May 012012
 

If a boat capsizes in the North East (Assam to be precise) and no one hears of it, are there still casualties ?

Hopes dimmed on Tuesday of finding more survivors after an overcrowded ferry split in two and sank in northeast India, leaving more than 100 dead and around 100 missing.

Police said 105 bodies, including women and children, had been recovered so far from the fast-flowing waters of the Brahmaputra river, where the ferry sank in a sudden storm late Monday afternoon.

Despite an operating capacity of 225, some 350 people were believed to be on the two deck boat when it broke up mid-river in torrential, pre-monsoon rains.

had talked about this earlier, here

What is evident is that there are media centres – Mumbai and Delhi, and media peripheries. There are people and events that matter, and there are people and events that don’t.

Private sector media will be driven by self interest and that is profit. Frankly the private TV channel watching audience is either too caught up its own lives , or too unaware of the magnitude and diversity that is India, or too uncaring about people not in its own vicinity, for TV channels to focus on this issue. One excuse is there is regional media to cover this. But, if 500 people die in an overloaded boating mishap then why is it not a national issue. ?

This is the reason why we need a stronger, more independent DD. The last few times that DD tried to exert independence – by trying to do stuff that earned it money –  private channels scuppered it. But, maybe it is time we thought of a Public Service Broadcaster, one who represents the interests of India in all her diversity. Where calamities go beyond a super star putting on weight post pregnancy, and debate beyond 4 has beens in a TV studio.

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spoke to a friend in Gawahati – people jump into boats with everything that they have, no bridges, no following of rules – this is how disasters happen. Easier to pay money to the victims than fix the system.. :(

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 :D 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 042012
 

Someone has either a fantastic sense of humour or oversight :D

am so glad that i have given up watching news TV – what verbal diarrhoea, what speculation, and what fiction…
and, this isn’t an anti -NDTV rant. in fact it was the least screechy of all channels – and even its decibel level was too much to take. I tried watching Times Now – Arnab is trying to present news like Sunny Deol in one of those war films… yaar mike use kartein ho, or does the equipment pick up sound waves by itself… and, Rajdeep Sardesai sounded hysterical.

DD news of course was the best -it had a story on digital art :D

I go back to my self imposed exile from watching 24 hour news. At, this point let me state i think there is a great business possibility for a high quality, limited time news programme ( 1 hour show) on a daily or weekly basis. i would pay for it. about Rs.10 per day …

Oct 032011
 

My column in Today’s DNA

Odisha. Sikkim. Andhra Pradesh. Manipur. Natural disasters struck the first two states. Floods in Odisha impacted 2.2 million Indian citizens. People lost lives.

Property was destroyed. Development washed away. Sikkim suffered an earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale. At least 100 people died. The loss in monetary terms is still being calculated, and expected to be in the range of tens of thousands of crores. You would think that there would be media outrage — why is it that after 60 years and crores of rupees we can’t build houses that aren’t washed away? That can’t withstand an earthquake. But, there was silence. In Andhra Pradesh and Manipur, citizens, political movements, and civil society have blockaded the lives and liberty of other citizens. Inhabitants of Manipur have been blockaded for two months.

Essential goods cost a bomb. An LPG cylinder costs Rs2,000, and vegetables like the humble potato cost Rs45 a kilo. In Andhra Pradesh a ‘strike’ by a few people agitating for Telangana has left the majority in darkness. Electricity cuts are to the tune of 16 to 22 hours. Crores of Indian citizens are in deep distress. Yet, there seems to be a relative silence in the ‘national’ broadcast news media about these events. Imagine if events similar to these, even a fraction in impact and magnitude, had occurred in Mumbai or Delhi and ask yourselves — how would the media have covered it?

In India, it is very clear that there is a news media centre — cities, citizens, causes & civil societies that get noticed, and a media periphery — issues, areas, people and events that are ignored. The national media tends to do very well when issues are based in its playing fields — Mumbai and Delhi. Regional media do well covering their individual areas or states. The issues arise when it comes to the coverage of India. India is more than just Mumbai or Delhi. It is greater than individual regions or states. It is a diverse, plural, complex, thriving, vibrant nation that deserves better than to be ignored like a beggar at the feast.

the rest of the article is here

Dec 012010
 

Over 10 days after the story broke in the Open Magazine & Outlook, the rest of the media seems to have gotten into the act of covering the #Radiatapes – especially the ethics of journalists on the tapes.

NDTV went first yesterday – with a strange, strange show hosted by Sonia Singh (please correct me if the name is wrong, have begun watching 24*7 news for the first time in 2 years). The show featured Barkha Dutt and a panel including – Manu Joseph, Sanjay Baru, Swapan Das Gupta and Dileep Padgaonkar … Sonia didn’t add to the show except to assert her designation – and Barkha lost her cool with Manu Joseph who seems to have all the tenacity of a blood hound that had found a rather juicy steak !

You can watch the unedited episode here.

here, here and here

Frankly, the show was disappointing. Ms.Dutt vacillated between being emotional – hardly surprising given the barrage of criticism that has been leveled at her and her professional & personal integrity – and outraged. She admitted she was gullible – not the best quality for a political editor – but said that she didn’t do anything wrong. Her interaction with Manu Joseph was particularly appalling – especially when she got into his ethics of publishing the story. In doing so she forgot that Manu Joseph may have breached professional etiquette, but i am not quite sure that it was a breach of professional ethics.

Part of the problem with the NDTV programme was that it was designed like an inquisition rather than a journalistic endeavor. When someone accuses you, you will – but naturally – defend yourself. While it makes for a great soap opera, it doesn’t make for a particularly credible news show.

The show reminded me of all the reasons that i stopped watching 24*7 news channels in the aftermath of 26*11 – too many shouting heads, too many people screaming in tandem – all in all a clusterf***.

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Headlines Today had a show tonight which had Vir Sanghvi being interviewed by Rahul Kanwal, and then Kanwal went on to discuss the issue of the journalists & Radia with N Ram, Dilip Cherian (of Perfect Relations), Hartosh Bal Political Editor of the Open and two other editors from the Living Media (India Today) Group – MJ Akbar and Prabhu Chawla. (Prabhu Chawla is on the tapes as well – but it seemed more to be conversation about the Ambani dispute, rather than anything else)

The discussion was far more controlled, Vir Sanghvi appearing far more credible than i thought possible under the circumstances….

here, here, here and here.

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Surprisingly, Wall Street Journal , has a fairly detailed and multiple views on this affair – especially vis-a-vis Ms.Dutt. They had 6 opinion pieces today – that seemed to be over kill.

Incidentally, WSJ is owned by News Corp., who also owns Fox News (amongst other media vehicles). So, it was quite amusing to see them behave outraged about journalistic ethics

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And then there was this rambling piece by Tunku Varadarajan – in the daily beast that concludes with:

A final word: India’s media is still an insulated and protected sector. To this day, foreign media companies cannot own more than 26 percent of an Indian imprint. This has made for an insular press, a corrupt press, an Indian media untested not merely against global standards of journalistic craft, but also against Western standards of journalistic ethics. Dutt, surely, has a heckuva lot of explaining to do. But she’s not the only one in that position—by any stretch.

we are of course talking about the same set of ‘western journalistic ethics’ that believed that there were WMD’s in Iraq and convinced its readers/viewers of the same … please !!

By all means let there be more transparency and better monitoring of all professions, but to draw causality where there is none is kind of stupid….

If you want to read a Varadarajan on this issue you might be better off reading Siddarth Varadarajan in the Hindu

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And finally, while the trickle of coverage becomes a deluge – it would be good to remember that the journalists in this entire affair  are basically gullible dupes – and the bigger story is that of who benefits from this entire episode and leaks …

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Worth Reading

Fixing Barkha Dutt – B Raman

Hello, this is Niira, by Archana Shukla  in the Indian Express

NDTV Exposes NDTV, by Farzana Versey in Counter Media

The rotting of New India – Pankaj Mishra in the Guardian

The Storm in the Studio – Shailja Bajpai in the Indian Express

Vir Sanghvi Gets Points for Being Apologetic – WSJ

Dangerous liaisons – Samar Halarnkar, HT

Wait a Minute, What Exactly Is Barkha Dutt Accused of?, Amol Sharma, WSJ

Lessons from the Radia Tapes Row -Bupendra Chaubey, CNN IBN

The Republic on a Banana Peel - P Sainath, in the Hindu

India Journal: What Difference Will the Radia Tapes Make? – Rupa Subramanya Dehejia – in the WSJ

Was it okay to leak the Radia tapes? – Financial Express -