Sep 262014
My column in the DNA, earlier this week
The Times of India’s stand is pretty much the same as that of khap panchayats – she was wearing revealing clothes, therefore she asked for it
  • PTI

Last week, the Times of India, that claims to be the most read English daily in the world, peeked down actor Deepika Padukone‘s dress and put up content titled “OMG – Deepika Padukone’s Cleavage Show”. Ms Padukone, unlike most who grin and bear this sort of intrusion into personal space, hit back in a series of tweets that essentially took the news brand to task, in no uncertain terms.

In a Facebook post that has attracted over 2000 comments and over 150,000 likes (at the time of writing), Ms Padukone says, “I am not naive about my own profession; it is one that requires lots of demanding things of me. A character may demand that I be clothed from head to toe or be completely naked, and it will be my choice as an actor whether or not I take either. Understand that this is a ROLE and not REAL, and it is my job to portray whatever character I choose to play convincingly.”

And then the TOI decided to explain itself: “Deepika, we accept your reel vs real argument, but what about all the times, and there have been many, when you have flaunted your body off screen – while dancing on stage, posing for magazine covers, or doing photo ops at movie promotional functions? What ‘role’ do you play there? So why the hypocrisy?”

Well, since the old lady of Bori Bundar has asked, I thought I would help them understand the most basic aspect of women’s rights. And that is actually just one word – one simple yet elegant word – consent. Consent, very loosely defined, is permission or assent. Has the person in question said yes? At a second level is a related question, just as equally valid in the context of women’s rights: “Do women have the rights over their own body?” When a woman says no, no matter who she is, does it a) mean yes? And, as importantly, b) is she going to be judged by what else she says when she says no?

It is all very well to say, you are flaunting your body, albeit in a different context and therefore it is all right for us to intrude on your privacy, and use your body to our advantage. But at a very fundamental level, this is pretty much the same argument that we have been hearing from every regressive element in the Indian ecosystem. What the paper and everybody else needs to understand is that it is very clearly a matter of a woman’s right over her body and her consent for anyone else having a right over it.

The response of the TOI on the Deepika Padukone issue occupies the same space as a famous film scene. In the film Dostana starring Amitabh Bachchan, Zeenat Aman and Shatrugan Sinha, Zeenat Aman plays a modern woman who wears a bikini and a sarong at a beach. When ‘eve-teasers’ whistle at her, she complains to the policeman (played by Amitabh Bachchan). His retort is, “Aap aise kapde pehen kar ghar se niklengi toh ladko ke seeti nahi toh kya mandir ki ghantiyaa bajengi?” (if you wear such clothes and leave your home, what do you expect men to do – whistle or ring the temple bell). Today, we can look back at these lines and say regressive, regressive attitude, blaming the woman for violence and the rest. And we would be right. What do you say to the leading English language daily?

It looks like almost three decades later nothing has changed. It is the same argument that is being used. Today, when we talk about women saying no to sex and then being forced, or to being groped, or being whistled at, the same set of counter arguments pop up.  The argument, whether made by a leading English daily or by the head of a khap panchayat, ‘but she was asking for it’ needs to be treated with the same contempt that you would have for a traditionally dressed woman or man, who with the full fire of righteousness, and in an Indian language tells you that girls who don’t cover up their bodies will be prey to rapists If that had been the case, we could be sure that all of us, including the newspaper in question – would have outraged over medieval attitudes and patriarchal behaviour.

This entire argument goes beyond Deepika Padukone and into the space of women and media created perceptions. I would argue that it is not Bollywood or item numbers that demean women, rather it is these sorts of attitudes that do. When a leading newspaper tells ‘you that you flaunt you body, therefore we can peep into your cleavage’ it is far more dangerous than the head of a feudal setup saying something similar. We know we should oppose the latter as it is antediluvian and archaic insofar as its perception of women is concerned. But, what about the former? If the feudal organisations think of women as their property, this treats women as much the same. And frankly, there is not much to choose from between the two ways of seeing women. Except that one is in English and the other is in an Indian language.


A ‘roadside romeo’ is lumpen, but a media house peeking down a woman’s cleavage is ‘respectable’.
A khap panchayat that says a woman must be well covered to avoid rape is regressive, and a leading English daily which asks but if you flaunt it anyway, why do we need your consent?
No means no, except when we understand it as yes .

I agree with one point in the TOI article, and that is it reeks of hypocrisy. Unfortunately, it is not the hypocrisy of Ms Padukone, but of the media outlet. When the largest English Language daily in India justifies the invasion of the body of a woman – without consent – you should hardly be surprised that you have a system that justifies rape.

Jul 132014

There has been a fair amount of traffic on my twitter TL on an article that was taken down in the DNA . People have, rightly, asked for an explanation.

Fact checking, misrepresentation of facts etc all good excuses/explanation to give when u pull down an article. However, they all sound rather silly – especially given that you have published it.   Sometimes silence is better than a hastily cobbled together justification. And, everything doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theory. Nor does everything have to be high drama. Sometimes there are simpler explanations.

I could say editorial prerogative. But, that would be arrogance.  I could blame the author, but that would be cowardice. I could blame the government or my ‘bosses’ but that would be a lie. I could say i didn’t know it went up, but that would be cop out. Fact remains, I should have caught onto something that was in the piece, but I didn’t. I did exactly what I have ranted about, and outraged about for the last decade – that is in the need for speed, the desire to be first,  to put out a piece, I didn’t look at it with the attention that it deserved. We have run far more scathing pieces by the author on Mr.Shah and they are still on-line. If I pulled down this one, it was for a good reason, and that reason is not fear.

I can understand readers ire on this, and appreciate the author’s anger  – i would have felt the same way if i was in her place. If I had the time on the day to make a call and sort it out, I would have. Unfortunately, I didn’t.  I was in a very long conference, where our phones were tucked safely away in our bags. Which is also the reason why I couldn’t respond to newslaundry.

Now to something else – when other TV editors/websites write about this, they obviously suffer from selective amnesia.  they have pulled out, pulled back, changed tack on issues. Was it fear, favor or fickleness? Or all three – that made them do this? And i am not even going into other areas of breach of ethics such as the cash for votes sting, or radia tapes, I am simply looking at spiked stories, and stories that disappeared. Seriously, i can appreciate reader ire, I can’t figure the hypocrisy of other media professionals. They know exactly what they had suppressed in their entire career Am sure if you follow any good news monitoring website you will know some of what has been taken off, what they have changed tack on, and where they have spiked their own stories.

I have not responded to this on twitter as  there are no 140 character explanations for things like this. Hence, this  blog.

And finally, far as the ToI piece is concerned – cute, very cute. Must be the first time that the ToI has run a piece naming a competitor without routing it through medianet.


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”

Sep 052011

Wikileaks is in the news again.

Last Week, Julian Assange threw a hissy fit, and made all the remaining files available freely via his site. Unlike the last time, the cables ‘outed’ this time did not censor the information to hide the identity of people involved. These include political activists, spies, informants, environmentalists, essentially sources of all types. This has, possibly, put the lives of thousands – especially those in totalitarian regimes – at risk.

In a piece that I wrote for the DNA I had suggested that One reads wikileaks As gossip. Nice, juicy gossip. Read WikiLeaks, smirk, and move on. For me Julian Assange was a self righteous, self appointed guardian of political morality (an oxymoron like no other), and he would do anything to bring the edifices crumbling down. And, the best way to do that is to create & spread distrust in all existing systems and relationships.

Tortuous Convolvulus is one of the most fascinating comic book characters. He appears in Asterix and the Roman Agent. Tortuous Convolvulus is a troublemaker par excellence — he just has to walk past two people to get them to start fighting. He causes distrust, strife and fights wherever he steps foot. He is the ultimate anarchist – who revels in the discord that he is able to create. He is used by Caesar to create divisions in Asterix’ village — till common sense, shared values and a wee bit of magic potion saves the village.

Julian Assange, the Australian who is on the United States’s ‘most hated’ list — is a modern day Tortuous Convolvulus. While on the face of it WikiLeaks — the organisation that he directs — has the stated aim of creating ‘open governments’ in the long run, in the short run WikiLeaks has become the ultimate tool of creating distrust and discord.

Every Publication & Government has condemned the redacted leaks. In particular The Guardian, New York Times, El Pais, Der Spiegel and Le Monde – which were the partners for the original wikileaks put out a statement dissociating themselves from this set of leaks.

“We deplore the decision of WikiLeaks to publish the unredacted state department cables, which may put sources at risk,” the organisations said in a joint statement.”

So, given all this hue and cry on privacy and risk – you would expect the world’s best selling Newspaper to show some rectitude in naming names.



And, then ToI– goes on to name the girl friend. I suppose putting stuff in quotes and attributing it to someone else saves them from libel… It also upholds their reputation of having a tabloid soul in a broadsheet’s body.

I wonder if they will do a story on a media magnate who is rumored to personally train and groom slightly over teen contestants for an allegedly leading event .. or one about a leading media organisation that is supposed to take money to create favorable stories.

I could talk about media and ethics – but wait there is a pink unicorn outside my window, and i am off to have a conversation with it …

(no. i dont’ particularly care about Yedurappa or his ‘girlfriend’ – but i do believe that stories like this should not be put out without verification).

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***.


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.


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


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


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 …


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 –