Tag Archives: Jairam Ramesh

Conflict of interest in ‘Indian Express’ awards?

The Ramnath Goenka awards for excellence in journalism, instituted by The Indian Express, will be given out by the vice president of India, Hamid Ansari, on Monday, January 16. But the sponsorship of the awards has run into trouble, with a bunch activists and intellectuals raising questions of “conflict of interest”.

Below is their full press release.

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On January 10 and 11, 2012, half-page advertisements in the Indian Express (IE) newspaper (at least in Delhi edition) announced that the IE excellence in journalism awards would be given out on January 16, 2012 .

The advertisement also said that the main presenting sponsor is the Jaypee Group and among the four associate sponsors was Mahyco Monsanto.

One may recall that Indian Express has been on a campaign mode advocating big dams in general. It has been specifically campaigning against the movements like the Narmada Bachao Andolan. In March and April 2006, the paper specifically ran a campaign against NBA and also against the then Union minister Prof Saifuddin Soz.

In October 2010 the paper ran a campaign for large hydro projects in the north east India when the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh held an open public hearing on these projects in Guwahati and than wrote to the Prime Minister, raising concerns about so many hydro projects being taken up in NE India and the impacts thereof.

Now it is well known that the Jaypee group is India’s largest dam building contractor, largest private sector developer and plans to develop many more including in the North East India, which was the subject of Indian Express campaign in October 2010. Jaypee group is also the contractor for the largest of Narmada Dam, namely Sardar Sarovar Project.

The group is planning to develop the 2700 MW lower Siang and 500 MW Hirong hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh, for example. It may also not be irrelevant to mention here that the Jaypee group has pathetic records in terms of social, environmental and human rights issues in the projects it is involved in.

More recently, in January 2012, India’s market regulator SEBI fined Jaypee group Rs 6 million for illegal practice of insider trading . All these facts are very much relevant for any business group to sponsor awards for excellence in journalism, particularly when the awards are also for “ethics in reporting”.

The Indian Express campaign in October 2010 willy-nilly helped the Jaypee groups’ interests. And now Jaypee is sponsoring the IE Journalism award. Shall we call this conflict of interest or quid pro quo?

Should a media house accept such sponsorship from a group that has directly benefited from the campaign that was run by the media house? And when the business group has such abysmal reputation?

Earlier in January-February 2010, when Jairam Ramesh held a series of public hearings to get a cross section of views on Bt Brinjal, Indian Express had launched a campaign  against Jairam Ramesh and for GM crops. It is clear that the campaign hugely benefited GM crop companies and the biggest among them in the world (Monsanto) has an Indian arm Mahyco Monsanto, which is the biggest GM seed company of India.

Mahyco Monsanto now is one of the sponsors of the Indian Express excellence in journalism awards.

So the same set of questions that arise about relation between Jaypee group and IE also arise for Mahyco Monsanto: Is this conflict of interest or quid pro quo? Is this not intellectual corruption? Should not the lobbyist media groups like Indian Express keep away from getting sponsorships from the organisations that their lobbying helps?

This is particularly true if media group wants to retain any credibility to the effect that it is still speaking in public interest, which we assume they should be.

We would like to clarify that we are not raising any doubts about the genuineness, independence and excellence of the jury or those journalists who may get this award.

Prashant Bhushan, senior Supreme Court lawyer, Delhi
E.A.S. Sarma, former secretary, govt of India, Andhra Pradesh
Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP, Delhi
Shripad Dharmadhikary, manthan adhyayan kendra, MP
Manshi Asher, him dhara, environment research and action collective, HP
Joy KJ, soppecom, Maharashtra
Dr Latha Anantha, river research centre, Kerala
Soumitra Ghosh, NESPON, West Bengal
Hemant Dhyani, Ganga ahvahan, Uttarakhand

This is not the first time media awards have run into trouble.

In November 2011, Mail Today reported that the chief justice of the Supreme Court of India, S.H. Kapadia, had declined to hand out the awards instituted by an unnamed media group.

Earlier last year, media awards instituted by the Press Club of Bombay ran into rough weather when one of the sponsors turned out to be the 2G scam afflicted company, DB Realty.

Hat tap: Mahesh Vijapurkar

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Also read: Ramanth Goenka: Courage of the 2 o’ clock kind

Prabhu Chawla: No one can destroy Ramnath Goenka‘s paper

How Arun Shourie became editor of The Indian Express

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After Athreya and Kautilya, enter “Chanakya”

Six months after Vir Sanghvi said he had “suspended” his weekly column Counterpoint, in the wake of the Niira Radia tapes that had him dictating his weekly output to the 2G scam-tainted lobbyist for her approval, the Hindustan Times has announced a new column in the slot occupied by Sanghvi’s.

The byline: “Chanakya“.

In the inaugural column, Chanakya who describes himself “as an outside admirer of the Left”, suggests the purging of Prakash Karat after the Left defeat in West Bengal.

So, who could Chanakya be?

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Hindustan Times has had a strange history with pseudonymous authors.

In December 2008, Raju Narisetti, the founder of Mint, the business daily launched by HT, exited the paper in the wake of an open letter by “a serving IAS officer writing under the pseudonym Athreya“, which attacked prime minister Manmohan Singh.

The open letter by the IAS officer led to a question being posed to the government by the opposition BJP in Parliament and an abrasive response from then home minister P. Chidambaram.

Narisetti wrote a blog post answering Chidambaram and then printed the clarification in the paper on the use of pseudonyms:

“In November 1937, the Modern Review, then India’s most well-regarded journal of opinion, published an article on Jawaharlal Nehru written by Chanakya, an obvious pseudonym. The author hit out at Nehru’s latent dictatorial tendencies and his “intolerance for others and a certain contempt for the weak and inefficient”. Its author warned: “Jawaharlal might fancy himself as a Caesar.” There were howls of protest from loyalists until it was revealed much later that Nehru himself was the author of this piece.”

Thanks to Niira Radia, “Chanakya” returns to Kasturba Gandhi Marg.

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In his avatar as a columnist, the Union minister for forests and environment Jairam Ramesh wrote under the pen name Kautilya.

The former Congress prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao was routinely referred to as Chanakya. Hindustan Times chairman Shobana Bharatiya is a Congress member of Parliament.

Also read: An open letter to the PM

An open clarification on an open letter

Wall Street Journal editor ‘denies’ minister’s SMS

M.J. Akbar‘s Sunday Guardian dishes out the garam masala of the day, outing the mischievous minister who allegedly sent allegedly inappropriate text messages to an editor of the Wall Street Journal after her recent interview with him.

Last week, the Delhi tabloid Mail Today had mentioned the gossip in its columns, two days in a row.

The minister, at the centre of a row over India’s alleged change of stance on climate change, has been at the receiving end of sections of the media over his u-turn on allowing genetically modified foods.

Newspaper facsimile: courtesy The Sunday Guardian

allegedly Italics: courtesy The Times of India

Also read: Why Ram Jethmalani started The Sunday Guardian

Will M.J. Akbar recreate The Telegraph magic?

External reading: Editor the Great

When a music magazine takes on Goldman Sachs

It is probably applicable to other spheres of journalism as well, but it is surely no exaggeration to state that business journalism has completely lost the ability to tell it like it is.

Unless, it is some small, worthless, unimportant target.

Reporters, writers and editors, fearful of losing “access”, are held hostage by PR, freebies, and worse. Publishers and proprietors, trying to squeeze every dollar, are indebted to advertising. Etc.

Result: readers, viewers, listeners, surfers are served up numbers and theories held up by hope.

Little wonder it took a comedian (Jon Stewart) to buttonhole a “mad” CNBC anchor (Jim Cramer).

Little wonder it has taken a music magazine to throw light on the “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

Take a bow, Matt Taibbi (in picture).

The Rolling Stone columnist, who has been compared to Hunter S. Thompson, sticks a long, sharp knife into the investment bank in the latest issue of the magazine, calling it a “planet-eating Death Star of political influence”, accusing it of engineering every major market manipulation since the Great Depression of 1929.

The internet bubble, the housing bubble, the oil-price bubble, and the coming “carbon-credit” bubble (hello, Jairam Ramesh) are all the handiwork of Goldman Sachs, writes Taibbi, accusing the company of an incestuous old boy network to shut out competitors, prevent regulation, and stay out of trouble in perpetuity.

“They achieve this using the same playbook over and over again. The formula is relatively simple: Goldman positions itself in the middle of a speculative bubble, selling investments they know are crap. Then they hoover up vast sums from the middle and lower floors of society with the aid of a crippled and corrupt state that allows it to rewrite the rules in exchange for the relative pennies the bank throws at political patronage. Finally, when it all goes bust, leaving millions of ordinary citizens broke and starving, they begin the entire process over again, riding in to rescue us all by lending us back our own money at interest, selling themselves as men above greed, just a bunch of really smart guys keeping the wheels greased.”

Goldman Sachs responded to Taibbi’s article through Reuters blogger Felix Salmon, calling the Rolling Stone piece “hysterical”; “a compilation of every conspiracy theory ever dreamed up about Goldman Sachs”.

“We reject the assertion that we are inflators of bubbles and profiteers in busts, and we are painfully conscious of the importance of being a force for good,” Lucan Van Praag, Goldman Sachs’ top flack, writes.

Matt Taibbi responds in kind, answering every spineless reporter/editor’s feeble excuse about “giving the other side a chance”, about being “balanced” and “objective”.

“My feeling is that companies like Goldman Sachs have a virtual monopoly on mainstream-news public relations; for every one reporter like me, or like far more knowledgeable critics like Tyler Durden, there are a thousand hacks out there willing to pimp Goldman’s viewpoint on things in the front pages and ledes of the major news organizations. And there are probably another thousand poor working stiffs who are nudged into pushing the Goldman party line by their editors and superiors….

“Goldman has its alumni pushing its views from the pulpit of the U.S. Treasury, the NYSE, the World Bank, and numerous other important posts; it also has former players fronting major TV shows. They have the ear of the president if they want it. Given all of this, I personally think it’s absurd to talk about the need for “balance” in every single magazine and news article. I understand that some people feel differently, but that’s my take on things.”

There have been even wild accusations of “anti-Semitism” in Taibbi’s piece (he is Arab-American) against “the most prototypically Jewish firm around.”

Taibbi has also been accused of picking on Goldman Sachs when there were plenty of other bandicoots with their hands in the loot, like, say, Morgan Stanley.

“Why didn’t we write about Morgan? Because we didn’t. Because it’s your turn, you assholes. Maybe later someone will tell the story of the other banks, but for now, while most ordinary people are only just learning about the workings of the financial innovation era that blew up in their faces last year, the top dog in that universe is going to be first in line to get the special treatment.”

Read the Rolling Stone article: The great American bubble machine

Read Matt Taibbi’s blog: Taibblog

Read an interview with Matt Taibbi

Visit Goldman Sachs’ unofficial blog