Post about "Media"

On Draconian Laws and Easier Solutions

Before I begin this post, a few of declarations :

a) post 26/11 I believed, and still do, that some news channels should have lost their licenses because I believed that they put lives at risk

b) post 26/11, my revulsion at private news channels was so great that I stopped watching TV news.

The National Broadcasters Association had come up with a code of conduct and those who watch television news will be best suited to talk about whether those are followed or not.


Over the last few days, the Indian Express has been carrying stories on Congress MP, Meenakshi Natarjan‘s private member bill on “Print and Electronic Media Standards and Regulation Bill, 2012“. I have tried to get a copy of the bill, but that is work in progress. The proposed bill calls for the creation of a body that can take suo moto action against media houses, confiscate their property, suspend their license to conduct business and gag them. As far as I know it hasn’t called for public flogging, but then I haven’t read the bill. AS i pointed out on twitter

Meenakshi Natarajan’s proposed bill makes Draconian seem like a soft liberal person who goes on candle light marches

I still don’t understand how such an unconstitutional bill even came to be drafted, especially by someone whose bio reads law graduate? I may understand the why of it, but not the how of it ? How can you have an authority that investigates without anyone complaining ?

According to the Bill, this Authority is exempt from the Right to Information Act and can even order the search and seizure of documents or records of a media organisation.

The Bill lays down standards which it says the media “must” follow. These include: “prohibition of reporting any news item based on unverified and dubious material”; “exercising due care while reporting news items related to judiciary and legislature,”; clearly segregating “opinion from facts,”; “maintaining complete transparency and impartiality in internal functioning” and “prohibition of reporting news items which are obscene, vulgar or offensive.”

It also lays down that the electronic media shall not “showcase clippings from entertainment programmes or from those aired on entertainment channels for more than 15 minutes of its daily broadcast time.”

This bill’s approach seems to be the same approach taken by eminent civil society members on corruption. there is a problem. let us hit that problem with a sledgehammer and the problem will go away. Unfortunately the world doesn’t work that way. You cannot have vague legislation ‘unverified or dubious material’. If you want verified news – go read a history book replete with multiple citations.

Laws exist, be they laws on defamation or laws on incitement that can handle any breach by the media. Those laws can and should be applied if required. I remember a TV news channel that falsely implicated a maths teacher of procurement (she was accused of pimping her students) losing its license for a given period, I cannot think of a single person who disagreed with that. channels have been fined, channels have been told to move shows to other times, channels have been requested not to carry troop movements – and channels have complied. There are laws that exist, and every business knows that they need to comply with the law. Why do you then need additional laws?  Meenakshi Natarajan’s proposed bill is in the same space as Jan Lok Pal. Instead of applying the laws that exist, you build one draconian monolith that has no  raison d’etre. 

I also believe that it is a wake up call for a media that has gone over the top.  It needs to self regulate. The role of the NBA needs to be strengthened, it needs to have teeth. Currently out of 400 odd news channels, it exerts authority on 10% of those channels. ( i am talking about TV news, because Print is less pervasive and more fragmented).   Also the Press as a whole needs to get its act in place. The kind of arm twisting that went into suppressing the paid news report and replacing it with a bland equivalent needs to stop. There needs to be a separation of powers between that part of the industry that monitors and that part that puts out content.

Also, the reason why the media has gone nuts is that is run for reasons other than profit. Stop political funding of news. Stop state funding of news. Have a TRP system that is more universal, which will tell advertisers and clients exactly what they are paying for (and not the viewing patterns of less than 10,000 people.) Have legislation on the cross ownership of media. Bring in addressability. But no, politicians will do none of this, because the fall out will be so great and their political obsolescence will be so rapid – that they would be out before the ink is dry on the bill. So, they come up with silliness like this. The bill won”t be passed is, hopefully, a given. But, someone who introduced a bill like this deserves censure.


Finally, if the Congress Party says it doesn’t know about the bill or that the bill doesn’t reflect its policies then maybe it needs to have words with its M.P. who introduced the bill. The bill is not an independent member’s bill, it a Congress MP’s bill. And this particular Congress MP is an aide of Rahul Gandhi. If none of them knew about it, then either the organisation is terribly inept, or the MP has crossed the line on discipline.


do also read Anant Rangaswami on First Post on why the proposed  bill was a non starter

when is a disaster a disaster ?

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.


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.. :(

The IE its front page scoop

Not the best of waking up in the morning. the jaw hitting the floor in slow motion. The article read, before drinking the first cup of Kaapi only to realise that the alarm was raised over next to nothing.

Is this good reporting – i don’t know. The only thing i know is that two army units had a practise session on the day when the COAS went to court.Do they normally play ‘soldier soldier’ – I hope so. Are they suppose to ? – well, we have rehearsals before a shoot, so i presume that any large unit attempting something complex would have rehearsals. Are they supposed to inform others, presumably yes -so that people and units don’t trip over each other …. does all this  warrant front page with a headline that scares the sleep out of your eyes – I don’t know.

Maybe the good editor of IE would like to check out the story of the boy who cried wolf … or maybe their calendars have all been hacked and their internal system clock tells them it is April 1st. Maybe it is curiosity that has gone awry ….and maybe they thought that scoop is spelt as s’coup. or maybe the way they thought they will get some visiblity in the social and main stream media is to become the story themselves.

And finally, 

Surprisingly, First Post that is known to play fast and loose with stories – went to the defence of IE. It had an inexplicable space filler called Moral of Army ‘coup’ outrage: Twitter is for twits , little understanding two things

  • a lot of its own popularity is also due to  twitter and tweeple linking to stories published on first post. if firstpost doesn’t want people to do that then they should just say so.
  • it wasn’t tweeple who put out a panicky 3 line head line & full front page story it is the esteemed media that did.

While i appreciate that there is honour amongst all sorts of professional groupings, including thieves, there is no point shooting citizens who are rightfully appalled by the break down of institutions, the corrosion of morals and the subverting of the 4th estate. Put your houses in order, before raising fingers against us – after all we are the people :D

And yes, on an average day I trust a politician more than I trust the media.

Must Watch – Brokering News

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 .

Dear India Today – Anglicans are not Catholics

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 :D

best regards
etc, etc…