Monthly Archives: July 2013

Sen-Bhagwati row in media silly season: EPW

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Editorial in the Economic and Political Weekly:

“July and August are the months of the “silly season” for the newspapers in the United Kingdom; with everyone on a summer holiday the papers are compelled to look for silly stories to fill the pages. The Indian media – especially the financial press – seems to be in the midst of its own silly season.

“We are referring here to the screaming headlines surrounding the supposedly opposite perspectives on economic policy for India offered by the economists Jagdish Bhagwati and Amartya Sen. The context is the publication recently of An Uncertain Glory: India and Its Contradictions by Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen and that last year of India’s Tryst with Destiny by Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya.

“The media has successfully managed to portray the two works as representative of a clash between an economic policy that emphasises growth versus that which emphasises redistribution.

“Far from representing two diametrically opposite schools of thought, Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati are both mainstream economists, the one a philosopher-economist who made his mark in social choice and the other a trade theory economist. Where they differ is in the relative emphasis they place within economic policy.

“To use the language of sound bytes, Bhagwati believes that India must remove all barriers to market-driven growth and that a rising tide would lift all boats. Sen would call for attention to be paid to the spread of the benefits of growth and to the need for public interventions in specific areas where the market cannot play a positive role.

“Going by the headlines and pontification by columnists though, one would not realise that at the core this is the difference – of emphasis rather than of diametrical opposites. But then the prospect of a public battle between a Nobel Prize winner and a Nobel Prize winner-in-waiting is too tempting for our print, TV and social media to miss; rather they would even manufacture a clash.”

Image: courtesy The Telegraph

Read the full editorial: Silly season of policy debates

The reporter who scooped Olympic dope scandal

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In his weekly column National Interest, Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta writes on a pre-internet era incident from the 1988 Olympic Games at Seoul, which he covered for India Today magazine:

On one sleepless night, after India had had one more disastrous day at those medal-less Olympics, my friend Lokesh Sharma (then reporting for The Telegraph) and I were generally whiling away our time, playing with the computers at the Press Centre.

I was, in fact, playing with a new app (the Koreans had invented one then already!), where you hit an athlete’s name and could check out his/her bio-rhythm on any given date. And then Lokesh came sprinting in, as if he had seen a miracle.

Oye, tujhe pata hai kya hua,” he asked.

Kya hua?” I said.

“Oye, woh Ben Johnson, uska su-su….” Lokesh said.

Kya Ben Johnson ka su-su?” I asked.

Oye, woh uska su-su fail ho gaya,” Lokesh was so breathless.

This is just after the Canadian had made history, beating the more fancied Carl Lewis in the 100m sprint. Lokesh had overheard two lab technicians talking about his urine sample having failed the dope test.

We were now sitting on a world scoop.

But at 5.30 in the morning at Seoul (3 am in India) we were past all deadlines and it was no use for me anyway as I worked for a fortnightly, India Today. But Lokesh would always land on his feet. He sold the scoop, his greatest ever, to AFP.

No wonder he soon outgrew sports journalism to rise as India’s most successful sports entrepreneur, a kind of first Indian Jerry Maguire, and has never looked back since.

Photograph: courtesy India Today

Read the full article: Running debate

Vir Sanghvi, Modi, 1984 and Hindustan Times

In the latest issue of Open magazine, its political editor Hartosh Singh Bal writes on the re-appearance of former Hindustan Times editor Vir Sanghvi on the pages of the newspaper, to underline the the media’s janus-faced approach to the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 under Congress watch and the 2002 Gujarat riots under BJP rule:

Narendra Modi is not just unfit for the post of Prime Minister; he is unfit for any public office. But the shamelessness of such a man is best questioned by a media that is immune to questions about its own motives.

“Just this week, Delhi woke up to an article on the edit page of one of India’s leading newspapers, the Hindustan Times, by none other than Vir Sanghvi.

“Writing in the paper on politics for the first time since his misuse of the same space was rather dramatically highlighted in the Radia Tapes, he commented on the Modi campaign: ‘No matter which party wins, India is certain to lose.’

“It seems even shame has its limits.

“It is no surprise that almost a decade earlier Sanghvi had written about the 1984 massacres: ‘On the more substantive issue of whether the administration allowed Delhi to burn, all the commissions have been unanimous: yes, it did, but this was because of incompetence and negligence, not because of any sinister design. If there is a parallel, it is with the 1993 Bombay riots rather than with Gujarat.’

“Somehow, he always manages to say exactly what the Congress wants to hear. To me it seems that no matter who wins, with his piece being published, journalism in some measure has already lost.”

Read the full column: The end of shame

Also read: Vir Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt: “We were targetted”

HT strips Vir Sanghvi of his editorial advisory role

Vir Sanghvi suspends Hindustan Times column

Vir Sanghvi says his HT column will resume soon

Why we didn’t hear Niira Radia tapes: 2 examples

86% feel let down by CD baat of journalists

After Athreya and Kautilya, enter Chanakya

Journalism, PR and the reversal of roles

With journalists hopping over to the “dark area”—public relations, corporate communications, etc—once they have had enough of the profession, it can often lead to quite paradoxical situations.

Like this advertisement released by Jaiprakash Associates to counter a story published by The Times of India on Thursday.

It’s signed by Askari H. Zaidi, a former member of the political bureau of TOI, who is now the head of corporate communications of the Jaypee Group.

The ad appears in most Delhi newspapers, except The Times of India.

POLL: Should FDI in media be enhanced?

With the economic downturn threatening to turn into a full-blown recession and with the finance minister reduced to going around the world with a hat in hand, the Congress-led UPA government last week increased foreign direct investment (FDI) in telecom, defence, petroleum refining, etc, but…

But, not the media.

On the issue of enhancing FDI in media from 26% to 49% under the automatic route as proposed by a finance ministry panel, two separate ministries swung into action. First, the ministry of information and broadcasting sought the views of the telecom regulatory authority (TRAI) and the press council (PCI).

And then, the home ministry opposed the hike, favouring control of media houses by Indians. The Press Trust of India (PTI) quoted official sources as saying:

# “Opening up of current affairs TV channels, newspapers and periodicals dealing with news and current affairs may lead to meddling in India’s domestic affairs and politics.

# “Increase of FDI in broadcasting and print media may also allow foreign players to launch propaganda campaign during any national crisis as well as when interests of any particular country is harmed through any government decision.

# “Big foreign media players with vested interests may try to fuel fire during internal or external disturbances and also can encourage political instability in the country through their publications or broadcasting outlets.”

These reasons have been touted for 22 years now and will surprise nobody. Last week, The Hindu (which was initially at the forefront of the opposition to FDI hikes in media) reported that the industry was divided on the FDI issue:

“While certain big networks like Times Television Network, Network 18 and NDTV are broadly supportive, others like India TV, Sun, Eenadu and Malayala Manorama group have objected to an increase in FDI caps.”

The Centre’s decision to not go-ahead with FDI in media in an election year will not surprise anybody. After all, it wouldn’t want to rub promoters and proprietors on the wrong side, especially when powerful corporates (potential election donors) have substantial stakes in the media.

Still, the question remains whether the media can be given this preferential treatment and, if so, for how long? Will the home ministry’s fears ever vanish? Or, will the media which talks of competition and choice as the great leveller in every sphere of life, seek the protection of politicians in power to protect its turf?

Also read: India opens another door for FDI in papers, mags

Everybody loves a good FDI announcement

How Narendra Modi buys media through PR

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The request for proposal (RFP) document of the Gujarat government that sets ‘targets’ for the PR firm that wins the contract to promote Narendra Modi’s image

In the latest issue of Open magazine, its deputy political editor Jatin Gandhi lays his hand on a “Request for Proposal” (RFP) document of the Gujarat government that shows how “almost every day, the Indian media—and sometimes the foreign media too—is tricked or influenced by Narendra Modi‘s public relations machinery”.

Exempli gratia: “Modi’s Rambo act, saves 15,000” (The Times of India, 23 June 2013) .

The RFP besides setting targets for the PR firm that bags the contract (see image, above) also lists what is expected of a PR firm if it bags the contract to manage the Gujarat chief minister’s image.

# The hired PR firm should ‘arrange for national and international media to visit Gujarat and attend various events organized by the different departments of the Government of Gujarat’.

# ‘The number of media personnel for any event shall be decided by the Commissionerate of information after deliberation on the scale of the event.’

# “It is the Firm’s responsibility to arrange for the visits of journalists to Gujarat, any other part of the country or abroad. The expenses for the same will be reimbursed by the Commissionerate of Information on the submission of actual bills.’

The story quotes sources as saying the state government has already borne the expenses of scores of journalists, paying for their flights, travel within Gujarat and stay on assorted occasions (and multiple visits in some cases).

“Senior journalists are usually assured of luncheon meetings with Modi, with seating plans drawn up to boost their egos. The current Indian PR agency (Mutual PR) has so far arranged meetings between Modi and a range of newspaper and magazine editors.

“Starting this year, the government also has a budget allocation for taking journalists abroad on Modi’s foreign visits….

“At the Vibrant Gujarat summit earlier this year, a list of 20 journalists was drawn for a luncheon meeting with Modi. On this list was Madhu Kishwar, editor of Manushi and a fellow at the Delhi-based Centre for Study of Developing Societies, who has turned from being a critic to an advocate of Modi.

“Internal communication accessed by Open shows that the agency was wooing Kishwar, something she firmly denies.

She says that she is writing a book on Modi: “I am going to include a chapter, I think, on the myth and reality of Modi’s PR. There is no PR. I have written angry letters to the CM’s office asking for information for which I have been waiting several weeks now. They are so overburdened.”

“With Kishwar claiming she is oblivious to the machinery at work, the Gujarat government nevertheless gave her special attention because she was seen as one of the lone voices emerging from the ‘the Left liberal space’ favourable to Modi’s policies with ‘captive column space available to her in The Hindu, DNA and Manushi…’

Read the full article: The Modi mythology

Also read: ReutersModi interview: ‘sensational tokenism’

‘Network 18’s multimedia Modi feast: a promo’

For cash-struck TV, Modi is cost-effective TRP

Modi‘s backers, media owners have converged’

The anti-Congress journo who fell for Priyanka

From the gossip column of the Hindustan Times:

“Congress president Sonia Gandhi did not think for a second before announcing that she would be contesting from Rae Bareli again in 2014, while speaking to reporters at the UPA anniversary dinner in May.

“Ask her,” she had responded to a question as to whether Priyanka Gandhi would also contest.

“The question being open, many in the Congress are asking each other whether Priyanka would finally join the electoral fray. There is no clear indication yet, but she is keeping a close tab on political developments and also making some decisive interventions.

“Last heard of, she invited  a celebrity journalist known for his anti-Congress rhetoric to  tea. He went home a changed man! Diplomacy in a teacup. “

Read the full column: The Buzz

‘A cricket writer as loved as any great cricketer’

In The Telegraph, Calcutta, Amit Roy reports on the funeral for the Bombay-born cricket and squash writer Dicky Rutnagur who passed away last month at the age of 82.

After the funeral, Rutnagur’s friends, colleagues and relatives proceeded to the Writing Room at the Lord’s, where John Woodcock, the legendary cricket correspondent of The Times, London, paid tribute to his former press box colleague.

Amit Roy writes that turning to the casket, Woodcock, 86, “who had made the effort to come up from his country residence in Hampshire, struck an informal, conversational tone as though he was chatting with Rutnagur,” his colleague from The Daily Telegraph, in the press box.

“Well, Dicky, I hope you know the affection in which you are held — and I use the present tense intentionally — not only by all of us here today, but by so many who are already with you in the great pavilion in the sky, and others who would be here now but for the Test match at Trent Bridge. It is a great privilege for me to have the chance to say so.

 “To have covered over 300 Test matches in the days when there were many fewer of them was a remarkable tally, and when it fitted, you were in the top flight of writers on squash and badminton.

“Thank you, Dicky, from all of us, for many years of warmth and humour, for becoming one of us as naturally as you did and for keeping our friendship in repair.

“It is a very considerable thing to be able to say, without any exaggeration, that of all those brought to this country through cricket, many great players among them, you, a journalist, has been as well-loved and respected as any. What an achievement! Our gratitude to you for many fond memories. Peace be with you, Dicky.”

Photograph: courtesy The Daily Telegraph, London

Read the full report: An English farewell for Dicky Rutnagur

Also read: Dicky Rutnagur, an ek dum first-class dikra, RIP

The nation’s moral compass before Mr Goswami

Priya Ramani, editor of Lounge, the Saturday section of the business paper, Mint:

“For residents of south Mumbai, in a faraway time before Arvind Kejriwal and Arnab Goswami, the taxi driver was this somnolent constituency’s only link to national politicking.

“In the short drive from Nariman Point to Malabar Hill, the Navbharat Times and Yashobhoomi reading taxi driver could introduce you to his India, one where citizens didn’t pay taxes and yet knew exactly what the government had been up to.

“His Mayawati vs Mulayam Singh monologue was tailored to the duration of your drive and the level of your interest. God forbid some English newspapers had convinced you that life in Bihar had improved dramatically with the rise of Nitish Kumar, he could easily provide the counter view.

“If it was your lucky day, he would dismiss the idea of a Hindu Rashtra with a cynical: All these political parties are useless. Everyone’s a %*@#%. If not, oh well, it was a healthy debate, certainly more so than those snappy Twitter altercations.”

Read the full piece: Playing spin the wheel

Reuters’ Modi interview: “Sensational tokenism”

Reuters‘ scoop interview with Narendra Modi published yesterday by the news agency, but apparently given 17 days ago on June 25, has created headlines for the Gujarat chief minister’s continuing lack of contrition for what happened under his watch in 2002.

And for his faux pas of comparing the victims to “kutte ka bachcha” (puppies).

On Twitter, Sruthi Gottipati, one of the two Reuters‘ journalists who sat down for the powwow has complained of the manner in which the interview has played out on Indian TV and in the newspapers.

But those who have been fighting Modi on the courts of Gujarat and Delhi have bigger problems with Reuters‘ interview than the “kutte ke bachcha” gaffe. They say Reuters “failed to, conspicuously, persist with any accurate, difficult or pinching questions.”

Here, below, is the full text of the press release emailed by the Business India journalist turned activist Teesta Setalvad of Citizens for Justice and Peace.

***

PRESS RELEASE: Seven days before Reuters published its [Narendra Modi] exclusive, a privilege denied by the PM-aspirant to an Indian news agency or channel, we [Citizens for Justice and Peace] had been contacted persistently by a Reuters correspondent.

Not Ross Colvin or Sruthi Gottipati who now carry the journalistic honour of grabbing moments with a man who rarely likes to be questioned, especially if the questions are persistent like say those of Karan Thapar in 2007.

Thapar keen to get to the bottom of what Modi actually felt about 2002, did not  simply casually record – as Reuters has done – Modi’s response but asked, insistently, whether Modi actually regretted the mass reprisal killings that had taken place, post-Godhra, on his watch.

Modi simpered, dithered, glared and admonished…when none of that worked, and Thapar persisted, Modi did what he does best.

He walked out.

Not so with Reuters, that managed its exclusive but failed to, conspicuously, persist with any accurate, difficult or pinching questions.

***

The young man from Reuters who finally tracked me down in the Sahmat office at 29 Ferozeshah Road last week was clueless, he said, about Gujarat 2002. Apologetic about this ineptness, he kept saying that his bosses had asked him to track down the SIT report.

They had not bothered to contact us directly.

We insisted that he, read Reuters, do what fair journalism demands: look at the SIT clean chit in context; examine also the amicus curaie Raju Ramachandran’s report that conflicted seriously with the SIT closure and clean chit (opining that there was material to prosecute Narendra Modi on serious charges).

Both the SIT and the amicus were appointed by the same Supreme Court.

We insisted that Reuters examine the Supreme Court Order of 12.9.2011 that gave us the inalienable right to file a Protest Petition; we pointed out that Reuters must read the Protest Petition itself that we filed in pursuance of this order on 15.4.2013, peruse the arguments that we have been making before the Magistrate since June 25, 2013.

***

We tried, as best as we could,  to communicate that Reuters should read the SIT clean chit in the context of these overall developments.

No, No, said Reuters that had possibly already bagged the interview by then.

Who says a politically important interview should address all developments and facts, in a nutshell, tell the whole and complete story?

Much better to perform a tokenism, throw in a few questions about 2002, not persist with questioning the man charged with conspiracy to commit mass murder and subvert criminal justice with the complexities and gravity of charges and legal procedures that he currently faces – and which are being argued in Open Court in Ahmedabad.

Easier to be glib, grab headlines in all national dailies including by the way the one in Telegraph which is the only newspaper to report that Modi used “kutte ke bacche” not puppy as an analogy for which creatures may inadvertently get crushed when a “road accident happens.”

Never mind that many have been convicted for criminal negligence when they drive and kill.

On business and development, too, while Reuters plugs the man themselves in the first paragraph of the interview, there are no real probing questions on foreign direct investment, the Gujarat government’s back out to solar power companies (reported two days ago in the Economic Times) and so on….

So, quite apart from the more than despicable “kutte ke bacche” comment that Modi reportedly made, quite apart from the fact that he chose Reuters for his debutante mutterings not a national agency or channel, what is truly tragic about the whole exercise is the compliant journalism that it reflects.

The Reuters interview is not a dispassionate or thorough exercise that attempts to genuinely probe opinions and views. It is a sensational tokenism.

Teesta Setalvad, secretary, Citizens for Justice and Peace