Monthly Archives: September 2013

When Arnab Goswami was not his ‘usual self’

In the era of news at the speed of light, no “scoop” lasts more than the time it takes for an obese OB van to turn the corner.

On Friday, September 20, the Indian Express lead story on the activities of former army chief, Gen V.K. Singh‘s “rogue” outfit technical support division (TSD) threatened do dominate the discourse, but only for the weekend.

By Monday evening, the momentum had shifted to the Army’s dabbling in governmental activities, thanks to the general’s loquacious admissions on television after television channel.

Shailaja Bajpai writes in the Indian Express:

“When former army chief V.K. Singh appeared on Times Now, Monday night, you expected something to give. What you didn’t expect is the information he gave out: that the army routinely pays ministers in the Jammu and Kashmir government to work for “stability”, as he put it, in the state.

“Now, it wasn’t at all clear, watching him, whether he had come prepared to say what he said or whether it had been prised out of him by some canny questioning, by Arnab Goswami.

“As Goswami asked pointed but leading questions, Singh became more and more expansive, more combative and, in the process, may have revealed more than he intended to — at least, that’s how it seemed from the distance of the TV screen.

“It was a perfect match-up: the general in his labyrinth after The Indian Express report on an army probe into the controversial Technical Support Division’s activities, and television’s prime inquisitor.

“For a change, Goswami was calm and razor sharp. Gone was his usual persona of a bully who hectored his guests, interrupted them at will and positioned himself as the nation’s conscience. Here, he employed his skills as a journalist to extract information from his guest. If only he, and other TV anchors, did this more frequently, television news would be a far better place to be — informative and interesting.”

Read the full article: Seizing the story

Also read: Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta & Gen V.K. Singh

Arnab Goswami is corrective to babalog media’

How a martyr’s wife changed Arnab Goswami‘s outlook

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Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta & Gen V.K. Singh

For the second time in 18 months, the northern edition of Viveck Goenka‘s Indian Express (sold in the south as The National Standard) has been drawn into a blazing row between the Congress-led UPA government and the then (and now retired) chief of the Army staff, General V.K. Singh.

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In April 2012, the Express put out a front-page, full-page, eight-column, triple-decker banner-headlined story that on the day Gen Singh’s petition before the Supreme Court on his date of birth was coming up on January 16, 2012, two units of the Indian Army had moved towards Delhi

In effect, that Express story—bylined “by Shekhar Gupta, Ritu Sarin, Pranab Dhal Samanta, with Ajmer Singh“—was making the thinly disguised insinuation that the general had tried to stage a coup in the national capital but without using the dreaded “C” word.

The Express story was denied by defence minister A.K. Antony, and most newspapers punched holes in the Express story, but the paper stuck to its guns.

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Last Friday, September 20—five days after Gen Singh had shared the dais with the BJP’s “prime ministerial candidate” Narendra Damodardas Modi—the Express front-paged an eight-column, double-decker, half-page story, by Ritu Sarin, that a unit set up by Gen Singh had, among other things, tried to topple the Jammu & Kashmir government headed by Omar Abdullah.

In effect, a “C” minor.

But unlike the first occasion, when the General was still in his uniform and constrained from speaking out on its veracity, this time he has let loose a volley of personal criticism on Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta, who has a demonstrated record of top-flight reporting on defence matters, both at Express and his previous port of call, India Today magazine.

First, on Twitter, General Singh called Shekhar Gupta a “UPA stooge” and gave oxygen to a number of unsubstantiated charges on his assets and income-tax returns, even drawing Gupta’s spouse, Neelam Jolly, into the picture.

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Then, on the 9 pm news on television, after he had filed an application under the right to information seeking the Army report on which Express said it had based its story, General Singh went for the jugular, both against Express and its editor.

In an interview with Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of Times Now, Gen Singh said:

“This paper first accuses me of trying to topple the government in Delhi, now it accuses me of trying to topple the government in J&K…. How did Indian Express know about it? If there is a leak (of the Army report) to a paper, why can’t it be made available to me?

“I don’t consider Indian Express a newspaper which can be believed. Sorry. A paper which can dub a movement of two units on simple mobilization as a ‘coup’ should be thrown out into the wastepaper basket.”

Express reported the latter criticism in its editions today, quoting Times Now, but conveniently excised the middle portion, which questioned the veracity of its April 2012 “C” report.

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Then, in an interview Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN, Gen Singh answered a few questions:

Who is behind this ‘motivated report’?

When I say motivated, I am only going by what the Indian Express has reported. With my previous experience of their putting out a ‘coup’ story, I feel it is highly motivated…. If a newspaper can have this report or parts of this report, I think I as a person directly affected must have a copy.

Sir, you have also today on social media made comments about the editor of the Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta.

I don’t know if it is a personal battle for him. If a person comes to my house, has a meal, understands the situation, then goes and does a banner headline on spooking the government, and a coup, based on two units that moved, what was the agenda?

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In an interview with Nitin A. Gokhale, NDTV‘s defence editor, 17 days before the Express report, Gen Singh said:

(M)isunderstandings are created deliberately by people who hobnob with certain journalists, who seem to be having an axe to grind and there are some of them very prominent ones. Why the axe is there to grind, whether it is because they have been bought over or something else I really can’t comment on. But it appears quite obvious.

In this particular instance there was, you know, banner headlines. Army is spying, Army is bugging, Army is doing A, B and C…

I have tried to clarify it once earlier.  But I find same reports keep coming up. In fact this great paper called Indian Express had done the same report with just a minor variation of figure by the same reporter couple of months back. He has brought it up again, same thing no change in it, just a minor variation. So much for the journalistic talent that this paper has….

For a paper to say Rs 8 crore is missing, have they seen the logbooks? Have they gone through the details?  They haven’t. No, I think lot of things that this paper has been doing is totally wrong.

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While the rest of mainstream media stayed silent on the Twitter war between Gen Singh and Shekhar Gupta, it briefly popped up as a news item on NewsX, the news channel.

But, on social media, as the paper’s reputation was taking a pounding, the Indian Express scion Anant Goenka felt it fit to enter the debate (here, here).

#”To the haters: you can allege a variety of vested interests but our history shows we take up issues that no one else has the courage….

#”Fact is that Express is and has always been feared because we don’t care who hates us…I think our readers expect nothing less from us.”

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Update: NewsX, which put out a news report on V.K. Singh’s allegations against Shekhar Gupta, issued a clarification on 14 October 2013:

“News X would like to clarify that its report of September 23 in no capacity an endorsement of the claim or reflects the editorial view held by the channel with regard to Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekha Gupta. News X was only reporting the Tweets as put out by the General on his individual account.”

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Also read: What they are saying about Express ‘sue’ report

Adolf Hitler reacts to Indian Express ‘C’ report

Is the Indian Express a pro-establishment newspaper?

‘People know TV news is just entertainment’

Pratap Bhanu Mehta president of the Delhi-based thinktank, Centre for Policy Research (CPR), in an interview with Karan Thapar for CNN-IBN:

Karan Thapar: How do you view the Indian media? Do you share justice Markandey Katju‘s concern, that by and large it is obsessive, it is narrow-minded, it focuses on middle class – urban concerns, ignoring the real problems that affect India such as poverty, such as joblessness.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta: My concern is not so much the issues it covers. It is that whatever it does, with a few exceptions, it is not bringing sufficient rigour and it is not performing frankly the function of being an honest broker in very, very important debates. The media is failing Indian democracy, I would agree with justice Katju to that extent.

Thapar: I know you are not a participant on television debates but do you watch them or do you find them off putting or irritating?

Mehta: You watch them in the way you would watch an entertainment show. In fact my own sense is that I think people are very wisely making the distinction that news is entertainment. It is not news.

Thapar: But of course it should not be entertainment at all.

Mehta: But of course it should not be. It’s exactly that confusion of roles that is crippling us.

Thapar: So TV debates may be entertaining but in terms of informing, educating, illuminating, they fail.

Mehta: Actually they are quite dangerous because they present a false construction of what public opinion is.

Read the full interview: Pratap Bhanu Mehta

Portrait of a film critic at the cash counter

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At Sooni Taraporevala‘s endearing exhibition of photographs of Parsis, chronicled since 1977, the very first exhibit is of Rashid Irani.

On the left is Irani last year; on the right is Irani 25 years ago.

Both pictures show Irani, the working partner of Brabourne, the eponymous Irani restaurant on Princess Street in Bombay with which his family has been associated since 1934, behind the cash counter.

But in his other life, in front of it, Irani is a cineaste, a connoisseur of poetry, and a long-time critic of English films—for The Times of India for the longest time, and lately for the Hindustan Times.

A trained accountant, who worked in a shipping company for 17 and a half years, Irani took his position at the till after the premature death of his father in 1965.

Sooni Taraporevala, who wrote the screenplay for the much-acclaimed Salaam Bombay, writes:

“Rashid has a remarkably international outlook entirely from his reading. He has never left India.”

The exhibition is on at the national gallery of modern art (NGMA) in New Delhi.

Karan Thapar takes on Shekhar Gupta on credit

Even after a quarter-century or thereabouts of television interviewing, Karan Thapar‘s competitive edge has far from dimmed.

In his weekly column in the Hindustan Times (whose failed TV venture Home TV he helped set up in the 1990s), Thapar takes offence at the Indian Express and Mail Today for not crediting him for an interview with Union minister Kamal Nath; in fact going so far as to accuse them of “unethical practices”.

Briefly, Nath told Thapar for his CNN-IBN show Devil’s Advocate on September 7 that the CBI was well within its rights to question the PM in the coal scam if need be.

The interview, he says was recorded at 1 pm on Saturday; by 3 pm CNN-IBN began running news clips; by 3:15 pm excerpts were placed on IBN Live, the channel’s website; and by 5 pm emailed to the press, including Express and Mail Today.

Thapar writes:

“Imagine my surprise when on Sunday (September 8) I discovered that the Express and Mail Today had done identical interviews, with Kamal Nath making exactly the same point.

“Was this a coincidence? Or was it just conceivable they had seen the news clips and the excerpts and decided to put the same question to Kamal Nath so they could claim he had given the same answer to them as well?

“In other words, had they cleverly converted our interview into their own?

“Curious but also upset, I telephoned the minister. He confirmed my suspicions. Shortly after CNN-IBN began running news clips, the papers contacted him and asked the same questions about the PM and the CBI….

“I felt this was unethical. In fact, to be honest, it felt like ‘theft’. So I smsed a complaint to Shekhar Gupta, the editor of the Express, and Sandeep Bamzai, the editor of Mail Today.

“Shekhar didn’t respond. Sandeep did. He accepted what had happened was “bad form” and promised a clarification on Monday (September 9). It appeared on page 24. If I hadn’t known it was coming, I would have missed it….

“But these days honesty, it seems, is a diminishing virtue. On that count, sadly, journalists can’t claim to be very different from politicians.”

For the record, Thapar acknowledges that Press Trust of India, Business Standard and The Hindu carried Thapar’s interview, duly crediting CNN-IBN.

Also, for the record, Shekhar Gupta hosts the Walk the Talk interview show on NDTV that competes with Thapar’s Devil Advocate.

But the questions are obvious: can a TV interviewer who sends out a press release before an interview is aired claim exclusivity if a newspaper approaches the same interviewee with the same questions? Are Union ministers like Nath really “exclusive” material?

Read the full column: Honesty is a diminishing virtue

When an editor draws a cartoon, it’s news

MJ

Indian print editors have done book reviews (Sham Lal, Times of India), film reviews (Vinod Mehta, Debonair), food reviews (Vir Sanghvi, Hindustan Times), music reviews (Chandan Mitra, TOI, Pioneer, The Sunday Observer; Sanjoy Narayan, Hindustan Times), elephant polo reviews (Suman Dubey, India Today) etc, but few have done cartoons.

When The Telegraph, Calcutta, was launched Pritish Nandy (who later became the editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India) would do a daily, front-page pocket cartoon, with Mukul Sharma (who later became the editor of Science Today) writing the caption, and vice-versa.

Even today, former Statesman and Indian Express editor S. Nihal Singh is a happy doodler.

In the latest issue of Open magazine, its editor Manu Joseph (who has set crossword puzzles at his previous port of calling, Outlook) puts his signature on a cartoon. Let the record show that “Pope” Joseph‘s handwriting bears a close similarity with Dr Hemant Morporia, the radiologist who draws cartoons.

Also read: If The Economist looks at Tamil News, it’s news

When a stringer beats up a reporter, it’s news

When the gang of four meets at IIC, it’s news

When a politician weds a journalist, it’s news

When a magazine editor marries a starlet, it’s news

When dog bites dog, it’s news—I

When dog bites dog, it’s news—II

And, so, the ‘best journalist in India’ is…

Tunku Varadarajan, former editor of Newsweek International, on his thambi (younger brother), Siddharth Varadarajan, editor of The Hindu, in the September issue of The Indian Quarterly:

“I think he’s the best journalist in India. He’s serious, he’s knowledgeable, he writes wonderfully. But what drives him is the urge to educate people, to edify. What he wants to get out of a piece is to improve somebody; what I want is a good read.

“I’m not a mindless provocateur, but I do believe that, if an issue raises hard questions, journalists ought not to play the ball safe with a dead bat; they out to try and square the ball to the boundary.”

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Also read: India’s three best cartoonists are…

India’s best editors? Just press ‘click’