Category Archives: Issues and Ideas

Kind attention: M.J. Akbar, Vinod Dua, Prashant Jha, K.R. Sreenivas, T.S. Sudhir, Gaurav Sawant et al

In October 2018, New York Review of Books (NYRB) published a piece by Jian Ghomeshi, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) host.

Four years earlier, i.e. before #MeToo, Ghomeshi had been fired after more than 20 women had filed complaints of harassment and physical harm.

Ghomeshi was subsequently acquitted of all charges which included hitting, biting, choking and verbal abuse during sex.

But NYRB‘s decision to give space to Ghomeshi’s piece “Reflections from a Hashtag” resulted in a barrage of criticism, and led to the exit of its Editor Ian Buruma.

NYRB has published five pages of letters in response to Ghomeshi’s piece, and they are deeply instructive against the backdrop of the newsroom shenanigans of Indian journalists.

Buruma’s exit too has also been opposed by a number of NYRB contributors.

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For listed news companies, there is always an interview to push before a major event unfolds

Subhash Chandra‘s Zee has, like Raghav Bahl‘s TV18, always been a smart valuations player, forming subsidiaries, leaking information, etc to keep the stock in the news and drive its value up.

In September 2018, Chandra gave a long, supersoft interview to The Hindu, apropos nothing, in which he railed against Mukesh Ambani‘s Reliance Jio, even going so far as to suggest that the telecom regulatory chief R.S. Sharma had got an extension thanks to Ambani.

The penny drops today with news that Chandra wants to divest and Reliance may be one of the potential bidders.

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Ravi Nair: the journalist who pushed the #Rafale deal into the national and political consciousness

Twitter in India today is mostly a platform to preen for loud Delhi gasbags—or a signalling system for has-beens trying desperately to stay on the right side of Tongue Parivar.

Good journalism, therefore, gets subsumed by those who shout, scream and shriek—and then shout, scream and shriek some more when somebody, usually another gasbag, retweets them.

The biggest stories of the Narendra Modi era—Demonetisation and the Rafale deal—have produced ground breaking stuff from two self-effacing men, both Malayalees, and both not journalists.

First, James Wilson, a civil engineer, who sitting in Kerala, explicated #DeMo with far greater clarity than any Bombay-Delhi-Calcutta business journalist.

And now, Ravi Nair, to whom goes the singular credit of giving the #RafaleDeal the necessary throttle and boost before Rahul Gandhi and the rest of the mainstream media jumped in.

Nair, 44, says he started digging into Rafale after he heard somebody uncritically exclaim “Bahut khoob kiya” upon reading news about the deal.

He has so far produced over 40 stories and analyses for various outlets, including a cover story for Frontline, including perhaps a book soon. Nair says his first story was turned down by many till ‘Janta ka Reporter‘ accepted it.

Several other journalists have since reported on the Rafale deal but few have consistently stayed on it like Nair who, tellingly, has not called it a “scam” yet.

J. Gopikrishnan of The Pioneer played a pivotal role in reporting the various strands of the 2G Scam which brought down the Manmohan Singhgovernment.

Is his statemate Nair poised for an encore?

Photograph: couresy The Leaflet

Megaphone for Megalomaniac: How a high-school essay without one original thought made it to every edit page today

The demise of the editorial page as the voice and conscience of a newspaper is much lamented by the thinking class. But we in the journalism business have ourselves to blame for devaluing it by publishing tripe.

On the eve of the unveiling of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel‘s statue, the prime minister’s office sent out a high-school essay written by some faceless bureaucrat in the PMO, but appended with Narendra Modi‘s signature.

India’s allegedly free and fair press is falling over each other in giving it pride of place.

It is on the edit page of The Times of India:

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On the edit page of the Hindustan Times:

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On the op-ed page of the Indian Express:

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On the edit page of the Economic Times:

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On the op-ed page of The Tribune:

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On the op-ed page of Praja Vani:

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Only The Hindu among the major English newspapers does not carry this press release, as is, (it has a news report) but that’s only because India’s most prolific op-ed writer, vice-president M.Venkaiah Naidu is doing the honours.

As he does on the edit page of Eenadu:

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On the edit page of Vijaya Karnataka:

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It is nobody’s case that Sardar Patel doesn’t deserve play on his birth anniversary. It is certainly nobody’s case that Narendra Modi should not get credit for his statue. But surely the role of newspapers goes beyond acting as a megaphone for megalomania?

 

Journalism #101: Lessons for Indian broadcasters from a Briton in America

Concomitant with the rise of the Right, India’s brain-dead TV news channels have offered the platform to the most communal, incendiary, racist viewpoints in the last four years, on a host of issues designed to pot of polarisation boiling.

In the absence of editorial discretion, or possibly because of it, all manner of wackos, from representatives of “cultural organisations” to tilak-toting babas and beard-stroking mullahs, have managed to say stuff beyond the pale of civility.

All this is passed off in name of “balancing the debate”, as if there can be “another side” to the cold-blooded killing of human beings in the name of a mutant, militant version of a great religion. Or the disenfranchisement of a vast mass of voiceless people.

Result 1: Normalisation of the abnormal, as the former TV presenter Sashi Kumar said in an excellent speech earlier this year.

Result 2: Communalisation of the discourse: the writer Paul Zacharia declared recently that the “most of the communal agendas were mostly set by the media”.

Result 3: Poison in the pool from which we all drink. Venom in the water supply. And a astonishing spurt of meanness and vengeance.

Much of what is happening to politics and the media in India is mirrored in the United States, but with a key difference: news organisations have stood up to the threats, intimidations, and tax terrorism and told the freaks where to eff off.

In this excellent Channel 4 video, the Guardian writer Gary Younge stands up to the ace idiot, Richard Spencer and shows that good journalism demands that we don’t just provide a platform for the bizarre, but question, question, question.

‘News TV covered Modi US trip like govt media’

Like town criers in the old days, who arrived before the Maharaja and extolled his virtues, Indian news television reporters were in the United States even before prime minister Narendra Modi had set foot in God’s Own Country.

And, over nearly a week, provided breathless coverage that left little to the imagination.

Superman (or was it Spiderman) was interviewed at Times Square; Modi’s “rockstar” thanks-giving address to his NRI followers was shown ad nauseam; and all manner of policy wonks were rolled out to complete the circus.

Business Standard has an editorial:

“Prime Minister Modi’s trip to the United States was marred by news reporting that was excessively fawning. Coverage was, in fact, reminiscent of the bad old days of state-controlled media, when the nightly news bulletin on Doordarshan was little more than a paean of praise to Rajiv Gandhi or Indira Gandhi. In fact, the saturation coverage was so disproportionate to the actual scope or achievements of the prime minister’s visit that it was embarrassing….

“Modi has begun a new tradition since taking office. Journalists no longer travel with him on Air India One. This is part of a larger attempt to keep the media as distant as possible. Only a few journalists from state-controlled agencies went along with the prime minister. Others went there themselves. But the cost of the tickets was wasted when they wound up sounding like state-controlled media themselves.”

Read the full editorial: Over the top

Also read: Why Modi shouldn’t take media with him

Why NaMo shouldn’t take media on foreign trips

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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addresses the media on the way back home from the United States in October 2013. There were 34 journalists on that junket.

As Indian journalists come to terms with a Narendra Modi dispensation that doesn’t want to court them or take them on foreign junkets, K.P. Nayar, the former Washington correspondent of The Telegraph, Calcutta, writes that the US administration is no better.

Each correspondent who accompanied US president Barack Obama on his trip to India had to shell out $8,400 (approximately Rs 500,000) in air fare, plus an additional $2,500 (Rs 150,000) for a hop-across to Amritsar, plus $1,000 (Rs 60,000) for renting the hotel hall where administration officials briefed the media, plus “filing charges”, plus coffee, plus tea, etc.

All in stark contrast to the pampering and molly-coddling of India media bigwigs by Indian administrations, who not only misuse taxpayer’s money on foreign trips but also throw their weights around in ways that embarrass the tricolour.

To illustrate the point, Nayar, quotes three incidents:

# The most appalling incident of media highhandedness that I was witness to was at Cairo airport, some 20 years ago, when a very senior journalist flung his boarding pass in the face of an Air India ground hostess because his seat had been changed for the next leg of the prime minister’s flight. He then walked off and had to be pacified by having his chosen seat restored before the Egyptian police physically restrained him for breach of security because he was on the tarmac.

The fault-lines go beyond the fourth estate and intersect the government’s media management because this gentleman is a former media adviser to a prime minister: for the record, not one of any recent appointees.

# Accompanying P.V. Narasimha Rao to the UN general assembly one year, we were alighting at the media hotel, the Lexington, once owned by the Tatas.

Two senior colleagues urged me to follow them if I wanted to watch some fun. An owner-editor, who was the first to reach the media centre, was already on the phone to his news desk.

Mein pahoonch gaya hoon [I have reached],” he blared into the phone, “Pradhan mantri bhi pahoonch gaya hai. Baaki sab agency lena. [The prime minister has also reached. All the rest you take from the agencies].”

He put down the phone, then called his office again as an afterthought, “Oh, mera byline dal dena [Oh, put my byline in).” That was his professional contribution for the day. He was soon out in jeans and walking shoes enjoying the Big Apple.

# Visiting Bhutan, Indira Gandhi once strolled into the quarters of the accompanying media. An agency correspondent then, the late A.N. Prabhu’s door was open and she peeped in to find a carton prominently labelled “Bhutan Rum” on the floor.

“What is it, Prabhu?” she asked. “Apples,” Prabhu replied, unfazed.

“I would like some of those apples too,” she smiled. 

Read the full article: Big egos and bylines

Also read: A mile-high experience for the hack pack

How Pakistan helped The Hindu save $800

I couldn’t go to the US, my name’s Zia Haq