Mar 042012

Brokering News

Brokering News is a documentary on the Paid News in India. The phenomenon has spread far and wide and permeates every aspect of news in India.

For most of us working in the media, the story of paid news is not new. When i was with a leading entertainment group, the anger against journalism as a profession and specific journalists or news companies, inside the company was huge. “chor hain woh log’ was a term i heard many times, especially when it came to the time when business results had to be published.  This is despite the fact that the company i worked for owned a news channel. But, in board rooms and office meetings we were told to be nice to journalists, to humour them and give them the ‘bhaav’ and treat them with kid gloves.

When we made our film Jhing Chik Jhing, and then were ready for publicity – we were told very clearly pay or there will be none. It is not called paid news. it is called a marketing tie up 😀 While you can argue that publicity for a film should be paid for, after all you are making profits out of the film … however, if you go to watch a film based on the reviews (which are part of the marketing package) then are you incurring a loss if it is a bad film ?  the same logic applies  when it comes to covering Politics or Business. The job of journalism is not to encourage or cover up for politicians on the take – it is to expose them. Similarly the function of journalism is not to cover up business wrong doings. For example, do you remember what happened with the ground water pollution in Kerala caused by Coke ? or do you know why the Metro in Mumbai has been delayed for so long – or indeed who is building it ?

Umesh Agarwal’s documentary looks at all these areas – be it film marketing, or sanitizing politicians or covering up business wrong doing. It further looks at the issue of who owns the media. the answer is that the same people own different news channels and papers and are also amongst the largest advertisers. The film looks at the main paid news cases of the last 5 years – be it the reporting on the Ambani brothers or the involvement of leading journalists – Prabhu Chawla, Vir Sanghvi & Barkha Dutt – with Nira Radia. The journalists claimed that they were cultivating an important source, but the fact remains that the incident eroded the credibility of not just the journalists but the profession at large.

A few years ago i stopped watching and reading the bulk of main stream media, and get my news from Government controlled agencies such as PTI, UNI, DD and AIR. For, if I am going to read biased news, i might as well know whose bias it is and compensate for it. I wouldn’t mind paid news, if i knew who was paying for it and how the bias manifests it self.

Do spend an hour to understand how the majority of those in the news business function. it is more business and less news. Don’t believe most things you see or read – it will lead to tremendous disappointment and disillusionment. There is a line that S.Y. Quraishi., the CEC, uses in the documentary “the fourth estate should not become the 5th column.’  Corruption – and the term paid news is a euphemism for corruption – corrodes a system from the inside.

The documentary raises important points. However, like most desi documentaries it tends to bludgeon you with its view rather than allow for any subtlety of any sort. I wish that it had featured views from honest editors and hones member from the journalistic fraternity . Also, the one thing i would like to see Indian docus do, as i would Indian films, is understand and appreciate the value of silence. there is no need to cram every second with sound … Having said all this , the film is a worth while excessive. Its an hour well spent in understanding who shapes your views and why . Umesh Agarwal needs to be congratulated to have the courage to go up against some powerful people .

Feb 052012

Dear M.J.Akbar

you are one of the most  erudite, well-informed, knowledgeable, well read people in Indian journalism. So how does a magazine that you edit, put out stuff like this

you need to tell whoever wrote that headline that all Christians are not Catholics. That the Church of South India, which Y.S.R.Reddy belonged to, is Anglican. The Anglican Church was set up as a revolt against Rome by Henry VIII, and is called the Elizabethan Religious settlement.

The two churches  are not the same. They don’t have the same head of Church, They don’t have the same rituals and they haven’t particularly liked each other, through history. In fact, their relationship has been quite adversarial. The Anglicans sent a fair few Catholics to the gallows – for being Catholics.

And, while I am sure you know this, people who work for you and run your magazine don’t. May I request you send them for training 😀

best regards
etc, etc…

Feb 022012

If you belonged to a certain generation, as I do, this was possibly the song you danced to, in college. British Band ‘Right Said Fred’ having a bit of fun with “I am too sexy” …

Someone at the Times of India – the world’ most read English Daily – has possibly danced to the same tune. And, loved the song so much, they applied the concept to their news paper… Apparently, the paper is too sexy for its readers 😀

In an inexplicable piece they have done a piece on how their readers are not middle-class but affluent

TOI has a readership of 7.4 million. That seems like a terribly large number, till you compare it with the total size of the Indian population, which is approximately 1.2 billion. In short, TOI’s readers actually constitute 0.6% of the Indian population. And logically speaking, they obviously know English, which is still the language of the elite in India.

How big is the Indian middle class itself? In 2010, a report by Asian Development Bank stated that India’s middle class – defined as those able to spend between $2 and $20 a day in 2005 purchasing power parity dollars – had expanded to about 420 million. By this definition, TOI readers are not only just 0.6% of India’s overall population, they also constitute barely 1.8% of its middle class.

Interestingly, the report defined those who could spend more than $20 a day as affluent. India has approximately 26 million of them. It’s a safe bet that most of TOI’s readers would fall into this category.

So, if at all a word has to be used to describe TOI readers, it should be “affluent”. Though perhaps it might be more accurate to dub them the creamiest of layers. Because when you compare their incomes and spending power with the Indian average, it is clear that they form the very peak of the pyramid.

Dear Big Bazaar, Vijay Sales,  and all other chains that publish their discount ads in the ToI for lakhs, maybe you should be looking at a different medium. All you companies that have recruitment ads for entry level positions — aahem the affluent don’t apply for jobs, they are invited :D. And, for those of you who put money in matrimonial columns run by the ToI … the elite don’t find matches via newspaper columns… Why would anyone in their sane mind want to alienate their audience & their advertiser?

Dear ToI editors, what were you thinking. or are elite papers that cater to the affluent incapable of that virtue ….

btw – the parents still subscribe to the ToI. No, they are neither elite, nor affluent but terribly middle class …:D

Jan 202012

Times of India has linked back to this blog. in a section called ‘women molested’ *face palm*


and, it links back to this page on the ToI Website



I must appreciate the Time’s of India’s ability to get all searchers of all sort of stuff onto its site.. I wonder if there is a page for “indian p*rn”

Dec 262011

My column in Today’s DNA

The 1976 Hollywood film Network gave the world one of the most fascinating characters in celluloid. Howard Beale, an Oscar winning role for actor Peter Finch, is a news anchor for a national news programme. Fired because his ratings are tumbling, Beale manages to pull back and raise ratings by not presenting the news but becoming it. He launches into diatribe after diatribe sending ratings sky-high. In one of the most remembered and quoted scenes in cinema, he tells his audience to do one thing “…go to the window, open it, stick your head out and yell: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” And marvel of marvels, in typical filmy style, people across America do just that. They open their windows, stick out their heads and shout “I am mad as hell, and I am not going to take this anymore”.

2011 has been a Howard Beale kind of a year. A year where people across the world, stood up to say that they were mad as hell, they didn’t want to take this anymore. The nature of the protests has been different, but protest has been a vital part of the year. So much so that Time Magazine has declared that “The Protester” to be the person of the year.

While protest is good, and protest is a fundamental right that citizens have in Democratic countries, it is important to see beyond the protest and look at the cause of protest. People are not irrational to protest about everything under the sun. Most people in most parts of the world take discomfort and mismanagement in their stride. They do not, as a rule, take to the streets to protest on a daily basis. They become vocal about their protests only when the systemic malady is so deep rooted that unless they raise their voice, things will not change. Protests are a cry for change. The response of Government’s, especially in democratic countries, is a stated intention to change. . But mere intention alone cannot bring about change. . It is only when intention is converted into sustained action that allows for systemic change, that protest will not descend into anarchy.

In India, the protest has been against corruption. On the face of it revelations of large scale fraud by ministers at the centre, various states brought people onto the street. But, scratch the surface and it is something deeper. The humiliation of having to pay a bribe, the anger of having to go over and over again to get basic paper work passed, the frustration of living with inadequate infrastructure, the hopelessness of not having aspirations met, all culminated into the anti corruption movement. The anger has been festering for a long time. The revelation of the scale of corruption in CWG, 2G, various mining scams, was merely a catalyst. The demand for an agency that ends corruption was the simplistic response to a complex problem. Should corruption end – obviously. But, would the Jan Lok Pal deliver a corruption free society – No. That can only happen when the intention to end corruption is systemic. And action is taken to ensure that every part of the system is geared towards delivering whatever it is supposed to, to the intended recipient in a transparent manner.

The Government of India has some excellent schemes that if implemented well, would have transformed India.. But the schemes have remained at the intention level. For example, the Public Distribution System (PDS) – popularly called the ration shop – is intended to deliver food grains and kerosene at subsidized rates to whoever is entitled to it. Unfortunately, there are so many leakages that a fraction of those eligible end up getting the food. Also, the quality of the grains is so poor that those eligible for it, buy food from elsewhere. The intention is that no one goes hungry. Unfortunately, the application is that those running the system get rich, those who are supposed to receive benefits remain hungry. A simpler method would be direct cash transfers to the intended recipient. Similarly the Right to Education mandates that every child over the age of six goes to school. But in most government run schools – especially in rural India there is a severe shortage of teachers. Monies are allocated, children are herded into school. But, there is no outcome.

So for 2012 the wish for the Government is simple. Move beyond intention. Work out sustainable action. Action is not what you think conforms to some ideological construct. Action is what delivers the intention. When that happens you will deliver Governance.