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


Is Team Anna a threat to democracy ?

A disgruntled auto driver slapped agriculture minister Sharad Pawar,  brandished a knife, and yelled his head off reflecting aam aadmi’s frustration over price rise and corruption at high places.

Mr Pawar reacted, politically correctly – ‘we should not make much of this’.

Anna Hazare,  politically unwisely,  blurted out impulsively, Ek hee mara ?  (‘Just one slap’). Anna has since been hard put to it,  to put his remark in perspective.

TV news channels made a meal of it, re-playing the action shot right through the 24 hr news cycle,  prompting BJP MP Smriti Irani to take on  the electronic  media that,  she said,  thrived on sensationalism.  Mr Vinod Mehta of Outlook, on a Times Now talk-show,  weighed with his editorial observation   –  ‘it’s the biggest story of the day’

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, to the media hanging out at Parliament House VIP exit: “where is the country going to”.

Prashant Bhushan-to-Rajdeep Sardesai on CNN-IBN:  “Democracy has to be freed from a  oligarchy of politicians and higher bureaucracy”.  Another Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal,  at the same talk-show,  dismissed the anchor’s suggestion that the angry young aam admi with penchant for attack on political netas might have been influenced by  strident stance adopted by  Team Anna members .  Kejriwal countered Sardesai – ‘do you want us to have our lips sealed ?’  To protest was one’s democratic right, though he did mention, for the record, that physical violence was not acceptable to Team Anna.

Talk-show host Sardesai wasn’t the only one to have given expression to a thought that Team Anna, in its self-assigned role as a ‘saviour’  in a democracy,  may well become  part of the problem. Britain’s academic and a Labour peer Bhikhu Parekh, in a recent lecture  on the crisis in Indian democracy,  is reported as saying,  a growing public support for Anna Hazare-style protests, led by unelected campaigners, bode ill for Indian democracy.  In his 2011  address – in the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture series – Lord Parekh reckoned that democracy was in danger of losing legitimacy,  if elected politicians failed to meet public expectations,  and people,  in frustration,  started mobilizing around “leaders” who had no democratic mandate,  but could have plenty of self-serving agendas.

I don’t know if any media other than The Hindu  reported Lord Parekh’s address in London recently.  In his thought-provoking talk Lord Parekh raises eminently arguable issues –  the very stuff of which prime time talk-shows are made.  Wish the Kanwal’s,  Goswami’s and Sardesai’s of our media  take note .

MUDA telecast : passing the buck

Telecast of the Mysore Urban Development Authority (MUDA)  meetings has been shelved.  Its members  have passed the buck to Bangalore,  seeking  clear-cut directive from Karnataka government,  on whether or not the proceedings of MUDA should be open to the media via closed-circuit telecast.   MUDA isn’t particularly known for fair dealings when it comes to allotment of residential and other sites to members of the public.

To bring a measure of transparency in its public dealings MUDA chairman P Manivannan thought of opening its periodical meetings to the media.  Some MUDA members felt that presence of news reporters at the meeting hall would cramp their style. Meeting their objection Mr Manivannan  arranged for a  closed-circuit telecast of the proceedings to the MUDA press-room.

Which wasn’t okay with some MUDA members,  notably MLAs   who don’t feel comfortable with anything short of in-camera proceedings.  In the government if someone doesn’t want to get anything done,  the issue is referred to the higher authorities.  Papers are put up for approval. And a file is created,  to move from desk to a bigger desk,  till the file finds itself on CM’ s desk.

The issue whether or not to telecast  MUDA meetings has been referred to the department of law and parliamentary affairs.  The file would then move up the bureaucratic and ministerial ladders.  If the matter pertains to policy direction,  which the telecast issue,  presumably, is,  it goes to  CM.  If he deems the issue is worthy of wider consideration,  he could set up a committee.

My hunch is, a matter needing  ‘clear-cut direction’ would  call for a committee deliberation.  Besides,  if they  okay MUDA ,  you can’t stop  GUDA,  DUDA and BUDA (Bellary)  wanting  to  go  ‘live’ in the interest of transparency .

A global edit on climate change

A Maldives cabinet meet on  seabed,  Nepal meet on Mt. Everest,  and now a common global editorial on climate change .  They are all geared to get world leaders meeting at Copenhagen to deliver, and not merely deliberate.  The common editorial has been  published on page one, of 56 newpapers from 45 countries in 20 different language.  Notably,  the only newspaper in India to carry the edit is The Hindu.

The Guardian of London that led this unique media initiative could not persuade any other paper in the UK . In the US the only English daily that published the edit is Miami Herald. The only other US paper to do so is in Spanish – El Nuevo.  In fact, the response of one US paper to the initiative was :  “This is an outrageous attempt to orchestrate media pressure.  Go to hell.”

It took the Guardian leader writiers – Tom Clark and Julian Glover – three drafts,  after much e-mail to-and-fro-ing among the participant editors to finalise the text.  Reflecting on how the shared editorial project emerged Guardian’s Ian Katz wrote , ” Given that newspapers are inherently rivalrous,  proud and disputatious, viewing the world through very different national and political prisms,  the prospect of getting a sizeable cross-section of them to sign up to a single text on such a momentous and divisive issue seemed like a long shot “.

Ian acknowledged  The Hindu was in on the project  right from the start –  ‘an early, enthusiastic,  conversation with the editor of one of India’s biggest dailies offered encouragement’.

The media initiative may not alter policy positions held by most countries,  notably,  the major ones that already have their minds  made up even before going to Copenhagen.  What is notable is that the initaiive represents a measure of  acceptance by the world media that there are  issues that  call for beyond-the-border thinking.  Next, the progressives in the media ought to come up with a common edit on combating  jihadi terrorism ; even if someone out there says,  ‘go to hell’.

Bhopal 1984 and the Anderson saga

The Hindu op-ed piece that marks  the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy,  makes the point : The powerful can always count on official helpVidya Subrahmaniam writes about the refusal by the then Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson to answer summons from an Indian court ;  and its ruling declaring him as  ‘untraceable’ and a ‘fugitive from justice’.  While reality is  that   Mr Anderson,  now 88,  has all through these years been leading  a ‘life of luxury’ in his private estate in New York state.

What about his extradition ?  India can’t be faulted for not making a formal request in  2003,  some 19 years after the event.  And it took the US government yet another year to reject India’s request.  The latest is  that  a fresh warrant of arrest has been issued by a Bhopal court ; and  CBI ordered to produce Mr Anderson in court.
I happened to have preserved The Times of India report  on Mr Anderson’s   arrest,  25 years ago,  when he landed in Bhopal in the wake of the gas tragedy that claimed at least 2,000 lives and left physically impared thousands of others.

Mr Anderson and two other company executives were picked up by police from the tarmac  as their plane landed at Bhopal,  driven off through a side gate ( presumably,  to evade a bunch of  waiting news reporters) ; taken  to the Union Carbide guest house,  where they stayed for a couple of hours before being put  on the state government plane  to be flown back to New Delhi.

The media,  effectively kept away from the visitors,  were handed out,  as Mr Anderson was safely airborne,  a press statement that said  1) Mr Anderson was charged with 304 IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) , and Sections 304(A),  120(B),  278,  284,  426 and 429;  and  2)  released on a bond of Rs.25,000,  on the surety furnished by a company official.

Those figures  cited from the statute book relate to offences  such as causing death by negligence,  committing mischief,  criminal conspiracy,  making the atmosphere noxious, negligent conduct with respect to poisonous substance and mischief by killing or maiming cattle.

The charges looked pretty stiff in cold print.  As the then chief minister Arjun Singh noted in a his statement,  the government could not remain  ‘ a hapless spectator’  to the tragedy….and the power of the state was  ‘committed to fight for its citizens’ rights’.  Mr Arjun Singh has never been short of fitting words,  tailored to suit a given  occasion.

As for Mr Anderson’s comfortable   ‘house-arrest’  in his company  guest-house, well  protected from media media menace;  his release,  and the trip back to Delhi in the state plane,  an official spokesman came up with this explanation:  ‘Mr Anderson’s presence (in Bhopal) might provoke strong passions against him…and  (he was released) also  because we do not consider his presence in the country desirable’.

So much for the Arjun Singh  government’s  commitment  to fight for the rights of its citizens.

Media news sense

MediaNov.8Two news reports,  both  Page One,  in The Hindu,  about ongoing BJP crisis in Karnataka. The one displayed below the fold  is evidently definitive and more informative – Dissidents want six ministers axed.  But it  is the New Delhi datelined news report, a non-story,  that gets the top slot in the newspaper.

Question:  Do dateline  and  stature of the reporter,  rather than substance,  determine the display of  a  given news report gets in the newspaper ?

MediaNov.8 001

Q:  Why couldn’t The Hindu put together information obtained from both Bangalore and New Delhi to publish a consolidated report as Deccan Herald has done ?

Of mimic tweets, and proxy blogs

A Mumbai-based tech media reporter and spare time satirist started (Oct 6) Twitter account ‘Shashi Tharoor Fake’. Why ? Because, she says, satire enriched her soul. Besides, doing it at Shashi Tharoor’s expense gave her media mileage. But Mr Tharoor wasn’t amused with her initiative for soul-enrichment . He had her Twittered out within weeks. Someone else who mimic tweeted Nandan Nelekani had the account – http://www.twitter.com/nandannilekani suspended.

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‘Techgirl’ who authored the short-lived ‘Tharoor Twitter’ (not to be confused for the real one maintained by the ‘cattle-class’ minister himself) was evidently on to something that had been tried out some five years back in the UK through blogs. Twitter wasn’t around then. Tim Ireland, a web marketing guy,  sought to get elected representatives in Britain to interact online with their constituents.

He wanted to initiate MPs into blogging.   Not many bought his line – “It’s not easy getting people off their arse”.  To tackle MPs who didn’t have their own blog or seem to care for one Tim  evolved the concept of running ‘proxy’ blogs.  He persuaded some proactive constituents to blog on behalf of their MPs.

Before he set up his own blog,  Keith Vaz,  a Goa-born MP from Leicester, a constituent ran  an unofficial blog in the name of the MP.  The blogger put it on record, “I’m not Keth Vaz, nor am I a member of his staff; not in anyway associated with him”. Aim of the Keith Vaz proxy blog was to let his constituents know what their MP was is up to.  “This is a job he (MP) should be doing himself”,  said the blogger, adding that he would be happy to close shop,  if Mr Vaz chose to run a blog on his own.

Tim’s proxy blog sought to encourage politicians to take to the web; help them see the value of maintaining a blog,  as a resource material,  as a portal to inform constituents about their work on an ongoing basis.  With the frequency of posts the blogger politician has  potential to reach a wider audience.

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A constituent of Labour MP Jim Cousins ran a proxy blog that declared: “This blog is not run by Jim Cousins; nor does he endorse it.  Maybe Cousins doesn’t even know of it;  if he ever finds out, he can have it”.  Far from trying to shut out the blog, the MP’s aides got in touch and  offered resource materials for the proxy blog in the form of FAQs on Jim’s views and copies of other materials on various matters.  This led to a meeting between Cousins and the blogger. While agreeing  the blog would be a very useful means to communicate with his  constituents Jim wasn’t prepared to take the blog over yet.

The Guardian wrote a number of bloggers took to Tim Ireland’s  proxy blog model . Besides Jim Cousins,  there were blogs  dedicated to six other British MPs,  most of them ,  not friendly.  The moral is:  if you don’t launch your own blog, someone might do it for you.