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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

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Poonam Pandey, Sachin Tendulkar & Telegraph

There are many pertinent questions to be asked about the unbridled (and burgeoning) use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media as a source of news by newspapers and TV stations—not to mention websites like these.

One of those questions faces The Telegraph, Calcutta, which carried a picture* posted by the actor-stripper Poonam Pandey on her Twitter account (@iPoonampandey) in its tabloid t2 section on Monday.

In the picture*, Pandey—who threatened to pose nude if India won the cricket 2011 World Cup—stands naked with a photograph of “God” as an offering to Sachin Tendulkar, who scored his 100th hundred in Dhaka last week.

“Thinking what pic should I gift the “God of Cricket”…. This historic moment reminds me of an old pic which one of my fans had morphed…. this was the pic….”

The use of a tiny picture* in a city tabloid to celebrate the momentous occasion has resulted in a fullblown communal issue in Calcutta.

Wednesday’s Telegraph carried a front-page appeal by the chief minister, Mamata Banerjee.

“Some people are trying to stoke violence over a photograph published in a newspaper. I appeal to all members of the Hindu and Muslim commuities to steer clear of any provocation. The newspaper which carried the picture today tendered an apology.”

The Telegraph‘s apology, also carried on page one, read:

The Telegraph tenders an unconditional apology for reproducing a tweet by @iPoonpandey in Monday’s edition of t2. The publication was the result of a technical error. The Telegraph had no intention to hurt the sentiments of any community. We sincerely apologise for the hurt the publication of the tweet has caused.”

***

* photograph for representative purposes

A quick lesson from The Hindu on court reporting

A clarification published on the home page of The Hindu today on a front-page news story by the paper’s Supreme Court correspondent J. Venkatesan published in the paper.

The story and the clarification come on the day the SC took up the issue of reporting of court cases by the media following applications from three prominent lawyers (Fali Nariman in SEBI-Sahara case, Harish Salve in the Vodafone case, and K.K. Venugopal in the Times Now case).

Did Chidambaram walk out of Express awards?

The grapevine is that some ministers boycotted events in which media houses had chosen members of Team Anna for awards last year. Now, this item appears in the gossip columns of The Sunday Guardian.

Apparently home minister P. Chidambaram vamoosed from the Ramnath Goenka excellence in journalism awards function organised by The Indian Express after he found that 2G scam-buster J. Gopikrishnan of The Pioneer had been picked for the best print journalist f the year.

Orders have been reserved for February 4 on Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy‘s plea seeking to make Chidambaram a party in the 2G scam, alongside A. Raja, who was felled by Gopikrishnan.

Image: courtesy The Sunday Guardian

Also read: The Pioneer journo who brought A. Raja to book

Everybody loves (to claim credit for) an expose

SMS IPUB4 TO 51818 for journalist of the year

Times of India to shut down Kannada edition

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd, the publishers of The Times of India, have decided to shut down their Kannada edition, published with The Times of India masthead, tomorrow.

An internal email has convened a meeting of all staff of the paper with CEO Sunil Rajshekhar at 4pm on Tuesday, March 9, after nearly a month of rumours of the impending demise.

The March 10 issue of the paper will the last for the paper which has been published since January 2007 under industry veteran Ishwar Daitota.

Rumours are that some of the existing staff of 55 will be absorbed to bring out the proposed Kannada translation of the weekly Crest edition of ToI.

Several versions abound for the sudden closure. The chief among them is that the paper’s rising graph was coming at the cost of Vijaya Karnataka, the Kannada paper purchased by the Times group in 2006 along with Usha Kirana and Vijay Times, from the truck operator turned newspaper publisher, Vijay Sankeshwar.

(Usha Kirana was turned into ToI Kannada to exclusively cater for the Bangalore (Market); the paper largely carried stories translated from the English edition of the paper although a skeletal staff produced original stories. Vijay Times was shut and turned into the tabloid Bangalore Mirror.)

Vijaya Karnataka has seen its market leader status diminish in the face of a strong comeback from Praja Vani, the Kannada daily published by the Deccan Herald group. Its ABC numbers have fallen for two cycles in a row. ToI Kannada insiders say their paper was being held responsible for the lack of growth of VK in the key Bangalore market, prompting VK to go in for an expensive relaunch and redesign to stem the damage.

For the last few days, Vijaya Karnataka was being supplied free with ToI Kannada in Bangalore to convert existing readers.

Another version has it that although ToI Kannada was gaining numbers (it was selling between 30,000-60,000 copies depending on who you asked), it was not attracting any advertising on its own; most of its advertising coming from package deals sold by ToI.

Yet another version has it that the management saw little hope for the paper, and only more expenses, with Rajeev Chandrashekhar‘s impending foray into the newspaper world to complete his Suvarna stable.

When editor makes way for editor, gracefully

The change of editorship at Indian publications is (usually) a graceless cloak-and-dagger affair, done in the dead of night after the janitors have left the building. Media consumers are rarely ever told why the helmsman has left or why a new one has come in, especially when there is a cloud shrouding the midnight operation.

At the crack of the new year, however, the business daily Business Standard had a more civilised change of captaincy. Here, the veteran editor and wordsmith T.J.S. George, founder-editor of Asiaweek magazine and a longtime editorial advisor of The Indian Express group, offers his salute.

***

By T.J.S. GEORGE

Appointments inside a newspaper are usually of no concern to the general public. But what happened in Business Standard last week should interest every citizen.

For it was a re-assertion of values we all hold dear and yet are vanishing almost unnoticed by us.

Outwardly it was a simple matter of re-styling. The editor of the paper was made chairman of the company and a new editor appointed in his place. But the significance of the move is wide-ranging for a variety of reasons—its rarity, the quality of the players involved, the importance of the values they represent, and the universality of stake-holders in this field.

Editor turning chairman is a rare phenomenon anywhere in the world. In India it has never happened before outside family-run newspapers.

In Britain it happened when Denis Hamilton, editor-in-chief of The Times was made chairman as well. In the US, Peter Kann who was covering Asia for the Wall Street Journal from Hong Kong was recalled and made publisher  in 1988 and, four years later, chairman of the Dow Jones Company.

What is noteworthy here is that only papers that had achieved high public confidence through their editorial excellence entrusted the company itself to the editors who had helped attain that excellence.

In the news business there is no greater asset than credibility.

In many other cases also credibility was gained when the owner/chairman allowed the editor to rule unfettered. The Washington Post and The Guardian are examples. In the latter case, owner John Taylor willed that the paper be sold to editor C.P.Scott.

That’s where the quality of players, both owner and editor, comes in.

Hamilton, the most innovative editor in England at the time, became chairman when the owner was Roy Thomson, a man of inherent  virtue who respected the high traditions of The Times. When the company was sold to Rupert Murdoch, a man of inherent faith in his own virtues, Hamilton left and became chairman of Reuters.

T.N. Ninan became editor of Economic Times (1988) when it was a staid, uninteresting paper. He completely re-invented it, gave it variety, liveliness and freshness. This approach of comprehensiveness was to become the template for other financial dailies.

In that sense, Ninan can be called the Father of Business Journalism in India.

He is effective because of his non-projection of himself, his habit of delegating powers and his knack of picking top-notch team mates. His choice for the chair he vacated at BS was Sanjaya Baru, perhaps the most accomplished scholar-academic-administrator-analyst in the newspaper business.

Unfortunately for Ninan, there was no Roy Thomson in Economic Times. Worse, the ghost of Rupert Murdoch lurked in every corridor. Ninan moved to Business Standard where owner Aveek Sarkar was conducting the Ananda Bazaar Patrika group rather like the Sulzburger family was conducting the New York Times company. He revamped BS on Ninan’s advice, but eventually sold the title.

Uday Kotak, the new majority shareholder, is said to have decided on investing only after getting an assurance from Ninan that he would mind the company as well. The chairmanship now conferred on Ninan is thus the culmination of  a philosophy already in place.

It is important that this philosophy  succeeds. Journalism has already sunk to unacceptable levels in our country.

How unethical this socially responsible profession has become  was demonstrated last year when the greatest newspaper scandal in the democratic world hit India. Several leading newspapers took money from politicians to publish reports praising them at election time. This was disguised as news—a clear case of cheating readers.

Is that the journalism India wants?

BS has progressed from  8000 copies to 185,000. But it is said to be facing problems typical of these uncertain times. In publications where values are upheld even when times are hard, every citizen is a stake-holder.

If honourable publications suffer, we all suffer.

If they succeed, we all succeed.

Photographs: courtesy Business Standard

Also read: It’s all official about the return of Sanjaya Baru

Sauce for a paper ain’t sauce for a TV station?

Conflict of interest and an interest in conflict

We’re all maalis in The Great Gardener’s hands

Among his many stand-out traits, the photojournalist T.S. Satyan, who died in Mysore on Sunday, went out of his way to “give back something to the profession that gave them so much”.

Even in his 80s, he was ever ready to travel long distances to speak to young students of journalism; delivered anecdote-filled lectures; opened photography exhibitions; held workshops; took part in debates.

In this file picture, he interacts with photojournalism students of the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media (IIJNM)*, Bangalore, who visited his residence showing off his almost masterly knowledge of plants and flowers. The department head, Saggere Ramaswamy, is to the right of the frame.

* Disclosures apply