Mar 042012
 

Brokering News

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9dKQ4IB2hY&w=420&h=315]

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 .

Jan 092012
 

I was so inspired by all those who wanted to ‘save’ women by ‘covering them up’ that I decided to apply that logic to other issues. The result is today’s DNA column. 

 Open any newspaper and you will see small news items on burglaries. Break-ins and robberies are on the rise. Youngsters are taking to burglary to fund a lavish lifestyle. They rob from the upwardly mobile, the rich and fence the goods that they have stolen to earn cash that they use to buy more. They want a quick and easy way of earning money. Most burglaries are not violent and are opportunistic crimes. If you looked at the root cause of the crime it is that there are people in the world who have more than the robbers. And it is that ‘more’ that becomes an object of attraction. If people didn’t earn money, become rich and have wealth there would be no one who would want to rob them.
Robbery, as a crime, therefore is not caused by people who want to get rich quick, but by excessive wealth. Rather than criminalise robbery we should seek to get to the root causes of burglary and that is prosperity. People rob from those who have more. So, if everyone had less there would be no robbery. The solution for robbery is not better policing but to ban wealth.
Dowry deaths are not caused by excessively greedy people but by the institution of marriage. If people cohabited instead of getting married, then possibly there would be no question of dowry and therefore no dowry deaths. If parents stopped getting their children, especially their daughters, married, then the issue of dowry would cease to matter. So, if marriage is the cause of dowry, then rather than criminalising dowry would it not be more effective to ban marriages? After all, in cultures where marriages are no longer relevant you don’t hear of dowry deaths. So, the solution for dowry deaths is to ban marriages.
India has the highest number of traffic accidents in the world. Causes of death include speeding, poor safety, drunk driving, lack of helmets, lack of seat belts, jaywalking and the like. But, if you dig deeper and look at the root cause of road accidents, you will conclude that it is the presence of motorised vehicles. A vehicle weighing a ton, even travelling at a speed 20 kilometres per hour can do serious damage to life and limb. Obviously the solution to solving the terrible problem caused by road traffic is to ensure that vehicles don’t ever leave the parking bay. So, it will be within the law to buy a vehicle but not to take it out. No traffic, no traffic accidents. It is actually that simple.
If the logic in the above paragraphs seems a bit wonky, it is because it is. Throwing away the baby with the bathwater is no way of reducing a problem. If anything, it exacerbates it. But, the paragraphs above were in the same vein as those who, in the recent past, called for women to be more circumspect in their attire to prevent sexual assaults. If these people were members of far right religious organisations one wouldn’t have paid any heed to them. However, the people who called for women to be ‘better’ dressed included the Andhra Pradesh DGP Dinesh Reddy who linked flimsy fashionable clothing to rape; and KK Seethamma, the head of the committee against sexual harassment in Bangalore University, who believes that women wearing ‘obscene clothes’ invite rape. Her definition of modest includes full-sleeved blouses with saris and long kurtas with jeans. Neither Reddy nor Seethamma were speaking as private citizens. They were both speaking as authorities occupying positions funded by the taxpayer. One is a policeman who is supposed to make the world safer for all, the other is a teacher who is supposed to inculcate values, not dogma.
Telling women that dressing ‘properly’ will reduce chances of their being victims of sexual assault is lulling women into a false sense of security. In the National Crime Records Bureau report on all types of crimes that take place in India, among the more chilling statistics are rape figures. Every hour, two women somewhere in India are raped. Every third day, an elderly woman is sexually assaulted. About two girls aged under 10 are raped every day. Most of these are outside metros and cities in regions where women are dressed in a traditional manner. Fully covered. It wasn’t their clothes that caused the crime. It was their gender. The problem is not with what women wear, it is with society that allows men to get away with rape and blames the woman for inviting it.

 

Dec 252011
 

The last post on the blog created quite a ruckus. Didn’t expect it to get so many views or be talked about so much. FirstPost.in had its top featured story on it – and with an extensive quote from this blog . I spent a lot of Friday discussing this issue with youngsters, netizens and others.

It is common sense and responsible grown up behavior to tell youngsters that actions have consequences, and they need to know what these are before they embark on anything.

I tell students at the start of each term that plagiarism is wrong. if caught it can go on their record. If i catch plagiarised projects – i throw a tantrum (in class) and make them redo it. This is despit the fact that the industry they will work in, has been turning a blind eye to copies for ever. If i was brining up teenagers I would tell them about the birds and the bees. tell them that unprotected sex can lead to pregnancy or to Sexually transmitted diseases. That doesn’t mean i am stopping them from either cheating or having a good time.nor does it mean I am telling them to go out and have sex with random strangers. I am simply telling them, if they do this they could end up in trouble.

Going to jail – even for the good of the nation – is in the same space. Know what you are doing. why you are doing this, and understand the consequences. this is not chor police with your friends in your building compound. This is real life…. Before i wrote this piece I spoke to friends who are practicing lawyers in Bombay HC, and after i wrote this piece and began getting feedback I spoke to them again. The police may take you to a maidan, the judges may let you go, there may be no charges, you may end up rich and successful and in the US. yes to all of that. But there are also people who are giving haazri 20 years after the mandal agitaiton. Both sides co-exist. By all means, if you feel so strongly about the anti corruption movement, and you believe that the best way to express your anger is to participate in Jail Bharo – then you have my respect. but, don’t go in blind.

The flipside of the post is that I attracted the stormtroopers…am not sure if they are associated with the IAC or not. I asked them yesterday if this person was one of their’s – there was no response. I guess i have to trudge down to the cyber crime department in town to file a complaint. wonder why cybercrime depts. don’t let you fill complaints on-line :D

Am not sure what i should get more bugged about – the lies or the obsession…

If you have the time, and can read Devnagiri & understand Hindi – also read this. This is from someone in the IAC – posted on FB.

Dec 152011
 

Mr.Sibal, Union Minister for IT and Communications, was quoted on two very interesting points by First Post

a) Though the reach of social media is large, number who use it are limited. We are only getting an elitist viewpoint

b) We want the social media companies to give a voice to the aam aadmi whose views are not represented in these platforms

I actually agree with the first statement . The internet is India is elitist. It is. the reach of Internet in India is estimated at a 100 million. 38 million of these are on Facebook, the largest social networking platform
Social Bakers, a afantastic site for this sort of data, also tells me that

Our social networking statistics show that Facebook penetration in India is 3.53%compared to the country’s population and 51.11% in relation to number of Internet users. The total number of FB users in India is reaching 41399720 and grew by more than 13094900 in the last 6 months.

Comparing these nearest countries by penetration of Facebook users shows that India has 0.07% higher FB penetration than Solomon Islands and 0.16% lower FB penetration than Belarus.

So when Mr.Sibal says it is elitist – he is not wrong. 38 million out of 1.3 billion is a woefully small fraction. The elite fraction. It is also, the young who are adapting to this medium faster than anyone else. Also, 73% of the users are men. More women on the net, like more women elsewhere, is possibly a kinder, gentler net :D
country-in-age-ratio
Demographics of FB membership in India
My issue with him is on his second statement on social media companies giving aam aadmi a voice. Actually Mr.Sibal they are.
Most social networking sites are available in multiple regional languages. There are blogs, FB pages, tweets in a myriad of Indian languages – enabling people who are not from ‘elite’ English speaking backgrounds to communicate effectively and forcefully in the language that they are most forceful in. Many manage communication in multiple languages.
The internet should have been a tool that is available for all, that empowers people to communicate, share and interact. To let voices – marginal, mainstream, elite, mass and niche to have a say. But, where is the connectivity? Where is the IT policy that ensures that aam aadmi, or indeed, aam aurat – has internet access. Where is the content in various languages that will help change these lives.
And finally, Let me ask you an even more simple question, you manage to bring connectivity, people miraculously manage to become literate overnight, become tech savvy and use a computer in any form – tablet, desktop, laptop, community PC etal – where is the electricity.
It is all very well to put the onus on others. But, in this case that is wrong. The onus is with the Government of India to provide infrastructure – that includes schools, teachers, electricity, training, connectivity. Unless that is done, you won’t have aam aadmi on social networking.
A piece of advice to you Mr.Sibal . My father taught me this before I began working, it is advice that i have taken seriously, to my benefit. When wrong, have the courage to apologise. I will respect you more for having said sorry. This is making a mostly capable person look terribly inept and out of it.
__________________________________

Also, do read Nikhil Pawa’s column on Who plays Judge

Dec 152011
 

 

Mr.Sibal, Union Minister for IT and Communications, was quoted on two very interesting points by First Post

a) Though the reach of social media is large, number who use it are limited. We are only getting an elitist viewpoint

b) We want the social media companies to give a voice to the aam aadmi whose views are not represented in these platforms

I actually agree with the first statement . The internet is India is elitist. It is. the reach of Internet in India is estimated at a 100 million. 38 million of these are on Facebook, the largest social networking platform
Social Bakers, a afantastic site for this sort of data, also tells me that

Our social networking statistics show that Facebook penetration in India is 3.53%compared to the country’s population and 51.11% in relation to number of Internet users. The total number of FB users in India is reaching 41399720 and grew by more than 13094900 in the last 6 months.

Comparing these nearest countries by penetration of Facebook users shows that India has 0.07% higher FB penetration than Solomon Islands and 0.16% lower FB penetration than Belarus.

So when Mr.Sibal says it is elitist – he is not wrong. 38 million out of 1.3 billion is a woefully small fraction. The elite fraction. It is also, the young who are adapting to this medium faster than anyone else. Also, 73% of the users are men. More women on the net, like more women elsewhere, is possibly a kinder, gentler net :D
country-in-age-ratio
Demographics of FB membership in India
My issue with him is on his second statement on social media companies giving aam aadmi a voice. Actually Mr.Sibal they are.
Most social networking sites are available in multiple regional languages. There are blogs, FB pages, tweets in a myriad of Indian languages – enabling people who are not from ‘elite’ English speaking backgrounds to communicate effectively and forcefully in the language that they are most forceful in. Many manage communication in multiple languages.
The internet should have been a tool that is available for all, that empowers people to communicate, share and interact. To let voices – marginal, mainstream, elite, mass and niche to have a say. But, where is the connectivity? Where is the IT policy that ensures that aam aadmi, or indeed, aam aurat – has internet access. Where is the content in various languages that will help change these lives.
And finally, Let me ask you an even more simple question, you manage to bring connectivity, people miraculously manage to become literate overnight, become tech savvy and use a computer in any form – tablet, desktop, laptop, community PC etal – where is the electricity.
It is all very well to put the onus on others. But, in this case that is wrong. The onus is with the Government of India to provide infrastructure – that includes schools, teachers, electricity, training, connectivity. Unless that is done, you won’t have aam aadmi on social networking.
A piece of advice to you Mr.Sibal . My father taught me this before I began working, it is advice that i have taken seriously, to my benefit. When wrong, have the courage to apologise. I will respect you more for having said sorry. This is making a mostly capable person look terribly inept and out of it.
__________________________________

Also, do read Nikhil Pawa’s column on Who plays Judge