Tag Archives: Romesh Thapar

‘Indian TV is like nautanki, a real-life soap opera’

Malvika Singh, whose parents Raj and Romesh Thapar started Seminar magazine (and whose attempt to start a news channel for Ashok Advani‘s Business India magazine in the mid-1990s is the stuff of media lore), in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“An intellectually lazy press corps that controls and operates the electronic media in India, drowning us all in its short bites and screams, virtually taking on the garb of the politician on the soap box, has dumbed down the discourse. It has no idea of how to divide reporting from analysis as it allows the two to merge seamlessly into a stream of confusion and one-sided chatter.

“The other example of that laziness can be found in the guests who appear on all the channels — about the same 40 people who are tossed about as in a caesar salad. No fresh views, no new voices.

“Television was meant to be a tool that would access far-flung views and voices in an effort to expand the real news from the ground as well as the dialogue. Instead, each channel is predictable in its reactions to political happenings and one can clearly ascertain the personal political preferences of the owners and the anchors in the construct of their programmes.

“Indian television is like a nautanki, a soap opera, watched for the ‘live’ entertainment it provides as it shows real life leaders of India prancing about abusing one another, thereby demeaning themselves in full public view.”

Photograph: courtesy Tehelka


B.G. VERGHESE: The declaration of Emergency

The former Indian Express and Hindustan Times editor B.G. Verghese has just released his memoirs, First Draft (Tranquebar). This excerpt, carried by HT last week, captures the declaration of Emergency and the introduction of press censorship by Indira Gandhi‘s regime in 1975.



A little before 2 am on June 26 [1975], the phone rang in my bedroom. It was Abhay Chajjlani, editor of Nai Dunia from Indore. Was anything happening in Delhi, he asked anxiously? I asked why he thought so. He said his premises, like those of other newspapers in Indore, had been raided, the presses stopped and all newspaper bundles seized. Political leaders had been arrested.

I said I would find out and call back if I could.

Another call followed immediately thereafter from Romesh Chandra of The Hind Samachar, Jullundur, sounding a similar alarm. I rang Romesh Thapar, who exclaimed, “My God, so it’s happened!”

I called the HT. The city edition was still in the midst of its first run. I asked the news editor to summon the bureau chief, chief reporter, photographers and all possible hands to scour the city and to alert our state correspondents and be prepared to run a new late edition or a special supplement. I would be coming over immediately.

…I got to the HT by 2.30 am by when one or two others had trickled in. We added a ‘stop press’ insertion to the late city edition under printing. We also prepared to bring out an early-morning supplement, to hit the streets as soon as possible with whatever news we could gather, and with whatever staff was available, as many sub-editors, compositors and press workers had gone off the night shift.

A reporter rang to say the Cabinet had been summoned for an urgent meeting at 6 am at the prime minister’s residence…. The promulgation of the internal Emergency was conveyed to a subdued Cabinet on the 26th morning with only Swaran Singh raising a mildly questioning voice.

Meanwhile, the first posters went up in the HT press noticeboards stating that the editor and a clique of anti-people journalists could not put the livelihood of the press workers and staff in jeopardy. By now the management was astir and had summoned the watch and ward to bar us from entry to the press, and shut it off.

With great difficulty we managed to get, maybe, a couple of hundred copies of our June 26 Emergency Supplement printed before the rotary ground to a halt. We collected those precious copies and carried them out for selective private distribution by journalist staff.

I retained a copy. It is probably now a collector’s item.

Photograph: Femina editor Vimla Patil interviews Indira Gandhi, with H.Y. Sharada Prasad, then the prime minister’s press secretary, in the background, in 1974 (courtesy Vimla Patil)

Also read: A deep mind with a straight spine who stands tall

Kuldeep Nayar: Hindu, HT were the worst offenders in 1975

H.Y. Sharada Prasad: Middle-class won’t understand Indira

People, not the press, are the real fourth estate in India