Rohit Iyengar pays tribute to “the nation”.
the news. the views. the juice.
Rohit Iyengar pays tribute to “the nation”.
ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: Depending on what you expect of your newspaper, either The Times of India played just the right role in the N. Srinivasan matter: proactively taking up an issue that concerns a “nation of a billion-plus”, right up to the very end, even if it did not secure the end it would have liked.
Or, it plainly overdid it, to the exclusion of all else, eventually falling flat on its face.
Over a 13-day period beginning May 22, ToI ran 87 pieces (outside of general BCCI/IPL pieces) with the BCCI president exclusively in focus and almost all of them either demanding, provoking or predicting the end for Srinivasan following his son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan‘s arrest in the alleged IPL betting scandal involving Vindoo Dara Singh.
Among these 87 pieces were seven editorials, mini-editorials and opinion pieces, five interviews, and four cartoons.
It even launched a public service advertising campaign (below) midway through the campaign.
ToI‘s hunt for Srinivasan’s head—which even as of today is far removed from the original IPL spotfixing scam involving S. Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan—began on May 22, the day it launched its “I Lead India” campaign with the poser: “Do you feel you can be a changemaker?”
But it was only on May 28, the day after Srinivasan told a BCCI meeting in Calcutta that he would not resign following his son-in-law’s arrest for his purported involvement in betting, that the ToI coverage took on a more aggressive, advocacy air—eerily reminiscent of the paper’s Commonwealth Games campaign—urging board members, politicians and other sportspersons to speak up or quit to bring pressure on Srinivasan to do the same.
In making the murky BCCI saga its bread, butter, jam and marmalade day after day for 13 days, The Times of India relegated more important but less reader-friendly stories, like the massacre of Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh at the hands of Maoists to the inside pages.
# On May 26, the day after the Chhattisgarh massacre in which 28 people perished, the story was second-lead (as indeed in the Hindustan Times).
# Srinivasan’s fate was the lead ToI story on each of the 13 days; in contrast, the Chhattisgarh ambush found a front-page mention only on four days.
# Altogether, ToI ran 29 stories on Chhattisgarh as opposed to 87 on Srinivasan alone.
# Four times, ToI invoked the name of India Cements, Srinivasan’s company (“India Cements stocks hit 52-week low”, “India Cements brand to take a hit”, “India Cements disowns Meiyappan”, “India Cements underperform peers”) to drive home its point on Srinivasan.
# On May 29, ToI rounded up 30 talking heads seeking Srinivasan’s ouster.
The role of Times Now in drumming up the anti-Srinivasan mood is outside of this quantitative analysis, but with Srinivasan only “stepping aside” for a month at the end of all the sound and fury signifying nothing, the newsworthiness of the Times campaign is open to question.
Below are the Times of India‘s 87 headlines, graphics straplines, intros, editorials, mini-editorials, cartoons, interviews involving Srinivasan over the 13-day period.
Lead story: IPL fixing scandal could reach the top
Team-owner’s relative [Gurunath Meiyappan] under lens
Phone records link him with betting syndicate
Lead story: Police prepare to question BCCI chief’s son-in-law for betting links Day after TOI‘s report, CSK boss Gurunath Meiyappan elusive
BCCI chief mum on Meiyappan role
Editorial: Clean the Stables
A school dropout, Guru tried to build career in Srinivasan shadow
Cops land at BCCI chief’s family’s doorstep Srinivasan’s son-in-law gets summons, seeks time
[CSK] Team boss lost a crore on bets: Vindoo
BCCI brass faces fixing heat
Rules did not stop him from wearing two hats Industry captain and BCCI power player
From Board chief, the silent treatment
Srinivasan also under CBI lens in Jagan Mohan Reddy assets case
BCCI chief may use his clout
Interview: ‘Those at the top in BCCi should resign’: Lalit Modi
Guru arrested, Srinivasan may lose crown
After hours of grilling, cops say BCCI chief’s son-in-law ‘involved in offence’
Srinivasan rejects growing calls for resignation, threatens to ‘fix’ media
Interview: It’s either Srinivasan or Sahara, says Subroto Roy
India Cements shares at 52-week low
India Cements disowns Gurunath
Is Srini trying to insulate CSK?
Law catches up with the son-in-law
Srinivasan should quit right away, say voices in the BCCI
Interview: A.C. Muthiah has a go at his arch-enemy
Real final: Srinivasan vs Rest of India
Ouster plan: first nudge, then shove
‘I won’t be bulldozed into quitting, media unfair’: Srinivasan
Graphic: 3/4 majority to remove President
Strapline: Someone’s stepping down
Cricket fans should bat for a change
BCCI prez may manage to stay on
Law will take its course: Board chief on son-in-law Srini meets Meiyappan’s lawyers
‘Brand India Cements to take a hit’
IPL needs to cleanse itself from within
Former stars want BCCI prez to go
Srini men start lobbying, Shukla meets Jagmohan Dalmiya in Kolkata
Interview: ‘It was a huge mistake to bring Srinivasan into administration’: A.C. Muthiah
Weak-kneed BCCI falls in line as Srinivasan flatly refuses to walk
Strapline: Chief says he is above board
Editorial: The darkest hour—Srinivasan must quit, followed by the overthrow of cricket’s absentee landlord and revamp of BCCI
Lead story: Why are they silent?
Cartoon: He is taking bets on who’s going to be the first to resign
Lead story: Jyotiraditya Scindia becomes first neta in BCCI to say Srinivasan should resign
Strapline: Across fields, Board boss under fire ‘Time for him to go’
Talking heads with 30 voices
Interview: Srinivasan holds power and wields it: Kishore Rungta
Lead story: Finally, Rajiv Shukla and Arun Jaitley say they too want Srinivasan out
Cracks widen in BCCI, even treasurer Ajay Shirke says he would have quit
Strapline: Chorus against Board boss swells
Six talking heads
Srini still has the numbers to hang on
Cheating case filed against Srinivasan
Strapline: Wheels within wheels
Minieditorial: calling for resignation
Jaitley, Shukla asked defiant Srini to quit; BCCI chief said ‘Not in my nature’
Third edit: The Sons-in-law factor, by Bachi Karkaria
Edit page piece: Rip the veil of silence, by Ayaz Memom
May the foes be with you: all the president’s men are fair-weather friends
The endgame has begun
Dalmiya denies he asked Srinivasan not to resign
No one in BCCI asked for his resignation: Shirke
Lead story: Majority now against Srinivasan, can call BCCI meet to remove him
Strapline: Board boss on a turning pitch
How Srini gave himself a life term
Srini’s conflict of interest hearing from July 16
Cartoon: I’m going to hang on to this post as long as I want
India Cements underperform peers
Anti-Srini camp won’t wait for probe
19 talking heads on which way board meet will go
Lead story: Game all but over for Srinivasan
Six days after BCCI boss declared he had board’s unanimous support, he’s running out of partners His no.2 and no. 3 quit, several more top officials to follow suit
Cartoon: Punchline: The best spot-fixer I’ve seen—he’s so fixed to the spot that no one can get him away from it
Lead story: Srini sets terms for exit, BCCI members unwilling to play ball
Strapline: His four demands
Srinivasan wanted Shukla to go too
Advertisement: “To run sports in India you don’t need to be good in games, only in gamesmanship”
Srinivasan vs ICC
Lead story: Match result: all out for no loss
Srinivasan to ‘step aside’: some say it’s a face-saver for him, others call it an anti-climax and a sham
Strap line: Will he really sit it out?
Editorial: nation dismayed: BCCI’s credibility lies in tatters as India’s cricket fans are sold a lemon
For Srini, a strategic time out
‘Nobody dared ask Srini to quit, only he spoke for first 40 minutes’
Cartoon: I’ve stepped aside
Srini shot down Shashank Manohar‘s name
Infographic and advertisement: courtesy The Times of India
Also read: The Times of India and Commonwealth Games
PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from Delhi: The year of the lord 2010 has seen the The Times of India in uber-aggressive mode.
The nation’s largest English daily that rarely ever wants to “afflict the comfortable” despite its size, reach, reputation, resources and influence, has pulled out all stops in exposing the murky IPL dealings of Lalit Modi, Union minister Sharad Pawar and his MP-daughter Supriya Sule, and their NCP partyman Praful Patel.
In all those four IPL-related stories, Times provided blanket coverage and then let matters rest after a while. But if there is one story on which it has been relentless in the last couple of months, it is its attack on the Commonwealth Games (CWG)—and Pawar’s former factotum, Suresh Kalmadi.
Day after day, Times has employed reporters, editors, columnists, authors, even commissioned industrialists, to rip the games and the chairman of its organising committee apart, with the kind of first-rate journalism that ToI has condemned to play second fiddle over the last decade.
A cursory count shows that between 1 August and 2 September 2010, The Times of India (Delhi market) has published no less than 107 negative headlines on the Commonwealth Games (sample them here) with the author Chetan Bhagat just short of advocating a boycott of the CWG on the pages of The Sunday Times of India.
Given how rarely ToI wants to rock the boat, the question that is naturally being asked in Delhi and Bombay is, why. What’s behind the Times‘ new-found aggro?
Legitimate journalism, is of course the easiest explanation for ToI‘s proactivism. The fact that the CWG is in a mess—inflated bills, corrupt deals, leaky stadiums, incomplete facilities, etc—is beyond doubt, and Suresh Kalmadi’s own culpability in this (and other) dubious deals is also beyond question.
After all, if politicians like Mani Shankar Aiyar can ask searching questions on the CWG, why shouldn’t a newspaper?
Yet, it is unnatural for a “feel-good” newspaper like The Times of India, whose advertised credo is to wake up the reader with a good feeling in his head, to rub in the bad news in the all-important Delhi market, day in and day out. Moreover, bigger scams involving more important people have been allowed to rest.
So, what gives?
There are no answers, just whispers.
But for over a fortnight now, journalists have been hissing about a four-page document that reportedly suggests that the Times‘ interest in the story may be more than just journalistic.
Now, it is up on Flickr.
The first page of it is a signed November 2009 letter from a director of Times of India group (C.R. Srinivasan) on a ToI letterhead to Suresh Kalmadi, outlining the “costumer connect initiatives” the group proposes to undertake.
“Kindly let us know of your decision to grant ‘official newspaper’ status to The Times of India at your earliest convenience,” concludes Srinivasan’s letter.
The second page is a signed note from Times Group general manager Gautam Sen to the additional director-general, communications, of the CWG organising committee, presenting a “comprehensive print proposal” (for Times of India, Navbharat Times, Maharashtra Times, Mirror and Sandhya Times) along with a rate-card.
For 2-page reports on five key milestone days (carrying a half-page ad of CWG at DAVP (department of audio visual publicity) rates and a half-page ad at commercial days); for six one-page reports (where in 65% of the page will have edit and 35% will be paid-for); and 12 full pages of advertorial at DAVP rates, Times proposes a Rs 12.19 crore package.
For a claimed combined nationwide circulation of 51.84 lakh copies for the five dailies, the breakdown is Rs 4.61 crore + Rs 3.31 crore + Rs 4.27 crore = Rs 12.19 crore.
The last-two pages doing the rounds—an unsigned note from a bureaucrat to a senior bureaucrat or to Kalmadi himself, explaining the fineprint of the proposed Times package—leave little to the imagination.
# OC [organising committee] in totality pays for 16.6 pages and in return gets the leverage for 28 pages.
# It [ToI group] has the potential to form opinions of the public at large. It is also expected that with the influence that the ‘Response’ department has over editorial, the OC can get neutral and positive coverage from now to the Games.
# We can consider and extended and beneficial deals with ToI‘s other propoerties viz, TV, radio, internet, etc, including Economic Times (all editions) may be requested of ToI.
While on the face of it, the sum of Rs 12.19 crore may seem large, the benefits offered on a national basis are considerable and the proposal should be considered favourably.
Obviously, these notes and letters do not represent the full story and there is nothing—repeat, nothing—in them to suggest that the Times‘ coverage of CWG and Kalmadi has a connection with this and/or other correspondence.
But judging from the CWG coverage so far, it is fair to assume that ToI did not get the “official newspaper” status. (The buzz is that Hindustan Times has received that status with a lower than Rs 12.19 crore bid. At what terms HT secured the ‘My Delhi, My Games’ tag is not known, but Delhi’s two biggest English dailies do not come out smelling of roses.)
Judging from the hyper-ballistic coverage of CWG and Kalmadi on Times Now, it is also reasonably safe to assume that the plan to extend the deal to Times‘ other properties came to nought. (CNN-IBN swung the baton rights’ deal, unlike Times Now and the other aggrieved bidder, NDTV.)
Nevertheless, at a time when other Indian media specialities like “medianet, paid news” and “private treaties” have become the flavour of the season, the four-page ToI-CWG note lays bare the alarming interplay between editorial and advertising in Indian media houses like never before.
The two-page note appended to the Times‘ managers’ notes also shows how advertisers are confident of buying “neutral and positive coverage” if they can throw a few crores.
Conversely, the bottomline is clear: if an advertiser doesn’t play along, there is hell in store.
Three weeks ago India Today magazine put Lalit Modi, commissioner of the Indian Premier League (IPL) of cricket, on the cover with the line, “Billion-Dollar Baby”.
It puts him on the cover again this week, with the line “Run Out”.
Editor-in-chief Aroon Purie in his letter to readers, offers a muted mea culpa:
“Rule No. 1 of journalism: there are no gods. And if they appear to be so they usually have feet of clay.
“So it was with a fast-talking dynamic 46-year-old man who came from nowhere three years ago and became the god of cricket in India. This is none other than IPL commissioner Lalit Modi who is today embroiled in controversy.
“It is rare for India Today to fete someone on the cover for spectacular achievement and then put them on it within the same month for being in trouble. It was, however, inevitable as the IPL is not only a phenomenon that has revolutionised cricket but last week shook the government and led to the exit of one of its ministers.”
The collapse of the Indian Premier League (IPL) pack of cards is identical to the unravelling of the Satyam fraud in 2009, from a media perspective. Namely, no media organisation—newspaper, magazine, TV station or internet website—saw it before it happened.
Or wanted to see it coming.
The player auctions, the franchise bids, the television rights, the glitz, the glamour, the sleaze were all unquestioningly swallowed and spewed out with nary an eyebrow raised.
Just three weeks ago, India Today magazine was putting the the IPL commissioner Lalit Modi—now accused of conflict of interest, nepotism, shady deals, corruption, sex, drugs, betting, match-fixing, and worse—on the cover, with a couple of cheer girls.
Till a week ago, The Times of India was happily having it both ways.
So, did nobody see it coming? At least one hand has gone up. Former Outlook magazine* journalists T.R. Vivek and Alam Srinivas co-authored a book on the IPL’s marriage of cricket and commerce last year.
In an interview with rediff.com‘s Krishnakumar Padmanabhan, Vivek says the red flags were visible from the very beginning.
Q: As an observer of the IPL from the early days, did you see any early warning signs? If so, what were they?
A: The very fact that cricket was being taken ‘private’ in one stroke was a red flag for me. It was quite similar to the East European countries embracing unfettered free market economics straight from the lap of Communism without any necessary groundwork for the transition. I was in a minority when I first raised questions about promoter motives, and antecedents.
What do a Mukesh Ambani or a Vijay Mallya know about the game to become cricket entrepreneurs? Are they here because it is their passion, or is it because owning a sports property was cool, and it propelled their social status higher than the already rarified echelons?
The franchise auction process left a lot of questions unanswered.
Another red flag for me was whether the Board of Control for Cricket in India had the management bandwidth, execution capabilities to embark on a novel idea such as this.
* Disclosures apply
Read the full interview: ‘Modi tinkered with the rules all the time’
Also read: How come no one spotted the Satyam fraud?