Category Archives: Issues and Ideas

Can the Indian media ask Modi tough questions?

Interviews of Narendra Modi are like city buses. There is not one for ages, and then two come along at the same time.

The first with the journalist-academic and undisguised Modi shill, Madhu Kishwar, for India News and NewsX; and the other for the Mukesh Ambani-owned ETV Rajasthan.

In the Indian Express, Shailaja Bajpai compares the Modi powwows with Rahul Gandhi‘s faceoff with Arnab Goswami for Times Now:

“The media is either unwilling or unable to ask Modi penetrative questions. In these two interviews, he swatted away softball questions with a hard bat. Perhaps he only agreed to be interviewed on condition that he not be asked uncomfortable questions.

“If you compare this interview with Rahul’s on Times Now, the contrast is stark: Rahul was asked at least some hard-hitting questions, cornered on issues like the 1984 Sikh riots, although he was allowed to have his say on his pet themes.

“In Modi’s case, he simply had his way throughout. Not once was anything he said challenged. It made for poor TV. If he continues to give soft interviews, they will be viewed as plugs for him — another strategy in the marketing of Modi.”

Read the full review: How Modi faced the nation

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Signature campaign against CSDS poll tracker

As the Chinese might say, the Indian media is living in strange times even before the advent of Narendra Modi.

The Aam Aadmi Party accuses TV stations of being bought over by Modi. Sting operations reveal that opinion pollsters are willing to up their estimates of Modi for a price.

News channels show unedited feeds from Modi’s own cameras as if they were their own. Editorial changes are being made in newspapers and magazines with a change in government in prospect.

Etcetera.

Now, even the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) with its formidable reputation as a credible pollster for CNN-IBN, is facing the music.

Yogendra Yadav, for long CSDS’s face on TV during election time, is now a member of AAP, standing from Gurgaon; Madhu Kishwar is a prominent BJP votary, whose interviews with Modi are now being aired on India News and NewsX.

As CNN-IBN (now owned by Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries) airs its “Election Tracker“*, a signature campaign has been launched which scurrilously alleges that the CSDS survey is “a campaign for BJP, not research work”.

Launched by “Manjeet Singh” who claims to be from Patna, the petition on change.org headlined “CSDS poll survey for CNN-IBN will take BJP close to 272 in next 3 days. Is this Research?”, reads (uncorrected):

“It’s not news anymore that the Sanjay Kumar‘s contractors who has funding coming in to their media houses from the big corporates are forcing  Sanjay Kumar reach a figure of close to 272 in the survey.

“CSDS’s credibility is being used for this agenda. Seems that the sting operation on the survey agencies was done to enhance the credibility of CSDS’s survey just before Sanjay Kumar’s closer to 272 projections for the BJP was to appear on Television.”

For the record, CSDS’s surveys for CNN-IBN have seen the BJP numbers go up from 156-164 in July 2013 to 171-179 in November, and 192-210 in January 2014.

* The CNN-IBN election tracker is in association with Week magazine. Disclosures apply.

Is ‘Modi media’ paving way for ‘soft-Fascism’?

In an opinion piece in The Times of India, the academic and international affairs analyst Kanti Bajpai says an India under Narendra Modi will be marked by “soft-fascism—a society marked by slightly less extreme levels fo authoritarinism, intimidation, chauvinism, submission and social Darwinism as classical fascism—and he includes the media as being among the four factors responsible for it.

“Big business and middle classes are helping line up media behind soft fascism. Media is influenced by big business, which funds it through its advertising, and by the middle classes, who work in it.

“Today, both stand behind Modi and together they have helped rally millions of Indians behind Modi-ology.

“It is another matter that media may well come to regret its role. Those who were in the media when BJP was last in power seem to have forgotten that this is a party that is not particularly interested in, or indulgent of, journalistic independence.”

Read the full article: Journey towards soft fascism

Photograph: courtesy Wall Street Journal
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TV9 reporters ‘stung’ by their own operation

tv9_d_k_shiTwo reporters of the 24×7 Kannada news channel TV9 have landed in jail after being arrested by Bangalore police following a “sting” operation in which they were reportedly trying to entrap a powerful and controversial Congress minister by offering him a bribe with secret cameras, went awry.

Deccan Herald reports that the police are also on the lookout for the channel’s Bangalore head, Mahendra Mishra.

The reporters—Shreyas, 28, and Shwetha, 24, both carrying identity cards of News9, the Bangalore-centric English TV channel operated by TV9—approached energy minister D.K. Shiva Kumar in a manner reminiscent of Operation Westend, which felled BJP president Bangaru Laxman over a decade ago.

The reporters claimed to be representing a fictitious London-based solar power based company called EnerGo.

After they had established initial contact, the reporters were invited by the minister to his residence on Sunday. At that meeting, the minister expressed his helplessness citing the model code of conduct but directed them to meet his officers.

According to Deccan Herald, at the third meeting on Monday, the duo allegedly offered the minister Rs five lakh in cash and asked him to accept the money. The minister grew suspicious and called up the police who rushed to his house. They found hidden cameras on frisking the two journalists and arrested them.

Addressing a press conference, the minister—a close aide of former chief minister S.M. Krishna—said that the duo had earlier met him with request to approve a file.

“I contacted the officials of the department, and learnt that no such file is pending with the department. I grew suspicious about the motive of these people. The two reporters, who came to meet me at 9 am, again came to my house at 3.30 pm. As I had suspicion about their activities, I had requested policemen to be present in disguise. When they tried to offer money, I asked the policemen to take them into custody.”

Following the arrest of its journalists, TV9 has conducted a relentless campaign through its channels, with the simple proposition: “Is it wrong to conduct sting operations?”, also the National Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) has clearly stipulated guidelines for its members.

In 2011, the then power minister of Karnataka, Shobha Karandlaje of the BJP, had a duo arrested for nearly identical reasons, but they weren’t reporters.

For the record, D.K. Shiva Kumar’s inclusion in the Congress ministry has been a hot-button issue and activists have questioned his inclusion despite the cloud of corruption charges hanging over his head.

Also, for the record, TV9—whose tagline reads “For a better society”—has been relentless in its coverage of the corruption of Shiva Kumar, including his alleged links with the underworld. The minister has previously been known to have a keen interest in launching his own TV channel to temper the torrent of criticism.

Are journalists already poised to ride Modi wave?

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M.J. Akbar (extreme left) and Swapan Dasgupta (second from right) at the release of the book on Moditva

As the 2014 general election campaign gathers steam, the masks are beginning to come off, as journalists who make no pretence of their political and ideological inclinations (without disclosing it publicly) walk over to the other side, just as they did in previous elections.

Ashutosh of IBN-7 is officially the Aam Aadmi Party’s candidate from Chandni Chowk; Manish Sisodia of ex-Zee News has already done a stint as Delhi education minister; Shazia Ilmi of ex-Star News could stand against one or the other Congress or BJP heavyweight.

The buzz is a number of scribes are being tapped by AAP to make the switch.

Both in the 2004 and 2009 elections the BJP had no shortage of journalists, columnists and editors advising it from inside and outside. And 2013 is proving to be no different.

At a recent event in New Delhi to release a book titled Moditva, former Telegraph editor M.J. Akbar and former India Today managing editor Swapan Dasgupta  (both columnists for The Sunday Times of India) were helpfully at hand, making no bones about where they stand.

The Telegraph, Calcutta, reported the BJP president Rajnath Singh‘s address thus:

“When I first heard of the book, I was certain it was authored by a politician or someone wanting to get to the Rajya Sabha or acquire a post when our government is formed….

“I was amazed to know that this young man [Siddharth Mazumdar of Columbia] was not a politician or a political aspirant” added Rajnath, before looking long and hard at a group of panellists who had taken their seats for a discussion.

For the record, the other members at the book-release panel were economist Bibek Debroy, former Delhi police chief Kiran Bedi (a likely BJP Lok Sabha candidate), the BJP’s stormy petrel Subramanian Swamy, and BJP treasurer Piyush Goyal (who is already a Rajya sabha member).

Also for the record, M.J. Akbar is a former Congress member of Parliament from Kishanganj, Bihar. His name was mentioned in 2008 as a potential BJP member of the upper house along with former India Today editor Prabhu Chawla.

Photograph: courtesy The Pioneer

Also read: Who are the journalists running, ruining BJP?

Don’t laugh, do journalists make good politicians?

Why the BJP (perhaps) sent Chandan Mitra to RS

Kanchan Gupta versus Swapan Dasgupta on Twitter

For the BJP, is the pen mightier than the trishul?

Ex-Star News, TOI journalists behind ‘Arnab Spring’

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

On TV, Congress loses to BJP, Left loses to AAP

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Sitaram Yechury addressing the Left rally in Hissar, but without the “Jimmy Jib” cameras

The point has been made before, that the current political coverage, especially on television, is more than somewhat skewed, tilting unabashedly towards Narendra Damodardas Modi of the BJP vis-a-vis Rahul Gandhi of the Congress.

Now, the CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechuri explicates it a bit more in the Hindustan Times, comparing the TV coverage of Arvind Kejriwal‘s Aam Aadmi Party vis-a-vis the Left parties and unions.

“Two days ago, the Left held a Haryana-level people’s rally for a political alternative at Hissar. On the same day, AAP held a rally called much after the Left rally announcement at nearby Rohtak. The latter was widely covered by the corporate media while the former was hardly mentioned notwithstanding larger participation.

“This is not surprising. Earlier, when Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement was on in the Capital, over two lakh workers organised by the central trade unions had converged at Parliament against corruption and price rise. While the former hogged 24/7 media coverage, the latter hardly found any mention.

“Clearly, for the corporate media, a so-called ‘morally’ upright alternative that does not adversely affect profit maximisation is always better than an alternative that aims at improving people’s livelihood while not excessively promoting profit maximisation!”

For the record, though, Kejriwal launched into the media at the Rohtak rally, inviting a statement from the editors guild of India.
Photograph: courtesy Ganashakti
Read the full article: Sitaram Yechuri in HT

Amartya Sen on leaks, plants and Indian Express

It ain’t over till the economist sings.

First, there was a report in The Indian Express on 18 February, headlined “Amartya Sen threatens to quit Nalanda University over funds’ queries.”

“At its crux is a massive Rs 2,727 crore financial package to the University over a period of 12 years. The finance ministry’s department of expenditure has asked the ministry of external affairs, the nodal agency for the project, the reasons why government rules should not apply to the project.”

The following day, the Nobel laureate responded in the columns of the paper.

“The Indian public is used to bad reporting in newspapers., but your report on Nalanda University goes beyond bad reporting to dishing out falsehoods. Without even talking to the person whose intentions are being reported (an odd violation of professional journalism by one of India’s leading papers), your reporter comments on my alleged intention—or threat—to resign, which is quite untrue….”

The reporter, Pranab Dhal Samanta, responded this:

“This news report was based on information which is a part of the government’s record, where Amartya Sen is recorded as having threatened to resign. This is available with the ministry of external affairs….”

Now, in an interview to The Telegraph, Calcutta, on 24 February, Sen weighs in again in response to the first question hurled at him:

There was a controversy over a report that you are resigning from the Nalanda board as its chancellor — something you have subsequently denied.

Amartya Sen: Not subsequently. I never threatened to resign. There’s a distinction between something which is called a “leak”, information which you are not meant to share.

And, there’s something called a “plant”, that’s a misinformation that is sent around.

In this case, it was a “plant”, not a “leak”. Somebody in the ministry of external affairs (MEA), a senior civil servant, who talked to some people completely made up the story.

Image: courtesy Nalanda University