The Hindu, and The Times of India this morning had one of its inside pages sticking out of the edge – an advt. gimmick. The bright bloke who thought of it wouldn’t have considered the status of the paper after a reader has done with it. Imagine the fate of a library copy of the newspaper, which is filed and archived for future reference.
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.
Way back in the 60s when Kini T R and I worked for a magazine in London – Afro Asian Echo – we used to lunch together at Oxford St. (at neighbourhood Wimpy Bar ? Do they still have them ?) Kini usually paid for our meal; I was tight-fisted on more occasions than I cared to remember. Early this month, revisiting London after 45 years, I looked up Kini at Herne Bay, Kent. And the lunch was on him.
His French-born wife Catherine (we hadn’t met till that day) lined up pilau rice, cheese-on-tomato, salad, fruits, and red wine to wash it all down with. Kini is fond of his wine, said Catherine. She had earlier picked us up – Nangia and me – from the railhead in Herne Bay, made us lunch, and was to drop us back at the station for our train to London. Kini, weak and ailing, relies on Catherine to do the running-around in and outside their house.
Catherine, Kini had said , would await us in a sky blue Fiat. We spotted each other right away. Sushil Nangia and I were the only passengers on the 10.52 from Victoria, London, to get down at Herne Bay, Kent. On the drive home Catherine filled us in on her seaside town, and how she and Kini came to make it their home, after 40 plus years in London.
Herne Bay station, on Kentish coast. The train takes 90 mins. to London; and there is one every 30 mins. from here to victoria station
We spent some four hours – Nangia, and I – with Kini reminiscing. On my return to Chennai I got mail from Kini saying, ‘it seems like a tear-jerker when one has to accept that we are never likely to meet again in person. I share his sentiments, though I couldn’t bring myself to saying so when we took leave from him at Herne Bay the other day. Kini’s Chronic Fatique syndrome (CFS) virtually immobilizes him. And his only window to the world around him is the Internet. And for a few brief months we stayed in touch through a blog-to-blog, which prompted Kini to articulate his hitchhicking experience, from Delhi to London – a 40-day saga, over 45 years back.
It was some five years back that I first heard about his health condition, when Kini e-mailed to informed me about his move from London to a chalet bungalow in Herne Bay, Kent, ‘geriatric town where one is more likely to see dear old ones scooting about on electric scooters than young lads on noisy motor-bikes’. His e-mail ended on rather disprited note – ‘ uncertainty and hope fills our lives at present’. Kini’s ailment , they say, is incurable. What’s is worse, medical science has yet to figure out the why and the how-come of his nagging pains in chest and legs, of his incessant sleep problem. Of late Parkinson’s has set in, making Kini rely on Levodopa (Sinemet), a drug that relieves him of distressing symptoms for a limited time.
Kini said he took extra dosage in view of my trip, so that he could, hopefully, spend a couple of hours at a stretch without having to retire to bed because of fatigue – “I was – to tell the truth, apprehensive about your visit to Herne Bay – worrying whether you could endure it, and whether I could, with my discreet dosage of dopamine”. I am 73 and Kini can’t be faulted for associating age with some form of ailment.
As it turned out, our meeting was engaging, reflective, and it triggered memories of men and matters long dead or forgotten. I noticed Kini had even listed out some talking points, just in case we fail to cover them . As we parted Kini handed me a few issues of Afro-Asian Echo – a collector’s item – that he had thoughtfully preserved.
The magazine, of 1966 vintage. Was published by a Nigerian who had fled to London following rioting in Lagos, and assassination of prime minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (on our magazine cover).
Kini commissioned articles, from Subhash Chopra, Adil Jussawala, and Farrukh Dhondy. They were no big names then. Dhondy, writer, playwright, social activist, widely known among British Indian community for his stint at BBC Channel 4, was a student at Cambridge when Kini got him to write for Afro-Asian Echo. Adil a poet and writer, who was then, I believe, teaching English for a living in London of mid-Sixties. Subhash Chopra worked at the business desk in The Times, London, after stints in a couple of provincial dailies. Chopra has since authored two books – Partition – Jihad and Peace; and India and Britannia – an abiding affair.
On racial prejudice Farrukh Dhondy wrote of insulation of the student community at Cambridge.
A foriegn student rarely faces the despair that haunts the working immigrant when he looks for a place to stay in, or for employment, or for ways to keep up with living. Most colleges ensure that strange faces fit in and are absorbed. They send African, Asian or West Indian students to landladies who confess to having no race prejusice.
When I went to North East England for work, my newspaper – The Northern Echo – had advertised and interviewed my prospective landlady to ensure I wasn’t exposed to racial prejudice in my neighbourhood during my stint in the newspaper at Darlington. In fact the landlady and her husband met me at the station to take me to our residence when I first arrived in Darlington to take up the newspaper job.
After lunch, as Kini and I were on our nostalgia trip down the memory lane, Nangia offered to do the dishes, and make coffee. We were waiting for Catherine to return from a meeting of the local Workers Education Committee. As Kini put it, besides taking care of him she finds time for weekly Arts group meetings; for learning skills as a water colourist. Kini once wrote that Catherine was so enamoured with Herne Bay and Canterbury cathedral that she spent there as much time as she could, hoping to become a knowledgeable guide to visiting friends and relatives.
Catherine would have loved to show us around her town, if only we had time. On our drive back to the station to catch the 16.32 to London she talked about her familiarization trip to India, and of the time she spent at Kini’s village in Mangalore. This was quite a while ago. Catherine wasn’t sure, if they would have another chance to do India.
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 explosion; Israel’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.
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.
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 ?
Target: The Hindu article
Filed under: Cinema, Ideas, Issues, Language, Media, Newspaper, Politics, Scam, Television | Tagged: Debate, Justice Katju, Media reporting, Press Council, Ramnath Goenka, Tavleen Singh, TV panel | 2 Comments »