Katju bashing won’t fly, Tavleen

It was on TV.  What was billed  ‘The Ramnath Goenka Debate’  turned out to be a media gang-up against Press Council chairman  Justice Markandey Katju.   It was a provocative Katju against a panel of  ‘press freedom’ caretakers,  comprising a media columnist, couple of TV anchors,  an editor, and an academic, who argued newspaper reporters and lesser media persons need not be intellectuals –  ‘you needn’t have read Zola to report on 2G scam’.  His provocation was Justice  Katju’s  Karan Thapar interview  where he expressed an opinion that a majority of media people were of low intellectual level.
It is difficult to quarrel with the professor’s contention, in the manner he put it.  But then the professor may have no reason to know that a newspaper reporter in New Delhi  of the 60’s and 70’s handled assignments as varied as an interview with Neil Armstrong  on goodwill visit after his  moon-landing,  a Rotary Club address by  John Freeman on Indo-British relations, an interaction with Yahudi Menuhin , Army Day reception at  Gen. Manekhshaw’s  place,  a farewell tea party hosted by Mexican envoy and poet  Octavio Paz, and a scholarly lecture on the Nehru’s relevance by  P N Haksar,  who didn’t hand out a prepared text.  I agree with the professor when he says there is nothing intellectual about reporting routine crime,  a court case proceedings or municipal council meeting.

Columnist Tavleen Singh wasn’t  dignified when she chose to be sarcastic at Justice Katju.   And she took on Sharad Yadav becaue he had said something nice  and praiseworthy about journalists of the old school. “it is bakhwas (rubbish),”  said Tavleen,  adding that media reporting those days was nothing but  “a gracious form of clericalism”.

As a has-been reporter, and her senior by some years  I can claim a nodding acquaintence with Tavleen  during her stint with The Statesman in New Delhi. Maybe her reporting in that paper  wasn’t ‘clericalism’ , gracious or otherwise. It was unbecoming of someone who claims to have been a media person for over 30 years to have been so scornfully dismissive,  as Tavleen Singh was, of other people’s opinion. What she said smacked of intellectual arragance,  an accusation that some  panelists, including Tavleen, had  levelled against Justice Katju.

The press council chief  had words put in his mouth – ‘Mr katju thinks we’re intellectual hacks’;  he was taken to task for suggesting that media,  like any other profession,  needs  a regularity mechanism,  and must be made accountable.  And we had Tavleen, once again, hitting out at Justice Katju –  ‘ why don’t you take a look at others, say the judiciary, before you attack hacks like me’. Strong words, these.  And they may get Tavleen a ‘Wow’ and  ‘wah,wahs’  from her peers,  but it  doesn’t take the debate forward.  It was at this stage that  Mr Pratap Bhanu Mehta intervene to say  the conversation was getting embarrassing,  and the level of debate,  pathetic.

At the end of the day,  I don’t suppose  Taveleen’s  TV performance  and her public display of rightuous indignation  help careers, notably,  of   media columnists who live by background briefings and  ‘deep throat’  links with high level govt.  and corporate sources. After all,  isn’t their  talk-show appearances  also about building self-image ?

Tavleen and some other panelists, in order to score debating points,  couldn’t resist taking a cheap shot at Justice Katju’s much publicised  ‘Dev Anand’ remarks.  More than one panelist was heard saying that the press council chief couldn’t dictate to media what to publish, and where. Justice Katju,  they held,  sought to control editorial freedom.  It was for editors to decide if  Dev Anand’s death merited  Page One news.  Mr Mehta justified the front-page display, saying Dev Anand represented, what he called, sociologically important dream and fantasy to millions in India. That Justice Katju made the  Dev Anand remark  to highlight the need for media to excercise of social priority wasn’t lost on  many of us,  although Mr Mehta and Tavleen Singh chose to interpret it as press council diktat to editors,  on  a matter that was   editor’s prerogative.  Most newspaper editors apparantly got his message right,  said Justice Katju –  ‘had I not raised my voice, the recent birth of a filmstar’s child would have been on Page one,  instead of P.7’.

The NDTV talk-show host was generous  to allow Justice Katju the last word. And he signed off reiterating that he was all for press freedom; and that some of his remarks were widely misunderstood.  The press council chief made appropriate noises about the importance of the media. The country looked up to the media to reflect social reality. They should stop giving too much space to news relating to fashion parade, film stars, sports celebrities  – ‘Es gharib mulk mein aap ko film-stars aur fashion parade hi dikhayi detha hai‘. Media needs to get its priorities right, observed Justice Katju.

The debate (38 plus mins) : Are majority of media people of poor intellectual level ?

TargetThe Hindu article

Nitpicking ?

Whatever happened to the old-fashioned  ‘visitors’ ?  ‘Footfalls’ may be ‘cool’ ,  but its usage here  sounds  ‘ smart Alec-y’ .  Besides  ‘visitors’ is a simpler,  shorter word,  and,  presumably,  more easily  understood by traditional readers of The Hindu.

Our man in Brazil

At our recent meeting in Chennai a blogger in our group (he didn’t wish to be named) came up with an idea – how about bringing out an anthology of selected pieces from the Mysore Blog Park.  As he put it,  we have a fairly wide group at MBP;  they write on varied topics of their fancy.  And do it competently.

He had a point.  We can think of quite a few who may have a book in their blogs.  The one who suggested MBP anthology is himself working on a book. Another MBP favourite,  B S Prakash,  has just come up with his work – Clueless in California (Konarak publicaions, Rs.195).  It’s a compilation, from his Rediff column,  with updates in reference to his years as Our man in San Francisco.  Mr Prakash has since moved to Brazil as our ambassador.

Those familiar with his column would nail the lie in the title –  apparantly a publisher’s ploy.  Mr Prakash is anything but clueless about California.  He is as knowledgeble about the prime dosa joint in San Francisco, as he is about the city’s connection with the Gadar movement.  I have read his engaging piece  on a philosophy teacher’s  take on Silicon Valley (Mr Prakash, M A in Philosophy, taught at Mysore Maharaja’s College before joining  Indian Foreign Service);  on the allure of MBA,  and about his re-discovery of the US in the company of Dr Kalam.

Invited to preside over a Stanford University music festival at which A R Rahman was honoured,  Mr Prakash did his home work so thoroughly that he used the material for a Rediff.column,  with knowledgeble references to the Bollywood Khans,  Aishwarya Rai and the then popular Rahman numbers – Chaiya, Chaiya, and Taal Se Taal Mila.   His  column gives one an insight into the man, his flair for writing and his mundane interests. Mr Prakash  watches  “a fair amount of TV,  all kinds,  movies,  series,  news, views,  sports and scandals”.  Mr Prakash’s recent piece – Is Hard Work Worth It –  is a study on hard work,  viewed  from the perspective of a Wall Street hedge fund manager (an endangered  species) and a German house painter.  I picked up from his column this German word – schadenfreude — which means  ‘deriving satisfaction from the misery of others.’  Mr Prakash had, presumably, picked it up when he was sent to Germany, at our foreign office expense,  as a language trainee.

As for the proposed anthology on Mysore Blog Park  pieces,  my first thought was whether it would interest a publisher.  Maybe the idea needs to be batted around,  blogged about , and  pickled in perspectives.  Maybe,  our blogger in Chennai  could make a  post of  it in  Giving It A Shot.

Making sense of a semicolon

Ancient Greeks used semicolon for a question mark. In London, it first appeared in a 1568 chess guide. Shakespeare, it is said, grew up in an era that scarcely recognized its worth. Two law professors in 1837 dueled, with swords, over its usage. The wounded advocated a semicolon to conclude a given passage; the winner favoured a colon.

However, recent years have seen a decline usage of the punctuation mark; possibly because of widespread ignorance about its proper role. In his piece on using semicolons Robert Harris says that by using semicolon instead of a period between two sentences you show that these two sentences have a closer relationship to each other than they do to the sentences around them.

An article posted in Slate refers to an April Fool’s hoax themed on the French passion over a semicolon. A French online publication, credited with the hoax put out a story claiming that the Nicolas Sarkozy government stipulated that there should be “at least three semicolons per page in all official documents”.

Reporters were taken in, since, like every great hoax, it was plausible enough to be true. Le Figaro has proclaimed, “The much-loved semicolon is in the process of disappearance; let us protect it,” and there was even a brief attempt at a Committee for the Defense of the Semicolon—a modern update on the Anti-Comma League that France had back in 1934. French commentators blame the semicolon’s decline on everything from “the modern need for speed” to the corrupting influence of English and its short, declarative sentences.

So says the Slate, which runs an engaging piece on the rise and decline of semicolon. Link to the Slate story…Has modern life killed the semicolon ?