When a fine magazine shuts down, it is news

After 15 years of publication, Housecalls, the first-class bimonthly magazine published by the Hyderabad-based Dr Reddy‘s Laboratories, is shutting shop this year.

In her editorial in the penultimate January-February issue, its editor pens a touching lament for the printed word—and the sanity that comes with it.

***

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By RATNA RAO SHEKAR

Increasingly these days, we are surrounded by a cacophony of soundbites and instant news.

It is not just I, but several people I know who cannot bear to watch prime time news. And this is mostly because well known anchors by the sheer force of their voice not only thrust their judgements on us but kill every other opinion ruthlessly, even if they come from respected citizens.

Our print media is no better in its over-indulgence of socialites and celebrities who air their views on everything from fiscal deficit to fashion trends (with the same élan), which are carried along with photographs that are bigger than their opinions.

Gone are the days of independent journalism when we opened the day’s papers to read the sane and sober reflections of a Chalapati Rau, a C.R. Irani or a Kuldip Nayar.

These days, when media ownership itself is suspect, funded as it is either by a business or a political group, we do not get the kind of objective and unbiased views we could fall back on in the past.

Sadly, as many of us have come to realise, even news can be bought, and you can get column inch space in proportion to the cheques you are willing to write for the media house.

How skewed the vision of both television and print media are, can be seen from the way they have recently been going on ad nauseam about celebrity sexual assaults, a high profile murder and the retirement of a cricketer.

This in the election year, when they ought to be focusing on the other India where there are rapes and murders of young girls on a routine basis! But these are not sensational enough for the mainstream media to take up so these stories are not discussed or dissected.

Added to this cacophony of half truths and dishonest opinions, we have the unrestrained chatter on the social media.

In the absence of any self-censorship, or editors who are in effect gatekeepers (and not just people who draw big salaries), the social media for all its freedom is a far from perfect way of receiving news.

In fact, there is such a slew of one-sided opinions, even hatred by certain right wing groups, that many want to shut their Twitter and Facebook accounts and move on.

More than ever in these times we need unbiased and nuanced writing that helps us in formulating independent opinions.

We need the resurrection of the common sense gene.

For this, certainly, we don’t need television news that numbs our senses so hopelessly that we begin to believe in a truth as given to us by CNN-IBN, or NDTV. We are ready to lynch or take out a candlelight march all based on the opinions of newscasters.

I have pointless arguments with people who believe that books, magazines and in fact writers themselves are dead, or should be dead. I say pointless, because in this intolerant world where there’s both sound and fury, we need the insight and wisdom offered to us in a good book or in a good essay.

We need the repose of the printed word.

We need to feel the heart of writers, and beauty of their ideas.

We need time to sit back and reflect.

Now, more than ever, we need the independent voice of a magazine like Housecalls which despite being supported by a pharma company was never about the sponsor or their viewpoints.

Nor were the articles Googled as is common nowadays.

Rather they were  written with integrity by writers who travelled the breadth of this country, often at a risk to their lives, looking for the good story to tell.

Since the last issue, we have been deluged by letters from distressed doctors and readers asking us why Housecalls is closing down, and if there was any way they could contribute.

I am not sure how they can help us, but am touched by the letters and feel vindicated that we were on the right track with the magazine – that what we had to say mattered and made a difference.

Now more than ever I believe in Housecalls.

Just as I do of the printed word.

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The loud and noisy Punjab-ification of India

2 Comments

  1. Death of a news channel

    There is sad news for television viewers in Assam. On 1 October, the management of Prime News, a Guwahati-based 24×7 privately-owned TV channel, notified its employees that it had decided to shut down because of heavy losses. The decision comes as a jolt to the Assam media fraternity because only last April the Seven Sisters’ Post, an English daily, and Sakalbela, a Bengali daily with its prime edition in Kolkata, had stopped publication. Prime News was started by a chit fund company called Jeevan Surakhya Group about three years ago. The two dailies were launched by the now-collapsed Saradha Group of Companies.
    Recently, Prime News (http://www.primenews. com) was taken over by Brahmaputra Infrastructure (Pvt) Ltd. It engaged over 170 “direct” employees, including journalists, and another 100 “partial” or “indirect employees” across Assam.
    The employees were in the dark about the management’s decision till the morning of 30 September, though rumours were afloat that the channel might close down any time.
    Assam, with a population of over 30 million, has 26 morning dailies and six privately-owned satellite news channels. The latter telecast programmes in English, Assamese, Bengali and various regional languages and cater to the need of nearly 60 million people of the North-east region. Though private television channels in Assam are said to be doing well, their employees, including working journalists, are not getting a decent salary. Over 80 per cent of working journalists with news channels have to perform their duties in insecure places without any life/health insurance coverage. They have often complained of there being no proper working hours, leave or off-days.
    Recently, the Journalists’ Forum Assam approached chief minister Tarun, Gogoi requesting him to look into the working conditions of employees of privately-owned television channels and take necessary action. It has also written to Manish Tewari, Union minister for information and broadcasting, narrating the plight of television mediapersons in Assam. The owners of Guwahati-based private news channels argue that they are running the show at a great loss. They say they have to pay about Rs 3 crore to cable operators across Assam and the North-east every year to facilitate the distribution of their channels to subscribers.
    Moreover, they have to pay a huge amount to Direct To Home service providers, too. When Prime News failed to pay Rs 2 crore service charge to cable operators, the latter recently blacked out the channel for nearly three weeks. Moreover, the news channel was not available with any DTH service provider in the country.
    A recent statement by JFA president Rupam Barua says, “But the issue that arises here is that the cable operators of the region also slam a monthly charge of Rs 200-300 per subscriber. So the cable operators are collecting money from both parties, namely the Guwahati-based private news channel managements and millions of subscriber families across the region.”
    The statement also added that “if the cable operators collect money every month from the viewers, they must pay a portion of this to the channel owners, in the same manner as newspaper agents pay the proprietors. However, if for some reason, it is not workable, the cable operators should reduce the monthly charge for subscribers. They may try to increase the number of subscribers in rural areas.”
    Meanwhile, the Prime News management has agreed to pay three or four months’ salary to its employees. The affected workers, however, have demanded that if the news channel is revived or sold, they should get their jobs back. They have sent a memorandum to the Union information and broadcasting ministry asking it to intervene and safeguard their interests.

    The author is the Guwahati-based Special representative of
    The Statesman and can be
    contacted at navathakuria@gmail.com

    1. Truly House-call was a fantastic magazine. And Ratna devoted all her energy.Times are changing so fast that
      .we tend to lose everything that is worth-reading.It’s all sound and fury as she has pointed out .

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