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Communal Anarchy - A Serious Issue Concerning the Nation
By Dipjyoti Das
Media Hive News Network
Are we secular by choice or compulsion? The reignited Hindutva agenda is all set to destroy the social fabric of the country with its opportunistic motive and selfish objective. The rapid decline in the approach and attitude of the political class especially the fringe groups among the ruling establishments who are often associated with religious overtures and communal intolerance are continuously trying to disseminate and develop a sense of ill-feeling and hatred among the general masses on the lines of religion and community. It’s really deplorable that the current ruling establishment has failed to curb the activities and actions being continuously exercised in public daylight with no grave consequences. They administration, concerned authorities and the existing government have failed miserably to uphold the basic fundamental rights of the citizens enshrined in the constitution.
The series of events which have occurred right from the Dadri lynching, which itself was not spontaneous but rather premeditated, irresponsible remarks made by the BJP Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar (“Muslims can continue to live in this country, but they will have to give up eating beef”) coloured with religious overtures and the hounding of the BCCI-PCB talks at Mumbai by the Shiv Sena’s anti Pakistan protest are now determining the agendas of the country on religious lines. It has shifted the focus of the Prime Minister’s election promises of development, employment, growth, unity to communal hatred and tension. He has unfortunately not been able to put an end to all such activities which might come to haunt him in coming days. The vindictive nature and the deliberate attempts have nailed the secular image of the country and more so of the current government which has failed to put an end to such incidents with strict measures and statements.
Religious beliefs, practices and ideologies are a matter of one’s personal choice and preference and state shouldn’t have any involvement or role to interfere in such matters. But the blatant violation of these rights have really polluted the atmosphere to such an extent that there is a fear among the Muslims, that even a word uttered may have severe repercussions for their survival. Fortunately, the majority of the population doesn’t incline itself with such views and opinions. Hence sanity has prevailed to a large extent among the masses of all communities and religions.
We live in a country with such diverse religious culture and beliefs but still the feeling of brotherhood unites us to live in peace and harmony. There was a lot of expectation when the NDA government came to power in May 2014 with BJP being the single largest majority but such incidents is gradually tarnishing the image of the party and the government and has to a large extent shifted the focus from progress to communal anarchy. The coming days will be a real test for the ruling political set up whether it will be able to eliminate such aggressive communal atmosphere and maintain the tranquillity of the nation.
(View expressed are personal. The writer is working as an Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Media Science. He has worked as a professional journalist with Asian News International (ANI) for two years. He can be contacted at email@example.com)
(Posted on Sept 24, 2015)
Modern Mass Media Transforming Dynamics of Indian Democracy
By Dipjyoti Das
Media Hive News Network
It is impossible to imagine the existence of a democratic society without the modern means of communication. It is an integral part of any democratic set up and enables the citizen not only to keep themselves updated about events and happenings occurring right across the globe but also the freedom to perceive any information and shape their opinions independently.
The Right to freedom of Speech and Expression incorporated in the Indian constitution also gives the same immunity to the Press to exercise there powers for the benefit of the masses. The Freedom of the Press not only gives them the power to highlight issues concerning the general population but also the responsibility to report and disseminate news, information and views objectively and fairly. Media democracy propagates that media should be used to promote democracy. The true essence of media democracy is a platform or environment where every citizen is entitled to have free and independent access to information and news which they require and also enables them to actively participate in various matters of public and national interest.
But unfortunately the Indian media has failed to abide by these high standards and integrity which defines our democracy. The modern mass media has a huge impact in our daily lives, which we often don’t realise consciously or sub consciously. Do we really watch and perceive what we are meant to? There is a view that media functions objectively and independently without any restrictions and constraints when telecasting or broadcasting news. But a closer and an in-depth analysis and a logical and rational approach will reveal that it actually sets or defines the agenda for the general masses regarding the content and the topics covered through various mass media. The questions that arise are whether we are presented with objective information or distorted facts.
The advent of the 24 hours news channels and the new media (Internet, social media, blogs etc) has just accelerated the rate of manipulation. They are more bothered about their financial gains and recognition rather than of greater public good and harmony. They are in constant competition with there rival channels and in order to increase popularity they often compromise with the basic fundamental values and principles of journalism. The information circulated in the various social media sites often lack credibility and authenticity.
There is hardly any mechanism to regulate the news propagated through this medium which is very easily accessible by each and every individual. The Indian mass media has also turned out to be the tools for the ruling and powerful classes to manipulate and impose there views and ideologies among the masses. Corporate ownership, commercial influences and political alignments immensely influence the content of the media, sharply limiting the range of news, views and information catered to the audience. In the book Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of the Mass Media, authors Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky outline the propaganda model of media, which states that the private interests in control of media outlets will shape news and information before it is disseminated to the public through the use of five information filters. In this way, the construction of the mass media as a for-profit enterprise behaves in a way that runs counter to the democratic ideals of a free press.
The mass media has totally revamped the democratic fabric of India and has managed to persuade the public opinion at a very rapid speed in favour of the vested interest groups who define the priorities of the media and its content at large. The question remains to be answered that whether or not the media will ever be able to function independently and objectively for the fulfilment of the aspirations of democracy or continue to operate according to the whims of the dominant groups.
(View expressed are personal. The writer is working as an Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Media Science. He has worked as a professional journalist with Asian News International (ANI) for two years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on April 16, 2015)
What is the Future of Journalism?
Rebecca Sian Wyde
With the dawn of a new era of technology and hyper-connectivity, both national and international journalism will soon reach a crisis point. The printed press is in danger of extinction, while the internet keeps on growing and growing. How can journalists now find their own voice and keep the profession alive and well amongst the shouting of millions of people?
Khaled Hosseini once wrote that “If culture is a house, language is the key”. News is propelled by people, all of whom belong to one culture or another. But how are we to understand, to communicate properly, and deliver a balanced viewpoint if we wilfully misunderstand the languages and cultures of others? It has been proven that once a language has been learned, a worldview is acquired, but with the fact that some British ambassadors are unable to speak the local language actively causing problems in diplomacy, I believe the same can be said for journalism. Only through acknowledging our differences and trying to understand the news from another angle can journalists really get to the heart of a story.
Imagine if, in war zones, on location, journalists didn’t have to use an interpreter to speak to their interviewees, but could communicate with them directly? How much more information would they be able to gather that would otherwise have been lost in translation? Nelson Mandela said that if you speak to someone in one language, you speak to their head, but if you speak to them in their native language, you speak to their heart.
To read the full article, click HERE
(Posted on Feb 8, 2015)
Afghanistan After NATO's Withdrawal
By Akshay Ojha
Media Hive News Network
A common perspective to the US troop presence in Afghanistan was that ‘you broke it – you need to fix it before you leave. After 13 years, the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) mission in Afghanistan came to an end by December 31, 2014. According to Bilateral Security Agreement about 10,000 NATO allies will train 3,50,000 Afghan security personnel to fight back with Taliban.
ANA (Afghan National Army) has 189,000 personnel, including nearly 11,000 Special Operation Forces, 68,000 personnel in Afghan Air Force and 153,000 personnel of Afghan national Police. If the Afghan regime is destabilized by the Taliban and no Western government is prepared to intervene, among the neighbors the only countries that have potential to play a stabilizing role for President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah are India and China.
China’s Afghan Role
Ashraf Ghani, who has chosen Beijing as his first foreign visit, looks he is betting on China to secure the nation’s future. China pledged of 2 billion RMB ($327 million) in aid to Afghanistan through 2017. In addition, China promised to provide personnel training for 3,000 Afghanistan professionals. In 2008, for example, a Chinese company won rights to the Aynak copper mine project. In 2011, China National Petroleum Corporation signed a contract to acquire the oil fields of Sar-i-Pul and Faryab.
Through these projects, China hopes to acquire the resources needed to sustain its economic growth and simultaneously contribute to the reconstruction of Afghanistan’s economy by providing the country with capital, technology, and employment opportunities, as well as considerable profits and tax revenue. But who will protect their investment? Talibani extremist are nowhere to negotiate for peace process. Even Afghanistan share Chinese Xinjiang province where Ugher Muslim demanding a separate state. They are linked with Al-Qaeda outfits which can threaten China, if Taliban topple Afghan regime.
Pakistan who rooted Taliban during Soviet-War now needs to curtain its feet. China will ambush Pakistan to counter terrorism as its silk route establishment cover Afghanistan and integrate it with the project to develop the China-Pakistan corridor. Earlier this year, New Delhi announced a two billion USD aid package for Afghanistan. India has quietly gone about helping Afghanistan through economic investment, trade, and training and advising of the fragile Afghan security forces. Pakistan always played proxy war insurgency in Kashmir. If Taliban sustain, they try to capture Kashmir which is not in favor of India’s interest. Both Ind-Pak should maintain mutual understanding of curbing terrorism, as Pakistan itself experienced Peshawar massacre did by its own funded militia.
Islamabad capacity to reorient the Taliban holds the key to a potentially successful Chinese role in Afghanistan. As for India and Pakistan, the dynamics of their relationship in the Afghanistan context are very different from those of Afghanistan and Pakistan. For them, it’s all about a fierce rivalry that can have destabilizing consequences – but a proxy war is fortunately not one of them.
View expressed are personal. The writer is a freelance journalist and preparing for Convergent Journalism course from AJKMCRC. He can be contacted at email@example.com
(Posted on Jan 2, 2015)
Social Media Continues To Be a Big Rage in India
By Saurabh Tyagi
Media Hive News Network
Never has been social media taken as seriously as it is being right now, and leading from the front is the new prime minister Mr. Narendra Modi and the various ministries under him. In fact, for the past seven months the new government has had a laser beam focus on social media usage for reaching out to every citizen of this country with its policies and achievements. Social Media has hit this country’s shores like never before.
Rajan Anandan, MD, Google India predicts Indian internet population will outnumber US by the end of 2014. India has always been an important market for all social media outlets, however big or small they might be. The recent visit of Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who flew down all the way from Silicon Valley to New Delhi to meet Mr. Narendra Modi is a glaring proof of the same. Indian brands are also not letting go of this opportunity. They understand the potential and value that social media can deliver as compared to other channels is huge. Therefore, we can see a lot of new media jobs up for the taking.
A quick search at India’s leading recruitment portal, Naukri.com revealed around 2299 jobs in the field of social media and digital media.
This simply reflects the quite awakening of Indian business firms and organizations to the power of social media and digital media as a whole. There is a growing demand of professionals who can come up with creative strategies and ideas for engaging the consumer on these channels.
Brand Revival Hinges on Social Media
Uber India, which recently faced severe criticism and was banned in regards to a rape incident in its cab in the National Capital, is contemplating launching a social media campaign to make a return to the Indian roads. The company has launched an email campaign seeking support from customers to restart its services in New Delhi. The email petition uses a #BringUberBack social media hashtag, soliciting user’s support. The petition has already garnered the support of several thousand users, and is a perfect example of how great a force social media has become in the country.
Government Makes the Most of Digital Medium
In the meanwhile, the central government is also upping its presence on social media. After the successful run of Ministry of External Affairs, I&B Ministry is also setting up unprecedented standards of active social media campaigning. The Good Governance Day on 25th December is just one of the few examples of how I&B ministry made most of the digital medium. There were 35 Facebook posts, which reached an approximate 7.5 lakh netizens, according to a senior government official.
These are few of the numerous signs that India’s social media landscape is finally broadening. Indians are actively participating in social media, and soon enough it will acquire a central position in shaping its global future.
View expressed are personal. The writer is a digital media enthusiast and technoholic. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Posted on Sept 12, 2014)
Real Estate Apps Make Property Search Easier
By Pratima Gupta
Media Hive News Network
When you are looking for a home, there is no need to go outside and search for Property. Now, your Smartphone can help in it, just download some interesting free apps in phone and choose home in your favorite location in a easy way and save your time and money. With real estate mobile apps, you can look for a home at any time, whether you are looking to rent or buy property.
Here are some best real estate apps, which can be very useful for buyers or property searcher:-
Real Estate Forum magicbricks: Real Estate Forum magicbricks is an awesome home app for Real Estate Buyers or Property Searcher. This app is designed to fulfill your property requirement in a very simple and fast way. It provides you latest property updates in Real estate sector as per your requirement. It gives you the instant access for Buy, rent Residential Apartment, Plot, House, Commercial, Industrial and Agricultural Lands in India. You can further access Indian Real Estate on the basis of cities as well as.
To make your property search easier, this app has features like direct call and e-mail for property owners, agents and projects within the app.
Another high impact feature of app is Real Estate or Property Price Trends in area of interest, which makes your property purchase or rent decisions perfect.
Trulia: Trulia recently updated its Real Estate features with a sleek design. It has separate sections for sale, rent and sold. Users can use this location-based app to find listing nearby and they can also save their searches. Searches can be pointed down by size, year built and square footage.
In this app, you can use the "open house" tab to find out what's available to view today. The more interesting part of this app is that it helps you to find an agent. the app comes with a heat map feature that shows crime-ridden neighborhoods or areas that are prone to floods. With greatest features, really Trulia makes looking for a home or house hunting is so much easier.
Homesnap: Homesnap app is the most creative app of real estate apps, It allows to users to find out more about places they already like. user can take Snap a photo of any home to get the scoop and they can also find homes for sale, open houses, recent sales, and house values. You can find House information including home values, interior photos, bedrooms, bathrooms, taxes, lot boundaries, school information, and much more.
This app helps you to identify which homes have good investment potential. The app also has a social component, You can Store your favorites and see what your friends are looking at. Let's just hope you are not bidding or searching for the same one.
Home Real Estate: Home Real Estate app is offers to buyers a fast and powerful local real estate app. It is another good real estate app with a modern design. It is also location-based app, which makes easy to find places nearby. You can Store your preferences and set alerts, you can also know the minute to minute something new hits of the market.
In this app, home buyers can search for listings and open houses via criteria, maps or current location (GPS required), even you can draw a search area. You can also quickly save interesting properties for comparison or contact an agent. User can Share properties via message, e-mail or Twitter, and easily look up office and agent information. They can View detail links to the complete listing at Home Real Estate.
99 acres: For looking home, 99 acres turns out a real find can subject to analysis. Opportunely, with all the real estate photos attractive videos, interactive maps and many other details available online, it's pretty easy to rule out homes before you visit. the app has detailed property listings, latest information about new projects and local real estate information. This is surely one of the best property apps for all your property needs.
If you are planning out property search, these apps will help you narrow choices down and If you are already on the hunt. using these apps can also help you to find what openings are nearby. Once you have found the perfect place, again use the apps to calculate whether you can afford it or it is out off your budget.
Excepting These Apps User can search Realtor.Com Real Estate, Padmapper Apartment Search And many more Apps are free available For Smartphone users.
So, If you are searching or looking for a home , you must try these apps then take decision about property.
Pratima Gupta is a Jharkhand-based PR Professional. Views expressed are personal. The writer can be contacted at email@example.com.
(Posted on August 27, 2014)
Android Applications That Make Your Travelling Easier
By Amelia Amy
Media Hive News Network
Whether it is work or for a holiday trip, travelling can prove to be a stressful thing i.e. flight delays, getting to the airport, hotel reservations, car hire and many other things almost always get into the way of having one joyous holiday, closing a new business deal you have travelled across the globe to secure or exploring that new destination. Well, great news to constant as well as occasional travelers, there is a great deal of apps available on the Google Play Store. It is not possible to mention them all or even just the bunch of the good ones since there are so many. I've narrowed down to what I consider as 6 best travel apps on the Android platform based on the fact that they are not too specific or too region restricted.
Triplt Travel Organizer
As long as you are free to allow it access your inbox, with Triplt, you will never worry about collating all your travel plans. Be it hotels, flights, train journeys and so much more, this app will auto-magically retrieve info from your inbox, create and plan your trips to find them in your Triplt account. It also recognizes matching dates and organizes them accordingly. If you prefer it not to snoop around your inbox, you can always key in you itineraries manually. The app is free on the Google Play Store whilst the ad-free version goes for $0.99. Triplt Pro version entails a yearly subscription and for this you get much more like Push notifications for developments on your trips and the seat tracker to help you locate a better seat on you plane. If you are looking for one integrated app to manage all of you travel plans, then this is it.
This is a price-comparison website for flights, helping you locate the cheapest flights. Whether you are looking for a last minute trip to work or a holiday destination, Sky scanner will save you money on your flights. You will find the 5111Everywhere' feature interesting as it help you, going for a holiday, find a list of the cheapest flights from the nearest airport.
Hotels.com has a very extensive coverage of 200 countries with up to 290,000 hotels. It allows secure booking of rooms and suites at any of these hotels, be it 5-star luxury suites or budget hotels. The interactive map ensures an easy search closest to your location. There are also promotions and deals offered on this app like the infamous "Buy 10 nights and get 1 free".
We live in an age of internet and constant access to it is just but a necessity. Most data providers abroad charge a lot for data and download. This app comes in handy, with coverage of about 144 countries and a listed over 550,000 paid as well as free Wi-Fi Hotspot locations. You can never run out of internet.
When you are abroad shopping and you are wondering "How much would that cost in (that currency)", you would be better having this app. With instant conversion from a range of currencies to choose from, you are good to go. Note that the currency exchange rates are updated frequently.
Orbitz is the ultimate app if you are planning on hiring a car during your trip. If you are planning for a road trip or planning to explore the foreign country on your own, a reasonably priced as well as comfortable car is important. Orbitz has a wide selection of rental car companies you can choose from the app can also book hotels and flights.
Apply esta online to verify your travel authorization for a great travel experience.
Amelia Amy is a UK-based freelance journalist and blogger. Her articles have been published in leading UK newspapers and currently writes on behalf of ESTA which helps you in visa assistance service. Views expressed are personal. The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Posted on August 18, 2014)
Common Good as Fulcrum of Journalism
By A.S. Panneerselvan
One of the difficulties of being a journalist is to produce a journalistic output even in the time of grief. Deadlines are sacrosanct in this profession and they hardly give space and time to reflect on a personal loss. One becomes too inarticulate to write an obituary about a friend who enriched the profession. An untimely death robs you of your ability to express.
To me, and to many in the media, Independence Day celebrations 2014 gave way to mourning when we heard that Bala Kailasam died after being in the hospital for three weeks.
My association with Kailasam goes back to the early 1980s when both of us started out as student journalists in a youth magazine called Thisaigal edited by Maalan. An engineering student then, he had a keen eye for detail. He was the photo editor of the magazine. He realised that his calling was in the visual media and went to the United States to get formal training. He returned to an India that was on the cusp of reinventing its broadcast medium. The state’s monopoly and the propagandist narrative of the broadcast were incrementally giving way to interesting programmes and the sector itself was opening up.
He started a production unit with state-of-the-art machines. His concern for technical perfection matched his flair for absorbing narrative. He talked endlessly about our television channels not getting their product mix right. He realised the democratic potential of the medium but was concerned about a downward spiral in quality in the search for quick profits. In a sector that had no agreed standards and quality control systems, Kailasam established these yardsticks through his productions. He made television products across genres and each set a bar for that particular genre — television serials, stand-up comedies, thrillers, sitcoms and current affairs programmes.
To read full article, click HERE
(Posted on July 11, 2014)
Brazil's Loss in WC Semis: An Unforgettable Catastrophe
By Dipjyoti Das
Media Hive News Network
The term “beautiful game” was synonymous with the Brazilian football till the first semi-final of the Football World Cup but the humiliating defeat at the hands of the German in the semis has left the entire football fraternity devastated and shell shocked. Nobody would have guessed such a shocking outcome before the match although there were apprehensions about the team’s performance without there start player “Neymar” and captain “Silva”.
The faithful were still hoping they would put up a fight and given the full fledged backing of the nation they might overcome the odds. Destiny had something else stored for them which were least unexpected. It seemed that a storm hit them and before they could realize everything was over. A game of such magnitude deserved a better climax but it seemed the Brazilian team didn’t turn up for the match. Supporters, followers and fans right across the globe is still mourning the tragic loss and are trying to come to terms with the reality.
The dream to secure there sixth world title was shattered into pieces after the dreadful performance. Every football loving fan was literally appalled at the disastrous performance of the Brazilian National team on the world stage and its capitulation in such a disgraceful manner. However, the shock loss may have serious consequences for the football frenzy nation and may take decades to recover from the shameful loss.
Winning and losing are a part of game but embarrassment is a difficult pill to swallow which was evident in the semi-final clash between the Selecao and Deutschland. A team which build its reputation and boasted of winning the previous five world title was left in doldrums following the stunning loss. The manner and extent of the defeat has virtually demolished the aura surrounding the nation’s football heritage.
Spain’s 5-1 shock loss to Netherlands, England and Italy’s first round exit and Suarez’s bite on Chiellini have grabbed the headlines of the various media houses from the World Cup 2014 but unfortunately the event will probably be remembered for the disgraceful loss of Brazil in the semi-final. The thing to observe is whether the country and the football fans will ever forgive the brazilian team for this humiliating loss and will the team be able yo recover and find its glory days again or will it become a footnote in the history.
(Views expressed are personal. The writer can be contacted at email@example.com)
(Posted on Nov 20, 2013)
So Twitter Is Ruining Journalism? Really?
By Bronwen Clune
There is no quicker way for old institutions to look irrelevant than to insist on their relevance. Today The Australian did just that by publishing an editorial not only bragging about its superiority, but underlining the “path to ruin” that is (other) journalists using Twitter.
The thrust of the argument made in the editorial is that Twitter is contributing to journalism’s decline; that it exists as some sort of “alternative media universe” run by narcissists with no hardcore news values. It proclaims that "this mad plunge into social media-driven journalism would be mildly diverting if it wasn't so dangerous to the future of news reporting", before conceding that Twitter is a wonderful tool for journalism when it comes to, um, marketing.
The editorial has left many ex-Australian writers rather perturbed (I’m assuming many current ones would have safely mumbled misgivings among themselves rather than make them public). Former writers from the media section – including Amanda Meade, Nic Christensen and Simon Canning – openly mocked the piece on Twitter (after all, they were active on the platform during their time at The Australian). Meade was one of the first mainstream journalists who saw Twitter’s reporting potential, which she embraced to her former employer's benefit. To read full article, clicj HERE
(Posted on Oct 15, 2013)
Don’t Let Anybody Rob You Off Your Self-Esteem
Indian society by and large has a discriminatory, racist attitude towards dark skin. It’s an irony to be obsessed with fairness in a country where 90% of the population is born dark. According to research, the fairness products market for women is estimated to be around 3,000-4,000 crore rupees and is rapidly growing. The companies that manufacture these products are driven by economy alone. They do not have any other motivation other than making money. But Bollywood’s biggest and brightest movie stars endorsing these fairness creams & bleaches just intensifies the myth that you are just not good enough if you are dark.
In such a scenario, a Chennai based NGO, Women of worth is running a much needed campaign called Dark is beautiful . Now, how is this campaign going to help dispel a notion & a bias that is so deep seeded in the society? Kavitha Emanuel, the director & founder of this campaign says, Attitudes don’t change overnight.
Dark is Beautiful is a movement and would work only if people took the campaign back to their communities and engaged their communities in discussion and action. The Dark is Beautiful campaign is a segue to change, which will only happen when each of us consciously decide to unlearn what we as a nation have tolerated and perpetuated all these years. I ask her of the responsibility of celebrities who endorse these products. she says, “We are not against celebrities or them endorsing products. When we have a culture of hero worship, celebrities have a duty to stand up for the right causes; especially when it perpetuates colourism and racism”. We just happen to believe that they have a huge influence on our nation’s youth and they do have the potential to turn things around.
Nandita Das, who is the face of the campaign, has actively taken a stand on this issue on various platforms, highlighting the importance of being comfortable in one’s own skin . She says, “Be yourself and be comfortable in your skin. Don’t let anybody rob you off your self-esteem. Focus on your interests and talents and do things that make you happy, instead of making your looks the focal point of your identity. Let your attitude and behaviour define you and not just whatever you are born with”.
It takes a long time for prejudices like these to completely vanish from the society. By having a conversation and debate about it on public platforms, by raising awareness through camapaigns such as this, one can only hope that things will turn around for the better.
(The views expressed are personal. The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on Oct 3, 2013)
Social Media: A Political Reality or Hype
By Dipjyoti Das
In recent times the advent of Social media has transformed the dynamics of the present political discourse in India. It has made serious inroads into the political framework of our country and has the potential to become a game changer in the upcoming general elections of 2014. There has been a significant increase in the number of people using social media in India leading to a general euphoria of social networking sites as a major political tool. Many major National and Regional political parties have understood its relevance in the current scenario and have started utilising the medium to garner support especially among the urban middle class youths who are the major users of social media. The social media provides a perfect opportunity for the probable voters to voice there concerns and support for the political outfits and there leaders in an uninterrupted manner without any barrier.
The leaders too of different political parties use this platform to portray there agenda and policies for the country which they assume will help them to increase there vote share. A recent report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India and IRIS knowledge Foundation has revealed that of India’s 543 constituencies, 160 can be termed as ‘high impact’ — that is, they will most likely be influenced by social media in the next general elections.
However the margin is significantly lower compared to the hype surrounding social media and its impact especially on the first time voters. The number of facebook users and other social networking sites might not translate into any change of voting patterns because majority of them may not be interested in politics at all. But it cannot be denied that it has the ability to connect with the urban voters of our population which may still have a significant impact on the final result.
The Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) was the first National party to embrace the online media through various networking sites like facebook, Twitter, Youtube channel etc over the internet. The Gujarat Chief Minister and the recently nominated BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is one of the most active politicians to use the medium to increase his popularity and support before the forthcoming elections with lakhs of online supporters following him in the social media. The ruling Congress party at the centre initially was apprehensive about its impact and role, has also plunged itself into the world of social media and is fast catching up to create its supporters base.
Although there is some merit to this strategy, but it cannot be denied that it is still at its infant stage and very small numbers have access to the social media which limits its role to the constant political fight between Congress and BJP with both sides able to make TV news headlines quite regularly. The medium has emerged as the virtual arena for the two major national parties to engage in political mudslinging and score brownie points over each other. Often the languages and the standard of conversation are much to be desired in a civilized society. Healthy criticism is no more an option rather foul languages are the order of everyday menu. At this juncture it will be safe to assume that the majority of the population experience political activity on social networking sites through news reports on TV than actually by engaging with the medium themselves.
However gradual expansion of the middle class voters across the country and there accessibility to the online world makes it extremely crucial for the politician and the parties to adapt to the changes of the socio-cultural trends and lifestyles of this segment of population, and perhaps make a better utilisation of the medium.
It is quite appropriate to conclude by assessing that although there is a wave and hysteria surrounding social media across the masses and political organisations, but in reality it has still a long way to go to reach and achieve the desired goals in the political spectrum of the country. The general elections of 2014, will probably show us the true impact of the online world and whether it has been able to bring about an evolution in our electoral preferences and system.
(Posted on April 22, 2013)
Asha Completes 100 Years
By Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee
Dainik Asha, the first Odia daily and one of the oldest surviving newspapers in India completed its 100 years of existence on April 13, 2013. There are less than two dozen newspapers across the countries which have achieved this feat.
Asha (which means hope), has significant contribution in the social history of Odisha. It set a new benchmark for Odia journalism. It spearheaded the struggle for a separate Odisha state and the freedom struggle in Odisha. It also had significant contribution towards the development of Odia language and literature. It also acted as a training ground for young and aspiring journalists, who later shaped the destiny of Odisha through their journalistic skills.
If Gouri Shankar Ray was credited to have printed Odisha’s first newspaper Utkal Dipika in 1866, it was only in early 20th century that journalism got wider acceptance in Odisha following the publication of Asha.
Asha was established by Shashi Bhusan Rath, a great freedom fighter in the undivided Ganjam district, which was under the Madras Presidency then on April 13, on the eve of Odia New year’s day. It became a daily in 1928 (on 13 April, again) and was titled Daink Asha.
The newspaper gained immense popularity throughout the state for its quality content, influential editorials and focus on literature. Dainik Asha provided a platform for Odia nationalists to fight for the unification of Odisha and protection of Odia language. Odisha (then known as Orissa) was recognized as a separate state on April 1, 1936. It was the first state in India to have been created on the basis of language.
Early history of Dainik Asha
Odisha was divided into parts even before the British conquered it in 1803. The Odia-speaking areas were then divided and tagged to the neighboring provinces of Bengal, Central Provinces and Madras. The Madras Presidency consisted of a large conglomeration of linguistic groups including Odias (of Ganjam) and the Telegus. The Odias were intrigued by the administrative dismemberment of the Odia-speaking territories. Gradually a movement to amalgamate the dismembered portions and to form a separate state on linguistic basis started.
The Utkal Union Conference (UUC, popularly known as Utkal Sammilani) was set up in December 1903 under the leadership of Madhusudhan Das to bring unity among the entire Oriya population distributed over different provinces and safeguard the interests of the Oriya people living outside Orissa
In 1911, the Bihar- Orissa Province was carved out of the Bengal Presidency without the amalgamation of the Ganjam. There were big demonstrations in the district demanding inclusion of Oriya-speaking tracts of Madras with Orissa. The eighth session of UUC was held at Berhampur in April 1912. The session emphasized inclusion of Ganjam in the Bihar-Odisha province.
In early 20th century, the quest for regional and linguistic identity was the primary agenda of the indigenous press in Odisha. Though small in number the periodicals were vociferous in demanding a separate province. Sri Nilamani Vidyaratna, a prominent Oriya nationalist and journalist advised Sashibhusan Rath of Ganjam to publish an Oriya Weekly.
‘Asha’, made its maiden appearance on 13 April 1913. It was named after Shashi Bhusan Rath’s daughter Ashalata.
It became the most important weekly after Utkal Dipika. Published from Ganjam it acted as a successful communication link between southern Odisha and the rest part of the province. Asha emerged as a powerful Oriya nationalist paper and supported the UUC activities. It acted as a mouthpiece of Ganjam in particular, and of the Oriyas in general. The newspaper was extremely blunt in criticizing the British government.
Asha received articles from the Satyavadi stalwarts like Pandit Gopabandhu Das, Pandit Nilakantha Das, Pandit Godavarish Mishra, the great freedom fighters and scholars, who later became editors of powerful newspapers. . The other prominent writers of Asha were Gopal Chandra Praharaj (author of Odia Bhasakosh - Encyclopaedia), the great social reformer Ananta Mishra, Appanna Panigrahi of Paralakhemundi, Gadadhar Vidya Bhusan and Sadasiva Vidya Bhusan of South Ganjam, the great Oriya novelist and writer Fakir Mohan Senapati, the poet and writer Ramchandra Acharjya and many others.
Asha became Dainik Asha
In 1928 Shashi Bhusan Rath converted Asha into a daily newspaper. Asha became as ‘Dainik (Daily)Asha'. It was the first Oriya daily newspaper of Orissa. Publication of Dainik Asha was a turning point in the history of Odia journalism as it had helped the people of Odisha to launch their struggle more effectively and vigorously to secure the unification of the outlying Odia areas under one administration. It also spread the message of freedom movement. With the publication of Dainik Asha, many public-spirited young men got the opportunity to receive practical training in journalism in general and in publication of daily newspaper in particular. Credit must be given to Dainik Asha for commencing training in newspaper production and publication. In a way, it also started the professionalization process in journalism in Odisha. Many people, who got training in Dainik Asha as subeditors or reporters later helped production of other daily newspapers in the state. Thus Dainik Asha acted as the harbinger of Odia journalism.
Dainik Asha after independence
After formation of separate Oriya province, Shashi Bhusan Rath gave up the editorship of Dainik Asha on 18th April 1936. During the time of Second World War in 1942, Dainik Asha and its sister publication the English daily 'New Orissa' changed hands. These two papers were purchased by a businessman of Calcutta, Mr. M.L. Jajodia, who later settled down at Cuttack. Under a different ownership, these two papers provided effective support to war efforts of the British Government and were also recipients of Government's aid. However, both the papers closed down in 1951 marking the end of a great chapter of the pre-independence era journalism in Orissa.
However, Dainik Asha was revived in the seventies by a Trust set up by the noted social activist politician Brundaban Nayak. It was published again on 10 February 1982 under the editorship of Sriharsha Mishra, a veteran journalist, who was earlier associated with Prajantra for long years. After the demise of Sriharsha Mishra, Chandrasekhar Mohapatra became the editor. Mohapatra was earlier associated with Prajatantra and Matrubhumi. After his death Pramod Panda became the editor.
Current status of Dainik Asha
Dainik Asha at its glorious years enjoyed wider recognition throughout the state. The newspaper used to be called as journalists’ newspaper because of its creditability as an authentic source of news and views. However, it gradually lost its popularity. There were many factors for the decline: from its inability to keep pace with the changing taste and reading habit of the readers to mal-management.
By early 2013 the status of Dainik Asha is: it is just about surviving. It is surviving because of its legacy and a handful of committed readers mostly in South Odisha. The four-page daily is still published from Berhampur. It is occasionally published in 8 pages. With a small but committed editorial team, Dainik Asha is trying to find its lost glory back.
It is said to have a circulation of 20,000. It is mostly circulated in South Odisha, primarily in Ganjam district. The newspaper largely banks on government advertisements for its survival, though it occasionally gets private advertisements.
The present editor, Pramad Panda has ambitious expansion plans to revive the glory. The expansion plans include multiple editions to reach out to different parts of Odisha. Dainik Asha has also plans to start its Vishakhapatna edition. It has plans to adopt latest printing technology and to make its presence in the web sphere.
For more about the struggle for a separate Odisha province see
Emergence of Orissa as a Separate State and Contribution of Khallikote Raj Family, Dr. Dasarathi Bhuyan, Retrieved on 4 April 2013 from
(Journalist turned media academician Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee is presently heading the Eastern India campus of Indian Institute of Mass Communication located at Dhenkanal in Odisha state. He can be contacted at email@example.com)
(Posted on March 30, 2013)
Is Journalism Dying?
By Matthew Hartvigsen
The future of journalism is yet to be determined. Last week, for example, the Pew Research Center issued a report suggesting that journalism was dying. The loss of ad dollars has forced many newspapers to make cutbacks.
But Matthew Yglesias in an article for Slate claims that “The news-reading public has never had more and better information at their fingertips,” and therefore, the American news media has never been in better shape. Although there may be more information available, is it Journalism?
In another article, Megan McArdle drills down on the real reasons consumers may be saying journalism is dying and aren’t buying more papers. “If you look at the Pew survey, people superficially seem to be complaining about the declining breadth of the stories they read. But if you look at other research, it's likely that what they're actually complaining about is the political slant.” To read full article, click HERE
(Posted on Feb 19, 2013)
What the Nation Actually Wants to Know Tonight
(A study by Media Studies Group on response to Caravan article on Arnab Goswami)
By Shaheen Nazar
CARAVAN news magazine has published a detailed article on Arnab Goswami of the Times Now. The article (issue dated Dec. 1, 2012) has evoked widespread responses. It is unusual for a magazine to feature a news anchor and equally unusual for someone to analyse it. But one feels obliged to do this as a lot is being said about the way our news channels are run today. It’s simply appalling. Increasing number of people are criticizing news channels and those managing them. Editorial judgment in the newsroom is taken on business and political considerations rather than on merit. Therefore, the Caravan article should be read as a sad commentary on our TV journalism than on a single individual, who is known more as a television performer than a journalist.
A total of 135 readers have responded to the online version of the article. Forty-seven percent of them are highly critical of Goswami, whereas 16 percent have made general comments disapproving of the present state of Indian journalism. If we add both the figures, 63 percent are not at all happy with what is going on in our media industry. The rest of the letters are in defense of Goswami. If we take all the letters as an opinion of the informed viewers and readers, we can say that majority of the Indian news reading and viewing public have voted against the kind of journalism being practiced in India.
Arnab Goswami is not just one individual. He is rather a phenomenon. He represents the new bandwagon which is blinded by ambition and guided by self-interest and self-promotion. They are not concerned with news. They are deciding what the ‘nation’ should see. “I will set the news agenda for India today,” Goswami is quoted by one of his former colleagues as saying. He and other self-seekers like him are exercising absolute control over the flow, substance and appearance of news. So, our destiny is in the hands of a few journalists who think that personal integrity and professional ethics are things of the past. They have no sense of responsibility towards the society and consider themselves above bode.
The recent scandal involving Zee News and steel tycoon Navin Jindal is just one example of the mess we are in today. This embarrassing episode for the journalistic fraternity has surfaced while the painful memories of the Radia tape scandal is still fresh in the nation’s memory. Both the scandals involve very senior journalists and editors in either extortion attempt or lobbying for their corporate bosses.
Goswami reminds us of late R.K. Karanjia, a synonym for ‘yellow journalism’ in India of 70s and 80s. But while Karanjia was a one-man brigade, Goswami is not alone. The letter writers have also mentioned the names of some of his contemporaries. “Arnab, Rajdeep, Bharka – all cut from the same bad cloth in my opinion, all they do is give you a headache,” writes one reader while another says: “I stopped watching TV after I watched Rajdeep Sardesai. I do not want Arnab Gowsamis and Samir Jains in my house. I do not want my kids growing up thinking that discussion is yelling. Young people who try to learn public speaking or presentation skills, start talking so arrogantly, imitating Arnab and Rajdeep and Burkha Dutt.”
The letters are reflective of the general disgust that is found in our society today, specially towards the private television companies claiming to run news channels. People are crying foul but the self-seekers in the media are pretending to be ignorant. The call to give some teeth to the Press Council of India and bring the electronic media under its purview is being resisted in the name self-regulation which is nothing but farce.
We are living in an age of corporatized media where ratings of private TV channels are measured by the TRPs they get. The responses to Caravan article belie the general impression that people like Arnab Goswami and the media organisations running under their stewardships are popular with the masses. Let us see some of the attributes that Arnab is attracting from the masses who supposedly decide TRP:
Psycho; megalomaniac; uncouth; uncivil news salesman; absolutely disgusting; comedian; mere laughing stock; very shallow and superficial; ‘just like any producer who adds an item number to boost the ticket sales’; ‘in the process of trying to increase the sales, he makes himself look like a duffer; ‘Hysteria should never be mistaken for reason, It is dangerous and Goswami is its worthy exponent’; ‘if there was a trophy for double standards …Goswami would win hands down’; etc.
Times Now, owned by Bennett, Coleman and Company Limited, the publishers of the Times of India and the Economic Times, prides itself as ‘India’s most-watched English news channel’ and ‘playing news fast and hard’. But the Caravan article begins with examples as to how it sensationalises and ‘creates drama’ out of tragedies. It sites the coverage of ravaging fire in Mumbai’s Mantralaya (the headquarters of the Maharashtra state government) in June 2012. First it borrowed footage from a Hindi channel as its crew were late to arrive on the scene and then started telecasting unedited footages and bombarding the viewers with ‘studio-induced flashes’, at times up to 58 in one typical minute. “The coverage that afternoon was a typical Times Now production, designed not just to attract viewers, but to mesmerise them with an array of visual effects and excited voices … No bar stayed still, words evaporated and reappeared, and at the centre of this sea of red and blue were reporters performing the simple task of describing what the viewer could see for himself,” says the article.
Arnab Goswami and Times Now are synonymous with each other. Launched in 2005, the channel’s 9 p.m. “Newshour” debate show, hosted daily by Goswami, has created a name for itself – at times for wrong reasons. He conducts the entire show quite aggressively that includes yelling and shouting at his guests, raising controversies, playing on nationalistic sentiments and dramatizing and sensationalizing issues of public concern. The way he behaves in front of the camera is more like a performer than a journalist.
Here is what one reader says: “I am no editor or writer but a viewer. He does come out as a megalomaniac and I see these traits in him coming out in the way he conducts himself. It is indeed sad that he treats his colleagues this way but this is the way present generation is made of. He is self eulogizing and extremely irritating.”
Another comment is equally readable: “Most of the topics that he takes up for 1 hour plus are not worth even 15 minutes. And these debates have no purpose – with both sides sticking to their stupid sides and Arnab interfering every time and never allowing anyone to make a point. Somewhere, it has gone wrong into his head that he is bigger than everyone else. The downfall is going to be hard for him when he comes thudding down.”
And this comment: “People like Bill'O and Arnab are not Journalists, they are Actors with a stage they come with a rehearsed agenda and know exactly how to deliver their lines to grab the audience and keep them glued to their channels! And to be honest I like it.. If Arnab doesn't do it somebody else will so why not Arnab! He is good at it.”
Goswami is generally criticized for his behavior and many of his guests have pledged not to oblige him any more. The activist and academic Madhu Kishwar, a frequent but exasperated guest, penned a widely-circulated open letter to Goswami, complaining that “panelists are expected to simply come and lend further strength to the anchor’s delusion that one hour of Newshour will rid India of all its ills”.
A recent case is that of Shabnam Hashmi, who runs an NGO called Anhad. The well-known social activist has accused Goswami of “uncivilized and aggressive behavior”. On January 4, 2013, she put the status on her Facebook ‘Times Now – my status – not available – goodbye Mr Arnab Goswami – sorry for denying you the pleasure of being the ‘conscience keeper’.
She says through a public statement: “All hell seems to have broken out since then. I have been receiving calls after calls from various Times Now reporters. They have barged into Anhad several times, threatening to do stories against Anhad and me … Anhad has been a space where scores of journalists and media friends have come and visited. We have always respected the media and continue to do so and Anhad has received tremendous support from the media fraternity across India and we greatly value and respect that … This is the first time that we are faced with a situation where I personally in 32 years of my grass root activism and Anhad as an organisation in its 10 yrs of work feel being harassed, stalked, and blackmailed.”
The Newshour programme runs anywhere between 60 and 120 minutes and, according to the Caravan article, attracts more viewers than competing shows with fixed slots at 9 p.m. Its advertising rates are among the highest for prime time news television, at Rs 16,000 for a ten-second spot. And the show is so vital to the relevance and well-being of the network that “60 percent of the editorial resources are used for The Newshour”, the article quotes a senior manager as saying. “It pulls in 40 percent of the channel’s overall viewers, and a fifth of its Rs 1.5 billion annual revenue,” it says.
The show is said to be partly debate, partly journalism, and partly a public confessional. “But it is mostly an open-ended chunk of airtime from whose centre Goswami live-directs an intellectual reality show where dramatic things happen. Participants abuse other guests and the show’s host. People walk away, leaving empty windows behind. As a matter of principle, the Newshour pits people and their extreme views against one another – but its main character is always Goswami. A typical episode finds him demanding answers, making accusations, riling up participants and passing judgment, venting the angst of a man upset by how far his country has fallen. His pronouncements are rooted in everyday frustrations: Why is Pakistan dithering? Why can’t Australians admit that they’re racist? Why is the government indifferent to the middle class? Who is responsible for all this?”
“Here is an intellectually sound journalist who has become very much of a comedian on air. What airs at 9 pm on Times Now is not news. It is a programme that revolves around an anchor who appears to be on instances, a comedian and who makes the business of news into a farce. And for a lot of us, news cannot be a farce. It’s serious business. It’s all very well for an anchor to have his or her ‘informed opinion’, but beyond a point the style is so overbearing and so overwhelming and so comical on occasion that it distracts from the news. We believe that it’s not news at all,” a former colleague of Goswami is quoted as saying.
The problem with people like Goswami is that they think very high of themselves. “Can the history of India be written honestly without the contribution of Times Now to a new form of journalism in the era that we are in?” he said. “Think about it. Think about the bigger picture. I can tell you it can’t be written.” This is from a speech that he made in the newsroom in 2011, which was recorded by a former reporter.
The following excerpts from the Caravan article are self explanatory. The inside stories narrated here give a peep into the workings of our news channels.
“I think journalistic integrity comes very low, in terms of the kind of things that we do … There was a rape victim in Kolkata. Usually you’re supposed to morph the face of a rape victim. But we were told that only the eyes will have a black patch, because the minute you see a morphed face on TV, you lose interest. And for a good two to three days, that story ran with just a black patch on the lady’s face and everybody could make out who the person was.” (Statement of a former output editor)
“Militants had killed a 20-year-old girl in Kashmir … It was in Shopian. Times Now kept asking on air, ‘Why are the separatists not reacting? Why are they silent?’ – even though one of the channel’s Kashmir correspondents had recorded and uploaded the separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s condemnation of the crime hours earlier. Times Now did not carry the condemnation for the longest time … It was not in line with the story they had taken.” (statement of a former reporter)
“I remember Shopian … I don’t recall this, but I would not be surprised. Arnab’s TRPs are dependent on bashing separatists.” (Statement of a desk editor)
Such unethical practices and Goswami’s extreme nationalistic postures have put pressure on other English channels. “There was definitely pressure to be more like him,” a senior editor at CNN-IBN says. “He forced you to adopt a certain aggressiveness and speed,” an NDTV reporter who knew Goswami well said. “Not just to tell a story, but tell it a particular way.”
Before launching Times Now in 2005, Goswami had worked with Rajdeep Sardesai for a decade in NDTV. Sardesai launched CNN-IBN a month before Times Now. Their personal rivalries are well-known. All the three English channels are strong competitors for the urban middle class viewership. The weekly TRPs released every Wednesday are the benchmark for their popularity which determines their advertising rates. Of late this rating business has become controversial. Last year, NDTV, India's first private broadcaster of news and current affairs, alleged manipulation of “television viewership data in favour of channels that were willing to offer bribes to its officials,” and filed a law suit for more than a billion dollars in damages from The Nielsen Co. and its Indian affiliates.
Some of the letter writers to the Caravan article are former employees of Times Now. By reading this letter one realizes the condition under which journalist are working in our media companies. The contractual nature of jobs have made them more vulnerable than ever. Excerpts from just one letter is enough to understand horrible working condition in our newsrooms:
“I had the pleasure of working with Arnab Goswami. So when I read comments from those supporting him I want to laugh. I have no vested interests. I am a full-time mother to two young kids and I couldn't care less if my future as a journalist goes up in smoke. Let me tell you each day, working with this man, was a horror story. He has no moral compass. I personally met and complained to the then CEO Chintamani Rao about the humiliation that we on the news desk were exposed to every single day. The writing was on the wall. Arnab Goswami would stay, the rest of us were expendable.
“I have lived and worked as a journalist in the Middle East, the US and Canada. I have also worked with Arnab Goswami during his NDTV days. But I have to say nothing could ever have prepared me for the man I met and worked with in 2009. Personally, I have never experienced the sort of debasement Times Now expects its employees to undergo on a daily basis. Arnab is a dictator. The language used by him and his cohorts in the Times Now newsroom is more befitting of a brothel in Mumbai's red light district where women are treated as animals. The words ‘cunt’ ‘bitch’ and ‘motherfucker’ are so common place, no one even raises an eyebrow.
“I quit Times Now in 2009 disgusted and disbelieving. The man who pretends to care and shouts into your face about your rights, your chance, your moment is a mirage. He is a hollow, shallow, selfish brute of a human being who while he commiserates with a rape victim on air is more likely to believe and say aloud, "the damn whore deserved it." For those who think the world of him, I would say write in to him and get a job. With the highest attrition rate in the business in all likelihood you perhaps will be hired. If you last beyond 3 months you deserve each other or you have no other options. For those like me who've worked with him, I wish you healing. We all do.... terrorized, emotionally beaten, humiliated, debased, fractured, we've all moved on. But we've never forgotten. The moment I saw this article, the only words that came to my mind are: ‘So there is such as thing as God!’ Peace!”
Meanwhile, Times Now was recently in news for in connection with one more controversy. The News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), the regulatory body of the news broadcasters, admonished it for not disclosing the complete credentials of one of its panelists, Maroof Raza, in a discussion on Tatra trucks deals aired by it in April 2012. Raza was introduced in the discussion as a strategic defence analyst and expert, whereas he is actually a consultant for foreign arms manufacturers, suppliers and dealers and runs the business through M/s Maroof Raza & Associates. The Tatra trucks controversy relates to allegations by former Army chief V.K. Singh that he was offered a bribe to clear the all-terrain vehicle and hinting that the trucks were sub-standard.
Note: After finishing my article I revisited the Caravan site only to find that the number of responses to the article has crossed 150. The new letters follow the same pattern. Majority of them are critical of Arnab Goswami. The responses on the article titled “Fast And Furious, The turbulent reign of Arnab Goswami”, published on December 1, 2012, have been taken from Caravan’s website: http://caravanmagazine.in/reportage/fast-and-furious.
The Author is adjunct faculty in the Department of Mass Communication, Sharda University. He has previously worked with The Times of India, Khaleej Times and other dailies.
(This article was first published in Media Studies Group’s monthly journal Mass Media, issue February 2013, New Delhi)
(Posted on Dec 24, 2012)
The new vanguard of journalism & transparency
Jillian C York
When, in late 2010, Wikileaks started releasing a trove of US diplomatic cables, lawmakers were dumbfounded. The whistleblowing organisation had previously raised ire within the US government for its release of its "Collateral Murder" video, but until the leak of the classified cables, requital seemed uncertain. Then, unable to take legal action against the site because of First Amendment protections, panicky legislators did the one thing they could: Pressure intermediaries to deny service to Wikileaks.
The strategy was immediately effective. After public calls from Senator Joseph Lieberman, web giant Amazon.com was first to follow, dropping Wikileaks from its servers and creating a domino effect. Recently released evidence shows that both Lieberman and House Representative Peter King privately called Mastercard to demand the same thing. Within a day, more than five companies - including PayPal, Visa, and MasterCard - had all denied service to Wikileaks. Within weeks, that list included several more, including Bank of America and Swiss postal bank.
"Despite committing no crime, and publishing the same information the New York Times and other newspapers were publishing," says Trevor Timm, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and executive director of the new Freedom of the Press Foundation, "WikiLeaks was strangled by financial censorship."
In nearly every case, the company publicly claimed that providing services to Wikileaks was against policy. Bank of America, for example, issued a mealy-mouthed statement claiming that Wikileaks was "engaged in activities that are, among other things, inconsistent with our internal policies for processing payments". But as journalist James Ball has pointed out, few payment processing companies are particularly strict when it comes to who they will process transactions for: A quick review of sites belonging to extremist groups - including the Ku Klux Klan, the English Defence League, and Stormfront - shows that none face the type of financial blockade imposed on Wikileaks.
To read it full, click here
(Posted on Dec 2, 2012)
Distance Learning- Eliminating Barriers of Education
Media Hive News Network
Education has undergone a major transformation in last few years with the advent of effective communication technology and rising demand for exclusive job oriented courses. In this regard, the most significant role has been played by distance education which has paved way for millions across the globe to fulfill there aspirations of academic excellence in respective domains without any hindrance. It has been aptly described as "a process to create and provide access to learning when the source of information and the learners are separated by time and distance, or both."
Today, distance education is provided globally by multiple institutions through multiple channels. It offers wide range of programs and courses through its vast network of learning centers across the globe. Distance education programs are an initiative to make education reach all prospective students and individual irrespective of the confines of a classroom.
One of the greatest advantages of correspondence learning is that it assists those already in employment to continue or enhance there academic qualifications in order to ensure effective growth in the career without hampering there daily routine work. It gives a perfect opportunity for the learner to study at his own convenient speed and pace resulting in majority of the population resorting to distance learning.
The institutes and organizations ensure that the degrees acquired through distance mode are in no way inferior to the campus based programmes in the employment market or before the civil society. Updated curriculum, student supportive services, practical matching industry requirements and advance learning practices ensure that the learner is ready to face the growing corporate world with conviction and assurance. The degrees and certificates awarded are also equivalent to any other regular programme which too has made it a much more viable option. In comparison to a full time campus programme, distance learning is relatively cheaper and affordable which gives it an added advantage. Online career counseling, Online digital library, e- books, e- learning, online admission facility, online syllabus and scheme of course, online- on -demand examinations etc are some of the innovative features provided by the institutions to ensure the enhancement of educational proficiency.
Web conferencing, videoconferencing, educational television are examples of synchronous technology which assists in imparting distance education, as are direct-broadcast satellite (DBS), internet radio, live streaming, telephone, and web-based VoIP. Synchronous learning technology is a mode of delivery where all participants are "present" at the same time. It resembles traditional classroom teaching methods despite the participants being located remotely. It requires a timetable to be organized. The asynchronous learning mode of delivery is where participants access course materials on their own schedule and so is more flexible. Students are not required to be together at the same time. Mail correspondence, which is the oldest form of distance education, is an asynchronous delivery technology and others include message board forums, e-mail, video and audio recordings, print materials, voicemail and fax.
In a country like India, It certainly has enormous potential to spread formal and higher education to those who are simply unable to secure admission in the formal stream at universities due to some unavoidable reasons or enormous competitive enrollment process. Prospective apprentice have the freedom to receive equal education regardless of income status, area of residence, gender, race, age, or cost per student. In India, maximum enrollment takes place in the under graduate and post graduate level.
The importance of distance education cannot be over emphasized. It is an extremely powerful tool for empowering people and for giving them self-dignity. It becomes even more important in a country like ours which is in the process of harnessing its human resources for rapid economic growth. Hence, we need more and more people to acquire higher academic degrees and qualifications to attain competence of the highest order and only then we can be confident of facing the new set of challenges posed by this fast changing world.
(Views expressed are personal. The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org).
(Posted on Nov 3, 2012)
Kejriwal, the Most Newsy ‘Politician’
By Syed Sabahuddin
Media Hive News Network
No rank outsider has shot to limelight and persisted in the political theatre of India like Arvind Kejriwal. Some have called him the leader of BJP’s B team, others an anarchist and authotranian with Nazi streaks. Yet the media has found him credible enough to occupy many of its lines and bylines.
He brandishes himself as an embodiment of common man (his topi vouches for his faith) and tries to denigrate not so common men and women. He has self belief to the extent of arrogance, something that has seen many of his erstwhile friends part ways with him. The audacity with which he takes on the cream dela cream of Indian polity and call them names, makes many wonder what he is up to.
Coming out of the shadow of Anna Hazare, he has jumped into the political minefield with a vengeance. He is unsparing and the skeletons in his political opponents’ closets have only helped his case. He will continue with his tirade and may become an unstoppable force unless he falls prey to his own ways (Somebody doing a Kejriwal on him).
He does not have an organization at the grassroot level and so lives by the media. His honeymoon with the media which has latched on to every insinuation made by him like holy gospel has endured him and will continue to be his greatest force multiplier.
He seems to have succeeded in striking a chord with the television watching common man. His advocacy of citizen’s right has many takers who may not necessarily agree with his tone and tenor. The mainstream political parties may be right in pointing out that his theatrics are aimed at grabbing power, but they themselves are to blame for his rise.
Through his exposes he is trying to prove that cartelisation of politics is a reality in India. It remains to be seen how hard he can sell this to the Indian electorates.
Delhi assembly elections would be his real baptism by fire. If he comes up with a credible performance and causes enough harm to Congress, he can set his eyes on a bigger political pie.
(The writer is a Mumbai-based software professional. Views expressed are personal)
(Posted on October 5, 2012)
XAAIBC, an Emerging Name in Software Industry
By M H Ansari
Media Hive News Network
We are lucky to be born in this age of technological advancement. The success of software technology has made it easy for the people across the globe to do their work smoothly, manage their businesses in a cost-effective way and also to communicate with their friends and colleagues in a customized and fast-paced environment. And probably with these thoughts in mind, XAAIBC, a software development company -- which I founded in 2008 at the age of 18 – has rolled out four products in such a short span.
Rayshoo (http://rayshoo.com), the first product of XAAIBC was unveiled on June 13, 2009. With the vision of intelligent technologies that can change the world’s lifestyle and behaviour, Rayshoo was developed with incredible features from the beginning to provide much better pipeline of communications. Despite the presence of many other social networking sites, Secret Friendship and Live Box features in Rayshoo keep it in a different league.
Besides Rayshoo, the other XAAIBC products are Otrimz, Zaimail and Xplode, which I have developed alone, without any formal computer language course. I took a plunge into computer programming in 2002 at the age of 12 and self-learnt many programming languages. Since then I have been continuously developing new software technologies.
Amalgamating a creative vision with technical know-how, XAAIBC launched Otrimz (http://otrimz.com) in 2011. Otrimz reduces the overheads in development of online software. Developing websites by using Otrimz is an easy and well-organized experience. Maintenance and management are amazingly easy and simple. Websites developed on Otrimz are hardware and screen independent. Otrimz trims the design and functionality related issues because it is a design oriented and provides all the features as appliances. Otrimz is going to change software development process.
In 2012, XAAIBC launched a business mail product Zaimail (http://zaimail.com), the world’s one and only multi-faceted mail system. It is specially developed to provide scalable branded mail service to any type of business. Different businesses demand different solutions and Zaimail is the answer to it as it runs simultaneously in multiple modes and versions for all the different requirements. Zaimail is hardware independent and can fit in any desktop or mobile device. It gives one the coziesr feeling while reading and writing.
Another baby of XAAIBC is Xplode (http://xplode.xaaibc.com), an ERP solution that makes resource planning, maintenance, management and expansion a smooth experience. By using Xplode any organization can execute business anywhere in a better and organized way. Xplode has customized modules for any business requirement and available on demand.
A zealous approach to understand what is the need of the hour and to deliver as per the expectations of people is what I constantly thrive to do. This passion at work has helped XAAIBC create a niche in the highly competitive web solutions and development space.
Innovation, Simplicity and Quality is the mantra of XAAIBC and it imbibes it in its work, to the core.
(The writer is the founder of XAAIBC, which has offices in Delhi and Hyderabad. He can be contacted at email@example.com)
(Posted on Sept 29, 2012)
News Media Blow the Mideast Rioting Story
By Edward Wasserman
(Knight Foundation professor of journalism ethics,
Washington and Lee University)
It's rare that a story so fully exemplifies the worst tendencies of the news media as the coverage of the protest in Muslim countries over a U.S.-made video ridiculing the founder of Islam.The coverage is knit together by primordial bigotry and vile stereotypes. In Muslim countries, the media inflame ancestral hates and rekindle what Fouad Ajami calls "a deep and enduring sense of humiliation." News reports goad the masses, pointing to the video as yet another insult by a decadent, predatory West intent on cruelly defiling the most cherished elements of Islam.
U.S. media, for their part, fill their screens with images of bestial fury by throngs of wild-eyed lunatics, incapable of restraint and impervious to reason, fanatics whose forebears once screamed "the Quran or the sword" and held the U.S. embassy in Tehran hostage.
To read full article, click here
(Posted on August 23, 2012)
Journalists Dancing on the Edge of Truth
By David Carr
Before writing this column on recent incidents of plagiarism and fabrication, I spent time on the Web reading all known thought on the subject, making notes as I went. When I wrote it up, I used those notes to help create something I am now claiming as my own. Yes, I made phone calls to relevant experts and did historical research, but in the main — columnists are in part human aggregators — everything written here reflects something that came before it.
So does that make me a thief, or a journalist?
It all comes down to execution. If I attribute the reporting of others and manage to steer clear of proprietary intellectual property while making a cogent argument, then I can live to write another day.
If, on the other hand, I manufacture or manipulate quotes or fail to process the work of others through my own thinking and writing, then the Web — a crowd-sourced scrutiny machine— will find me out. My column will become a spectacle and I will end up in my boss’s office explaining myself.
Columns, even reported ones, as this aspires to be, pivot on ideas rather than news. Once spilled, news quickly becomes a commodity, so ideas — shimmering intellectual scoops — have very high value.
To read full article, click here
(Posted on June 13, 2012)
Is Philanthropy Print Journalism's Last Hope?
By Peter Osnos
It was startling to read last week that the Ford Foundation was awarding a two-year grant of $1.04 million to the Los Angeles Times for the hiring of reporters. The money will be used for coverage of immigration issues, including the Korean and Vietnamese communities, the California prison system, and the border region with Mexico, and to staff a bureau in Brazil. Ford has long been a supporter of journalism, with an emphasis on public broadcasting and nonprofit enterprises. But this grant represents a different approach: support for a newspaper currently in bankruptcy that has endured years of cutbacks in its resources and revenues.
While still the most formidable news organization in California, the Los Angeles Times carries the stigma of its acquisition by Sam Zell, the real estate magnate whose purchase of the Tribune Co. in 2007 was a disaster that remains unresolved and in litigation. Foundation grants are not generally thought to provide support for institutions in trouble, but rather to give backing to innovation and enterprises solely operating in the public interest. While journalism in all ways aims to perform the traditional accountability function that is the ne plus ultra of news gathering, the Los Angeles Times is a business. And, despite all of its reverses in recent years, it is still measured in the marketplace by an ability to pay its way using revenues from circulation and advertising.
So what explains Ford's grant, an unprecedented gesture of largesse to a once-mighty profit maker fallen on hard times?
Alfred Ironside, director of communications for the foundation, said in an interview that devoting substantial means to strengthen coverage of social issues such as those envisioned in the Los Angeles Times grant is very much in keeping with Ford's mission and objectives. He said that Ford wants to focus on content -- which has been diminished in the decade of serious financial problems for newspapers -- as part of its annual $10 million program in journalism, while continuing to also support its public broadcasting grantees on radio and television. "Conversations" are under way with other news organizations -- the implication being newspapers that share the problems of the Los Angeles Times.
The notion of these formerly great generators of money resorting to philanthropy to support their work is poignant in some respects, perverse in others. Yet, given the realities of our times, it seems reasonable to accept a gift, as long as it is not encumbered with requirements for advocacy or any other restrictions that would pose a serious conflict of interest for a self-respecting news organization. In his announcement of the grant, the Times' editor, Davan Mahatraj, said there are "no strings attached. We have complete control over editorial content and are free to pursue whatever stories we deem appropriate." If that is the case, the Ford grant will enable the underwriting of coverage that will reach an audience of hundreds of thousands with information that might not otherwise be available.
To read full article, click here
(Peter Osnos is a journalist turned book editor/publisher. He spent 18 years working at various bureaus for The Washington Post before founding Public Affairs Books. Courtesy Atlantic.com)
Posted on May 28, 2012)
Pak’s ‘Arab Spring’ and the media
By Mazhar Abbas
Social media brought a revolution in the Arab world and many of us here thought it may bring the same results in Pakistan without realising that the ‘Arab spring’ was not merely the result of media hype but had commitment, conviction and sincere leaders behind it. Some political pundits even felt that the media would be able to force the government to quit. This is not the media’s job and nor can we, or should we, be doing it.
The independence of the judiciary and the freedom of the media are two revolutions that have already taken place in Pakistan in the last decade. Now it is up to the politicians to do the rest. The media can play the role of a ‘mirror’ but it should also be able to see itself in the same mirror.
As the role of the judiciary in the last four years has come under criticism from certain sections, the media too has faced criticism for being biased and polarised. But can it make any difference in the next general elections? From Imran’s tsunami to Nawaz’s laptop and Zardari’s tricks, all will be tested and the media will play the role of a ‘watchdog’ (which it should), while the judiciary is supposed to play the role of a neutral umpire.
One of the reasons why Egyptians from the right, left and the centre were able to gather on one platform was due to the dictatorship of one man — a rule which had seen years of suppression, thousands of people imprisoned, censorship, etc. Here the government may be corrupt and the country poorly governed but the media is free, the judiciary is independent, there are no political prisoners and the government is an elected one.
In the last four and a half years, the biggest gathering that was witnessed was during the lawyers’ march. In Pakistan’s political history, all long marches enjoyed the support of the establishment whether it was led by Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif or the religious parties. However, private TV channels were held responsible for the success of the lawyers’ movement.
It is quite true that the media is polarised and biased to an extent. Is it not true that some of our leading columnists are also acting as ‘advisers’ to one party or the other? Is it not true that in the past some columnists and anchors have been members of cabinets or have held official positions? Can they be called neutral or objective? Why do they hide their past positions?
How the print and the electronic media will cover the next general elections will be interesting to watch as the leading political parties plan to spend millions on moulding public opinion and minimising or neutralising criticism in what appears to be highly polarised media.
Maybe after two or three more uninterrupted elections, we may also see debates between party heads like the ones we see taking place in the US. Maybe after some time we may also witness TV channels openly declaring their support for specific parties during general elections. The same is the case for our columnists and anchors. We need to be fair with our readers and viewers.
Our media can’t change the course of history. It can only present it in an objective manner. If talk shows could have made any real difference, the panel headed by comedian Umer Sharif would have swept last year’s Arts Council elections after it forced TV channels not to give the viewpoint of its rival panel. It lost by 1,000 votes despite its members having given over a dozen interviews prior to the polls.
(The writer is director current affairs Express News and has previously worked with ARY News. He is a former secretary-general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists. Courtesy The Express Tribune)
(Posted on April 20, 2012)
Why Ganga Could Never Get Cleaned
By Dr. Devendra Swaroop Bhargava
Media Hive News Network
As published in many peer refereed foreign journals, Ganga, India’s most revered national river now aspiring a world heritage status, is famous for its extraordinary high self-cleansing abilities due to its unusual ability to reaerate and assimilate organic matter upto 25 times faster than any other river in the world through the presence of well adapted aerobic bacteria and exo-cellular polymers present in its waters.
These polymers act as excellent coagulants to remove up to 60% of the total organic matter (BOD) in 30 to 60 minutes. Also, a volatile material continues to exist only in Ganga’s bed even when all Ganga waters are taken out in canals at Haridwar and Narora. This material prevents survival of disease causing bacteria (pathogens) and water putrefying bacteria (anaerobes). Ganga jal (water) is thus preserved in airtight containers for religious rites. However, Ganga’s pollution and most needed shore aestheticity have become so severe that many Hindus now hesitate to take a dip in the river or do aachman, a religious ritual involving direct inhaling of water.
Causes of failure of previous action plans include (i) adoption of unscientific and arbitrary effluent standards (legally permissible concentration of anypollutant in wastewater) which should have been worked out scientifically using mass balancing concepts from pre-fixed stream/river standards taking account of the river’s self-purifying abilities in terms of kinetic coefficients and ratios of river-effluent flow-rates. These effluent standards would thus vary for different polluters.
(ii) Ignoring of Indian conditions in formulating strategies, e.g. (a) many Indian streets are too narrow to install sewer pipelines that require deep excavations creating structural dangers to street buildings. Consequently, wastewater generated from homes in these types of streets flow directly into the Ganga, (b) many private homes in India carry on small-scale industrial activities such as plating, generating toxic wastes that flow unabatedly into the nearby river or percolate into the ground and later seep into the river, (c) slums generate large volumes of wastewater in unsewered urban areas that ultimately seep into the river, (d) religious mass bathing gatherings that are regularly held along the Ganga generate wastewater that flows directly into the river, (e) drains channel wastewater upstream of bathing platforms (ghats), (f) opendefecation apart from the disposal of dead human and animal bodies (only to be scattered all over by the stray dogs and birds) degrade riverbank areas, (g) riverbanks are also used as dumping sites for solid organic wastes, including polythenes, so these substances leach into the river. not practicing a self-supported sustainable strategy (4-S) which could help keep city streets clean in an organized manner, e.g. several rag pickers could be employed to pick up fruit-skin-vegetable wastes, organic wastes, nails, and newspapers/polythenes from specified streets and sell them to consumers such as dairies, piggeries, and scrap dealers (kabaris). This will also avoid the accident causing menace of pigs and cattle on the streets.
All this uncollected waste causes 50 percent of urban, untapped, untreated wastewater to flow unabatedly into rivers. India’s extremely high population, a severe constraint to any developmental action, can effectively be controlled in Indian situations only by limiting the privileges such as voting rights, ration card, free education, reservations, etc. to only one or two children.
(iii) Further, the Indian culture and religion demand a very high water qualitylevel at the Ganga banks where millions of Hindus perform religious rites (including aachman) in the river, thus pollution control strategies successful in western countries cannot be successful or appropriate in India. In such situations, even with the most modern wastewater treatment facilities in urban areas, hundreds of action plans could/would not clean rivers.
(iv) Lack of pollution control defensive strategies such as segregation of industrial wastes as in-plant practices, wastewater recycling and reuse, general sanitation, and improved agricultural practices to reduce excessive use of fertilizers and insecticides by the greed of greater yield by the illiterate Indian farmers leading to eutrophication (a bane of green revolution) in the country make river cleaning plans ineffective.
(v) Not implementing proactive or offensive strategies such as the regulated release of wastewater to ensure the maintenance of the pre-fixed river standard, artificial re-aeration and in-drain treatment practices using water hyacinths (very carefully enough to ensure that it does not enter the river system to continue its stay put) which could increase the likelihood of success in action plans.
(vi) Comprehensive river pollution control requires professionals with knowledge of several fields including civil engineering, public health or environmental engineering. The lack of experts in these fields (or high dominance of pseudo environmentalists incompetent to identify the relevant literature or real experts) with decision-making responsibilities within the Indian Ministry of Environment has been disastrous for success in previous Ganga clean-up projects.
(vii) Political connections or bribery used to secure high positions in government, judiciary, and academia have also stymied efforts to clean up the Ganga. Merit (evaluated through an index representing the integrated effect of all essential requirements), a bygone word in Indian system (infested with severe nepotism, regionalism, casteism, etc.), and right persons not placed in right places together make India a third world developing nation despite its highest qualified hardworking genius manpower in every discipline. As a result, much smaller but merit minded neighboring countries have their leaders/drivers of better merit (manifesting superiority in sports, diplomacy, decision making, politics, academics, etc.) although persons of much higher merit are easily and abundantly available in India who are only forced to make dust bins as their habitat or migrate to even less developed nations to work almost double at half wages compared to their local counter-parts,
(viii) Fine collectors demand bribes. A hefty bonus (kind of bribe legalization) to the fine collectors would ensure honest, duty bound and dedicated fine collectors in Indian situations. The corrupt and opaque judicial system makes the legislative approach to river pollution control ineffective through delays and politically motivated judges and lawyers. Administrators deliberately ignore the principles of natural justice to victimize/harass their non-favorite subordinates as they can not be booked till they retire, due to court delays. Indian courts need to be liberal in accepting criticism without any contempt threat, avoid media censuring on any pretext or bitter reporting, classify themselves (subject-wise), appoint mobile magistrates for immediate evidence recording before the evidence is killed, and judges be paid per case as reward for timely disposal of pending 100 million cases in India. Indian Lawyers not understanding pollution and its implications argue such cases only to extort money on pretexts,delay matters for regular income, misuse power of attorney by getting blank papers signed, and hob-knob with opposite parties which add to the continued environmental degradation. The Right to Information Act (RTI), promulgated in 2005, could make government and judiciary decision-making more transparent, however its implementation is excruciatingly slow and tardy apart from being subjected to an easy evasion on any pretext (recently, an information pertaining to the year 1994 being more than 20 years old in the year 2006 has been held right after lengthy court proceedings in Nainital High Court WP No.726/2008). RTI requests have incurred police wrath, harassment, bribe, and assault.
(ix) The Indian political system, thriving on muscle-money-caste-region-religion powers, can be cured through the adoption of a Presidential form of democracy where the top person commanding the mandate of the entire country will have his own team to work uninterruptedly for the term, and a concept of weighted votes starting from the grass-cutter as one to the highest say 1000 or 10000 equivalent votes just as persons of different academic credentials are paid differently. The politics of regionalism (like the anti-Hindi movement in Maharashtra, Punjab, Assam, etc.) can most effectively be curbed through a ‘national integration model’ wherein every state will employ/promote its own natives (the main cause of unrest and fear of native’s job being taken by outsiders) and 50% employees in each state come from all other states to promote national integration, understanding of each others culture, habits etc. In metropolis, entire population is equally (population proportion basis) taken from all states. This will also reflect the real Indian culture to a foreign visitor.
(x) The most rampant corruption in India wastes most of the money allocated to river cleaning works. Former Prime Minister of India Rajeev Gandhi (1984-89) stated that only 15 percent of allocated public funds reach beneficiaries or project execution stage. His son, Rahul Gandhi, 38, the most likely future prime minister of India, recently lowered this figure to five percent. Mammoth river cleaning projects cannot be completed when so many public funds are siphoned off through corruption.
(xi) The Indian public (including saints) has been ineffective in building any pressure to clean the rivers. Increased awareness through seminars, media, non-governmental organizations, and public education could help enhance public support and participation in clean up campaigns.
For these reasons, the implementation of numerous action plans cannot ever result in a pollution-free Ganga River.
Instead, a more effective, fool-proof strategy is to prevent wastewater from entering the river by creating a barrier between the river and cities along the Ganga. This barrier could be an embankment (“bandha”) or dam-like structure constructed so that all urban wastewater is trapped, through a huge sewer or covered canal positioned parallel to the river, with or without any treatment depending on available municipal finances. The wastewater would be carried to a point some two to three kilometers downstream of the city for treatment and disposal, allowing the Ganga River to naturally purify itself before reaching the next urban center. The distance of this stretch of the river between two cities would depend on the self-purification coefficients of the river, degree of waste treatment in the previous city, river configurations, stream width-to-depth ratio, stream velocity, and other factors. If the distance between two cities is short, then the wastewater treatment at the upstream city should be more intense to produce cleaner effluent.
The stated fool-proof strategy ensuring that not a drop of any wastewater would enter the Yamuna at Delhi would be ideal and only solution for Delhi, the national capital situated along Yamuna, a tributary of Ganga.
(Views Wxpressed are peronal. The writer is the former professor of Environmental Engineering & Pollution Control at IIT Roorkee & Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on March 3, 2012)
The heroic myth and the uncomfortable truth of war reporting
By Robert Fisk
It took a lot of courage to get into Homs; Sky News, then the BBC, then a few brave men and women who went to tell the world of the city's anguish and, in at least two cases, suffered themselves. I could only reflect this week, however, how well we got to know the name of the indomitable and wounded British photographer Paul Conroy, and yet how little we know about the 13 Syrian volunteers who were apparently killed by snipers and shellfire while rescuing him. No fault of Conroy, of course. But I wonder if we know the names of these martyrs – or whether we intend to discover their names?
There's something faintly colonialist about all this. We have grown so used to the devil-may-care heroics of the movie version of "war" correspondents that they somehow become more important than the people about whom they report. Hemingway supposedly liberated Paris – or at least Harry's Bar – but does a single reader remember the name of any Frenchman who died liberating Paris? I do recall my dauntless television colleague, Terry Lloyd, who was killed by the Americans in Iraq in 2003 – but who can remember the name of one of the quarter or half a million Iraqis killed as a result of the invasion (apart, of course, from Saddam Hussein)? The Al Jazeera correspondent in Baghdad was killed in Baghdad by an American airstrike the same year. But hands up who remembers his name? Answer: Tareq Ayoub. He was a Palestinian. I was with him the day before he died.
The flak jacket has now become the symbol of almost every television reporter at war. I've nothing against flak jackets. I wore one in Bosnia. But I've been increasingly discomfited by all these reporters in their blue space-suits, standing among and interviewing the victims of war, who have no such protection. I know that insurers insist correspondents and crews wear this stuff. But on the streets, a different impression emerges: that the lives of Western reporters are somehow more precious, more deserving, more inherently valuable than those of the "foreign" civilians who suffer around them. Several years ago, during a Beirut gun battle, I was asked to put on a flak jacket for a television interview by a journalist wearing one of these 12lb steel wrap-arounds. I declined. So no interview.
A similar and equally uncomfortable phenomenon appeared 15 years ago. How did reporters "cope" with war? Should they receive "counselling" for their terrible experiences? Should they seek "closure"? The Press Gazette called me up for a comment. I declined the offer. The subsequent article went on and on about the traumas suffered by journalists – and then suggested that those who declined psychological "help" were alcoholics. It was either psycho-babble or the gin bottle. The terrible truth, of course, is that journos – and for God's sake, we must stop demeaning our profession by calling ourselves "hacks" – can fly home if the going gets too tough, business class with a glass of bubbly in their hands.
(To read full article, click here)
(Posted on Feb 26, 2012)
Though the election results in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous Indian state, is still 10 days away, yet each party is ready with its post-poll calculations. There has hardly been an issue worth the name that would alleviate the plight of the masses of UP who migrate to other states (notably Maharashtra) in search of livelihood.
The most debated issue of greater reservation for Backward Muslims in government jobs may play out as a trump card for one party or the other or it may polarise the voters on the other side but it is hardly going to have any concrete benefits. During the whole campaign we have seen pot-shots taken, and a race to label the other more corrupt. Every party has fielded criminals in hordes, their muscle power being their ticket to get the ticket. This makes one feel that the electoral reforms bill (which bars criminals from contesting elections and has other measures to prevent electoral corruption) will never see the light of the day.
If the outcome of the elections is a hung assembly then it increases the possibility that next five years will see greater corruption and criminalisation resulting in greater migration from UP. This does not augur well for the country as such a situation is a perfect foil for regional chauvinists in other states. Even if a party gets an absolute majority it may take the proxy Editorship of all the newspapers of the state and make sure that no wrong is reported and all uncomfortable news is blacked out. This is precisely what has happened in neighbouring Bihar where the fourth estate (The fourth pillar of democracy) has lost relevance.
Such cynicism with the political class creates a vacuum which is temporarily filled by the likes of Anna Hazare. However closer media glare removes the Hallow around them and makes them look only a tinge better than fulltime politicians.
We have seen 65 years of Electoral democracy, each election bringing hope and next five years broken promises. Has the time come when we start to ponder whether the form of democracy we have has been able to bring everyone equal before the law, are the fundamental rights of rich and the poor same in our country, do we not discriminate on one ground or the other. In the heat and dust of Hindi heartland elections these questions should find their way.
(The views expressed are personal. The writer is a Mubai-based software professional. He can be contacted at email@example.com)
(Posted on Feb 18, 2012)
Sometimes social media makes it impossible for me to do anything.It stuns and silences me. This is not due to an excessive checking and posting on a Facebook wall, or trawling through Twitter for hours on end, or because of the attitudes and views I am exposed to on these public platforms. My paralysis is due to an overwhelming feeling of dread that comes from reading a few profiles, counting friends and followers and bookmarking hundreds of links that I'll never find the time to read.
It is a daily battle between social media and my anxiety.
This is not a "Facebook is bad" rant. I have benefited significantly from social media. I am a model user. I have secured clients and income on Twitter. I have met a range of fascinating people in real life thanks to my social media activity. My various streams provide me with entertainment, information and space for reflection. They are extraordinarily useful tools in my work and in my life. But, increasingly I am finding the need to develop strategies to try and combat the impact social media is having on my ability to get things done and on my health and wellbeing.
Let me explain. It goes something like this:
I open my Twitter feed of a morning.
I feel excited by the day ahead and want to see what the world is up too. I begin to scroll through my stream. I see that an academic has just posted 11 links in a row, all look interesting and I open all the links instantaneously, scan a couple and sigh at the large number of tabs in my web browser that are left unread, before ducking back to my Twitter account. I see a re-tweet from a colleague I respect, it is a tweet from another researcher whom I have never heard of.
To read the full article, click here
(Posted on Jan 28, 2012)
As the presidential nominations race heats up, one can barely keep track of all the video content related to the elections. Debates, gaffs, press conferences are all being downloaded, edited and shared at lightning speed; thanks to technology. Being an informed politico or smart constituent isn't as easy as it used to be simply due to the sheer amount of digital information that's available on a daily basis. But voters across the country are beginning to participate in a trend that could just make for one of the most informed constituencies ever: storing video content on the Cloud.
"I, for one, have a lot of things to do during my week," explained LeAnne Lindsay, a mortgage administrator in Philadelphia, PA.
"I want to keep up, but it's really hard. I was trying to get through coverage on my lunch break, but that's a challenge. Now I'm just downloading and organizing all my election-related video through content storage systems and watching it during the weekend and even reviewing it when I think there may be something where there is some double-talk from candidates. I don't want to miss a thing, but it needs to be on my time."
Welcome to the 2012 elections, Cloud style. You no longer have to take up space on your computer with massive video files. Citizens are tapping into the Cloud to upload content and simply access it when they have the time. An example of Cloud computing is something you probably use everyday: Gmail. All the content is stored on super computers elsewhere, easily accessed when you want it.
There are several products being used, but a popular one seems to be a newcomer called QVIVO. The platform is a pioneer; most Cloud media lockers have shied away from video due to its large file size -- hundreds of times larger than music.
Netflix doesn't store subscribers' downloaded movies and TV shows, and the companies that do store your media on a Cloud locker, such as Google and Amazon, only store music at this time. Only now are startups such as QVIVO taking this next logical step to a providing consumers with a strong management system for video storage.
QVIVO not only automatically imports users' media files but organizes them into slick libraries complete with cover art, trailers and subtitles. All the Internet's popular files and formats are supported in HD. QVIVO is the only cloud of its type that actually manages video media in this manner, on any platform.
iCloud approaches video in a completely different manner from QVIVO when it comes to content management.
"Unlike other Cloud media platforms, we've spent a considerable amount of time perfecting video," said QVIVO co-founder Liam McCallum. "Uploads are lightening fast, and all the heavy lifting of converting files to right formats is done automatically for users in the QVIVO Cloud."
QVIVO is also connected. For example, a family member's profile could be linked to their Facebook accounts so that they can check-in, 'like' and rate their favorite media surrounding the candidates. In addition, with a single button users can tell friends what they're into while watching video of candidates. QVIVO apps are free and will soon be available for the Android and iPhone.
Ben Mitchell, an election watcher from Michigan, concurs with the value of this technology for his needs.
"I can't tell you the amount of time I've spent trying to get home-streaming working smoothly around the house," Mitchell said. "The fact that I can now stream video around the home between any PC with QVIVO installed is a winning feature for me, so I've been trying it with all sorts of subject matter and just recently found it's really great for keeping track of what's going on with the candidates as well. I can stay on top of the reports better."
Looks like having one's 'head in the Clouds' no longer has a negative connotation. While the verdict may be several months away as to the selection of the Commander-in-Chief, many people have already voted positively on the Cloud for managing the political discussion.
(Lauren DeLisa Coleman is a writer specializing in new technologies. Courtesy:
(Posted on Dec 5, 2011)
The debate on the Indian media deepens
By S Viswanathan
Discussion and debate over the key issues relating to media standards and performance — and in particular what is to be done about them — raised by the Press Council of India (PCI) chairman Markandey Katju continue in different places. Unsurprisingly, given his differences with Mr. Katju and also his chairmanship of the News Broadcasting Standards Authority, a ‘self-regulatory' mechanism set up by the News Broadcasters Association, J.S. Verma, former Chief Justice of India, has come out in support of self-regulation by the media — but has added a stern qualifier to this.
Speaking on “Content regulation in India” at the FICCI Media and Entertainment and Business Conclave 2011 in Chennai on December 3, Mr. Verma cautioned the media that failure to exercise self-restraint and regulate their performance would provide “a justifiable reason” for intervention from outside. He claimed that in the last couple of years there have been improvements in the performance of the broadcast media — which he attributed to compliance with the code of ethics framed by the NBA in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, and also the advisories issued by it from time to time. It is unlikely that this assessment will find favour with large sections of public opinion.
Mr. Verma then seemed to argue against his own assessment by deploring “the lack of decency and public interest purpose” in private television news channels repeatedly telecasting visuals of an assault on a prominent public figure (Sharad Pawar), which was surely not an isolated instance. He also spoke out against media trials that seriously interfered with the cause of justice, citing the negative terms that were used in referring to someone in high office who had been named as an accused in a corruption case and “the lack of due diligence” that harmed the reputation of individuals.
Significantly, while he was critical of the “words” used by Mr. Katju, he conceded that the “bottom line” was the fact that a large section of public opinion was in favour of the PCI chairman's views on the Indian media.
What this signals perhaps is a subtle but significant shift of stand by a former Chief Justice of India who, like Mr. Katju, has an unimpeachable reputation for personal integrity.
The pattern of response to the last Readers' Editor column, “Media and key issues raised by Markandey Katju” (November 28, 2011), was instructive. Most of those who responded agreed with the PCI chairman that it was time to strengthen the governance and regulatory system for the Indian news media, broadcast as well as print.
A distinguished retired senior civil servant and former Governor, A. Padmanaban (Chennai), welcomed the fact that both Mr. Katju and Vice President of India Hamid Ansari had raised several questions that pointed to the need for building a healthy and more balanced media. Starting with the proposition that the freedom of the press must be preserved and protected and the standards of newspapers maintained, he commented that newspapers, barring a few, and news channels did not appear to maintain proper standards conducive to the public good and to the country's progress. Newspapers like The Hindu had a Readers Editor column that highlighted public issues and gave scope for readers to respond and reflect but most others did not have anything like this. Asserting that the position of TV channels was worse, he emphasised the need for an effective self-regulatory mechanism.
Mr. Padmanaban recalled a speech by President K.R. Narayanan at the Golden Jubilee Celebration of the Supreme Court of India in January 2000. “It is heartening that under the leadership of the Chief Justice of India Dr. Anand,” Mr. Narayanan had reflected, “the conference of Chief Justices of India has adopted a statement of values of judicial life as a step toward self-reform of the judiciary. I hope that this statement of values by the judiciary would pave the way for accountable judiciary for India for dispensing quick, affordable and incorruptible justice to the people.” In Mr. Padmanaban's opinion, “a suitable statement of values and self-regulatory mechanism to make the media accountable” was “long overdue.”
V.J. Nambiar emailed from Jakarta to say that the question before the people was how the Indian media could regain their independence and objectivity in reporting. The people's response to the ongoing debate started by Mr. Katju, he noted, was on the following lines: Citizens wanted a media that put the people, the nation, and the planet above everything else, not serve the interests of corporate bodies and politicians; they needed a media that would emphasise the need for a holistic approach to development and the well-being of society as a whole, not economic growth merely for statistical purposes: they wanted the media to emphasise economic growth that would re-create a sense of community, trust, well-being, and environmental sustainability, not just GDP growth for the government to trumpet about.
J.P. Reddy (Nalgonda) observed that the debate triggered by Mr. Katju had opened a Pandora's box about media operations in India. A lot of criticism was seen from the public about the attitude, behaviour, and performance of mediapersons. The media appeared to have their own agenda: with selfish and commercial motives, they turned non-issues into major issues. A section of journalists was critical of the issues raised by the Press Council of India chief and a few among them had even asked for his removal. However, most readers and viewers, besides several senior journalists, supported Mr. Katju's stand. Amid arguments for and against self-regulation, the news channels repeatedly telecast the slapping of Union Minister Sharad Pawar by a miscreant. Where then was self-regulation, the reader wondered, commenting that Katju was perfectly right in arguing against self-regulation.
C.P. Chandra Das said in his e-mail that Mr. Katju was justified in pressing the media to allot more time and space for highlighting the burning issues before the common people. His approach to the overall media was highly balanced, this reader commented.
There can be little doubt where those among the reading and viewing public who take the trouble to respond stand on these media and society issues — and the question of governance and regulation. Trust in media self-regulation, it seems, is at a very low point. (Courtesy: The Hindu; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on Nov 21, 2011)
What Happens When Journalism Is Everywhere?
By Mathew Ingram
When the Arab Spring demonstrations were under way in Egypt’s Tahrir Square and reports were streaming out through Twitter and Facebook, it was easy to feel superior to the Egyptian government. How could they not realize that information can no longer be contained by blockades or even Internet blackouts when everyone has the power to publish? Now the authorities in New York City and elsewhere have been getting a dose of that medicine, with the Occupy Wall Street protests being tweeted and live-streamed. As the Associated Press learned this week, to its chagrin, we all have newswires at our disposal now.
One of the things the NYC police have been trying to do to keep a lid on the protests is corral and/or exclude journalists from certain areas—and in many cases even arrest them—and then argue that only “registered” journalists are allowed to move freely (in an Orwellian move, the New York police restricted them to what they called “Free Speech Zones”). As Elisabeth Spiers of the New York Observer noted, the rules that govern who can be considered an official journalist for police purposes are convoluted and in some cases even contradictory, since they require that someone report on events before applying for a permit—events that they should not have been reporting on without a permit.
CAN YOU REGULATE WHO IS A JOURNALIST?
New York’s attempts to regulate the practice of journalism seem as antiquated as attempts in other jurisdictions, such as Quebec, to create an official licensing system, an idea that in some cases is supported by traditional journalistic organizations for fear their livelihood is being threatened by “citizen” reporters or bloggers. But as journalism professor Jay Rosen has argued many times, the practice of journalism gets better when more people are doing it, and nowhere has that become more obvious than in places like Tahrir Square—and now in Zucotti Park and similar locations.
Among those who seem to see this as a threat are traditional news sources such as the Associated Press, which chewed out its reporters this week for posting to Twitter about their colleagues’ arrests in New York. For more click here
(Posted on Oct3, 2011)
‘Icon of Peace’ and the elusive Nobel peace prize
By M K Vidyaranya
Media Hive News Network
The word ‘peace’ is synonymous with Mahatma Gandhi. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the 20th century’s Icon of Peace, is perhaps one of the few persons to preach non-violence after Gautama Buddha.
There may be a number of world leaders who dedicated their lives for the cause of peace and won the Nobel Peace prize, but comparing Mahatma Gandhi with them is just like comparing a candle light with sun. Gandhi, the ‘Father of the Nation’, should have been selected for the Nobel Peace Prize more than half a century back. According to Nobel Foundation, Gandhi was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947 and, finally, a few days before he was murdered in January 1948.
Later, members of the Nobel Committee have publicly regretted the omission of Gandhi’s name . When the Dalai Lama of Tibet, now taking refuge in India, was awarded the Peace Prize in 1989, the chairman of the committee said that this was “in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi”.
How can one deny Nobel Prize to Mahatma and say that Giving Nobel
Prize to Dalai Lama who is a refugee in India, was “in part a tribute
to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi” ?
Those who have read Gandhi’s auto-biography know that Gandhi neve cared for such forms of recognition, and it is in the fitness of thinking that Gandhi, who left this world with very little on him, and almost made a virtue of nakedness, should have been unadorned by any titles, awards, formal designations, and the like. Nobel Peace Prize chronicler Gray suggests a “curious omission” when men like Martin Luther King Jr. (the 1964 laureate who acknowledged Gandhi as his mentor) and 1960 Nobel Prize winner Albert Luthuli (who applied Gandhi’s principles in South Africa) are duly honoured but
Gandhi, “the first to employ non-violence in a political context, was never awarded the Peace Prize”.
In late 1946 and early 1947, during his Noakhali pilgrimage, seventy-seven year old Gandhi toured riot-affected areas in Bihar, and almost single-handedly, through his heroic fasts, brought peace to riot-torn Calcutta and Delhi. Perhaps, after these efforts, Gandhi had finally established his rightful claim to the Nobel Prize. But then again, because of the communal slaughter and the fact that newly independent India and Pakistan were at war over Kashmir at the time of its deliberations (and that by then Gandhi was condoning India’s action of sending its troops to fight the Kashmir invaders), the Committee may have seen the awarding of the Prize to the sub-continent as inappropriate or may even have been worried about the direction Gandhi may move on the as yet unresolved Kashmir issue.
Lipsky, in his account of the history of the Peace Prize, noted that even the relatively narrow range of choice circumscribed by the Nobel Committee was no guarantee that it would not be subjected to the criticism which “is the lot of any one who seeks to make a selection from among a highly qualified field.” The greatest furore, he claims, resulted from the failure to award the Prize to either Tolstoy or Gandhi. In the case of Gandhi he points to a 1934 editorial in the‘Christian Century’ as expressing widespread opinion that “if Gandhi is not the most logical candidate for the Nobel prize, then the popular idea of the function and purpose of that prize needs to be revised.”
Nobody had ever been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously. But,
according to the statutes of the Nobel Foundation in force at that
time, the Nobel Prizes could, under certain circumstances, be awarded
posthumously. Thus it was possible to give Gandhi the prize. However,
Gandhi did not belong to an organisation, he left no property behind
and no will; who should receive the Prize money? The Director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, August Schou, asked another of the Committee’s advisers,lawyer Ole Torleif, to consider the practical consequences if the Committee were to award the Prize posthumously.
Ole suggested a number of possible solutions for general application.
Subsequently, he asked the Swedish prize-awarding institutions for
their opinion. The answers were negative; posthumous awards, they
thought, should not take place unless the laureate died after the
Committee’s decision had been made, says a internet website on Nobel
Prize. As the historian Jens Arup Seip, acting as the committee’s adviser in 1947 and 1948, said,Gandhi had left such an immense ethical mark on the world that he could “only be compared to the founders of religions.”
Before Gandhi, what the Western World called passive resistance was no more than theory. Gandhi not only pioneered this idea, but was extremely successful. Even if he did not gain lasting peace for India,he ensured autonomy for his people without a full scale war with Britain. Gandhi did far more than bring about independence. He revolutionized the political outlook of the world. A campaign of peace achieved more than any one rebel group or army could ever hope to.
Tolstoy and Thoreau are revered world wide for dreaming of passive resistance. Gandhi brought their ideas into existence. This of course was a much more arduous task than simply philosophizing. Therefore, the Mahatma deserves at least as much fame if not more than innovative white European authors. Mohandas Gandhi should be given the Nobel Peace prize without hesitation.
While conferring of Nobel Peace Prize on Bangladeshi economist
Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank he created for leveraging small
loans into major social change for impoverished families,the Norwegian
Nobel Committee said in its citation in Oslo,“Lasting peace cannot be
achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break
out of poverty”. Mahatma Gandhi has made much more contribution than this when he
prodded millions of Indians to take to the spinning wheel (Charka) manufacture Khadi cloth, and introduced other rural oriented cottage industries which gave jobs to crores of rural people in pre-independent India.
By conferring Nobel Peace Prize on Mahatma Gandhi, posthumously, the
Nobel Peace Committee would honour itself of bestowing that award to a
person who was one of the world’s most influential persons of the
If a ‘Person of the Millennium” – a bigger award than the Nobel Prize
is instituted, Mahatma Gandhi would certainly become the first person
to be conferred with that rarest of the rare honour.
(Views expressed are personal. The writer can be contacted at email@example.com)
(Posted on August 29, 2011)
Media pressure may help speed up food security moves
By S Viswanathan
More than two years have passed and there seems to be no progress worth speaking about in making the promised law that will guarantee food for the people. The promise came from the UPA-2 as part of its election manifesto in 2009. It was a time of recovery from a time of economic troubles. The impact of the global economic slowdown came on top of the agrarian crisis and the closure of several industrial undertakings, resulting in the loss of jobs and wage cuts that impoverished thousands of workers.
Economists have warned of yet another economic crisis, which may turn out to be more severe than the 2008 financial crisis and recession. Nearer home, the Reserve Bank of India has warned of higher inflation and a slowdown in economic growth. The food inflation rate is dangerously close to 10 per cent.
Seen in this context, the need to speed up the process of providing food security to hundreds of millions of people, whose ranks are likely to increase in the months to come, stands out. The news media have a role to play in meeting this challenge. Last year, it was a news report in a national daily that drew the attention of the highest court of the land to the fact that thousands of tonnes of wheat and rice were rotting in warehouses. The Supreme Court of India gave a direction to the government that if it could not store the grain, it could give it to the people to eat.
The 2010 Global Hunger Index shows that India holds the 67th rank among 122 developing countries. It has also stated that “serious hunger” is prevalent in all the States. According to the Index, 42 per cent of the world's underweight children live in India. A 2005 study showed 46 per cent children under three years of age were underweight.
These studies bring home the point that the food security law must urgently ensure not just food — but nutritious food. Following several rounds of discussion at various levels for about two years, the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) on Food cleared the Food Security Bill in the second week of July 2011. The Bill seeks to cover 75 per cent of the BPL (Below Poverty Line) population and 50 per cent of the urban population. The Bill thus entitles 68 per cent of the country's population to food security. Each beneficiary under the BPL (now renamed the priority sector) will be entitled to 7 kg of food grains; rice will be provided at Rs. 3 a kg and wheat at Rs. 2 a kg. In the general category, each identified beneficiary will be given 3-4 kg at half the minimum support price the government pays to thefarmers from whom they procure rice and wheat. The government plans to introduce the Bill in the monsoon session of Parliament afterconsulting Chief Ministers. The total subsidy is estimated to be in the region of Rs. 95,000 crore.
The final bill appears to be a heavily doctored version of the draft presented by the National Advisory Council (NAC) headed by Congress President Sonia Gandhi. For instance, although the NAC proposed that 90 per cent of the rural population must be covered for food security, the official draft has reduced the coverage to 75 per cent. The UPA government's refusal to accept the Universal Public Distribution System recommended by several experts in the field has come under sharp criticism from political leaders and social activists. Another major criticism is against the cash transfers system, which will only place the beneficiaries at the mercy of retailers.
The Bill in its present form may not be acceptable to many State governments, which follow much better norms in defining the beneficiaries as well as their entitlements. Even the Chairman of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, C. Rangarajan, who was against the inclusion of APL households among the beneficiaries has apparently changed his stand and said that they could be given legal entitlements, though with a lesser quantity of food grains.
There are some positive elements in the Bill such as the inclusion of the mid-day meal scheme among the beneficiaries and the provision of cooked and nutritional food for pregnant and lactating women. But among those who were actively working for a strong and effective Food Security Act, there is an overwhelming feeling of disappointment and being let down.
The news media, particularly the Indian language press and television channels, can still play a more informative and insightful pro-active role in educating readers and audiences on the vital issues at stake.
Nothing can bring out the social responsibility role of the media than the challenge of covering mass deprivation and building a public agenda to overcome massive social deficits on the food and nutrition fronts. (firstname.lastname@example.org; Courtesy: The Hindu)
(Posted on July 28, 2011)
What Story Is the Murdoch Story?
By Marty Kaplan
Following several days of coaching by lawyers and PR experts, it must have been really rattling for Rupert and James Murdoch when showtime arrived to learn that the parliamentary committee questioning them would not permit opening statements. Framing, after all, is the name of the game. To control the package that the narrative comes in is to control the meaning of the story. No wonder Rupert Murdoch felt compelled to interrupt his son at the top of his first answer to say, "This is the most humble day of my life." That was the frame his team had planned, not some "what did you know, and when did you know it?" storyline that the committee wanted to pursue. It would have spoiled everything to let Watergate frame the day, and not King Lear.
But to my ear, Murdoch's intervention was one odd note off. Why "humble," and not "humbling"? "Humbling" would have had Murdoch acceding to forces beyond his control, would have him admitting to past arrogance, would have conveyed the sting of just deserts. Declaring it "the most humble day of my life" was too on-the-nose, the error of a neophyte screenwriter who tells rather than shows. It came across as a naked attempt to pick the day's sound bite, an image consultant's advice blurted out as a talking point. Interrupting his son in order to say it was an eruption of the very arrogance that he intended to declare extinct.
Whether Murdoch's occasional befuddlement, his inability to recall details, his long pauses and his nodding off were evidence that this 80-year-old was no threat to anyone, or instead a sign that he'd been studying Jessica Tandy's performance in Driving Miss Daisy, has been debated in the days since the hearing. It is hard to square the take-no-prisoners Murdoch, the win-at-all-costs global mogul, with the almost pitiable witness at the table. In theory it might have been effective political theater to give the boss of Fleet Street a taste of his own medicine, but Jonnie Marbles won few cheers for attempting to pie a doddering lion in winter.
Murdoch clearly chafed under the burden of his storyline. He was unable to deliver all the dialogue that "the most humble day" required of him. Even an insincere acceptance of responsibility was beyond him, let alone an admission of blame. "When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down/And ask of thee forgiveness," Lear tells Cordelia at the end; offered the chance to say whether the buck stops with him, the most that Murdoch could muster was, "Nope." He was a victim. It was the people he relied on who had let him down, he said, not the culture he cultivated that had twisted them. He could barely conceal his impatience with members of Parliament who expect an emperor as mighty as Rupert Murdoch to pay more than one percent of his attention to his tabloids, which puts a pretty low ceiling on how humble a day it could actually have been. It was Yom without Kippur, humility without atonement, repentance without guilt, sorrow with nothing to be sorry for.
The media covering this story, of course, have had their own narratives to retail. Citizen Kanehas proven to be an irresistible analogy. A ruthless publisher exploits the public's appetite for sensationalism to inflame profitable jingoism and make himself the most powerful and feared man in the country. Joseph Mankiewicz's script punishes Kane by showing that money can't buy love, and that power is no substitute for the lost innocence of childhood. By contrast, the news coverage of Murdoch's billions, of his marriage to a woman two generations younger than him, and of his global power over politicians and public opinion has been fairly fawning. If the Murdoch story has a Rosebud, it's Millie Dowler, the kidnapped and murdered girl whose voicemail was hacked by his News of the World. Just as Orson Welles' audience needed William Randolph Hearst cut down to size, avenging the predatory grief inflicted on an innocent English family is the engine of the Citizen Murdoch movie's plot.
But from the moment that Carl Bernstein declared that this saga had the makings of another Watergate, the dominant media narrative has been All the President's Men. It's a riveting procedural. The cover-up is proving to be more damaging than the crime. Each day's news brings a fresh harvest of investigative journalism, with the Guardian playing the role that the Washington Post did in the '70s, and the New York Times lapping at its heels. The suspense is how far all this will go -- whether police corruption, and Prime Minister David Cameron's appointing the British equivalent of Roger Ailes as his press secretary, will bring down Cameron's government; whether News Corp -- an American company -- has violated American laws, making its executives susceptible to U.S. prosecution; whether the dereliction of duty by Murdoch's board that has been revealed by this scandal will cause them to turn on him; whether shareholder panic will fracture his family's grip on the company; whether Murdoch, like Nixon, will fall.
My favorite character in this story is Rebekah Brooks, the News of the World editor whom Murdoch made chief executive of News International, and to whom Murdoch pointed, when asked what his top priority was in the hacking scandal, saying, "This one." There is nothing like an English accent to make bulls--t sound like Shakespeare. I had never heard Rebekah Brooks' voice until she testified to the parliamentary committee just after the Murdochs' appearance, and I suspect that it was (no doubt unfairly) her unruly and abundant red hair, as well as the News of the World's foul tone, that made me imagine that she would sound like Eliza Doolittle at the start of Pygmalion. But it was the King's English she spoke at the hearing, making me wonder if I was being too hard on her. What brought me back to reality was a delicious anecdote the New York Times reported. From the moment that the News of the World had come under fire, her response had been to leak damaging stories about her Fleet Street competitors. Everyone does it: that was her defense. It's not quite "I was just following orders," but it's right up there. According to the Times, "At a dinner party, Lady Rothermere, the wife of the billionaire owner of the Daily Mail, overheard Ms. Brooks saying that the Mail was just as culpable as the News of the World. 'We didn't break the law,' Lady Rothermere said.... Ms. Brooks asked who Lady Rothermere thought she was, 'Mother Teresa?'"
The Watergate narrative has a widely-accepted moral, an upbeat interpretation of its meaning: The system works. But as it turns out, the system doesn't work. If it did, the Supreme Court would not today be busily eliminating every law on the books aimed at preventing billionaires and media oligarchs from controlling campaigns and elections; nor would states with more livestock than people, and ideologues with more zeal than reason, be able to take our government hostage; nor would a financial sector whose recklessness destroyed our economy be able to continue relying on no-fault bailouts. The coziness of money and power in Britain that the Murdoch story shows, the corruption of the press and the police that it documents, the persistence of a tiny elite that runs things no matter what party is in charge: this pathology, alas, is not confined to the other side of the pond.
I keep wanting melodramas like this Murdoch episode to shock us into admitting how things really are, instead of calming us with an illusion of accountability and a myth about the resilience of our institutions. I'm not holding out for a story like The Matrix, where Neo learns the truth and joins the rebels. But it'd be heartening if there were a better alternative to that than, "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."
(The writer is Director, Norman Lear Center and Professor at the USC Annenberg School. Courtesy: Huffington Post)
(Posted on July 15, 2011)
Murdoch Media Empire: A Journalistic Travesty
By Karl Grossman
The scandal shaking Rupert Murdoch's media holdings in Britain could be expected of a global media empire intoxicated with power and lacking any ethical base.
What is unfolding--revelations of bribery and massive phone-hacking--could go down as the greatest press scandal in the English-speaking world. Overarching it is a media machine built by Murdoch that is the most dishonest, unprincipled and corrupt of any media empire in the history of the English-speaking world (against stiff competition). And it is gargantuan, the largest media empire ever.
"If Rupert Murdoch were the Angel Gabriel, you still wouldn't want him owning the sun, the moon, and the stars. That's too much real estate for even the pure in heart," commented Bill Moyers in 2007. "But Rupert Murdoch is no saint. He is to propriety what the Marquis de Sade was to chastity."
Murdoch has made a travesty of what journalism is supposed to be about. And he has institutionalised this on a global level. He has taken what was the distinguished paper of record of the English-speaking world, The Times of London, and degraded it--making it not a watchdog of power, what the press should be, but an instrument to aid those in power whom he favors.
He took what had been New York City's paper-of-the-people, the oldest continuously published daily in the U.S., the New York Post, and with his obsession for titillation and sensation, made it a disgrace. With his Fox News Channel, exactly the opposite of the "fair and balanced" outlet it claims to be, he and Republican political operative Roger Ailes have developed what is no more than an unbridled propaganda organ for the GOP.
An ideal of the press in the United States, and Britain and most English-speaking nations, is to be a check on power. There are checks and balances between branches of government, and a free press that's supposed to challenge it all.
After many years of restrictions on who could do publishing--more than a century of various forms of licensing and needing royal permission in Britain--in the modern era anyone can do it. That's if they have the money. Then they can own a press and publish a newspaper or magazine, or own a TV station or network or book-publishing company or movie studio or other media institution.
Murdoch, born to wealth, seeking through the press to project his political views, acquired media institution after institution beginning in his native Australia.
This now includes 150 newspapers in Australia including The Australian, the nation's biggest paper. In Britain, The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun (and until the scandal forced him to close it, he owned The News of the World with its 2.7 million circulation). In the U.S., he owns the New York Post and The Wall Street Journal and the rest of Dow Jones & Company holdings.
He has been seeking to use The Wall Street Journal to take on what has been the U.S. paper of record, The New York Times, and become the new premier American newspaper. He owns the giant book-publishing company, HarperCollins. He owns the 20th Century Fox movie studio. He owns 20th Century Fox Television and the Fox Broadcasting Company. He has been trying in Britain to turn what started as his satellite TV network, Sky Television, into a merged company, BSkyB, a scheme now threatened by the scandal. His cable TV assets in the U.S. include Fox News Channel, Fox Movie Channel and Fox Business Network. Murdoch's media holdings also extend to Asia, western Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.
In 1985 he became a U.S. citizen because the Federal Communications Commission requires U.S. citizenship for holding a majority interest in a U.S. TV station and Murdoch was aiming to center his media empire in the U.S., he became a U.S. citizen. (His News Corp. now owns 27 U.S. TV stations.)
No matter the country in which he has operated, Murdoch has been deeply involved in aggressively manipulating government officials. As Moyers notes, "Politicians become little clay pigeons to be picked off with flattering headlines, generous air time, a book contract of the old-fashioned black jack that never misses: campaign cash...The ambitious can't resist his blandishments, nor his power to get or keep them in office where they can return his favors."
It has been a "cozy relationship that Rupert Murdoch long enjoyed with the British power structure," began an Associated Press article this week.
Investigative reporter Carl Bernstein writes in this week's Newsweek of how under Murdoch "gossip, sensationalism, and manufactured controversy...substitutes" for the "best traditions and values of real reporting and responsible journalism...this journalistic ideal." Meanwhile, "It's hard to think of any other individual who has had a greater impact on American political and media culture in the past half century. But now the empire is shaking, and there's no telling when it will stop."
As Los Angeles Times journalist Tim Rutten wrote this week: "The seeds of Murdoch's British newspapers' abuse of trust and power were sown in a media culture whose essentials--salacious celebrity coverage, gossip, overt partisanship--have infiltrated our own under his influence. The meltdown in London ought to be a wake-up call."
There have been disreputable media barons through the years. William Randolph Hearst's outrageous activities are the subject of what has long been considered America's finest film, Citizen Kane. But the scale on which Rupert Murdoch has operated, his reach through a wide variety of media, his ceaseless crusade for his political agenda, exceeds these moguls of the past. As British journalist William Shawcross wrote in his 1992 biography, Murdoch, Murdoch positioned himself to be "an international Citizen Kane, with influence beyond imagining."
Will the scandal--and especially the criminal investigations and governmental (at long last) inquiries--bring Murdoch and his management circle down and lead to a break-up of his media empire? That would be a great outcome towards the goal of a free and independent media serving the public interest.
(The writer is Professor of journalism, SUNY/College at Old Westbury. Courtesy: Huffington Post)
(Posted on July 5, 2011)
How Iran wages its own global 'war on terror'
By Robert Fisk
Dr Masoud Ali Mohamedi's car is a shocking sight, its twisted Tehran registration plate – 53Y392 – still attached but the bodywork laced with shrapnel holes, punched through with steel, the driver's seat tossed over. Dr Mohamedi was one of Iran's most prestigious nuclear scientists when a motorcycle exploded beside his car as he left home for Tehran University.
Iran inevitably blamed Mossad; the Israelis predictably denied all responsibility. No proof ever emerged that Mohamedi worked on Iran's nuclear projects although he must have known he was a target. Only months earlier, his colleague Dr Majid Shahriari met a similar fate. And there was Mohamedi's shredded Peugeot this week, at the entrance to the Islamic Conference centre, providing a special "welcome" for delegates from 60 nations to the "anti-terrorism" get-together in Tehran.
Above the hall, there floated in the sulphurous air a white balloon with the logo "A World Without Terrorism". Terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. The all-purpose hate-word was being used by the Ahmadinejads and the Muslim leaders at the podium with Bush-like frequency, the pledges to join the "global fight against terror" an echo chamber of Hillary Clinton's tirades.
Of course, this was not quite the same "terror" which the Bushes and the Obamas and the Clintons rage about. Resistance against oppression, a foundation of the Islamic revolution in Iran, was not "terror". State "terror" was. And, I suppose, uncontrolled (Sunni) "terror" of the Osama bin Laden variety. True, there were pictures of the burning World Trade Centre, but Israel inevitably came up trumps in the "terror" stakes, though not as frequently – and here's the rub – as the Mojahedin-e Qalq.
This cultish group waged war against the Shah, achieved considerable support in the immediate post-revolutionary Iran and then, deprived of any participation in its first elections, turned with venom on Ayatollah Ruhollah's Islamic Republic. The Iranian authorities, who, of course, have never – ever – practiced anything as sordid as "terrorism" (a great drawing-in of breath by your correspondent here), attribute 17,159 innocent deaths to their enemies; around 12,000 of these are blamed on the Mojahedin, the rest on assorted communist, leftist and royalist groups.
And 17,159 fatalities come to more than five times the total dead of the World Trade Centre attacks, as the various victims' groups point out to every foreigner who examines the gruesome exhibition at the back of the Islamic Conference Hall. The pulverised faces of the dead, the amputated legs and headless torsos – a speciality picture display first created after the 1979 revolution, and then developed into a fine art during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war – have become a kind of ghastly art form. The lists and photographs resemble a kind of pictorial mortuary, a vast volume, the pages turned each day like a Biblical text or a bloody Book of Kells, to reveal a three-year-old child torn to pieces by a car bomb.
But this room of death has a political message. In their heyday, the Mojahedin would go for the jugular, blowing up the headquarters of the Islamic Republican Party in 1981, killing more than 70 of Khomeini's most faithful adherents, including his justice minister Ayatollah Mohamed Beheshti. The face of Saddam Hussein glowers down on us, shaking hands with the Mojahedin's leader, Masoud Rajavi, after he agreed to fight alongside Iraq against his own countrymen in the 1980-88 war.
Masoud's wife Maryam – for the Mojahedin, they are a kind of divine duo even though ordinary members were instructed to divorce their wives to ensure the "purity" of the organisation – stares from other photographs. We know she is still alive. Masoud Rajavi has not been seen since the Americans and Brits stormed into Iraq in 2003 and unwisely gave the Mojahedin prisoner-of-war status in their largest Iraqi barracks at Camp Ashraf, even though the US government was to put them on their "terrorist list".
A sign of just how much the Iranian government wants to nail the remnants of the Mojahedin comes when officials at the Islamic Conference hand me copies of a 2009 Rand Corporation report on the Mojahedin-e Qalq – the US Rand institution is, after all, hardly a handmaiden of the Islamic Republic – which lists its sins, its cult-like status and the American desire to wash their hands of the whole political mess by handing Ashraf over to the Iraq authorities. This they did a few months ago, Iraqi troops entering the camp and killing 27 inmates in the process. The Iraqis claimed that many of these men and women in fact committed suicide.
"Terrorists" they may be by America's and Iran's own definition – and there's a strange moral alliance – yet within hours of arriving in Tehran last week, I took lunch with a man who assassinated one of the Islamic Republic's principal opponents and chatted on the phone to another whose hit-team killed two innocent French citizens in a failed attempt to blow away another enemy of the revolution. Long ago, I interviewed them about these events. Yet today – after Abu Ghraib, after Haditha, after Guantanamo and the "black" prison of Bagram and rendition and the massacres of Palestinians and Lebanese – the initial reaction to my luncheon companion's murder (for that is what it was) begins to pale.
It's not that the Islamic Republic has any reason to seize the moral high ground. Its vicious execution of Mojahedin prisoners and thousands of other opponents of the regime, men and women, in 1988, hanged like thrushes on mass gallows on the orders of Khomeini, remains a grotesque bloodstain on the whole necrocracy that Iran had become. But Mohamedi's vehicle looks like any other "terrorism" victim's death car, and the 17,159 Iranian men, women and children remain part of the "martyrdom" portfolio of what may soon be a regional nuclear superpower. (Courtesy: The Independent)
Posted on June 20, 2011)
The Price He Paid to Expose Underworld
By S. Viswanathan
“You fought for others' rights. Now who will fight for you?” screamed in grief Beena, the mother of Jyotirmoy Dey, Editor, Crime Investigation, Mid-Day, who was shot dead by a gang of four from the underworld on June 11 in Mumbai (The Hindu, June 13, 2011). Shubha, his journalist wife, said, controlling her grief: “There were no threats. Nothing he spoke of.” J. Dey's sister Leela lamented: “You got us fame and a good status. But we wanted only you.”
These are heart-rending laments from a family that has been shattered. There is perhaps no better way of telling in brief the tale of this much loved and respected journalist with the highest commitment to his chosen profession. His family was supportive of his all-consuming professional mission of exposing to the public anti-social elements, whether they were hired killers or cartels of criminals or terrorists or corrupt Ministers, bureaucrats and police officers, in the larger interest of the society.
A late entrant to journalism, J Dey had in a highly productive period of two decades published scores of well-researched and bold articles about Mumbai's mysterious underworld. In the process, he won the hearts and minds of tens of thousands of readers and was acknowledged and admired by scores of fellow-journalists. Many of his colleagues have recorded the way in which an endearing Jyotirmoy meticulously built up contacts among different sections of people with a “bottom-to-top” approach.
Jyotirmoy's fearless articles on “encounter deaths” received wide acclaim for their accuracy. Many of his recent reports were on the oil mafia, which included a well-researched piece on the pilferage of oil from other States, which allegedly involved a “Rs. 10,000-crore scam.” His most recent assessment was that the underworld activity had started reviving itself after a long gap, in a new form in the context of expanding global trade. His “Zero Dial: The Dangerous World of Informers” was published last year. Top police officials were among his avid readers.
Other intrepid Indian journalists have been killed or maimed in targeted attacks. But those attacks didn't become national news, at least not in any sustained way. But the coverage of the gunning down of Jyotirmoy Dey, and of the implications of the failure to apprehend the murderers for several days after the brutal murder, by the print and broadcast news media has been detailed and impactful. This owes in no small measure to the spontaneous solidarity and determination shown by Mumbai journalists who have been on a non-stop vigil to press for concrete state efforts to bring justice not only to the bereaved family, but also to the journalist fraternity.
The media coverage has led to serious public discussion on issues revolving round the underworld in Mumbai and elsewhere and what has come to be perceived as an unholy nexus comprising mafiosi, politicians, and police. The state of freedom of expression, and in particular the safety of journalists who are determined to expose this nexus, have come into sharp focus. The police delay in tracing the murders is being watched with great concern by the people.
Although Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan was quick to promise that a new law would be put in place to protect the lives of journalists in the light of the growing violence against them, one wonders whether the government is serious about this. The Chief Minister, who reportedly came under pressure from some heavyweight Ministers, subsequently seemed to resile from his original position by noting that there was a broad consensus in the Cabinet on bringing a law to protect journalists but also on a provision to address complaints against the media. As matters stand, according to Mr. Chavan, a committee of Ministers will prepare a new draft law and introduce it in the next session of the State Assembly.
Hearteningly, journalists in Mumbai seem determined not to let this appalling crime, and the issues arising out of it, go the way of previous attacks on journalists and media organisations and the issues they raised. Two organisations of journalists, the Mumbai Press Club and the Marathi Patrakar Parishad, and an advocate have filed public interest litigation (PIL) petitions in the High Court to press their demand for an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the death of J. Dey. (A former journalist has also filed a petition in the court.) The High Court ordered the Maharashtra government to file a status report on the investigation on June 21. The advocate-petitioner, V.P. Patil, expressed the apprehension that if the investigation was not entrusted to the CBI urgently, the matter might end up as a case of “fake investigation,” very much like a fake encounter. (email@example.com; Courtesy: The Hindu)
Posted on June 10, 2011)
The Arab Spring and Pluralism
By Daoud Kuttab
When French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe visited the occupied territories last week, a group of young Palestinians were given a chance to speak to him in Ramallah. After asking Juppe whether he would participate in resisting a possible occupation of France, they turned to the issue of Palestinian politics, especially how negotiations are being conducted.
One young Palestinian even questioned the PLO's present configuration and its role as the reference point for the Palestinians. Without proper and genuine elections of a new Palestine National Council, the young person said, the PLO cannot be allowed to represent the Palestinians.
Many Palestinians are talking publicly about the need to create new political parties different in structure, ideology and working procedures from the present set of nationalist or Islamic factions.
This kind of skepticism about existing political configurations is not unique to Palestine. It can be argued that the absence of genuine independent pluralism in various political groupings has been the major problem facing the Arab world.
With the exception of ruling parties (which are usually a monopoly in their countries) party politics are not well practiced in the Arab world. Executive powers act against independent political parties and their activists, causing a dictatorships of the ruling parties. This makes reform so much more difficult.
A look at the reform movements in Syria and Yemen, for example, reflects the difficulties because of the absence of pluralistic societies represented by genuinely independent political parties. Ironically, in both Syria and Yemen, as well as in many other Arab countries, there are many political parties but they are totally isolated and ineffective. Either they are created by the ruling party (as in Syria) to give the appearance of pluralism or they are kept under tight control by the executive branch through various forms of restriction.
While the above applies to so-called Arab republics, the situation in some reform-minded monarchies is also in need of serious development.
For years, the one-person, one-vote in Jordan has been the single most powerful legislative instrument that encouraged tribalism and in effect curtailed the development of effective political parties. Even the changes proposed by the National Dialogue Committee will do little to enhance the development of strong political parties in Jordan.
For example, out of the 130 proposed parliamentary seats, only 15 will be chosen on a national slate. However, voters will be allowed to pick and choose individual party members from these national lists. Furthermore, the proposed elections law stipulates that no district in the Kingdom will be left without a candidate chosen from the national list. Such restrictions will further reinforce tribal and local candidates on the account of national political parties.
Similar policies and electoral procedures have been enacted to limit the creation of a pluralistic political system. Multiparty rule seems a long way from seeing the light in Arab countries despite the success of the Arab Spring.
While those in power are working tirelessly to ensure that new electoral policies reinforce the status quo, young people in the Arab world who have been credited with creating the revolution seem unable to cause deep changes. Part of the handicap is simply their ignorance of how political procedures can be used to support one group or deny another group the chance of reaching democratic goals. There is a lot of political spin accompanying various political plans that are being marketed as encouraging democratic engagement.
To remedy this problem, some civil society activists have begun to educate themselves and their community in such political procedures and their consequences. One Tunisian NGO has begun a widespread campaign to raise political awareness among Tunisians. Much more is needed.
While the need for a legal environment supporting the creation of pluralistic Arab societies is indispensable, much more work is needed in other areas. Again, in Egypt, many political activists are calling for the delay of elections until the new generation of young political activists can get its act together. They are worried that the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been around for many years and is relatively well organized, can make wide gains in any quick elections.
Young people, on the other hand, who have proved quite capable of organizing hundreds of thousands of people to participate in the reform demonstrations, are told that they should be able to use the same talent and tools to produce the votes needed to bring down any bad candidates or to elect candidates of their choosing.
Finally, electoral politics also requires creativity in designing alliances and networks of citizens who have shared values and goals. Such political horse-trading also might prove very difficult to some of the inexperienced young people who are now the leaders of the Arab revolts.
While the next months will be crucial to understanding the nuances that will make or destroy the young democratic movements in the Arab world, some issues will require wisdom and experience, and not just energy and creativity. Whether the changes that will be enacted will be enough is still unclear, but as long as the new system will have an internal mechanism that allows change as you go, any temporary mistake can be corrected in the future. However, if the reforms that will be carried out will be a one-time deal, then one has a lot to worry about. A pluralistic multiparty system continues to be the best guarantee that the voices of Arab citizens will be respected and that change will be allowed to see the light, whether in a temporary process or in the long term. (Courtesy:huffingtonpost.com)
Posted on May 18, 2011)
Don’t Confuse Wikileaks With Journalism
By Sam Sole
There have been some extravagant claims made about the way in which Wikileaks has changed the face of journalism. They are ill considered.
Leaks are one of the feedstocks of journalism, but they are not its defining characteristic.
Indeed, in South Africa, the undiscriminating way in which lazy journalists have treated leaks – the way in which they may have been used to manipulate the media – has been a legitimate criticism of journalistic standards.
What Wikileaks has done is simply tout for leaks on a global scale, but until Private Bradley Manning came along, its impact on the global information and media landscape had been rather limited.
The leaks that have had major impact – those on Afghanistan, Iraq and the US diplomatic cables – have all had a single source – Manning – and a security breach on that scale is unlikely to be repeated too soon.
That is not to say that setting up a secure means of receiving and publishing confidential material of major public interest is a bad idea. But it’s not journalism and it doesn’t replace journalism.
Even Julian Assange, Wikileaks’ founder and primary theorist, admitted that the website failed to make the impact it expected when it simply posted unmediated source material. People simply did not bother to wade through it to discover the salient and valuable aspects. Assange found that the website had to go through the material and create pointers, guides and highlights to make it more accessible.
When Wikileaks did this, it became not just a postbox but a publisher, with the rights and responsibilities that go with that.
That Assange learned his lesson is clear from the way in which Wikileaks has chosen to deal with the very large volume of material supplied by Manning. He has realised that people do not have the time and interest to go through the raw data, so he has contracted with a number of news organisations to receive the information and process and publish it journalistically.
It is clear that 99% of people’s knowledge of what is in the Wikileaks data will come from these mediated sources, not from the raw data.
Assange has made much of the quaint notion of ‘scientific journalism’, which gives readers access to the source material on which the story is based. This is hardly revolutionary. Many news sites provide scans of key documents, particularly those related to controversial stories.
But documents on their own are not enough. Nowadays, they are quite easy to forge. And often, they prove nothing more than the attitude of their compilers. What the US diplomatic cables show in relation to their reports from around the world is no more than what US diplomats believed to be true or likely. The fact that, by and large, they accord with an informed view of their subjects, is merely testimony to the fact that, despite much wishful thinking about the collapse of the American empire, the US State Department runs a pretty competent ship.
And, of course, many of the reports been met with vigorous denials – which proper journalism would be obliged to penetrate, were the allegations important enough.
Assange’s claim to be practicing a kind of journalism brings with it another responsibility: that of source protection and source management.
The fact that poor Private Manning has been so effectively identified suggests the management of his future got rather lost in Wikileaks’ excitement about what he gave them.
Again, experienced journalists will tell you that sources often have a hazy idea of the risks they are taking and how to minimise them. The journalist will usually have much more experience of this danger than the source and will have to take some responsibility for helping to protect that source.
Often this involves NOT publishing documents, merely alluding to the information contained in them, or publishing only a selection that might have a number of possible sources. Sometimes it means not publishing a story at all.
As we have discovered in South Africa, the unwary publication of leaked material is also highly open to manipulation. Now that Wikileaks has shown itself to be an effective megaphone, it will be a target of such efforts. Indeed, the more paranoid among us have already dismissed the current leaks as a CIA plot to consolidate anti-Iranian sentiment.
There is also something to be said for the traditional journalistic inquiry as to the agenda of a source. Assange is, of course, a secondary source for the material he publishes, but he is the person in primary control of the material.
Like many sources, he has made something of a bid to set the terms of the engagement with media publishers, though not unreasonably so.
But I think we will find, as journalists have found throughout the history of the profession, that allowing a source to control the story is not a good idea.
But there is more to be said about the broad Wikileaks agenda. To begin with, leakage is inherently asymmetrical. Leaks are more likely to come from societies that enjoy a degree of openness and less likely to come from societies that are closed and authoritarian.
In interviews, Assange has skipped around this reality, saying he would publish leaks from China and Russia if he got them. But the point is, he is much less likely to get them, because access to information is tightly controlled in those societies and the penalties for disclosure so much more severe.
So, to the extent that major leaks cause damage, they will more likely damage more open societies and possibly openness itself.
This is not to say that leaks should not published, but that a considered decision needs to be taken about the costs and benefits attached to particular leaks and the way they are handled. And a debate should be had about the issue of targeting proactive attempts to gain access to confidential information.
In that regard, Wikileaks – and especially Assange himself – has betrayed a rather overblown regard of its own grand anti-imperialist aspirations.
In that sense, while the argument that the leaks have not done any real demonstrable harm is correct, the furious reaction from the USA and its allies is not entirely unjustified. They view Assange, correctly, as being engaged in an attack on ‘the system’ itself or, as Assange has termed it, the “conspiracy”.
As Assange put it in his essay, State and Terrorist Conspiracies: “The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive ‘secrecy tax’) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption.”
So leaks are really a way not to promote accountability, or promote reform; they are a way of attacking the “conspiracy” itself and making it more vulnerable. But vulnerable to what?
Assange suggests a ludicrously naïve answer.
He argues: “Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.”
This kind of thinking is worthy of Donald Rumsfeld.
Leaking is NOT easy – specifically not in secretive and unjust systems.
It’s much easier in systems that do, in fact, try to maintain a level of accountability – even if only internally.
What is truly remarkable about the Iraqi war logs, for instance, is the level of reporting and control that the USA has maintained during an unjust and unpopular war.
A more secretive and unjust system would not bother, because the kind of information that made headlines is simply not vital to the blunt conduct of warfare.
What Assange and his uncritical supporters do not consider when they celebrate blows against the US Imperium is what consequences these blows may have and, if we are truly witnessing the collapse of the empire, how we manage that collapse so that what comes next is not much worse.
To believe that the exercise of power can be somehow cleverly cut off from the pursuit of secrecy is to misunderstand the nature of power and social organisation itself.
Al-Qaeda has shown that conspiracy is able to function quite well in a distributed environment, provided it has a common guiding principle. So can organised crime…
The choice may not be between the empire and its corporate accomplices versus some kind of utopian ‘global village’ democracy, but between managing a messy and imperfect order versus inviting in the forces of chaos.
(This story was first published in the March 2011 issue of The Media magazine.)
Posted on April 30, 2011)
Out of Syria's darkness come tales of terror
By Robert Fisk
In Damascus, the posters – in their tens of thousands around the streets – read: "Anxious or calm, you must obey the law." But pictures of President Bashar al-Assad and his father Hafez have been taken down, by the security police no less, in case they inflame Syrians.
There are thieves with steel-tipped rubber coshes on the Damascus airport road at night, and in the terminal the cops ask arriving passengers to declare iPods and laptops. In the village of Hala outside Deraa, Muslim inhabitants told their Christian neighbours to join the demonstrations against the regime – or leave.
Out of the darkness of Syria come such tales.
And they are true. Syrians arriving in Lebanon are bringing the most specific details of what is going on inside their country, of Fifth Brigade soldiers fighting the armed units of Maher Assad's Fourth Brigade outside Deraa, of random killings around Damascus by the ever-growing armed bands of Shabiha ("the mafia") from the Alawite mountains, of massive stocking up of food. One woman has just left her mother in the capital with 10 kilos of pasta, 10 kilos of rice, five kilos of sugar, box after box of drinking water.
In Deraa – surrounded, without electricity or water or supplies – the price of bread has risen 500 per cent and men are smuggling food into the city over the fields at night.
But it is the killings which terrify the people. Are they committed by the Shabiha from the port city of Lattakia – created by the Assad family in the 70s to control smuggling and protection rackets – or by the secret police to sow a fear that might break the uprising against Assad? Or by the murderers who thrive amid anarchy and lawlessness? Three men carrying sacks of vegetables outside Damascus at night were confronted by armed men last week. They refused to stop. So they were executed.
The Syrian government is appealing to the minorities – to the Christians and the Kurds – to stay loyal to the authorities; minorities have always been safe in Syria, and many have stayed away from protests against the regime. But in the village of Hala, Christian shops are shut as their owners contemplate what are clearly sectarian demands to join in the uprising against Assad. In an attempt to rid Syria of "foreign" influence, the ministry of education has ordered a number of schools to end all English teaching – even banning the names of schools in French and English from school uniforms. Even the kindergarten where the President's two young children are educated has been subject to the prohibitions.
There are bright lights, of course, not least among the brave men and women who are using the internet and Facebook to keep open the flow of information from Syria. The Independent can reveal that a system of committees has been set up across the cities of Syria, usually comprising only 10 or 12 friends who have known and trusted each other for years. Each of them enlists 10 of their own friends – and they persuade 10 more each – to furnish information and pictures. Many were put in touch with each other via the cyber kings of Beirut – many of them also Syrian – and thus "circles of trust" have spread at the cost of the secret police snooping that has been part of Syrian life for four decades.
Thus there now exist – in Damascus alone – "The Co-ordination of Douma", "The Co-ordination of al-Maydan" (in the centre of the city), "The Co-ordination of Daraya", "The Co-ordination of Harasta" and others. Some of them are trying to penetrate the mukhabarat secret police, to get the brutal cops to work for them on the grounds that – come the end of the Assad regime, if that end ever comes – they will be spared the trials and revenge punishments to come. One Beirut blogger says that several of the cops have already declared themselves for the uprising – but are unwilling to trust them in case it is a trap to discover the identity of those behind the committees.
Yet Syrians in Lebanon say that the Syrian security police – often appointed through graft rather than any technical or detective abilities – simply do not understand the technology that is being used against them. One Syrian security official sent three Facebook posts. The first said: "God, Syria and Bashar al-Assad or nothing." The second read: "It's the time to declare war for Allah." The third announced: "The legacy of God on earth is an Islamic Republic."
"The fool was obviously supporting Bashar – but then wanted to frighten people by suggesting Islamists would take over a post-Assad Syria," one of the Syrian bloggers in Beirut says. "But he didn't realise that we could tell at once that they all came from the same Facebook page!" The same man in Beirut found himself under interrogation by Syrian state security police several weeks ago. "He was a senior officer – but he didn't even know what Google was." Many of the Syrians sending information out of their country are anxious that exaggerations and rumours will damage the credibility of their reports. For this reason, they are trying to avoid dispatches which cannot be verified; that two Iranian snipers, for example, have arrived to help the security police; that one man was actually interrogated by two Iranians – a friend suspects that the cops were from the north and spoke in the Kurdish language, which the detainee misidentified as Iranian.
More serious – and true – is the report that Khaled Sid Mohand, an Algerian journalist working for France Culture and Le Monde, was arrested in Damascus on 9 April and has disappeared into a security prison. A released detainee says that he saw Mohand in Security Section 255 in Baghdad Street in the capital some days later. But this story may not be correct. Diplomats have been unable to see the missing journalist.
There are also reports that two young European women working for a Western embassy were arrested and gagged when they left a party at 3am several days ago, and only released several hours later after interrogation. "It means that there is no longer any immunity for foreigners," a Syrian citizen said yesterday. "We heard that a North American had also been taken from his home and questioned by armed men."
Especially intriguing – because there are many apparent witnesses of this episode – is a report that Syrian Fourth Brigade troops in Deraa dumped dozens of weapons in the main square of the city in front of the Omari mosque, telling civilians that they could take them to defend themselves. Suspecting that they were supposed to carry them in demonstrations and then be shot as "terrorists", the people took the weapons to the nearest military base and gave them back to the soldiers.
The rumours of army defections continue, however, including splits in the Fifth Brigade at Deraa, whose commander's name can now be confirmed as General Mohamed Saleh al-Rifai. According to Syrians arriving in Lebanon, the highways are used by hundreds of packed military trucks although the streets of most cities – including Damascus – are virtually empty at night. Shops are closing early, gunfire is often heard, checkpoints at night are often manned by armed men in civilian clothes. Darkness indeed.
Posted on April 20, 2011)
The Arab Awakening
By Robert Fisk
First, to reports from the revolutionary front lines in Syria, in the same imperfect, but brave, English in which they were written less than 24 hours ago... "Yesterday(April 14) morning I went to the square to demonstrate, I arranged it with guys on Facebook, I don't know them, but we share the same ambition of freedom, that night I was awake until 6am watching the news, it was horrible what's happening in Syria, the security forces slaughter people as if aniamals !!!...
"I wore my clothes and went to (the) sq. there was about 150 security service in civilian cloths in street calling for Assad's life [ie praising Assad] and one taxi car the driver was driving against the cars to stop them moving in street, I am not sure if he was revolutionizing or just empty the street for security service!, it was crazy, I was angry that they are calling for the dictator's life and want keep him running Syria like he doing.
"They were looking around at every man in street if he doesn't call for president's life they beat him and arrest him, of course I didn't call for his life and I took my phone and started taking video to show the world who's calling for this dictator, his gang! 2 guys were running infront of the demonstration – they are revoluter but they had to run with this gang until freedom seekers arrive from ommayad mosque, those 2 guys told me not to take video and hide my phone.
"I hid it in my pocket but suddenly about 40 men from secutiry came to me, they started shoulting 'he is taking video, he is taking video!!' 5 guys hold me (like when they arrest someone) and started beating me...another 7 attacked me, they took my phone, my ID and my money and other 7 guys attack me, they said why are you taking video bastard??
"'We will kill you all enemies of assad, Syria belongs to assad not to you bastard people!!' Immediately I said: 'I am with you guys!! We all follow president assad even to death!' they said then why are you taking video?' "I said 'because I am happy there is demonstration calling for the greatest leader assad...'"
"There was one man (looks like officer) caught me and slapped me and he was the last one in this fake demonstration which calls for assad life..."
The second report:
"Assad is lying I assure you! There is more than 6000 political prisoner in Syria so what does let 260 free mean?!!...they said the emergency law to be lifted BUT they will create new law against terrorism, which will be worse than emergency law we are sure!
"They said they will fight the corruption, do you think that Assad will arrest his cousin Rami Makhlouf, his brother Maher Assad, his uncle zo al himma shaleesh, will Assad arrest all his family, take their money and give it back to us??...the gang in Lattakia are Alawiyeen gang belong to Assad family we all know them in Syria they are called shapeeha, the people in Lattakia were demonstrating against the government and afterwards the secret service, police and army brought these shapeeha to scare people and kill them.
"In Syria we are not demonstrating for food or money, we want to change the whole system and hang all Assad family..." This is raw stuff, the voice of popular – and young – fury that will not be quenched by torture rooms and the cosh. Both Syrian men escaped arrest – though one has now had to flee his country – but their accounts tell a grindingly familiar story from Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya... The fake pro-government demonstration, the promiscuous use of secret police violence, the popular knowledge of corruption and the production of plain-clothes regime thugs – "baltagi" in Cairo, where Mubarak used them, which literally means "thugs" – and the sectarianisation of suppression (the "Alawiyeen" in Lattakia are Alawi (Shia) gangs from the sect to which the Assad family belongs.
And now the regime in Damascus is claiming that Lebanon is one of the outside powers sewing discord in the "Um al-Arabia Wahida", the mother of the Arab nation, specifically the Lebanese March 14 Alliance of the outgoing Lebanese Sunni prime minister Saad Hariri, whose principal opponents are the Lebanese Shia Muslim Hezbollah party and their allies.
See how easy it is to create a "sectarian" war in Syria and then infect your neighbour with the virus? These are not idle words. Revolutions don't start with dramatic incidents – the self-immolation of an unemployed Tunisian, the destruction of a Coptic church – however dramatic these tragedies may be.
In reality, the "Arab awakening" began not in Tunisia this year, but in Lebanon in 2005 when, appalled by the assassination of ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri (Saad's father), hundreds of thousands of Lebanese of all faiths gathered in central Beirut to demand the withdrawal of Syria's 20,000 soldiers in the country.
Bachar made a pitiful speech in Damascus, abusing the demonstrators, suggesting that live television cameras were using "zooms" to exaggerate the number of the crowds.
But the UN passed a resolution – a no-soldier zone, rather than a no-fly zone, I suppose – which forced the Syrian military to leave.
This was the first "ousting" of a dictator, albeit from someone else's country, by the popular Arab "masses" which had hitherto been an institution in the hands of the dictators.
Yet I recall at the time that none of us – including myself, who had lived in Lebanon for decades – realised how deeply the Syrian claws had dug into the red soil of Lebanon over the previous 29 years. Syria's Lebanese stooges remained in place. Their "mukhabarat" security police simply re-emerged in transmogrified form.
Their political murders continued at whirlwind speed. I spent days chasing from the scene of one car bomb or hit-job to another. This is what terrifies the demonstrators of all the nations struggling to throw off their brutal – and often American-supported – masters. Field Marshal Tantawi, the head of the Egyptian army, for example, is now running Egypt. Yet he is not only a close friend of America but a childhood and lifelong friend of Mubarak, who was allowed to whinge the usual ex-dictator's self-congratulatory excuses on al-Arabia television ("my reputation, my integrity and my military and political record") prior to his own questioning – and inevitable emergency entry into hospital. When the latest Tahrir Square crowds also called for Tantawi's resignation, the field marshal's mask slipped. He sent in his troops to "cleanse" the square.
When the Iranians, in their millions, demonstrated against Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's dodgy presidential election results in June of 2009, many members of the "green" movement in Tehran asked me about the 2005 Lebanese revolution against Syria – dubbed the "Cedar Revolution" by the US State Department, a cliché that never really caught on among the Lebanese themselves – and while there was no direct political connection, there was undoubtedly an inspirational junction; two sets of tracks of the same gauge which reinforced the idea that the youth of Tehran and Beirut belonged to the same transport system of humanity and freedom.
Of course, there were many in the Middle East Muslim world who hoped the security forces could be won over to their side. In Cairo, individual soldiers did join the revolution – on a large scale, in Yemen – but wolves do not turn into pussycats. And – despite one obvious historical example in the region – it is unrealistic to expect anyone to save the world by walking towards their own crucifixion. Police chiefs, however personally devout, will do as they are told – even when their orders involve mass murder.
Take, for example, the Saudis. The Independent is in possession of an extraordinary – and outrageous – order from Prince Nayef Biu Abdul al-Saud, the Saudi minister of interior, issued on 11 March, prior to the much-feared "Hunayn Revolution" organised by Shia and Sunni intellectuals last month. Hunayn was the name of a battle which the Prophet Mohamed won by a virtual miracle against far more powerful armies.
"To all the honourable heads of police in the areas of Riyadh, Mecca and Medina, al-Bahr, Qassim, the northern borders, Tabouq, Sharqiya, Qaseer, Najwan, Jezaan and the head of the emergency Special Forces," Nayef begins – note how responsibility is neatly spread across the entire network of the "mukhabarat" – "previous to our conversations regarding the so-called 'Hunayn Revolution' – if indeed it exists – with its single goal of threatening our national security: this group of stray individuals spreads evil throughout the land. Do not show them mercy. Strike them with iron fists. It is permitted for all officers and personnel to use live rounds. This is your land and this is your religion. If they want to change that or replace it, you must respond. We give thanks to you – and good luck!"
This outrageous order – which, mercifully, did not have to be obeyed – was well-known to the Americans, who have so bitterly condemned the Assad regime's brutality in Syria but who, in this case of course, uttered not a bleat.
Shia, it seems, are targetable in these revolutions – whether they be of the Saudi, the Bahraini, the Syrian or, indeed, the Lebanese variety.
Prince Nayef's instruction is worthy of investigation by the International Criminal Court at the Hague – he orders his police chiefs to shoot down unarmed demonstrators – but even if his men had performed their bloody duties (and they have, in the past), he is safe. Saudi Arabia is one kingdom where we in the West will no more tolerate Arab "awakenings" than will the local autocrats. No wonder every Saudi carries an identity card which refers to him not as a citizen but as "al-tabieya" which means, in effect, "serf".
The odd thing about all these revolutions, of course, is that the dictators – be they the Ben Alis, the Mubaraks, the Salehs, the Assads, even the al-Sauds – spend more time spying on foreigners and amassing documentation of their people's transgressions than in trying to understand what their own indigenous populations actually want. Eric Rouleau, a Le Monde correspondent in Iran, who subsequently became French ambassador to Tunisia, has recounted how "General" Ben Ali, Tunisian minister of interior between 1985 and 1986, wished to acquire the very latest French communications equipment from Paris. The "pitiless 'superflic'", as Rouleau cruelly called him, trained by American intelligence in the US, had files on "everyone".
At one meeting with Rouleau, Ben Ali outlined the greatest threats to the Tunisian regime: social "unrest", tensions with a certain Colonel Gaddafi of Libya (here, one must admit a certain sympathy for Ben Ali) and – most serious of all – "the Islamist threat", whatever that may be. Rouleau remembered how "in a theatrical gesture, he (Ben Ali) pushed the button of a machine, which in an instant unrolled an unending list of names whom he said were under permanent surveillance. An information engineer, obsessed with technology, Mr Ben Ali did not cease to use this science of information gathering". Rouleau, who was sending back to Paris less than flattering accounts of the regime and its interior minister, was puzzled that his relations with Ben Ali declined steadily – until the day he ended his mission. "On the day of my final departure from Tunisia, when I went to pay my courtesy visit to him," Rouleau was to recall, "he asked me, in a state of white-hot anger, why I regarded him as a CIA agent possessed of unstoppable ambition. And he started quoting from his files, almost word for word, my own confidential telegrams to the Quai d'Orsay... The ambassador had not escaped from the intricate workings of his spy centre."
Ben Ali could penetrate the French embassy, but as president he simply failed to learn about his own people. There is an unforgettable photograph of the soon-to-be-deposed president as he rather tardily visits the young suicider-by-fire, Mohamed Bouazizi, as he lies dying in his hospital bed.
Ben Ali is doing his best to look concerned. The boy clearly unable to communicate. But the doctors and paramedics are watching the president rather than their patient and doing so with a tired impatience, which the president obviously does not comprehend. From small kindlings do great fires grow.
Take the first uprising against Bashar al-Assad in Deraa – home to the old steam train station, by the way, in which TE Lawrence was supposedly assaulted by an Ottoman officer in the First World War – where no amount of sophisticated intelligence could have forewarned the regime of what was to come. A place of historical rebellion, some youths had painted anti-Assad graffiti on a wall. The Syrian security police followed their normal practice of dragging the young men to the cop shop, beating and torturing them. But then their mothers arrived to demand their release. They were verbally abused by the police.
Then – much more seriously – a group of tribal elders went to see the Deraa governor to demand an explanation for the behaviour of the police.
Each placed his turban on the governor's desk, a traditional gesture of negotiation; they would only replace their turbans when the matter had been resolved. But the governor, a crusty old Baathist and regime-loyalist, took the turban of the most prestigious sheikh, threw it on the floor of his office and stamped on it.
The people of Deraa came out in their thousands to protest; the shooting started; Bashar hastily dismissed his governor and replaced him. Too late. The fire had been lit. In Tunisia, an unemployed young man who set himself alight. In Syria, a turban.
These episodes, of course, are not without their foundation of history. Just as the Hauran district, in which Deraa is situated, has always been a place of rebellion, Egypt was always the land of Gamel Abdul Nasser.
And oddly – although Nasser was the originator of the military dictatorships which were to cripple Egypt – his name was spoken of with respect by thousands of the demonstrators in Tahrir Square who successfully demanded Mubarak's overthrow.
This was not because they forgot his legacy but because, after decades of monarchy and British colonial rule, they regarded Nasser as the first leader who gave Egypt self-respect.
Nasser's daughter Hoda was undoubtedly right in February, when she said that "the parallel with the people's power, the spontaneous uprising that brought my father to power, especially heartens me... People thought that the youth of today are apolitical, but they proved their detractors wrong.
"My father would have been ecstatic. He would have been proud of the people who demonstrated in Tahrir Square, chanting slogans urging radical political reform and social change. Nasser remains at the core of revolutionary mythology in Egypt and the Arab world at large. That is why you saw the portraits of Nasser hoisted high in Tahrir Square." Against all this, the Libyan "revolution" is beginning to stale; its blood congealing along with the words once used about it.
The tribes we once acknowledged as a democratic opposition – namely the Senussis of the old Idriss family – are now called "rebels" by our press and television colleagues, the uprising is now a "civil war", an unpleasant way of reminding ourselves why we must not put "boots on the ground".
Our Tory masters – especially our odious defence minister of the time – invented the Bosnian "civil war" to delay our intervention in the Balkan ethnic cleansing.
Most Arab nations would be happy to see the end of Gaddafi, but he sits uneasily amid the pantheon of "revolution". Wasn't he supposed to be the original revolutionary against the corruption of King Idriss and later scourge of the West and Zionism?
Oddly, there are parallels with Syria which we – and Assad – may not like. For it is Syria's refusal to bend to the United States' "peace process", its unwavering support for the Hezbollah "resistance" in Lebanon which broke the Israeli army in 2006, which allows the Assad family – caliphs, I suppose, by definition – to claim that their independence and their refusal to bow down to US-Israeli demands constitute a long-running revolution in Syria of infinitely more importance than the street fighting gangs of Deraa, Lattakia, Banias and Douma.
Hamas maintains its head political office in Damascus. Syria remains the lung through which Iran can breathe in the Middle East; through which Iran's own president can enter Lebanon and proclaim – to the horror of the Lebanese whom Bachar Assad now blames for his own country's violence – that southern Lebanon is now Iran's front line against Israel.
And now let's go a little further. On 31 March, the Israelis – who have steadfastly opposed the overthrow of the Middle East's dictators – published a series of photo-reconnaissance pictures of southern Lebanon, supposedly marking the exact locations of 550 Hezbollah bunkers, 300 "monitoring sites" and 100 weapons storage facilities run by Syria's Lebanese Shia militia allies in the country. They had been built, the Israelis claimed, next to hospitals, schools and public utilities. The documentation was fake. Visits to locations marked on the map uncovered no such bunkers. Indeed, the real Hezbollah bunkers known to the Lebanese are not marked on the map. The Hezbollah quickly understood the meaning.
"They are setting us up for the next war," a veteran Hezbollah ruffian from the village of Jibchit told me. If Israel had really discovered our positions, the last thing they would have done is inform us they knew the locations – because we'd immediately move them!"
But last week, the Turkish air force forced down an Iranian transport aircraft supposedly flying over Diyarbakir en route to the northern Syrian city of Aleppo with "auto spare parts". On board the Ilyushin-76, the Turks found 60 Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles, 14 BKC machine guns, 8,000 rounds of ammunition, 560 60-mm mortar shells and 1,288 120-mm mortar shells. Forget Facebook. These were not part of any Arab "reawakening" or "uprising", but further supplies for the Hezbollah to use in their next conflict with Israel. All of which raises a question. Is there a better way of taking your people's minds off revolution than a new war against an enemy which has resolutely opposed the democratisation of the Arab world? (Courtesy: http://www.independent.co.uk)
(Posted on April 06, 2011)
Tantrums of the Nature
By Syed Sabahuddin
Media Hive News Network
The recent Tsunami in Japan has shaken not just the workohlic nation, but its ripples were also felt in other adjoining countries were the Tsunami warning was sounded. With the nightmarish scenario of a nuclear meltdown staring in the face, the whole world sat with their fingers crossed waiting as nature showed its wild guile.
Below are a few lines attributed to such tantrums of nature:
When I rise from the ocean the seas become hysteric,
I am the force of the moon, I am the tide which changes time,
I wreck havoc, I become the tormentor,
I have the might and I cherish it with delight,
I ruin houses and engulf masses,
I am the nature and I show you a theatre,
I have an obsession and I have a succession (tsunami),
I have a voice with deafening noise,
I have the tears which everyone fears.
(The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on April 03, 2011)
Assad: The Arab Spring stops here
While Syria's protesters demand freedom, President has stark message for his people
By Robert Fisk
He was not a humble President. He did not give way. There were hints, of course – an end to emergency legislation, "reforms" – but when he spoke yesterday (March 30), trying to calm a crisis that has seen more than 60 people killed in a fortnight and threatens his very office, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria did not give the impression of a man on the run.
Was it Libya that gave him the "oomph" to go on, the encouragement to stand up and say that "reform is not a seasonable issue" – an accurate translation of his belief that Syria does not have to conform to the Middle East revolution? Either way, the Baath party is going to fight on. Assad remains the President of Syria. No change.
Well, of course, we shall see. Muammar Gaddafi of Libya is not a wise example to follow in time of need. Friday is another day, the traditional day of memorial and trial and questioning. If he can get through tomorrow without further killing in Deraa and Latakia, Assad may make it. He is young, his wife – wrongly derided by those who hate Syria – is a great asset to him, and his rule has banished the worst excesses of his father, Hafez. But – and it is a big "but" – torture does continue, the iniquities of the mukhabarat security services continue, freedom in Syria is as hard to find as an oasis in the desert, and the Syrian parliament remains, in the words of Al Jazeera's analyst Marwan Beshara, "a circus of support".
Yet there are more "buts" in Syria. It is a hard, tough country, without the avenues to free speech which were available in Egypt, to be sure, but a centre of Arab nationalism. Not for nothing do Syrians shout Um al Arabiya Wahida ("mother of one Arab nation"). Not for nothing do Syrians remember that they and they alone opposed the Sykes-Picot agreement that divided the region between France and Britain in 1916 with force of arms, their horse-riding army mowed down by French tanks at the battle of Maysaloon, their king given the monarchy of Iraq as a consolation prize by Winston Churchill.
This does not justify Bashar's autocratic rule. But it says something about it. Syrians do not obey the rules. Syrians do not follow the other Arabs like sheep. They fought harder than any others for a Palestinian-Israeli peace – which Assad described as "stagnant" yesterday, the unrest a "test for the nation" rather than a test for the President. In truth, the Hauran region – Deraa is in the Hauran, the scene of a fearsome series of government killings last week – has always been rebellious, even under French rule. But can Bashar al-Assad hold his country together?
He has managed, with a minority Alawite power (for which read Shia), to bring the Sunni Muslim majority of Syria into the economic establishment. Indeed, the Sunnis are the economy of Syria, a powerful elite who have no interest in unrest, disunity or foreign plots. It was odd that Assad talked about foreign "conspiracies" yesterday. It's an old adage that does him no credit; foreign "conspiracies" have always been discovered when dictators feel unsafe. Yet Damascus has been attacked by Israeli agents and Saddamist agents and Turkish right-wing agents over the past 40 years. It has a resonance, this talk of the moamarer – the "plot" – which makes Syrians into patriots rather than freedom fighters.
Of course, there is a lot wrong with Syria – and Bashar al-Assad may have pushed his luck yesterday, failing to announce the "reforms" and freedoms that Syrians expected of him. Instead of "God, Syria and Bashar", it was "God, Syria and my People" – but was that enough? He would not make reforms under pressure – "reforms", by the way, means democracy – but he surely is under pressure when government snipers have shot down the innocent in the streets of Syria's cities. He may not be in a mood for concessions. But is Syria not in need of these?
Its economy floats near bankruptcy – it was judged by the Swedish diplomatic corps to be unaffected by the West's economic catastrophe on the grounds that it did not really exist – and its Kurdish minority in the north are in a state of semi-revolt. But Assad has two friends who give him power: the Hizbollah in Lebanon and the Islamic Republic of Iran. If the Israelis need peace in Lebanon, they need Assad, and if Assad wants to maintain his regional power, he needs Iran. Syria is the Arab gate through which Iran can walk. Iran is the Muslim gate through which Assad – and remember, he is an Alawite and therefore a Shia – can walk.
It is all too easy for Madame Clinton to berate Syria for killing its own people – a phrase she does not, of course, use for Bahrain – but the Americans need Syria to extract their last troops from Iraq. It is also easy to turn Syria's problems into sectarianism. Nikolaos Van Dam, a brilliant Dutch diplomat, wrote a fine book emphasising that the struggle for power in Syria lay with the Alawites and that this minority effectively governed the country.
Yet Syria has always remained a unitary state, and it has complied with the West's demands for security co-operation – until the Americans came across the border into Syria and shot up a Syrian security agent's house. So compliant has it been that the US actually sent a poor Canadian to Damascus – "renditioned", in the popular phrase – to be atrociously tortured and kept in a sewer until the Americans realised he was innocent and sheepishly allowed him to return to Toronto.
These, needless, to say, are not issues which are going to be discussed on the television news shows or by the US Secretary of State – who is so concerned about the innocents of Libya that her air force is bombing Gaddafi but is so little concerned about the innocents of Syria that her air force will definitely not be bombing Syria.
Syria needs to be renewed. It does need an end to emergency laws, a free media and a fair judiciary and the release of political prisoners and – herewith let it be said – an end to meddling in Lebanon. That figure of 60 dead, a Human Rights Watch estimate, may in fact be much higher. Tomorrow, President Bashar al-Assad will supposedly tell us his future for Syria. It better be good.
(Courtesy: The Independent)
(Posted on March 28, 2011)
Is ‘Spirituality’ being marketed?
By Santhi Krishnan
Media Hive News Network
The World is in the iron grip of a kind of confusion which is almost beyond conviction. An indefinable feeling of uncertainty and insecurity prevails and all on a sudden a group of people are after soul searching or renovating the once abandoned spiritual sparks.
The fact to be pondered is not how far they are successful, but are they in the right path?
What we really need is an effective medium between the realities of life and the relishes of spirituality. We don’t want more Gods or religions. God is a phenomenal power which cannot be defined and religion just the ‘way or mode’ through which we choose to dedicate ourselves to this power. Godliness is something which resides within us, to be probed and perpetuated and not to be searched outside. Spiritual leaders are those who upgrade themselves from the rest of the world by their unending ‘Tapas’ and the ‘Tejas’ gained through it. They are like mediators or a means to the entity but not the entity itself.
Yoga, meditation and the resultant mental equilibrium is of immense impact and there is no room for argument. But is it healthy to market it, as if it is a common commodity to be propagated under the brand and mode you prefer and pertain to? We can visaulise an unhealthy competition between the existing esteemed religious and spiritual leaders and their followers. Instead of sowing the seeds of peace and harmony it harvests only baseless debates and discords.
Life itself with its varied experiences is a source of enlightenment, but if you have someone to wipe off the clouds of confusions due to controversies, things will be simplified. It is needless to mention about the vivacity that our age old religious and philosophical books offer and a single life is not enough to go into the depth and capture the essence with its abundance. How many of us are eager to spend quality time for reading and consuming the concepts and the solutions prescribed in the priceless pages of those writings, to cope with the controversies of life?
The world is under stress due to scarcity of time and impatience. Present trend in any field is fastness and feasibility. Full meals are being replaced by fast foods, as machines outshine human resources. But you can cross a lake in one day but not the ocean; so are the conceptions and the consumption of spirituality. We approach the spiritual teachers to extract the essences from the already written manuscripts and to educate us in an affluent manner. Exploitation of situations is an allowed trick or tactics in business but is it applicable to matters that relate to one’s heart and soul? Men are intensely indulged in self search and need someone to guide them. But now the providers outnumber the seekers. Each group is mobilizing people to gather under their leaders and even scorn and frown at others. It presents rather a warlike picture, Of course people get options to choose, but too much of anything will cause only congestion and not compromise.
Gurus are essential indeed; like the present day tuitions for students in addition to the coaching provided in schools. What is preached and how it is practiced is more important than who teaches it. In many occasions I have seen people engaged in heated debates on the accomplishments of their spiritual mentors and the modes they propagate. They should invigorant you and install you with mental strength but not induce you to get seduced and subdued.
Religious, political or any other beliefs and notions are not to be imposed on others, it should be admired, adopted and adhered by natural interest rather than forced implementation.
Religion is good as far as it does not make you a fanatic; patriotism is pious so long you are not an extremist; spirituality remains serene until it is kept free of materialism. So, is this trend of baseless and biased approach to spirituality appreciating? How far it can meet with our mental quest for peace and concord? Days bygone and days yet to come will definitely explain where we went wrong and how to rectify and redeem.
(The views expressed are personal. The writer can be contacted at email@example.com)
(Posted on March 26, 2011)
Ottoman adventures hold lessons for our leaders
By Robert Fisk
Amid the fury of the Arab awakening – not to mention our own deepening crisis over Libya – old Constantinople is a tonic, a reminder amid minarets and water, palaces and museums and bookshops and an ancient parliament and a thousand fish restaurants that this really was the only united capital the Arabs ever had.
The sultans used to call Beirut the jewel in the crown of the Ottomans, but two days walking the streets of modern Istanbul – its tens of thousands thronging past the old trams on Independence Street – made me understand for the first time just how tiny a place Lebanon was on the great Ottoman map. Nor can you escape the Ottomans.
There in Taksim are the great old embassies of the British and Americans, below them the great banks of the powers which benefited from the "capitulations", the ancient Hotel Grande Bretagne with its crazy chandeliers, brief home to both Ataturk and Hemingway. Suddenly, I am brought up sharply by a photograph from 1917 of two Ottoman Turkish soldiers. They stand in the desert – Palestine? Syria? Arabia? – in literal rags, sack-like hats above haunted faces, their trousers hanging in strips over their legs. Oddly, there appears to be an early propeller aircraft behind them. Were these the teenagers Lawrence fought against in the Arab revolt, the precursor to the typhoon now engulfing the Middle East?
And in a bookshop by the tram stop on Istiklal, I buy Andrew Mango's life of Ataturk, more than a decade old but with the freshness of original research on the founder of modern Turkey. Yes, there are the usual weasel words about Armenian massacres ("hotly disputed", of course) but also an extraordinary account of Mustafa Kemal's early military career, sneaking through Alexandria to fight for the anti-Italian Arab rebels of – well, here we go – Libya. And there are the familiar names. Tobruk. Benghazi. Zawiya.
Enver Pasha, a far darker figure in Turkish history – just ask the Armenians – was Ottoman commander in Cyrenaica, besieging Italian forces in Benghazi, dedicated to unifying the tribes of the Senussi (yes, the very same Senussi who are hoping we will win their war for them against Gaddafi) against the Italians. The Senussis, by the way, were founded by an Algerian called Muhammad Ibn Ali al-Senussi who established himself in Cyrenaica in 1843. The tribe's story, which ran up to King Idris (overthrown by a certain Colonel Gaddafi in 1969), is sharply outlined when Mango points out that "Muslim solidarity (in war) was effective when it complemented self-interest and the instinct of self-defence".
There are more paragraphs that might be read by the David Camerons of this world. There's a wonderful line in Mango's book in which he explains that "the Arabs had to be shown that the regenerated Ottoman state was capable of defending them", while Mustafa Kemal himself says of the Libyan campaign that "at the time, I myself saw that it was hopeless". One hundred and 80 Ottomans and 8,000 Arabs were able to surround 15,000 Italians but "the Arab tribesmen came and went as the spirit moved them". The main concern of the sheikhs, Mustafa Kemal discovered, was to make as much money as possible – and that the longer the war lasted, the more money they got their hands on.
At one point, Enver Pasha sent a friend of the future Ataturk to a Senussi oasis (Calo). He later wrote: "In this blessed spot even three-year-old girls are not allowed out. Females live and die where they are born. Such is the local custom. Although in military camps there are both men and women, we have not been able to see a woman's face for the last three months, as they are all hidden behind heavy veils. We lead ascetic lives... If we go on from here, our next stop will surely be paradise."
Strange, though, the tricks of history. Ottoman Turkey was to ally itself to Germany three years later – Ataturk would distinguish himself at Gallipoli – and was then to crumble when Germany lost the war. Yet today, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those same Turks are vilified in present-day Germany for having too many children, speaking little German and surviving on welfare payments. And last year, Chancellor Merkel claimed that efforts to build a "multicultural" society had "utterly failed" in Germany, a statement supported by David Cameron, who knows as much about Turkish migrants as he does about Libyan history.
For in reality, this is false history. Germany never embarked on any kind of altruistic experiment in "multiculturalism". Turks came to Germany to do the work which Germans did not want to do. The Gastarbeiter were encouraged to go to Germany to provide cheap labour rather than to act as guests in some extraordinary social programme of inter-cultural advancement; just as the first black Britons arrived after the Second World War to help to rebuild Britain – not because we wanted to give them better homes. Ataturk, of course, wanted Turkey to be European as much as Merkel and Cameron would prefer the Turks all went back to the Ottoman Empire. Maybe, however, our masters in Europe (Sarkozy, just as much as Cameron) would do well to browse through a biography of Ataturk in these heady days. The Balkan war forced the Ottomans to abandon Cyrenaica and accept the Italian annexation of Libya.
Enver Pasha refused to accept this fact of history. He argued it was "dangerous to tell Arab tribesmen that peace had been concluded". The Senussis were thus handed over to the grim mercies of the Italians, whose post-Great War fascist regime would assault them for two decades. The parallels are not exact, of course. But it would be interesting to know – if Gaddafi stays limpet-like in Tripoli – how we are going to tell our faithful "rebels" around Benghazi that Nato has run out of puff and prefers peace to more war.
(Courtesy: The Independent)
(Posted on March 12, 2011)
Food Security Bill: media can help
By S. Viswanathan
Two key issues Budget-2011 is seen as having failed to address are inflation and mass hunger. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee announced in his budget speech that the long-promised National Food Security Bill would be moved in Parliament “during the course of this year” but failed to make any financial allocation to back up this statement. Against the backdrop of fresh warnings by experts that the outlook is grim given the continuing West Asian crisis and its impact on oil prices and inflation, this failure is politically inexplicable, especially considering that elections to Legislative Assemblies of four States and one Union Territory are round the corner.
Significantly, a number of mainstream newspapers across the country have editorially called attention to this failure. In a leader on the budget, The Hindu registered its unhappiness that “the big idea of food security that was announced in the last budget is still to be operationalised with differences having cropped up between the National Advisory Council and the government on the target group, extent of coverage, and the estimates of the outlays that will be called for.” It called upon the government to finalise and put in place “this very worthwhile programme over the next few months.” It expressed its unease over the Finance Minister's indication that the government was considering moving to a system of direct cash transfers
In two insightful articles on the subject, one published in Frontline and the other in The Hindu, the economist Jayati Ghosh explained why direct cash transfers, the new mantra, could not possibly be the answer to the problem of mass hunger and deprivation in India. She strongly criticised the tendency in current government policy thinking to see cash transfers, which at best could be a supplementary benefit, as a substitute for the public provision of essential goods and services.
The New Indian Express took sharp issue with “the silence of the Minister on inflation, deficit and corruption.” The Times of India argued that “mega-schemes like food security need better preparation to be executed well,” adding that “be it schools, hospitals or basic amenities, poor service delivery, not lack of money to throw around, hobbles efforts.”
An opinion page article in DNA noted that “the common man is unhappy about the indifference shown by the government to basics like inflation and rising prices.” The writer, who spoke with a cross-section of people, found that many of them were unhappy that the budget had not done enough to fight the rising costs of food items and inflation. A woman the writer spoke to said: “The prices of fruits and milk are going up day by day. I need to give good nutrition to my growing daughters. But the skyrocketing prices are forcing us to reduce the consumption of fruits from daily to thrice a week.” It is good that people are becoming more aware of the need for improved nutrition and healthy diets but the brutal impact of food inflation on the daily lives of families that belong to the middle or lower middle classes is captured poignantly in this bit of information. The plight of those who live in extreme poverty can well be imagined.
The issue of food security for all remains unresolved at the policy level — with the government bent on confining the benefits of food security to people below the poverty line and Congress president Sonia Gandhi apparently batting on the side of the advocates of a universal public distribution system in the United Progressive Alliance's National Advisory Council (NAC). Over the past two years, several rounds of deliberation within the NAC failed to produce a good enough set of ideas for a Food Security Act. What is clear is that after all this effort, the government remains far from convinced of the financial feasibility, or indeed the need, for extending the benefits of a PDS beyond a targeted number that grossly underestimates the prevalence of hunger and deprivation across the length and breadth of India.
Even the diluted recommendations of the NAC were not acceptable to the C. Rangarajan Committee, appointed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to advise him. All the NAC was able to do was to get its views published in the newspapers just ahead of the budget. Harsh Mander, head of the NAC's working group on the National Food Security Bill, made this brave statement: “We have been given the full mandate to go ahead with framing the Bill based on our own recommendations.” He added that the NAC's view of its job was to “advise” the government and “not to be influenced” by its predilections. Where this leaves the issue of food security is anyone's guess.
At stake here are the lives and welfare of hundreds of millions of people, including children. At stake here is inter-generational equity and the future of ‘rising India.' But within the corridors of government there is absolutely no sense of urgency about tackling mass hunger at a time of deadly inflation. This is certainly an area where the media could do much more by way of agenda-building — and stepping up the pressure on the system for the public good.
(The views expressed are personal. The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org). Courtesy: The Hindu
(Posted on March 6, 2011)
The will to die...
By Aritra Sarkhel
Media Hive News Network
“We do not die because we have to die; we die because one day, not so long ago, our consciousness was forced to deem it necessary.” Antonin Artaud.
Killing is in the domain of God. That is why, probably, we in our country never try and challenge this part of the almighty. Euthanasia comes from Greek word which means “Good Death”. But in the present context there are a lot of moral and ethical issues involved in the entire process. The very concept has enraged debates around the world even before legal laws came into the forefront.
Way back in 400 BC, Hippocrates stated in his oath - “To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug nor give advice which may cause his death.” On the part of Christianity and Judaism, Euthanasia is considered a conspicuous murder. The sixth commandment of the bible points out clearly,” thou shall not kill” which directly diminishes the claim of the very thought on which Euthanasia or mercy killing stands.
Today medical science has made a lot of advancements and it is easily possible to sustain life for a certain period; which brings me to put light to the case of Karen Ann Quilan- back in 1975, she went into indefinite coma after she had consumed alcohol and tranquilizers at a party.
She was put under a respirator and a feeding tube. The doctors rejected Karen’s parents wish that she be removed from the respirator, so invariably they took the course of law and the New Jersey Supreme court ruled their favour and the topic of euthanasia was brought to light in the society in a big way. This was a classic case of the patient refusing medical treatment which was unwarranted according to her own goodwill. Ultimately she went o to live for another 9 years.
That brings us to Jack Kevorkian, a former pathologist who’s claim to fame is to have helped 130 people die since 1990 (he has himself admitted to do so). He is considered a rebel in the field of Euthanasia. Later on he was imprisoned for an alleged murder on the basis of evidence found on a videotape. Basically back in 1998, a 60-minutes programme on BBC broadcasted a videotape of Jack involving himself in a more pragmatic form of euthanasia by ending the life of Thomas Youk who was suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease.
This brings us to K.Venkatesh, the 25-year youth from Andhra Pradesh, who was suffering from muscular dystrophia and ultimately died. He wanted to undergo euthanasia so that he could easily donate his organs. He wanted to die because he did not want to suffer. Then the Andhra Pradesh High court came with its decision he could not donate his organs before he died because it would be a gross violation of the Human Organs Act, 1995. The order indirectly stated that one individual cannot end their life at one’s own will. One hand of the argument trails that Euthanasia elevates an individual’s right to privacy. On the other hand, it is right to say that Euthanasia should not be legalized in the social context because it is like debarring the societal values under which our hypocritical society is based upon.
In a more pragmatic sense, the same medical facilities in the hospital could be used for other patients who have a better chance to survive than the one who has no hope at all. Even this right is in the vicinity of exploitation like any other individual right.
But the problem lies submerged in the fact that we live in a diminished society where the patrons who vote against Euthanasia are predominantly one track minded in fear of their own morality.
(The views expressed are personal. The writer can be contacted at email@example.com)
(Posted on Feb 27, 2011)
Quota in pvt sector- boon or bane?
By Payel Chatterjee
Media Hive News Network
The presence of a large economic gap in the Indian society threatens overall development and social harmony. The ever increasing economic underclass makes reservations in the private sector a necessity. However, many sociologists and academicians believe that even if reservations come into effect in the private sector, it will fail to serve its purpose of eliminating social discourse from the society. Author and financial analyst, G. Ramachandran mentioned in the ‘Business Line’ that the “private sector cannot grow without economic and social services from the government sector”.
Reservation in the public sector in educational institutions, employment, political and civil spheres is practiced in Indian as enshrined in our Constitution, with the motive to erase social, sexual and communal discrimination and to provide greater opportunities to traditionally deprived sections of our society.
However, unlike other countries like China or atleast like the Affirmative Action in the capitalist United States of America, reservation policy in India has not been implemented in the private sector which includes agriculture; industry and service sector in where more than 90 percent of Scheduled castes and Scheduled tribes as well as other backward communities are employed.
On December 19, 2003, the then Prime Minister, AB Vajpayee, while speaking before the SC&ST Members of Parliament, said: “If there are reservations in jobs in the government, why not in the Private Jobs? An atmosphere has to be created for this. This Discrimination has to be removed”.
The negligible representation of SC & ST Dalits, Backward Castes and Minorities in the private sector due to the prevailing social discriminations, caste biases and personal prejudices, could be removed only through reservations. The first initiative to provide a share to the SC/ST in the private sector was taken by the Madhya Pradesh government in 2002. The Maharashtra government took this initiative one step ahead and passed an Act for reservation in private sector employment.
In 2004, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in its National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) promised to provide for reservations in the private sector. This proposal received acrimonious reactions and was widely opposed by the private sector .According to Article 46 of Part IV of the Constitution under the Directive Principles of State Policy the state should protect the weaker sections of the society from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
The State should promote and take care of the educational and economic interests of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. However, this article is legally not enforceable in a court of law. Retired Justice P.B. Sawant has observed that “the right to equality without the capacity and the means to avail of the benefits equally is a cruel joke practiced on the deprived sections of the society.”
According to him, such discrepancy prevalent in the Indian law widens the social and economic inequalities. The disparity between the haves and have-nots progressively increases with the former reaping maximum benefit from the guaranteed rights. The Indian constitutional law does not enable the weaker section to “amass the fruits of progress.” According to him, “to treat two unequals equally causes as much injustice as to treat two equals unequally. The jurisprudence of equality therefore requires that those below are leveled up to those above”.
However, the word reservation is considered to be ‘ugly’ for many in the society and they feel that the government has nothing to do with the running of private companies. Many people argue that compromise with qualifications might hamper productivity and efficiency of a firm. It is worth mentioning that initially reservations were intended to be a temporary measure to bring the backward classes of the society in tune with the upper class and give equal social and economic status.
The government failed to do so substantially till date since independence. Thus, reservations have now become a reality we should learn to accept.The book ‘Reservations and Private Sector: Quest for Equal Opportunity and Growth,’ edited by Sukhdeo Thorat, Aryama and Prashant Negi in 2005 by Indian Institute of Dalit Studies and Rawat Publications, New Delhi, shows how the intellentsia of our society upholds the positive aspects of reservations and looks into the matter from a broader perspective. Many political parties are also in favour of reservation for the downtrodden in India's private sector because this sector would reduce the pressure on the government sector to provide employment to job-seekers.
However, we should keep in mind that in India there are thousands of highly qualified youth looking for good placements. With reservations cropping up in the private sector their prospect of getting jobs in India will only reduce and they will seek for opportunities outside the country.
Multi National Companies looking for talent and quality will also be discouraged to invest in India. This would build up animosity against the less privileged classes. Thus, instead of reserving seats in the private sector, the government should look for means and ways to wipe out discrimination of backward classes in the society. Writing for the Frontline, Jayati Ghosh had mentioned that debates on reservations in India generate both a lot of heat and light, and the discussion on reservation policy is full of insight and careful reflection, even if “the statistical basis on which various arguments are based is not ideal and large gaps remain in our knowledge of the full extent of existing social discrimination and the actual effects of past reservation policies.”
(The views expressed are personal. The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on Feb 23, 2011)
Stereotypes die hard
By Nirmal Raibole
Media Hive News Network
Television has been a source of entertainment for many years in India. In the past two decades, before the advent of cable TV, families would sit together to watch family shows on television available only on the National Network. The whole scenario changed after the arrival of cable TV in India and the new sources of entertainment focused on different target audiences. Many television channels have come up with shows, most of the times inspired by popular American TV shows, to hook gullible audiences. Channels like MTV and Channel V targeted the teenagers, FTV came up with shows for the fashionable youngsters, devotional music channels like Aastha caters for the aged, other channels like Star Plus and Zee TV came up with shows for women.
Keeping women in mind as the target audience, many tele-soaps moved their shows like “Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi”, “Pavitra Rishta” in the prime slot. Not only do the television producers but even the advertisers realize their target audience and started filling those slots by advertising domestic products like the Hawkins pressure cooker, MDH masala etc. What one mostly sees in these slots are women washing bucketful of clothes or cleaning their houses or engaged in other such household chores.
The face of Indian television changed drastically with the advent of the “K”serials (all produced by Ekta Kapoor, known as the “Queen of Television Industry”). Shows like “Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi”, “Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki” and “Kasauti Zindgi Ki” were among the highest rated shows when they were on air. These shows mainly dealt with women issues and their problems in their daily life. Not only did the shows win millions of hearts, but women started identifying themselves with these on-screen characters, in their daily life. What one needs to decode from these tele-soaps are the stereotypical portrayal of women. Most of the shows on television are utopian and are used to put into the minds of people the stereotypical gender roles and dominant social values.
The main protagonists in the tele-soaps are women in a domestic setting, the domain of a typical housewife. They are shown as ideal mothers, loving sisters, perfect wives, obedient daughter- in-laws; in short, a superwoman having the best virtues one can imagine. She is respected only in terms of her achievement for successfully running a household, settling down with a man her parents choose and finding happiness in that matrimonial bliss, bearing children and making them ideal human beings while tackling all kinds of issues in her life.
Other notable differences one can see in the tele-soaps are their dressing style, tone of their dialogues and the way they carry themselves. The music played in the background also varies according to the type of woman appearing on the screen – a traditional woman or a vamp.
While the traditional women wear saris with sindoor and mangalsutras. The bad and scheming women are often dressed boldly with deep cut blouses, short hair, big bindis, dark lipstick and heavy makeup.
Stereotypical motifs are another characteristic of tele soaps. A broken mirror or glass is a bad omen. Karwa Chauth, an old Indian traditional festival in which wives fast throughout the day for their husbands’ well-being and break the fast only after they see the moon and fed a morsel by their husbands. A married or unmarried girl doing aarthi is considered to be a cultured and good mannered girl.
Female Altruism is another stereotype. Women are shown to be loyal, forgiving, helping and ideal. In the role of a mother, daughter and wife she is shown as putting others’ needs before her own, like Tulsi in “Kyunki Saas Bhi Bahu Thi”. She forgives her husband’s extramarital affairs and takes care of his illegitimate son with another woman and is even ready to go to mental asylum and bear the torture for his sake.
Patriarchal setup in the families is another dominant feature of daily soaps. In “Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai,” a drama series aired on Star Plus, dadaji (grandfather) is the man of the household. His decisions are final, and nobody has the authority to question him. He is a strict stickler of the family tradition and beliefs. He is against the pampering of his grandson Naitik, but eventually ends up doing so at times. Though he is against his grandson going out and finding a job for himself because he wants him to join the family business, he doesn’t stop him from doing so; but when his daughter-in-law Akshara expresses a desire to pursue her studies after marriage, he is against it. So, what one gets to see are the hierarchical roles maintained in the soaps.
Another interesting aspect one gets to see is the dedication of the lead male characters toward their families. In the serial “Pavitra Rishta”, Archana is by deceit married to Manav on account of his being an engineer but later they find that he is a poor mechanic in a garage; despite knowing this she returns to his home only to suffer humiliation. Manav’s mother is unwilling to let her stay in the house, while she is stripped off all her privileges by her mother in law and treated badly.
Although Manav loves Archana, he does not challenge his mother and chooses to watch his wife being humiliated and projects himself as the good obedient boy not raising his voice against the violence his wife faces. But in Archana’s case her family is supportive and ready to take her back, but Archana, like all good daughter-in-laws, does not wish to go back to her home and attempts to win over her estranged husband and the love of her in-laws. What one gets to see here is the female protagonist herself inculcating the idea that married women are the commodities of their husband.
Almost every serial in the present era focuses and deals with women issues but though these soaps try to throw light on these issues they also end up teaching women to be passive, never give up their husbands’ homes and bear with domestic torture. The serials’ happy endings; the husbands realizing his wife’s worth; end up making women think the same in their real lives. The young minds try to imitate the on screen persona not only the dressing but also in their action: women portrayed in stereotypical roles are dependent, emotional, always at home while their husbands are the bread winners.
However there are a few drama series like “Balika Vadhu” and “Na Aana Is Des Lado” which highlight real issues like child marriage, domestic repression, social inequality and female infanticide. Balika Vadhu looks at the practice of child marriage in rural Rajasthan through the life of Anandi, who is married off when she is just 10. The serial focuses on how a young girl comes to a new family, the innocent friendship of Jagdish and Anandi, who are immature enough not to understand the meaning of marriage and treat each other as friends.
The show also showcases the treatment a child widow gets from her in-laws, her parents and the society in general. Na Aana Is Des Lado brings up female infanticide in the villages of Haryana. Ammaji, the antagonist, does not let any girl baby be born in her village because she believes that only the birth of a boy is a boon .The serials received a lot of criticism and the members of Janta Dal demanded it be taken off air. Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda sent a letter to the Government expressing his annoyance over the show, but the serials did not go off air.
Another interesting soap on Colors, “Jaane kya Baat Hui” depicts the life of a woman who is shown to be a loving and caring housewife and daughter-in-law, Aaradhana. The serial carries a bold theme in which Aaradhana falls in love with another man Shantanu as she does not get love from her husband Shailendra. Unfortunately, the serial had to go off air because the Indian audiences were not ready to accept a subject matter where a daughter in law could fall in love another man and was seen as conveying a wrong message to the audience.
What one gets to see is that the Indian soap opera is unpractical and can never be accepted in real life situations.
(The views expressed are personal. The writer can be contacted at email@example.com)
(Posted on Feb 17, 2011)
State of the world
By Aritra Sarkhel
Media Hive News Network
We live in frantic times. The world that we see from our eyes is not what it is. The leaders of the modern era are playing possum with the world’s residents. The mighty west’s niche baby” capitalism” is slowly harping out its evils; it seems that capitalism is there only for the rich and socialism only for the poor. The dragon empire’s never-ending thirst for oil never seems to continue and Democratic India continues to try and follow what the mighty west has already achieved even if it means many people back here not able to get two square meals a day.
And it should not be called “Prophesying” if I say we are heading towards world warIII. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the current scenario. The United States has extended their war from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Yemen. Iran is next on the list I guess. Normalcy still is still pursued as the West continues to leave the weak and failed states as humanitarian crisis situations.
We live in times when big wigs like Monsanto and all is trying to sell to the world its own dangerous collection of GM seeds with the effects of relocation of genes; the evils of engineering is yet to manifold.
Iraq, a classic example of criminal tragedy, reminds us of the past when the Rwanda genocide occurred and the entire Iraq episode was dismissed as protection of the world from the nuclear capabilities of the late Saddam.
On the other side, media’s work has been lackadaisical especially in the case of the reportage of the Iraq war where it got the entire episode wrong and the way it supported America in the initial stages actually helped the U.S. go forward with the war.
Nothing great has changed over the years. We are diminished as a civil society. The United States in its domination of the world has entered into the pre-fascist era. America bombs its natives and call’s itself a partner.
The pursuit of profit seems to crib the world apart. In the same manner, corporate soccer and cricket seems to subvert the essence of Olympics. In today’s world everything is for sale- basically the word is monopoly that rules.
(The views expressed are personal. The writer is a trainee journalist, Broadcast and Television Department, Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media, Bangalore. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on Feb 12, 2011)
Will Cairo lead the way for change in other regimes?
By K Ramesh Babu
Media Hive News Network
Volcano once starts to explode does not stop until all the particles removed out of its possession. It has a scientific logic of heating process on its centre and emits its contents following an explosion. Before that it signals the eventuality with smokes and tremors.
Political uprisings take similar process while looks out for demanding changes that are imminent. After the fall of Soviet and Eastern bloc, now it is time for Arab nations which are alleged for systemic failures.
It all started with surprise uprising in Tunisia where the 23 years old presidency got removed and searching for a long lasting democratic alternative which can ingredient good governance.
In Egypt, it all evolved due to poverty, suppressive regime and disparity in economic status. A small section is benefiting under 30-year regime of Hosni Mubarak, who is a confident alley for the US and other western powers. Besides Mubarak other rulers of countries neighbouring Egypt -- Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia -- face same kind of situation.
Will there be systematic change of regimes across the Middle East and if so what would be the new systems look like and how it will impact future politics of the region; especially Israel, and influence of the western powers among the other member nations?
Since most of the Middle East countries involve with oil production, it has to be seen what kind of impact it will make on world economic development, particularly China and India, among other developing countries? Secondly, since the region holds major commercial transits, which connect Asia with Europe and North Atlantic region besides certain portion of Africa, it has become strategic hotspots not only for the rich West but also for the rest of the world.
The immediate regime change may not be associated with sweeping changes with existing arrangements. However, the new regime may bring new policies that alter relations and thus equations through radical policies and agendas.
A predominant change that is expected by western powers is dominant role played by political organisations who are under democratic exercises and movements that influence the religious ideology.
For example, Brotherhood Movement in Egypt which challenges secular credentials of the past and reinforces Islamic Sharia law in its place. Several Islamic thinkers like Al-Banna and Qutb, who influenced such movements, strifed for predominant role for the religion.
Recent surge of Al-Qaeda, which is immensely following the ideology of such scholars, is being feared as contending with modernity and democratic values and constitutional set-up which ensure equality and development.
People of Egypt demand change in regime and free and fair polls. Their aspirations reflect the contemporariness of the crisis which may have a long-term impact over other regimes.
(The views expressed are personal. The wrier can be contacted at email@example.com)
(Posted on Feb 6, 2011)
Egyptian revolution: A misconstrued mutiny
By Khaja Najmun Nurain Hashmi
Media Hive News Network
It seems Egyptian revolution is a civilian uprising against a corrupt, tyrannical, and insensitive rule. Initially, I had my share of apprehensions that Egypt might fall into wrong hands and this unrest might end up in perpetual chaos and anarchy which is prevalent in Afghanistan and Iraq. But I noticed one picture that showed Christians forming a human-chain at Tahrir Square to protect their Muslim
brethren, and it cleared all my doubts about the uprising. What a great example of brotherhood amidst followers of two different religions! It reminded me of our own freedom struggle when Hindus and Muslims walked hand in hand, and fought against the colonial rule, to provide generations an unfettered air of freedom and sovereignty.
I am pleasantly surprised to see Indian media expressing their solidarity with the common masses of Egypt in their moments of peril, whereas West shunned it as Islamist conspiracy. I firmly believe that this revolution is devoid of any fanatical inspiration/aspiration. (I am a Muslim and I confirm it to all my friends of other religions that there is no place for fundamentalism, extremism, or fanaticism in
Islam. Muhammad (PBUH) was a messenger of peace, tolerance, brotherhood, justice, and love to mankind. )
People, I noticed common Egyptian men and women across ranks and classes on the streets of Cairo, reiterating the same grievance: food, employment, justice, equity, and dignity. Where’s the alleged Islamist agenda in the grievance? That’s a sheer hogwash coming from the West media organizations that are playing in the hands of people who have vested interest in keeping Mubarak at the helm of affairs.
Hats off to Barkha Dutt! Her incredible story on Egyptian journo, who walked out her channel to protest against the repressive regime, is an eloquent example of a journalist’s commitment to truth. I wish India witnesses many more Barkhas in the news arena. Also, I am in awe of the lady who instilled the spirit of courage and resilience among Egyptians through You-Tube. To me, she is Rosa Parks of Egyptian revolution. I am sure great Martin Luther King Junior would have seconded her call, had he been alive.
The revolution is also an alarm-bell to all unjust and despotic rulers across the globe. The uprising has strengthened my commitment to democracy. Only true democracy can provide just and equitable government. In India, democracy has been a great success story. Let’s make a solemn pledge to take this forward and ensure that our democracy is further strengthened.
I wish people’s voices are heard and their legitimate grievances are fulfilled in some of our troubled states. I am proud of the fact that I am living in a free country, India, where I enjoy equal rights and freedom. I am a firm believer in our shared dream of a strong and just Indian democracy.
(The views expressed are personal. The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on Jan 31, 2011)
The 20- lakh crore question
By K Ramesh Babu
Media Hive News Network
Recently there are few out bursts against graft and corruption in India. The rulers had an option to get disclosed about few Indians who stashed wealth in the LTG bank of Liechtenstein facilitated by the government of Germany. However, the government of India still has not approached through proper channel as requested by Germany.
It is reported that Indians since 1948 to 2008 amassed Rs 20 lakh crore (20,556,848,000,000) in various location of the globe in the form accounted money. Despite Switzerland, Mauritius, Seychelles, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau are the other destinations where Indian allegedly parked their looted money.
Across the let alone India industrialized world is also plagued by the problem. Global Financial Integrity has released a report on the burning issue. Entire G20 is serious over the problem except India and US and Germany are launched and successful in collecting and information effectively retrieving the money back to the exchequer.
The report mentions about Indian contribution as follows:
India, which was the fifth largest exporter of illicit capital in the 2008 IFF Report is now ranked 15th among developing countries. There are three main reasons why average illicit flows from India slipped in the country rankings and they have nothing to do with policies and conditions required for the curtailment of such outflows.
For one, illicit outflows from several oil producers such as the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Venezuela, Qatar, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, and Indonesia (in that order) now outpace those from India. For another, there were substantial inflows of illicit capital into India (mostly through the balance of payments but also through trade mispricing) that were set to zero under the gross outflows method. As we have argued elsewhere, traditional economists commit a serious mistake when they net out unrecorded illicit inflows from outflows as if such inflows somehow benefit a country or can be used by a government for productive purposes.
In December 2005, India signed the UNCAC that provide opportunity to gather information and seize money in foreign banks and ask for return of the money embezzled across borders. However, India did not ratify the convention to facilitate to take back the sources lost.
The convention helps corrupt countries to earthen the unaccounted money stashed in foreign soils with out much formality. The Transparency International describes the convention as ‘It is the first global framework for fighting corruption and is unique in its extensiveness and detail of its provisions.
The UNCAC and the Paris Declaration commit the World Bank to ensure the full engagement of parliaments, civil society and citizens. The shift to development policy lending requires a much greater effort to ensure that political corruption does not impact on policy priorities. Actively ensuring spaces for the participation of citizens and civil society in all stages of decision-making is critical to preventing corruption.’
India stands at 87th place in the 2010 report of the Transparency International. It is still plagued with administrative controls that are age old practices. The post liberalisation consumer culture and hereditary values that prompt social elite to keep their posh and pompous life style and indulge in amassing wealth through tax evasions and bribing officials to speed up works in their favour, heaps Black Economy which operate parallel to the public system. Black Money accounts for nearly one third of the GDP.
Political parties to face tough competition from rivals and less participation of public in franchising election after election as years passing. They are forced to spend millions of rupees to get more representation in law making bodies and wield influence in the corridors of power. Recently Chief Election Commissioner of India has disclosed how registered political parties are utilizing unaccounted money to buy assets and floating the money into the circulation. They are also not contesting elections too! Retrieving the flown out money may take time. But government can take actions on local political parties which are indulging in illicit money circulation.
Senior parliamentarian and BJP leader Advani and Swadeshi Jagran Manch’s S. Gurumurthy are continuously talking about the issue. In fact BJP made it as a poll issue in 2009 election. Gurumurthy has written about is as; A lot of 'black wealth' from India flows to Switzerland every year. This is not what LK Advani is saying, but is something Dominique Dreyer, the Swiss Ambassador to India, said at the 60th anniversary of the Indo-Swiss Friendship Treaty last year.
The first serious work on the global stock of illicit money was done by Raymond W Baker, a Harvard and Brookings scholar. His book Capitalism's Achilles Heel - Dirty Money and How to Renew Free Market System (2005) estimates the stock of illicit money at $11.5 trillion, to which one trillion gets added annually. Around $500 billion a year flow to the rich from the rest, according to Baker.
Aided by the Ford Foundation, the Baker-headed Global Financial Integrity (the GFI is a programme of the Washington-based Centre for International Policy) has estimated the country-wise flows of illicit money.
It puts the outflow from India during 2002-06 at $137.5 billion (Rs 6.88 lakh crore). How much more could the loot since 1947 be? Dev Kar, who was involved in the GFI study, has clarified that the GFI estimates of the loot from India are an understatement.
An unprecedented scene of members of parliament displaying wads of currency in the house which is nothing but a demonstration of deep rooted corruption at high places.
Another report brings out ambit inter-connection of poverty and corruption. The country still holds roughly one-third of the population under poverty and several backward areas lack even basic amenities.
The public mindset against being taxed is not matured enough to disclose voluntarily their income when it crosses over payable limit. This is evident from increase in direct tax collection after implementing strident laws.
Making perfect citizens as equal as seen in western countries will take time but even 60 years of independence not starting from basic education about importance of paying tax and prevention of corrupt practices at individual level is regrettable.
Though there are continuous fights against graft, bribery and corruption going on, changes in official and private practices in respect with that does not reflect proportionately. Young India protests against corrupt and unprofessional practices but there is no mass movement in any state or national level which allows breeding of corruption evil at the cost of none other than the development of the country as a whole.
Unless or otherwise mass vigilance comes into practice weeding out corruption across the country remains as a golden dream for ever.
(The views expressed are personal. The wrier can be contacted at email@example.com)
(Posted on Jan 27, 2011)
Use social media wisely
By Gordon McAleer
Contemporary social media networking has transformed our society. There are more than 600 million people worldwide using Facebook and other forms of social media. How can the job-seeker tap into the social media energy for that critical job search?
Social media will expand your horizons but should be treated as a supplement to the tried and true approaches for the job search. The most important strategy is to network.
Person to person works best
The best jobs are often landed because of personal networking and word of mouth with friends and colleagues in your particular field. Social media can increase your contacts hundreds of times over. Still, one needs to add that personal touch to networking by periodically calling, e-mailing and having coffee with important contacts. You still need to check out advertisements for open positions in newspapers and business journals and network at business conferences. Stay active with your college alumni association and professional societies.
Some companies and recruiting firms will announce job openings through their websites, Facebook, LinkedIn or industry-specific social media networks. A person seeking job opportunities will be able to find considerable information on the company by checking the company's social media posts. A bold job-seeker could even participate in a blog to become known by the company as a thoughtful and sophisticated thinker.
Just be aware that whatever you put on the internet has long-lasting staying power. Be sure to be careful to protect your privacy and limit your "friends" to people you know and can trust.
There are certain givens for posting your profile on social media sites.
1. Getting started — establish your social media postings. Personal posts on Facebook and LinkedIn are good places to start. They are easy to set up and cost nothing but your time. For college graduates, join your alumni association and stay in tune with the association's social media networking. Terrific jobs are posted regularly on these sites.
2. Always remain professional. Poor grammar, spelling errors and use of expletives will undermine your professionalism. Keep the tone personable and businesslike.
3. Avoid the use of all caps in your text. This is equivalent to shouting and will turn off the reader.
4. Refrain from posting information that would be red flags to prospective employers. Employers will be hesitant to consider someone who posts hate language, hints of violence to others, brags about illegal or risky behavior, espouses extreme political views or trashes his former or current employer or fellow employees.
5. Remember, postings are wide open to the public. Increasingly, employers are checking out prospective candidates by scanning social media networks. When done with care, the posts can strengthen the hand of the candidate by providing more information than may be contained on a one- or two-page resume. Use common sense and good judgment, knowing that a very wide public may read about you. Review and edit your posts periodically to keep them fresh.
(Gordon McAleer is co-owner of human resources consulting firm McAleer & Associates.)Courtesy:Recordonline.com
(Posted on Dec 30, 2010)
A tough innings at the helm
By Rajdeep Sardesai
Two years ago, when I was asked to become the President of the Editors Guild of India, I did so with some trepidation. The Guild had a formidable reputation of having been at the forefront of editorial integrity and independence. Set up in the Emergency years, it emerged stronger through the trial of fire. The members of the Guild comprise the grey eminences of the profession. As one of the youngest members of the Guild, I was both a little awed and certainly very honoured to be president of the august body. Two years later, as I end my term as president, I feel privileged to have been given the challenge of guiding the Guild through difficult times for the Indian media.
Perhaps, the biggest challenge we have been confronted with is the menace of ‘paid news'.That paid news existed across media organisations is one of the profession's worst-kept secrets. It required a journalist of P. Sainath's repute to put it on the front page of The Hindu and force a national debate on the issue. At the Guild, we decided to make ‘paid news' the focus of our activities in 2010. We may not have succeeded in erasing it from the media landscape, but at least there seems to be a greater consciousness now than ever before of the need to control ‘paid news' journalism.
We have worked together in the last 12 months with other journalist bodies — most notably the Indian Women's Press Corps and the Press Association — to create an atmosphere which rejects ‘paid news' as a journalistic malpractice that erodes the very foundation of our professional integrity. It hasn't been easy. While a number of editors support a move that will not allow news space to be sold as advertising without proper disclosure norms, many proprietors seem reluctant to abandon what is seen as a lucrative business opportunity. It should come as no surprise that it was the newspaper owners who were unwilling to allow the Press Council of India report on ‘paid news' to be made public in its entirety.
But where the Press Council has had a limited role, the Election Commission has shown enormous resolve in stepping in to act against ‘paid news'. During the last 12 months, the Guild's senior members have interacted with the Election Commission in an effort to find a solution. During the recent Bihar elections, the Commission appointed specific media monitoring officials who worked under expenditure committees in every district. The Commission says it received 86 complaints which were immediately acted upon, forcing candidates to declare any expenses on ‘paid news' as part of their election expenses.
According to Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi, this constant monitoring of ‘paid news' during the Bihar elections has had a positive effect: candidates were much more careful in their attempts to misuse the media in this campaign than was the case in the 2009 general elections.
The problem hasn't disappeared: ‘paid news' during elections is only one aspect of the issue. Corporates through ‘private treaties' continue to manipulate news coverage as do other interest groups. Moreover, in a country with over 35,000 newspapers and over 100 news channels, there is an obvious limitation to any policing of ‘paid news'. In fact, we need to take the campaign against paid news to every corner of the country and empower journalists and editors to feel confident of resisting attempts to allow news to be ‘bought'.
Issue of intimidation
The other big challenge for us at the Guild has been the need to protect journalists against attempts by the state to intimidate them. In Manipur, for example, newspapers have found it extremely difficult to function in an atmosphere of fear and violence.
In January this year, a two-member fact finding team of senior journalists, B.G. Verghese and Sumit Chakravarty, visited Imphal, met editors and other stakeholders, and came up with a detailed report. The report was presented to the Prime Minister's Office and the Home Ministry and appears to have had the desired effect of ensuring some minimum accountability on the part of the state machinery. In Kashmir too, during the summer violence, newspapers and news channels were once again in the line of fire. Again, the Guild attempted to convince the political establishment of the need to allow the media to function independently.
It's not just the militancy affected states where the media finds itself being muzzled. There have been instances of attacks on journalists reported from Karnataka and Maharashtra too. In both States, we have received complaints of state power being used to silence journalists who are critical of government. In Karnataka, the Guild stepped in to prevent the jailing of a journalist who was targeted only because he had got on the wrong side of the authorities in the State.
As the year draws to a close, the media finds itself facing a serious credibility crisis in the light of the Niira Radia tapes. Like the paid news expose, the Radia tapes too confirm what has been known for some time: journalists and editors share a rather cosy relationship with political and corporate India. This raises troubling questions for a profession whose self-image is rooted in its ability to confront those in power. The easy co-option of the media into the power elite and its consequent manipulation is worrying for those who see the primary role of the media to be that of a watchdog.
Facing up to the moral crisis in the prevailing media environment is the next big challenge before the Editors Guild as we enter a new year with a new team.
(The writer is Editor-in-Chief, IBN 18 and outgoing president of the Editors Guild of India)
Courtesy: The Hindu
(Posted on Dec 25, 2010)
WikiLeaks and the cult of secrets
By Daniel Denvir
A Christian Science Monitor article describes WikiLeaks as having no "obvious ideology beyond exposing secrets." Todd Gitlin, playing at geriatric scold, calls Julian Assange a representative of "his generation's anarchism -- the kind that wears a black mask, values disruption as action, and thinks it imperative to obstruct the workings of international meetings."
In his own words, Julian Assange says that he wants to expose secrets to disrupt the conspiracies at the root of state and corporate power, leading to "system-wide cognitive decline."
"Where details are known as to the inner workings of authoritarian regimes," Assange wrote in a 2006 manifesto, "we see conspiratorial interactions among the political elite not merely for preferment or favor within the regime but as the primary planning methodology behind maintaining or strengthening authoritarian power."
As blogger Aaron Bady writes, Assange believes that powerful institutions perpetuate themselves by conspiracy:
"A state like the US [is.]... essentially an authoritarian conspiracy, and [Assange] then reasons that the practical strategy for combating that conspiracy is to degrade its ability to conspire, to hinder its ability to 'think' as a conspiratorial mind. The metaphor of a computing network is mostly implicit, but utterly crucial: he seeks to oppose the power of the state by treating it like a computer and tossing sand in its diodes."
Some proponents say that WikiLeaks' politics are immaterial. The organization is a natural reaction to an ever more powerful national security state and the credulous media (a-la-Judith Miller) that buys their story hook, line and sinker; a world where governments insist on knowing all of your secrets without sharing any of their own. Trying to understand WikiLeaks the organization is a distraction from the leaks themselves, and the myopic focus on Assange obscures the diffuse and networked nature of the entire episode, from WikiLeaks to the hacker posse called Anonymous. Something this organic can't be debated or talked down.
Michael Moore, explaining why he posted bail for Assange, put it this way: "WikiLeaks exists, in part, because the mainstream media has failed to live up to its responsibility. The corporate owners have decimated newsrooms, making it impossible for good journalists to do their job."
For Salon blogger Glen Greenwald, WikiLeaks isn't so much picking up the slack as deposing a craven charlatan, a media whose "servile role...[is] serving government interests and uncritically spreading government claims."
Certainly, we should focus on the cables that expose government wrongdoing or tell us something interesting. As Mother Jones editor Dave Gilson, who calls the leaks a net plus, told me, "You can think he's mercurial, touchy, brilliant, whatever, and still separate that from the work the group does."
But it matters what WikiLeaks thinks and wants. They are a powerful organization that might be with us for a long time. We should treat them as such. Only if we accept the naive premise that secrets are inherently bad and transparency inherently good can WikiLeaks be considered a neutral arbiter.
As Raffi Khatchadourian put it in the New Yorker, "Assange must confront the paradox of his creation: the thing that he seems to detest most -- power without accountability -- is encoded in the site's DNA, and will only become more pronounced as WikiLeaks evolves into a real institution."
It's the very prosaic nature of many recent cables that are most unnerving. The leaks of greatest consequence -- the Collateral Murder video showing a U.S. attack helicopter kill twelve Iraqis or the summer documents showing the futility of the Afghanistan war -- have provoked far less hysteria than the relatively less explosive diplomatic cables.
"If WikiLeaks," writes the New Yorker's George Packer, "and its super-secretive, thin-skinned, megalomaniacal leader, Julian Assange...were uncovering crimes, or scandals, or systemic abuses, there would be no question about the overwhelming public interest in these latest revelations. But the WikiLeaks dump contains no My Lais, no black sites, no Abu Ghraibs."
As the Washington Post's Ezra Klein put it, "Assange isn't whistleblowing or leaking. Both of those are targeted acts focused on an identified wrongdoing or event."
Assange isn't interested in targeted change. According to Bady, Assange's entire "point is not that particular leaks are specifically effective.
For more click http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-denvir/wikileaks-and-the-cult-of_b_800570.html
(Daniel Denvir is Journalist in Philadelphia)
(Posted on Dec 6, 2010)
Cruel social practices and role of investigative reporting
By S Vishwanathan
That insightful, sensitive, and focussed coverage of social problems and issues by the news media can play an agenda-building role even if the direct impact is limited is borne out by this investigative story of a fatal oil bath published in a recent issue of Tehelka magazine (November 20, 2010). It began like this: “An exercise in love and health when given to newborn children, a ceremonial beginning to festivals, and the universal answer to pitiless summers.
In Tamil Nadu's small industry hub of Virudhunagar, however, it is the beginning of ‘slow murder.' The marker of the devastating poverty that makes a son kill his own ageing mother.” This is one of a large number of articles on the darker side of social life that the magazine has been publishing for nearly a decade.
“Mother, shall I put you to sleep?” brings to light how a section of people in this commercially advanced region of southern Tamil Nadu — a State often described as “progressive and prosperous” — have found a “less painful” solution to the existential challenge of confronting penury.
The investigation discovered a small trend, shocking in itself but capable of growing into a social menace if it was not addressed at its root. Younger members of some families were pushing their infirm, elderly dependents to death because, it was explained, they could not afford to take care of them. The deadly modus is known locally as ‘thalaikkoothal,' a leisurely oil bath. This is how they go about it.
The elderly person is given an extensive oil bath before dawn. The rest of the day, he or she is given several glasses of tender coconut water. (Ironically, this is everything a mother would have told her child not to do while taking an oil bath.) The Tehelka reporter quotes a practising doctor in Madurai as explaining that tender coconut water, taken in excess, brings on renal failure. By evening, the body temperature falls sharply and in a day or two, the old man or woman dies of high fever. The method does not generally fail because, as the doctor further explains, “the elderly persons often do not have the immunity to survive the sudden fever.”
The investigation found further that local folk have other deadly tricks up their sleeve, procedures such as “milk treatment” and “thrusting mud dissolved in water down the throat,” which is “the most painful of the lot.” Killer injections and poisons were resorted to at times. A strange and poignant aspect of the inhuman practice of doing away with old people is that it does not, according to the Tehelka article, provoke anger or fear among those marked out for murder.
The typical attitude is one of “helpless resignation.” The entire thing is taken as “an accepted practice,” which a doctor claims has been in use for more than three decades. The district collector, who has expressed his shock over the incidents, has arranged for an investigation by the administration.
The Hindu, in a couple of reports published in 2008, warned of deteriorating economic conditions in the region, which had forced younger people to migrate to towns and cities looking for jobs and leaving their parents and dependants in villages to fend for themselves. “The problem of elders,” one of the stories noted, “is compounded by the absence of employment caused by successive failure of monsoon.” Another report revealed that Valandur, Karumathur, Keeripatti, Pappapatti, and some other neighbouring villages had a strange but common practice of the elderly being “dispossessed by their families once they became non-contributors to household income.
This phenomenon of children looking at their parents as a burden that could not be carried along was first noticed by National Service Scheme volunteers of Arul Anandar College.” The Principal of the college said that it was a painful issue; it was the prevailing economic condition that determined the phenomenon of inclusion or exclusion of the elderly people.
That this was the very region where more than two decades ago intrepid journalistic investigation brought to light the atrocious social practice of female infanticide and subsequently female feticide. The expose by a popular Tamil magazine developed into a countrywide movement against this cruel practice, which was justified and rationalised by the families, citing desperate poverty. The media, print as well as broadcast, were in the forefront of a campaign for tough and effective legislative and regulatory measures to eliminate the practice .
The hope is that Tehelka magazine's recent expose of the equally heinous practice of doing away with aged parents and dependants, by whatever name called, will give an impetus to the government's efforts to take care of senior citizens who cannot look after themselves. The key will be effective action, backed by adequate resources, in the villages of India. Inasmuch as the economic policies of governments at the Centre and in the States contribute to the widening of disparities in income, wealth, and living conditions and to the inexorable rise in the prices of essential commodities, the state must accept primary responsibility to remedy the situation and, at the very least, provide effective relief. As has happened in the case of most welfare legislation and social policy measures, the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act enacted in 2007 has not been implemented sincerely. This becomes even more important in the context of rising longevity in society and the substantial increase in the number of senior citizens in recent decades as part of the development process.
The Hindu's Open Page has carried several insightful articles in recent months on this challenge facing rising India. My hope is that the main news section and the feature sections of the newspaper, and also other major newspapers and magazines, will give more space to these issues and cover them in a sustained way, so that they get more public and policy attention.
Courtesy: The Hindu
(Posted on Aug 13, 2010)
Fighting hunger: role of media and judiciary
By S Vishwanathan
Will the United Progressive Alliance Government take steps to put in place a universal public distribution system to provide food security to the people in a just and caring manner? Although there seems to be no direct governmental effort in that direction so far, the National Advisory Council (NAC) headed by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has been projected by the media as a player interested in making PDS coverage more broad based and more inclusive, with a view to bringing relief to larger sections of the people.
The NAC has given importance not only to ensuring speedy relief to the affected poor but also to improving farm yields in terms of both quality and quantity so as to build sizeable buffer stocks. It has also highlighted the need to correct the system by putting an end to charges of large-scale corruption and inefficiency among the workforce. Another problem to be tackled is the shortage in high quality warehouse facilities.
It has been reported that a “universal” PDS could be taken up for implementation in 1,500 blocks spread over 150 poverty-ridden rural districts in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Orissa, Assam, eastern Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. The choice of areas is apparently political. The context is heightened extremist activities in several parts of the region. More than 95 per cent of the population in these areas is poor.
In addition, the “poorest of the poor” who come under the Antyyodaya Anna Yojna (AAY) families, constituting 2.5 crore among the 6.5 crore BPL (Below the Poverty Line) beneficiary families in India, have been chosen for receiving more benefits at prices much lower than what they pay now. The people who are in the APL (Above the Poverty Line) category in the identified districts are also entitled to 35 kg of wheat or rice, though at slightly higher prices.
The affected people are being brought under PDS coverage, universal or targeted. There seems to be some visible activity in this area. Although the Left parties, eminent scientists such as Professor M.S. Swaminathan, and ‘the right to food' activists have been pressing for the revival of Universal PDS, the reluctance of neo-liberal economists and bureaucrats, who played a role in the replacement of Universal PDS with Targeted PDS in the mid-1990s, to violate “stop subsidies” rules is believed to be among the road blocks.
Apex court expresses concern
One thing however is quite clear. The central government will need to clarify its position in the highest court in the land soon enough. A week ago, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court expressed its serious concern over media reports that huge stocks of foodgrains were being wasted in the absence of adequate storage facilities. Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma asked the government to consider releasing the foodgrains to deprived people rather than allowing it to rot.
They observed: “In a country where admittedly people are starving, it is a crime to waste even a single grain.” The official statement of the government indicated that there was wastage of foodgrains at many places, the judges noted, adding that it might consider constructing adequate warehouses or food storage facilities on a long-term basis. “On a short-term basis, they could also consider hiring warehouses or putting up waterproof tents to save the grain. But all-out efforts must be made to ensure that not a single grain is wasted.”
The judges were hearing a public interest litigation case on the right to food filed by People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). The PUCL's lawyer, Colin Gonsalves, had brought a report published in the Hindustan Times (“India lets grain rot instead of feeding poor”, HT, July 26, 2010) to the court's attention. Citing the news report, the judges commented that it was a crime to waste food in a poor country. They told Additional Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran: “If you cannot store the grain, give it to the people to eat.”
The Supreme Court Bench sought a response from the government to the newspaper investigation. It also wanted the central government's response to the judges' suggestion on or before August 10 so that the Court could pass appropriate orders.
The press deserves appreciation for its expose of the government's dismal failure to protect precious stocks of foodgrain procured from different places after spending a lot of money and time. Quoting a highly placed source, the Delhi-based daily revealed how 17.8 million tonnes of wheat and rice, which can feed 140 million people for a month, were allowed to rot. Of this, about 10 million tonnes, having seen through at least one monsoon, was at risk of rotting; if that happened, the country would incur a loss of about Rs. 17,000 crore. Tracking Hunger is an HT and Mint initiative to investigate and report the struggle to rid India of hunger.
Interestingly, some other English language dailies have followed up with insightful pieces. The Indian news media have come some way since the second half of the 1990s, when most of them openly abandoned any claim of being the watchdog of the interests of India's poor. The recent financial meltdown and recessionary crisis that very nearly derailed the economies of the developed world, large-scale unemployment, the collapse of livelihoods, and the sharp rises in the prices of essential commodities have profoundly transformed the context and triggered some elements of new thinking. The hope is that at least some influential sections of India's still-rising news media will now consciously and in a sustained way play the role of watchdog of the interests of the hundreds of millions of Indians who suffer from crippling deprivation and poverty.
Courtesy: The Hindu
(Posted on Aug 4, 2010)
Attacks on media on the rise in India
By S Vishwanathan
A growing number of incidents of violence against, and restrictions on, journalists in several parts of India over the past few months has caused concern at the national and international level. July was a particularly bad month for the news media: they confronted hostility and intimidation from the Army, the police, anti-social elements, and militant communal organisations in Delhi, Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Orissa, and Tamil Nadu.
While Delhi and Mumbai witnessed vandalism let loose by a mob of religious bigots at the premises of two news television channels, it was the Army that imposed severe restrictions on journalists in J&K.
In Orissa, the ongoing battle between owners of mines and industrial interests provided the background to physical attacks on journalists who dared to expose the clandestine operators and their exploitation of the poor and the marginalised.
Attempt to silence the media
In the evening of July 15, a mob allegedly belonging to Hindutva organisations stormed the office of the New Delhi-based TV Today network of the India Today group and vandalised whatever they could reach. The attack was in protest against the telecast of tapes showing “secret meetings” of a Hindutva organisation in which there were discussions on carrying out “terrorist attacks against meetings of Muslims.” Headlines Today, the news channel of the TV Today network, had telecast the video footage.
According to the channel, the video it telecast was extracted by investigation agencies from the laptop of one of the accused in the Malegaon blast case. The Cover Story of the latest issue of Frontline(“Militant route to Hindu Rashtra,” August 13, 2010) provides good insights into the whole episode.
The attackers, armed with sticks, were on the rampage for about 15 minutes, causing damage to glass windows, doors, and furniture. Some security guards and officials were injured. The attackers did not spare the police personnel. Although the TV channel's officials had prior information about the attack and had informed the police, the custodians of law and order were caught on the wrong foot.
Given the nasty circumstances, things could have gone much worse for those inside the building. It was clear that those who had set up the mob wanted to send a message to the news channel. Condemning the attack, the Editors Guild of India pointed out that such methods to try and silence the media would only backfire.
Even as the office of the Headlines Today was being attacked, Zee 24, another TV news channel in Mumbai, came under Shiv Sena attack for picking up the news.
It is well known that communalism and chauvinism of all shades are fiercely intolerant of criticism and dissent. Unless the state ensures that the fundamental rights in the secular Constitution, especially freedom of speech and expression, are meant to be enjoyed by all citizens, they will remain only on paper.
Restrictions on movements of media persons
The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) has expressed its concern over reports that journalists are facing harassment in certain conflict-ridden States in India, notably Manipur and J&K.
In Manipur, where security forces are involved in a confrontation with several armed gangs, newspapers stopped publication in protest against the forced entry of three gunmen into a journalist's house on July 21 for questioning him about a newspaper report. The print media announced a cessation of publication until the government took action against the intruders.
In Jammu and Kashmir, the State Government had to seek the Army assistance after its efforts to control internal disorder among sections of people failed. The first thing the government did after the Army intervened was to impose severe restrictions on journalists. The officials followed it up by cancelling curfew passes issued to journalists and others. They also instructed the police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) not to allow any mediaperson to move around. In some instances, cameras were seized. In protest, the media organisations suspended operations for a couple of days. The protest at a national and international level forced at least a partial relaxation of the restrictions on newsgathering.
Conditions in Orissa have been difficult for journalists wanting to report freely. According to a special report brought out by the Free House Speech, in the current year (2010) 12 cases of physical attacks on reporters, stringers, or photographers have been recorded. The report noted that “the most widely broadcast channels and the largest circulating daily are owned by powerful people. Given this reality, reporting the depredations caused by national and international business houses that have descended on the State to exploit its ample natural resources has become a perilous task.”
In Madurai in Tamil Nadu, the police arrested on July 22 S. Manimaran, Editor, Dina Bhoomi, a Tamil daily, and his son, for publishing articles on the business misdeeds of quarry owners in their newspapers. All manner of grave charges were initially recorded on the basis of a complaint made by an association of quarry owners that the daily had published a series of news items, “false and misleading,” about their business. Illegal operations by quarry owners and the resultant loss of huge revenues to the State exchequer have been reported in the press from time to time.
It took protests from several media organisations, and the intervention of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, to have the grave charges removed and the editor and his son released on bail. That the relief came the very next day after the arrest highlighted the efficacy of media solidarity in bringing to public notice high-handed actions by the police in violation of accepted norms and procedures and indeed respect for freedom of expression.
The rise in attacks on journalists in India is indeed a matter of concern. It is also heartening to see more and more journalists and their organisations venture into new areas of investigative journalism, even if they involve more resourcefulness, ingenuity, and risk to limb and life.
Courtesy: The Hindu
(Posted on July 29, 2010)
Open Page promotes ‘purposeful thinking' on issues big and small
By S Vishwanathan
The Open Page, a longstanding weekly feature of The Hindu, is meant to give its readers opportunities to write on a variety of subjects of their choice. It has proved extremely popular, particularly after it went full page on March 14, 2010, on a suggestion made in this column. The suggestion came in response to the expressed wishes of a number of enthusiastic readers.
They wrote on an impressive range of subjects relating to the social, political, economic, and cultural lives of the people. Many of these contributions addressed the issues with fresh insight and a progressive outlook. The number of letters to the editor that have come in testifies to the spontaneity, the liveliness, and the élan of the Open Page.
Way back in 1978, when The Hindu introduced the ‘Open Page' as one of three special features, along with ‘Outlook' and ‘Special Report,' to commemorate the newspaper's birth centenary, the one-page feature was also termed the reader's page. The first Open Page was published with a four-line highlight at the top, which read: “How do people react to events, ideas, developments? The Hindu seeks, in this monthly feature, to provoke public discussion on key topics of current interest, to promote purposeful thinking. This page is open to you” (quoted in Rangaswami Parthasarathy's educative A Hundred Years of The Hindu: The Epic Story of Indian Nationalism, Kasturi & Sons Ltd. 1978, Madras).
These terms of reference remain relevant today. Given the lively response from readers to the contents of the Open Page over the past four months, the feature is clearly living up to its claim “to provoke public discussion ... [and] promote purposeful thinking” among tens of thousands of readers.
Of the approximately 80 articles (many of them have been accompanied by illustrations, photographs, and cartoons) published in this page up to July 18, 15 probed issues relating to women and children. Eight dealt with problems relating to the environment and wildlife. Issues relating to education and linguistic chauvinism accounted for five articles each. There were four articles on the plight of senior citizens and the same number on Bt. Brinjal.
A few articles highlighted problems ranging from the quality of TV serials to the justness or otherwise of capital punishment, from understanding Mahatma Gandhi to confronting Maoists, from eulogising Super Moms and Super Grandmas to ensuring communal harmony in a pluralist society. Most of the articles were eminently readable because they touched upon the contemporary concerns of large sections of the people.
The mix included some light articles, human interest stories, humour pieces, and interesting tales that people like to read in addition to the heavy stuff. Some writers wrote sensitively on people who suffer deprivations, such as housemaids and Dalits. Recent incidents of barbaric ‘honour killings' and corporal punishment inflicted on schoolchildren were taken up for earnest discussion.
Interestingly, not just the articles on serious subjects, but also those written in a lighter vein won the appreciation of readers who wrote letters to the editor or to the Readers' Editor. Thus recent Open Page articles have generated discussion on everything that serious newspapers write editorials about.
The subjects covered included the entry of foreign universities, ‘honour killings' of young couples, the flourishing of khap panchayats, which nullified weddings between consenting adults, the continuing practice of corporal punishment in schools and the resultant tragedies, gender discrimination in fixing wages, the ill-treatment of house maids, child abuse, linguistic chauvinism, communalism, casteism, and terrorism. The theme of changing social values in relation to the indiscriminate use or abuse of modern gadgets such as mobile phones, the ‘cultural shocks' that modern society has often to face, and the increasing isolation of senior citizens from the rest of the society have also provoked thoughtful discussion.
They suggest solutions
Many contributors to the Open Page do not stop with highlighting the problems. They propose solutions as well. This suggests that readers are not less committed than media pundits to resolving troubling issues through a process of social change and reform that has been delayed for too long in India. For instance, Anandita Gupta (“Employing women: going beyond quota,” Open Page, March 14, 2010) writes “… the question is not which class of women will benefit from a higher number of women representatives.” The question is: will it really empower women. In her opinion, a seat in the legislature does not automatically ensure that the interests of the group/section/community of that person are made safe.
The article refers to the continued oppression of women and instances of gang rape of Dalit women. Ms Gupta's clear-sighted formulation is that women's empowerment means “giving the power to women to say no to what she does not agree to and giving her the freedom to exercise her fundamental rights as a citizen of India.” She then spells out measures that, “if implemented in their true spirit, would empower women the way we would like them to.”
The measures include the sensitisation of judges towards cases involving women, the formation of a separate cell to investigate cases involving women, the enactment of stronger laws to deal with atrocities against women, and steps to sensitise the police to woman-specific problems. Although Ms Gupta's stand on reservation for women in legislatures may sound cynical, her article displays a practical approach to the real, long-pending problems ordinary women face in their day-to-day life.
Issues before society
Another subject that has caught the attention of discerning readers is premarital sex and live-in relationships. There have been three Open Page articles on the subject in the last four months. Dr. Meena Chintapalli, a Texas-based paediatrician, offers this surprising generalisation in “Ever thought about the child caught in crossfire?” (Open Page, April 18, 2010): “Encouraging sexual relationships with the co-living prior to marriage leads to what the western society is now regretting.
The guy loses interest in the girl he has a relationship with, as another girl attracts his attraction for whatever reason. The girl tries to save the relationship by getting pregnant. The guy walks out of the life of the child and the mother. The mother looks for another support and that man will not accept this child and this child will not accept the new guy. Anger builds up and this leads to emotional and physical abuse as well. The child grows up with insecurity and the mother loses interest in the child as a result of the failures and depression.” Noting that the affected children suffered from abnormalities of different kinds, Dr Chintapalli cautions Indians against similar occurrences.
“People of the same gotra do not necessarily have the same origin” (Open Page, July 4, 2010) by M.V. Anjaneyalu challenges the contention of the khaps that same-gotra marriages cannot be validated on the ground that the man and the woman involved have the same origin. The writer punches holes through this pseudo-theory by pointing out that people of a gotra are descended from families of different origin. “Moreover,” he writes, “the genes undergo change in course of time as the spouses come from different parents.”
Another article that has triggered reader interest is by K. Alagesan. “We are casteless, give us our due” (Open Page, July 4, 2010) looks at the couples “who have chosen to lead a life away from the casteist social order” to make out a case for doing a census of inter-caste couples. Referring to the contradiction between the Constitution envisaging a casteless society and the social order remaining caste-ridden, he asserts that inter-caste marriage is the only remedy. “Crores of people,” he claims, have married across castes and discarded the oppressive caste system, but intolerant of this, caste forces have ostracised such couples. Mr. Alagesan presses for a separate reservation of 0.5 per cent for the sons and daughters of inter-caste couples, as recommended by the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, headed by Justice M. Venkatachalaiah, in 2000.
Strengthening the bond
The Open Page is a vital, increasingly important part of the newspaper. Making it a full page has attracted a big response. It strengthens the bond of trust between the newspaper and its readers. It helps the newspaper learn from its readers, many of whom bring to the table fresh insights and ideas. The Hindu's Chief News Editor, P.K. Subramanian, who selects the articles from a large inflow and edits them on his own time, mostly at home, and a small team that helps him put together the Open Page, as well as thousands of the newspaper's readers deserve the credit for this enthusing work in progress.
(The writer is Readers' Editor in The Hindu. He can be contacted at
(Posted on July 17, 2010)
What makes the day begin
By Subir Roy
When I went out to the front gate at quarter-to-seven and found that the morning papers had not arrived, I was only mildly irritated, muttering to myself silently: when will they learn to be on time? This is how the last informal leg — the thin two of the delivery boy to be precise — of a very organised process let the whole endeavour down, I ruminated with a journalist’s slight sense of superiority. Then, as the minutes ticked by, irritation gave way to annoyance and eventually concern.
What on earth could have happened? Surely, there could not have been a power failure through last night at all the newspaper offices. They were not even on the same street as in Delhi where the Emergency had arrived to a paperless, cheerless morning’s unwelcome. At precisely eight o’clock I called the head vendor on his cellphone and asked with a mixture of annoyance and exasperation what on earth had happened. He chuckled softly at having caught me out in my mental disconnect and said, “Sir (they always sir you in the south), the World Cup final ended so late, the papers are all late.” I am glad he could not see the sheepish look on my face.
One reason why I get disturbed when the papers are seriously delayed without apparent reason (it’s different when you are forewarned by a holiday announcement the previous day) is my first memory of such a happening. Both my father and I (freshly back home from boarding school at end of term) were at our front door that winter morning in Kolkata, down from second floor, wondering what had caused the delay. The papers eventually came to tell us that Lal Bahadur Shastri had died in Tashkent after signing the peace agreement with Pakistan to end the 1965 war in which he had so decisively led the nation to victory.
The morning paper was always much more than just a newspaper. Two rites marked your entry into the world of grownups in a middle class Bengali household — your first cup of the day became tea and not milk and you made an awful fuss if you were not granted the right of first sight of the headlines. (There wasn’t very much more to newspapers in those days.) As it happened, one particular newspaper benchmarked my entry and graduation into the world of the Indian economy. Early in my college days, I persuaded my father to buy me the Economic Times (how else could I become a proper economics graduate, I averred) which came from Mumbai and was delivered in the evening. That somehow made it miss the mark of being a proper newspaper (those arrived early in the morning), just as I myself was far from becoming a graduate.
Then, over time, the ET came earlier in the day as there were better plane connections with Delhi where it began to print. And finally, the paper came of age in my subconscious when its Kolkata edition was delivered early in the morning as all proper newspapers were. By that time I had started working and in a way both my paper (nobody else in the family cared for it) and I had arrived.
Having grown up in a world in which the newspaper was always delivered at home, I was rather distraught when on landing up in Britain I found that most bought their paper at the tube station while going to work. Getting the paper at home cost a penny more, if I recall right. But I was determined not to let a cherished habit die. So, I paid the extra and had the Times come home to me. As I relished my morning cuppa, I could not decide which was the greater British institution, a good cup of tea or the Thunderer, no matter how muted it had become by the troubled Seventies. Over time I acquired more costly habits — a taste for Dunhill cigarettes, Scotch and the Financial Times, in that order — until I was broke and ready to return home.
About the only negative part of being a journalist has been to see most of the morning paper the night before. The freshness, surprise and charm are partly lost. It is like getting to know your wife to be a bit too well before being formally wedded. There is certainly a bit of the thrill of the exclusive preview but the inky, fresh from the rotary, feeling is also gone. You had to wait to go on annual leave to get back the unique pleasure of discovering the world every morning form the papers.
As with all living things, if there is a sunrise, there has to be a sunset. One of the greatest disappointments that progress has brought is the realisation that one aspect of civilisation, as many of us know and cherish it, is about to go below the horizon. The days of the printed paper, physically delivered with a thud which can be heard in the morning stillness, are numbered. Content is being increasingly accessed via the Net and soon the person who insists on getting the hard copy of his newspaper delivered at his doorstep in the morning will be an oddity. The romance of being able to physically hold and read a newspaper will take its place in the museum, next to the romance of horses and sailing ships.
(MediaHive.co.in is thankful to Mr Roy for giving the permission for posting this article, which appeared on Business Standard on July 17, 2010)
(Posted on July 12, 2010)
Speak your mind. Lose your job
Why Octavia Nasr and Dave Weigel shouldn't have lost their jobs
By Jack Shafer
Speak your mind, lose your job is the lesson I'm taking away from yesterday's sacking of CNN senior editor Octavia Nasr. Nasr, who had worked for the network for 20 years, tweeted this upon the death of Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah: Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah ...
One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot.
Nasr promptly published a mea culpa, blaming the 140-character brevity of Twitter for her "error of judgment." She regretted having tried to express complex views about Fadlallah's life's work in a simplistic forum. Then, she spent 3,964 characters trying to clarify her tweet and save her job. No luck. An internal CNN memo obtained by the New
York Times stated that Nasr was sent packing because "her credibility" had "been compromised."
The dumping of Nasr follows the defenestration of Washington Post blogger Dave Weigel, whose resignation was accepted on June 25 after intemperate comments he had made about conservatives in a private listserv were leaked to FishbowlDC and the Daily Caller.
Weigel's acerbic listserv comments, some made before he went to work for the Post, bad-mouthed some of the very conservatives he had been hired to cover. Weigel called upon Matt Drudge to torch himself, labeled Newt Gingrich an "amoral blowhard," and otherwise disparaged conservatives. Weigel, too, has apologized, saying he regrets his
rudeness and "hubris." In an Esquire.com piece published today, Weigel writes that he "had a bad habit of using [the listserv] as an idea latrine." (Idea Latrine would be a great name for a band.)
In the wake of Weigel's departure, his ultimate boss, Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli, offered this mind-bending statement to Post reporter Howard Kurtz. "[W]e can't have any tolerance for the perception that people are conflicted or bring a bias to their work.
... There's abundant room on our Web site for a wide range of viewpoints, and we should be transparent about everybody's viewpoint." [Ellipsis in the original.]
Brauchli seems to be saying that Post reporters can bring biases to their journalism, just as long as they don't reveal them. But the post-ellipsis part of his statement appears to contradict that reading, because if everybody were to suddenly become transparent about their viewpoints at the Post, perception of bias would rise, crest, and surely swamp readers. And Brauchli can't possibly want that.
Brauchli's confusion over where reporters should stow their personal luggage—in a dark and locked closet or in the vestibule where anybody can pick through it—goes to the center of the two controversies. That journalists have opinions and express them in private and sometimes (to their frequent regret) in public should come as no shocker. If you prick them, they bleed, too.
But such biases shouldn't be thought of as invasive weeds, choking the garden, but as nutrients. The job of a journalist is to gather evidence, test it, and come to conclusions wherever feasible. Such an enterprise is impossible to undertake without biases. Indeed, like scientific inquiries, almost every new story begins with some sort of bias or hunch or leaning. A reporter or an editor thinks this story is more promising or interesting than that story, therefore they agree to pursue it. But without reporting both stories—or every possible story, which is impossible—how can the editor and reporter really know which was the "right" story to assign? They can't. They can only trust their biases.
Biases may be necessary for the production of quality journalism, but as anybody who has ever listened to a blowhard or read a listserv or Twitter feed knows, they're not sufficient. Nor is objectivity the key, or what passes for objectivity in journalism these days. As Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach explain in their 2001 book, The Elements of
Journalism, the key element is verification. Lamenting the loss of the original meaning of "objectivity" in journalism, the duo writes: When the concept originally evolved, it was not meant to imply that journalists were free of bias. Quite the contrary. The term began to appear as part of journalism early in the last century, particularly in the 1920s, out of a growing recognition that journalists were full of bias, often unconsciously. Objectivity called for journalists to develop a consistent method of testing information—a transparent
approach to evidence—precisely so that personal and culture biases would not undermine their work.
The journalistic method was the thing that was supposed to be objective, not the journalist, a method that depended on verification of results and findings. Rosenstiel and Kovach complain about how the old journalism of verification has been "overrun" by the new journalism of assertion that we consume on TV and radio. They also bellyache about the neutral voice adopted by unscrupulous journalists who want to appear objective when they're completely in the tank for somebody. This, they write, is a "form of deception." In my book, this kind of deception—and not shooting off your mouth—should be a firing
Which brings us back to Weigel and Nasr. To the best of my knowledge, neither journalist has been criticized for producing substandard or otherwise shoddy work for their network or newspaper. Both appear to be committed to the journalism of verification, although I'm more confident about vouching for Weigel's work, which I know well, than Nasr's, which I don't. Weigel's jerkiness on a private listser doesn't bother me much at all. If you were to purge the Post newsroom of every reporter who had been a jerk sometime in his career, you'd be facing an acre of empty desks. In fact, jerkiness was one of the attributes that I used to look for in a candidate when I was on the
management side of the editorial divide.
That Weigel's bad manners bothered his Post bosses so much that they felt compelled to accept his resignation speaks poorly for the paper. That CNN walked Nasr off the plank because she expressed a smidgeon of "respect" for a Hezbollah-supporting cleric in a tweet speaks of cowardice.
The work is the thing. Until somebody can show me shoddy journalism by Weigel and Nasr, I'll defend them. Nobody should be sacked to pacify the nitpickers.
(Posted on July 1, 2010)
Reporters are not police detectives
By Mark Leccese
American journalism boasts a widely accepted ethical code for reporters going undercover to gather information: "Don’t do it. … Except when you can’t get information important to the public any other way." This strikes me as similar to having a Sixth Commandment that reads: "Thou shalt not kill. Except for double parkers who block traffic."
A reporter for the Minnesota-based GLBT magazine Lavender, in a June 18 cover story, outed a Minneapolis Lutheran pastor named Tom Brock who had previously spoken out against homosexuality. Reporter John Townsend “confirmed” the pastor’s homosexuality by attending, without identifying himself as a reporter, a support group for gay men “struggling with chastity” at a suburban Catholic Church at which Brock confessed to having gay sex while on a visit to Solvakia.
Here we have a single story that violates two ethical principles: gathering information for a story without indentifying yourself as a reporter, and outing a closeted homosexual.
I understand not everyone agrees with me. The website QUEERTY celebrated the story, reminding its readers that the pastor blamed a 2009 tornado on the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s approval of a statement saying there is no consensus on whether the Bible condemns homosexuality. QUEERTY adds the pastor “has spent countless sermons and YouTube videos railing against you queers.”
The headline on QUEERTY’s blog post: “Lutheran Pastor Tom Brock Blamed ELCA's Tornado on Homosexuality. Which, Uh, He Suffers From.”
An opposing view comes from the blog RE:ACT, the “the official blog of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association,” which finds Lavender’s ethics “suspect” and raises a point that goes to the heart of the ethics of undercover journalism:
What’s not clear from the story is whether the reporter attended the meetings in a good-faith, or whether he attended in order to disclose information about Brock. Ultimately, it may not matter, but it does raise a question of intent.
Did Townsend attend the support group session because, he, too, was “struggling with chastity,” and when he discovered Brock at the same meeting decide to write a story? Or did Townsend get a tip that Brock would be at the meeting and attend, without indentifying himself, to catch Brock and write a story?
In response to a questions from MinnPost.com, Lavender magazine’s publisher says Townsend was sent to the support group meeting “undercover.” That answers RE:ACT’s question about the reporter’s intent. The reporter went to the meeting “undercover” with the hope of gathering enough information to out Brock. That’s wrong.
Reporters are not police detectives. They have no business going “undercover.” I asked my colleague Jeffrey Seglin, a journalist who has written books on business ethics and writes a ethics column called “The Right Thing” for the New York Times Syndicate, what he thought of the reporter’s behavior. Here’s what he said: If the reporter posed on someone he is not to get a story, he builds the story based on misrepresentation. He needs to ask himself whether approaching the story by misrepresenting who he is the only way to get the story. If there was a more honest way to get it, he should have gone that route.
He also needs to ask himself if outing a gay pastor because he has made anti-gay comments in the past and presumably appears to be a hypocrite to the reporter is a legitimate stance. Has the reporter never assumed that the pastor may be both a gay man and hold anti-gay sentiments? It seems that in exploring the ethics of this story, the reporter placed an emphasis on outing the pastor without looking at what his (the reporter’s) motivations were for getting the story and whether there were alternatives that he could have used that weren’t deceptive.
To which I would add: If there were no more honest way to get the story, then the reporter should have set aside the story. Misrepresenting yourself to get a story is always unethical, no matter the story. There should be no exceptions.
A February 2010 article by Greg Marx on the website of the Columbia Journalism Review makes a convincing argument.
As other observers have noted, while the use of deception in reporting can yield sensational results, it also lends the subject a weapon to wield against the journalist. The ready-made complaint: If the reporter has forfeited the high ground of transparency and honesty, how can his conclusions be trusted by the public?
The GBLT community remains divided about the ethics of outing public figures, even those who speak out against homosexuality, as you can see from the comments below the RE:ACT blog post. As a journalist, I find outing not only unethical but a reprehensible abuse of the power of journalism. Sexual identification is a private matter if a person wants to keep it private, no matter how public a life that person leads.
When journalism ethics slide like this, we end up with James O’Keefe.
Follow Mark Leccese on Twitter at @mleccese.
Knocks On The Door: It’s The Newspaper Boy
By Arundhati Roy
While the Indian government considers deploying the army and air force to quell the rebellion in the countryside, strange things are happening in the cities. On June 2, the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights held a public meeting in Mumbai. The main speakers were Gautam Navlakha, editorial consultant of the Economic and Political Weekly, and myself. The press was there in strength. The meeting lasted for more than three hours. It was widely covered by the print media and TV. On June 3, several newspapers, TV channels and online news portals like rediff.com covered the event quite accurately. The Times of India (Mumbai edition) had an article headlined ‘We need an idea that is neither Left nor Right’, and the Hindu’s article was headlined ‘Can we leave the bauxite in the mountain?’ The recording of the meeting is up on YouTube.
The day after the meeting, PTI put out a brazenly concocted account of what I had said. The PTI report was first posted by the Indian Express online on June 3 at 1.35 pm. The headline said: ‘Arundhati backs Maoists, dares authorities to arrest her’. Here are some excerpts:
“Author Arundhati Roy has justified the armed resistance by Maoists and dared the authorities to arrest her for supporting their cause. ‘The Naxal movement could be nothing but an armed struggle. I am not supporting violence. But I am also completely against contemptuous atrocities-based political analysis. It ought to be an armed movement. Gandhian way of opposition needs an audience, which is absent here. People have debated long before choosing this form of struggle,’ said Roy, who had saluted the ‘people of Dantewada’ after 76 CRPF and police personnel were mowed down by Maoists in the deadliest attack targeting security forces. ‘I am on this side of line. I do not care...pick me up put me in jail,’ she asserted.”
Let me begin with the end of the report. The suggestion that I saluted the “people of Dantewada” after the Maoists killed 76 CRPF and police personnel is a piece of criminal defamation. I have made it quite clear in an interview on CNN-IBN that I viewed the death of the CRPF men as tragic, and that I thought they were pawns in a war of the rich against the poor. What I said at the meeting in Mumbai was that I was contemptuous of the hollow condemnation industry the media has created and that as the war went on and the violence spiralled, it was becoming impossible to extract any kind of morality from the atrocities committed by both sides, so an atrocity-based analysis was a meaningless exercise. I said that I was not there to defend the killing of ordinary people by anybody, neither the Maoists nor the government, and that it was important to ask what the CRPF was doing with 27 AK-47s, 38 INSAS, 7 SLRs, 6 light machine guns, one stengun and a two-inch mortar in tribal villages. If they were there to wage war, then being railroaded into condemning the killing of the CRPF men by the Maoists meant being railroaded into coming down on the side of the government in a war that many of us disagreed with.
The rest of the PTI report was a malicious, moronic mish-mash of what transpired at the meeting. My views on the Maoists are clear. I have written at length about them. At the meeting, I said that the people’s resistance against the corporate land grab consisted of a bandwidth of movements with different ideologies, of which the Maoists were the most militant end. I said the government was labelling every resistance movement, every activist, ‘Maoist’ in order to justify dealing with them in repressive, military fashion. I said the government had expanded the meaning of the word ‘Maoist’ to include everybody who disagreed with it, anybody who dared to talk about justice. I drew attention to the people of Kalinganagar and Jagatsinghpur who were waging peaceful protests but were living under siege, surrounded by hundreds of armed police, were being lathicharged and fired at. I said that local people thought long and hard before deciding what strategy of resistance to adopt. I spoke of how people who lived deep inside forest villages could not resort to Gandhian forms of protest because peaceful satyagraha was a form of political theatre that in order to be effective, needed a sympathetic audience, which they did not have. I asked how people who were already starving could go on hunger strikes. I certainly never said anything like “it ought to be an armed movement”. (I’m not sure what on earth that means.)
I went on to say that all the various resistance movements today, regardless of their differences, understood they were fighting a common enemy, so they were all on one side of the line, and that I stood with them. But from this side of the line, instead of only asking the government questions, we should ask ourselves some questions. Here are my exact words:
“I think it is much more interesting to interrogate the resistance to which we belong, I am on this side of the line. I am very clear about that. I don’t care, pick me up, put me in jail. I am on this side of the line. But on this side of the line, we must turn around and ask our comrades questions.”
I then said that while Gandhian methods of resistance were not proving effective, Gandhian movements like the Narmada Bachao Andolan had a radical and revolutionary vision of “development” and while the Maoists’ methods of resistance were effective, I wondered whether they had thought through the kind of “development” they wanted. Apart from the fact that they were against the government selling out to private corporations, was their mining policy very different from state policy? Would they leave the bauxite in the mountain—which is what the people who make up their cadre want—or would they mine it when they came to power? I read out Pablo Neruda’s Standard Oil Company that tells us what an old battle this one is.
The PTI reporter who had made it a point to take permission from the organisers to record cannot claim his or her version to be a matter of ‘interpretation’. It is blatant falsification. Surprisingly, the one-day-old report was published by several newspapers and broadcast by TV channels on June 4, many of whose own reporters had covered the event accurately the previous day and obviously knew the report to be false. The Economic Times said: “Publicity-seeking Arundhati Roy wants to be Aung San Suu Kyi”. I’m curious—why would newspapers and TV channels want to publish the same news twice, once truthfully and then falsely?
That same evening, at about seven, two men on a motorcycle drove up to my home in Delhi and began hurling stones at the window. One stone nearly hit a small child playing on the street. Angry people gathered and the men fled. Within minutes, a Tata Indica arrived with a man who claimed to be a reporter from Zee TV, asking if this was “Arundhati Roy’s house” and whether there had been trouble. Clearly, this was a set-up, a staged display of ‘popular anger’ to be fed to our barracuda-like TV channels. Fortunately for me, that evening their script went wrong. But there was more to come. On June 5, the Dainik Bhaskar in Raipur carried a news item “Himmat ho to AC kamra chhod kar jungle aaye Arundhati (if she has the guts, Arundhati should leave her air-conditioned room and come to the jungle)” in which Vishwa Ranjan, the director general of police of Chhattisgarh, challenged me to face the police by joining the Maoists in the forest. Imagine that—the police DGP and me, Man to Man. Not to be outdone, a Bharatiya Janata Party leader from Chhattisgarh, Ms Poonam Chaturvedi, announced to the press that I should be shot down at a public crossroad, and that other traitors like me should be given the death sentence. (Perhaps someone should tell her that this sort of direct incitement to violence is an offence under the Indian Penal Code.) Mahendra Karma, chief of the murderous ‘people’s’ militia, the Salwa Judum, which is guilty of innumerable acts of rape and murder, asked for legal action to be taken against me. On Tuesday, June 8, Hindi daily Nayi Duniya reported that complaints have been filed against me in two separate police stations in Chhattisgarh, Bhata Pada and Teli Bandha, by private individuals objecting to my “open support for the Maoists”.
Is this what Military Intelligence calls psyops (psychological operations)? Or is it the urban avatar of Operation Green Hunt? In which a government news agency helps the home ministry to build up a file on those it wants to put away, inventing evidence when it can’t find any? Or is PTI trying to deliver the more well-known among us to the lynch mob so that the government does not have to risk its international reputation by arresting or eliminating us? Or is it just a way of forcing a crude polarisation, a ridiculous dumbing down of the debate—if you’re not with “us”, you are a Maoist? Not just a Maoist, but a stupid, arrogant, loud-mouthed Maoist. Whatever it is, it’s dangerous, and shameless, but it isn’t new. Ask any Kashmiri, or any young Muslim being held as a “terrorist” without any evidence except baseless media reports. Ask Mohammed Afzal, sentenced to death to “satisfy the collective conscience of society”.
Now that Operation Green Hunt has begun to knock on the doors of people like myself, imagine what’s happening to activists and political workers who are not well known. To the hundreds who are being jailed, tortured and eliminated. June 26 is the 35th anniversary of the Emergency. Perhaps the Indian people should declare (because the government certainly won’t) that this country is in a state of Emergency. (On second thoughts, did it ever go away?) This time censorship is not the only problem. The manufacture of news is an even more serious one.
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