Tag Archives: Channel 4

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.

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Karan Thapar says ‘sorry’ to L.K. Advani (twice)

Karan Thapar (right) with L.K. Advani in happier times at a Hindustan Times leadership summit, in 2011

It isn’t often that journalists, especially the bold-faced names, descend from their ivory towers to admit they may have hurt a politician’s feelings. It’s even rarer to hear them say ‘sorry’ for having done so. But twice in the past week, the interviewer Karan Thapar has found the inner reserves to publicly do so, and on both occasions to the same man: L.K. Advani.

In a profile published in The Hindu, Thapar spoke of the break down of his friendship with the BJP leader and former deputy prime minister, whom he has interviewed a number of times for his BBC and CNN-IBN shows.

“But after one interview, soon after his Jinnah remarks [in 2005], Advani was not happy and wanted Thapar to re-shoot the show. Thapar saw no reason to do so, and despite many requests, chose to be a ‘rigid, honourable journalist’ and telecast the footage.

“‘Since then,’ Thapar says, ‘the trust has gone. We did an interview in 2009 too, but after eight minutes he said he did not want to do it.’

“Looking back, Thapar wistfully says, ‘I saw it purely as a journalist, but the fact is that there was another relationship with him and his family, which I had used for my journalism. I had called his daughter to fix me an interview with him as soon as he took over as home minister. She did it.’

“It was in that backdrop, of past intimacy and informality, that Advani may have made the request. Almost seven years after the incident, Thapar is not sure if he made the right call in hurting a person he respected otherwise, bringing home the dilemmas journalists covering the powerful often face.”

In his weekly column in the Hindustan Times, Thapar went a step further:

“Over the years that followed Mr Advani gave me more interviews than perhaps anyone else. I got his first as home minister and several as deputy prime minister. More than that, I was always welcome when I called. Mrs Advani and [daughter] Pratibha made me feel special.

“Alas, it all unravelled in 2006 when I did an interview Mr Advani didn’t like. He asked if I would re-do it. I refused. I thought journalistic integrity required a firm stand forgetting I’d only got the interview because I was considered a ‘friend’.

“Thereafter our relationship was never the same. Mr Advani continued to take my phone calls and was always courteous but the old link had snapped.

“Today I realise I was wrong. Maybe even arrogant, which is worse. And so it’s my turn to apologise. It’s taken me seven years but the memory of Mr Advani’s phone call, made 22 years ago, has given me the strength to say sorry.

“Alas, I’m aware it’s now too late. This time, however, I’d really like to be wrong.”

With Advani now in the eye of the BJP storm following the elevation of Narendra Modi as the chairman of the BJP’s election campaign committee, the apology couldn’t have come a day too soon.

Photograph: courtesy Hindustan Times

‘Indian media doesn’t value factual reporting’

Of all the documentaries built around the November 26, 2008 siege of Bombay, none has quite matched the buzz created by Dan Reed for Channel 4.

Partly because it was the first of the lot; largely because it contained eyepopping footage including of the lone surviving terrorist Ajmal Kasab (in picture) being interrogated.

In an discussion held in Delhi, reproduced by MOB (Milk our Bovines), Reed, 47, modestly shines the light:

Question: You managed access to some highly classified data that no one in India had access to. How come no Indian media got their hands on it?

Answer: Over the years I have found that being an outsider confers a strange advantage when approaching a seemingly impenetrable story….

The key was just persistence, an open mind, making friends with the right people, and above all believing (cheesy though it sounds) that you can do it – because as we all know if you believe it strongly enough, others will too.

I certainly don’t think the Indian media was incompetent, but very, very few journalists I met had the rigorous high standards, the passion and the persistence necessary to do first-class work. I believe this situation has arisen because many newspapers and TV stations in India simply do not prioritise factual reporting and rigorous research.

“Why let the truth get in the way of a good story?” is an attitude by no means confined to the Indian media, but it is certainly prevalent there. The majority of the 26/11 stories I checked out in the Indian press contained major inaccuracies or errors. But then there were a few journalists whose work was nothing short of brilliant and who helped me a great deal.

S. Hussain Zaidi (in picture), the brilliant and fearless Asian Age bureau chief in Mumbai (and author of the outstanding Black Friday book), became a close associate of mine on this project and his shrewd assistance, inside knowledge and encouragement were vital to its success.”

Photograph: courtesy Dan Reed/ Channel 4

Read the full interview here: The truth behind the Mumbai attacks