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


A case of Nigerian con trick

The e-mail, I made out right away, was a con trick. What gave the game away was the sender’s name – Srihari Ramakrishna. It was an SOS for money, 1,750 pounds, to be sent to London, where my friend Srihari was supposedly stranded.

Srihari is a friend,  but we are not that close for him to e-mail me for money. Besides, the e-mail English was somewhat fractured;  not the language one associates with a newspaper editorial writer that the Srihari I know is.  As the e-mail read:

How are you today, I am in hurry writing this mail to you, I had traveled to London yesterday to visit a new Researchers’ Complex at Imperial College London…..all my money was stolen at the hotel where i lodged, I am so confused right now…didn’t bring my phone here and the hotel telephone line’s was burnt during the robbery incident…the police only asked me to write a statement…directed me to the embassy, but they are not responding to the matter effectively…

…can you send me 1,750 Pounds today so i can return home,  As soon as i get home i would refund it immediately…send it through western union outlet…to Srihari Ramakrishna, 53 FREEMASONS RD,  London E163NA…Please help me write out the reference number given to you by the western union official and the details you used in sending me the money,or help me scan the receipt and attached it for me…

Not the  construction  that Srihari would be proud of.  But then,  the e-mail message came as news to him. When I called him on his cell phone  Srihari said he was visiting Pune,  not London as the e-mail said. He suggested that if I had the cash and wanted to part with it, I could send it to him at his son-in-law’s address in Pune. Srihari said another friend from Mysore, Madhuri Tatachari, had also called him a short while ago, after geting a similar e-mail.

Apparently,  the message seeking 1,750 pounds had been bulk-mailed to all his e-mail contacts, after they had hacked into Srihari’s yahoo acccount. They call this the Nigerian con trick,  also known as the 419 fraud. Section 419 of the Nigerian penal code pertains to fraudulent schemes. One short of our 420 IPC.  The 419 scam  is said to be the third largest industry in Nigeria.