Dalits in the media

In the 30 odd years I spent in mainstream print media – The National Herald and The Times of India –  I can’t recall having come in contact with a Dalit journalist. But then I  couldn’t make out  from a name if the person is dalit.  And dalits, on their part ,  do not wish to have their identity disclosed.  Some, I understand, adopt a surname in a bid to conceal their caste identity.

Azez Ashraf,  who, for a magazine piece, tried to get in touch with dalits who graduated in journalism from New Delhi’s Indian Institute of Mass Communication, writes: “A couple took my call but accused me of encroaching on their privacy, which I was and for which I apologised profusely; there were a few who promised to meet me, but subsequently refused to take the umpteen calls I made to them”.

Ashraf’s three-part article on dalits in the media, appearing in The Hoot, a media

professional journal, merits wider exposure,  notably in the mainstream print media – both English and Vernacular. Extensive conversations that the author had with a score of Dalit  journalists reveal their feeling of  ‘discrimination against, and antagonism to Dalits’, notably, by other professional colleagues in the language press.  Dalits don’t seem to have much of a presence in the English media.

As I said earlier, I hadn’t come across a dalit reporter or a sub-editor in my three decades in print media. I did, however, have a dalit colleague during my three-year stint in the Press Information Bureau (PIB). In PIB I also knew a dalit, my senior in rank, who had joined the government service (PIB) after having worked  in private sector print media. Most newspapers those days (in 1950s and the 60s) paid journalists less than what they got in PIB.

In respect of dalits, however, there is a reason other than pay for their joining the govt. media agencies, in preference to private sector media, according to The Hoot article. Its author Azez put it, ‘  discrimination is a principal factor behind their (dalits) decision to leave the private sector media and opt for government jobs’.

A newspaper editor, in a comment on The Hoot article concedes that our media isn’t dalit-friendly. Mr A J Philip writes that he was advised by colleagues against his recruiting, for the Hindustan Times, Patna, a dalit post-graduate  student from Patna University.

Oh God, ‘have we overstayed ?’

Australian player Luke Pomersbach of the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) team was arrested Friday for allegedly molesting an American woman in a five-star hotel…..

IPl chairman Rajiv Shukla said: “We are not responsible for behaviour of individuals in hotels …

Shah Rukh Khan, co-owner of Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR),is banned by MCA from entering Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium over his alleged misbehaviour at the ground Wednesday night.

These lines are excerpted from an IANS report that  summed up IPL-related happenings on a given day.  An edit-page  piece by academic Mukul Kesavan  reckons the business model adopted by Indian Premier League (IPL) celebrates decadance of cricket with ‘contempt for convention and procedural scruples’. Glitzy costumes, chorused countdowns, TV commercials that breathlessly talk up individual players,  blur the distinction between competitive sport and Hulk Hogan-style entertainment,  according to Kesavan.

And then my schooldays friend,  S Balakrishnan,  sent me the other day  his take on cricket ,  in  free verse.

The need for this rhyme
Is that in my time
Cinema, cricket and crime
Never were the news prime

Seeing a 7-column front page
Devoted for cricket coverage
In all the Dailies of the new age
It is difficult to suppress my rage

I and my friends are dismayed
Dear God, ‘have we overstayed ?’

When Tsunami lashed Japan’s shore
Our leaders asked, ‘What’s the score ?’
When houses and cars floated like match boxes
Our media lamented for lost matches
And missed catches

They  shout, ‘Over’
When it’s never over!

When crushed by burden of loans
Our farmers commit suicide
For fallen wickets our media moans
And for every run we take pride

Our Appalling moral rot
Illiteracy,  poverty, dirt and squalor
Appear to matter not
So long as our ladies can visit beauty  parlor

What is all this ?
Here everything is amiss
Dear God, ‘have I overstayed’.

Overstayed?  My friend,  at 73,  is  a practicing  Supreme Court senior advocate. We belong to the era of  Vinoo Mankad,  Marchant and Hazare (Vijay).  Though I haven’t known him touch a bat or ball,  Balu closely followed the course of our Madrasi School team in Delhi. And even offered advice, off-pitch, to our captain and mutual friend Kasturi Rangan.  Even without Balu’s guidance we  managed to come close to the bottom of the chart in inter-school tournaments. But then, as Balu would put it,  it’s the spirit of the sport, not the score , that counted in cricket.   Balu still calls me by the nick name – Mankad –  that I acquired,  not so much for proficiency in cricket,  but because I was the only left-handed bowler  in our school team.

Who runs a newspaper ?

Not the editor,  it appears.  I can’t  see  any  newspaper editor  accepting the idea of a no-news , all-ad.  front page.  Going by the  incidence of   ad. alone  front page  in  newspapers nowadays  I would suggest  re-designation of  editor  as  ad-itor.  Gone are the days when the front page was reserved for news .  In print media those days  we dealt with news of three types –  news that is fit to print,  the one that made headlines,  and the Page One copy  (a news report is called copy in media parlance).  At the night news desk  we had a copy-taster  whose job was to sort out Page One copy from rest of the day’s  news reports.  And a night editor put together the front-page with selected news reports.

At New Delhi Times House  (Bahadurshah Zafar Marg)  the news desk  (in late 1970s)  the night chief-subeditor  (Bhutalia,  Chagothra,  Khandhury or Sahaney) decided which news reports went on Page One,  their position on the page,  the size of heading,  and length of the text.  I have seen ad. managers  chasing the night chief-sub  for placing  an ad. they  received late for the edition.  If the chief-sub  okayed it ,  a news item or two were taken out  to accommodate the ad.  The decision was clearly the  editor’s  prerogative.  I don’t know how they sort out such issue nowadays.   There have been instances where I have witnessed the  editor jettisoning  a display advertisement from an edition   to make space for late  news development.

Till some years  back newspapers cared about reader preference ; and  readers  generally believed the front page was an exclusive preserve of news.  When Wall Street Journal first published a Page One Ad in  ‘the lower right hand corner of the front page ‘in July, 2006 the  publishers found it necessary to explain the development with a 10-paragrah statement , while assuring readers, the front page of the Journal will continue to include the same number of page-one  stories as it does currently.

Today’s newspapers print nothing but ad.  on front page.  With no word of  explanation to loyal readers.   But then  The Hindu edition  (in the photo)  had  a  second  ‘ front-page’  ,  presumably,  to please traditional readers.  It wouldn’t be long before,  I guess,   newspaper publishers  give up  the formality   of  printing  two  ‘ front-pages’  in a given  edition –  one for the advertiser and the other, to retain their loyal   readers.

But then  publishers or ad. executives  didn’t invent it.  It was an editor,  Herold Evans of  The Sunday Times ,  who set the precedent, of printing  a double front-page edition.  It happened in 1981 on the night when US President Ronald Reagan was shot at outside the Washington Hilton Hotel.   The Sunday Times, London,  of which Harry Evans was then editor,  received three photos – 1) of President Reagan looking at the gunman; 2) a photo of him being hit;  3) the one showing the injured President being bundled into a car.
Such dramatic pictures,  in action sequence,  called for bold and proper display. Editor Evans chose to  run all the three photos, running six columns wide down the page.  He also  decided to  run an entire  page on Reagan story.

“I ruled that the whole front page would be given to all the Reagan elements,  and I created a second  ‘front page’ in the normal Times style for other news,”  wrote the then editor of the Sunday Times,  London.
Referring to the Reagan story  in his book,  My Paper Chase ,  editor  Evans wrote it was a departure from the traditional Times  style,  ‘as dramatic as the event,  and I’m still proud of it today’.  The Sunday Times developed the same approach for other late-breaking news:  the Challenger shuttle explosionIsrael’s bombing raid on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor;  the assassination of Anwar Sadat ;  riots in London and Liverpool.

It  was a precedent the Sunday Times editor set for reporting dramatic news developments.  A precedent, he wrote, he was proud of.   I am not sure if Harry Evans would be all that pleased to learn that the precedent he set  is being adopted by our newspaper publishers  as ploy for  making money on big-ticket advertisements.

Chicken Soup for the Soul : Is Soul non-vegetarian ?

Jack Canfield who co-founded Chicken Soup for the Soul said the title was inspired by his  grandma’s tale that her chicken soup cured anything.  I wonder what Jack would have done for a title,  had his grandma been a vegetarian.  Chicken-soup-for-soul books have been such sure-fire sellers worldwide since 1970s  that it was merely a matter of time before we had a desi avatar –  Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul.  Westlands  are now at it,  bringing out  Soup editions for Indian armed forces,  women,  mothers,  fathers,  teachers,  teenagers,  and desi brides.

The latest ‘soup’  edition,  for Indian corporate souls,  is required reading for office-goers. It’s the kind of book you read on cummute to work;  you talk about with colleagues at office canteen. The book talks about corporate souls experiencing spurts of success,  stifling setback,  and life-long strife to maintain proper work-life balance.  The blurb mentions 101 stories of entrepreneurship and creativity at the workplace. I haven’t counted the chapters;  nor have I read them all.
It’s kinda book that invites readers to taste it,  in bits and pieces  picked out at random.  I remember the school days when we played  ‘book cricket’,  with a book in hand,  to be opened at random for the page number (denoting the runs scored).  With the Chicken Soup book I picked chapters,  as I picked up  ‘runs’  in  ‘book cricket’.  Reading this way was fun.

In his piece Sunil Agarwal wondered if company executives would do well to  have  appraisals of performance at  home – as spouse, parent  –  just as they have work appraisal at office.  Author Agarwal is an investment banker in Mumbai.  Akhil Shahani, born in a business family and an MBA from Kellogg’s  School of Management, writes of  the lesson he learned from failure of his software start-up.   Shahani has an ally in Sabeer Bhatia .  In this   BBC interview   (Hotmail) Bhatia  said  Indian  business community lacked the mindset to accept failure as learning experience.  In the US,  he said , business failure  was seen as a badge of honour,  something that spurs you to try again. The story of Silicon Valley has been that nine out of ten products failed,  but the one that makes it more than makes up for all earlier losses.

In the chapter – A professional Hug – interviewer  Juhi Rai Farmania,  of a corporate recruitment agency,  writes how she came to  give a hug to a job applicant at the end of the interview. I visualised in her account   a touch of  Jaadu Ki Jappi,  from the Munnabahi movie featuring Sanjay Dutt. We get to read about how  Sridhar Seshadhri  got his dream job with Facebook;  how  Sanghvi(Bali D), along with her Nishi Aunty (Nishita Garg)  opened an online library in Kolkata;  how a pipeline maintenance engineer Goutam Datta was saved by his technician from a charging bear in Orissa’s Mahargiri forest;  and how his office peon Rozario continued to hand out Christmas cake to  his office colleagues , and to  Datta even after he quit the company.

And then we have this dog-eat-dog story by media person Ingrid Albuquerque-Solomon.  As a has-been in the print media myself,  I would think media-eat-media stories are  a factor of today’s corporatized media,  in which branding and market share appears to be the driving force;  and editor is reduced to  a name that appears in the newspaper printline.  In the newspaper I used to represent the name appears in the finest of fine-print.  I wonder what Ingrid would say.  Wouldn’t it add value to the series,  if they publish a Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul in media ?

Editor of the book under review Juhi Rai Farmania says her first soup-for-soul story,  on the loss of her dear friend,  was done to share with her readers the beautiful message that changed her  relationships. This reminds me of a  ‘feel’ piece my friend  Vidya Sigamany  did on  death,   explaining why  she couldn’t bring herself to attend  the funeral of a person dear to her soul.  Sigamany’s piece –  Deepest Condolences –  would merit  inclusion in  a chicken soup book for those mourning the loss of their dear ones.

And  if Chicken soup publishers are considering language possibilities,  say a Tamil avatar ,  I would recommend as editor-contributor the likes of  Chennai-based IT professional and weekend writer LakshmiSudha (no friend of mine).  Her  writings can be accessed at Sangapalagai.  Writer  Sivasankari  comes to mind,   if  Westland-Tata wants to set up a  ‘soup-kitchen’  for the Tamil souls under Knit India’

I thank   BlogAdda ,   for  sending  the book for review  under their programme  for Book Reviews by Bbloggers.


India at Davos: Advertising the unavailable

They advertised India’s $35 dollar computer in Davos during the World Economic Forum 2012. The photo on The HIndu op-ed page came as an  ‘eye-opener’ for me, in the sense that I didn’t realise our India-brand building specialists were capable of advertising abroad something that is not available off the shelf in India.  Anyway,  I don’t suppose anyone in Davos took up the computer maker on their  bargain offer (of $35) .

The advertising agency involved in the  ‘India Ingenious’  campaign may well be  justified if they say  they are in the business of marketing,  not a product, but  a perception.  The product in reference – Aakash tablet computer –  going by its  status reports,  is still  very much a work in progress.

The photo credit: Ravinder Kaur,  associate professor,  Modern South Asian Studies,  Copenhagen University,  who took the photo to go with her article : Dazzling images do not a shining nation make.  Notable among the points made  by the author  is that India,  in mounting the  image campaign through billboards,  and promos .  on city  buses,  cafes,  streets and, even half-empty parking lots,  of  Davos,  has  had to compete  with players such as  Mexico,  Thailand and  Azerbaijan,  for attracting foreign investment.  China, they say,  was conspicuous through its visual absence.

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

Oprah, Rushdie rob limelight in Jaipur

Ms. Winfrey,  the one and only Oprah Winfrey,  says she was flummoxed to find that India, a country that prides itself on its close-knit families and respect for elders could also need shelters to house widows shunned by their families.  After her visit Oprah called  Maria Shriver,  and both of them  resolved to help fund the organization that runs the widows ‘shelter.

The audience applauded. The audience comprised mainly writers,  critics and other participants at the  Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF).   Ms Winfrey was being interviewed for telecast by  NDTV’s  Barkha Dutt.   Viewership for the show  telecast, prime time,  was  high.  And Oprah  was at her scintillating self;  said a lot of sensible things.  Loved the show.

My issue, however, is with the Jaipur festival folk who hosted the Oprah show.  Someone  with  celebrity status such as Oprah needs no promotion; she commands media attention wherever she goes.  The same cannot be said for many others at the literature  festival who deserve to be heard by a wider audience.  I wish the organisers programmed their proceedings in ways that enable lesser known participants gain much-needed media exposure. I know,  festival organisers can turn around and say they host varied programmes . They can’t be faulted if such festival proceedings  go unnoticed in the media. Organisers cannot tell newspaper reporters  and TV channels whom or what to cover at the festival.

And the media always  goes after celebrities.  The reason why persons of social stature and celebrtiy status are invited to such events is understandable. The festival organisers need participation of the likes of Oprah and Rushdie much more than their need to participate at Jaipur.  In the process  the celebrity invitees take up virtually the entire space, and media attention,  leaving most other  participants  crowded out of the limelight.

The Oprah show at Jaipur took up media time/space that could have otherwise gone to other participants  who could do with some publicity to further their career. The factor that drives lesser known,  but promising,  writers to Jaipur is the possibility it holds for  networking and for media attention.  A person of  Oprah’s calibre and celebrity status has scores of platforms open to her. Ms Dutt could have done her interview in a studio setting.  The festival  organizers could have hosted a round-table format, with Oprah interacting with  a group of writers who deserve to be heard and seen on TV .

What dominates  media coverage at Jaipur is  the protest-reading by four writers , of passages from The  Satanic Verses,  and the controversy over the proposed  visit to Jaipur of author  Salman Rushdie.  And then we had him  announce that he wasn’t coming, after all.   Rushdie’s announcement came with a much publicised statement,  citing intelligence report that held him back from Jaipur. Apparently,  Rushdie  knows  how to gain publicity mileage  even  in absentia.