B. Gopala Reddi, Minister for Information and Broadcasting, in the Lok Sabha. Considering the various problems facing the Press, he was convinced that there was no use in delaying the constitution of the Press Council.

“In his reply to the demands for grants for his Ministry, Gopala Reddi said that as soon as legislation for setting up the Press Council was passed, steps would be taken to constitute it. It would go into the various aspects of the Press like, monopoly tendencies, status of the editor, and other matters as envisaged in the report of the Press Commission.

“He pointed out that it had been agreed generally by the members of the Congress Party, the opposition members, and the Government that the powers of the Press should not be in the hands of a few persons. But the questions connected with the functioning of the Press in the country were of a legal and constitutional nature and should be dealt with by the Press Council.”

‘Business journalists are PR mouthpieces’: Bahal

Last week, Cobra Post, the website run by the investigative journalist Aniruddha Bahal made public “Operation Red Spider”, its sting operation into alleged money-laundering by HDFC, Axis and ICICI banks.

This week, in Open magazine, Bahal answers a couple of questions on the media treatment of the story.

The story is significant, but failed to create a furore, don’t you think?

We can’t say that. Most news channels took it live. There were live debates on every channel. However, the conduct of business papers and channels was disappointing. For them, this story should have been of overwhelming importance, which was apparently not the case. We need to examine the reasons for it.

It poses a question on the credibility of business journalism in India.

Not one journalist from a business paper or news channel contacted me for a detailed briefing on the scam. This tells you where their hearts and minds are. They are PR mouthpieces of establishment.

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu


Aakar Patel: ‘Indian journalism is regularly second-rate’

SEBI chief: Business journalism or business of journalism?

Raju Narisetti: ‘Good journalists, poor journalism, zero standards’

New York Times: Why Indian media doesn’t take on Ambanis

How come none in the Indian media spotted Satyam fraud

Yes, Kofi Annan is a dish, Teesta* is an actress

The veteran journalist and former Reader’s Digest assistant editor V. Gangadhar, who taught journalism for over a decade in Bombay’s colleges, agrees with the press council chief Justice Markandey Katjuorder” that journalists do need “some legal qualifications.”

He writes in The Hindu:

Some years ago, the journalism entrance test at a career development institute in Mumbai had this objective-type question: Kofi Annan is (a) a Nigerian footballer (b) lead singer of a Sierra Leone pop group (c) a Sri Lankan delicacy (d) Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The 100-odd candidates who appeared for the test were graduates with a sprinkling of post graduates. For nearly 25 of them, Kofi Annan was a Sri Lankan delicacy.

At a TV Bachelor of Mass Media (BMM) university examination, where students were asked to identify and comment on a recent war which had divided the United States of America, more than a dozen students, obviously from the same college, elaborated on the “Vitamin War.” Another TV BMM class was learning the basics of book reviews. The teacher was shocked when the 40 plus students admitted that none of them had ever read a book outside their prescribed course of studies.

*Also read: Paparazzi pic of Bollywood babe sans makeup

External reading: Yes, journos do need minimum qualifications

ET’s advice to media: move on, let go

As a wave of earnestness sweeps across newsrooms over the Delhi gangrape, The Economic Times strikes a blow against the emerging political correctness:

“The media, the general press especially, must recognise that neither public purpose nor journalistic remit is being served by what sometimes appears to be a predetermined decision to find a ‘Nirbhaya headline’. Two unwelcome consequences follow whenever the media refuses to let go and move on in such situations. One, the lack of broader relevance of such stories becomes painfully apparent.

“Two, such stories begin, even if unwittingly, to trivialise the memory of the person and invade the privacy of those who loved her most. When such consequences become apparent, and they clearly are now, the media must self-correct . The bigger lesson here, one that the media should always remember , is that public discourse is inherently dynamic and many-layered.

“Changes, shifts, variety and multiplicity are its defining attributes. No single story, no single newsmaker, no single tragedy or triumph can really define public discourse. Therefore, efforts to impose a single narrative – no matter how well-intentioned – will always seem contrived. The sooner the general press realises this, the better it is for everyone and everything, not least the memory of Nirbhaya.”

Read the full editorial: ‘Media mustn’t force headlines’

‘Bak-bak on FM radio captures spirit of new India’

Adman and columnist Santosh Desai in The Times of India:

“Perhaps no medium captures the crackling sociology of the surging new spirit of cities, particularly that of small-town India, better than FM radio…. What it does is give voice to the city in all its liquid stream-of-consciousness currency. It lives in the ever present, and does with energy and enthusiasm, an excitable running commentary on the everyday interests of the city’s residents, particularly the young.

“All over India, RJs on FM stations are evolving a unique local voice, that fuses media-fuelled aspirations with local doubt, the headiness of new opportunities with a reinforcement of an existing way of life. The tone is cheerful, electric even, and the interaction a combination of diversion, stimulation and worldly counselling….

“The conversation does not locate itself in the world of ‘happenings’, nor is in the least bit concerned with what is deemed important but in the new universe of the hyper-trivial. New malls, restaurants, shopping bargains rub shoulders with romantic problems, real and imagined.

“FM radio teases out the private into the dominion of the public, one confession at a time.

“The listener is in fact the protagonist, in the sense that radio promotes a parallel dialogue in the listener’s head as one eavesdrops into relatable situations being faced by others. The inner life of the listeners becomes part of the collective outer life, as radio symbolically helps people hold hands as they walk down unfamiliar new paths.

“Change is legitimised, made sense of and accepted as one finds oneself in the happy company of the new. The city is fed to itself morsel by engaging morsel. Packaged in the grammar of agreeable drivel, FM radio is part of the new ‘bak-bak’ economy that has sprung up in small town India, which breaks down the modern into little bits of the enjoyably trivial.”

Read the full column: The new voice of the city

Follow Santosh Desai on Twitter: @desaisantosh