Category Archives: Magazines

‘Media freedom bleaker with Ambani domination’

The takeover of Network 18 group with its myriad news, business and entertainment channels has received scant review in the Indian media, but the author Pankaj Mishra bells the cat in Bloomberg View:

“There is no denying that the future of media freedom in India looks even bleaker than ever after Mukesh Ambani’s Silvio Berlusconi-style domination of both news and entertainment content and delivery mechanisms.

“At the very least, such violation of the rules of the free market should be exposed to intense public scrutiny, even criticism, of the kind the deal between Comcast and Time Warner has provoked in the U.S.

“But a near-total silence from politicians and the mainstream media greeted the extraordinary doubling of gas prices in India.

“When Reliance attempted to throttle the book [by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta] about it, those columnists who had denounced Penguin for agreeing to withdraw Wendy Doniger’s “The Hindus: An Alternative History” went oddly quiet.

“And given the “toadification” of large parts of the Indian media, to paraphrase Salman Rushdie, it may even croak out some malicious joy as more independent-minded journalists depart what does look increasingly like a toad-breeding swamp.”

Infographic: courtesy Outlook*

Read the full article: India’s newest media baron embraces censorship

* Disclosures apply

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Also read: Will RIL-TV18-ETV deal win CCI approval?

Rajya Sabha TV tears into Reliance-TV18 deal

EPW on the Reliance-ETV-RIL deal within a deal

Anant Goenka: WaPo, Amazon, HT and the Reliance-TV18 deal

Indian Express, India Today teach NYT a lesson

To say that the Indian media is in a tizzy of seismic proportions would qualify as the understatement of the year. So far.

Editors are quitting, being sacked, or finding ever new ways of being quietly eased out. Promoters are exiting their dream projects after acquiescing to giant business houses. Reporters are making discreet enquiries. Etcetera.

Still, in the midst of all the bloodbath, there has been a palpable sense of grace in the manner in which Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of the Indian Express has been sent off by his organisation, and the manner in which he has been welcomed to his new port of calling, the India Today group.

Despite Gupta’s exit being in the air for nearly a year, the Express went out of its way to promote his new book, and Express chairman Viveck Goenka (to whom Gupta dedicated his collection of columns) was at hand at the book’s launch. Gupta’s last columns for the paper have been given pride of place on page one.

Goenka’s graceful letter below announcing Gupta’s exit—and Aroon Purie‘s dignified letter welcoming him back into the fold—are a lesson, in an era when even the supposedly great New York Times removed the name of its first woman editor Jill Abramson in a matter of hours.

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EXHIBIT A: VIVECK GOENKA, Chairman, The Indian Express

My dear colleagues

With much regret, I accept Shekhar Gupta’s resignation as Editor-in-Chief of The Indian Express. I truly​ appreciate his letter to all of us and I wish him the very best.

Shekhar leaves on June 15, just a year short of his 20 years here — another moment of transition in the long history of this ​great institution.

When I chose him for the position of Editor​ in 1995, I was taking no leap in the dark. I was absolutely convinced that Shekhar, then 38, was the best person to guide this newspaper into the future. And I feel more than vindicated today.

So many news breaks (I have happily lost count) delivered by the finest reporters, editors, sub editors, designers and photographers, a team I am very proud of,  team which is the envy of every newspaper publisher: three International Press Institute Awards for Excellence in Journalism; the most questioning opinion section in the business and the most generous, too, given how it welcomes dissenting voices; a renewal of talent each year by the youngest and the brightest from our campuses – Shekhar leaves the newspaper stronger than ever.

Key to each one of these achievements has been the consistently stellar work of the Express team under the leadership of Editor Raj Kamal Jha.

Raj’s leadership is grounded in his commitment to professional excellence and uncompromising integrity. He brings to the newsroom creativity, clarity and depth, three qualities increasingly rare in our business. This not only inspires his colleagues, it powers them to realize their best potential.

Raj could not have a stronger partner in the newsroom than Managing Editor Unni Rajen Shanker.

Unni has been a reporter, an Editor, a Resident Editor (Mumbai) and Editor of the Express News Service. He brings to his leadership a deep understanding of all the different roles in the changing newsroom and an unrivalled sense of fairness and empathy. It’s this that enables him attract the finest talent and then nurture them. Unni is one of the pillars of the Express.

Since they joined in 1996, both have steered change and are, therefore, ideally placed to help guide the paper into the future. That is why, to facilitate a seamless transition, I am proud to repose my faith in them and redesignate them for their new roles.

Raj will be Chief Editor and will report to me. Unni will be Editor.

I look forward to working closely with them. They will find me every bit as supportive as all their predecessors, including Shekhar did, as we plan and implement exciting new upgrades to all our news brands.

There is​ work to do.

We have witnessed a remarkable election and an even​ more remarkable victory that bring with it challenges for all of us in the news business whose mission is to question, to report, to interpret and to analyse.

I firmly believe and, more so, given the changes in the media landscape, that these are challenges best suited for The Indian Express given how strongly independence and courage are wired in our ​genes​.

I believe that the present news media environment in India offers us an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to what we do best: faithful and courageous journalism.

With all the shrill voices on TV, the paid news in print and the corporate funded or politician backed news organizations, The Indian Express must be the voice India can turn to and trust.

Speaking truth to power is hard wired in the genes of our editorial teams. The “Express” commitment to this legacy, mine and that of the future generation, will certainly endure. The newsroom is and will be the most sacred space in our institution.

I am committed to raising the bar and instilling a fresh new energy in our editorial teams. In addition to revamped content, I  look forward to closely integrating all our news operating systems because our growth is now across platforms. This​ was evident last month, during Verdict 2014.

We had print editions that were reported and produced to the finest standards and a digital edition that broke all our records with over 52 million page views, more than 100,000 active users for eight hours, a live video news stream from the Express newsroom, all of this making us among the five most visited news sites in the country.

Looking ahead, that’s the road we take. Not only reporting the news first but also being the first to understand it and​ question its assumptions. This means better stories, better analyses, better pictures, better everything and ensuring that The Indian Express journalism of courage reaches the reader wherever she is, whenever she wants it, whichever device she wants to receive it on.

Shekhar, whether he is at the Express or not, will always be a part of this journey.​ For, he leaves us with a sense of determination and purpose. And a wonderful tool-kit of ideas and values that we will use and keep adding to.

Please join me in wishing him, once again, the best of luck as he scales what I am sure will be a new professional summit.

And, Raj and Unni, let us​  get to work. I wish you and your teams my very best.

Best always

Viveck Goenka

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EXHIBIT B: AROON PURIE, Chairman, India Today group

Dear Colleagues

I am delighted to announce the appointment of Shekhar Gupta as Vice Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of all news properties of the India Today Group. It includes all our news and business publications, news TV brands and all related news and business digital brands. This comes into effect July 1, 2014.

This is a homecoming for Shekhar. He joined India Today in 1983 and was here for 12 eventful years during which he was an outstanding journalist. He broke many exclusive stories and covered world changing international events like the fall of the Soviet Union, the first Gulf War, Afghan Jehad and the Tiananmen Square uprising.

In 1995, he took charge of The Indian Express group steering it into a position of editorial leadership and financial strength.

Shekhar is a reporter’s Editor, thinker, author, mentor and active on the international speaking circuit. He typically is an “all sleeves rolled up” hands-on professional who not only leads from the front but works collaboratively and believes in action.

He literally “Walks the Talk”! He is highly regarded  in the profession for his integrity independence and knowledge. That’s why he attracts, inspires and builds fine talent.

As I mentioned in my Founders Day speech I would like us to be the best media group in every which way by our 40th birthday which is two years from now. I believe Shekhar joining us would be a force multiplier in achieving this goal.

He will report to me and will be responsible for the editorial quality of all our news and business brands, and our overall expansion and profitability. He will work closely with Ashish Bagga, Group CEO, and enable him to effectively grow the readership and viewership of our brands, profitably.

Anil Mehra will step down as Vice-Chairman but will continue as consultant to advise the Group on matters of strategic importance.

At a personal level, Shekhar’s return is a moment of deep satisfaction and vindication of my belief, our shared belief, in the power of good journalism to reveal and to inform, to question the unquestioned, to help make sense of the noise rather than to add to it.

We need to work relentlessly to prove our essential belief that there is no contradiction between good journalism and the marketplace.

I have always believed: create good content and money will follow. That will be the principle behind another project that I greatly look forward to with Shekhar’s arrival: the launch of some new editorial offerings that will uniquely blend the best of reporting and analysis.

In his new role, Shekhar has promised to liberate me from day-to-day operations so that I can work to guiding the group into a future of great promise, growth and excitement.

Shekhar, welcome back.

Aroon

***

Also read: An Aroon Purie tribute worthy of emulation

Aroon Purie: how to say goodbye to a departing editor

Coming soon, from the author of ‘Lucknow Boy’

VM_option1

The cover of former Outlook* editor Vinod Mehta‘s upcoming book, Editor Unplugged. Published by Penguin, the 500-page book, priced at Rs 599, will be out in December 2014, three years after his memoir Lucknow Boy.

The photograph on the book jacket is by Briana Blasko.

*Disclosures apply

Also read: Vinod Mehta on Arun Shurie, Dileep Padgaonkar

Shobha De tears into Vinod Mehta in India Today

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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When a newspaper Editor looked like a hippie

vinod mehta

Mainstream Indian (print) editors today are usually at their nattiest best, wearing carefully chosen Fab India kurtas if not designer clothes, trendy watches and slick spectacles, with not a strand out of place on their mane.

But there was a time, in 1971, when editors looked like Makarand Deshpande

Guess who this newspaper editor is?

The Khushwant Singh “pre-obituary” from 1983

Khushwant Singh, the self-proclaimed “dirty old man of Indian journalism”, has passed away at his home in New Delhi, at the age of 99.

Exactly, 30 years ago, when Singh was 69, the journalist Dhiren Bhagat wrote a pre-obituary of the “sardar in the light bulb” for the now-defunct Sunday Observer.

Ironically, Dhiren Bhagat was to predecease Singh by 24 years, and Khushwant Singh ended up reviewing a collection of his work for India Today in 1990.

Below is the full text of Dhiren Bhagat’s “obituary”, written for the February 13, 1983 edition of The Sunday Observer.

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bhagat

By DHIREN BHAGAT

I was saddened to read that Khushwant Singh passed away in his sleep last week. What a quiet end for so loud a man.

How the gods mock the mocking.

Contradictions surrounded Khushwant at every stage of his life. He strove to give the impression that he was a drunken slob yet he was one of the most hard-working and punctual men I knew.

He professed agnosticism and yet enjoyed kirtan as only few can and do.

He was known nationally as a celebrated lecher but for the past thirty years at least it was a hot-water-bottle that warmed his bed.

He devoted his last years in the service of a woman who  decisively spurned him in the end.

He made a profession of living off his friends’ important names and yet worked single-handedly to diminish that very importance.

Empty vessels make the most noise but Khushwant was always full of the Scotch he had cadged off others.

He was a much misunderstood man. So before the limp eulogies start pouring in (how Khushwant would have hated them!) let me set the record straight.

As Khushwant once said, the obituary is the best place to tell the truth for dead men file no libel suits. (An agnostic to the end he didn’t believe in the Resurrection.)

***

Khushwant was born in 1915 in a rich but not particularly educated home. They were Khuranas from Sargodha who made good in Delhi.

His father, Sir Sobha Singh, was the contractor who built the city of New Delhi and who in consequence received a knighthood. In 1947 it used to be said (somewhat inaccurately it must be admitted) that ninety-nine per cent of New Delhi was owned by the Government and one per cent by Sir Sobha Singh.

After his initial education Khushwant was sent to England to appear for the ICS. He didn’t make it.

Later he would tell a story of how he had made it to the Merit List but how that year there was a reserved place for a non-Jat from Phulkian state (later PEPSU) and how some-one with less marks than him filled that place. But Khushwant was always a great raconteur so it is difficult to know what to believe.

Once bitten, twice shy. Khushwant didn’t try for the ICS again but instead enrolled himself at the London School of Economics from where in the course of things he acquired a BA.

The examiners decided to place him in the Third Class. After his degree Khushwant read for the Bar where he was equally successful. (His brother Daljit, now a businessman, was always the better scholar of the two.)

When Khushwant came back after six years in England a family friend asked his father: ‘Kaka valaiton kee kar ke aayaa hai?  (What has the boy done in England?) Sir Sobha Singh replied ‘Time pass kar ke aaya hai jee.’ (He has been marking time.)

It is unlikely the canny contractor was joking.

***

After the Partition Khushwant joined the Indian Foreign Service and this phase of his career took him to London, Ottawa and Paris. In this period he began publishing short stories on rustic themes.

In 1955 he shot to fame when a novel of his won a large cash award set by an American publishing house in order to attract manuscripts. It was a mediocre Partition quickie called Mano Majra (later published as Train to Pakistan).

Years passed. Khushwant kept writing books, on the Jupji, on the Sikhs, on India, stories, translations: many of them provocatively titled and indicative of his deepest desires, “I Shall Rape the Nightingale”, “I Take This Woman” etc. Some of these attempts were successful.

But success and cosmopolitan living did not spoil the earthiness of the robust Jat.

He continued to down his Scotch with a ferocity that made his hosts nervous. He

continued to tell stories that revealed his deep obsession with the anal.

He had a theory that all anger was a result of an upset stomach and instructed his son to ask his mother if her stomach walls troubling her whenever she scolded him.

In his more smug moments he attributed his own iconoclastic calm to the severe constipation from which he had suffered since childhood.

In 1969 Khushwant took over the Illustrated Weekly of India and embarked on the most controversial phase of his career. On the editor’s page Mario Miranda drew a bulb and Khushwant sat in it, along with his Scotch and dirty pictures.

Sitting in that cross-legged position Khushwant took the ailing magazine from success to success, all along illuminating millions of readers on the more outre aspects of the world’s brothels.

Once in a while he tore into a friend’s reputation. So great was our prurience that he became a household name in a short while. Fame he had, honour he sought.

In the early seventies an eminent Muslim journalist friend of Khushwant’s approached Rajni Patel. Could Rajnibhai fix Khushwant with a Padma Bhushan? If the honour didn’t come his way soon Sardarji would have a heart attack. Patel flew to Delhi twice and fixed it. Later Khushwant showed his gratitude in strange ways.

***

Then came the Emergency. Khushwant’s friends and admirers were very troubled by his stand: IndiraGandhi was Durga incarnate, SanjayGandhi the New Messiah and the highways of the land were clogged with smoothly running Marutis.

Many explanations have been offered for his position but I believe I am the only person to know the right one. (Khushwant in an unguarded whisky-sodden moment once opened up to me and told all.) And since it is only in obituaries that it is proper to disclose the little-known details of a man’s personal life I shall come out with it now.

Impotence had claimed Khushwant back in the fifties. At first he had been sorely troubled by this condition (most Jats are) and had tried several remedies, mostly indigenous. This accounted for his immense knowledge of jaree-bootees and his disillusionment with quacks.

When he had finally given up all hope of lighting the wick he had turned to other pleasures with a vengeance. (Exposing his friends’ affairs was a favourite pleasure: it was envy compounded with righteousness.)

It must be remembered that Khushwant’s lechery was of the mildest order: he as a voyeur, he could do nothing. Scotch was a palliative, but in the end even that failed to make up the loss.

It was Sanjay’s power that finally did the trick. So great was the vicarious pleasure the ageing Sardar felt that it went to his head. And after Sanjay’s death Khushwant lost his vitality, his vigour. He grew listless.

And then the quiet end. A lively man all in all. Even as I write this I am sure Khushwant is busy looking up the angels’ skirts. And since angels are constitutionally condemned to celibacy that should suit Khushwant fine.

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Also read: Khushwant Singh on his last day at The Weekly

Why Khushwant Singh fell out with Arun Shourie

External reading: The journalism of Khushwant Singh

Question: India’s best political reporting is in…?

etplug

Although India’s best and biggest corporate scams—from Satyam to Sahara and everything else in between—routinely escape the business papers and business magazines and business channels, for quite a while, the best political reporting has come from The Economic Times.  And The Times group is losing no opportunity to drum home the message, even as it expands coverage.

Also read: ‘Business journalists are PR mouthpieces’: Aniruddha Bahal

Aakar Patel: ‘Indian journalism is regularly second-rate’

SEBI chief: Business journalism or business of journalism?

New York Times: Why Indian media doesn’t take on Ambanis