Tag Archives: T.J.S. George

Bal Thackeray’s banter at FPJ’s ‘Malayali Club’

T.J.S. George, the founder-editor of Asiaweek magazine, who worked under the legendary S. Sadanand at the Free Press Journal in Bombay, on their common-colleague and staff cartoonist, Bal Thackeray:

“Spicy coffee-house theories spread that Thackeray had developed a personal grudge against South Indians. There was talk that he was jealous of R.K. Laxman who started out in FPJ and went on to glory while he, Thackeray, was denied his due. In fact, Thackeray not only had high regard for Laxman, but counted South Indians among his buddies in FPJ.

“There was a good deal of banter. Thackeray called the FPJ news desk the Malayali Club. The celebrated crime reporter M.P. Iyer constantly  showered friendly abuse on Thackeray. But Thackeray would not take offence because Iyer used colloquial Marathi with a brilliance Thackeray could not command.

“At least on one occasion, Thackeray paid public tribute to Iyer and S.Sadanand, FPJ’s founder, holding them up as models for young journalists to follow.”

Read the full article: A cartoonist with a sense of humour

Illustration: Mario Miranda for Upper Crust

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Only one journalist on 109 Padma Awards’ list

For the second year in a row, there are no working journalists— i.e. those still burning the phone lines and greasing the totempole in anticipation of the big day—in the 2012 Republic Day honours’ list.

Aside from the recently deceased cartoonist Mario Miranda has been decorated with the nation’s second highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan, there is only one other living journalist on the 109-name list —Vijay Dutt Shridhar of Madhya Pradesh—who gets the Padma Sri.

In 2011, too, there was nobody from the Delhi set, although a number of names had done the rounds. Only the nation’s first woman news photographer, Homai Vyarawalla, and the veteran editor, author and columnist T.J.S. George had been found fit for the honour last year.

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2008: Padma Shri VD, Padma Shri RDS and Padma Shri BD

2008: Why Rajdeep and Barkha Dutt must decline Padma Sri

2009: Third highest civilian honour for Shekhar Gupta

2010: Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria gets Padma Bhushan

2011: Padma Awards for Homai Vyarawala, T.J.S. George

2011: Did Niira Radia tapes impact journos’ Padma awards?

2011: Why Barkha Dutt needn’t return her Padma Sri

Why the PM is hopelessly wrong about media

T.J.S. GEORGE writes: Does the media distort facts? The Prime Minister thinks so. By “focussing excessively” on scam after scam, does the media spoil India’s image? The Prime Minister thinks so. For the leader of a government that is neck-deep in scams, it is natural to think as the Prime Minister does. But that does not make it right. In fact the Prime Minister is hopelessly wrong.

Manmohan Singh was in conversation with television editors. A great deal can be said in criticism of news channels. Generally speaking, they are amateurish, childish in their “me first” claims, irritating in their competitive sensationalism, more irritating in their loudness, superficial, repetitive and often plain unprofessional. But, like newspapers, they are essentially mirrors.

News journalism may have its weaknesses, but functionally it merely reflects the reality around it. It does not generate governmental corruption, it only reports it. If scams demoralise the nation and spoil the image of the country, the blame lies squarely with politicians and officials and fixers who produce the scams and benefit from them. The Prime Minister must attack the scamsters, not the mirrors.

Actually, the media is doing an incomparably valuable national service by bringing corruption to public attention. After all, if the media had resolved not to do anything that would “spoil India’s image,” what would have happened? The shame of India would have spread anyway as the world would have known that India was a country where a roll of toilet paper could be sold for Rs 4000, and where decisions on spectrum allocations were made in Chennai’s Gopalpuram area, and where there were billionaires with more illegal funds in Swiss banks than billionaires in the top five countries put together. It is the people of India who would have remained in the dark about the extent of their rulers’ criminalities.

Worse, India would have sunk deeper and deeper into corruption since the corrupt would have been emboldened by the fact that they would never be exposed. The media, for all its excesses, has put the fear of god into the hearts of the criminally inclined politician, bureaucrat and “crony capitalist”. That even their private conversations may someday become public property is one of the best disincentives we have against corruption. The Prime Minister would have been smart to acknowledge this instead of suggesting that the media was negative in its attitude.

It is true that the media also has developed a taste for corruption. It has a long way to go before it can be called mature and creative. But even in its present three-fourth-baked state, it performs the function of a conscientious opposition. Without the media playing this role, Indian democracy would lose much of its substance especially since the formal opposition in Parliament is playing a petty obstructionist’s role.

Both in Delhi and in the various states, the Opposition’s role is to oppose – oppose for the sake of opposing. If the Government says the sun rises in the West, the Opposition will say: No, it rises in the North. In no other democracy is Parliament’s functioning completely blocked as a form of Opposition politics. Even on urgently needed social and electoral reforms, they never show the unanimity they readily bring out when their salary increase bills come up for passing. When corruption cases come up, different parties take different positions as all are entrenched in corruption in different ways.

In such an environment the media becomes the only reliable forum for actionable information and democratic mobilisation. Even those who get the wrong end of the stick really have no reason to grumble.

As Ram Mohan Roy explained:

“A government conscious of rectitude of intention cannot be afraid of public scrutiny by the Press since this instrument can be equally well employed as a weapon of defence”.

Those who are beyond defence cannot of course use the weapon. But Manmohan Singh should have known that the real scoundrels who spoil India’s image are outside the media.

‘Why Barkha Dutt needn’t return her Padma Sri’

Anurag Batra, editor-in-chief of the exchange4media group, in the industry journal, Impact:

Prabhu Chawla was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2003. What’s fascinating is that between 2006 and 2009, six journalists were awarded the Padma Sri: Sucheta Dalal, Mrinal Pande, Vinod Dua, Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt and Abhay Chhajlani, and one Padma Bhushan, Shekhar Gupta in 2009.

“Three out of the six Padma Sris were awarded in 2008 itself, the penultimate year of the UPA government before the elections in 2009. I remember laughing out loud when the awards were announced, as these leading journalists held debates on their respective channels about the authenticity of these awards. Not to mention that when they got it, nobody denied them or denounced them, instead the channels hailed their achievements.

“The latest on the grapevine is that the AIADMK and a few other parties are running a campaign to get Barkha Dutt to give back her Padma Sri award because of the Niira Radia controversy. I personally don’t see the point in that as in my view, Barkha has done good work in the past and continues to do so and should be judged on that. I also feel that journalists have always been influencers so there is nothing new in that.”

Also read: Padma Shri VD, Padma Shri RDS and Padma Shri BD

2008: Why Rajdeep and Barkha must decline the Padma Sri

2009: Third highest civilian honour for Shekhar Gupta

2010: Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria gets Padma Bhushan

2011: Padma Awards for Homai Vyarawala, T.J.S. George

 

Did Radia tapes impact journos’ Padma awards?

There is a palpable sense of shock among media folk that the 2011 Republic Day honours’ list contains no “working journalists” i.e. those still burning the phone lines and greasing the totempole in anticipation of the big day.

There are no awardees from the exalted world of television, with the honours going to old-world print veterans: the country’s first woman news photographer Homai Vyarawala and the editor-author-columnist T.J.S. George.

Worse, neither of the two awardees are residents of Lutyen’s Delhi or, horror, of  the national capital region (NCR): Vyarawala is based in Baroda and George is in Bangalore.

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From The Telegraph:

“Only one mediaperson, veteran T.J.S. George, made the cut to a Padma Bhushan despite the buzz that nearly a dozen were long-listed. Sources said the government was cautious about this category because at least a couple of former awardees figured in the Niira Radia tapes.”

From The Indian Express:

“The most conspicuous omission from the list are mediapersons. For the first time in several years, not a single journalist has been picked for any of the Padma Awards. It is not clear whether the decision was influenced by the controversy surrounding the Niira Radia tapes in which some prominent mediapersons have been revealed in bad light.”

Also read: Aditya Sinha on the “worldview” of Delhi journalists

Padma awards: Homai Vyarawala, T.J.S. George

Last Friday, many journalists received an SMS that contained the list of names that had apparently been forwarded to the Union home ministry for consideration for the Padma awards this year.

The names: Manini Chatterjee (The Telegraph), Raj Chengappa (The Tribune), Vijay Darda (Lokmat), Arnab Goswami (Times Now), Aarti Jerath (The Times of India), Alok Mehta (Nai Dunia), Vinod Mehta (Outlook), K.S. Sachidananda Murthy (The Week), Dileep Padgaonkar (ex-Times of India), Sanjay Pugaliya (CNBC-Awaaz) and M.K. Razdan (PTI).

M.J. Akbar‘s Sunday Guardian even gave the SMS some oxygen by putting it out and a few more of its own: Barun Ganguli, Pandit Dinesh Kumar Dube and Dr Chandra Dev Pandey.

But when the Padma list came out this evening, on the eve of the 61st Republic Day, it contained none of the names that was allegedly being scrutinised by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Instead, there was India’s first woman news photographer, Homai Vyarawala, with the nation’s second highest honour, decorated with the Padma Vibhushan.

There was T.J. S. George, founder-editor of Asiaweek magazine and editorial advisor of The New Indian Express, and a best-selling author, with the Padma Bhushan.

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Homai Vyarawala: Lucky with 13, will ‘Dalda’ get lucky at 96?

T.J.S. George: Lessons for Vir and Barkha from Nikhilda

A deep mind with a straight spine who stands tall

What K.M. Mathew could teach today’s tykes

When an editor makes way for editor gracefully

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Also read: Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria gets Padma Bhushan

Third highest civilian honour for Shekhar Gupta

Padma Shri VD, Padma Shri RDS and Padma Shri BD

Why Rajdeep and Barkha must decline the Padma Sri

Lessons for Vir & Barkha from Prem & Nikhilda

By T.J.S. GEORGE

Journalism started going astray with the birth of financial dailies in the 1960s. With full-fledged newspapers devoted exclusively to business, corporate houses became hyperactive. The next thing we knew was press conferences ending with gifts of expensive sarees and suitlengths to reporters.

That was innocent child play compared to what has hit the headlines now: charges of celebrity journalists working hand in hand with a professional lobbyist to fix things like cabinet appointments and big-ticket business deals.

Excerpts from taped conversations between the star journalists and corporate lobbyist Niira Radia have been published. Radia was promoting the prospects of some DMK personalities as well as the gas interests of one Ambani brother and the spectrum interests of the Tatas.

The journalists became her tools.

Lobbying is a recognised activity in democracies. But it is a tricky line of work because sometimes unconventional methods might become necessary to secure the case of a client. Given Niira Radia’s experience and efficiency, acknowledged by companies like Tatas, we must assume that she took care not to cross the line. Anyway we can leave it to the enforcement directorate which is looking into the matter.

Journalism is as different from lobbying as nariel paani is from singlemalt. Any crossing of the line may be a tribute to the power of singlemalt, but never justifiable.

Unfortunately the journalists show themselves as amenable to doing the unjustifiable. They agree to convey messages favouring A.Raja to the Congress bosses. They agree to take the side of the Ambani brother Radia was promoting as against the other brother.

The moment the tapes were published, the journalists mentioned in it rushed to rebut all insinuations. The arguments were that journalists had to talk to all sorts of people, that “stringing” along with a source was no crime, that promises had to be made sometimes to get information from a source. The employer of one journalist said that it was preposterous to “caricature the professional sourcing of information to ‘lobbying’”.

The question is whether the journalists carry credibility. Of course drunks and murderers have been among the valued contacts of journalists. And of course journalists have moved very closely with political leaders.

Few people were closer to Jawaharlal Nehru than B. Shiva Rao of The Hindu. Prem Bhatia of The Statesman used to walk the corridors of Delhi as if he owned them. The hardest nuts in the power circle cracked happily before Nikhil Chakravartty on his morning rounds.

Not once did these men ask for a favour or recommend a businessman friend. They were not social celebrities, but they did their profession proud by keeping the highest possible credibility level.

Today’s celebrities assume they can win credibility by simply saying that they talked to Radia only as a source and that they never kept promises made to her anyway. Is a veteran networker like Radia so easily fooled? Obviously she is close to her journalist contacts and must have had promises from them before. She wouldn’t waste her time if she knew that they were promises not meant to be followed up.

At one point she actually tells another contact that “I made [the journalist] call up Congress and get a statement”. This is Radia speaking, not a naïve greenhorn. To say that this kind of work on behalf of a lobbyist is legitimate journalism is like B.S. Yediyurappa saying that all he has ever done is development work.

To say that they promised to talk to the likes of Sonia and Rahul only to outsmart a war-horse is like the BJP high command saying it has outsmarted Yeddyurappa.

The glamour of celebrityhood has a way of going to one’s head. Delusions of grandeur are never a journalistic virtue. The real virtue is the mind’s ability to maintain a degree of detachment. When the game is played at the 5-star level, one can never be sure of who is fooling whom.

It will be good for everyone to remember that there is one lot that can never be fooled: The people.

External reading: The Niira Radia tapes and transcripts