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Opinion

(Posted on 12.1.2016)

Question Intentions and not Ethics

By Madhuparna Roy Sukul
Media Hive News Network

Journalism ethics are again in question with the recent news of Rajat Sharma certifying Arun Jaitley’scandor and credibility in the court of law. The chairman and the editor-in-chief of one of the dominant Hindi news channels in India, better known for hosting the popular interview-based show “Aap Ki Adalat”, was cited as a witness by Jaitley in the court for his DDCA (District Cricket Association) trial on January 6.

While the nation is already seeing a first of its kind of trial where a central minster files a Rs. 10 crore defamation suit against a chief minister, it is also witnessing a journalist vouching for his old time ally if not for the first time. Their friendship dates back to their college days when Jaitley headed the Delhi University Student’s Union (1974-1975) and Sharma held an authoritative position at the AkhilBharatiyaVidyarthiParishad. This association seemed to strengthen followed by Jaitley’s arrest and Sharma’s retreat during emergency.

Even though Sharma shows a lot of gumption now with this stance, he surely comes under the scrutiny for his journalism ethics at the same time. According to critics, a prominent journalist like him has staked his and his channel’s reputation by supporting his one-time friend. But, we wonder why journalists like MJ Akbar (an ex-Congressman and now a BJP member), Manish Sisodia (AAP), AshishKhetan (AAP), Nayeema Ahmad Mehjoor (PDP) or for that matter one of the prominent ex-BJP representativesArunShourie was never put under the scanner for being a part of the political parties considering that leaders face corruption charges every other day and that journalists should rather show the leaders the right path! Infact Shourie earned equal respect while in politics as he did as a journalist.

Moreover, before criticizing an honest stance we strangely forget that it has now almost become a trend for female reporters from different news channels to get married to politicians that includes names like, Digvijay Singh, former congress MP of Uttar Pradesh – R.P.N Singh and many more. If we come to discussing personal relationships of journalists with politicians we may have to open a different chapter altogether like, Omar Abduhllah’s alleged relationship with a well-known news anchor, ShobhnaBhartia as a Congress MP being the Hindustan Times editor-in-chief, BarkhaDutt’s or VirSanghvi’s alleged involvement in Radiagate scandal, Rajiv Shukla (Congress MP) owning News 24 or the endless list of prominent journalist’s inclination towards different political parties from print and visual media.

So as far as journalism ethics are concerned firstly, they should apply to all and the first virtue that every mortal should possess in every field is the gall to call a spade a spade with the right intentions and that is exactly what Rajat Sharma did.

Views expressed are personal. Madhuparna Roy Sukul is a freelance writer. She can be contacted at madhusukul2011@gmail.com

(Posted on 21.7.2014)

Being a Good Journalist Means Learning How to Keep a Secret

By Joel Simon
July 21, 2015

The role of journalists is to make information public. The irony is that in order to do so, they need to keep lots of things secrets.They do that in all sorts of ways. Sometimes journalists promise anonymity in order to get officials to divulge what they’re not supposed to reveal. Sometimes they cloak the exchange of sensitive documents. Sometimes they conceal the nature of their stories so that governments can’t censor their work preemptively.

What news organizations don’t worry enough about is keeping the identity of their readers secret. In an era when electronic spycraft is rampant, people who go to a website looking for news can unwittingly endanger themselves just by clicking on a story or video. Governments that know who is accessing specific information can intrude in a variety of ways—by blocking or censoring the story or by targeting individuals who access prohibited information for harassment or even legal action. To read full article, click HERE

(Posted on 23.04.2014)

Best Job in the World: Gabriel García Márquez on Journalism

Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, who died on 17 April, wrote this piece on the evolution of journalism for Index on Censorship magazine in 1997. Before gaining worldwide acclaim for novels including One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, Márquez was a journalist for newspapers in Colombia and Venezuela. This piece shares his love of the profession and his concern that reporters have become “lost in labyrinth of technology madly rushing the profession into the future without any control”

Some 50 years ago, there were no schools of journalism. One learned the trade in the newsroom, in the print shops, in the local cafe and in Friday-night hangouts. The entire newspaper was a factory where journalists were made and the news was printed without quibbles. We journalists always hung together, we had a life in common and were so passionate about our work that we didn’t talk about anything else. The work promoted strong friendships among the group, which left little room for a personal life.There were no scheduled editorial meetings, but every afternoon at 5pm, the entire newspaper met for an unofficial coffee break somewhere in the newsroom, and took a breather from the daily tensions. It was an open discussion where we reviewed the hot themes of the day in each section of the newspaper and gave the final touches to the next day’s edition.

The newspaper was then divided into three large departments: news, features and editorial. The most prestigious and sensitive was the editorial department; a reporter was at the bottom of the heap, somewhere between an intern and a gopher. Time and the profession itself has proved that the nerve centre of journalism functions the other way. At the age of 19 I began a career as an editorial writer and slowly climbed the career ladder through hard work to the top position of cub reporter..

To read full article, click HERE

(Posted on 11.12.2013)

FB Wants to Be a Newspaper. Users Have Their Own Ideas

Mike Isaac
December 11, 2013

Most people think of Facebook in a similar way: It’s a place to share photos of your kids. It’s a way to keep up with friends and family members. It’s a place to share a funny, viral story or LOLcat picture you’ve stumbled upon on the Web.This is not how Facebook thinks of Facebook. In Mark Zuckerberg’s mind, Facebook should be “the best personalized newspaper in the world.” He wants a design-and-content mix that plays up a wide array of “high-quality” stories and photos.

The gap between these two Facebooks — the one its managers want to see, and the one its users like using today — is starting to become visible. Earlier this year, Facebook users rejected a redesign that Zuckerberg announced with much fanfare. Now Facebook is adjusting its algorithms to emphasize content that it thinks readers should see, which will push down some of the stuff that’s currently popular.

Which version of Facebook will win out? What Facebook Wants

Let’s begin with Facebook’s vision of the News Feed, which can be traced primarily back to two men: Vice President of Product Chris Cox and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Over the past two years, according to sources, Cox has been campaigning internally for a sort of “ideal” News Feed: It would be part of your daily morning ritual, something that you’d open and scan much the same way you’d read a newspaper.

Facebook Newsfeed PhotoTeams explored a number of user interface and product mock-ups with this idealized form of user behavior in mind. It was all housed under an umbrella project broadly blanketed under the term “Reader” (an initiative that was widely misreported as a Google Reader clone earlier this year), and many of its early prototypes looked slick — a “refined, highbrow” experience, as it was put to me. One initial conception was a sort of Flipboard-like product. (Facebook declined to comment on any of this Reader talk specifically.)

The overall goal here: Cox and Zuckerberg, the two most vocal proponents of this philosophy, want visiting the site to be a “useful” experience, delivering a well-rounded assortment of content for people across the world, in a tight, well-crafted package.

It’s quite an idyllic portrait of Facebook. But its early renditions haven’t been smooth sailing. To read full article, click HERE

(Posted on 15.5.2013)

Watergate Era: 'A' Peak in Journalism

Gene Policinski
May 15, 2013

Forty years ago this week, The Washington Post —and its self-described “young and hard-digging reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein” —took home a Pulitzer Prize for public service for coverage of the Watergate scandal.

Other winners in journalism that year included the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times and Knight Newspapers, and entries from several local newspapers — call part of what we today would call “mainstream media.”

Interestingly, the winner in drama that year was Jason Miller, for a play titled “That Championship Season.” There’s little doubt that the year and the era also was a “championship season” for journalism and a free press.

The Watergate era, which echoed well past President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, was a time when reporters were considered heroes by most, newspapers and broadcast outlets still churned out high profits and journalism school enrollments swelled with increased numbers of young men —and for the first time, young women —intent on writing stories and doing good.

Forty years later, Woodward and Bernstein are pursued themselves by the journalists today asking at least two questions: How would Watergate coverage been different in the digital era? And, to a lesser degree, what’s happened to the “golden glow” around the profession?

Woodward and Bernstein responded to the questions at the 2012 convention of the American Society of News Editors (which in 1974, by the way, had “Newspaper” not “News” in its name). In a story by The Washington Post on that ASNE session, it quoted the pair as saying that “editors gave them the time and encouragement to pursue an intricate, elusive story â€1/8 and then the rest of the American system (Congress, the judiciary) took over and worked.

“It was a shining act of democratic teamwork that neither man believes is wholly replicable today —either because news outlets are strapped or gutted, or because the American people have a reduced appetite for ponderous coverage of a not-yet-scandal, or because the current Congress would never act as decisively to investigate a president.”

Bernstein was quoted by the Post as saying that “We had a readership that was much more open to real fact than today.

Today, there’s a huge audience, partly whipped into shape by the 24-hour cycle, that is looking for information to confirm their already-held political-cultural-religious beliefs/ideologies, and that is the cauldron into which all information is put.”

Forty years after Watergate, Careercast.com’s 2013 annual report tagged “reporter” as the worst job to have. There were just under 1,800 daily newspapers in 1985, and fewer than 1,400 today. Yet, with all of that negative news, don’t count out a free press yet.

At that same ASNE session nine months ago, even Bernstein said, “I have no doubt there are dozens of great reporters out there today — and news organizations — that could do this story.”

And look at the Pulitzer winners this year. To read full article, click HERE

(Posted on 3.5.2013)

When It Is Safe To Speak, The Whole World Benefits

Dr Mrinal Chatterjee
Media Hive News Network, May 3, 2013

May 3 is observed as World Press Freedom Day since 1993. This year the theme is “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media”. It highlights the need for action to upholding the right of journalists to carry out their work.

World Press Freedom Day was established by the UN, as an outgrowth of the Seminar on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press. This Seminar took place in Windhoek, Namibia, in 1991 and led to the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting Independent and Pluralistic Media.

Although World Press Freedom Day has only been celebrated since 1993, it has much deeper roots in the United Nations: Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of good governance, sustainable development, and lasting peace and security. Yet every day around the world, journalists and media workers are under attack. They face intimidation, threats and violence from governments, corporations, criminals or other forces that wish to silence or censor. From traditional media platforms such as radio, print and television, to newer forms like social media, blogs and citizen-led reporting, journalists are increasingly at risk. Over the past decade, more than 600 journalists have been killed worldwide.

According to the International Federation of Journalists, there has been a total of 121 deaths among media personnel from targeted killings, bomb attacks and cross-fire incidents in 2012. This is up 13% on the 107 killed in 2011 and 22% on the 94 that died in 2010. In 2009, 113 media personnel were killed.

According to a South Asia Media Monitor report, "In 2012, South Asia- the most volatile region- mourned the murder of 25 media persons, with Pakistan again remaining in the lead. 13 journalists lost their lives in Pakistan, followed by five in India, three in Bangladesh, and two each in Nepal and Afghanistan." Hundreds more have been wounded and detained. The dangers are not only physical. The powerful are deploying numerous tools to try to stop the media from shedding light on misrule and misdeeds. These are individual tragedies; collectively, they are an assault on the right of all people to the truth.

Journalists must have the right to speak without being subjected to coercion. The whole society has a stake in this, as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in his message on this occasion: When it is safe to speak, the whole world benefits. Therefore the whole society must take part in the effort to enable all journalists in all media to do their job without fear or oppression.
***
Mrinal Chatterjee is a journalist turned media academician. He writes on and about media. He also writes fiction and columns in English and Odia.

(Posted on 25.3.2013)

How Not to Be a Journalist

By Inder Malhotra

Journalists comment on everything under the sun. But when someone comments on their profession, they let loose furious fusillades flaunting the slogan, "the freedom of the media in danger". Most condemn even the suggestion of a public debate on the issue of media regulation and responsibilities.

No one can deny my credentials as a strong supporter of media freedom wherever and whenever it was threatened. But at the same time, I have called for media responsibility. What is wrong with that? Every social activity has to be regulated, because man is by nature a social being, as Aristotle said. No freedom can be absolute, it is always subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest. It follows that every profession also has to be regulated.

I am against control of the media, but am in favour of regulation. The difference between the two is that in control, there is no freedom, whereas in regulation, there is freedom subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest. My suggestion for prescribing some minimum qualifications for journalists and regulating the schools of journalism has resulted in denunciations from many quarters. So let me explain my view.To read full article, click HERE

(Posted on 18.3.2013)

Keep media space open to all

By A.S. Panneerselvan

Justice Katju has once again stirred up a hornet’s nest — this time by suggesting a minimum academic requisite for journalists. Somewhere he fails to understand that the unintended consequences of a well-meaning prescription may undermine the wellsprings of democratic entailments.

First let us look at Justice Katju’s template for improving journalistic quality as enunciated in a press release. He says: “For quite some time an issue has arisen about the need for a qualification for entry into the profession of journalism.

In the lawyers profession an LLB Degree as well as registration in a Bar Council is required. Similarly, for entry into the medical profession the necessary qualification is an MBBS Degree and also registration with the Medical Council. For becoming a teacher a teacher’s training certificate/degree is required.

Many other professions have the requirement of some qualification before one can enter that profession. However, at present there is no qualification for entry into the profession of journalism. Hence very often persons with little or inadequate training in journalism enter the profession, and this often leads to negative effects, because such untrained persons often do not maintain high standards of journalism. For quite some time, therefore, it has been felt that there must be some legal qualification before one can enter the profession of journalism.

There are no doubt many institutions which impart teaching in journalism (some of which is very unsatisfactory) but there is as yet no legal requirement for having any qualification before entering the profession.” To read full article, click HERE

(Posted on 10.12.2012)

Manipulation a common theme of modern mainstream media

By Dipjyoti Das
Media Hive News Network

We live in a society which depends on constant updated information and communication to keep moving in the right direction and remain in touch with the latest events unfolding in different parts of the globe. It is widely regarded as the most authentic and credible source of information for the masses and hence we have firmly put our trust on media regarding any news, message or information. However, the phenomenal growth of media as a tool for disseminating news and information among the masses has flattered to deceive. The last half of the 21st century has witnessed alarming ambiguity and surveillance of distorted facts. Sensationalism, propaganda, confusion and half truths has become the sole objective of the media. In most circumstances facts are exaggerated and false.

The media is manipulated in various manners, for example in order to disseminate propaganda as news, the assistance of professional Public relations (PR) and covert and overt government propaganda are frequently used. Unfortunately what are often deemed as credible news sources can be a deliberate attempt to push vested political agendas and propaganda? When it comes to propaganda for purposes of war, for example, professional media firms can often play a pivotal role to help sell a war. In cases where a war is questionable, the mainstream media are indirectly contributing to the eventual and therefore unavoidable casualties. In many a circumstances media management devices may be used to promote certain political policies and ideologies. Where the difficulty arises is when media reports on various events do not attribute there sources properly and does not correlate with the actual happenings. The various wars on Iraq and the Arab world are nothing but comprehensive work of public relations and media manipulation.

The media has transformed into a device of hegemony which cultivates and propagates the ideologies of the powerful in a free and democratic society which in turn have played a major role in opening the door to war in the Arab world. The media has done nothing less than create a justification for war through a series of lies and keeps on doing it. It has failed miserably in creating a consensus and harmony among all sections of the society irrespective of religion, community or ideology. Rather it creates an atmosphere of negativity and hatred. The most glaring example is the ongoing violence in Israel between the media created Gaza militants and Israeli soldiers.

The truth is seldom highlighted as majority of the articles published on Gaza violence overwhelmingly focus on the killing of the Palestinian security personnel whereas the death count of the civilians are constantly rising. Numerous instances can be put to light in order to highlight the media hypocrisy in context of Gaza violence, for example, “an Associated Press article published in the CBC world news on November 13, entitled Israel mulls resuming targeted killings of Gaza militants, nothing mentioned about the deaths and injuries of the civilians. It portrays the killings as ‘targeted assassinations’.

The fact that casualties have overwhelmingly been civilians indicates that Israel is not so much engaged in “targeted” killings, as in “collective” killings, thus once again committing the crime of collective punishment. Another AP item on CBC news from November 12 reads Gaza rocket fire raises pressure on Israel government. It features a photo of an Israeli woman gazing on a hole in her living room ceiling. Again, no images, nor mention of the numerous bleeding casualties or corpses in Gaza. Along the same lines, a BBC headline on November 12 reads Israel hit by fresh volley of rockets from Gaza.” (Ref.1)

The examples mentioned above clearly show how media misinforms the masses by twisting the facts and has virtually evolved into a weapon of mass destruction, functioning at its own will and understanding without realizing the massive damage it is inflicting upon the entire human race. Media critics such as Noam Chomsky has continuously alleged the violation and the propaganda carried out by the mainstream media for not presenting the authentic reports about the legality of the various war carried out by the concerned governments against the civilians.

The serious war crimes committed by the western government in Libya are an example of the war criminality carried out for decades. But the astonishing part is the lack of media exposure to these events which get completely swept under the carpet. “In Libya, not only is there the criminal military assault on a sovereign country, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, the murder of women and children, and all the violation of international law that entails – we now have the complete lobotomisation of language and normal meaning of words.” (Ref 2.)

The unfortunate part is that the mainstream media consciously played a disgraceful and vital role in legitimizing these crimes against law, morality and humanity. The western media presented the bombardment of Libya by NATO as “responsibility to protect civilians”. But what was not reported is that it violated the UN mandate of using warplanes to kill civilians and also using despotic Arab regimes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to dismantle a sovereign government and gain control of its huge oil reserves.

The above examples are only few amidst the numerous distortion and misinterpretation of truth represented by the mainstream media. Modern society finds itself in a most precarious situation: access to enormous information but majority of them distorted. As the information channels continue to expand exponentially; one must introspect if this is genuinely beneficial to society as a whole or detrimental to our understanding of the world at large.

References

1. Linguists including Noam Chomsky condemn "reprehensible" Gaza coverage
By Maureen Clare Murphy.

2. The Media War on Libya: Justifying War through Lies and Fabrications
by Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya

(The views expressed are personal. The writer can be contacted at dipjyotidas.301@rediffmail.com)

(Posted on 10.12.2012)

Prank call death a reminder of media responsibilities

By Ed Sianski

The recent tragic death of a nurse after she received a hoax call from an Australian radio station is a timely reminder of the impact that the media in all its forms can have on an individual.

All who use the media have a responsibility to exercise due care in how they use these powerful weapons of communication without ridiculing or tearing down a person's reputation.

People who are already feeling particularly vulnerable can be tipped over the edge by unkind remarks directed at them. Like 2Day FM's Mel Greig and Michael Christian, many others have used the media without knowing the full consequences of their actions. An increased awareness shown by the community on the impact the media can have on an individual will provide some meaning to the terribly sad circumstances that led to the nurse's death. Courtesy: theaustralian.com.au

(Posted on 03.12.2012)

A victory for journalists of conscience

By Michelle Stanistreet

It's been a year since the Leveson inquiry kicked off - establishing an unprecedented public inquiry which put the spotlight on journalism and journalistic practice like never before.

And after weeks of sustained hysteria and bully-boy attacks on the NUJ from those in the industry who feared their vested interests and cosy ways of doing business were set to be disrupted, the day of Lord Justice Leveson's findings finally dawned this week.

Within the 2,000 pages of his report, there was a major victory for the NUJ - Leveson's backing for a conscience clause.

This means that when a journalist is put in a position where they are being asked to do something that goes against their code of conduct, they can speak out and refuse an assignment knowing that they have a contractual protection against being dismissed.

It's a key victory after years of campaigning and, if implemented, will be a major step forward for ethical journalism.

It comes on the back of the NUJ's major intervention at the inquiry as a core participant.

To read the full article , click here

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(Posted on 06.11.2012)

Is future of serious journalism in hands of corporate media?

By Tom Foremski

As the business models for serious journalism continue to erode where will we get the quality media we need as a society to make important decisions about our future?

I've been warning people: "Special interest groups will gladly pay for the media they want you to read, but you won't pay for the media you need to read."

Software engineers have a saying: GIGO, garbage in, garbage out.

If you start with garbage data you will get a garbage result. That's the future we are heading towards, a future where our media is corrupted with information that serves the goals of special interest groups.

Take a look at Australia where multi-billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart has been trying to acquire Fairfax Media, publisher of top newspapers, in a bid to counter anti-mining forces. We'll see more of that as newspapers and other traditional media continue to weaken.

Without our gatekeepers, able to spot corporate spin and BS, how will we make the right decisions about things such as the economy, environment, education, energy, ecology, elder healthcare...

To read the full article , click here

(Posted on 19.08.2012)

Fareed Zakaria’s Critics Are Just Jealous

By Tunku Varadarajan

Fareed Zakaria’s prominence as an American journalist began in the days after Mohamed Atta and his murderous band laid waste to the World Trade Center. Then on Newsweek’s payroll, Zakaria wrote a cover story for the magazine—titled “Why Do They Hate Us?”—which examined the roots of Islamist rage and catapulted him to intellectual celebrity.

In the past few days, as one observed his confreres in the American media slobber and snarl for his blood after an act of plagiarism so trivial that one had to marvel at the disproportion between the journalistic lapse and the cyclonic castigation, one was tempted to ask this question,in echo of his first resounding shot: “Why Do They Hate Fareed?” One must also ask a question of two of Zakaria’s employers, Time and CNN, both of whom suspended him with unseemly haste, as throngs with pitchforks gathered outside their gates: “Why Were You SoSpineless?”

Both reinstated him within days of the suspension after internal inquiries into his work; which leads one to ask why they didn’t wait until after their inquiries before smiting him so publicly. His reputation was tarred: he was in favorable consideration by Team Obama for the post of national-security adviser. That will not, now, happen.

Why do they hate Fareed?

To read full article, click here

(Posted on 09.08.2012)

The Hindi-Urdu divide in news reporting

Following is the abstract of a comparative reading of Dainik Jagran and Inquilab by Shaheen Nazar, an Adjunct Faculty with the Department of Mass Communication, Sharda University. This article was originally published in a communication research journal Mass Media, New Delhi, 4th issue 2012.

For those who read only Hindi newspapers and believe what is printed there, Muslims do not exist in India. Or if at all they do exist they are either actors or entertainers like Shahrukh and Salman or criminals or terrorists like Abu Salem and Abu Jundal. For an average Hindi newspaper reader a Muslim can’t be a normal human being contributing to the Indian society. If anything is to be reported about him, it must be something bizarre or at least entertaining.

In contrast, read Urdu newspapers. One would get the impression that it’s about another India. The common features of all the Urdu newspapers are stories such as: anti-Muslim riots in one or the other part of the country; police excesses against the community; Muslim men, mostly youth, being picked up by security agencies in the name of fight against terror; courts denying bail to Muslims under detention; police raiding Madrasas (Islamic seminaries); torture of Muslim men in police custody; extra-judicial killings; lack of civic menities in Muslim neighbourhoods; waqf (endowment) properties being usurped by government departments or corporate houses; Muslim minority schools and colleges not getting sanctioned official grants in time thus teachers and staff not getting salaries every month; government departments withholding permission to build mosques in Muslim localities; etc.

These are not figments of imagination, rather real, hard facts. There is a possibility of some degree of exaggeration in writing the story or in its treatment. But one cannot dismiss these facts as non-news.

But the national press, including Hindi and English, is consistent and unanimous in not informing the public about their state of affairs. Of late there has been a spurt in the incidences of arrests and detentions of educated Muslim youths. In the name of fight against terror, the security agencies are especially targeting cities like Darbhanga in Bihar,Azamgarh in UP, Malegaon in Maharashtra and Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh. These are the places where Muslims are comparatively better off. Many young men have done well in education and got jobs within India and abroad, specially in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. This has brought considerable affluence to their families. But this has also proved to be a curse on them. It seems the police and spy agencies are running a campaign to suppress them while the Hindu ruling elites are looking the other way.

Muslim leadership and human rights activists have been raising the issues of violation of civil rights. They are issuing statements and holding rallies and meetings to demand justice for those wrongly detained or persecuted. These statements and incidents of ‘arrests’ get due coverage in the Urdu press. But as usual, the national press is paying no attention to such gross violation of basic rights.

To illustrate my point I did a comparative reading of one Hindi and one Urdu newspaper. I selected Hindi daily Dainik Jagran and Urdu daily Inquilab. While Jagran is the second largest newspaper in India by circulation as of 2010, Inquilab is a prestigious Urdu newspaper which played its role in India’s independence struggle.

Since both the newspapers have multiple editions, I selected only Delhi editions from July 1-10. Following are my findings:

Dainik Jagran carried no story of the Muslim community on its Front pages during the period of study. Even inside pages were almost blank with respect to the community, which following the decline of Urdu in post-independent India, is subscribing to Hindi newspapers in good numbers. Young Muslims generally read Hindi or English newspaper as majority of them don’t know Urdu.

The only stories in which Muslim names can be seen on the Front pages of July 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 are those of Mumbai blast accused Kasab and Abu Jundal, the terror accused extradited from Saudi Arabia in June 2012. Other Muslim names found place on the Front pages are those of celebrities.

The Front page of July 6th carries a story which is close to Muslim hearts. That’s Babri mosque. The story is based on the revelation of journalist Kuldip Nayar in his book that the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao had conspired to demolish the 16th century mosque. The news writer has taken care not to use the word “Babri” anywhere. Instead, he or she has referred it as “disputed structure”. Inquilab has treated the story as Front page lead. Like all the other Urdu newspapers, it refers to the demolition of Babri mosque as the ‘martyrdom’.

The few stories on Jagran’s inside pages are mostly negative. They either inform the reader about alleged terrorists or about Kashmiri separatists. One news item is about the arrest of a Muslim criminal in Dehradun (July 9, P5).

During 10 days, Jagran has carried a total of nine stories on its inside pages which may be described as Muslim-oriented. July 2 edition: ASI begins repair work on Delhi’s Fatehpuri Mosque (P2); Jammu & Kashmir CM gives assurance on the restoration of an arson-hit ziaratgaah (P7); Dilip Kumar’s house in Pakistan will not be converted into library (P10).

The arrest of Fasih Mahmood and other Muslims dominate the coverage of Inquilab from July 1-10. Consider this headline on Page 1 of July 2: “O my son, tell me if being a Muslim is a crime in India?” And the intro of the Patna-datelined story reads: “O my son, you are ajournalist who has come from Delhi to investigate my son's arrest and know about me. I wil ltell you everything. But first you give me one answer: Is taking birth as a Muslim in India has become a crime? Has the Indian soil become alien to Muslims? These quotes are not taken from a short story by Prem Chand, Quratulain Hyder, Asmat Chugtai or Mantoo. Instead these are the spontaneous reactions expressed amid tears by Aamira Jamali, M.A., B.Ed., and mother of Engineer Fasih Mahmood.

The news has made Front page lead for three days: Efforts on for seeking Parliament debate over arrests of Muslim youths-July 1; Preparations on for protests in Bihar over arrest of Muslim youths-July 4; Bihar teacher Kafeel Akhtar gets clean-chit by Bangalore Police, now being handed over to Delhi Police- July 8. Front page lead stories on other days are also worth-mentioning: Narasimha Rao was part of Babri demolition conspiracy-July 6; Scared Muslims of Asthan village (of riot-hit Pratapgarh district in UP) return home-July 7; and Gujarat government asked to furnish details of the damaged places of worship-July 10. Other days’ leads are: presidential poll and the Time magazine’s cover on Manmohan. On July 2, there is a small news item on page 6 which otherwise is a human interest story but tells of human suffering in the prevailing security as well as political situation inIndia.

Doordarshan discriminating against Urdu producers, lack of civic amenities in Batla House, construction of walls around Nabi Karim graveyard are some of the news which are found only in Inquilab but not in Jagran.

One thing which is common in both Jagran and Inquilab is lack of professionalism and absence of objectivity. Beyond this I would like to make no observation leaving this to editors,scholars and thinkers to form opinion and act.

(The writer can be contacted at nazarshaheen@gmail.com)

(Posted on 31.07.2012)

Why India’s Assam violence hasn’t made the headlines

By Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay

I do not get to watch much television. But whatever little has passed my eye over the past few days, I felt that rioting in Assam was not jumping out of the screens like it does in other riotous situations – most infamously in Gujarat 2002, billed as India’s first live (sic) riots.

I asked people if my presumption was correct. I got answers in the affirmative – coverage of the situation in Assam was inadequate and in place of hysterical reporting the emphasis was on talking heads inside studios and handout reporting.

One tried to understand why the pitch of reporting was several octaves lower than the recent Guwahati molestation case. There also has to be an explanation why the majority of reports from Assam continued to have the Guwahati dateline and not Kokrajhar well after it became evident that this was not just another small round of skirmish that Lower Assam has repeatedly seen in recent years.

It is not as if Kokrajhar is a great distance from Guwahati. At less than 250 kilometres which most people say can be normally done in a shade more than four hours, it is easily accessible. Yet the media chose to stay away for long.

There has been a debate that the violence cannot be called communal violence because the communities involved are tribals and Muslims. Firstly, this is a very narrow view of communalism – which after all is an ideology and a riot is an extreme manifestation of it.
Calling only a Hindu-Muslim conflict as communal violence would be extremely reductionist.

Secondly the violence has been dubbed ethnic conflict with the basic struggle being for control of land among aboriginal tribal residents and migrant Muslim settlers. But the presentation of this argument does not take into account that the trend of Muslim settlers arriving from what was then overcrowded districts of East Bengal, began from the 1820s with the British occupation of these territories. Contemporary settlers cannot be penalised for a phenomenon that is almost two centuries old.

In contrast to the present violence in Assam, social unrest in the late 1970s and early 1980s during the AASU led movement drew greater attention of the national media probably because it was more in the realm of the classical Hindu-Muslim conflict.

It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that the reason behind the relatively less coverage – when compared to the riots in Gujarat is because the BJP is a favourite whipping boy of the media – and that the Congress is far more adept at media management.

While not being completely true, the fact of the matter is that the BJP has a more villainous tinge to its saffron and khakhi association. Symbols and colours of other political parties do not have connotations beyond the electoral realm. Moreover, Assam is no economic powerhouse like Gujarat and Tarun Gogoi is not a polarising politician likeNarendra Modi.

Unfortunately, just as the media weighs those who are alive to decide what is a good story, it also first labels the dead as sexy before deciding to rush resources for coverage.

(The wrte-up was first published in Asian Correspondent )

(Posted on 23.07.2012)

Bombay mag journalism of 80s transformed Indian media

By Vir Sanghvi

One of the ironies of the current decline of print media in the West is that while newspaper and newsmagazines find it difficult to survive, the up-market magazine sector flourishes. The Washington Post may lose money, (the London) Times may be bleeding and the New York Times may struggle to make a profit, but Vanity Fair, Vogue, In Style and the rest face no threat to their continued survival.

I asked Aveek Sarkar, my old boss, one of whose magazines I once edited, about this. Aveek’s view is that in India too, up-market magazines (i.e. those that cost Rs 100 or so per copy) will find it easier to survive than those that cost less and aim for a wider circulation. He gave me the example of the Indian edition of Fortune which his company produces, which he said is not only profitable but expects to do even better in the months ahead.

My guess is that Aveek is right. The future for magazines is niche and up-market, not widely circulated and general interest. But if India does go the way of the West in the structure of its magazine sector, then I will feel a great personal sense of loss.

The journalistic revolution in India came not from newspapers, TV or the internet. It came from the magazine sector. If it wasn’t for magazines, Indian journalism would never ever have come of age.

The first breakthrough was Stardust which ended the old obsequious fan-magazine culture of film journalism and introduced bright, witty, celebrity journalism to India. The great thing about Stardust was that the bulk of its readers cared more about the stars than they did about the movies they made. It was not necessary to watch Rajesh Khanna’s movies to read about his relationship with Anju Mahendru. (Was he secretly married to her? Stardust asked in one of its early cover stories.)

The second breakthrough was India Today. It was India’s first successful attempt at quality, up-market serious journalism. It was well-produced, well-written, took no sides and covered politics and social trends with style and panache. Once India Today was firmly established, the newspapers had to take note. And eventually, editors from the magazine sector migrated to newspapers and transformed them. (Some examples: two India Today veterans, Suman Dubey and Shekhar Gupta became editors of the Indian Express; T.N. Ninan invented the modern Indian financial paper when he went from India Today to the Economic Times – and there are many others.)

But while enough has been said and written about India Today and Stardust, there is another era that seems in danger of being forgotten. I started writing in 1976 and became a full-time journalist in 1979 in Bombay. And while I was around for the early days of the magazine boom, I think that the golden age of Bombay journalism came in the early 1980s. Sadly, nobody celebrates that era as much as it deserves to be celebrated.

In the early 1980s, several developments changed the face of Bombay journalism. Khalid Ansari and Behram Contractor had started Mid-Day in 1979 but its impact was really felt only in the years that followed. Bombay came out in 1979. Society, a few months later. Minhaz Merchant started Gentleman around 1980. In 1981 or so, Vinod Mehta handed over the Editor’s chair at Debonair to Anil Dharker who put his own stamp on the paper. Vinod himself went on to start a Sunday paper for Jaico Publishing called the Sunday Observer. In 1983, I was part of a team that revamped the old Imprint and turned it into a monthly features magazine.

As significant as these development were, they were dwarfed by the decision of Samir Jain, who had just begun to wake up the sleepy Times of India empire to drag his company, kicking and screaming, into the 20th century.

In those days, the Times (like most other newspapers of its era) was dull and boring. Samir knew that it would take a lot of effort to turn the paper around so he started with the moribund magazine division. He moved away from journalism and reached out to Calcutta where he found Pritish Nandy, then a poet and adman of some repute, and entrusted him with the task of reviving the Times Group’s magazines.

From the moment Nandy arrived in Bombay, the knives were out for him at the Times where he was resented because a) he was an outsider, b) because he was Samir Jain’s man and c) because he came from a non-journalistic background. But Nandy proved to be quite a skilful knife-man himself. He thrived on the hostility of the old guard and determinedly set about changing things.

He transformed Filmfare and turned the awards into an Oscar-like spectacle. He kicked ass at Femina. But most important, he revived the Illustrated Weekly.

When Nandy took over, the Weekly was a magazine on the skids. Its glory days as the Khushwant Singh-led success story (in the early 70s) were over and the magazine was, frankly, unreadable.

Nandy turned it around by introducing a contemporary new design and changing the nature of the editorial content. He hired a young, new team. He pulled in academics from Delhi’s intellectual circuit to write for it. He did a series of brilliant and revelatory interviews himself. And he tapped into a pool of emerging journalistic talent in Bombay.

In those days, Vinod Mehta had introduced many new writers to Bombay readers. Some came from advertising (Kersy Katrak, Nirmal Goswami etc.) and others (Dhiren Bhagat, for instance) had just returned from university abroad. These writers changed the face of Bombay journalism because they were outside of the traditional journalistic world.

I don’t think Pritish and Vinod were ever great pals themselves but they shared the same pool of talent. Bit by bit, the Weekly became the sort of publication that anybody of consequence in Bombay journalism contributed to (Shobhaa De, for instance). It was also the first publication to bridge the gap between Bori Bunder and rest of South Bombay and the film industry. People like Mahesh Bhatt became household names largely on the strength of their appearances in the Weekly.

Eventually alas, this Camelot-like phase in Bombay journalism came to an end. Pritish moved on to do other things (he now heads a very successful entertainment conglomerate), Vinod was poached by Vijaypat Singhania to start a newspaper for him; Shobhaa closed down Celebrity, the magazine she had founded; Dhiren Bhagat moved to Delhi, wrote for British papers and was then killed in a car accident; Anil Dharker briefly took the Weekly job and then moved to TV while Debonair was sold; Minhaz Merchant sold his Gentleman stable of publications to the Indian Express; and the rest of us either left town (I moved to Calcutta in 1986) or went on to leave journalism.

Perhaps as a consequence, that phase is hardly remembered today. But I do believe that had it not been for Bombay journalism (and by that I mean magazine journalism primarily), the Indian media would be a very different place. Had Pritish Nandy not succeeded in waking up the Times, the group would have taken much longer to become the money machine it is today. Vinod’s influence on Indian journalism is well-documented. Shobhaa remains a bigger brand than most of the publications she writes for. The variety and eclectic content of 1980s Bombay publications went on to influence all Indian journalism and gave it a new vigour and life.

So, when I hear about the impending demise of the magazine sector, I’m not unduly worried. Bombay’s magazines died out by the 1990s. But their influence transformed Indian journalism. Even if today’s magazine do not last into the end of the decade, they have served their purpose.

It is the magazine sector that revived and shaped Indian journalism. And that achievement will always endure.
(The wrte-up was first published in the writers' blog)

(Posted on 10.06.2012)

Forty years after Watergate, investigative journalism is at risk

By Leonard Downie Jr.

Investigative reporting in America did not begin with Watergate . But it became entrenched in American journalism — and has been steadily spreading around the world — largely because of Watergate.

Now, 40 years after Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein wrote their first stories about the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington’s Watergate office building, the future of investigative reporting is at risk in the chaotic digital reconstruction of journalism in the United States.

Resource-intensive investigative reporting has become a burden for shrunken newspapers struggling to reinvent themselves and survive. Nonprofit start-ups seeking to fill the gap are financially fragile themselves, with their sustainability uncertain.

American investigative journalism has historically ebbed and flowed. It evolved from revolutionary-era pamphleteers, who harassed both the British and the founding fathers, to early 20th-century muckrakers, whose newspaper, magazine and book exposés of exploitative business monopolies and government corruption helped spur Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting, the creation of the Food and Drug Administration and the popular election of the Senate.

Investigative journalism went into hibernation during the two world wars, the Great Depression and the suppression of dissent in the McCarthy era. But eginning in the 1960s, it gradually revived amid the upheaval of the civil rights, counterculture and anti-Vietnam War movements.

I was among a small but growing number of investigative reporters at newspapers around the country at the time. My 1966 series in The Washington Post about the incompetent judges, rapacious lawyers and skid row atmosphere in the old D.C. Court of General Sessions played a role in its abolition and replacement by the present D.C. Superior Court.

The Pulitzer Prize board created an annual award for investigative reporting in 1964. The three television networks of the era expanded their evening news shows from 15 to 30 minutes starting in 1963 and began airing prime-time investigative documentaries. The 1964 Supreme Court decision in New York Times v. Sullivan made it much more difficult for public officials being scrutinized by the press to sue successfully for libel, and the Freedom of Information Act, passed by Congress in 1966, made it much easier for reporters to find vital information. To read the full article, click here

(Posted on 30.04.2012)

Don't muzzle the people

By Sidharth Bhatia

Every now and then there is a call for controlling the social media. The "social media" and the alleged transgressions committed on it are seen as irresponsible and fully capable of causing all manner of harm - from communal riots, to spreading hatred among communities, to corrupting minds (especially those of children) and causing irreparable damage to people's reputations. To be honest, this is not untrue. But context and perspective are critical here.

First, what exactly do we mean by social media? It implies social connectivity, whereby users get a chance to interface with each other. None of the established media - newspapers, radio or television - offer interactivity in real time among those who use it or those who create it. A newspaper at best can publish a letter to the editor, while no viewer has an earthly chance of getting his/her point of view across to a television channel.
To read the full article of TOI, click here

(Posted on 15.03.2012)

Are advertisements threat to news?

By Salma Sultana Ahmed
Media Hive New Network

The 8-page relatively serious Sunday Magazine of The Hindu invariably goes without any advertisements in it, while the Cinema Plus pullout the same day has almost three pages of advertising. This show the great minds of advertisers who think that less cerebral has more readers. Do they aim to target those whom they consider relatively dumb and whose opinion can easily be moulded? Well then in that case, almost everyone who has bought something or the other after watching an ad must be dumb according to the advertising genius.

There has been numerous debates on whether advertising is a necessary evil or not. Being a debate it definitely attracts two sides of the argument but it actually is a beautiful mind game. The advertisers play with the mind of consumers and create a space for the product in their head. But today mere advertising is not enough. The correct pitching of the advertisement is as important as the content. As it is said about the success of a book, that it has to be at the right place at the right time, so is the case with advertisements. But here it is about being at the right time at the right place with the right content. Since advertisements are foggy in nature, advertisers think they can act as blinking lights which helps a wanderer find his path. This path leads to their products which the person inevitably ends up buying because they’ve been led to it.

But, what about those who can’t be mislead or have a clear picture of what they want. Do the advertisements fail to catch their attention because they are already so clear in their head? Well, there is certain lacuna in all and the great advertising minds focus on it to enlarge it so as to increase their sales. All they present is a white lie which we fall prey to. Therefore, there is no use to categorise as to who can be influenced. The time period may differ but sooner or later we are ought to buy something because we saw it somewhere.

Advertisements have become indispensible to our lives. No matter how much they are criticised they do make us informed and information is a very powerful tool. Maybe this is why Times of India’s news columns are no longer of the standard size giving way for advertisements. Editorials have been replaced by Advertorials. But are advertisements being a threat to news? This definitely needs some pondering.
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(The views expressed are personal. The writer can be contacted at salmaahmed814@gmail.com)

(Posted on 09.03.2012)

Rusbridger, the modern mascot of sound journalism

By Nagmani
Media Hive New Network

For journalists worldwide, it could only be termed as a great victory for their amazing service to keeping people informed about what goes on in the actual world. They play a pivotal role in shaping the society and how it tackles “issues of huge proportion” at a time when the chances for slip offs are quite high. In a way, they are people’s third eye to show them what is right and wrong. There is no doubt that good deeds in any arena of life are always revered in one form or the other.

It was no different but certainly a stupendous feat by any means when Alan Rusbridger (the editor-in-chief of The Guardian, a British daily) was given the Goldsmith career award for excellence in journalism by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. His getting such a high honor by the American University is also a big shift in awarding journalists from other countries. He is the first non-American journalist to be presented this prestigious award.

It’s an annual award ceremony organized by the University to honor those who have made outstanding contributions in the field of political reporting and even beyond. This award sheds light on how we as people are getting politically smart to run our own society with a greater degree of impartiality. More so, Alex Jones who is the director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy said in his statements extolling Rusbridger’s work, “Since he took over the reins of The Guardian, its popularity when it comes to evoking changes in society has quadrupled giving it more mileage. For this very reason, the Americans have also become its followers in large numbers which only boosts the image of journalistic endeavors being taken in the right direction.

He also added that Rusbridger’s daringness as shown by him during the evolving saga of phone-hacking scam concerning News Corporation owned by Rupert Murdoch which he brought to light and ensured that the perpetrators are caught was quite a commendable one. His decision to run the story showed that malpractices in journalism are strictly disallowed and can’t be tolerated in any way whatsoever. This is what bona fide journalism is and all about.

Taking this opportunity to open his heart about the disrepute brought on by the phone-hacking imbroglio on the entire journalistic world, Rusbridger reminded that “journalism is a big enterprise which commands a lot of respect. But sometimes because of its quintessential role it plays in the social context, it must be prone to rounds of inspection so that it does its duty without any prejudice.”

He said further, “At the center of it all is the figure head none other than the reporter himself who ultimately provides news and must be held responsible for the subsequent consequences. Also Nick Davies (the person behind uncovering the sinister cover from the face of News Corporation on behalf of the Guardian) along with two other important reporters Anthony Shahid and Marie Colvin who lost their lives in Syrian violence not so long ago enhanced the goodness of journalism as a matter of fact.

On one hand, Rusbridger’s contributions to political subjects were hugely admired but on the other hand there were two other reasons for which he truly deserved this great award. He is the one who mediated with Julian Assange over the massive WikiLeaks documents that were let loose online for everybody to take notice. The second one is his extraordinary initiative in making sure that The Guardian’s digital-first business strategy and commitment use is for what he says “open journalism or journalism with unbound possibilities”. The aim of this project is to fuel people’s interest to partake in how the journalistic world works and in so doing encourage them to come up with splendid ideas to make it more efficient.

In 2011, this award was conferred upon Frank Rich, the New York Time’s ex-theatre critic and columnist. He now works for New York magazine. Well, the other biggies in journalism who have tasted the success of their brilliant reporting and have been honored with it include Seymour Hersh (the investigative reporter), Paul Steiger (the editor of ProPublica), and TV personalities like Barbara Walters, Christiane Amanpour, Dan Rather and Ted Turner (founder of the first 24/7 cable news channel CNN). It was in 1992 when the first Goldsmith career award went to the late Don Hewitt (the maker of 60 Minutes, a TV news magazine show aired on CBS network) and Bob Woodward who unveiled the mess surrounding the Watergate scandal. They received it together.

In the end, Rusbridger finished by saying that “I felt really humbled to be able to seize this honor like my so many renowned American counterparts who influenced me and my view of the world immensely”.
For the next-generation journalists, lessons like this will help them do their duties effectively while taking into account public interests. And Alan Rusbridger is, therefore, the modern mascot of ethically sound journalism.
(The views expressed are personal. The writer can be contacted at nagmani68@gmail.com)

(Posted on 25.02.2012)

Say No to BBC Ageism

By Nagmani
Media Hive New Network

Who says “Older women don’t have intelligence and charm to sway anybody” or the aptitude to get jobs done efficiently! If there is such a ‘nonsensical notion’ breeding in society, then it’s extremely humiliating that our mentality is still underdeveloped. To put this ill-thought out module in proper perspectives, there are many areas where the prowess of ageing women has created history in some way or the other. So what is it that has brought out this controversial subject matter back in focus again? Whatever it is owing to which this grisly reality is being manifest today, there is no doubt that there is going to be a lot of rambling in various circles.

Thanks to Robert Atkinson, widely known as a great comic actor for his work in The Blackadder and Mr. Bean, women are experiencing disgraceful mayhem in life against their inability to work properly as they reach old age. What it suggests is that the society is just getting divided into two groups: One which whole-heartedly accepts them and the other which hurls insult on their faces. In his disparagingly ominous remarks targeted at them, he said, “The workforce can’t be sustained for too long in a productive way if the changes as and whenever required aren’t implemented in a strict fashion. People with different skills bring greater additional benefits.”

He made this comment in the aftermath of the BBC showing their discriminatory slant when it removed one of its successful presenters Miriam O’Reilly from Countryfile-a show letting others to know about people’s way of life living in the rural regions of Britain. This issue came forth when Mr. Bean conveyed a message by writing to Radio’s 4 “The Media Show” saying that O’Reilly’s litigation against the BBC is nothing but a shameful attempt to discredit the organization and its policy of taming stupendous creativity. Not willing to back down, he further added, “If there are discriminations against ageing women in the television industry, they shouldn’t be creating a court scene over here. Rather, they should take such cases outside it.”

In fact, there were three other women in 40s or 50s (working with her on the same program) who too were sacked cold-bloodedly by the BBC. Finally, she came out as a winner in her fight against age-related discriminations in Jan 2011 when the court recognized her facts which were completely vindicated. After this landmark victory, she didn’t move to the show. Instead, she went on to collaborate with Camilla Palmer (the attorney who fought her case successfully) to put together Women’s Equality Network.

“I knew what I stood for was right from the beginning. I wanted this to end in a way that could make older women feel that they are safe in their roles on screen. I think it was worth fighting for. Indeed, it was a powerful shot played on my part, “said she.

Though it happened in Britain, its repercussions would have been universal if the outcome was otherwise. But it was rightfully dealt with. In the end, it is wise enough to say that the inventive minds are never privy to the qualms of old age in any arena of life.
(The views expressed are personal. The writer can be contacted at nagmani68@gmail.com)

(Posted on 20.02.2012)

For journalists, conflicts are never glamorous

By Pranay Gupte

No matter how glamorously the movies may depict journalists in conflicts — brave, fearless, adventurous — that's not the way it works in real life. Trust me on this one: I've been there; I've covered several wars and life-threatening situations in more than four decades of being a foreign correspondent in Africa, the Middle East, Central America and Asia. Conflicts are terrifying to cover.

They sometimes cost journalists their lives. Anthony Shadid of the New York Times, who died last week while surreptitiously slipping into Syria to assess first-hand the incipient civil war there, was the latest casualty in a long line of correspondents and photographers. He was struck by a fatal asthma attack.

Mr. Shadid was certainly an experienced reporter. At 43, he had already won two Pulitzer Prizes, the highest awards in American journalism. Those awards — which he received when he worked for the Washington Post — were in recognition of his exceptional coverage of the continuing conflicts in Iraq.

He could well have rested on his laurels and coasted along in his career, perhaps taking on assignments in less fraught regions such as the United States or Europe. But Mr. Shadid believed that journalists need to see for themselves how societies dealt with stress, and how people coped with the horrors inflicted on them by rulers. He believed that such reporting offered insights for a larger world audience. He believed that such reporting was the basis on which future historians would produce more substantive works.

Because Syria is largely a secretive country whose government discourages foreign journalists from entering its territory, Mr. Shadid and a fellow Timesman, photographer Tyler Hicks, rode on horseback and crossed into Syria from an isolated part of Turkey. They spent a week in Syria, and had nearly reached the Turkish border again when Mr. Shadid was struck by the fatal asthma attack. Mr. Hicks carried his body in Turkey. It was the stuff of which movies are made. But what a sad, sad ending to a brilliant career.

Such careers are increasingly becoming all too rare in the fast changing world of foreign correspondence. Before coming to the New York Times in 2009, Anthony Shadid had received excellent training at his previous employers, the Washington Post and The Associated Press.

He had been put through the mill, as editors put it. He had been taught the importance of integrity and truthfulness in journalism; he had been steeped in the uncompromising value of deeply reported facts. He had been taught the difference between reportage and opinion.

‘Fact-ion'

But with the onset of Internet journalism, which has spawned a whole new generation of “journalists,” that critical difference seems to be diminishing. I would even dare say that the lines between fact and fiction are blurring, producing what I call “fact-ion.”

Fact-ion is not necessarily spawned by personal reporting. Anyone with access to the Web can find out most anything about any place or person thousands of miles away from his computer. Stories are sometimes invented, creating controversies when there ought to be none. The case of Jason Blair, the disgraced reporter at the New York Times, and of Janet Cooke of the Washington Post — who was actually given a Pulitzer Prize for stories that were made out of whole cloth — remain classics of ambition overtaking effort. There's a lesson for journalists in the untimely death of Anthony Shadid: No matter how honoured you are as a journalist, you can never afford to abandon the fundamentals of the trade. You simply have to be there to cover the story. Even if it costs you your life.

(Pranay Gupte, author of several books including the current bestseller “Dubai: The Making of a Megapolis,” published by Penguin-Viking, is working on a major study of 200 years of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Email: pranaygupte@gmail.com Courtesy: The Hindu)

(Posted on 05.02.2012)

Space for free expression is shrinking

By Kuldip Nayar

How free is the media or, for that matter, how free is the right to express one-self? This is the question which has arisen in India after the three speeches, one by Vice-President Hamid Ansari, another by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and yet another by Justice Markandey Katju, Chief of Press Council. The right to say has assumed all the more importance after Salman Rushdie’s non-participation at the Jaipur Literary Festival because of threats. In Pune, screening of a documentary on Kashmir was stopped following protests by the students’ wing of the BJP.
Talking of the first two speeches, both Vice-President and the Prime Minister have asked the media to introspect their role because of sensationalism that has crept into their dissemination. There was not even a hint of direct or indirect control of the media in their speeches. However, Justice Katju has warned the media that some regulation may have to be imposed as self-regulation is no regulation. Since independence, New Delhi’s record has been clean except when censorship was imposed during the emergency (1975-77). Governments have followed Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who assured the All India Newspaper Editors’ Conference as back as on December 3, 1950: “I would have a completely free press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom than a suppressed or regulated press.”

Justice Katju appears to be on a different pitch. He should know that the Press Council was constituted to safeguard the press freedom. Unfortunately, his speeches reflect little understanding of the media’s nitty-gritty or its culture. To dub journalists illiterate within a day of becoming the Press Council chief has only alienated him from them. Journalists do not qualify for the job with all the degrees if they do not write well, have no nose for news or lack analytical ability. S Mulgaonkar, one of the leading editors that India has produced, was not even a graduate.
My worry is that the media is becoming a part of the establishment. In a free society, the press has a duty to inform the public without fear or favour. At times it is an unpleasant job, but it has to be performed because a free society is founded on free information. If the press were to publish only government handouts or official statements, there would be nothing to pinpoint lapses, deficiencies or mistakes. In fact, the truth is that the press is already too niminypiminy, too nice, altogether too refined and too ready to leave out. Still the greater danger is that the profession is becoming an industry and tending to project views of the corporate sector. Somehow, those who occupy high positions labour under the belief that they – and they alone – know what the nation should be told and when. And they get annoyed if any news which they do not like appears in print. Their first attempt is to contradict it and dub it mischievous. Later, when it is realised that a mere denial will not convince even the most gullible, a lame explanation is offered that things have not been put “in proper perspective.”
I served the first Press Council. Every member felt that the Press Council should be without teeth. It was founded as a body of peers who should judge peers. Justice Katju’s argument that it should have powers to penalise defeats the very purpose of the Council. It is not a court. There are already enough of them and one can be created for the media alone. But the purpose of constituting the Council is to leave it to the Council members – editors, journalists and proprietors – to decide how to improve the erring publication. I think it should be made obligatory for the papers to print the Council’s decision, however unfavourable.
Justice Katju should see the record of the Council which has been invariably an extension of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. The Council was at its worst during the emergency when the chairman was at the end of a telephone call by Information Minister V C Shukla who played havoc with the press. George Verghese was wrongly dismissed by The Hindustan Times but before the Council could give its verdict in his favour, it was abolished.
Even lately, the Council did not live up to its independent status. There were many complaints against the press on what came to be recognised as “paid news.” News columns, considered sacrosanct, were used to campaign for a candidate who paid money. The Council’s original report had to be watered down because of the pressure exerted by proprietors of newspapers and television channels. Justice Katju’s warning against paid news is all right but he may find the Council itself divided on the subject.
As regards Salman Rushdie, he had to cancel his visit because of threat to his life. Probably, the government was equivocal in providing him security. But this is not the point. The democratic polity that India is guarantees the freedom of speech. Some fundamentalists, who had taken umbrage against his book, The Satanic Verses, made the entire Muslim community a hostage. Liberal Muslims never speak out although they are vociferous in condemning Hindus on any act of omission or commission.
The Supreme Court has said: “The personal liberty of an individual is the most precious and prized right guaranteed under the constitution.” The Deoband seminary should realise this, if it has not so far, that in a secular society the constitution is above fatwa. M F Husain met more or less the same fate at the hands of Hindu fanatics. All such voices are marginal and do not represent the majority.
Free expression was violated at the Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce which cancelled the screening of a documentary on Kashmir. The institute had received a notice from the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) which objected to the screening of the documentary, calling it “separatist”. The documentary – Jashn-e-Azadi by Sanjay Kak – spoke against the Army and in a way justified terrorists’ functioning in the Valley. (In protest, I am resigning from the position of Professor Emeritus in Journalism at Symbiosis).
No doubt, the space for free expression is shrinking all over the world. Yet I always thought that India would be an oasis in the desert of suppression and restriction on free expression. The fanatics and a weak government have proved me wrong. In Rushdie’s case, the UP election aggravated the problem because the state has nearly 15 percent of Muslim electorate while the screening of Kashmir documentary had to be cancelled to placate the Hindutva crowd.
(Courtesy: pakistantoday.com)

(Posted on 08.01.2012)

The glory and the blemishes of the Indian news media

By Amartya Sen

One of the great achievements of India is our free and vibrant press. This is an accomplishment of direct relevance to the working of democracy. Authoritarianism flourishes not only by stifling opposition, but also by systematically suppressing information. The survival and flowering of Indian democracy owes a great deal to the freedom and vigour of our press. There are so many occasions when, sitting even in Europe or in America, I have wished for something like the vigour and many-sided balance of the Indian press to confront the vilification of chosen targets.

One longstanding example of some moment is the organised mischaracterisation in the USA of the British National Health Service and similar public health arrangements in most of Europe. Despite the fact that America has some superb newspapers, such as The New York Times, the information industry has managed to undermine thoroughly the understanding of the great accomplishments of public health care in Europe, and its contribution to enhancing health security, life expectancy, and the quality of life. Rather, the National Health Service and other such medical arrangements are often seen as some kind of a “health lock-up,” generating a widespread horror of what is called “socialised medicine” (I have heard of a rumour that American children are persuaded to eat broccoli by threatening them with “socialised medicine” as a dreaded alternative).

PROFESSIONALISM AND ACCURACY

Despite the limitations of the Indian news media, some of which I will discuss presently, we have every reason to applaud our free media, including our largely unfettered press, as a hugely important asset for democratic India. And yet the celebration of the Indian media can go only so far — and no further. There are at least two huge barriers to quality that are very worth discussing: one is concerned with the internal discipline of the media and the other relates to the relation between the media and society. The first problem is that of some real laxity in professionalism in achieving accuracy, which can be harmed even without any deliberate intention to mislead or misinform. The second is the bias — often implicit — in the choice of what news to cover and what to ignore, and the way this bias relates particularly to class divisions in India.

Indian reporting can be, and often is, extremely good. I always marvel at the skill of the reporters, often very young men and women, in being able to capture and bring out the nuances of points that are hard to summarise accurately. However, Indian reporting is characterised by great heterogeneity, and sometimes serious inaccuracies can receive widespread circulation through the media (or initiating in the media). While I have been personally lucky, most of the time, I am aware of problems that others have had, and sometimes I see them in my own experience. As an Indian reader, I would like to be sure, when I open the morning newspaper, that what I am reading — that A said B — is actually accurate. It is hard to have that assurance.

Let me give a couple of examples, despite — I should re-emphasise — my generally good experience with reporting in the press. Four days ago in a public discussion I said in answer to a question about the Lokpal initiative that the solution to the extremely important problem of corruption would have to be sought within the Indian democratic system (including our courts and Parliament), and also that I had not seen the blueprint of any effective Lokpal Bill – neither from the government nor from any faction of the Opposition.

When, later on, I opened the web, I found reports with the following headlines: “Lokpal Bill well thought out: Amartya Sen” (The Times of India, India Today, Zee News, NDTV, among others); and “Lokpal Bill not well thought out: Amartya Sen” (DNA News, Money Control, The Telegraph [which did not make it a headline], among others). One paper first distributed the former story and then the latter, without noting that there is a correction here, and I was amused because it is a paper — The Economic Times — with which I am personally associated, since I was given the privilege of editing the paper for one day a few years ago (it was a great day for me, though I gather from the Editor that I drove them all mad, by rejecting entries and asking for several rewrites).

Based on another meeting in Kolkata on the same day, a lecture for the Cancer Foundation of India, I found the following headlines: “To smoke is individual option” (The Statesman) and “Curb smokers' liberty: Amartya” (Hindustan Times). All this is just from one day. Unfortunately, a misreport on one day can have quite big consequences. The Times of India said on December 15: “Amartya Sen: People on street can't deal with corruption.” I had said nothing of the sort, as the audio record of the speech confirms, but once that misreporting, coming from a news agency apparently used by many newspapers, is in the public domain, it is hardly surprising that I would be showered with rebuke and moral advice. Dozens of pages of denunciations materialised immediately. Much of the moral advice to me would be sensible enough had the statement reflected something I had said. The one I liked best said: “I think Mr. Sen should keep his mouth shut” — an eminently sensible piece of advice given the constant danger of misreporting by a careless press — or, as in this case, a careless news agency on which many papers mechanically rely.

What I had, in fact, said was that the judgment and penalty for corruption cannot be a matter for street justice, and must come through the democratic procedures that we cherish in India, including the courts and Parliament. I believe the Indian people are fully committed to that democratic priority, rather than “summary justice.” What they really complain about is that the democratic procedures are not being applied sufficiently vigorously and stringently to corruption. This is indeed an important demand, and this understanding is very far from any dismissal of the ability of “street people” to comprehend the political challenge arising from corruption. Since I have taken part in street demonstrations myself, complaining about many injustices in India (one recent activity of this kind was related to the public agitation for the right to food), I must stand up for the right of ordinary folks — what the news agency called the “street people” — to be heard loud and clear.

ON ENHANCING ACCURACY

So what can the media do to deal with the lapses from accuracy in reporting? I don't know the answer — my main intention here is to raise the question — but one thought that is fairly straightforward is to get all the newspapers to agree to publish corrections of their own stories as a regular feature (and highlight them online, along with the corrected accounts). This is done with much effectiveness by The Guardian and The New York Times, and some Indian papers already have such a section (the host of this essay, The Hindu, has had this for many years), but the practice can be made more universal among the papers, and also more active and more well-known.

There is also an issue of journalistic training. Taking notes in a rush is never easy, and it has become harder still since most reporters today, unlike those in the past, do not know shorthand. But there are marvellous recording devices in our modern world, and they can perhaps be used more uniformly, rather than the reporters tending to rely on memory, as many still seem to do. There are surely other ways of reducing inadvertent inaccuracy, and it would be nice to see more discussion on it. But now I must move to the second problem to which I referred.

CLASS BIAS

If greater accuracy is mainly an internal challenge for the media, avoiding — and fighting — class bias involves an external challenge that relates to the divisiveness of the Indian society. Of course, class divisions are present elsewhere as well. The “Occupy Wall Street” movement has drawn attention to what it sees as the contrast between the very prosperous — the 1 per cent at the top — and the rest of the 99 per cent in the United States. I will not comment here on the veracity of this 1%-99% contrast, as applied to the United States, but relying on a similar division in India would miss the mark by a long margin. There are, of course, many divisions in India — and some apply to newspaper ownership as well — but the division that introduces a generic bias in Indian news coverage, related to the interest of the newspaper reading public, is more like one between a fortunate fifth of the population who are doing just fine on the basis of the economic progress that is taking place in India, and the rest who are being left firmly behind.

There is, in fact, a substantial part of the Indian population — a minority but still very large in absolute numbers — for whom India's economic growth is working well, along with those who were already comparatively privileged. An exaggerated concentration on their lives, which the Indian media tend typically to display, gives an unreal picture of the rosiness of what is happening to Indians in general. There tends to be fulsome coverage in the news media of the lifestyles of the fortunate, and little notice of the concerns of the less fortunate. To refer to three of many unfortunate facts (the list can be quite long): (1) India has the highest percentage of undernourished children in the entire world, measured in terms of the standard criteria; (2) India spends a far lower percentage of its GNP than China on government-provided health care and has a much lower life expectancy; and (3) India's average rank among South Asian countries — India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan — in the standard social indicators, varying from life expectancy and immunisation to infant mortality and girls' schooling, has dropped over the last twenty years from being second-best to second-worst (even as India has surged ahead in terms of GNP per capita).

The problem here does not, of course, originate in the media, for it is social division that feeds this bias in coverage. But the media can play a more constructive part in keeping the reality of India persistently in the view of the public. The bias in coverage, even though it is by no means unpleasant to the reader, contributes quite heavily to the political apathy about the urgency of remedying the extreme deprivation of the Indian underprivileged. Since the fortunate group includes not only business leaders and the professional classes, but also the bulk of the country's intellectuals, the story of unusual national advancement gets, directly or indirectly, much aired — making an alleged reality out of what is at best a very partial story.

WHAT IS PROBED AND WHAT IGNORED

The group of relatively privileged and increasingly prosperous Indians can easily fall for the temptation to assume that given the high rate of economic growth, there is no particular need for special social efforts to enhance the lives of people. When, for example, the government introduced, as it did recently, its plan of providing subsidised food for the Indian poor, an enormous number of critics pointed immediately to the fiscal problems involved, and some even talked about the sheer “irresponsibility” that is allegedly reflected in the Food Security Bill.

There are indeed many serious problems with the Food Security Bill that has been tabled, and the Bill can be much improved and one hopes it will be. Furthermore, fiscal responsibility is certainly a serious issue and the financing of food subsidies, like other social programmes, demands critical examination. But it is worth asking why there is hardly any media discussion about other revenue-involving problems, such as the exemption of diamond and gold from customs duty, which, according to the Ministry of Finance, involves a loss of a much larger amount of revenue (Rs.50,000 crore per year) than the additional cost involved in the Food Security Bill (Rs.27,000 crore). The total “revenue forgone” under different headings, presented in the Ministry document, an annual publication, is placed at the staggering figure of Rs.511,000 crore per year. This is, of course, a big overestimation of revenue that can be actually obtained (or saved), since many of the revenues allegedly forgone would be difficult to capture — and so I am not accepting that rosy evaluation. And yet it is hard to understand why the cost of the Food Security Bill should be separated out for fiscal gloom without examining other avenues of fiscal soundness. An active media can draw attention to what is being probed and what remains underdiscussed and underexplored.

The impact of India's division between the privileged and the non-privileged can also be seen in the political power of the advocates of continuing — and expanding — subsidies on fuel use, even those that go particularly to the relatively rich (such as petrol for car owners), or of fertilizers, which yield major transfers of a regressive kind, even as they help with agricultural production. It is possible to redesign these fiscal arrangements to introduce more economic rationality, greater environmental awareness, and the demands of equity with efficiency. The political support for tolerating — and defending — the present profligacy in catering to the relatively better off contrasts sharply with the fiscal alarm bells that are sounded whenever proposals for helping the poor, the hungry, the chronically unemployed come up.

If the first problem I referred to, that of accuracy, is one of improving the performance of the news media through better quality control, the second, transcending class bias, concerns the media's role in reporting and discussing the problems of the country in a balanced way. The media can greatly help in the functioning of Indian democracy and the search for a better route to progress including all the people — and not just the more fortunate part of Indian society. What is central to the functioning of the news media in Indian democracy is the combination of accuracy with the avoidance of bias. The two problems, thus, complement each other.

(Amartya Sen, the Thomas W. Lamont University Professor, and Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University, won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998. The Bharat Ratna was conferred on him in 1999. Yhis write-up was first published in The Hindu)

(Posted on 30.11.2011)

Media and key issues raised by Markandey Katju

By S. Viswanathan

Markandey Katju's forthright comments on the state of the Indian news media and the intellectual competence of many journalists have certainly raised many hackles. One does not have to agree with everything the chairman of the Press Council of India diagnoses or prescribes to see that his observations have hit home. Nor are his concerns confined to how and in what respects journalism and many journalists go astray and let the people of India down.

It's not yet a month since the retired Supreme Court judge was appointed PCI chairman. He has already made it plain that he will speak up, and act to the maximum extent the PCI's statutory powers allow him to act, every time the freedom of the press comes under pressure and each time journalists are targeted by the state.

This is in keeping with the twin objects of the PCI: “to preserve the freedom of the Press and to maintain and improve the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India.” For example, Mr. Katju has criticised as “grossly disproportionate” the award of Rs. 100 crore in damages in a civil defamation suit against Times Now and as “incorrect” the subsequent orders of the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court on the matter. He has pulled up government departments and statutory bodies for delaying payment of advertising bills for years on end and asked all government departments to clear the bills within one month of the publication of advertisements, failing which they should pay 12 per cent interest on top of the amounts billed. In the latest instance, he has taken up with the Government of Jammu & Kashmir the issue of journalists being roughed up by the Central Reserve Police Force while covering protests in Srinagar.

It is clear that Mr. Katju's critical observations on the performance of the news media, and especially television channels, have found resonance with the reading and viewing public. He has also found support within the establishment.

Inaugurating the National Press Day celebrations on November 16, Vice-President M. Hamid Ansari observed that in an environment marked by “the extremely buoyant growth rates” of the media and “minimal or no regulation” the focus had shifted to self-regulation, individual or collective. But “collective self-regulation…has yet to succeed in substantive measure because it is neither universal nor enforceable” and “individual self-regulation has also failed due to personal predilection and the prevailing personal interest over public interest.” Mr. Ansari wanted the ongoing national debate on the subject to lead to the publication of a White Paper, leading to “further consultations and evolution of a broad national consensus so that appropriate frameworks can be put in place combining voluntary initiative, executive regulation and legislative action, as appropriate.” He noted with concern the absence of media watch groups.

Several senior journalists who participated in a panel discussion on the occasion agreed that self-regulation was either non-existent or had failed. They felt the time had come to give the statutory watchdog, the PCI, more teeth, such as the power to levy fines, provided the threshold of prima facie evidence was raised high so that frivolous complaints would not be entertained. The other issue raised by Mr. Katju is the strange situation of the broadcast media in India having no regulatory framework. He has revealed that he has written to the Prime Minister asking for the broadcast media to be brought under the aegis of the “Press Council,” which could be renamed the “Media Council.”

Responding to the fierce objections expressed by the private TV channels and the News Broadcasters Association, he has asked them whether they wanted to come under an authority like the Lokpal — if they rejected the idea of coming under a statutory Media Council headed by him. The number of satellite television channels is in the region of 600; of this number, more than 100 are categorised as news channels. Justice Katju's concern that influential sections of the media, especially the television channels, often trivialise the news and divert the people's attention from vital socio-economic issues is genuine. As a judge of the highest court of the land, Mr. Katju was known for his libertarian views and delivered many pro-poor judgments. His credentials are strong when it comes to criticising the media for working against the interests of the deprived and the poor, for dividing them on caste and communal lines, and for promoting superstition and obscurantism instead of scientific and rational ideas.

Interestingly, a parallel discussion on the ways of the press and the issue of self-regulation versus statutory regulation is taking place in the United Kingdom. In his deeply insightful George Orwell Lecture, “Hacking away at the truth,” given recently at University College, London (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/nov/10/phone-hacking-truth-alan-rusbridger-orwell), Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger discusses several aspects of media-related issues, including media freedom, performance, the public interest, rogue practices, regulatory issues, media monopoly and domination by the Murdoch empire, and the need to guarantee plurality and a level playing field. Much of this discussion is relevant to India. Among other things, Mr. Rusbridger discusses the functioning of an independent and full-time internal news ombudsman, known as the Readers' Editor in The Guardian (The Hindu has adopted the Guardian model) as “the most local form of regulation” that has proved effective.

With deep insight and rare candour, Mr. Rusbridger discusses the lessons to be learned from the phone hacking scandal and what the press could expect from the comprehensive Leveson Inquiry instituted by the government: “Well, talking of rules and codes, we discovered that the thing that we call ‘ self-regulation' in the press is no such thing. Whatever the original laudable ambitions for, and achievements of, the Press Complaints Commission, the fact remained that it had no investigatory powers and no sanctions…it was simply not up to the task of finding out what was going on in the newsrooms it was supposed to be regulating. The PCC was lied to by News International.” It then committed “the folly of writing a worse-than-meaningless report which, as we wrote at the time, would fatally undermine the cause of self-regulation as represented by the PCC. In the absence of anything that looked to the outside world like regulation, the rogue actions of, I hope, a few journalists, have landed the press as a whole with a series of inquiries which will last not months, but years, and which will, I suspect, be quite uncomfortable for all involved.”

The uncomfortable exercise cannot be dodged and The Guardian's Editor proposes a positive way of looking at it: “it provides an opportunity for the industry to have a conversation with itself while also benefitting from the perspective and advice of others.” Perhaps the time has come for a comparable exercise addressing the specific Indian media situation, the challenges as well as opportunities.
(Courtesy: The Hindu)

(Posted on 26.11.2011)

Ishrat’s innocence proved? Media, BJP apologize?

By Md Faraz Akram Khan

Now when the special investigation team (SIT) has nailed the Gujarat’s state police in the killing of college girl Ishrat Jahan and her three friends in 2004, the time has come for the media and others who had spread canard against them to apologize. Following the killing a hysteria was created by some in the media that how young and educated Muslim youths were getting involved in terror activities.

A concerted effort was made by politicians and the state government to prove that the youths’ killing was right. But after more than seven years of investigation they stand exposed. Will they apologize to the family members, who from day one had been shouting that Jahan was a victim of police atrocity?

Nothing like this will happen because our politicians are shameless creature. Chances are high that many will come up with another story that as UP election is nearby the Congress is trying to expose the BJP. Whatever the political game, the fact is that the court-appointed investigators have confirmed that the youths were liquidated by the state police in a staged shootout.

In 2004 the Gujarat police had claimed that the girl and others were on a mission to create chaos and bloodshed in the state. But, on Monday the SIT dropped the bombshell claiming that Jahan, a 19-year-old girl from Mumbai was killed earlier than the shootout date of June 15, 2004. Others to be killed included at that time were Javed Sheikh alias Pranesh Pillai, Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar. The cold blooded murder was justified by saying that the youth were linked to the Pakistan-backed terror outfit Lashkar-e Taiba.

The SIT version only brings more trouble for Narendra Modi under whose rule thousands of Muslims were butchered. Now all eyes are on the BJP that is girding up for the UP Assembly elections.
(The write-up was first posted on writer's blog http://viewspost.blogspot.com)

(Posted on 14.11.2011)

Issue of media regulation back in focus

By Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

The Information and Broadcast (I&B) Ministry recently issued a show-cause notice to news channels Sahara Samay and P7 after they telecasted a video purportedly showing sexual intimacy between sacked Rajasthan Water Resources Minister Mahipal Maderna and government nurse Bhanwari Devi. They have been asked to explain why action should not be taken against them after they aired parts of the CD, which purportedly showed Maderna in compromising position with Bhanwari.

The channels have been virtually directed to stop further broadcast of the video on grounds of depiction of indecent content containing obscenity not suitable for unrestricted public exhibition. Sahara Samay and P7 have been directed to present their case to the inter-ministerial committee if they wish.

Meanwhile, there was another development where reporters from the Hindi news channel Aaj Tak asked Maderna's wife if she had seen the video following which reporters of the Aajtak and Headlines Today were beaten up by Maderna’s supporters. Showing the CD, which contains allegedly pornographic content about her husband, to Maderna’s wife is highly insensitive and unethical. But I don't think these can be adequate grounds for beating up the reporters. Two wrongs do not mean a right!

This whole issue highlights and brings back into focus the issue of media regulation in India.

As far as the content that appears in the electronic medium, television in particular, the whole regulatory structure that exists, in my opinion, is highly inadequate and flawed. Television channels would, of course, like to be in a self-regulation mode, but what do you do in an extreme situation like this one? Situations where you are putting on air content which is allegedly pornographic.

The I&B Ministry regulates content at the governmental level. At self-regulatory level, there are two basic Self-Regulation Organisations (SROs) in India: you have the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), under which you have the Ethics Committee of the News Broadcaster's Association, and you have the Broadcasting Content Complaint Council (BCCC), which has been set up by the Indian Broadcaster's Federation and is supposed to deal with fiction or non-news content. But the SROs have no powers to punish a broadcaster! Justice Verma's panel can at best recommend the I&B Ministry to suspend the licence or cancel the licence of a television channel that has been found to violate ethical norms, in this case, found to have aired pornography.

I personally won't be surprised if these channels do apologise saying, “Sorry, this content shouldn't have been shown and we'll run an apology.” But is it an adequate punishment?

Let's look at other examples. India TV once aired an interview which was supposed to be that of a Pakistani analyst--an interview she had given to Reuters had been translated and read out by a female anchor against a picture of the analyst. In this case, you're not only violating copyrights not only because the interview was given to Reuters and you carried it without accrediting it to the news agency, but you are also misrepresenting facts to your audience, which would construe that the anchor was the phoner. The channel took out only bits and pieces of the interview and that too out of context. So what was the reaction of Rajat Sharma, Chairman and Editor-in-chief of India TV, when these complaints came in? Firstly, he apologised because there was a clear case of copyright violation, but secondly, he withdrew India TV's membership from the NBA! He was upset that the NBA suo moto without hearing his side of the story had imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh.

Contrast this case with another example in United States of America--the famous ‘Nipplegate’ controversy. Justin Timberlake pulled of a piece of Janet Jackson's dress exposing her breasts. It was in middle of a super bowl match--a baseball event! And this apparent wardrobe malfunction was broadcast live prime time, when viewership is maximum comprising families and children. The Federal Communications Committee (FCC) imposed a fine on the channel, which had to first pay the fine before it could further appeal against the FCC.

What this issue highlights once again is the following:
1) The limits of self-regulation
2) The inadequate system that we have in place in India for punishing those who transgress the laws. I'm not even getting into whether this is pornography or whether this is obscene or not, or whether the law is right or not. All I'm saying is that even in cases of violation of laws, the punishment mechanism is long-drawn and inadequate.

(Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an independent journalist and educator
paranjoy@gmail.com. http://www.tehelka.com)

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(Posted on 28.10.2011)

Arab Spring brings successes and setbacks for media freedom

By William Ide

The Arab Spring uprisings successfully uprooted several long-standing authoritarian governments in the Middle East and North Africa, and led to elections in Tunisia, and next month in Egypt. But the shift from decades of authoritarian rule to a more open and free society has been bumpy in some cases. And challenges to press freedom persist across the region.

When Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned this year, expectations were high that the Arab Spring would bring a blossoming of media freedom.

But analysts note that events like the government's recent crackdown on protestors in Cairo -- and state media's coverage of the riots -- are only small examples of the challenges journalism continues to face.

In their coverage of the protests, state media not only claimed the protestors were armed, but also urged the public to come out and support the military.

Adel Iskandar is an Arab media analyst at Georgetown University here in Washington.

"This was sort of a reminder that even the state media, the state broadcasters, the state journalistic institutions -- they haven't actually reformed, but have deteriorated in the manner in which they treat news," Iskandar said.

Independent news organizations disputed Egyptian state media's reporting of the protests. The military held its own news conference and praised state media for its coverage.

According to journalists in Egypt, the transitional council has on numerous occasions interfered with programming.

Yosri Fouda recently suspended his popular talk show "The Final Word" indefinitely to protest government efforts to stifle free expression.

"We're seeing this tug of war between media institutions that are trying to affirm and assert their freedom to cover stories. And the military, trying to control the political situation, so it doesn't get out of hand for them," Fouda said.

Karin Karlekar of the U.S.-based human rights group Freedom House agrees.

"The impetus to reform hasn’t really happened with the military transitional government. There have been quite a few crackdowns -- both in terms of arrests of [Internet] bloggers and other types of legal restrictions or sort of saying no one can criticize the military government," Karlekar said.

Karlekar says the prospects for media reform look better in Tunisia -- the country that ignited a string of uprisings across the region and held landmark elections last Sunday.

"Tunisia did pass a freedom of information law recently, which was a really good step. There have been discussions on legal and regulatory reform. And there have been a lot of local groups, unions, press freedom organizations that have been involved in those discussions," Karlekar said.

In Syria, where an uprising has been going on for months, analysts say the space for broadcast media is so limited that the Internet remains the only source of information.

"We are talking about a protest movement that began in mid-February. So this is a fairly lengthy period of time to not have access to reliable, easily corroboratable information," Iskandar said.

Footage which purportedly shows Syrian forces shelling the city of Homs on Wednesday is one example of how media access remains tenuous because it can not be independently verified. Under such conditions, media analysts say it is amazing that the protests have managed to last as long as they have. (Courtesy: voanews.com)

(Posted on 16.10.2011)

Media need some immediate attention

By M.J. Akbar

I can't quite determine which part of the story made me laugh, and which brought on tears, when I learned that some zealous functionaries had passed around envelopes with Rs500 notes to journalists in Satna, India, who had been summoned to report on L.K. Advani’s anti-corruption campaign. It was not Advani’s fault; he was victim of a prevailing system. However, as pitfalls go this was a bit of a crater dip.

But laughter is thin icing on a very rotten cake, and the cake is media. The journalists were indeed summoned, not invited. They were paid at the previously negotiated price of Rs500 each. What wrenched the gut was that no one refused. This was not an isolated incident; that is obviously the going rate in Satna. But do not imagine that the isolation is limited to Satna. Few cities are as corrupt as Delhi when it comes to keeping journalists happy with the right level of lifestyle-expense compensation. The more cynically bleary among the media tribe are probably consumed by only one nagging, if private, thought: why did those reporters sell themselves so cheap?

The incident says far more about Indian journalists than Indian politicians. That, for me at least, is enough reason for a long sob. The problem is not limited to temptations proffered to a handful of underpaid journalists. There are newspaper owners who, instead of giving a salary to correspondents expect them to send proprietors money for the privilege of hiring them. The deal is not complicated: These owners want a cut out of the cash that they know their correspondents make from local businessmen or administration. Paid news is not just about writing pretty things about the powerful. Much more money can be made by not writing a story. This syndrome creeps up to the very top in a few instances.

That, it needs to be stressed at this point, is the saving grace: The instances are few. I can vouch for that, and am proud of colleagues, whether reporters, sub-editors or editors who would not dream of pocketing an envelope. There is a recent case of an editor of television news who resisted both severe threats and lucrative flattery from those in power; equally, or even more, important, the proprietors of his company backed him fully. It was an exhilarating instance of good journalism and steely shareholders, the perfect guarantee for a free media. Nor are all politicians corrupt. Both Manmohan Singh and Advani have been in public life for over five decades; neither has a spot against his name. But the venality of those who are on the take, in both politics and media, has eroded the credibility of two institutions critical to democracy: Parliament and media. The first is under intense public scrutiny. The second is the subject of much-needed widespread debate.

This debate needs to include the most mammoth example of paid news in our system, All India Radio and Doordarshan. Their editor in chief is the Union minister of information and broadcasting. Journalists working in AIR or Doordarshan accept this as part of their working terms. Here is an instance from today’s AIR news bulletin, which I heard while writing this column: AIR was loyally celebrating the fact that inflation had dipped to just below 10 percent, when any balanced story would also wonder why it was still so high when this government has been promising for years that lower inflation was just around the corner. This is a very mild example, of course. Government journalists do not waste any time on partisan loyalty. When the ruling party changes, their stresses and deletions shift.

Governments feel totally comfortable with such control. Their logic seems convincing, on the face of it. Government has as much right to the editorial policies of its media as any other media baron. This is deceptive. Ministers have not created AIR and Doordarshan out of private investment; they do not pay for losses out of their private pockets. They have appropriated tax money and made it the source of personal power. Doordarshan is public media, not a government channel; its statutes are determined by public interest, not government bias. The new chairman of the Press Council is the articulate Justice Markandey Katju, who has just retired from the Supreme Court. He has already entered the debate with a few cautionary remarks on excess. He must expand the horizons of argument so that the present media crisis becomes an opportunity for catharsis.

Neither Parliament nor media like the idea of regulation; MPs bristle when they feel that the Supreme Court is intruding into their space. Media is even more jealous about its privileges. But if both want to retain their rights, they have to take another look at their duties, and find the self-regulation that will punish those who have compromised. Otherwise, there will be nothing left to laugh about and much to moan.
(Courtesy: Arab News)

(Posted on 05.09.2011)

Print media do better than TV: coverage of Hazare fast

By S. Viswanathan

The second fortnight of August 2011 saw one of the largest mobilisations of people in recent years against corruption in India. The struggle led by Anna Hazare dominated the media all through the fortnight. A new feature was the participation of the social media, which helped mobilise people in different corners of the country in support of the Team Anna. Twitter, Facebook, other social media sites, and blogs played a significant part in bringing people together in peaceful demonstrations, candle protests and so on. Team Anna may have been the first major beneficiary of the technology.

As for the performance of news television channels, public opinion seems divided. Those who supported or sympathised with Team Anna were naturally happy with the round-the-clock saturation coverage, which was overwhelmingly favourable to the movement. However, veteran journalist B.G. Verghese was quoted as saying: “The media has magnified the event beyond its worth. It has not at all been objective in its coverage.” This only speaks to the low political stock of the government and its lack of credibility in the wake of a series of corruption cases and scams.

Print media coverage of this second phase of the Anna-led, fortnight-long agitation against corruption at various levels was clearly more balanced and insightful, reflecting various points of view, at least in the case of major mainstream newspapers with a long tradition. The editorial coverage critically addressed the core issues, including legal and constitutional issues and flawed notions such as the “supremacy of Parliament.” To engage the more discerning readers, a few newspapers published articles explaining the legal, political, and social aspects of corruption.

The Hindu, which gave extensive coverage to the Team Anna's crusade against corruption and its initiatives to get legislation for a strong and effective Lokpal authority expedited, wrote four insightful and hard-hitting editorials between August 17 and 28.

The first leader (“Corrupt, repressive and stupid,” August 17) was bold and strongly worded. It said: “A corrupt government devoid of moral authority is ill equipped to deal reasonably with legitimate public anger.” The scathing editorial commented that through the illegitimate detention of Anna Hazare even before he began his fast and the arrest of peaceful protesters in Delhi, the central government “revealed its ugly, repressive face.” It noted that the government missed several opportunities to arrive at a consensus with Team Anna on setting up an empowered Lokpal and instead attempted to push through a farce of a Lokpal Bill.

The next editorial (“Anna is not India nor India Anna”) was published three days later, when Mr. Hazare won the first round, with the government yielding to his demand that he be allowed to go on an indefinite fast in Delhi to achieve legislation for a strong and effective Lokpal. “The wise course for the government,” the newspaper advised, “is to withdraw the Bill, immediately, without standing on false prestige.” The editorial took issue with the Prime Minister's contention that it was the “sole prerogative” of Parliament to make a law. This was true only in the most literal, superficial, banal sense, the editorial pointed out. It affirmed that in India, unlike the United Kingdom, Parliament was not supreme; it was the Constitution that was supreme. But the editorial criticised a prominent member of Team Anna for getting carried away and proclaiming, in a way that recalled an authoritarian era, that “Anna is India and India is Anna.”

The third editorial, a single leader (“The way out,” August 22), analysed the relative merits of key sections of the two Bills, the Lokpal Bill of the Central Government now before the Standing Committee and Team Anna's Jan Lokpal Bill. The fourth editorial, a single leader analysing the specifics agreed upon and the issues that needed to be settled (“Significant victory,” August, 28), hailed Parliament's unanimous adoption of a resolution agreeing “in principle” with Team Anna's position on a few controversial points as a triumph for the anti-corruption moods in the country.

Besides these editorials, The Hindu carried four substantial editorial page articles during this period, when the fast by Mr. Hazare was entering a crucial stage. The articles, written by an acclaimed writer, two academics, and a political leader, were enlightening, each looking at the dramatic developments from different angles.

The essay “I'd rather not be Anna” (The Hindu, August 22, 2011) by Arundhati Roy was highly critical of the Anna Hazare phenomenon and what it represented. In the writer's view, corruption in the society could not be seen in isolation from many other factors in the country. The article, which was widely circulated and won national as well as international attention, received a huge number of responses, especially at the newspaper's website.

The second article (“Ambedkar's way and Anna Hazare's methods,” August 23) by Sukhadeo Thorat, economist and educationist, argued that Team Anna should use constitutional methods and enhance people's faith in them. “Otherwise,” Dr. Thorat noted, “it will convey the message that only coercive and unconstitutional methods work.” He recalled how coercive means forced Dr. B.R. Ambedkar to give up his demand for a separate electorate when Mahatma Gandhi was on a “fast-unto-death.”

The third article (“Messianism versus democracy,” August 24) by the economist Prabhat Patnaik contended that the substitution of one man for the people, and the reduction of the people's role merely to being supporters and cheerleaders for one man's actions, was antithetical to democracy. “Messianism substitutes the collective subject, the people by an individual subject, the messiah. The people may participate … in the activities of the people, as they are doing reportedly at Anna Hazare's fast… but they do so as spectators.”

The fourth of the articles (“For a strong and effective Lokpal,” The Hindu, August 25) by Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), observed that the attitude of the UPA Government and its failure to tackle corruption had fuelled public anger. He said that the government was seen as being complicit in corruption and this had been seen as the most corrupt government in the history of independent India. Since Hazare's first hunger strike in April, Mr. Karat noted, anti-corruption movement had gained momentum.

Together with the editorials, these assessments helped readers gain a critical perspective on the Anna Hazare phenomenon, the anti-corruption mood in the country, and the major issues at stake. On the whole, the coverage of the fortnight's drama not just by The Hindu but by several other dailies, including The Times of India, The New Indian Express, The Indian Express, and magazines, notably Outlook and India Today, reminded and reassured observers that for credible information, analysis, and diverse comment, it was the mainstream Indian press that still held the field. (readerseditor@thehindu.co.in; Courtesy: The Hindu)

(Posted on 05.09.2011)

When television was revolutionised

By Ramesh Sharma

The coverage of the Anna Hazare movement reveals a lot about our TV channels, and their newfound sense of power and omniscience. The phenomenal rise in Anna Hazare’s popularity, especially between his fast in April and his arrest on August 16, can be largely attributed to the UPA’s blunders, which persuaded even fence-sitters to throw their support behind Anna.

However, in spite of these mistakes, and for all that Anna managed to strike an emotional chord with much of the nation, his movement became a huge collective experience largely because of the electronic media. 24x7 TV channels were his constant cheerleaders, giving momentum to his cause. The Anna movement was, in fact, made for TV. After a season of scams, the image of a frail and simple 74-year-old activist pitting himself against a powerful and venal state was compelling. His lonely figure, wasting away on an indefinite fast, set against a large profile of Mahatma Gandhi, became an iconic TV image. It was a facile narrative of good against evil, a populist theme of a universal fight against corruption — and TV channels helped it take over the national agenda with the speed of a tsunami. To read full article click here

(Posted on 03.09.2011)

The Guardian and WikiLeaks: is this the future of journalism?

By Patricio Robles

Traditional news organizations, disrupted by the internet, are struggling, making it harder to turn journalism into profit. But at the same time, change brought about by the internet is creating exciting new opportunities for journalism.

One of the most promising opportunities come from the realm of citizen journalism. From engaged citizens reporting local news, to self-fashioned investigative journalists, the businesses built around journalism may be shrinking, but the number of 'journalists' is arguably increasing.

When it comes to citizen journalism, one of the most interesting initiatives is WikiLeaks. Started by Australian activist Julian Assange, WikiLeaks is dedicated to obtaining and publishing leaks of confidential and classified information that may be of interest to the public.

In the past several years, WikiLeaks' profile has grown tremendously, and so too has the amount of controversy it creates. The latest controversy that it's embroiled in, however, may be the most interesting, as it pits WikiLeaks against a traditional news organization, The Guardian.

At issue: Wikileaks signed an agreement with The Guardian's Alan Rusbridger. In it, Rusbridger acknowledges that the material WikiLeaks is providing to The Guardian "is for review only, and is not to be published without the express consent of Julian Assange or his authorised representative".

He also agrees that "the material will be held in conditions of strict confidence within the Guardian and will not be shown to any third party".

Now, Assange claims that The Guardian violated this agreement when "Guardian investigations editor, David Leigh, recklessly, and without gaining our approval, knowingly disclosed... decryption passwords in a book published by the Guardian".

According to WikiLeaks, "Revolutions and reforms are in danger of being lost as the unpublished cables spread to intelligence contractors and governments before the public".

Notwithstanding the irony that a man releasing classified material which somebody ostensibly broke the law in leaking would seek to control by legal agreement the release of that information, the spirit of this agreement, which Rusbridger certainly understood, on the surface gave Assange a form of editorial control over The Guardian.

This is because the newspaper simply couldn't publish a hot story using the information gleaned from WikiLeaks without the approval of a man who, by his own admission, has been releasing classified government information as part of a "carefully laid out plan to stimulate profound changes".

While Assange may be deluded for believing that he's responsible for the Arab Spring, the fact that respected news organizations like The Guardian would, by agreement, become subservient to a man who thinks he's using the news media as a tool for sparking revolutions is somewhat disturbing, particularly given that Assange's gloating comes after the devastation wrought by those revolutions is apparent.

Obviously, the business of news is tough, and in some respects, the internet has only made it tougher. Traditional news organizations have faced many challenges because of digital change, and print news organizations specifically have faced some of the greatest challenges.

So it's very hard for organizations like The Guardian to sit back and watch as groups like WikiLeaks break the juiciest stories using classified information that mainstream news organizations would probably never otherwise obtain.

But, just as a desire for a hot story doesn't mean that it's morally acceptable to hack somebody's phone, there's a strong argument to be made that The Guardian and others shouldn't be making deals with individuals like Julian Assange.

The future of journalism may not be clear, but one thing is: publishing stories under the direction of a single person with an agenda isn't journalism.
(Courtesy: Econsultancy.com)

(Posted on 17.08.2011)

Social Media: A Double-Edged Sword

By Pamela Dodson

Despite all the financial turmoil in the world right now, that news has been shouldered aside long enough to edge in the news about the ongoing riots in England. I am not altogether certain what brought these riots on, despite reading several articles. It appears someone was killed by the police, but it also seems that the divide between rich and poor in these areas has been used as a reason for rioting.

As with most things, I am sure the reasons are complex and have been building for some time. Riots over political, social, or economic issues are nothing new. What is relatively new, however, is how social media has changed how these events happen and how people perceive or react to the information provided via these mediums.

We all know how Twitter has brought people together on fairly short notice in flash mobs to sing or dance. We have seen the YouTube videos and thought, isn't this fun. The reverse side of this has been tweeting to bring together flash mobs to do violence or incite riots, as in England and the U.S. cities of Philadelphia and Milwaukee

I watched a video on the BBC of two girls who had taken part in a riot and were being interviewed by a reporter. They referred to the riots as "brilliant." They could hardly wait to participate again and said the cause of the rioting was rich people. When the reporter pointed out that much of the damage being done was to middle class businesses in their town, the girls stated that the owners had money and they didn't and that provided all the reason they needed to engage in such acts. The girls ended by saying the rioters had the power now and would show that police were no longer in control.

I find that rather frightening and have been quite dismayed by it, but today I was pleased to see another twist in these events. Some people in these riot-torn towns have decided to change the flow of these events and have once again used Twitter as a change agent. They tweeted about when and where to gather and help clean up the mess that the rioters caused, organizing themselves quickly and collaboratively. Soon many people arrived with brooms and dustpans and began the clean up.

All of this caused me to reflect back on something that I heard over the 4th of July weekend. I spent it in Twin Falls, Idaho participating in the Minidoka Pilgrimage. Minidoka was one of the camps where Japanese-Americans from the Seattle area were confined until World War II was over. The pilgrimage occurs once a year to remember what happened and to discuss the civil liberty issues.

On the second afternoon of the pilgrimage, a panel of survivors from Minidoka talked about their past experiences. Following that, there was a panel of young people who were there because they were descendants of those incarcerated at Minidoka. These young people were asked to each answer this question, did they think it was possible this type of event (rounding up and incarcerating citizens because of ethnicity) could happen again in the United States.

Every one of them said no. When asked why they didn't think it couldn't happen again, they said because of social media. I was stunned because, as an educator and librarian, I believe history does tend to repeat itself and we don't seem to learn as much as we think we do. I also know you can't believe everything you see on the Internet or relayed via social media. It seemed unbelievable that social media could stop a government action or the public anger that accompanies an event like Pearl Harbor or 9/11.

But after seeing these two videos today, I feel some hope. There are good people in the world using social media for positive things and that helps counterbalance the bad things being done with it. It all comes down to the individual. So, maybe that panel of young adults was right. Maybe social media can help change our future and how things happen. It's a good thought. What do you think? (Courtesy: www.huffingtonpost.com)

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(Posted on 08.08.2011)

Is our media biased in giving news from NE states?

By Danish Khan
Media Hive News Network

Five persons were killed, including two school girls, when a powerful explosion rocked Imphal on August 1. A day earlier, a train accident took place near Murshidabad in West Bengal in which two persons were killed and several injured. Both the incidents, however, got a little media coverage. Newspapers gave diminutive and short enough to be ignored page 10 space to these news stories. Broadcast media too didn’t give much coverage. It has been noticed that news, particularly from North-Eastern states, always get ignored, but the news of the same genre of other states get wider media coverage. Is our media biased in giving news from the North-Eastern states?

Had it been a blast or accident in any metropolitan city, the result would have been different. We have seen the media frenzy over such incidents in other parts of the country.

Furthermore, we all are very much aware about AFSPA (Armed Forces “Special Powers” Act) and the problems related to Jammu & Kashmir. We have seen the media coverage to the recent stone pelting incidents of the state. However North-Eastern states, which have also been facing the same problem of insurgency and ‘Military rule’, do not figure much in our national dailies and news broadcast.

Another example of the contrast is the little acknowledgement of a hunger strike by a North Eastern lady which has crossed a decade and the massive coverage of Anna Hazare’s recent fast. Anna’s anti-corruption campaign became pan-Indian but Irom Sharmila's 11-year of hunger strike could not get such media attention.

There is a need of change in the approach of our media. It should cater each and every part of our nation.
(Views expressed are personal. The writer can be contacted at danishlxr@gmail.com)

(Posted on 23.07.2011)

Welcome changes at an Indian journalistic bastion

By Bala Murali Krishna

Media is the flavor of this summer. If the world has its Murdoch-gate, we in India have a raging row heading to a denouement at The Hindu, one of India’s oldest dailies and perhaps the one most bound to tradition.

Fortunately, The Hindu story is a welcome development, not a debate on murky journalistic practices. Editor-in-chief N. Ram has been a towering journalist who has left a mark on Indian journalism, perhaps since his stewardship of the Bofors exposé in the 1980s. Still, the 65-year-old poised to quit his editorial position may be creating his biggest legacy yet by taking the daily out of the family’s clutches and handing its helm to professional editors and executives.

This is a revolutionary bid, perhaps in keeping with Ram’s image as a radical student in his youth. It is also revolutionary because the media is tightly owned and managed in this country. Still, The Hindu is markedly different from other Indian media houses in one aspect. Groups such as The India Today and even The Indian Express have been run by smaller families. Consequently, these have had to hire professional editors and executives to run their empires. But The Hindu’s owners are an extended family running into its fifth generation. Many – if not most – have, over the years, been accommodated in the sprawling operations of The Hindu and its group publications such as BusinessLine and The Sportstar.

Ram’s bid then to overhaul the company is seen as a slap in the face of the family. In essence, he is telling them, including two of his own siblings: None of you is good enough to succeed me as editor-in-chief; none of you is CEO material and we need both to survive in the 21st century. Many of us would see nothing wrong in this. In fact, many might commend Ram for showing great vision and also taking tough decisions.

To be sure, The Hindu hasn’t grown much when compared with its peers. The eponymous English daily remains its most successful publication, even though its 1.5 million circulation is predominantly in the southern part of the country. Others such as BusinessLine, the group’s business daily, have failed to make after nearly two decades whereas a new business daily such as Mint (incidentally its founder editor was an Indian American) are flourishing. Frontline magazine never could compete against India Today or Outlook, though it has a niche in the market; and The Sportstar, once a soaring sports weekly, has declined, unable to compete against several new publications including foreign one such as Sports Illustrated. So, Ram’s call for new leadership comes not too soon for the aging group.

Ram has already chosen his successor and won board approval, too. The candidate, Siddharth Varadarajan, is an American citizen and the brother of Tunku Varadarajan, a famous journalist in his own right and the editor of Newsweek’s international edition. Siddharth Varadarajan, 45, is one of the most mature voices in Indian journalism, and, incidentally, one who has shared Ram’s leftist leanings. Varadarajan is already The Hindu’s bureau chief in Delhi and has commendable academic and professional credentials – educated at the London School of Economics and Columbia University, he had a stint with The Times of India before joining The Hindu.

The Hindu insiders who have battled Ram in the company’s board, at the Company Law Board and in courts have found some favor at the CLB. In fact, the CLB has been directed by the Supreme Court to hear the case on a daily basis to ensure expeditious justice. But the top court, by refusing to hear the case, gave Ram a temporary victory – one that may be enough for him to install Varadarajan as the top editor and continue his search for a CEO.

The last word has not been written on the dispute but Ram’s choice seems right for this day and age. (Courtesy: asiancorrespondent)

(Posted on 09.07.2011)

Cricket journalism too needs to reinvent itself

By Harsha Bhogle

While India and the West Indies battle each other and the weather in the Caribbean, increasingly a forlorn part of the cricket world, columnists and twitterati and erudite cricketers sharpen their words and launch forth into battle on issues as wide as a decent highway. This is the lot of the modern media man. Where Cardus and Arlott could dream up the right word for the moment, and enjoy their wine, the journalist of today must scamper here and there, understand intrigue and the law, be at home with power struggles and rules that change half yearly and eventually either have, or seem to have, an informed opinion on everything.

It is not possible to be thus for many of us were drawn to this profession by the music of bat on ball, the photograph of the straight drive that we glued onto our walls, by the joy of anticipation even as we waited in a couple of queues to enter the stadium. The squabbles and the intrigue, the pomposity of power and the timidity of those that accept it and complain later can leave some of us cold. But you are not allowed that. In the modern connected world, not to have an opinion on certain matters because you are not sufficiently informed is to be timid; to wax eloquent with insufficient awareness, as with much of the DRS debate, is acceptable. As the game changes rapidly, as its finances wax and wane depending on where you live, so too has the role of the mediaperson changed, not always for the better.

And so I believe it is time to start a debate on what the role of the journalist and the commentator now is: one is increasingly expected to chase quotes and ignore the passages of play that could make the next day’s paper interesting to those that missed the action, the other has to learn to condense thoughts and sharpen words before the commercial breaks take over. It seems grim times are upon the storyteller.

And yet, our game is enlivened not by who voted for whom in a poll for the next president (that too is important but must remain subservient to the game itself) but by the thrill of short leg anticipating the next bat-pad chance, of the spinner playing on the vulnerability of the batsmen who seeks to bully him, of the rampaging fast bowler and the counter attacking batsman. It is this that will draw the next generation in but certainly here in India, I read and hear so little of it. The prize catch for an editor is no longer the reporter with a feel for words who can tell you what happened but the guy who knows which email went where it shouldn’t have.

Increasingly too, as a commentator enjoys the timing which sees a lofted drive sail into the stands he is reminded of the commercial obligation he has missed. It is no longer his job to share his joy with his viewers but to remind them of whose benevolence brings them the game. The viewers dislike the intrusion enormously, I’m amazed that brands don’t seem to worry about that, but far too often it is the commercials that you see amidst a sprinkling of cricket. Admittedly it is the commercials that bring in the money that enables technically better telecasts but the line between content and commerce, once determined by those in charge of content has ceded ownership to those that bring the money in.

So what legacy does our generation leave for the next? We have always been told that we are mere tenants of the game, just caretakers who nurture it till the time comes to hand it over. We in the media who pass judgement on caretakers in other areas must now ask if we can leave our part of the game in better shape than when we inherited it. When we complain about the role of money power in administration, aren’t we also accepting the role of money power in the modern telecast?

So are we leaving behind oceans of excellence or mere islands? Are we spending more time on developments off the field than with those on it? Are we telling enough stories to capture the imagination of the young, are we enticing them into our fold with our words and pictures? Are we cold and analytical or are we warm and jovial or indeed have we found the right mix of both?

As editors and producers commission articles and programs analysing those that run the sport and play it, they need, occasionally to ask themselves the same questions they ask of others. They need to ask themselves if they are communicating the splendour of our beautiful game enough. (Courtesy: Express Cricket)

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(Posted on 09.07.2011)

The evils of Murdoch's empire are exposed – what now?

By David Mellor

A ruthless businessman makes loadsamoney out of an enterprise whose success turns out to be largely based on criminal activity. The police don't want to know, and the wheels of illegality are oiled by payments to corrupt officers. The politicians fawn over our ruthless friend because they are too scared to take him on. Al Capone's Chicago or Rupert Murdoch's London? Hard to tell, isn't it?

Margaret Thatcher sold her soul to Murdoch because he was willing to back her unequivocally when other media moguls weren't. She let this Australian turned American (for business reasons of course), who's never had much buy-in to British society, take over 40% of our media, leaving a legacy to all her successors that required them to conduct most of their business with him from their knees.

The Murdoch empire hasn't been all bad for Britain. Sky was a brave entrepreneurial gamble that nearly broke the bank, and has brought huge benefits to a wider community as well as massive profits for him.

But for the print media Murdoch has been a disaster, coarsening everything he touches.

Now the evils of his empire are apparent to all, what's to be done? Lots of people will want to put the press in the dock, but there are others more worthy of a good seeing to than the papers, some of whom, especially this one, have provided an invaluable public service picking up on all the wrongdoing ignored by the police, and ensuring that it can't go on being swept under the carpet.

Which, if it was left to the police, it would have been. It's hard to know how much further the Metropolitan police can sink in public esteem, but this has been another appalling week for them. And only a rigorous public inquiry will suffice to find out why they failed to investigate these obvious evils five years ago, and the full extent of the corrupt payments made to officers apparently only too happy, for cash, to assist the News of The World with their inquiries.

The politicians too come out of this badly. Why has David Cameron become a fringe member of Rebekah Brooks's social circle? Hasn't he got better things to do with his time? He better had from now on, methinks.

Cameron should screw his courage to the sticking place, and put in a call to Uncle Rupert in the States, and tell him he expects him not to further embarrass himself, or Cameron, by pursuing his bid to own 100% of Sky. It's inconceivable, after what was clearly institutionalised, and not merely isolated, criminality at the News of The World, that Murdoch's reward should be even more control over the British media.

Years ago, as national heritage secretary, I said the press was drinking in the last chance saloon – it turned out it was me having my final round at the bar. I was a timely reminder to other politicians not to get above themselves.

Personally I am not for draconian press regulation. But I do think we can't go on with an organisation as inert and ineffective as the Press Complaints Commission. Regulation should be independent of the industry, but anyone who thinks there is an easy escape route out of these difficulties through the regulators should think again.

It would be nice if a neat distinction could be drawn between what is in the public interest, and what is merely what is of interest to the public. But it won't be easily achieved.

What we must avoid at all costs is the French situation where sexually primitive chaud-lapins like Dominique Strauss-Kahn can use their powerful positions to abuse women with impunity, knowing that by law the press cannot report what they do.

And as Jacques Chirac proves, it's a short step from being a sexual chaud-lapin to more pernicious acts of financial corruption.

I reiterate, we have to remember that it's thanks to some brave newspapers, and not to London's spectacularly useless bunch of plods, that all this wrongdoing is out there now, and can't be jammed back in without a lot of further bloodletting.

The criminal courts will, I hope, be very busy in the months and years ahead.
(Courtesy: Guardian)

(Posted on 03.06.2011)

Freedom of the press and journalistic ethics

By Markandey Katju

Freedom of the press and journalistic ethics is an important topic today in India — with the word ‘press' encompassing the electronic media also. There should be a serious discussion on the topic. That discussion should include issues of the responsibilities of the press, since the media have become very prominent and very powerful.

In India, freedom of the press has been treated as part of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, vide Brij Bhushan and Another vs. The State of Delhi, AIR 1950 SC 129 and Sakal Papers (P) Ltd vs. Union of India, AIR 1962 SC 305, among others. However, as mentioned in Article 19(2), reasonable restrictions can be placed on this right, in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. Hence, freedom of the media is not an absolute freedom.

The importance of the freedom of the press lies in the fact that for most citizens the prospect of personal familiarity with newsworthy events is unrealistic. In seeking out news, the media therefore act for the public at large. It is the means by which people receive free flow of information and ideas, which is essential to intelligent self-governance, that is, democracy.

For a proper functioning of democracy it is essential that citizens are kept informed about news from various parts of the country and even abroad, because only then can they form rational opinions. A citizen surely cannot be expected personally to gather news to enable him or her to form such opinions. Hence, the media play an important role in a democracy and serve as an agency of the people to gather news for them. It is for this reason that freedom of the press has been emphasised in all democratic countries, while it was not permitted in feudal or totalitarian regimes.

In India, the media have played a historical role in providing information to the people about social and economic evils. The media have informed the people about the tremendous poverty in the country, the suicide of farmers in various States, the so-called honour killings in many places by Khap panchayats, corruption, and so on. For this, the media in India deserve kudos.

However, the media have a great responsibility also to see that the news they present is accurate and serve the interest of the people. If the media convey false news that may harm the reputation of a person or a section of society, it may do great damage since reputation is a valuable asset for a person. Even if the media subsequently correct a statement, the damage done may be irreparable. Hence, the media should take care to carefully investigate any news item before reporting it.

I know of a case where the photograph of a High Court judge, who was known to be upright, was shown on a TV channel along with that of a known criminal. The allegation against the judge was that he had acquired some land at a low price misusing his office. But my own inquiries (as part of which I met and asked questions to that judge and many others) revealed that he had acquired the land not in any discretionary quota but in the open market at the market price.

Also, sometimes the media present twisted or distorted news that may contain an element of truth but also an element of untruth. This, too, should be avoided because a half-truth can be more dangerous than a total lie. The media should avoid giving any slant to news, and avoid sensationalism and yellow journalism. Only then will they gain the respect of the people and fulfil their true role in a democracy.

Recently, reports were published of paid news — which involves someone paying a newspaper and getting something favourable to him published. If this is correct, it is most improper. Editors should curb this practice.

Media comments on pending cases, especially on criminal cases where the life or liberty of a citizen is involved, are a delicate issue and should be carefully considered. After all, judges are human beings too, and sometimes it may be difficult for them not to be influenced by such news. The British law is that when a case is sub judice, no comment can be made on it, whereas U.S. law permits such comment. In India we may have to take an intermediate view on this issue: while on the one hand we have a written Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech in Article 19(1)(a) — which the unwritten British Constitution does not — the life and liberty of a citizen is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 21 and should not lightly be jeopardised. Hence, a balanced view has to be taken on this.

Also, often the media publish correct news but place too much emphasis on frivolous news such as those concerning the activities of film stars, models, cricketers and so on, while giving very little prominence to much more important issues that are basically socio-economic in nature.

What do we see on television these days? Some channels show film stars, pop music, disco-dancing and fashion parades (often with scantily clad young women), astrology, or cricket. Is it not a cruel irony and an affront to our poor people that so much time and resources are spent on such things? What have the Indian masses, who are facing terrible economic problems, to do with such things?

Historically, the media have been organs of the people against feudal oppression. In Europe, the media played a major role in transforming a feudal society into a modern one. The print media played a role in preparing for, and during, the British, American and French Revolutions. The print media were used by writers such as Rousseau, Voltaire, Thomas Paine, Junius and John Wilkes in the people's fight against feudalism and despotism. Everyone knows of the great stir created by Thomas Paine's pamphlet ‘Common Sense' during the American Revolution, or of the letters of Junius during the reign of the despotic George III.

The media became powerful tools in the hands of the people then because they could not express themselves through the established organs of power: those organs were in the hands of feudal and despotic rulers. Hence, the people had to create new organs that would serve them. It is for this reason that that the print media became known as the Fourth Estate. In Europe and America, they represented the voice of the future, in contrast to the feudal or despotic organs that wanted to preserve the status quo in society. In the 20th century, other types of media emerged: radio, television and the Internet.

What should be the media's role? This is a matter of great importance to India as it faces massive problems of poverty, unemployment, corruption, price rise and so on.
To my mind, in underdeveloped countries like India the media have a great responsibility to fight backward ideas such as casteism and communalism, and help the people in their struggle against poverty and other social evils. Since a large section of the people is backward and ignorant, it is all the more necessary that modern ideas are brought to them and their backwardness removed so that they become part of enlightened India. The media have a great responsibility in this respect.

(Markandey Katju is a Judge of the Supreme Court of India. The second part of this article will follow.) Courtesy: The Hindu

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(Posted on 02.05.2011)

Exit Journalism, Enter Churnalism

By Martin Robbins

“Churnalism" is a form of journalism in which press releases, wire stories and other forms of pre-packaged material are used to create articles in newspapers and other news media in order to meet increasing pressures of time and cost without undertaking further research or checking.BBC journalist Waseem Zakir has been credited for coining the term churnalism.

According to Zakir, the trend towards this form of journalism involves reporters becoming more reactive and less proactive in searching for news - “You get copy coming in on the wires and reporters churn it out, processing stuff and maybe adding the odd local quote. It’s affecting every newsroom in the country and reporters are becoming churnalists.”

For example, since I hate writing introductory paragraphs, I copy-pasted the last two paragraphs from Wikipedia rather than bother to write them myself. I put them into a blockquote to make it clear that they’re not mine, because I believe that I should make it clear to my readers what parts of an article I’ve written, and what parts I haven’t.

Journalists engaging in churnalism don’t bother with this, but a website launched a couple of months ago, Churnalism.com, has been set up to catch them out:
Churnalism.com is an independent, non-profit website built by the Media Standards Trust to help the public distinguish between original journalism and “churnalism”.

It’s a fascinating tool, and like all good tools it’s very simple to use. If you paste the text from a press release into the box on the front page, the software will trundle off and have a bit of a rummage around stories it’s seen in the UK media lately to see how much their text matches the words in the press release.

Does this happen in science journalism? Absolutely. For a bit of fun I had a play with some copy from the UCL press office. Out of 18 stories released by UCL this year, three or four have been substantially copied, while most of the rest apparently lacked the necessary “yakawow” to really make an impact in the media at all.

Does churnalism in science reporting actually matter? Well in individual cases it probably doesn’t a lot of the time, but if we look at the big picture there are two serious problems with it.

Firstly, churnalism like this undermines editorial integrity. It’s really not a lot different to running unmarked advertorials: both practices allow a potentially-biased third party to have their unchallenged message disguised as a piece of objective journalism, and published under a supposedly neutral(ish) banner. There’s nothing wrong with substantial quoting (around 25% of this article is quotes), but failure to properly attribute material deceives readers, and if newspapers are going to use third-party copy this extensively then at the very least it should be clearly marked as such.

Secondly, it makes the paid journalists who do it redundant. Or to borrow Ed Yong’s words:
“If you are not actually providing any analysis, if you’re not effectively “taking a side”, then you are just a messenger, a middleman, a megaphone with ears. If that’s your idea of journalism, then my RSS reader is a journalist.”

There’s nothing wrong with curating content to pass on for a wider audience but if journalists aren’t contributing original reporting, or providing context, or challenging statements made by university press officers, or even just adding informed opinion, then they’re not really doing journalism. At a time when we need to develop new models to support professional journalism online, that may not be a wise path to travel too far down. (Courtesy: Guardian News and Media)

(Posted on 01.05.2011)

Media and journalism: The wedding crashers

Nowhere to hide as media coverage of the "wedding the century" forces all and sundry to witness the great charade.

By Marwan Bishara

I ran away to Paris to avoid the wedding circus in London. Little did I know the fever had reached France and beyond.

TV channels and radio stations in the French republic that killed its own monarch were celebrating British monarchy, totally enamoured by the "fairytale" of the bride and groom.

Apparently the same was repeated elsewhere.

Some estimates put the figure of viewers at more than a 2-3 billion people. I doubt that, but don't doubt the media's capacity to interest and brainwash people.

The next day, all the continent's newspapers made available at the Eurostar slapped the wedding pictures on their front page with much more on the inside.

There was just no escape from the "wedding of the century", alas. If you can’t beat it, then join them. And so I joined the charade.

Bimbo journalism

You might think television would take the lighter, shorter view and the printed press would take the long view.

In fact, both sides of the media isle have adopted the same reactionary fairytale narrative as though we still live in the medieval ages.

Their fascination with and projection of the story of "a prince marries a commoner" and "love beats class" have been at the heart of the wedding coverage.

Anchors and journalists had a job to do: entertain. And that they did, in the most superficial of ways.

Expressing their fascination with the parade, complimenting the bride and bridesmaids' dresses, singing the praise of the groom's love, and detailing the body language and romance.

As one commentator put it, "Never has royalty looked better on the small screen - or the commentary sounded worse" - projecting their own dull and infantile fantasies on the rest us.

The flip side of it was just as comical, when certain media outlets predicted a different kind of fairytale where the heroine "Kate the Great" saves a bereaved son and a depressed royalty from their miserable lives.

Their marriage, we are told, will open a new promising future to the royal family and perhaps close the curtains on the bitter and complicated divorce and death of princess Diana.

So why should one or two billion people around the world give a damn about the psychology of Britain’s royal family? Don’t they have enough to worry about?

Well, it is because the Western/international media told them so. And the same media told women they had to see Kate's dress! A question of life or death.

Wedding crushers

What they don't tell us, is how terribly cheap and uncontroversial it is to produce these events and how fantastically profitable it is for media outlets to promote them, especially television networks.

Even when controversy cried out to be covered, most outlets decided to downplay it or ignore it all together, as in the case of the two former Labour British prime ministers, Blair and Brown, not being invited to the wedding.

To do so, is to undo the presumed fantasy and reveal the politics that underline it.

One of the rare interesting and clever commentaries came from Polly Toynbee at the Guardian:

"... The glorious pomp and circumstance did not disappoint those two billion worldwide watchers, indulging vicariously in the theatre of majesty. They tell us this is what we are best at, the great parade, the grand charade."

It is such critical and controversial coverage that differentiates serious journalism from generic lighthearted media, that differentiates news coverage from entertainment, comical or harmful.

Journalism does what it must regardless of the ratings, the profit or the popularity of what it produces.

But today's media seem to care more about form than content, glitter than nuance, and certainly ratings and distribution over substance. Speaking of substance, hatless Samantha Cameron saved the hat-ful day.
(Courtesy: english.aljazeera.net)

Flipkart.com

(Posted on 30.04.2011)

Are American journalists reckless, oblivious or brave?

By Mario Almonte

The tragic death in Libya of photographers Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, caught in the middle of a rocket attack by Moammar Gaddafi forces, is the latest in a series of dangerous encounters by American journalists plunging head-long into the chaos and perils of conflict in the Middle East. Earlier this year, Anderson Cooper was beaten up by a crowd as he covered a demonstration in Egypt, and CBS News correspondent Lara Logan suffered a harrowing sexual assault while covering demonstrations in Tahrir Square. Katie Couric cut short a report after pro-Mubarak protesters threatened her group, as did ABC's Christiane Amanpour, who was warned to leave. New York Time's Anthony Shadid, Stephen Farrell, Tyler Hicks, and Lynsey Addario -- were also caught up in the Libyan conflict, abducted and released after six days.

For many decades, journalists have died, been imprisoned or murdered in pursuit of their stories. Since 1992, more than 860 journalists have been killed around the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit organization that promotes freedom of the press. Few would question that most of them risked their lives because they believed in the power of the truth to change their world. Lately, however, with high profile American journalists, there is the lingering question of whether they suffer in pursuit of the truth, or simply the award-winning story. Do they fly in the face of danger and pay the price for their recklessness, or for their passion?

A Question of Balance

Bloggers frequently bring up this issue. Some criticize the shallow nature of the reporting, accusing the American media, especially, of focusing on the sensational and graphic, and providing often simplistic and even erroneous interpretations of events, before flying off to the next, high-profile assignment. Others criticize the reporters themselves, whom they see as plunging into the middle of conflicts without appreciating the danger. They rebuke CBS for sending Logan into a clearly volatile situation, for example, and Logan herself for being inappropriately dressed for a Muslim country, including wearing jewelry in the midst of an unruly crowd.

Traditional media, however, is curiously mute on the question and generally praises fellow journalists. In an interview with CNN's Howard Kurtz, Fred Francis, co-founder of 15-Seconds.com and former NBC News Pentagon Correspondent, calls Middle East reporting, "the purist form of raw courage... It's like going down an interstate on the wrong way at night, in the opposite direction, with your lights out."

He acknowledges, "This is the kind of coverage that makes careers," though he denies that anybody was trying "to make a career here."

Negative Reactors

Western journalism in general -- and American reporters in particular -- came under especially heavy criticism from Japan recently, following the country's devastating earthquake and tsunami, and the consequent Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. One notable article, "And Then the Journalists Ran Away," published in the Japanese language edition of Newsweek, labels the inflammatory and often inaccurate Western reporting, "a second disaster" that has hindered recovery.

The article writers, Takashi Yokota and Toshihiro Yamada, call their previous respect for Western media "a fairy tale (that) crumbled during the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Entangled in the very news they were supposed to report, (the media) lost all sense of composure."
American media coverage, in particular, "quickly devolved into a circus," they say. Reporters such as Anderson Cooper, "made no attempt to calmly ascertain the facts of the situation, and in so doing needlessly fanned the fears of the audience."

Striking a Different Note

Organizations like Human Unlimited Media -- or HUM News -- are trying to change things. The organization sees its mission as "closing the geographic gap" by producing and aggregating news from "116 countries and territories missing from the international information supply."

Joy DiBenedetto, CEO of HUM News, comments that Western journalists are "brave" to place themselves in danger, "but they tend to follow the pack mentality. In the end, their reporting is not always accurate."

A 20-year news veteran and award-winning journalist with CNN and Turner Broadcasting, DiBenedetto notes the current preponderance of news covering the Libyan crisis, which ignores countless other areas of the world that struggle with equally grave internal conflicts, human rights issues, and major natural disasters.

"Western journalism has often been negligent in fulfilling its true responsibility, but we aim to change that through HUM News. In areas of conflict, for example, we want to understand the history of opposition from the perspective of the people there, from a variety of official and unofficial sources," says DiBenedetto. "We double, triple, and quadruple our sources so that we know we're right, and we're not just offering one side of the story.

"Are we changing the world yet? Maybe not, but we hope to make some kind of difference." (Courtesy:Huffingtonpost.com)

(Posted on 26.04.2011)

Pro-poor judicial initiatives: now for a media push

By S Viswanathan

Three pronouncements made on three consecutive days this month by the Supreme Court of India have brought relief to different groups of economically and socially deprived people. The beneficiaries include children sold out by poor parents to work in circuses as child labour; young men and women determined to get married crossing caste barriers and harassed for that very reason by ‘khap panchayats'; and the hungry poor across the country denied their right to food, even as thousands of tonnes of food grains rot in government godowns..

Interestingly, the media, by and large, have been playing a proactive role in bringing the issues on to the public agenda. Daily newspapers and magazines have published several articles about hundreds of children, mostly girls, who were brought to India from neighbouring countries, especially Nepal and Bangladesh, to work in circus companies that have proliferated across the country. The living conditions were inhuman, resembling slavery. Thanks to some dedicated NGOs working in India and Nepal, the Indian media have exposed the trafficking in girls, who end up being exploited and sexually abused by circus owners and their men. This is the pathetic life of girls bought for paltry sums of money from poor parents not only from adjacent countries but also from Indian States such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. This is the price these hapless children and their families pay to keep our children laughing. BBC News and international news agencies have also reported on the girls' sufferings, while performing high-risk high-wire programmes.

Two decades ago, the hundreds of circus companies were in deep trouble owing to a gradual decline in public patronage. They sought State help to keep them going and save their performers and the emaciated animals that trek with them from camp to camp. The emergence of a large middle class with real purchasing power restored the economic health of the circuses, which have become one of the favourite entertainers for middle class children.

A rights-based judgment

In a rights-based judgment delivered on April 18, the Supreme Court banned the employment of children in circus companies. The court directed the Central government to take immediate steps to rescue the suffering circus workers and arrange for their rehabilitation. Passing orders on a petition filed by the Bachpan Bachao Andolan, an organisation working for children, a Division Bench comprising Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice A.K. Patnaik directed the central government to issue suitable notifications prohibiting employment of children in circuses within two months, in order to implement the fundamental right of children under Article 21-A of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to “free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine.” The Bench asked the government to raid all circuses and liberate children and check violation of their fundamental rights.

Another Supreme Court judgment delivered on April 19 was highly critical of the caste system and declared ‘khap panchayats” illegal. They were instrumental, the court observed, in encouraging honour killings and indulged in other atrocities against boys and girls married or tried to marry from outside their castes. The Bench, comprising Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra, wanted the government to ruthlessly stamp out the barbaric practice. A significant aspect of the judgment was that it directed the administrative and police officials to take strong steps to prevent such atrocious acts as honour killing. The court also asked for departmental action against officials who failed on this score.

It may be recalled that when States such as Haryana and Rajasthan reported a series of honour killings a few months ago, the media went all out against the spread of the crimes and the failure of the State police and administration to arrest it. When the Central government floated the idea of a ban on khaps, even Chief Ministers and ex-Minister sought to scuttle the move.

Starvation deaths

No less important is the serious concern expressed by Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma over the increasing number of starvation deaths in the country. They were hearing petitions relating to the streamlining of the public distribution system (PDS). The Supreme Court has once again questioned the approach of the Central government to the eradication of malnutrition and its failure to arrest starvation deaths in some areas. Justice Bhandari also questioned the Planning Commission's estimate that 36 per cent of the population was below the poverty line, which was inconsistent with the claim of several States, including Congress-ruled States, that the percentage was much larger. The judge wondered how the Planning Commission could fix a per capita daily income of Rs. 20 for urban areas and a per capita daily income of Rs. 11 for rural areas to determine BPL status. He also wanted the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission to file a detailed affidavit within a week “because the entire case rests on your figures.”

Progressive voices, including economists, scientists, and social activists, have been articulating in the media the demand for a universal PDS. When the National Advisory Committee was about to endorse it, the government ruled it out once again. At a time the Supreme Court has stepped up the pressure for a pro-people solution, a well-informed and decisive media push will certainly help.
(E-mail:readerseditor@thehindu.co.in; Courtesy: The Hindu)

(Posted on 20.04.2011)

Media support crusade against corruption

By S Viswanathan

here can be little question that the news media, print as well as television, have contributed significantly to bringing the issue of corruption to political India's centre stage. The focus on the corruption of elections through ‘cash for votes' comes in tandem with the proactive intervention by the Election Commission of India during the April-May elections to State Assemblies. There can also be little doubt that the U.S. Embassy Cables, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, and the battery of cable reports and cable journalism have played a catalytic role, inspiring the anti-corruption campaign in India, as pointed out by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The huge response, especially in urban India, to Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign centring on the demand for a radical Jan Lokpal Bill, speaks to the centrality of the issue.

Aggressive role of tabloids

In the early years of independent India, corruption did not draw much attention from ordinary people, although from time to time mainstream newspapers came up with informed coverage of such issues. Unfortunately, the political establishment tended to rationalise the role of corruption in society, with even leaders like the personally incorruptible K. Kamaraj trying to convince the people that corruption and bribing officials were as old as the scriptures and there could be no solution for such problems. It was only the tabloids such as Mumbai-based Blitz, edited by R.K. Karanjia, a leading investigative journalist of his time, which probed corruption and misconduct aggressively. Interestingly journalists like Karanjia had a following among young people from the 1950s through to the 1980s.

Independent India's first dramatised financial irregularity was “the jeep scandal” (1948), which related to the purchase of army jeeps for the country. The charge was that the then Indian High Commissioner to Britain, V.K. Krishna Menon, bypassed protocol to sign a Rs. 80 lakh deal with a foreign firm. The case was closed in 1955 and soon Menon, against whose personal integrity there was not a shred of evidence, joined the Jawaharlal Nehru Cabinet. The “cycle imports scandal,” reported in 1951, saw the first conviction in a major corruption case, when an ICS Secretary to the Government of India, S.A. Venkataraman, went to prison for accepting bribes and the conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court.

The Mundhra scandal (1958) made a big splash thanks to sustained media coverage. In fact, it was the press that first hinted at a possible scam involving a sale of fraudulent shares by a Calcutta-based businessman, Haridas Mundhra, to the Life Insurance Corporation of India. Sourcing confidential correspondence between Union Finance Minister T.T. Krishnamachari (TTK) and the Principal Finance Secretary, a senior member of Lok Sabha with excellent press connections, Feroze Gandhi, the husband of Indira Gandhi, raised a question in the House about the “share” deal. Prime Minister Nehru constituted a one-member commission headed by Justice M.C. Chagla to investigate the deal. After finding that a prima facie case had been made out against the businessman, Justice Chagla concluded that Mundhra had sold fictitious shares to the LIC and defrauded it to the tune of Rs. 1.25 crore. The businessman was convicted and sentenced to a long imprisonment and Krishnamachari was obliged to quit the Cabinet. A point to be noted is that in these early cases, the judgments came in an unbelievably short time.

Most complicated scandal

Two decades later came Bofors (1987-1990), which is considered the 20th century's most complicated political corruption scandal in the country. It involved a $ 50 million payoff of what was described as “commissions” into secret Swiss bank accounts for the purchase by the Indian government of howitzers from a Swedish arms manufacturing company. Readers may recall the role played by the press, above all, The Hindu, in digging out the truth and documenting it meticulously. But cover-up, obstruction of justice in various ways, and the weaknesses of the Indian criminal justice system ensured that the conviction at the bar of public opinion did not result in any legal conviction.

The 1990s witnessed an escalation of corruption scandals involving crores of rupees. These included Harshad Mehta securities and banking scam involving Rs. 5,000 crore, the Rs. 900-crore fodder scam, and the Rs 1,500 crore Sukh Ram telecom scandal. The first decade of the 21st century witnessed over ten major Indian corruption scandals, including cash-for-votes during the 2008 confidence vote in the Lok Sabha and the 2-G scam spectrum allocation scam (Rs 1,76,000 crore, as estimated by the Comptroller & Auditor-General of India).

It is distressing that rising India has become notorious for its corruption scandals. If you go by the reported cases of corruption across the country during this period, the state exchequer is believed to have lost a whopping Rs. 73 lakh crore (nearly forty times the 2-G loss), according to one estimate.

It is no surprise therefore that when Anna Hazare began his “fast-unto-death” at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on April 6, 2011, thousands of social activists descended on the venue to express their solidarity with the crusader against corruption and back his demand for putting in place a Jan Lokpal Bill, drafted through a civil society initiative. Thanks to extensive coverage by television channels and newspapers, thousands of people gathered around the fasting Gandhian. Similar support movements were seen in Lucknow, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and other major cities. After four days of talks, the Manmohan Singh Government conceded Mr. Hazare's demand and agreed to constitute a 10-member committee, with five chosen from the Union Ministers and the rest representing the civil society. The idea is to introduce the Lokpal Bill in Parliament during the monsoon session. The media would do well to keep its eye on this particular ball. (E-mail:readerseditor@thehindu.co.in; Courtesy: The Hindu)

(Posted on 12.04.2011)

Paid news, cash-for-votes, and Election Commission

By S. Viswanathan

Over the last 18 months, the exposure of the unethical practice of publishing or broadcasting ‘paid news' has created awareness among the people about how it corrupts the press as well as the democratic process. The Election Commission of India has risen to the occasion by tightening its vigil over the media as well as candidates, as part of its efforts to keep the on-going Assembly elections in four States and one Union Territory as clean as possible.

‘Paid news,' selling news space under the table to candidates and dishonestly presenting the paid-for advertising as news, is a relatively recent arrival on the Indian electoral scene. Besides giving the client an advantage over the rival contestants, it helps him or her hide the money spent on paid news from the mandatory electoral expenditure accounts, thereby violating electoral laws. The Hindu played a key role in taking the issue to larger sections of people. Many journalists pressed for the intervention of organisations such as the Editors' Guild, besides the Press Council of India and the Election Commission, to stigmatise and put an end to the corrupt practice and initiate action against the guilty. It is heartening that the Election Commission has taken some initial steps to end the menace.

Corrupting the election process

A front page expose, “Cash for votes a way of political life in South India,” in The Hindu (March 16, 2011), based on a report in “The India Cables,” accessed by the newspaper through WikiLeaks, highlighted the various methods adopted by South Indian politicians in the 2009 Lok Sabha election to bribe voters. In a factually rich cable sent to the State Department on May 13, 2009 under the name of Frederick J. Kaplan, Acting Principal Officer of the U.S. Consulate-General in Chennai, we have a detailed account of “the role and impact of money power in corrupting the electoral process.” Mr. Kaplan noted that the bribing of voters by political parties was “a regular feature of elections in South India.” Referring to an Assembly by-election at Thirumangalam in Madurai District in 2009, the cable mentioned how party workers resorted to ingenious ways to distribute the bribe money, hoodwinking security officials and the workers of rival political parties. At Thirumangalam the payment was Rs. 5,000 per voter, possibly the highest ever bribe paid to a voter, according to the cable. This is now known as the “Thirumangalam formula,” thanks to liberal usage of the term in Tamil periodicals.

Apart from the unprecedented rise in prices of essential commodities, the neglect of agriculture and growing unemployment, the major issues before the electorate in the current phase of the elections are the 2G-spectrum scam and the plethora of corruption scandals involving ruling party politicians at the Centre and in the States.

Unfair criticism

Although electoral malpractices and corruption in high places are not new to the people, apprehension of a possible scaling up of electoral malpractices and the violence they might result in has made the Election Commission step up its vigil in a big way. The challenge is particularly serious in Tamil Nadu and the shrill complaints and criticism heard from leaders of the parties ruling in the State and at the Centre speak to the ECI's rising to the challenge. The seizure of cash to the tune of at least Rs. 42 crore and of articles worth several crores of rupees carried by persons with no valid papers relating to the money in their possession only strengthens the case for stepped-up vigil by the Commission.

Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi has done well to face the situation head-on and refute the charge that the Election Commission has exceeded its powers in Tamil Nadu. He has emphasised that the Commission was within its constitutional mandate and any criticism was “totally unfair and we dismiss it.” He made it clear that holding free and fair elections was always the Commission's top priority and it would also seek to make the polls peaceful, transparent, and participative. His announcement that the Commission had asked officials to intensify search operations with a view to totally curbing “money power” has won much public appreciation and support.

It is encouraging to see the news media giving such wide publicity to the Election Commission's efforts to clean up the whole process. So far, so good.
(E-mail:readerseditor@thehindu.co.in; Courtesy: The Hindu)

(Posted on 04.04.2011)

Is WikiLeaks ‘real’ journalism?

By Kate Ausburn

Writing in the aftermath of the several high profile WikiLeaks publications including the Collateral Murder video and the Afghanistan and Iraq War Logs, News Corporation journalist Brad Norington set out on a crusade against online media, and more specifically, against WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.

In an August 2010 article for The Australian titled “WikiLeaks vigilante denies having blood on his hands over disclosures”, Norington argued that traditional media “retains an important accountability role in a modern democracy” unlike bloggers whose “fast-and-loose values” include “no editing, no standards, no accountability, no responsibility”.

He did not differentiate between WikiLeaks and bloggers, instead arguing they share questionable ethics.

Like traditional media, bloggers are a diverse group and should not be generalised as one collective holding the same regulatory standards — because clearly, they do not.

A paper from the 2005 conference, Blogging, Journalism & Credibility: Battleground and Common Sense, held at Harvard, found that: “While some blogging is journalism, much of it isn’t and doesn’t aim to be”.

WikiLeaks, however, is certainly an example of online publishing that should be considered journalism. Like those responsible mainstream media publications, WikiLeaks adheres to a rigorous vetting and editing process before publishing data it receives.

Still, Norington said the documents released by WikiLeaks had the potential to “lead to the death of many people”.

He used the findings and advice of print news journalists to evidence this claim, noting that reporters from The Times found “names, villages, relatives’ names and even precise GPS locations of Afghans who had co-operated with US-led forces” uncensored in the documents published by WikiLeaks.

Norington also said that reporters from The Guardian and Der Spiegel, who worked with Assange to publish leaked information, “encouraged Assange ‘to be careful about the lethal harm that could come to people identified in the logs if he released certain documents unredacted’”.

Norington said that Assange did not follow this advice.

But he also said “Assange claims he went to great lengths to omit from almost 92,000 documents any information that could put local Afghans in harm's way”. This implies that a process does exist at WikiLeaks to look for material that may require omission prior to publication, and that the process was followed in this instance.

Assange explained WikiLeaks editing process in a July 2010 video interview with TED.com’s Chris Anderson.

Assange discussed WikiLeaks’ process of obtaining and publishing information. He said that after receiving information from sources, WikiLeaks staff “vet it like a regular news organisation”, editing sensitive personally identifying information and checking authenticity before to publication.

He noted that prior to the release of a video now known as Collateral Murder, which depicted the killing of a dozen people in Iraq by US military, two people from the WikiLeaks team were sent to Baghdad to further investigate the story.

This information is contrary to Norington’s claim that WikiLeaks, who he lumps together with bloggers, have “no editing” and “no standards”.

Norington claimed WikiLeaks “could have led to further causalities by feeding a Taliban ‘hit list’”, but he offered no evidence of documents published by WikiLeaks causing the death or suffering of any individual.

Nor did Norington give evidence that any individual has been targeted because of information released by WikiLeaks.

Norington’s piece also bought in to a popular criticism levelled at the organisation, designed to play down the importance of WikiLeaks publications, saying that they reveal “nothing new”.

This argument implies Norington has reviewed all 76,000 documents (that he refers to in his article) released by WikiLeaks, and is therefore at liberty to make this judgment.

Norington concluded his piece with vague reference to the “important accountability role in a modern democracy” that the “Fourth Estate” plays. The Fourth Estate refers to print journalism or more broadly news media, a group to which Norington makes clear he thinks WikiLeaks does not belong.

He conceded the “Fourth Estate might not be perfect”. Certainly not, as the ongoing saga about Murdoch’s News of the World in Britain suggests. Its reporters face allegations of phone hacking — a fairly decent example of the imperfection of some print media.

And yet Norington’s attack is not on journalists who have been shown to deliberately weaken the integrity of the field with their unscrupulous methods.

Rather his criticism is aimed at the new kids on the block, those publishing online, but mainly those with mass impact and notoriety publishing online: Assange and WikiLeaks.

So back to that comparison between WikiLeaks, bloggers and the “Fourth Estate”.

Norington holds up that WikiLeaks does not play a similar “accountability role”. Perhaps Norington would’ve chosen to argue differently had he been writing in the aftermath of the release of the diplomatic cables, though perhaps not.

There are many examples of WikiLeaks upholding democracy and holding power to account. In the TED.com interview, Assange said WikiLeak’s 2007 leak of a report exposing the corruption of former Kenyan president Danial arup Moi “shifted the vote by 10% according to a Kenyan intelligence report, which changed the result of the election”.

Of course, WikiLeaks is not the only example of online journalistic integrity.

There are certainly bloggers that are noteworthy for their eyewitness reporting and commitment to providing voices not often covered in our news media.

In his 2003 academic paper, Paul Andrews said the role of bloggers was “a valuable adjunct to-but not substitute for-quality journalism”.

In support of citizen journalism and blogging, Andrew’s said blogger Salam Pax’s reporting on the Iraq War from inside Baghdad was some of the “best eyewitness reporting during the war”.

Norington is far from the only traditional journalist critical of WikiLeaks and online journalism or blogging in general. But why do some journalists hate WikiLeaks?

Is it because the organisation is not only holding to account our governments and corporations, but also our journalists?

WikiLeaks is a game-changer, encouraging a scientific approach to journalism, where source documents are provided alongside stories, and empowering the reader to decide if the report is fair and accurate.

Legitimate journalism does exist online. WikiLeaks is a shining example of this. It encourages a democratic public discourse that holds our leaders accountable for the war and diplomacy they carry out in our name.
(Courtesy GreenLeft)

(Posted on 02.04.2011)

Speaking of the India Cables

By S Viswanathan

The scores of letters the office of the Readers' Editor and the “Letters” column of this newspaper have been receiving over the past ten days in appreciation of the flood of articles based on the “The India Cables,” accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, stand testimony to the immeasurable confidence and goodwill this 132-year-old publication has been enjoying from its discerning, knowledgeable readers.

Readers may recall that the first instalment of classified United States documents related to the American military campaign in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s, was brought to the public domain by WikiLeaks in July 2010. Then, in November 2011, came ‘Cablegate,' five major western newspapers dipping into a mind-boggling database of 251, 187 U.S. diplomatic cables estimated to aggregate 300 million words made available to them by WikiLeaks.

Major scoop
The latest development is The Hindu's major scoop in getting the ‘India Cables,' 5,100 of them comprising six million words, accessed through an arrangement with WikiLeaks. Today is Day 14 in the series and already the impact of the revelations on public opinion, on Parliament, on the polity, and on the rest of the media has been immense. The India Cables cover a big range: India's relations with the U.S., with neighbours, with Russia, the European Union, East Asia, Israel, Palestine and Iran, besides Cuba and the United Nations. There is a lot of material on domestic affairs, nuclear energy, defence, intelligence sharing, the economic sectors, and so on.

The well-structured and contextualised stories, with meticulous references to the numbered cables, have been published in print and online, with beautiful supporting cartoons and illustrations. The cables themselves have been published online. The stories and cables have been followed very widely, in India and abroad. On the day of the launch of the India Cables series, the Editor-in-Chief wrote a perspective piece titled “Fascinating insights.” It introduced the India Cables, their range and significance, and gave readers an idea of how the newspaper engaged with WikiLeaks to get its hands on the cables through a congenial arrangement that “involves no financial transaction and no financial obligations on either side.”

The most noteworthy and encouraging part of ‘Indiagate' is the way readers and the general public have welcomed and indeed taken to the revelations in this mass of diplomatic communication conducted over many years.

The Hindu's Page 1 lead story on the opening day, March 15, 2011, was headlined: “PM isolated on Pakistan.” It was interesting news for Ambassador Timothy Roemer who got it in the course of a meeting he had with National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan. Mr. Roamer also learnt more about Mr. Narayanan and the others he met

A couple of articles highlighted the differences between India and the U.S. over sharing information related to the Mumbai terror attacks with Pakistan. There have been revealing articles about Indo-Nepal, India-Sri Lanka, and India-Myanmar relations. Another story showed how the Manmohan Singh minority government bowed to U.S. pressure to vote against Iran in September 2005, despite resistance from some Indian officials. Another instance of the United Progressive Alliance regime succumbing to external pressure was a 2006 Cabinet reshuffle in which “contentious and outspoken Iran pipeline advocate” Union Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar was replaced by Murli Deora, perceived by the U.S. Embassy to be pro-U.S. and close to a big business house.

Confidence vote issue
A front page article, “Cash for votes a way of political life in South India,” drawn from a remarkably detailed report of the practice in a Chennai Consulate cable, caught the attention of politically aware readers during election season. But it was the story, “Satish Sharma aide showed U.S. Embassy employee cash to be used as ‘pay-offs' in [July 2008] confidence vote,” (The Hindu, March 17, 2011) that fired the political imagination, rocked Parliament, and set the public agenda for the next several days.

The India Cables series goes on, with the latest stories and cables revealing the “double talk” of the BJP in respect of its stand on external policy and Indo-U.S. relations in particular, and also featuring an admission by one of the party's prominent leaders that the BJP's advocacy of Hindu nationalism was “opportunistic.” There have also been interesting cables and stories on perceptions of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, and a host of India's political leaders.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat has published a hard-hitting analysis of what the series based on the India Cables, accessed by TheHindu through WikiLeaks, signifies. In his view, “the expose laid bare the nature of India-U.S. relationship during the UPA and NDA regimes and revealed a disturbing picture.”

As Readers' Editor, I have no access to the India Cables; like the hundreds of thousands of the newspaper's politically aware readers, I too read the stories only when they appear in print. Interestingly so far, nothing connected with this series has had to figure in the daily ‘Corrections & Clarifications' column. My impression is that the India Cables stock with The Hindu is far from exhausted and there is plenty more to come.

(Courtesy: The Hindu)

(Posted on 30.03.2011)

When two teams play, one wins and the other loses

By Raza Elahi

The much awaited India-Pakistan World Cup semi-final match in Mohali is set to begin today afternoon. For the last few days television channels and print publications of both the countries have covered every minutest details of what-will-happen in the match in almost a warlike rhetoric.

The other day on an Indian news channels, two former cricketers Ravi Sashtri and Amir Sohail were almost trying to beat each other in a totally biased opinion in favour of India and Pakistan respectively. People on the street have attached the national pride and honour with this game and some have called it the mother of all clashes. They have gone crazy. They didn't mind buying Rs 250 tickets at a price above Rs 10,000 in the black market (in Mohali) a few days back.

Fans of both the teams want to see their team winning the game as this is the first match between the two countries since July 2008 which has taken place on the home soil of one of the teams.  

Amid all this fever, the stage is also set for the cricket-diplomacy as two prime ministers will be watching the game. And, media is going extra mile to cover the politics behind the game.

However, somewhere between all these high-pitched noises, people as well as the media have perhaps forgotton the essence of the game. One should watch and appreciate the game and not the pre-defined winner. When two teams play, one wins and the other loses.

The two captains MS Dhoni and Shahid Afridi have made very balanced comments and people should watch the game and beyond in spirit of these comments of the two captains:

Shahid Afridi: "I hope that in the future, relations between India and Pakistan get better and stay better, whatever the results. There should be good cricket and people should enjoy the game."

M S Dhoni:  “Somebody has to lose the game irrespective of what happens. It is a part and parcel of the sport. It doesn’t only happen in cricket — it happens in each and every sport”.

This write-up was posted on the writer's blog RAZA SMILES
(http://razaelahi.blogspot.com/) on 29.03.2011. The writer can be contacted at elahi.raza82@gmail.com

(Posted on 01.03.2011)

Cricket Chaat, courtesy TV news channels

By Raza Elahi

ICC World Cup 2011 is underway. The knives are out. The battle of supremacy is always in their minds. The motto is to outshine others. If your are thinking that I am talking about the teams participating in the ongoing cricket tournament, hold on. It is not about them but about Indian TV news channels scrambling for eyeballs during the Cup.

Every news channels seem to be in a race to outdo the other by getting an experts’ panel every day to talk about the nuances of the matches. They have special programmes titled, Big Toss and Kings of Cricket etc, as well as other talk shows that are trying their best to increase the adrenaline rush among the viewers.

There is no doubt that for about 1.2 billion people of the country cricket is not just a sport but something close to be called a religion. And that is why 24x7 news channels are in a rush to grab maximum eyeballs. But their extra effort most of the time turns boring. First, the anchors themselves become experts and try to speak most of the time than the experts and repeating the same thing again and again.

Then look at the experts who are not so expert popping up on every channels. Murli Karthik, Yograj Singh, Rohan Gavaskar, Aakash Chopra, Nikhil Chopra -- they all were certainly not good in their games at international level but are now leaving no stone unturned to give their viewpoints on TV. Though sometimes it is a delight to hear views of Geoffery Boycott, Imran Khan, Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Sashtri, Allan Border, Zaheer Abbas and the likes appearing on different channels, it is just intolerable to sit and watch the Karthiks and Chopras.

But there is no prize for guessing why these channels have extended panels and programmes. The reason is simply not cricket. It is just the business and the market built around the cricketing action. All these hype and hoopla created by TV channels -- in the form of coverage, special programmes, discussions, contests and other off-the-field activities -- unnecessarily build pressure on Team India, a point which former Pakistan captain Imran Khan has also recently pointed out.

It will not be wrong to say that the excessive efforts of our news channels to present Cricket Chaat has become really chaat (boring).

This write-up was posted on the writer's blog RAZA SMILES
(http://razaelahi.blogspot.com/) on 28.02.2011. The writer can be contacted at elahi.raza82@gmail.com

The communication gap between defence and media

By Satyadipanshi Chikara
Media Hive News Network

Almost every arm of the government recognises the role and importance of the fourth estate in keeping the nation informed. Perhaps keeping in line with this general policy, the late Army Chief, General Bipin Chandra Joshi made certain prophetic remarks- that the media constituted a ‘force multiplier’ and hence the need to make fighting arms more open.

This pronouncement of the General came as a shot in the arm of defence correspondents, who had been starved of useful information about the state of defence planning and preparedness ever since the doors of the ministry were virtually closed by the then minister of state of defence in 1987.

No doubt, General Joshi’s intentions were good but obviously it did not sound very well with the defence ministry. The Army chief did indeed make certain observations about the need of mordernisation in the press relations strategy of the defence services, Army’s role in internal security duties and even the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. Somewhere down the line, he appeared to have over stepped the bounds laid by the civil authorities. And soon, the situation was back to good old days of a continuing communication gap.

Because of this gap, not only the press, but also the senior officers of defence services felt a sense of suffocation, as they felt that the media is deliberately being kept in dark about the requirement of the services and the need for timely mordernisation. This in fact, was undermining the capability of the country.

It is the combination of the powerful interests both within the government and outside, which has kept out the press from having a closer look at the defence needs and acquisitions from the ab initio stage. This had reached a flashpoint in 1987, when the then minister of state of defence Arun Singh closed the doors of the ministry to the press. The defence accreditation cards of the journalists were for all practical purposes withdrawn since the access was restricted only to the office of the directorate of public relations (DPR) in the ministry. It was only in 1994, that the access to the ministry was restored for reasons best known to government. Perhaps, the confidence lay in the fact that there were no major acquisitions during the last five years.

Though, one cannot help remarking at this stage that except for a helpful of correspondents, there was no concerned effort on the part of the media to demand more information regarding defence planning and preparedness. Even the few journalists who made an attempt to inform the public about the projects and proposed acquisitions tend to lean one or the other side at times, which could send wrong signals or result in unwarranted inferences by our neighbours like China and Pakistan and none too friendly Western powers lead by the USA.

The coverage of the IPKF Mission in Sri Lanka is another example of the great communication gap existing since ever.

It is true that the IPKF was involved in extensive operations but the press could never explain with conviction as to what their real character was. One had to wait for books written by Lt. Gen. Depinder Singh and Lt. Gen. SC Sardesh Pande to understand and appreciate the problems which the IPKF faced. A critical appraisal was not available till these books were published in 1993. Such was the magnitude of the communication gap that the government and in particular the defence ministry confided only in electronic media, AIR and DD and the two news agencies- PTI and UNI, which depended entirely on doctored reports. Although, subsequent reports proof that IPKF mission was a disaster.

Often pressmen quoted Intelligence Reports, although their information came from third party spokesmen in the PIB, MEA and very rarely the DPR itself. The fact is that the Intelligence Directorates of all the three services were not accessible to the press at all. What actually happened is that the reports prepared by IB and RAW were handed out to the press, sometimes even as planted material and there were correspondents who felt privileged even to quote highly placed intelligence sources making it appear as if they got it from the outfits of the services, when that was not the case.

It must be understood that the role of the press is neither that of a snooper and nor of an adversary. On the contrary, as in many advanced countries, it has a useful role as a partner (but a critical one) at that in national interest. To make it clear, one would not or should not expect the press to go “ga ga” over exaggerated claims about weapon development because such trumpeting is based on mere handouts, which often prove self defeating as time passes by.

In this process, the persistent communication gap, whether it pertains to the services, R&D, procurement or budgeting, resulting in a situation leading to undesirable consequences. Briefly put, it does result in setbacks in mordernisation, upgradation, aquisition, ongoing research projects and last but not the least- A research crunch! After all that is said and done that the Defence Services themselves and by their nature have limitations in their pleadings, not only for money but determining the choice of selection.

Going back to the historic past (Sept 1, 1959), one might recall that Gen. KS Thimayya tendered his resignation as Chief of Army Staff owing to sharp differences of opinion with the then defence minister Krishna Menon. It came out in the biography on Lt. Gen. PS Bhagat, written by Lt. Gen. Mathew Thomas that Krishna Menon rode roughshod over everyone, with due interference in service matters, in particular the promotion and posting of favoured officers.

The clash between the Army General and the defence minister was over certain recommendations on matters of promotion. It came out with a bang in the press and it took all of Prime Minister Nehru’s persuasive skills to make the general withdraw his resignation. To put the records straight, Gen. Thomas had clarified that the news about Thimayya’s resignation given in banner headlines on Sept 1, 1959 was not strictly accurate. Thimayya had asked for an interview with the Prime Minister on Aug 31 and he carried his letter of resignation with him.

Lt. Gen. VK Nayar, a distinguished officer, had frankly admitted the yawning communications gap between the press and the defence services. In his educative book entitled “Threat from Within” on India’s Internal Security Environment, Gen. Nayar had said that “one of our major failings during the entire period from 1982 onwards in Punjab, has been the credibility gap between the official projections and the public media. We may have had very viable reasons for our actions but both the actions and their effects were not put across to the public promptly. Therefore, the public accepted what the it was told by the media”.

Gen. Nayar also pointed out the other nature of media coverage of defence activities by reminding the unfortunate event of killing of Gen. Shankar Roy Chaudhary, Lt. Col. KS Punicha and five others in an ambush by underground NSCN activists in Kohima on Dec 27, 1994. The General lost no time in putting down his fingers on the right spot but probably in a wrong environment. He lamented that only when there was an encounter or an ambush, the media gave coverage to the Army. His contention was that only the negative side of the Army had been covered most of the times. However, he did convey to the Army authorities too that they should seek the help of local media to project a positive image.

The question now is that did this officer break the shackles imposed by the political leadership and other vested interests in the government and the services and enable the media to perform its duties without fear and favour? The answer is plain and simple! No Army Chief has ever succeeded in bridging the communications gap. Despite their often repeated professions of giving increasing access to the media as indeed promised by the Late Gen. Joshi, what has happened is just the reverse.

It would be quite topical to refer to the harrowing experience of the DPR to get the biography of Gen. Roy Chaudhary for release to the press, when the official announcement on his appointment as The Army Chief was to be released for publication on Nov 21, 1994. The DPR was repeatedly blocked and thwarted by the M.S. Branch in its attempt to get biodata and it was only after intervention by the senior hierarchy in the Army HQ that the details of the General’s career were made available. This resulted in a delay of about an hour for the announcement to be given to the nation. If this be the experience of the DPR in the MOD itself, how can the media be expected to play a positive role when even on the matter of the General’s career profile, the MS Branch seeks shelter under the plea that this information is classified and that the DPR could misuse it!

The press did enjoy a brief spell of sunshine when KC Pant took charge of the defence ministry after the exit of VP Singh. It goes to credit of Pant that he impressed upon the services the need to keep the media informed. In other words, the minister took great pains to brief press parties accompanying him to forward and sensitive areas with the understanding that they would observe the code of conduct attached to off the record talks. But he placed no bar on the use of such material as a background relevant to subsequent events without quoting sources. His desire was that journalists covering defence should not only merely report, but should also be educated on the vast cameo of activities in the defence sector and not restricted to localised reporting. Pant also encouraged the pressmen to mix with the officers, jeans and their family members and give a feed back to him.

Unfortunately, with the fall of Congress government in 1989 and the triumphant entry of VP Singh to the South Block as the Prime Minister and defence minister, the media had to reckon surprisingly with a curtain once again in contrast to the transparency which the Janta Dal leader had demanded when in opposition on defence matters.

The same state exists today also I believe. And for a change, this time it’s not the government who should be blamed. It’s the media! Why aren’t young journalists taking up Defence Journalism as their core? Or should we blame the journalism institutes who have not felt the importance of sowing this thought in their students’ minds yet. It’s time that a change is brought in this ever-existing scenario.
(The views expressed are personal. The writer can be contacted at satyadipanshi.c@iijnm.org)

Posted on 30.01.2011

Need for internal media ombudsman

By Raza Elahi

The recent observation of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about the good prospect of Indian media is an acknowledgment of great effort on part of Indian media, which has expanded by leaps and bounds over the years. According to a rough estimate, daily readership of newspapers in the country is over 200 million, which is a world record in terms of gross reach. Similarly, the reach of electronic media is envious when compared with other countries.However, some of the recent developments have also raised questions over the role of media -- whether it has been living up to the social responsibilities and promoting the democratic, secular and pluralist values.

The Indian media has undoubtedly deviated from its objectives in the recent past. The trend like ‘paid news’ and the publication of the Niira Radia tapes on corporate-media nexus have made it important that media houses and media persons should make a self-critical assessment.

A few days back Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi has also said ‘paid news’ during elections is one of its major challenges. The commission has been forced to intervene in the matter as the media has failed to regulate itself. The Election Commission had issued notices to 86 candidates with regard to ‘paid news’ during the Bihar election last year. Quraishi has conceded that the phenomenon of ‘paid news’ is very difficult to police.

According to the CEC, the problem of ‘paid news’ is best addressed by self-regulation by the media and political parties. But that is not happening.

The election commission is rightly concerned about the undue influence that ‘paid news’ can create on the minds of voters. The voters’ right to correct and unbiased information needs protection. There is a need for an internal news ombudsman in the press and the news channels in the country. The Radia tapes have widely compromised the independence and credibility of the media. The media houses need to put in place a code of practice.

It is also a high time for Editors Guild of India and Press Council of India to take more active role to check the phenomenon of ‘paid news’ and corporate-media nexus.

This write-up was posted on the writer's blog RAZA SMILES
(http://razaelahi.blogspot.com/) on 28.01.2011. The writer can be contacted at elahi.raza82@gmail.com

(Posted on 27.05.2011)

Social Networking a Media Minefield

By Veronica Scott & Kate Ballis

So, if all this personal information is available from social networking sites (and the internet in general), what is in the public domain? And more importantly, what can journalists report on and what can news sources publish?

In February this year, the UK's Press Complaints Commission (PCC) — which is similar to the Australian Press Council — ruled that journalists can report on tweets.

Story continues below The UK's Daily Mail had reported on a woman's tweets and she took her case to the PCC, claiming that her privacy had been violated. The woman insisted that her tweets were private, as she only had 700 followers. The PCC, however, held that "the potential audience for the information is actually much larger than the 700 people who followed the complainant directly, not least because any message could easily be re-tweeted". In that case, the material posted by the complainant was open to public view, and the fact that the information was publicly accessible was key to the PCC's assessment as to whether or not the tweets were private. The PCC stated that the applicant should have restricted her privacy settings if she did not want such a large audience to view her tweets. The PCC's decision to allow publication was also based on the fact that they considered the tweets to be in the public interest. Although this was a UK decision (by a self-regulatory body) and does not carry any legal precedent for courts in Australia, in an online world that crosses jurisdictional barriers, decisions like this at least suggest the direction the Australian privacy regulator and courts might take.

The PCC's ruling raises the question of what information obtained from social networking sites journalists can report on. If the user has numerous "friends" or the information privacy settings are set to "everyone", according Facebook's Privacy Policy, this constitutes publicly available information.

Many media organisations have social media policies about how they use social networking sites for work and research. A clear policy should be in place to guide journalists as to how they report information from these sites.

Even if journalists are reporting on social media content that is in the public domain, there are situations where private information retains its private nature, even after it has entered the public domain. For instance, even though the photo of Pippa Middleton, topless on a yacht in Spain, was published in newspapers (in the public domain), the photo still contains information of a private nature.

In a 2006 decision of the Victorian Supreme Court (in a case brought by the AFL and Players Association against a variety of media organisations), Justice Kellam held that, notwithstanding the disclosure of confidential information about three AFL players' drug tests on online football forums and on a pay TV program known as "Fox Footy", the confidential information (eg their names) had not entered the public domain, and therefore had not lost its confidential nature. In that case, the media was permanently restrained from publishing the identities of the three AFL players. Justice Kellam said that whether or not confidential material has entered the public domain is a matter of fact, determined by the accessibility of the information, the size of the audience, whether limited publication would become known to an "ever-widening group of people", and whether the information referring to the confidential information is merely speculation or has some authority. If a journalist obtains confidential information from social networking sites, then they must consider these factors to determine whether, although available on the internet, the information has actually entered the public domain and whether there are other reasons why the law would allow them to publish information which is otherwise confidential.

Journalists reporting on social media content that is in the public domain must also be mindful of whether the material breaches any other laws, particularly defamation or copyright laws.

If a tweet or a statement made on Facebook is defamatory, and the journalist quotes it and the newspaper publishes it, then subject to the usual defences, the journalist and the newspaper could be liable for defamation. Similarly, publishing a photo or other content that a user has posted to a social networking site may infringe that user's copyright.

Finally, journalists should be aware that, under the new shield laws (which recently amended the Commonwealth Evidence Act 1995), in any Commonwealth legal proceedings, the law will favour the journalist not disclosing the identity of the sources of their information if the journalists have promised their source that they will not. Journalists are also bound by their Code of Ethics to keep the identity of their sources confidential if they have agreed to do so. Importantly, these shield laws did not apply to Ben Grubb, who was "arrested" under Queensland law.

Users of social networking sites should, in the first instance, actively monitor the privacy settings in respect of information they post to social networking sites. It is the user's responsibility to do this, and if there is any disclosure of their private information, a decision about liability and their rights may hinge upon the fact that the user has not controlled their own privacy settings so as to prevent disclosure.

But, as discussed above, in a world of hackers, privacy settings are not watertight, and social networking sites such as Facebook make no promises that anything a user uploads will be secure and be prevented from entering the public domain. And whether lawful or not, the simple "copy, paste" or "save as" functions can quickly take a user's content from a social networking site and publish it to the world. Aspiring artists, photographers, cinematographers, poets and musicians should also be wary of the fact that uploading content on Facebook means giving Facebook a non-exclusive license to use that copyright in any way.

So users should think carefully before uploading a photo or other content, posting their status, or even writing a private message to another user. As the law currently stands, once the information is on the internet, the user's practical ability to stem any damage arising from the dissemination of that information — and its use by third parties — may be very limited indeed.

Veronica Scott is a senior associate and Kate Ballis is a lawyer in the media law group at law firm Minter Ellison. (Courtesy:www.smh.com.au)

 

(Posted on 02.05.2011)

Exit Journalism, Enter Churnalism

By Martin Robbins

“Churnalism" is a form of journalism in which press releases, wire stories and other forms of pre-packaged material are used to create articles in newspapers and other news media in order to meet increasing pressures of time and cost without undertaking further research or checking.BBC journalist Waseem Zakir has been credited for coining the term churnalism.

According to Zakir, the trend towards this form of journalism involves reporters becoming more reactive and less proactive in searching for news - “You get copy coming in on the wires and reporters churn it out, processing stuff and maybe adding the odd local quote. It’s affecting every newsroom in the country and reporters are becoming churnalists.”

For example, since I hate writing introductory paragraphs, I copy-pasted the last two paragraphs from Wikipedia rather than bother to write them myself. I put them into a blockquote to make it clear that they’re not mine, because I believe that I should make it clear to my readers what parts of an article I’ve written, and what parts I haven’t.

Journalists engaging in churnalism don’t bother with this, but a website launched a couple of months ago, Churnalism.com, has been set up to catch them out:
Churnalism.com is an independent, non-profit website built by the Media Standards Trust to help the public distinguish between original journalism and “churnalism”.

It’s a fascinating tool, and like all good tools it’s very simple to use. If you paste the text from a press release into the box on the front page, the software will trundle off and have a bit of a rummage around stories it’s seen in the UK media lately to see how much their text matches the words in the press release.

Does this happen in science journalism? Absolutely. For a bit of fun I had a play with some copy from the UCL press office. Out of 18 stories released by UCL this year, three or four have been substantially copied, while most of the rest apparently lacked the necessary “yakawow” to really make an impact in the media at all.

Does churnalism in science reporting actually matter? Well in individual cases it probably doesn’t a lot of the time, but if we look at the big picture there are two serious problems with it.

Firstly, churnalism like this undermines editorial integrity. It’s really not a lot different to running unmarked advertorials: both practices allow a potentially-biased third party to have their unchallenged message disguised as a piece of objective journalism, and published under a supposedly neutral(ish) banner. There’s nothing wrong with substantial quoting (around 25% of this article is quotes), but failure to properly attribute material deceives readers, and if newspapers are going to use third-party copy this extensively then at the very least it should be clearly marked as such.

Secondly, it makes the paid journalists who do it redundant. Or to borrow Ed Yong’s words:
“If you are not actually providing any analysis, if you’re not effectively “taking a side”, then you are just a messenger, a middleman, a megaphone with ears. If that’s your idea of journalism, then my RSS reader is a journalist.”

There’s nothing wrong with curating content to pass on for a wider audience but if journalists aren’t contributing original reporting, or providing context, or challenging statements made by university press officers, or even just adding informed opinion, then they’re not really doing journalism. At a time when we need to develop new models to support professional journalism online, that may not be a wise path to travel too far down. (Courtesy: Guardian News and Media)

(Posted on 01.05.2011)

Media and journalism: The wedding crashers

Nowhere to hide as media coverage of the "wedding the century" forces all and sundry to witness the great charade.

By Marwan Bishara

I ran away to Paris to avoid the wedding circus in London. Little did I know the fever had reached France and beyond.

TV channels and radio stations in the French republic that killed its own monarch were celebrating British monarchy, totally enamoured by the "fairytale" of the bride and groom.

Apparently the same was repeated elsewhere.

Some estimates put the figure of viewers at more than a 2-3 billion people. I doubt that, but don't doubt the media's capacity to interest and brainwash people.

The next day, all the continent's newspapers made available at the Eurostar slapped the wedding pictures on their front page with much more on the inside.

There was just no escape from the "wedding of the century", alas. If you can’t beat it, then join them. And so I joined the charade.

Bimbo journalism

You might think television would take the lighter, shorter view and the printed press would take the long view.

In fact, both sides of the media isle have adopted the same reactionary fairytale narrative as though we still live in the medieval ages.

Their fascination with and projection of the story of "a prince marries a commoner" and "love beats class" have been at the heart of the wedding coverage.

Anchors and journalists had a job to do: entertain. And that they did, in the most superficial of ways.

Expressing their fascination with the parade, complimenting the bride and bridesmaids' dresses, singing the praise of the groom's love, and detailing the body language and romance.

As one commentator put it, "Never has royalty looked better on the small screen - or the commentary sounded worse" - projecting their own dull and infantile fantasies on the rest us.

The flip side of it was just as comical, when certain media outlets predicted a different kind of fairytale where the heroine "Kate the Great" saves a bereaved son and a depressed royalty from their miserable lives.

Their marriage, we are told, will open a new promising future to the royal family and perhaps close the curtains on the bitter and complicated divorce and death of princess Diana.

So why should one or two billion people around the world give a damn about the psychology of Britain’s royal family? Don’t they have enough to worry about?

Well, it is because the Western/international media told them so. And the same media told women they had to see Kate's dress! A question of life or death.

Wedding crushers

What they don't tell us, is how terribly cheap and uncontroversial it is to produce these events and how fantastically profitable it is for media outlets to promote them, especially television networks.

Even when controversy cried out to be covered, most outlets decided to downplay it or ignore it all together, as in the case of the two former Labour British prime ministers, Blair and Brown, not being invited to the wedding.

To do so, is to undo the presumed fantasy and reveal the politics that underline it.

One of the rare interesting and clever commentaries came from Polly Toynbee at the Guardian:

"... The glorious pomp and circumstance did not disappoint those two billion worldwide watchers, indulging vicariously in the theatre of majesty. They tell us this is what we are best at, the great parade, the grand charade."

It is such critical and controversial coverage that differentiates serious journalism from generic lighthearted media, that differentiates news coverage from entertainment, comical or harmful.

Journalism does what it must regardless of the ratings, the profit or the popularity of what it produces.

But today's media seem to care more about form than content, glitter than nuance, and certainly ratings and distribution over substance. Speaking of substance, hatless Samantha Cameron saved the hat-ful day.
(Courtesy: english.aljazeera.net)

(Posted on 30.04.2011)

Are American journalists reckless, oblivious or brave?

By Mario Almonte

The tragic death in Libya of photographers Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, caught in the middle of a rocket attack by Moammar Gaddafi forces, is the latest in a series of dangerous encounters by American journalists plunging head-long into the chaos and perils of conflict in the Middle East. Earlier this year, Anderson Cooper was beaten up by a crowd as he covered a demonstration in Egypt, and CBS News correspondent Lara Logan suffered a harrowing sexual assault while covering demonstrations in Tahrir Square. Katie Couric cut short a report after pro-Mubarak protesters threatened her group, as did ABC's Christiane Amanpour, who was warned to leave. New York Time's Anthony Shadid, Stephen Farrell, Tyler Hicks, and Lynsey Addario -- were also caught up in the Libyan conflict, abducted and released after six days.

For many decades, journalists have died, been imprisoned or murdered in pursuit of their stories. Since 1992, more than 860 journalists have been killed around the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit organization that promotes freedom of the press. Few would question that most of them risked their lives because they believed in the power of the truth to change their world. Lately, however, with high profile American journalists, there is the lingering question of whether they suffer in pursuit of the truth, or simply the award-winning story. Do they fly in the face of danger and pay the price for their recklessness, or for their passion?

A Question of Balance

Bloggers frequently bring up this issue. Some criticize the shallow nature of the reporting, accusing the American media, especially, of focusing on the sensational and graphic, and providing often simplistic and even erroneous interpretations of events, before flying off to the next, high-profile assignment. Others criticize the reporters themselves, whom they see as plunging into the middle of conflicts without appreciating the danger. They rebuke CBS for sending Logan into a clearly volatile situation, for example, and Logan herself for being inappropriately dressed for a Muslim country, including wearing jewelry in the midst of an unruly crowd.

Traditional media, however, is curiously mute on the question and generally praises fellow journalists. In an interview with CNN's Howard Kurtz, Fred Francis, co-founder of 15-Seconds.com and former NBC News Pentagon Correspondent, calls Middle East reporting, "the purist form of raw courage... It's like going down an interstate on the wrong way at night, in the opposite direction, with your lights out."

He acknowledges, "This is the kind of coverage that makes careers," though he denies that anybody was trying "to make a career here."

Negative Reactors

Western journalism in general -- and American reporters in particular -- came under especially heavy criticism from Japan recently, following the country's devastating earthquake and tsunami, and the consequent Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. One notable article, "And Then the Journalists Ran Away," published in the Japanese language edition of Newsweek, labels the inflammatory and often inaccurate Western reporting, "a second disaster" that has hindered recovery.

The article writers, Takashi Yokota and Toshihiro Yamada, call their previous respect for Western media "a fairy tale (that) crumbled during the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Entangled in the very news they were supposed to report, (the media) lost all sense of composure."
American media coverage, in particular, "quickly devolved into a circus," they say. Reporters such as Anderson Cooper, "made no attempt to calmly ascertain the facts of the situation, and in so doing needlessly fanned the fears of the audience."

Striking a Different Note

Organizations like Human Unlimited Media -- or HUM News -- are trying to change things. The organization sees its mission as "closing the geographic gap" by producing and aggregating news from "116 countries and territories missing from the international information supply."

Joy DiBenedetto, CEO of HUM News, comments that Western journalists are "brave" to place themselves in danger, "but they tend to follow the pack mentality. In the end, their reporting is not always accurate."

A 20-year news veteran and award-winning journalist with CNN and Turner Broadcasting, DiBenedetto notes the current preponderance of news covering the Libyan crisis, which ignores countless other areas of the world that struggle with equally grave internal conflicts, human rights issues, and major natural disasters.

"Western journalism has often been negligent in fulfilling its true responsibility, but we aim to change that through HUM News. In areas of conflict, for example, we want to understand the history of opposition from the perspective of the people there, from a variety of official and unofficial sources," says DiBenedetto. "We double, triple, and quadruple our sources so that we know we're right, and we're not just offering one side of the story.

"Are we changing the world yet? Maybe not, but we hope to make some kind of difference." (Courtesy:Huffingtonpost.com)

(Posted on 26.04.2011)

Pro-poor judicial initiatives: now for a media push

By S Viswanathan

Three pronouncements made on three consecutive days this month by the Supreme Court of India have brought relief to different groups of economically and socially deprived people. The beneficiaries include children sold out by poor parents to work in circuses as child labour; young men and women determined to get married crossing caste barriers and harassed for that very reason by ‘khap panchayats'; and the hungry poor across the country denied their right to food, even as thousands of tonnes of food grains rot in government godowns..

Interestingly, the media, by and large, have been playing a proactive role in bringing the issues on to the public agenda. Daily newspapers and magazines have published several articles about hundreds of children, mostly girls, who were brought to India from neighbouring countries, especially Nepal and Bangladesh, to work in circus companies that have proliferated across the country. The living conditions were inhuman, resembling slavery. Thanks to some dedicated NGOs working in India and Nepal, the Indian media have exposed the trafficking in girls, who end up being exploited and sexually abused by circus owners and their men. This is the pathetic life of girls bought for paltry sums of money from poor parents not only from adjacent countries but also from Indian States such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. This is the price these hapless children and their families pay to keep our children laughing. BBC News and international news agencies have also reported on the girls' sufferings, while performing high-risk high-wire programmes.

Two decades ago, the hundreds of circus companies were in deep trouble owing to a gradual decline in public patronage. They sought State help to keep them going and save their performers and the emaciated animals that trek with them from camp to camp. The emergence of a large middle class with real purchasing power restored the economic health of the circuses, which have become one of the favourite entertainers for middle class children.

A rights-based judgment

In a rights-based judgment delivered on April 18, the Supreme Court banned the employment of children in circus companies. The court directed the Central government to take immediate steps to rescue the suffering circus workers and arrange for their rehabilitation. Passing orders on a petition filed by the Bachpan Bachao Andolan, an organisation working for children, a Division Bench comprising Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice A.K. Patnaik directed the central government to issue suitable notifications prohibiting employment of children in circuses within two months, in order to implement the fundamental right of children under Article 21-A of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to “free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine.” The Bench asked the government to raid all circuses and liberate children and check violation of their fundamental rights.

Another Supreme Court judgment delivered on April 19 was highly critical of the caste system and declared ‘khap panchayats” illegal. They were instrumental, the court observed, in encouraging honour killings and indulged in other atrocities against boys and girls married or tried to marry from outside their castes. The Bench, comprising Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra, wanted the government to ruthlessly stamp out the barbaric practice. A significant aspect of the judgment was that it directed the administrative and police officials to take strong steps to prevent such atrocious acts as honour killing. The court also asked for departmental action against officials who failed on this score.

It may be recalled that when States such as Haryana and Rajasthan reported a series of honour killings a few months ago, the media went all out against the spread of the crimes and the failure of the State police and administration to arrest it. When the Central government floated the idea of a ban on khaps, even Chief Ministers and ex-Minister sought to scuttle the move.

Starvation deaths

No less important is the serious concern expressed by Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma over the increasing number of starvation deaths in the country. They were hearing petitions relating to the streamlining of the public distribution system (PDS). The Supreme Court has once again questioned the approach of the Central government to the eradication of malnutrition and its failure to arrest starvation deaths in some areas. Justice Bhandari also questioned the Planning Commission's estimate that 36 per cent of the population was below the poverty line, which was inconsistent with the claim of several States, including Congress-ruled States, that the percentage was much larger. The judge wondered how the Planning Commission could fix a per capita daily income of Rs. 20 for urban areas and a per capita daily income of Rs. 11 for rural areas to determine BPL status. He also wanted the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission to file a detailed affidavit within a week “because the entire case rests on your figures.”

Progressive voices, including economists, scientists, and social activists, have been articulating in the media the demand for a universal PDS. When the National Advisory Committee was about to endorse it, the government ruled it out once again. At a time the Supreme Court has stepped up the pressure for a pro-people solution, a well-informed and decisive media push will certainly help.
(E-mail:readerseditor@thehindu.co.in; Courtesy: The Hindu)

(Posted on 20.04.2011)

Media support crusade against corruption

By S Viswanathan

here can be little question that the news media, print as well as television, have contributed significantly to bringing the issue of corruption to political India's centre stage. The focus on the corruption of elections through ‘cash for votes' comes in tandem with the proactive intervention by the Election Commission of India during the April-May elections to State Assemblies. There can also be little doubt that the U.S. Embassy Cables, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, and the battery of cable reports and cable journalism have played a catalytic role, inspiring the anti-corruption campaign in India, as pointed out by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The huge response, especially in urban India, to Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign centring on the demand for a radical Jan Lokpal Bill, speaks to the centrality of the issue.

Aggressive role of tabloids

In the early years of independent India, corruption did not draw much attention from ordinary people, although from time to time mainstream newspapers came up with informed coverage of such issues. Unfortunately, the political establishment tended to rationalise the role of corruption in society, with even leaders like the personally incorruptible K. Kamaraj trying to convince the people that corruption and bribing officials were as old as the scriptures and there could be no solution for such problems. It was only the tabloids such as Mumbai-based Blitz, edited by R.K. Karanjia, a leading investigative journalist of his time, which probed corruption and misconduct aggressively. Interestingly journalists like Karanjia had a following among young people from the 1950s through to the 1980s.

Independent India's first dramatised financial irregularity was “the jeep scandal” (1948), which related to the purchase of army jeeps for the country. The charge was that the then Indian High Commissioner to Britain, V.K. Krishna Menon, bypassed protocol to sign a Rs. 80 lakh deal with a foreign firm. The case was closed in 1955 and soon Menon, against whose personal integrity there was not a shred of evidence, joined the Jawaharlal Nehru Cabinet. The “cycle imports scandal,” reported in 1951, saw the first conviction in a major corruption case, when an ICS Secretary to the Government of India, S.A. Venkataraman, went to prison for accepting bribes and the conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court.

The Mundhra scandal (1958) made a big splash thanks to sustained media coverage. In fact, it was the press that first hinted at a possible scam involving a sale of fraudulent shares by a Calcutta-based businessman, Haridas Mundhra, to the Life Insurance Corporation of India. Sourcing confidential correspondence between Union Finance Minister T.T. Krishnamachari (TTK) and the Principal Finance Secretary, a senior member of Lok Sabha with excellent press connections, Feroze Gandhi, the husband of Indira Gandhi, raised a question in the House about the “share” deal. Prime Minister Nehru constituted a one-member commission headed by Justice M.C. Chagla to investigate the deal. After finding that a prima facie case had been made out against the businessman, Justice Chagla concluded that Mundhra had sold fictitious shares to the LIC and defrauded it to the tune of Rs. 1.25 crore. The businessman was convicted and sentenced to a long imprisonment and Krishnamachari was obliged to quit the Cabinet. A point to be noted is that in these early cases, the judgments came in an unbelievably short time.

Most complicated scandal

Two decades later came Bofors (1987-1990), which is considered the 20th century's most complicated political corruption scandal in the country. It involved a $ 50 million payoff of what was described as “commissions” into secret Swiss bank accounts for the purchase by the Indian government of howitzers from a Swedish arms manufacturing company. Readers may recall the role played by the press, above all, The Hindu, in digging out the truth and documenting it meticulously. But cover-up, obstruction of justice in various ways, and the weaknesses of the Indian criminal justice system ensured that the conviction at the bar of public opinion did not result in any legal conviction.

The 1990s witnessed an escalation of corruption scandals involving crores of rupees. These included Harshad Mehta securities and banking scam involving Rs. 5,000 crore, the Rs. 900-crore fodder scam, and the Rs 1,500 crore Sukh Ram telecom scandal. The first decade of the 21st century witnessed over ten major Indian corruption scandals, including cash-for-votes during the 2008 confidence vote in the Lok Sabha and the 2-G scam spectrum allocation scam (Rs 1,76,000 crore, as estimated by the Comptroller & Auditor-General of India).

It is distressing that rising India has become notorious for its corruption scandals. If you go by the reported cases of corruption across the country during this period, the state exchequer is believed to have lost a whopping Rs. 73 lakh crore (nearly forty times the 2-G loss), according to one estimate.

It is no surprise therefore that when Anna Hazare began his “fast-unto-death” at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on April 6, 2011, thousands of social activists descended on the venue to express their solidarity with the crusader against corruption and back his demand for putting in place a Jan Lokpal Bill, drafted through a civil society initiative. Thanks to extensive coverage by television channels and newspapers, thousands of people gathered around the fasting Gandhian. Similar support movements were seen in Lucknow, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and other major cities. After four days of talks, the Manmohan Singh Government conceded Mr. Hazare's demand and agreed to constitute a 10-member committee, with five chosen from the Union Ministers and the rest representing the civil society. The idea is to introduce the Lokpal Bill in Parliament during the monsoon session. The media would do well to keep its eye on this particular ball. (E-mail:readerseditor@thehindu.co.in; Courtesy: The Hindu)

(Posted on 12.04.2011)

Paid news, cash-for-votes, and Election Commission

By S. Viswanathan

Over the last 18 months, the exposure of the unethical practice of publishing or broadcasting ‘paid news' has created awareness among the people about how it corrupts the press as well as the democratic process. The Election Commission of India has risen to the occasion by tightening its vigil over the media as well as candidates, as part of its efforts to keep the on-going Assembly elections in four States and one Union Territory as clean as possible.

‘Paid news,' selling news space under the table to candidates and dishonestly presenting the paid-for advertising as news, is a relatively recent arrival on the Indian electoral scene. Besides giving the client an advantage over the rival contestants, it helps him or her hide the money spent on paid news from the mandatory electoral expenditure accounts, thereby violating electoral laws. The Hindu played a key role in taking the issue to larger sections of people. Many journalists pressed for the intervention of organisations such as the Editors' Guild, besides the Press Council of India and the Election Commission, to stigmatise and put an end to the corrupt practice and initiate action against the guilty. It is heartening that the Election Commission has taken some initial steps to end the menace.

Corrupting the election process

A front page expose, “Cash for votes a way of political life in South India,” in The Hindu (March 16, 2011), based on a report in “The India Cables,” accessed by the newspaper through WikiLeaks, highlighted the various methods adopted by South Indian politicians in the 2009 Lok Sabha election to bribe voters. In a factually rich cable sent to the State Department on May 13, 2009 under the name of Frederick J. Kaplan, Acting Principal Officer of the U.S. Consulate-General in Chennai, we have a detailed account of “the role and impact of money power in corrupting the electoral process.” Mr. Kaplan noted that the bribing of voters by political parties was “a regular feature of elections in South India.” Referring to an Assembly by-election at Thirumangalam in Madurai District in 2009, the cable mentioned how party workers resorted to ingenious ways to distribute the bribe money, hoodwinking security officials and the workers of rival political parties. At Thirumangalam the payment was Rs. 5,000 per voter, possibly the highest ever bribe paid to a voter, according to the cable. This is now known as the “Thirumangalam formula,” thanks to liberal usage of the term in Tamil periodicals.

Apart from the unprecedented rise in prices of essential commodities, the neglect of agriculture and growing unemployment, the major issues before the electorate in the current phase of the elections are the 2G-spectrum scam and the plethora of corruption scandals involving ruling party politicians at the Centre and in the States.

Unfair criticism

Although electoral malpractices and corruption in high places are not new to the people, apprehension of a possible scaling up of electoral malpractices and the violence they might result in has made the Election Commission step up its vigil in a big way. The challenge is particularly serious in Tamil Nadu and the shrill complaints and criticism heard from leaders of the parties ruling in the State and at the Centre speak to the ECI's rising to the challenge. The seizure of cash to the tune of at least Rs. 42 crore and of articles worth several crores of rupees carried by persons with no valid papers relating to the money in their possession only strengthens the case for stepped-up vigil by the Commission.

Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi has done well to face the situation head-on and refute the charge that the Election Commission has exceeded its powers in Tamil Nadu. He has emphasised that the Commission was within its constitutional mandate and any criticism was “totally unfair and we dismiss it.” He made it clear that holding free and fair elections was always the Commission's top priority and it would also seek to make the polls peaceful, transparent, and participative. His announcement that the Commission had asked officials to intensify search operations with a view to totally curbing “money power” has won much public appreciation and support.

It is encouraging to see the news media giving such wide publicity to the Election Commission's efforts to clean up the whole process. So far, so good.
(E-mail:readerseditor@thehindu.co.in; Courtesy: The Hindu)

(Posted on 04.04.2011)

Is WikiLeaks ‘real’ journalism?

By Kate Ausburn

Writing in the aftermath of the several high profile WikiLeaks publications including the Collateral Murder video and the Afghanistan and Iraq War Logs, News Corporation journalist Brad Norington set out on a crusade against online media, and more specifically, against WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.

In an August 2010 article for The Australian titled “WikiLeaks vigilante denies having blood on his hands over disclosures”, Norington argued that traditional media “retains an important accountability role in a modern democracy” unlike bloggers whose “fast-and-loose values” include “no editing, no standards, no accountability, no responsibility”.

He did not differentiate between WikiLeaks and bloggers, instead arguing they share questionable ethics.

Like traditional media, bloggers are a diverse group and should not be generalised as one collective holding the same regulatory standards — because clearly, they do not.

A paper from the 2005 conference, Blogging, Journalism & Credibility: Battleground and Common Sense, held at Harvard, found that: “While some blogging is journalism, much of it isn’t and doesn’t aim to be”.

WikiLeaks, however, is certainly an example of online publishing that should be considered journalism. Like those responsible mainstream media publications, WikiLeaks adheres to a rigorous vetting and editing process before publishing data it receives.

Still, Norington said the documents released by WikiLeaks had the potential to “lead to the death of many people”.

He used the findings and advice of print news journalists to evidence this claim, noting that reporters from The Times found “names, villages, relatives’ names and even precise GPS locations of Afghans who had co-operated with US-led forces” uncensored in the documents published by WikiLeaks.

Norington also said that reporters from The Guardian and Der Spiegel, who worked with Assange to publish leaked information, “encouraged Assange ‘to be careful about the lethal harm that could come to people identified in the logs if he released certain documents unredacted’”.

Norington said that Assange did not follow this advice.

But he also said “Assange claims he went to great lengths to omit from almost 92,000 documents any information that could put local Afghans in harm's way”. This implies that a process does exist at WikiLeaks to look for material that may require omission prior to publication, and that the process was followed in this instance.

Assange explained WikiLeaks editing process in a July 2010 video interview with TED.com’s Chris Anderson.

Assange discussed WikiLeaks’ process of obtaining and publishing information. He said that after receiving information from sources, WikiLeaks staff “vet it like a regular news organisation”, editing sensitive personally identifying information and checking authenticity before to publication.

He noted that prior to the release of a video now known as Collateral Murder, which depicted the killing of a dozen people in Iraq by US military, two people from the WikiLeaks team were sent to Baghdad to further investigate the story.

This information is contrary to Norington’s claim that WikiLeaks, who he lumps together with bloggers, have “no editing” and “no standards”.

Norington claimed WikiLeaks “could have led to further causalities by feeding a Taliban ‘hit list’”, but he offered no evidence of documents published by WikiLeaks causing the death or suffering of any individual.

Nor did Norington give evidence that any individual has been targeted because of information released by WikiLeaks.

Norington’s piece also bought in to a popular criticism levelled at the organisation, designed to play down the importance of WikiLeaks publications, saying that they reveal “nothing new”.

This argument implies Norington has reviewed all 76,000 documents (that he refers to in his article) released by WikiLeaks, and is therefore at liberty to make this judgment.

Norington concluded his piece with vague reference to the “important accountability role in a modern democracy” that the “Fourth Estate” plays. The Fourth Estate refers to print journalism or more broadly news media, a group to which Norington makes clear he thinks WikiLeaks does not belong.

He conceded the “Fourth Estate might not be perfect”. Certainly not, as the ongoing saga about Murdoch’s News of the World in Britain suggests. Its reporters face allegations of phone hacking — a fairly decent example of the imperfection of some print media.

And yet Norington’s attack is not on journalists who have been shown to deliberately weaken the integrity of the field with their unscrupulous methods.

Rather his criticism is aimed at the new kids on the block, those publishing online, but mainly those with mass impact and notoriety publishing online: Assange and WikiLeaks.

So back to that comparison between WikiLeaks, bloggers and the “Fourth Estate”.

Norington holds up that WikiLeaks does not play a similar “accountability role”. Perhaps Norington would’ve chosen to argue differently had he been writing in the aftermath of the release of the diplomatic cables, though perhaps not.

There are many examples of WikiLeaks upholding democracy and holding power to account. In the TED.com interview, Assange said WikiLeak’s 2007 leak of a report exposing the corruption of former Kenyan president Danial arup Moi “shifted the vote by 10% according to a Kenyan intelligence report, which changed the result of the election”.

Of course, WikiLeaks is not the only example of online journalistic integrity.

There are certainly bloggers that are noteworthy for their eyewitness reporting and commitment to providing voices not often covered in our news media.

In his 2003 academic paper, Paul Andrews said the role of bloggers was “a valuable adjunct to-but not substitute for-quality journalism”.

In support of citizen journalism and blogging, Andrew’s said blogger Salam Pax’s reporting on the Iraq War from inside Baghdad was some of the “best eyewitness reporting during the war”.

Norington is far from the only traditional journalist critical of WikiLeaks and online journalism or blogging in general. But why do some journalists hate WikiLeaks?

Is it because the organisation is not only holding to account our governments and corporations, but also our journalists?

WikiLeaks is a game-changer, encouraging a scientific approach to journalism, where source documents are provided alongside stories, and empowering the reader to decide if the report is fair and accurate.

Legitimate journalism does exist online. WikiLeaks is a shining example of this. It encourages a democratic public discourse that holds our leaders accountable for the war and diplomacy they carry out in our name.
(Courtesy GreenLeft)

(Posted on 02.04.2011)

Speaking of the India Cables

By S Viswanathan

The scores of letters the office of the Readers' Editor and the “Letters” column of this newspaper have been receiving over the past ten days in appreciation of the flood of articles based on the “The India Cables,” accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, stand testimony to the immeasurable confidence and goodwill this 132-year-old publication has been enjoying from its discerning, knowledgeable readers.

Readers may recall that the first instalment of classified United States documents related to the American military campaign in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s, was brought to the public domain by WikiLeaks in July 2010. Then, in November 2011, came ‘Cablegate,' five major western newspapers dipping into a mind-boggling database of 251, 187 U.S. diplomatic cables estimated to aggregate 300 million words made available to them by WikiLeaks.

Major scoop
The latest development is The Hindu's major scoop in getting the ‘India Cables,' 5,100 of them comprising six million words, accessed through an arrangement with WikiLeaks. Today is Day 14 in the series and already the impact of the revelations on public opinion, on Parliament, on the polity, and on the rest of the media has been immense. The India Cables cover a big range: India's relations with the U.S., with neighbours, with Russia, the European Union, East Asia, Israel, Palestine and Iran, besides Cuba and the United Nations. There is a lot of material on domestic affairs, nuclear energy, defence, intelligence sharing, the economic sectors, and so on.

The well-structured and contextualised stories, with meticulous references to the numbered cables, have been published in print and online, with beautiful supporting cartoons and illustrations. The cables themselves have been published online. The stories and cables have been followed very widely, in India and abroad. On the day of the launch of the India Cables series, the Editor-in-Chief wrote a perspective piece titled “Fascinating insights.” It introduced the India Cables, their range and significance, and gave readers an idea of how the newspaper engaged with WikiLeaks to get its hands on the cables through a congenial arrangement that “involves no financial transaction and no financial obligations on either side.”

The most noteworthy and encouraging part of ‘Indiagate' is the way readers and the general public have welcomed and indeed taken to the revelations in this mass of diplomatic communication conducted over many years.

The Hindu's Page 1 lead story on the opening day, March 15, 2011, was headlined: “PM isolated on Pakistan.” It was interesting news for Ambassador Timothy Roemer who got it in the course of a meeting he had with National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan. Mr. Roamer also learnt more about Mr. Narayanan and the others he met

A couple of articles highlighted the differences between India and the U.S. over sharing information related to the Mumbai terror attacks with Pakistan. There have been revealing articles about Indo-Nepal, India-Sri Lanka, and India-Myanmar relations. Another story showed how the Manmohan Singh minority government bowed to U.S. pressure to vote against Iran in September 2005, despite resistance from some Indian officials. Another instance of the United Progressive Alliance regime succumbing to external pressure was a 2006 Cabinet reshuffle in which “contentious and outspoken Iran pipeline advocate” Union Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar was replaced by Murli Deora, perceived by the U.S. Embassy to be pro-U.S. and close to a big business house.

Confidence vote issue
A front page article, “Cash for votes a way of political life in South India,” drawn from a remarkably detailed report of the practice in a Chennai Consulate cable, caught the attention of politically aware readers during election season. But it was the story, “Satish Sharma aide showed U.S. Embassy employee cash to be used as ‘pay-offs' in [July 2008] confidence vote,” (The Hindu, March 17, 2011) that fired the political imagination, rocked Parliament, and set the public agenda for the next several days.

The India Cables series goes on, with the latest stories and cables revealing the “double talk” of the BJP in respect of its stand on external policy and Indo-U.S. relations in particular, and also featuring an admission by one of the party's prominent leaders that the BJP's advocacy of Hindu nationalism was “opportunistic.” There have also been interesting cables and stories on perceptions of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, and a host of India's political leaders.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat has published a hard-hitting analysis of what the series based on the India Cables, accessed by TheHindu through WikiLeaks, signifies. In his view, “the expose laid bare the nature of India-U.S. relationship during the UPA and NDA regimes and revealed a disturbing picture.”

As Readers' Editor, I have no access to the India Cables; like the hundreds of thousands of the newspaper's politically aware readers, I too read the stories only when they appear in print. Interestingly so far, nothing connected with this series has had to figure in the daily ‘Corrections & Clarifications' column. My impression is that the India Cables stock with The Hindu is far from exhausted and there is plenty more to come.

(Courtesy: The Hindu)

(Posted on 30.03.2011)

When two teams play, one wins and the other loses

By Raza Elahi

The much awaited India-Pakistan World Cup semi-final match in Mohali is set to begin today afternoon. For the last few days television channels and print publications of both the countries have covered every minutest details of what-will-happen in the match in almost a warlike rhetoric.

The other day on an Indian news channels, two former cricketers Ravi Sashtri and Amir Sohail were almost trying to beat each other in a totally biased opinion in favour of India and Pakistan respectively. People on the street have attached the national pride and honour with this game and some have called it the mother of all clashes. They have gone crazy. They didn't mind buying Rs 250 tickets at a price above Rs 10,000 in the black market (in Mohali) a few days back.

Fans of both the teams want to see their team winning the game as this is the first match between the two countries since July 2008 which has taken place on the home soil of one of the teams.  

Amid all this fever, the stage is also set for the cricket-diplomacy as two prime ministers will be watching the game. And, media is going extra mile to cover the politics behind the game.

However, somewhere between all these high-pitched noises, people as well as the media have perhaps forgotton the essence of the game. One should watch and appreciate the game and not the pre-defined winner. When two teams play, one wins and the other loses.

The two captains MS Dhoni and Shahid Afridi have made very balanced comments and people should watch the game and beyond in spirit of these comments of the two captains:

Shahid Afridi: "I hope that in the future, relations between India and Pakistan get better and stay better, whatever the results. There should be good cricket and people should enjoy the game."

M S Dhoni:  “Somebody has to lose the game irrespective of what happens. It is a part and parcel of the sport. It doesn’t only happen in cricket — it happens in each and every sport”.

This write-up was posted on the writer's blog RAZA SMILES
(http://razaelahi.blogspot.com/) on 29.03.2011. The writer can be contacted at elahi.raza82@gmail.com

(Posted on 01.03.2011)

Cricket Chaat, courtesy TV news channels

By Raza Elahi

ICC World Cup 2011 is underway. The knives are out. The battle of supremacy is always in their minds. The motto is to outshine others. If your are thinking that I am talking about the teams participating in the ongoing cricket tournament, hold on. It is not about them but about Indian TV news channels scrambling for eyeballs during the Cup.

Every news channels seem to be in a race to outdo the other by getting an experts’ panel every day to talk about the nuances of the matches. They have special programmes titled, Big Toss and Kings of Cricket etc, as well as other talk shows that are trying their best to increase the adrenaline rush among the viewers.

There is no doubt that for about 1.2 billion people of the country cricket is not just a sport but something close to be called a religion. And that is why 24x7 news channels are in a rush to grab maximum eyeballs. But their extra effort most of the time turns boring. First, the anchors themselves become experts and try to speak most of the time than the experts and repeating the same thing again and again.

Then look at the experts who are not so expert popping up on every channels. Murli Karthik, Yograj Singh, Rohan Gavaskar, Aakash Chopra, Nikhil Chopra -- they all were certainly not good in their games at international level but are now leaving no stone unturned to give their viewpoints on TV. Though sometimes it is a delight to hear views of Geoffery Boycott, Imran Khan, Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Sashtri, Allan Border, Zaheer Abbas and the likes appearing on different channels, it is just intolerable to sit and watch the Karthiks and Chopras.

But there is no prize for guessing why these channels have extended panels and programmes. The reason is simply not cricket. It is just the business and the market built around the cricketing action. All these hype and hoopla created by TV channels -- in the form of coverage, special programmes, discussions, contests and other off-the-field activities -- unnecessarily build pressure on Team India, a point which former Pakistan captain Imran Khan has also recently pointed out.

It will not be wrong to say that the excessive efforts of our news channels to present Cricket Chaat has become really chaat (boring).

This write-up was posted on the writer's blog RAZA SMILES
(http://razaelahi.blogspot.com/) on 28.02.2011. The writer can be contacted at elahi.raza82@gmail.com

The communication gap between defence and media

By Satyadipanshi Chikara
Media Hive News Network

Almost every arm of the government recognises the role and importance of the fourth estate in keeping the nation informed. Perhaps keeping in line with this general policy, the late Army Chief, General Bipin Chandra Joshi made certain prophetic remarks- that the media constituted a ‘force multiplier’ and hence the need to make fighting arms more open.

This pronouncement of the General came as a shot in the arm of defence correspondents, who had been starved of useful information about the state of defence planning and preparedness ever since the doors of the ministry were virtually closed by the then minister of state of defence in 1987.

No doubt, General Joshi’s intentions were good but obviously it did not sound very well with the defence ministry. The Army chief did indeed make certain observations about the need of mordernisation in the press relations strategy of the defence services, Army’s role in internal security duties and even the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. Somewhere down the line, he appeared to have over stepped the bounds laid by the civil authorities. And soon, the situation was back to good old days of a continuing communication gap.

Because of this gap, not only the press, but also the senior officers of defence services felt a sense of suffocation, as they felt that the media is deliberately being kept in dark about the requirement of the services and the need for timely mordernisation. This in fact, was undermining the capability of the country.

It is the combination of the powerful interests both within the government and outside, which has kept out the press from having a closer look at the defence needs and acquisitions from the ab initio stage. This had reached a flashpoint in 1987, when the then minister of state of defence Arun Singh closed the doors of the ministry to the press. The defence accreditation cards of the journalists were for all practical purposes withdrawn since the access was restricted only to the office of the directorate of public relations (DPR) in the ministry. It was only in 1994, that the access to the ministry was restored for reasons best known to government. Perhaps, the confidence lay in the fact that there were no major acquisitions during the last five years.

Though, one cannot help remarking at this stage that except for a helpful of correspondents, there was no concerned effort on the part of the media to demand more information regarding defence planning and preparedness. Even the few journalists who made an attempt to inform the public about the projects and proposed acquisitions tend to lean one or the other side at times, which could send wrong signals or result in unwarranted inferences by our neighbours like China and Pakistan and none too friendly Western powers lead by the USA.

The coverage of the IPKF Mission in Sri Lanka is another example of the great communication gap existing since ever.

It is true that the IPKF was involved in extensive operations but the press could never explain with conviction as to what their real character was. One had to wait for books written by Lt. Gen. Depinder Singh and Lt. Gen. SC Sardesh Pande to understand and appreciate the problems which the IPKF faced. A critical appraisal was not available till these books were published in 1993. Such was the magnitude of the communication gap that the government and in particular the defence ministry confided only in electronic media, AIR and DD and the two news agencies- PTI and UNI, which depended entirely on doctored reports. Although, subsequent reports proof that IPKF mission was a disaster.

Often pressmen quoted Intelligence Reports, although their information came from third party spokesmen in the PIB, MEA and very rarely the DPR itself. The fact is that the Intelligence Directorates of all the three services were not accessible to the press at all. What actually happened is that the reports prepared by IB and RAW were handed out to the press, sometimes even as planted material and there were correspondents who felt privileged even to quote highly placed intelligence sources making it appear as if they got it from the outfits of the services, when that was not the case.

It must be understood that the role of the press is neither that of a snooper and nor of an adversary. On the contrary, as in many advanced countries, it has a useful role as a partner (but a critical one) at that in national interest. To make it clear, one would not or should not expect the press to go “ga ga” over exaggerated claims about weapon development because such trumpeting is based on mere handouts, which often prove self defeating as time passes by.

In this process, the persistent communication gap, whether it pertains to the services, R&D, procurement or budgeting, resulting in a situation leading to undesirable consequences. Briefly put, it does result in setbacks in mordernisation, upgradation, aquisition, ongoing research projects and last but not the least- A research crunch! After all that is said and done that the Defence Services themselves and by their nature have limitations in their pleadings, not only for money but determining the choice of selection.

Going back to the historic past (Sept 1, 1959), one might recall that Gen. KS Thimayya tendered his resignation as Chief of Army Staff owing to sharp differences of opinion with the then defence minister Krishna Menon. It came out in the biography on Lt. Gen. PS Bhagat, written by Lt. Gen. Mathew Thomas that Krishna Menon rode roughshod over everyone, with due interference in service matters, in particular the promotion and posting of favoured officers.

The clash between the Army General and the defence minister was over certain recommendations on matters of promotion. It came out with a bang in the press and it took all of Prime Minister Nehru’s persuasive skills to make the general withdraw his resignation. To put the records straight, Gen. Thomas had clarified that the news about Thimayya’s resignation given in banner headlines on Sept 1, 1959 was not strictly accurate. Thimayya had asked for an interview with the Prime Minister on Aug 31 and he carried his letter of resignation with him.

Lt. Gen. VK Nayar, a distinguished officer, had frankly admitted the yawning communications gap between the press and the defence services. In his educative book entitled “Threat from Within” on India’s Internal Security Environment, Gen. Nayar had said that “one of our major failings during the entire period from 1982 onwards in Punjab, has been the credibility gap between the official projections and the public media. We may have had very viable reasons for our actions but both the actions and their effects were not put across to the public promptly. Therefore, the public accepted what the it was told by the media”.

Gen. Nayar also pointed out the other nature of media coverage of defence activities by reminding the unfortunate event of killing of Gen. Shankar Roy Chaudhary, Lt. Col. KS Punicha and five others in an ambush by underground NSCN activists in Kohima on Dec 27, 1994. The General lost no time in putting down his fingers on the right spot but probably in a wrong environment. He lamented that only when there was an encounter or an ambush, the media gave coverage to the Army. His contention was that only the negative side of the Army had been covered most of the times. However, he did convey to the Army authorities too that they should seek the help of local media to project a positive image.

The question now is that did this officer break the shackles imposed by the political leadership and other vested interests in the government and the services and enable the media to perform its duties without fear and favour? The answer is plain and simple! No Army Chief has ever succeeded in bridging the communications gap. Despite their often repeated professions of giving increasing access to the media as indeed promised by the Late Gen. Joshi, what has happened is just the reverse.

It would be quite topical to refer to the harrowing experience of the DPR to get the biography of Gen. Roy Chaudhary for release to the press, when the official announcement on his appointment as The Army Chief was to be released for publication on Nov 21, 1994. The DPR was repeatedly blocked and thwarted by the M.S. Branch in its attempt to get biodata and it was only after intervention by the senior hierarchy in the Army HQ that the details of the General’s career were made available. This resulted in a delay of about an hour for the announcement to be given to the nation. If this be the experience of the DPR in the MOD itself, how can the media be expected to play a positive role when even on the matter of the General’s career profile, the MS Branch seeks shelter under the plea that this information is classified and that the DPR could misuse it!

The press did enjoy a brief spell of sunshine when KC Pant took charge of the defence ministry after the exit of VP Singh. It goes to credit of Pant that he impressed upon the services the need to keep the media informed. In other words, the minister took great pains to brief press parties accompanying him to forward and sensitive areas with the understanding that they would observe the code of conduct attached to off the record talks. But he placed no bar on the use of such material as a background relevant to subsequent events without quoting sources. His desire was that journalists covering defence should not only merely report, but should also be educated on the vast cameo of activities in the defence sector and not restricted to localised reporting. Pant also encouraged the pressmen to mix with the officers, jeans and their family members and give a feed back to him.

Unfortunately, with the fall of Congress government in 1989 and the triumphant entry of VP Singh to the South Block as the Prime Minister and defence minister, the media had to reckon surprisingly with a curtain once again in contrast to the transparency which the Janta Dal leader had demanded when in opposition on defence matters.

The same state exists today also I believe. And for a change, this time it’s not the government who should be blamed. It’s the media! Why aren’t young journalists taking up Defence Journalism as their core? Or should we blame the journalism institutes who have not felt the importance of sowing this thought in their students’ minds yet. It’s time that a change is brought in this ever-existing scenario.
(The views expressed are personal. The writer can be contacted at satyadipanshi.c@iijnm.org)

Posted on 30.01.2011

Need for internal media ombudsman

By Raza Elahi

The recent observation of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about the good prospect of Indian media is an acknowledgment of great effort on part of Indian media, which has expanded by leaps and bounds over the years. According to a rough estimate, daily readership of newspapers in the country is over 200 million, which is a world record in terms of gross reach. Similarly, the reach of electronic media is envious when compared with other countries.However, some of the recent developments have also raised questions over the role of media -- whether it has been living up to the social responsibilities and promoting the democratic, secular and pluralist values.

The Indian media has undoubtedly deviated from its objectives in the recent past. The trend like ‘paid news’ and the publication of the Niira Radia tapes on corporate-media nexus have made it important that media houses and media persons should make a self-critical assessment.

A few days back Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi has also said ‘paid news’ during elections is one of its major challenges. The commission has been forced to intervene in the matter as the media has failed to regulate itself. The Election Commission had issued notices to 86 candidates with regard to ‘paid news’ during the Bihar election last year. Quraishi has conceded that the phenomenon of ‘paid news’ is very difficult to police.

According to the CEC, the problem of ‘paid news’ is best addressed by self-regulation by the media and political parties. But that is not happening.

The election commission is rightly concerned about the undue influence that ‘paid news’ can create on the minds of voters. The voters’ right to correct and unbiased information needs protection. There is a need for an internal news ombudsman in the press and the news channels in the country. The Radia tapes have widely compromised the independence and credibility of the media. The media houses need to put in place a code of practice.

It is also a high time for Editors Guild of India and Press Council of India to take more active role to check the phenomenon of ‘paid news’ and corporate-media nexus.

This write-up was posted on the writer's blog RAZA SMILES
(http://razaelahi.blogspot.com/) on 28.01.2011. The writer can be contacted at elahi.raza82@gmail.com

The terrorist and social media

By Raghu Raman

The irony of terrorism is that terrorists don’t want to kill a lot of people. That is not their ultimate objective. Their target is the billions who get terrorized and hence the propaganda aspect of the attack is critical to terrorism.

This centrality of “broadcasting” terror makes media exploitation a linchpin for both terror and counterterror strategies. Unarguably, terrorism makes for a good news stories and acts of terror get top mindshare. However, proliferation of the Internet and social media is becoming the game changer in terrorism in three distinct ways.

Prior to the Internet, terrorists had to depend on conventional TV or print channels to reach their intended audience. This had some inherent difficulties. Firstly, it limited the theatre of operations to areas where the media could reach fast independently. But this meant that the security forces could also get there just as fast. Secondly, media would play the story the way they wanted it, which sometimes meant censoring the more horrific footages and also painting the terrorists in criminal brushstrokes rather than the ideological positioning terrorists craved. Another problem with the conventional media was that they could be state-controlled or at the very least influenced. In some notable cases, the media had even cooperated with the government by withholding information or feeding misinformation to confuse the terrorists.

While some terrorist organizations got around these difficulties by sending videotapes of their acts, especially kidnappings, hostage executions or pre-bombing speeches to TV channels or cultivating sympathetic channels by promising them exclusives—media control continued to be a challenge. The advent of the Internet solved the media-control problem as the terrorists could now retail direct to the audience without interference of conventional media. The more innovative ones created different versions of the footage in multiple languages to reach wider audiences. They also leveraged the benefits of viral “marketing” as sympathizers or voyeurs, fascinated by the macabre, would relay these footages through the Internet. And at times they hit a propaganda goldmine.

On 29 May 2004, terrorists struck various facilities in Al Khobar region of Saudi Arabia. At Oasis 3, one of those complexes, about a dozen terrorists shot their way in and executed several non-Muslims in cold blood. This included eight Indians. The murderers stayed in the complex through the next five hours and calmly ate breakfast. But as there was no meaningful response from law enforcement agencies beyond the encirclement of the complex, most of the terrorists just slipped past the enclosure and actually managed to film the government force’s helicopters that came in to liberate the complex. The Saudi government forces announced success of the operation much of which was countered by the terrorist organization Jerusalem Squadron that claimed responsibility and released Internet clippings that showed an-hour-long movie of the terrorists’ siege and subsequent escape. This film got wide propaganda and caused panic among the expatriates resulting in, among other things, driving up the oil price to $42 a barrel. All that damage with a $50 camera and the Internet.

The second role social media plays is closely linked with propaganda—recruitment. Terrorist organizations face the challenge of reaching out to potential new cadres. Before the proliferation of social media, this activity had problems of scale and was fraught with danger. Recruitment involved direct physical contact with the pool of potential recruits, effort of pre-qualification, preliminary indoctrination and the final act of recruitment itself. This entire process could come under surveillance or even infiltration by law enforcement and undercover operatives and, therefore, had high exposure risks.

The Internet has changed that too. Now websites and chat rooms can be used to establish contact, pre-qualify, indoctrinate and even coordinate missions. On 5 November 2009, Nidal Hasan, a serving US Army major, used his service rifle to gun down 13 comrades in Fort Hood, Texas, army base. Hasan had been indoctrinated and deeply influenced by Anwar al-Awlaki, a fundamentalist spiritual leader who motivated and guided him, helping him overcome any moral compunctions to slaughter innocent people. This activity took place over the Internet with Awlaki using his blog to broadcast his radical preaching and a series of email exchanges to push Hasan into committing this act.

The third element is the terrorist’s rapid adoption of the Web technology to communicate, recce targets, collaborate and coordinate terrorist activity from the obscurity of the Internet. There are sites with elaborate instructions on bomb making, forging identity and travel papers, weaknesses of targets and everything else that an aspiring terrorist needs in terms of knowledge. Obtaining the tools of committing terror is as easy as obtaining music online.

The Internet gives a powerful strategic advantage to terrorists. While they can hack mails, assume false identities and aliases, wire money to fund terrorist activities, and leverage every nefarious capability of the Internet, law enforcement agencies are hamstrung by stringent privacy, data protection laws and covenants. This tilts the playing field in favour of the terrorists and weakens the fight against them.
(Courtesy: Mint)

Posted on 17.01.2011

India is finally seeing the birth of alternative journalism

By Rajeev Srinivasan

Some journalists get confused and start believing that they make the news, rather than just reporting it. This, and journalistic groupthink, has led to a skewed discourse: India’s supposed ‘centrists’ would be considered ‘far Left’ elsewhere. Their conventional wisdom is curiously anti-national as well. “All the news that is fit to print” simply isn’t printed in India; only that news is printed which supports a particular viewpoint. Besides, those who do not toe the line are blackballed: you cannot get published. Several people have told me their personal experience of being excluded for their views.

This perverted system engenders a persistent anti-India bias in international media, too. When in India, foreign correspondents interact primarily with Delhi’s insular, incestuous sling-bag-wallah-journalist nexus that sneers at middle India; their endemic prejudices infect the foreigners too.

At least the Western media pays lip service to being non-judgmental. In India, there is an obvious industrialist-politician-journalist axis. They ‘manufacture consent’. But they were caught red-handed, Watergate-style, in the Radia tapes incident. Thereupon, the entire media closed ranks, and buried the story, hoping it would go away: this tactic has always worked in the past. Unfortunately for them, this time it didn’t work, because Internet readers, especially Twitterati (those using the Twitter social network), kept the issue alive.

Self-important scribes became concerned about their image on Twitter. When they were not given fawning adulation, they began abusing the Twitterati as cave-dwelling illiterates or “Internet Hindus”, showing their habitual scorn for the ‘little people’. One even threatened people with IPC 509, “insulting the modesty of a woman”, simply for questioning her dogmas.

But the Twitterati, mostly middle-class, urban, young, tech-savvy Indians, both in India and abroad, were not browbeaten, and responded in kind — and in this level-playing-field medium, they had exactly the same access as any high-and-mighty journalist. The latter, accustomed to being little tin-pot dictators and censoring any opinions they didn’t like in their media, were quickly put on the defensive.

And this developed into a sort of dependency: the scribes desperately wanted respect from the Twitterati! Not surprisingly, Twitterati have utter contempt for the journos, and said so in no uncertain terms. The Twitterati — some influential commentators include @atanudey, @barbarindian, @sandeepweb, @swathipradeep2 —clearly did not buy the same old anodyne Kool-Aid that was being dished out.

And then the western media picked up what bloggers and Twitterati were saying. This hit the uppity journos where it hurt the most. They fulfilled their greatest ambition — getting their coveted fifteen minutes of fame in the New York Times or Washington Post; but, alas, it was via a commentary on their (lack of) journalistic ethics and on the harsh judgment of the Internet readers.

As a result, Vir Sanghvi, for all practical purposes, fell on his sword, shutting down his impugned column. Barkha Dutt tried the opposite tack: brazening it out and proclaiming innocence. This did not work; NDTV’s credibility is damaged and her ratings have plummeted (according to TAM data for December). An attempt at self-defense on TV boomeranged: she appeared shifty and guilty as charged, Nixon-like.

Furthermore, the IBN network, also viewed with derision as #IBNlies, was caught by @preeti86, ham-handedly fabricating fake tweets (messages) from non-existent identities in an effort to inflate support for its positions.

Pathetically, the scribes and their sock-puppets (planted supporters) are attempting to paint themselves as victims of a conspiracy among Twitterati. But this is not selling. One of the sock-puppets, some minor Bollywood type screeching #stopabuseontwitter, showed himself to be a hypocrite by making crude sexual suggestions to a woman online, and then running for cover when someone brought up IPC 509.

Fed-up Internet mavens have long complained that the media in India is corrupt, sold out (#paidmedia and #dalalmedia are popular terms) and anti-national. It appears that the Twitterati have finally created an alternative, uncensored, independent channel for news and commentary which is as subversive as the samizdat underground press in the erstwhile Soviet Union was. Even more ominously for the powerful, there is the example of OhmyNews in Korea. This paper, initially a one-man effort, became so popular that eventually it was instrumental in toppling an elected regime in 2002.

Will the emergent people’s media in India play a similar role? That would be poetic justice — he who corrupts the media falls to its new, web-enabled incarnation. The establishment, naturally, will fight this: a new push to monitor Internet usage may lead to a great firewall of India, stifling the new medium.
(Courtesy: DNA)

Posted on 04.01.2011

When Tendulkar-centric Indian media surprises Kallis

By Raza Elahi

After South Africa’s convincing win against India in the first Test match at Centurion, Jacques Kallis must be certainly wondering about the strange bunch of television journalists, traveling with the Indian team.

Kallis, who scored a double century in the match, had never thought that he would have to answer some ‘weired queries’ of the Indian media. At a time when he was expecting questions about South Africa’s win or his own first Test double century, Kallis was amused by an Indian journalist who asked why he was not clapping after Sachin Tendulkar reached his historic landmark of 50th Test hundred.

Kallis, however, reminded him that while he was applauding, the television cameras were focused on Tendulkar and the Indian dressing room and he had perhaps stopped clapping by the time they returned their focus to the field. A South African journalist, who was shocked at how largely the Indian media were more interested in the cult of Tendulkar than what had happened on the field, reportedly could not stop himself in questioning an Indian TV reporter, “Did losing the game mean so little to you?”

“It doesn’t matter, our editor is more interested in Sachin’s 50th Test century,” came the response from the Indian TV reporter.
.
“You mean defeat by an innings, the biggest India have had in South Africa, means nothing?” the South African queried.

“We are interested only in the Sachin story today. Viewers are interested in that, not the team losing,” was the reply.

Taking a potshot at Indian media, columnist Trevor Chesterfield in his recent article has also written, “…there are as many as thirty-six television channels -- jostling for the best story, filing a snippet from the team’s practice, a day’s play or post-match conference -- has a habit of descending into a mad, often frenzied scramble for bytes.

Chesterfield, too, couldn’t digest Tendulkar-centric reporting by Indian media despite the fact that India lost the match by an innings and twenty-five runs when he wrote, “As with any good government propaganda, the Tendulkar century was used as a ploy by the television networks to cover the team’s embarrassing defeat.”

Undoubtedly, Sachin’s 50th Test century was a golden moment of the cricket history but such pity questions like “who clapped or who jumped on the occasion” show the habit of a section of media -- particularly electronic media -- of going overboard over anything.

This write-up was posted on the writer's blog RAZA SMILES
(http://razaelahi.blogspot.com/) on 03.01.2011. The writer can be contacted at elahi.raza82@gmail.com)

Posted on 01.01.2011

Beware, journalists… sorry bloggers will report

By Raza Elahi

"News is something someone wants suppressed. Everything else is just advertising”.
British press magnate Lord Northcliffe

In a season when the leaked conversations between corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and some of India’s top journalists continue to evoke public curiosity and the WikiLeaks’ disclosure of internal communications between US diplomats based outside America and the central command at Washington embarrassing the White House, one may not be wrong in saying that technology alone can take on the task of bringing out something which someone wants to suppress.

Although much of the mainstream media -- except Open and Outlook magazines -- initially blacked out Radia tapes, yet they reached the public through the networking sites, blogs and Twitter etc.

Similarly, an unfazed and defiant Julian Assange, the founder of whistleblower website WikiLeaks, has exposed the secrets of America that many US government officials contend those information should not be made public because it will endanger many lives. In traditional newspapers and news channels -- which are mostly controlled and managed by corporate houses -- journalists have to follow certain protocols or guidelines in deciding what stories/feed to cover and what to ignore, but today, technology has changed it all. Now, any individual can build his own website/portal/blog by using the Internet and if he knows how to gather information and report it to the public, he can serve it as an independent source of news and opinion.

Today, bloggers (the new crop of ‘journalists’) are fearlessly exposing corruption and acting as whistleblowers. They are individuals, having no burden of being affiliated to corporate houses, express and exchange their views through blogs and internet groups.

The example of WikiLeaks and the emerging trend of blogging, social networking and tweeting have definitely changed the rule of disseminating information.

(This write-up was posted on the writer's blog RAZA SMILES
(http://razaelahi.blogspot.com/) on 28.12.2010.The writer can be contacted at elahi.raza82@gmail.com)

Posted on 28.12.2010

Radia tapes & Indian media: It's time for sensation now

By Marie-Lou Fernandes

It's been a month since the first set of Radia tapes was published by Open and Outlook. All through, these two exemplary publications have maintained their focus on the twin issues of corruption and media complicity that emerged from the tape content. Meanwhile, the rest of the usually vociferous English language Indian media has been maintaining their silence on good days, providing the public with diversions on truly bad ones. Let's review the latest offerings - coverage on the opposition campaign on corruption related to the Radia tape disclosures - and see how sensationalism may well be the new show in town.

As of this moment there are nearly one hundred and ninety news and opinion articles on this issue. Given this quantity, it would seem that the issue has finally been deemed significant. The sub-topics include the opposition demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe, the Congress refusal of this demand, the Prime Minister's agreement to being questioned by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the Congress agreement to a special parliamentary session, announcements by the PAC chairman, the opposition declaration of a nation wide agitation, and reactions from the ruling alliance and opposition alliance members to each of these events.

On qualitative analysis however, a different picture emerges. It becomes apparent then that most reports are framed in heavily value-laden terms that pit one heroic party against a villainous one (regardless of the fact that both sides of this face-off are political alliances). For example, media that are alleged to be ideologically aligned with the ruling party describe the opposition demand in terms of 'negativism', 'hypocrisy', 'destruction of traditions', 'an attack on democracy' and 'politically motivated' while the Congress stance of a PAC alternative is described in terms of an 'offer' that is 'spurned' or 'rejected'. Similarly, media that are alleged to be sympathetic to the opposition have described them as having 'insisted' on their stances or 'stuck' to their ground while issuing ultimatums to the government to 'Order JPC or quit'.

Sometime during your subjection to this high-strung sensationalism you, as an intelligent reader, may recover enough to ask - what else do I need to know and why is the media not covering it?
For example, the institutional mandates of a JPC vis a vis the PAC in dealing with the issues - not more than ten articles cited sources that covered this vital policy information.
Linked to that, the charters of other regulatory agencies like the CBI, IT Department and IB vis a vis the JPC in tackling the various angles of the Radia tapes case - not a single article included this information.

On a related note, the number of times and occasions when the Indian Parliament had ordered JPCs - only three analysts commented on that.

Most revealingly, the legal and policy implications of corporate lobbying and the role of journalists in political reporting, issues that had sparked off this entire controversy in the first place - besides our two outliers on the curve of non-performance that is the traditional Indian media today, no other publication has either reportage or commentary to offer.

To sum up, instead of enriching the discourse with varied perspectives on the legal, institutional and policy dimensions of the Radia tapes issues, the focus is on a shallow and sensationalistic, blow-by-blow account of the various moves and counter moves of the two main political parties. And instead of educating the public on key facts, the media distracts us through melodrama.

Social psychologists may call this an engineered mass catharsis, and language deconstructionist Derrida may have been provoked to call it a perverse example of media as entertainment, where the act of apprehending the text becomes amusing in and of itself! But let me resist the temptation to speculate on those interesting hypotheses. I am sure others would disagree, most notably the established media houses who reported this week, with rather poor timing, that Julian Assange had commended their publications for good journalism.

Perhaps the twitter community could check these facts as they have done in the past - when they identified a TV channel manufacturing fake tweets to popularize corporate lobbying and revealed how user feedback tweets were being twisted by another TV channel to popularize the ruling party. Do circulate this article, write in with more of these revelations and keep the discourse alive through the Internet. Democracy is alive and kicking in India, even if the traditional media - as seen in the context of the Radia tape leaks - seem to have little to do with it.

Courtesy: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marielou-fernandes/radia-tapes-and-the-india_b_801165.html

Media introspection needed

By Tavleen Singh

This week, I plan to take a calculated risk. I am going to defend Niira Radia and attack the media. As someone who has been a small but proud cog in the vast machine of the Indian media for more than thirty years, I believe I have the right to criticise when criticism is the need of the moment. Ever since the Radia tapes were revealed, there has been much denunciation of the media icons who crossed the line between journalism and lobbying, but in this self loathing the real horror of the Radia tapes has been forgotten. Where did they come from? Why was Ms Radia’s phone being tapped? Is phone tapping legal when not done for reasons of national security? These are all questions that the media has failed to find answers to.

But, the real crime of the media has been the manner in which our private television channels have allowed themselves to be used by the agencies of government to damn Niira Radia before she has been given a chance to defend herself. Ironically, she has been damned for lobbying without anyone noticing that as a lobbyist, it is as much her job to lobby as mine is to write columns.

The damning of Ms Radia brought out the worst aspects of the Indian media last week when Headlines Today allowed itself to be used as a platform for the alleged kidnapper of Ms Radia’s son. The channel passed off as investigative journalism the details the alleged kidnapper supplied of a Swiss bank account that supposedly belongs to Ms Radia. The ‘investigative reporters’ did the story without noticing that since Ms Radia is not an Indian citizen, she can have as many Swiss bank accounts as she likes. It would have been far more useful if the source of this information had been asked why he spent two years in Tihar jail and if this was because he allegedly kidnapped Ms Radia’s son. Needless to say, this question was never asked.

This kind of question never is because what passes for ‘reporting’ on our private channels these days is actually not reporting at all.

So breathlessly competitive are our news channels that they almost never have time to do a real story. This would mean sending a reporter to go out into the field and do his own investigation. This involves time, money and research. These are the real constituents of investigative reporting but somehow none of our news channels have noticed. Instead, nearly all our so-called TV reporters spend their time rushing about getting details from ‘sources’ that are never named. In the old days, when the media in India was no more than a handful of badly printed newspapers, we used to call this kind of reporting press release journalism. Second rate journalists, too lazy to do their own research, would toddle off every evening to the Press Information Bureau and report what the government wanted them to. For detail article click
http://www.indianexpress.com/news/media-introspection-needed/729365/2

Posted on 20.12.2010

Will the Indian media get its act together?

By Marie-Lou Fernandes

After remaining wilfully silent on India's biggest corruption story of the year the immediate reaction of some sections of the Indian media was to divert attention to Brand India and corporate privacy concerns. We are now witness to another diversion - the case for corporate lobbying (never mind that corporate lobbying has just robbed the country of hundreds of millions of dollars).

Let's take for example a single routine event like last week's conference on corporate sustainability addressed by Corporate Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid. Since the event was held in the wake of the Radia tapes leak the minister was quizzed on legal regulation of the corporate sector by attending journalists. What follows is a quick and, unfortunately, dirty analysis of the reports that were published in the English media.

Of the fourteen randomly surveyed reports not a single Indian publication mentioned the real context of the questions viz. the corruption issue unearthed by the Radia tapes. The only publication to report this context was non-Indian, the South Asia Mail. While the others remained silent, six of the Indian publications chose to cite a misleading context instead, viz. privacy concerns, not the issues of corruption that the tapes revealed. These publications include Times Now, Economic Times, Indian Express, Express Buzz, Deccan Chronicle and Business Standard.

Two of the corporate owned and managed publications chose to include references by Deepak Parekh and Lalit Bhasin, leveraging these apparently "authoritative sources" in favor of the underlying argument against privacy violations. No references were cited on the corruption issue. These publications were Indian Express and Economic Times.

Most of the publications captured the cautious statements of the Minister who balanced issues of privacy with those of corruption. This was represented in the headlines that spoke of 'regulations', 'curbs' and 'limits' to corporate lobbying. However two publications spun headlines that were in dissonance with all others and with their own news content. These were Indian Express and Times Now that headlined 'CorpMin gives thumbs up to lobbying, PR' and 'Khursheed for legalizing lobbying'. The only publication to underscore the obligations of corporate India was Hindu which headlined 'Stress on Ethical Business.'

With all due regard to Indian circumspection how does one justify a failure to report, to say nothing of actively misleading readers on the real context of questions posed to the Minister?! And with all due respect to Eastern mysticism and the eternal subjectivity of human experience how exactly does one explain such variance in the headlines?! Was the minister speaking in two tongues such that twelve reporters understood a case for regulating corporate lobbying and two saw a strong justification for it instead? Should the reader blandly apprehend the report content devoid of context, be tantalizingly diverted by the headlines, or perhaps conclude that maybe, just maybe, the journalist, sub-editor and editor are beholden to the news corporation and not to journalistic ethics?

Despite the enormity of the corruption issue in the Radia tape leakage and the role played by the country's top journalists in facilitating it, the Indian media shows little accountability to the public and there are still no apologies forthcoming. On the other hand, at a recent forum by India's press corps, the President of the Editor's Guild continued to support those journalists who manufactured convenient stories and brokered deals for corporate interests.

There can be no greater disgrace than the fact that the entire dissemination of the biggest corruption story of the year was managed by citizens and nonresident Indians through the Internet. If Indian media wishes to remain relevant in the Internet age, they will have to fight for change - a working code of ethics, new leaders, better role models for the new generation of journalists, and if possible, a little humility now and then.

(The author is a former Deputy Commissioner of Police of Mumbai City and officer of the Indian Police Service. She completed a Master’s degree at Harvard’s Kennedy School and a doctorate at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. Her research focuses on leadership, organizations and governance issues in India).

Courtesy:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marielou-fernandes/leadership-without-legiti_b_798739.html

Posted on 14.12.2010

Will WikiLeaks change journalism?

Publishing confidential diplomatic cables is not a victory for transparency

By Tom Fenton

LONDON: Is the WikiLeaks dump of diplomatic cables a victory for transparency? Will it change the way governments deal with each other? Will it be seen as a new and better form of journalism?

I think we have already seen enough to know the answer. It's clearly no.
So what exactly does it all add up to? Well for one thing, the newspapers that formed a consortium to publish these leaks are receiving stolen goods and selling them to the public. And they are doing it in a strange way for media that normally take pride in scoops and competition.

There is no competition in this arrangement, with the cartel deciding which topics will be released on which days. It reminds me of the old Soviet Pravda newspaper — which used to hold weekly editorial meetings to decide that the news will be on the following week. Monday the news will be about a new hydroelectric project, Tuesday the headlines will be about the harvest, etc. The Wikileaks pre-selected diet of topics is not news. It's news management. It is being released piecemeal for maximum impact.

One of the first things I learned as a journalist is that you should not sit on news. But that's what the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Der Spiegel and Le Monde are doing. Now that they have shown us a week's worth of their treasure trove, what else are they sitting on?

Last week, I put that question to their spokesman, Kristinn Hrafnsson. “You will have to wait and see,” he replied. He was vague when I asked him who decides which topics will be released on which days. And he refused to tell me who is funding the WikiLeaks staff, explaining that “donations” were being held in a blind trust in Germany. When it comes to talking about their own organization, WikiLeaks is remarkably opaque for an organization that is supposed to promote transparency.

Of course, it has reasons to be cautious. Its founder and leader, Australian journalist Julian Assange, is reportedly hiding somewhere outside London while the British police and Interpol decide what to do about a Swedish warrant for his arrest on charges of sexual misconduct.

The WikiLeaks website has been the target of repeated cyber attacks and technology companies have been pressured by the U.S. and other governments to stop hosting it on the internet.

Mark Stephens, Assange's British lawyer, says his client is keeping back a number of sensational diplomatic cables that automatically will be released if WikiLeaks is completely shut down or something happens to Assange. He calls it Assange's “thermonuclear device.”

Meanwhile the cables between American diplomats abroad and the State Department that have been published so far are hardly bombshells. Most of them confirm what outsiders already knew from a careful reading of the press. It is not news that Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi is a scandalous womanizer, that the Russian government is deeply corrupt or that the Saudi royal family hates the mullahs who rule Iran.

It is embarrassing to see such frank comments published, but much of the stuff is more embarrassing for the foreign officials who are the subjects of the diplomatic cables than for the U.S. government.

There was one item, however, that did put the State Department in a very bad light: a request that American diplomats collect “biometric data” and other personal details such as credit card and frequent flyer numbers of United Nations staff and other foreign officials, presumably to facilitate tracking their movements. That crosses the line between diplomacy and spying.

The leaked cables will at least initially make foreign officials and informants less open in their dealings with American diplomats, for fear that the U.S. government can't keep a private conversation private. But it won't stop governments from conducting business behind closed doors. Treaties are not hammered out in public in the presence of the press and public. They are crafted from compromises patiently negotiated behind the scenes. That's the way diplomacy works best, whether Julian Assange likes it or not.
As for Assange's belief that he has scored a victory for openness in government, his legacy is likely to be the opposite. The State Department and Pentagon will tighten up what is clearly very loose security in their systems for preventing the unauthorized release of classified information.

And for the newspapers who accepted and sold his stolen goods, they might have edited the cables to protect the lives of some of the sources, but they hardly deserve awards for enterprising journalism.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/worldview/101206/will-wikileaks-shape-journalism

Posted on 6.12.2010

Journalists and their fans

By Dipankar Gupta

Post-Radia, one famous editor has left the building (promising to come back), and the other has lost her cool. In contrast, for the political fixers and their corporate beneficiaries the Radia tapes are a minor inconvenience; not serious enough to sit up nights.

The journalists, on the other hand, are in a sorry state, without a leg to stand on. Often of their own accord, they have been grilled on the small screen, sliced and diced in print, and their every written or spoken word critically examined. True, they did nothing illegal, but they crossed that thin line in the sand.

The tainted politicians, on the other hand, looted public money and clearly broke the law. Yet, they don't believe they owe their electorate an explanation. Not for them the voluntary image slaughter that journalists submitted themselves to. And, if past record is any indication, these politicians will probably not go to jail either.

Media personalities attract more disgrace because they are intimately involved in our everyday lives in a way politicians are not. Politicians are out there, far away in the public realm, but TV anchors and star columnists are much nearer home: often in our bedrooms till late at night. They, therefore, arouse a kind of morality where impropriety weighs more heavily than breaking the law.

There are reasons why we find the public realm distasteful and unrepresentative. It not only reminds us of potholed roads, filthy hospitals and dysfunctional schools but also of officials who have profited from our misery. This is where our democracy is different from western ones. It would be unimaginable for any of us to say, as Walt Whitman did, "O, public road, you express me better than I express myself." Who in their right mind in India would ever utter a thing like that?

Our deep-seated disenchantment with public servants and elected officials was recently articulated by famous economist Jagdish Bhagwati. In the presence of our parliamentarians and our prime minister, he declared that in India, people expect politicians to be corrupt. As if that were not enough, he rubbed it in by adding: "In America, if you are caught, even God cannot help you." No doubt this is an exaggeration, but the point remains essentially valid.

As things public leave us cold, our emotions naturally turn to issues of private morality. This allows the public space to be grabbed by politicians with whom we have nothing in common. They are from another planet. They smile when they assume office and laugh all the way to the bank when they are eased out. Media personalities might feel the need to win back their consumers and fans, but the tainted politician faces no such compulsion. Clearly, the Indian electorate is not nearly as demanding.

Over time we have trained ourselves to expect less and less from public figures. This has increased our dependency on pastoral professionals, ranging from journalists to NGO activists. The kind of adulation and awe such people elicit in India would be extremely rare in western societies.

On account of the unwritten nature of his pastoral responsibilities, a journalist is never seen advertising soap or toothpaste or woollen suiting. It is acceptable for a Shah Rukh Khan or a Sachin Tendulkar to endorse a product, but not a TV anchor or a newspaper editor. They might be famous names and faces, but they disappear during commercials and are never seen hawking goods. So when editors behave like influence peddlers, there is an image muddle. Why don't they become full-time lobbyists and politicians instead?

A journalist, like a soldier, judge or priest, belongs to a pastoral profession because he is supposed to put the collective, the flock, before private gain. But of the lot, it is easiest to be a journalist, both in terms of qualifications and the level of sacrifice required. Yet, quite unlike others in pastoral occupations, a few journalists get paid like corporate bosses. Consequently, for media stars, fans come with envious stalkers. This makes them unique among pastoral professionals.

Just as human beings naturally seek a cultural identity, or even identities, they also crave collective life. While economic marginalisation and perceived deprivation can lead to angry identity claims, disaffection with the public sphere can prompt excessive dependence on pastoral professions. Thus, if journalists and NGOs are lionised at one end, they are open to greater scrutiny at the other.

The media star may have a certain celebrity status, but is not quite the movie idol either. While film actors apparently go to bed with their wigs and make-up on, a journalist is seen as a serious and caring person. People might want their autographs and even be photographed with them, yet it is not the same as hankering after a Bollywood hero.

It is the pastoral character of journalism that constrains its best-paid representatives from behaving like either political heavies or business tycoons. When they ignore this difference, they run the risk of popular disapproval which can sometimes be more hurtful than a legal sentence. While the politician can return in another ministry under a new dispensation, it is hard to repair the damage done to a pastoral reputation.

This is especially true in India where fans matter more than electorates.

The writer is former professor, JNU.

Courtesy: Times of India
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/Journalists-and-their-fans/articleshow/7048858.cms

Posted on 20.08.2010

The problem with financial journalism

By David Serchuk

The peculiar sport of fox hunting was described by Oscar Wilde as "the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable." I feel a similar aphorism can be applied to most financial journalism: "The unspeakable perusing the unreadable."

Okay, maybe it's a bit harsh to call my (former) readers the unspeakable, but as for most financial journalism, yeah, far too often it's unreadable.

Okay, I have kind of a limited perspective on this, having only worked where I worked and saw what I saw. I think the Wall Street Journal does a good job day in, day out, of reporting financial news, as do a few others.

But I also think that way, way too much of what I see in the financial media, specifically on TV, and glossy magazines has some extraordinarily serious flaws. Flaws that have helped make financial journalism either irrelevant to the larger world of business or, at worst, handmaidens to those who wield power in the financial world.

Here is my background. I worked in financial newsletters for two and a half years, was a reporter at a famed financial news mag for almost three years, was an editor at that same mag's corresponding website for another two years and got laid off from there in late 2009. Not long after that I took a job writing a newsletter under the aegis of an extremely smart and successful trader. And I can honestly say I learned more about how to analyze a company within the first ten days of that job than I had learned in all my prior posts combined.

Of course I wouldn't have had the opportunity to do that last job if I hadn't had my prior experiences, but within a few hours of starting there my new boss told me about five or six different ways to analyze a firm's financial statements that I hadn't considered. Because now the exercise wasn't merely academic, real money was at stake. And I learned more from simply being near a real trader than I had learned from other journalists in all those years.

And this is a lot of my problem with financial journalism. When I watch the TV money shows I know that most of the anchors on these programs really don't know what they're talking about. They feed easy answers to their guests, and then let these same guests lead them around by the nose. They discuss their agreed upon talking points in a kind of kabuki ritual, and that's that. Once you learn what to watch for you can see that so often they are doing little more than feeding the money beast.

Here's another secret, a huge percentage of the "financial" writers I know don't have all that much interest in business or finance. If they were really interested in business they would BE in business, making far more than the working-poverty wages at their high-profile, but largely underpaid, jobs. Many of us got into it because these were the places that needed people.

I did it this way. I came to NYC from Boulder, Colo. in 1999, with five years of journalistic experience under my belt, and couldn't get arrested. I saw an add for a financial newsletter and applied for the job. After taking, and passing, a writing and reporting test I was hired, at the princely sum of $32,000 a year. I knew nothing about nothing, but I paid attention and learned. I did it because I could and it would get me out my mom's house.

 But it had never been my goal. Nonetheless I was decent enough at it to not get fired. In fact I soon learned, much to my shock, that I was actually pretty good!

Eventually I moved up and on until I made it to a well-known financial magazine, satisfying a longstanding goal: working at a magazine. Not necessarily a financial magazine, but a magazine. I had years of contact building and beat reporting under my belt by the time I was hired, but I felt, really, that I knew very little. I cared about my job and wanted to do great work, but felt I still had so much more I needed to understand. But what I was to find was that as little as I knew I knew far, far more than many of my new reporting peers.

Many were just like me, there to be journalists and they happened to become financial journalists. And I thought then, and think now, this is okay. Sometimes we find our work, and sometimes it finds us. But there was little in the way of the sort of intensive training that one would need in order to really start to understand how firms actually work.

If you asked most reporters, or even senior writers, at most major financial news organizations to calculate a firm's free cash flow I would be shocked if 50% could. (Free cash flow, btw, is the actual hardcore cash a firm has on its books, and is considered by many a better indication of a firm's financial health than the more easily manipulated quarterly earnings. To calculate FCF you take net income, add in amortization/depreciation and subtract changes in working capital and capital expenditures. Voila! Free cash flow!)

I know this because I volunteered to organize a lecture on how to calculate FCF and was shocked by how many people, even senior people, at my old firm told me they were excited about it. I say this not to bag on them. I had been just like them not long before. For me I far too often felt that when it came time to interview truly sophisticated investors I was like the guy bringing a knife to a gun fight. As far as learning more I was largely on my own.

Another problem I see with today's financial media is that it often doesn't seem to know if it wants to celebrate the almost pornographic amassing of wealth or actually do some journalism to find what's awry in the world of business. Far too often, I feel, it's the former. We are told to "celebrate capitalism" like it actually is in any real danger, and needs us journalists to believe in it, like the Great Pumpkin. I'm sorry folks, but capitalism is the only game in town, it ain't going nowhere. It doesn't need us to clap for it so it so it doesn't die, like Tinkerbell. It needs financial journalists who know what they are talking about to start doing what they do best: holding the feet of those in power to the fire. Unfortunately the opposite often takes place.

How many fawning profiles have I read about hard-nosed, daredevil CEOs taking "gambles" and "risks" and "playing to win?" Folks, very few of these CEOs ever are at any personal risk. They are all part of the same club, all went to the same schools, all agree to bail each other out if they fail, many come from decently well-off families. They are never in any danger should they fail. They will simply get a job down the road as consultants, or lobbyists, provided their golden parachutes aren't adequate.

 No, we're the ones who are in danger, as the bailouts show. And while true risk taking and entrepreneurship is a nifty thing, let's face it, most of these folks ain't curing cancer.
Yet, this charged language is inserted into so many of these profiles that I think I've detected a pattern. It's as if wealthy execs aren't just happy having all the money and power, they want to be thought of as hip and a little bit alternative and dangerous. Well, they were dangerous alright, just not the way they advertised. And it seems that frequently journalists, or at least their editors, were happy to push the silly-ass plot line of CEO as gutsy folk hero. Of course now that our economy melted down there is some backlash to this, but it's a bit late.

On the flipside, I am equally suspicious of those profiles that allow the CEO to paint himself as a workaholic managerial drone who is only focused on what he does for the company. Beware the banal facade, it often hides something. By the way, this was the treatment just-ousted Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd typically received. Little did we know!

I think there are real consequences to getting snowed this way. Because, clearly, the mainstream financial media missed most of the big stories of the past decade. The housing collapse? The world of shadow banking? The way Wall Street cooked every book? By and large the ink only started to really spill on this stuff after the markets melted. Hindsight is great, but foresight saves you. Before then we were too busy praising Wall Street, or at least being clubby with it, to really investigate it.

The irony, of course, is the more we celebrate capitalism, and the less we point out its flaws, the more gross and exaggerated those flaws become until they bring down the entire economy. And then the same magazines and TV shows that celebrated capitalism with such vigor head for the ash heap along with everyone else. Indeed it takes a strong and independent press to guard America's business elite from its own worst impulses. The nice part is that when done right this also helps keep journalists employed.

Courtesy: Huffington Post
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-serchuk/the-problem-with-financia_b_678711.html

Posted on 16.08.2010

Citizen journalism will never stop the presses

The parameters between traditional journalism and the blogosphere constantly shift, but vital differences remain and there is room for both, argues Malachi O'Doherty

It used to be that the main worry for a freelancing radio journalist like me was television reporters and some of the more famous big-shots who can squeeze to the front ahead of you.

Now there are other rivals for the attention of a potential interviewee: the bloggers. Practically the entire internet now is composed of blogs and social network sites.

Everywhere there are citizen journalists, from people who send pictures of fires from their mobile phones to television stations, maybe only once, to ardent amateur media specialists who are trying to change the character of journalism with their online creativity and agitation.

Sometimes you are the potential interviewee yourself, at a book launch or arts festival, and you are flattered to be asked for an interview. Then it registers that you are dealing with the editorial outreach arm of a blog with six readers.

Or you might be sitting in a panel on a stage and look up through the audience and see that a little camcorder is pointing at you. And sloppy as the audio might be, it will go online and reach an audience.

And were someone there to get so irate that he lunged forward and shot you, then news outlets around the world would take that footage - no matter how bad it was.

Blogging aspires to being the new journalism and journalism in the traditional media wants to argue that it has professional standards to defend. But there is one big flaw in the perception that bloggers and journalists are at war with each other; they actually feed off each other. They have a symbiotic relationship - and it is changing. It used to be that journalism was a coherent and well-demarcated profession.

The job was defined by the National Union of Journalists, as much as by the employer. So, as a newspaper reporter, when I started, I would have caused a strike if I had carried a camera.

I use a camera for blogging. The bloggers define their own functions and play with whatever technology suits them. And most don't worry about quality. It seems almost in the intrinsic character of blogging that the background noise is too high and that the audio hisses.

As a radio journalist, in the days of tape-recording, I was not allowed to edit my own tapes, but had to work alongside an audio engineer. Now, even in the BBC, I can edit everything. In fact, I edit packages for Sunday Sequence at home. I often record talks for Radio Scotland and email them to the producer.So bloggers are not to blame for the broadening definition of a journalist; it is happening anyway.

But there remain some vital differences between a journalist and a blogger. The journalist has to deliver on time. There are deadlines. The blogger can go to the pub and upload the recordings later, maybe even the next day. The journalist has backing. When harassed by abusive calls and threats of libel, the newspaper or broadcaster should take the heat. The blogger alone will more readily succumb to pressure.

Once I commented on a blog that reviewed a book and the blogger immediately withdrew his piece. I didn't want him to do that. No one else had gone to the trouble to critique the same book, but he hadn't the thick skin of a journalist.

And the problem for a blogger is that the publishing model is vulnerable. An article online can be removed in a way that a broadcast item or a newspaper article cannot. Once they are out, the damage is done. The blogger may have to defend a piece every day, or remove it. And there is unlikely to be support from the host server, which has no editorial principles to defend.

I have myself broken under the pressure of harassment and threats from an interviewee to remove material from a blog, just to get rid of the headache, while knowing that if I had published the material in a newspaper or broadcast it on-air, I would have been completely safe. Blogs are more interactive than traditional journalism and the debate routinely turns cantankerous and nasty.

Some blogs, like sluggerotoole and the blogs attached to the BBC and the Guardian, are strongly moderated to weed out offence and libel; even there, the exchanges are more robust than you would get on Nolan or Talkback.

But there is freedom in the relaxed standards of journalism on blogs. I recently recorded a vox pop on the Shankill Road about health, hoping to include it in an item for Sunday Sequence. Some of it was unusable on the BBC because it affronted their very sensible guidelines. First, there were swear words: no problem on the internet. And two young men spoke under the admitted influence of drugs - a crime therefore, which ruled out broadcasting.

The story did go on thestreet.ie. Ottawa blogger Evan Thornton is developing hyperlocal journalism on the theory that if you blog about your street, you will get more readers than if it's about your city. The parameters between traditional journalism and blogging are fluid and changing.

But if newspapers and broadcast outlets collapse, it is still more likely they ran out of money than because bloggers provided a viable alternative. There should still be room for both.

Courtesy: Belfasttelegraph
http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/citizen-journalism-will-never-stop-the-presses-14901971.html#ixzz0w785BQTe

Posted on 14.08.2010

No one published paid news

Since the Press Council's report has no names of those publishing paid news, that's what you have to assume

By Sunil Jain

Many years ago, when model Jessica Lal’s killer was acquitted, The Times of India headline said sarcastically, “No one killed Jessica Lal”. Given how the Press Council of India’s (PCI’s) latest report on “paid news” talks about it becoming “pervasive, structured and highly organised” — including the presence of “rate cards” or “packages” for publication of news — and yet doesn’t name any of the guilty newspapers that are paid for publishing news, the only conclusion is that no one published paid news!

Sure, as the PCI says, it has a limited mandate which does not allow it to penalise those found guilty of malpractices, and that in the case of TV news, even this limited mandate doesn’t apply. But surely, naming and shaming was something it could have done quite easily — all of which tells you that the newspapers in the paid news business are so powerful they prevented the PCI from even naming them. As for admonishing or passing strictures, which the PCI says it has the power to do, you can just forget about it. So, even if its suggestion that Section 15(4) of the Press Council Act of 1978 be amended so as to make its directions binding is acted upon, it’s unlikely anything is going to come out of it.
 
While talking about newspapers publishing paid news, either for politicians or for corporate entities, is one thing, proving it is quite another. Many have suspected, for instance, that the “private treaties” publishers like the Times of India group have are nothing but paid news — the newspaper gets equity in your company in return for free ad space; but since the value of the newspapers’ investment goes up only when your company does well, the allegation is various newspapers tend to publish only good news about their “private treaty” companies. But how do you prove it?

It’s much the same in the case of politicians. Saying they’re all corrupt is easy, but finding the money trail isn’t. Well, the way you’d do it in the case of politicians is to examine their decisions. So, in the case of the 2G licences, you don’t have to actually trace the flow of funds to those in the ministry (that, presumably, is something the CBI, which is investigating the case along with the CVC and the CAG, will do) — all that you need to do is to point out that a handful of companies got licences in 2008 at the same rate they were sold for in mid-2001. Similarly, in the case of mining licenses or any other concessions, if no bids are called for, this is enough to show complicity.

But this is precisely what the PCI’s sub-committee comprising Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Kalimekolam Sreenivas Reddy did. To begin with, it got a lot of testimonials from people that, in the normal course, you shouldn’t take lightly.
 
It cites the case of Shri Parcha Kodanda Ram Rao of the Loksatta Party in Andhra Pradesh who formally told the Election Commission he’d paid Eenadu to publish favourable news about himself and had even included this in his official expenditure statement.

BJP leader Lalji Tandon is on record saying the largest-circulated (Indian) language newspaper refused to publish any news about him unless he paid money. Others who have made similar allegations, about other newspapers, are BSP’s Tamil Nadu secretary K Ramasubramanian (in a letter to the PCI), Atul Anjaan of the CPI, Sandeep Dikshit of the Congress party and Sushma Swaraj of the BJP.
 
Former Civil Aviation Minister Harmohan Dhawan is quoted, from magazine Pratham Pravakta, as saying representatives of newspapers like Punjab Kesri, Dainik Jagran and Dainik Bhaskar approached him to say that if he bought their “package”, he would get good coverage; others who made similar allegations in the magazine are Santosh Singh, the Congress party candidate from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh; Ramakant Yadav of the BJP from the same constituency; the Samajwadi Party’s Arshad Jamal, and so on.


Since you can argue that this is just one man’s word against the other’s (all newspapers accused of this have denied their involvement), the sub-committee gives examples of such news items. The Ranchi edition of Dainik Jagran (April 13, 2009), for instance, has a story on how the RJD candidate from the Chatra Lok Sabha constituency “is getting support from every class and section”; another story on the same page had another news item of how the JDU candidate from the same constituency would emerge a “clear winner”! Several other such examples are cited — Andhra Jyothi had a story saying the TDP candidate from Narasapuram would get a “huge victory”; another page had a story talking of “victory, victory” for the Congress party candidate in the same constituency. It’s like publishing a Samsung ad on page 1 and a Nokia one on page 11!

The clincher, of course, is The Hindu’s Rural Affairs Editor P Sainath’s story on how three competing Marathi newspapers — Lokmat, Pudhari and Maharashtra Times — used the same words from the beginning to the end to praise Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan. When quizzed by the PCI, Chavan suggested all newspapers may have used the material distributed in press conferences — believe that if you will — and then said, “According to me, the appropriate forum for challenging such complaints is through an election petition in a court of law.”

Despite the sub-committee report documenting all this, the PCI’s 13-page “detailed report” does not mention even one instance cited in the 71 pages of the sub-committee report which, it says, “may remain on record of the PCI as reference document”, nor does it annex the report — the actual report, though, is not on the PCI’s website (it can be accessed at http://www.scribd.com/doc/ 35436631/The-Buried-PCI-Report-on-Paid-News).

Given this, doesn’t it seem hypocritical for newspapers to go on loudly about the corruption in the Commonwealth Games or the mining scandal of the Reddy brothers? Perhaps we should stick to headlines like “No one made money in Commonwealth Games” or “No one involved in Karnataka mining scam”. It might not tell you anything, but nor does the PCI report.

Courtesy: The Business Standard
http://www.businessstandard.com/india/news/sunil-jain-no-one-published-paid-news/403916/

Posted on 09.08.2010

The Empire strikes back — and how!

The original report on ‘paid news' of the Press Council of India sub-committee is relegated to the archive. Then too, it does not even appear on the PCI's website

By P. Sainath

Presented with a chance to make history, the Press Council of India has made a mess instead. The PCI has simply buckled at the knees before the challenge of “Paid News.”

Its decision of July 30 to sideline its own sub-committee's report — which named and shamed the perpetrators of “paid news” — will go down as one of the sorriest chapters in its history. A chapter that will not be forgotten and the impact of which causes immeasurable damage to the fight against major corruption within the Indian media.

A chapter that saw the PCI back down in the struggle against the suborning of the media by money power; though its “final report” pretends to fight it in a flood of platitudes. And a chapter that does grave damage to the image and credibility of the PCI itself. Leave aside for the moment the harm it has done to the public interest. Or to the future of the Indian media as a free and honest institution.

Tragically, the Chairperson of the Press Council who firmly supported the exposure of the paid news offenders was outgunned by a very powerful publishers' lobby. The latter had its way by a slim majority. Justice G.N. Ray was all along for the sub-committee report (which named and shamed the guilty) being annexed to the “final” one. He now finds himself saddled with an “official” position that was not his but which he must defend as his own.

No scandal has rocked the Indian media more in recent decades than that of paid news. Most of all when it emerged during the last Lok Sabha and subsequent Maharashtra polls that hundreds of crores of rupees had been spent to buy “news” in large dailies and television channels. Major parties and candidates overshot poll spending limits many times over on this one expense alone. It was and remains a nauseating form of corruption. As Vice-President Hamid Ansari so succinctly put it, paid news not only undoes the basis of a fair and balanced press, it undermines the democratic electoral process in a profound way.

Outrage grew over the idea of the media acting as extortionists — the very term that many a candidate used to describe the practice of “paid news” during the last Lok Sabha polls. Indeed, a few top politicians complained of it in those terms. The political class did not, as some imagine, go out and “seduce” the media. The media went out and sought “package deals” with them whereby they forked out huge sums of money — or were simply blanked out of the coverage of the paper or channel.

The “selling” points were: this way, you can spend as much as you like and not get caught by the Election Commission of India for mocking the spending limit. This way, you are able to take your campaign to millions of voters — for millions of rupees. You can also have your opponent blanked out — or trashed, if you pay that little extra. And neither you nor we attract the taxman's knock on this all-cash transaction.

Acting promptly at the time, the Press Council of India suo moto set up a sub-committee to probe the phenomenon of paid news. The two-member sub-committee of Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and K. Sreenivas Reddy produced a devastating report (see The Hindu April 22, 2010). One that observed all the norms and ethics you could demand of such an exercise. It did not carry a single allegation without full attribution. It took no recourse to “sting” journalism, going for a thorough inquiry instead.

It spared no effort to obtain the responses of the groups accused of playing the paid news game. Laying the charges squarely before them, it gave them ample right of — and space to — reply. It recorded depositions from scores of individuals. In one instance, a media organisation apologised for what it had done. In another, a candidate from Andhra Pradesh placed on record the results of his own “sting” operation against a major media group. Some of these depositions were in the form of affidavits.

The sub-committee finds passing mention in the “final” report. Its outstanding effort stands reduced to a footnote (yes, a footnote) in that report. The footnote says the sub-committee's report “may remain on the record of the Council as a reference document.” That's right. It goes to the archive. There is no sign of this “reference document” on the website of the Press Council. This is the standard the PCI sets for the Indian media?

And so a “full” drafting committee got to work on a “final” report. Over the months since the scandal hit the fan, some members of the PCI — mainly those representing media owners — worked to scuttle the explosive original report. They had two basic issues with it. First: Why name names? Why get into the ugliness of that? Fascinating, at a time when the media are baying for names and blood on the corruption in the Commonwealth Games scam. So first, we now have a double standard: exposure for corruption in the Games, privacy for it within the media. Secondly, they fiercely opposed any reference to the Working Journalists Act. In this, they acted as owners and employers. Not as members of the PCI guarding the integrity of the press and its standards.

Both these issues have been ruthlessly purged from the final report. And one more has been gutted. So, there is not a single name of any of the known offenders. The practitioners of paid news get away without public exposure. Secondly, all references to The Working Journalists Act have been erased. This despite the fact that the sabotage of that Act by the use of the contract employment system has played a major role in curbing the independence of journalists, forcing them to toe the management line. Again, reduced to a footnote — the only other one in the report. This reads: “It also decided that the issue of strengthening the Working Journalists Act be taken up separately.”

Thirdly, the system of “private treaties” is dismissed in two sentences. Never mind their role in setting the stage for paid news. One of those sentences simply says this was “brought to the notice” of the PCI by the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI). Private Treaties were the subject of discussion long before SEBI's excellent letter to the PCI (see The Hindu June 19, 2010). Surely, the SEBI letter ought to have been an annexure to the report?

The authors of the sub-committee report were willing to have their extraordinary effort attached as an annexure to the “final.” However odd the idea, at least that way it could see the light of day. But even that was quashed.

The differences between the full report of the sub-committee and the “final” report of the Press Council are many. The first (36,000 words) was based on painstaking investigation, inquiry, research, interviews and depositions. The second (less than 3,600 words) was based on hot air. In fact, little more than a group of people gutting an inquiry they did not work on and did not want. Any substance it has is drawn from the original. For instance, the section on recommendations.

The rest is a heavily-watered down, crudely amputated version of the real thing. Worse, this censorship carries the stigma of a very questionable vested interest: to conceal the names and identities of the main practitioners of paid news from the general public.

Thus a body entrusted with “Preserving the freedom of the Press and improving the standards of press in India” has set an appalling standard. The guardian of press freedom stands as an arbitrary censor of truthful journalism.

It has acted less like the “watchdog of the press” that its ideals call for. And more like the lapdog of the powerful media owners who stood to be exposed by the report of its own sub-committee. Indeed, the first signal of the PCI's action is to those powerful forces: don't worry, you're safe. We've fixed that.

To say we have not suppressed the sub-committee's report, we have merely relegated it to our archive for reference, is to add infuriating insult to injury. To praise the authors of the original (as happened in its July 30 meeting) for their effort and then gut the result of that pioneering work, was hypocrisy of a high order. To then present the mangled remains as a guide to fighting paid news eclipses even that benchmark of insincerity. The public surely deserve better.

Those publications and channels that were not part of this ugly enterprise of paid news ought to act. For a start, they can put up the “reference” document on their websites and call public attention to it with headlines, not footnotes.

Courtesy: The Hindu
http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/sainath/article551851.ece

Posted on 05.08.2010

Why the Internet is killing print journalism

By Elizabeth M Young

Print journalism is dying slowly but is not quite dead. It is more that local newspapers are adapting to meet more regional and local needs, financed by local advertisers. This creates a situation where both internet and real world news sources will co-exist for a while. The reason for this is the cheaper localized advertising that keeps the daily rag in the pink! As long as there are plenty of businesses and private sellers that can afford the advertising fees, local print journalists will be able to throw in a bit of news among the furniture store inserts, store coupons and want ads.
 
But the internet is clearly winning the battle for dominance when it comes to being a person's major source of national and international headlines and breaking news, while the local papers will always provide more comprehensive and in-depth regional and community information to the dedicated subscriber.

One driving force of interenet competition with print journalism is the increased power of mobile browsers that allow people to access the news anywhere and at any time. Mobile phone apps and browsers have all of the features of home computer internet browsers, including the ability to store favorites and to access customized alerts and feeds for news from any online paper, blog, video and radio media outlet in the world.

Magazines are competing with their own online versions, offering cheap subscriptions for the real world versions. But when people want to collect and keep their favorite magazines, there is nothing that will stop them. The bottom line is that many print magazines are of a quality that makes them collectables and physical reference resources. Just as many will continue to collect print books, many will continue to collect print magazines.

For those who do not subscribe to a particular magazine, the internet and mobile internet fills the bill! A particular issue that has a major breakthrough article will draw readers to the online version for that article only. But the advertising that surrounds the article will bring plenty of revenue to support the online venture. In other words, people who would not buy the print edition might be more inclined to visit the online edition and tolerate a few high revenue ads in order to see what all the fuss is about.

One thing to consider is that a huge number of people do not even have home computers, let alone expensive smart phones. They will continue to rely upon television and print for their news and information.

Finally, an increasing sense of environmental responsibility drives people to go as paperless as possible. Everyone who has ever subscribed to a newspaper and several magazines is aware of the huge volume of paper that builds up, becoming a clutter and a nuisance. Online journalism is the most viable alternative to the use of so much paper, especially when the paper is made difficult to recycle with polymer coatings and other processes that make it harder to break down the wood pulp.

In summary, the needs of people to get more in-depth and reliable coverage of their local news, to get local advertising and to have real world magazine collections will keep print journalism alive. But the overwhelming trend will be toward online sources for a much wider variety of sources for and many more ways of accessing national, international and breaking news.

Courtesy: www.helium.com
http://www.helium.com/items/1906464-why-the-internet-is-killing-print-journalism

Readers are abandoning print, yet don’t trust the web

By Claire Cain Miller

Where are people going to find news and information they trust, in a world with a dwindling number of print publications and an
ever-expanding number of online publications?

Readers have not yet figured out the answer to that, according to a recent report released by the Center for the Digital Future at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California.

Almost a quarter of Internet users who also read newspapers would miss the print edition of their newspapers if they disappeared, according to the study, and 18 percent have stopped subscribing to a newspaper or magazine because they can read the same material online. More than three-quarters ranked the Internet as an important source of
information, yet just over half said newspapers were important.

While most people get their information online these days, they do not necessarily trust their new sources of news. Just 39 percent of people said that most or all of the information they read online is reliable, the lowest percentage since the university began doing annual studies a decade ago. Fourteen percent said that only a small portion or none of the information online was reliable, the highest level ever.

If that makes you think that people read the sites they trust and distrust the others, think again. Almost a quarter of people said that half or less than half of the information they read on sites they visited regularly was reliable.

As for print publications that are trying to figure out a way to make money from the flood of readers that are abandoning print for the Web, either by running ads or selling subscriptions, the study offered a bleak outlook.

Internet users overwhelmingly do not want to pay for access to Web sites that they already view  free, yet half said they never clicked on Web ads and 70 percent called Internet advertising annoying. Still, just over half said they would rather see ads than pay to see Web sites.

“Online providers face major challenges to get customers to pay for services they now receive for free,” said Jeffrey I. Cole, director ofthe Center for the Digital Future.

Courtesy: nytimes.com
http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/27/readers-are-abandoning-print-yet-dont-trust-the-web/?ref=technology

A paywall few want to pay for

By Hasan Suroor

It will be a month this week since what has been dubbed the “Great Murdoch Paywall” went up requiring visitors to The Times and The Sunday Times websites to pay for access to their online editions. Though it is too early to rush to conclusions, the start has been pretty disappointing, to put it mildly; and judging from the initial response, it is highly unlikely that other newspapers would be in a hurry to take the plunge.

An analysis by Experian Hitwise, which monitors internet traffic, the number of visits to the two sites has fallen by two-thirds since the introduction of the paywall on July 2. Much of the damage happened in the five weeks leading up to the introduction of the charge when visitors were asked to register their details irrespective of whether or not they intended to sign up eventually.

An overwhelming majority — some 58 per cent — refused to register even for a free trial; and of those who did only a handful chose to stay once the free lunch was off the menu. According to a survey by Beehive City, a site run by a former Times media editor Dan Sabbagh, barely 15,000 out of some 150,000 who registered during the free trial signed up after the paywall went up.

The Times management, however, has tried to put on a brave face saying that the figures might look alarming but are not as bad as it had feared. Its worst-case scenario anticipated a decline of at least 90 per cent. But you know what? A study by The Guardian, which itself has invested heavily in its website and is watching the Murdoch experiment closely, shows there has indeed been an almost 90 per cent decline in The Times' online traffic since it made registration compulsory in June.

Meanwhile, despite their attempt to sound blasé' the suits at Wapping are clearly worried: the original charge of £2 for a week's access has been replaced by a 30-day promotional offer of £1. But even this has failed to boost traffic significantly.
Apparently, the Murdoch team was always of the view that, in the long-term, it was better to have a select band of dedicated paying customers than a “mass of passersby” but, as the BBC noted, even then “15,000 looks a little too select.” And there is no guarantee that all the 15,000 would stay when the promotional offer ends. A significant drop in their numbers without a corresponding addition of new subscribers could spell trouble for this brave experiment.

The truth is that it is such an uncharted territory that, for all the speculation, nobody really knows how it will pan out. This is the first time that a mainstream newspaper group is asking readers to cough up money for access to routine online content that is freely available elsewhere. People have shown that they don't mind paying for specialist or exclusive material (many newspapers, including Mr. Murdoch's own Wall Street Journal, already have paywalls around such content) but would they pay for something they can get gratis on another site? The signs are that they will not.

If anything, people would be happy if the Times experiment were to fail. Because its success would encourage other newspapers to follow suit thus ending the era of free online access altogether. Yet, for the same reason that readers would want it to fail Mr. Murdoch's rivals whatever they may say about his move in public (some have attacked it, some have already declared it a failure) privately they must be praying for his gamble to pay off. The current system is simply not working for them.

Although things in Britain are not as bad as they are across the pond where even famous newspapers such as The New York Times are struggling to survive, we're getting there. Faced with declining readership, most newspaper groups have spent millions of pounds on their web editions pinning their hopes on the new media to help them offset their print losses. The success of this strategy hinged on their ability to generate enough advertising revenue. The expectation was that as online traffic rose it would bring in advertising in its wake. But that has not happened leaving them up to their neck with investment that is not going anywhere and struggling to find a viable business model. And that's where outcome of The Times trial becomes interesting for them.

So, where is it all headed? Not very far, according to experts, unless the paid-for sites are so distinctive that people want to pay for them. The Times sites fail that test. I paid £1 for a 30-day trial and immediately regretted it. For, as of now at least, they have nothing to offer that is terribly more exciting than what is available on free sites. As academic and critic John Naughton noted: “Mostly, it looks like any newspaper website. Which leads one to ask: what exactly does Murdoch think he's doing?”
Exactly.

Courtesy: The Hindu
http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Hasan_Suroor/article536961.ece

Posted on 30.07.2010

Bloodletting in US newspaper industry slows to trickle

By Simon Avery

After several years of bloodletting, the hemorrhaging appears to have been stanched in the US newspaper industry. Major publishing companies are showing some of the first signs of improvement in advertising revenue since the economic downturn in 2007. The numbers are still decreasing, but the declines are levelling off, as auto makers, financial institutions and luxury retailers have begun to spend more on print campaigns.

“Things are slowly turning around,” says John Miller, senior vice-president and portfolio manager at Ariel Investments, a Chicago-based firm that holds about 5 per cent of the outstanding shares of Gannett “We’re beginning to see some of the traditional advertisers return. It’s just a matter of time before we see print advertising growing again.”

The value of newspaper stocks plummeted in 2007, hitting dramatic lows in March, 2009. Gannett, for example, tumbled less than $3 (U.S.) from nearly $50 (U.S.) in that period. Prices have regained some ground with the recovery, but have come under pressure since the market correction began in April.

Investors were surprised last week when New York Times Co. posted a 1-per-cent increase in revenue, the first rise in three years. Gannett, publisher of USA Today and dozens of other newspapers, beat profit expectations after print ad revenue fell by 6 per cent, representing the fifth consecutive quarter of decreasing losses. The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, says advertising revenue rose 11 per cent in the second quarter. On Thursday, McClatchy Co., publisher of the Miami Herald, is due to report results.

Some analysts say the worst appears to be over for newspaper publishing companies. Advertising is improving with the economy and during the bad years management was forced to chop expenses and debt and find new revenue opportunities in the digital world.

“The newspaper sector is slowly surviving,” says Edward Atorino, managing director of equity research at The Benchmark Co. LLC in New York. Investing in these companies “is still an act of faith,” he adds. “The best one can say about them is that they are declining less.”

A few years ago, advertising revenue was tumbling by 25 per cent a quarter. That figures has shrunk to about 5 per cent for the sector now and could flatten by the end of the year, before rising in 2011. Circulation trends are still unfavourable as readers shun newsprint for the Web. But readership numbers are “getting less worse,” Mr. Atorino says. At the same time, gains in digital operations are starting to matter more as they develop into significant portions of overall businesses. At The New York Times, for example, digital advertising now accounts for about 20 per cent of overall advertising, he says.

Mr. Atorino’s favourite in the sector is Gannett, which is the only one he rates a “buy.” The company’s broadcast and digital units are offsetting declines in publishing. It has the strongest balance sheet in the sector after paying off about $1-billion of $3.6-billion in debt over the last year.

“With 85 daily newspapers in relatively small markets across the U.S., Gannett has an unparalleled presence as a local advertising medium, compared with other newspaper publishing companies. Consequently, we believe Gannett should participate in any recovery in newspaper advertising,” Mr. Atorino wrote in a report last week.

Gannett trades at five times his 2010 earnings-per-share (EPS) estimate of $2.46, compared with a multiple of 13 times for the average stock on the S&P 500 index. That discount is warranted given the decline in newspaper advertising and uncertain strength of any turnaround, but seven times EPS is a more reasonable multiple, resulting in an $18 target price, Mr. Atorino says.

Gannett is the favourite of most other analysts too. Six of eight rate the stock a “buy,” with two analysts maintaining a “hold” on the stock.

“Strong TV and digital growth underscore an increasingly diversified revenue story in which investors are being asked to pay very little for a potential cyclical turn in newspaper advertising,” Douglas Arthur, an analyst with Evercore Group LLC in New York, notes in a report. He also has a price target of $18 on the stock.

James Goss, of Barrington Research Associates Inc., upgraded Gannett’s stock last Friday to “outperform” with a target of $21, based on a multiple of a little less than nine times estimated share profit for this year.

Mr. Miller says Ariel Investments is weighing a possible investment in New York Times Co., in part because he thinks new technology such as Apple Inc.’s iPad will give a surprise boost to the sector.

Analysts are less warm to the stocks of New York Times and McClatchy at the moment. Mr. Atorino has a “hold” recommendation on both, citing the “still-uncertain timing and strength of any turnaround.” He thinks NYT is fairly valued at 16 times estimated share profit for 2010, reflecting a price of $11 a share.

McClatchy, he notes, carries $1.9-billion in debt and operates in some tough markets, including Florida, making it a riskier holding.

Courtesy: www.ctv.ca
http://www.ctv.ca/generic/generated/static/business/article1653806.html

Posted on 29.07.2010

Media toys around with markets

By M R Venkatesh

“They” provide us a running commentary from morning till late evening. “The morning session is crucial,” they say. And if you thought that was a cricket commentator talking about the first hour of play, you are mistaken.

These are market commentators. “The middle session is crucial” and subsequently “the final hour of trade is crucial.” Repeated use of the word “crucial” is aimed at turning on the viewer and making him believe that something big is happening.

This live relay is further followed by expert analysis till late into the night. If you thought “they” were merely commentators, you are possibly wrong. “They” have a deeper and a far more complex agenda of influencing the minds of the viewers.

Talking up share prices or talking them down is part of the strategy of these “anchor investors”. Thanks to the silence of the market regulator, SEBI, all these have now come to be characterised as acceptable.

At the height of the stock market collapse in October 2008, even the Government was clueless on how to act against the loaded presentation of the global economic crisis by sections of the media. With the stock markets tumbling by the hour, these players had a field day. In a way it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more they created panic in the
minds of viewers, the more the markets went into a tailspin.

But if you thought that this phenomenon was limited to the stock markets, you are wrong. There was tremendous media attention given to the failure of the monsoon last year. The Economic Survey 2009-10 blames the media for “hyping” the failure of the monsoon leading to fear of shortages, consequent hoarding and inflation.

Role of private treaties

Attempts at influencing stock markets are not limited to the electronic media. Some within the print media do it quite as brazenly, but in a different way. Interestingly, this is marketed as a “business strategy” under a novel concept of “private treaties”. These are, in effect, commercial agreements between a media house and corporates, linking their business interests through advertisement and equity.

What is interesting in this contract is that corporates allot shares to the media house. In consideration, the media house allows advertisement space to the corporates. In the process, the Chinese walls of the past, between advertisement and editorial, have virtually collapsed. Instead, we have a new concept of ‘advertorial'. Consequently, reporting adverse news about such corporates is a commercial impossibility.

The idea of brand-building through private treaties is explained through a presentation available on the group Web site of leading media house through a set of rhetorical questions. How do you invest in building a brand and manage cash flows at the same time? How do you convince the cold-blooded accounting department that brand equity can perhaps be your single biggest asset? And yes, where's the money going to come from?

Seeking to answer these questions, the power point presentation states that “we invest in the long-term potential of your brand. We believe that strong products and services, when branded right, have the power to transcend their natural growth paths and turbo-charge their balance sheets.”

It would seem that branding can come about only through advertisement in the media, and that too only with the said group. Such brazenness would not have been possible even a decade back.Obviously, on account of such positions and investments, manipulating sentiments to manage market indices has now assumed alarming proportions. After all, investment via private treaties turns positive only if the advertiser's stock performance is positive. And that is the crux of the issue — while there is nothing illegal about the contract per se, what needs to be factored here is that private treaties are potential causes for interested reporting by the media.

Question of credibility

Press reports suggest that SEBI has written to the Press Council of India (PCI) on this matter last year. Not much has been heard till date. For obvious reasons, sections of the media are not reconciled to the idea of transparency, disclosures or regulations, little realising that both the media and the regulator — SEBI — are fast losing their
credibility.

The least the PCI can do is to publish its draft report (containing names of the errant players), while SEBI should examine whether these arrangements violate the SEBI (Prohibition of Fraudulent and Unfair Trade Practices relating to Securities Market) Regulations, 1995. Alternatively, newer regulations must be introduced to curb this menace. Else, the Indian stock market would resemble a rigged casino.

(The author is a Chennai-based chartered accountant.)

Courtesy: Business Line
http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2010/07/23/stories/2010072350940900.htm

Posted on 26.07.2010

No need for another channel

By Sandip Das

The rural development ministry’s initiative to enter into talks with the I&B ministry for having a dedicated television channel, though unique, does leave many unanswered questions about the government’s ability to disseminate information about social programmes. With the exception of Krishi Darshan (Doordarshan’s programme focusing on agriculture), most of the 17-odd channels owned by state-run Doordarshan have only managed to have a marginal impact on the rural masses despite boasting wide outreach.

Due to a financial crunch and a government ban on recruitment, Doordarshan faces shortage of staff for creative programmes, which makes an additional channel a questionable idea. As for finance, this may not be difficult given that the rural development ministry receives close to Rs 80,000 crore for implementing mega-flagship programmes like NREG.

But given the electronic and print media boom in rural and semi-urban areas, the ministry would be well advised to exploit existing platforms that have already created a key market for themselves. Although the popular Krishi Darshan has managed to raise Rs 100 crore every year, the same success has not been replicated in other programmes. By contrast, the popularity of regional channels is based on the fact that they address local needs, remain low-cost and engage with local talents.

The I&B minister Ambika Soni has often reiterated the need for an effective multimedia communication strategy to cater to the needs of every section of the society in local languages and in an interactive manner. Her ministry has an ambitious plan to set up about 4,000 community radio stations over the next two years.

But due to a rigid policy regime, not many community-based organisations have taken interest in this project. There is a lesson to be learnt here. The rural development ministry needs to tap the huge local talent pool to improve the existing social sector programmes being broadcast through Doordarshan or All India Radio.

Tie-ups with local TV channels could definitely help expand the outreach of various flagship programmes. In the current dynamic scenario, getting an appropriate platform is not sufficient by itself. Interactive programming is also of paramount importance. So the rural development ministry must ensure that allocations for enhancing knowledge about various social sector programmes should focus on formulating a comprehensive communication strategy, which takes into account the ground realities.
sandip.das@expressindia.com

Courtesy: The Financial Express
http://www.financialexpress.com/news/column-no-need-for-another-channel/651472/

Posted on 25.07.2010

Stop press! No breaking news, please

By Nissim Mannathukkaren

Cinema, radio, television, magazines are a school of inattention: people look without seeing, listen in without hearing.

Robert Bresson

One of the supposed psychiatric maladies afflicting children in affluent Western societies like that of North America is the one relating to the problems of inattention and hyperactivity. Thus increasing number of children is found to have difficulties in paying attention and having focus, and is often bored easily. These are complemented with hyperactive and impulsive behaviour. This has been controversially theorised in medical science literature as Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Controversial because in an age when pharmaceutical MNCs and corporate medicine rule the roost, any benign abnormality can be classified, diagnosed and treated with often harmful consequences. But as the medical community debates the veracity of physiological phenomenon like ADHD it appears that this is a malady that increasingly affects our social health; it is a creature of the socio-economic and technological context in which the unbridled pace of change forces us to have no long term attention to, or focus on anything.

Information overkill
The media, especially television has played a huge role in the perpetration of ADHD. We live in the era of information overkill. One of the fundamental features of our condition is the enormous amount of data and information that we have to digest on a day-to-day basis. Recently the Library of Congress decided to acquire the entire archive of Twitter messages from 2006. Imagine, 500 years from now, researchers trying to study the social life of the 21st century will have to plough through the hourly ramblings of a Preity Zinta and a Lalit Modi. The inevitable outcome of such a dispensation is the material condition of reduced attention.

This has been more than evident if we, for example, look at the media coverage recently and in the past one year. It is difficult to believe that the Shashi Tharoor fiasco happened a few weeks ago. Similarly, all the recent controversies like the Shahrukh Khan-Shiv Sena spat, Bachchan-Narendra Modi issue, Sania Mirza-Shoaib Malik marriage and, of course, Lait Modi and the IPL all seem to have happened eons ago.

Besides these there were other important happenings which created a stir in the media like caste census, honour killings and khap panchayat, the sentencing of Kasab, the Liberhan Commission Report, police officer Rathore sex offence case, GM and Bt Brinjal debate and the Telengana stir. And the biggest of them all, the Maoist attacks. None of the troubling conditions that gave rise to most of these issues have been positively eliminated. Still we live from one sensational news item to another. We have to rub our eyes in disbelief at the pace at which news agenda are set up and cast aside. It is not surprising that in the age of T20 cricket, news production and dissemination also resemble the frenetic pace of run-gathering. Just as we cannot remember the scores of a cricket match played a few days ago, we have no recollection of the debates that happened last week. We have been forced to become the protagonist of the film “Memento” (indigenised as “Ghajini”) and write all the pieces of our news on our body to remember them.

So what about events from a year ago when UPA -II assumed office? If we were to cast our glance back to the debates that happened then, we would be struck by the fact that none of them have any resonance now (that is if we remember them) precisely because they were artificially-created ones. Just take for example, the raging debate on television at the time of the elections last year. This was about whether India needed an Obama. Of course, the historic event of an African-American in the White House generated the mass hysteria all over the world.

But it was curious to see the media in the oldest Third World democracy uncritically climbing onto the bandwagon of Obamania. Channel after channel seemed to argue that all the problems that India faced were because of the lack of a personality like Obama. He seemed to be the magic wand that we never had. It was comical to see that the nation that produced Gandhi was ruing the fact that it did not have an Obama. No questions were asked about the ingenuity of reducing the complexity of the most diverse nation in the world to the monochromatic politics of the United States.

More importantly, the need to go beyond the superficial focus on personalities and understand the complex socio-economic issues that drive societies was completely ignored. The entire focus was on a few figures like the Gandhis and even when less ‘glamorous' personalities like Mayawati were the focus, it was in the form of a vitriolic dismissal of the individual than a nuanced understanding of Dalit politics. Rather than see the elections as an occasion for a debate on substantive issues, it was reduced to the triviality of who will form the government and who will go with whom.

And a year since the clamour for an Indian Obama, there is not a singular mention of Obama in the media. As if the situation that gave rise to the need for Obama has dissipated. How can it be expected of a media that preposterously and shockingly termed the last general elections as a ‘no-issue' election? Such a callous disregard for the real problems facing the millions of people in a nation that is still part of the ‘Third World' is unpardonable. Save for lone voices like P. Sainath, there was hardly a counter view to the elections.

The violent explosion of the Maoist attacks in the last one year seems to be cocking a snook at the media's ivory tower existence. The Maoist ‘problem' is just one example of the utter unwillingness and failure of the media to read the pulse of the country, especially when it comes to the poor and the vulnerable which constitute the vast majority of it. Just after a non-issue election, there has been a veritable churning of the social fabric. Only an attention-erasing media (ironically, while seeking attention) can feed us the myth that these issues are produced out of thin air and without a history. Day in and day out, we see the spectacle of an issue being fantastically flashed as ‘breaking news' and then after a two-day brainstorming with experts and some members of the public, we never get to hear of it again. The eagerness seen in bringing up an issue is strangely missing when it comes to systematically following it up.

Where's the follow-up?
Just consider the media storm that the Lalit Modi fiasco raised and the calmness that pervades now. All the issues that came up like the accountability of BCCI, conflict of interests, insider trading, nepotism and so on have vanished beyond a trace. Of course, the need to follow up does not arise in cases where the news itself is manufactured by the media like the nonsensical wastage of sound bytes and reams of paper on Shoaib Malik's marital status. The Bhopal gas disaster is a classic case of the media and lost opportunities. When in the United States, smokers are awarded damages to the tune of $ 300 million (as in the case of Cindy Naugle) against tobacco companies, our media's utter failure in raising public consciousness and exposing the state-MNC nexus ensured that Union Carbide doled out only alms of $300 each for the victims of Bhopal.

Despite these media effects the common criticism of media sensationalism misses the point that media is not an entity that exists in a vacuum. The growth of inattention and hyperactivity occurs in a material context in which there is a proliferation of a host of mass media technologies and social networking venues like the internet, mobile phones, p2p video streaming, Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and so on. This is further made possible by their burgeoning commercial possibilities. As the French philosopher Henri Lefebvre argued, our everyday life has degenerated because of the relentless incursion of technology into the every pore of its being. The growth of technologies does not necessarily translate into more leisure time, but for him, leisure itself begins to take on the form of monotonous labour. We constantly fritter ourselves in one digital technology or the other. It is in this context of intense competition for our attention that the media has to ‘produce' news ‘24/7' leading to news that has the shelf life of ice cream in room temperature.

It is time to stop going with the flow. At least some media establishment has to summon the courage to go against the grain to stop time and reflect on the news of at least the last few months. It is literally time to stop press. But not to broadcast another sensational piece of news, but to give it a break until we pursued and brought to a closure some of the pressing issues facing the nation.

Dr. Nissim Mannathukkaren is Director of Graduate Program, International Development Studies, Dalhousie University. Currently he is an Erasmus Mundus Visiting Scholar at the Universities of Wroclaw (Poland) and Leipzig (Germany).

Courtesy The Hindu
http://www.thehindu.com/arts/radio-and-tv/article518519.ece

Posted on 12.07.2010

Cool reception for hot news

By Jeff Jarvis

Struggling news companies from the US to Europe have been floating a variety of creative ideas for government protection: direct subsidies, new tax status, restrictions on public-media competitors, antitrust exemptions enabling consolidation or price fixing, extensions of copyright, and restrictions on fair use.

In the US., the most creative and perhaps dangerous defence yet is an attempt to resurrect the doctrine of “hot news” to prevent rivals from repeating news until it has cooled. It began in 1918: after reporting on British war losses, Hearst's International News Service was barred from using Allied telegraph lines. So INS rewrote Associated Press news for west coast newspapers. AP sued and won. Now the long-dormant legal notion is resurrected in the case of four Wall Street firms theflyonthewall.com, a website that published ratings from the brokers' analysts. The brokers argue the ratings belong to them, at least for a few hours; the site argues it is merely reporting news of them. The site lost and on appeal, friend-of-the-court briefs have been filed on one side by Google and Twitter and on the other by 14 news giants, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, AP, and Agence France-Presse. The news companies are latching on to hot news in the hope of restricting aggregators.

Antiquated idea

But the idea of hot news is laughably antiquated. Tom Glocer, the head of Thomson Reuters, has said his news is hot for “milliseconds.” The Google/Twitter brief says: “In a world of modern communications technology, where anyone with a cell phone may disseminate news throughout the world even as it is occurring, the notion that a single
media outlet should have a monopoly on time-sensitive facts is not only contrary to law, it is, as a practical matter, futile.” In their brief, the legacy companies argue hot news is “necessary to protect the news industry's incentive to gather and report news.” They
protest that “free riders” may repeat their news at lower cost. “One of the greatest concerns among news originators,” they say, “is inexpensive technology that allows easy aggregation of news.” The legacy companies nowhere acknowledge the economic value of links to their content.

The news companies complain of papers going bankrupt, not acknowledging that that was largely a result of debt and mismanagement. They say they are not objecting to use of each other's facts in occasional stories — as they all do it — but instead the “systematic” (read: Googley) gathering of their news. They do not make reference to the tools that enable them to block search engines and aggregators, as News Corp has done at the Times.

On the other side, Google and Twitter cite a 1991 case, Feist Publications v Rural Telephone, in which the court said: “The first person to find and report a particular fact has not created the fact; he or she has merely discovered its existence.” The internet companies say the Feist court rejected “the notion that ‘sweat of the brow' can
itself create intellectual property rights.

They add: “The primary objective of copyright is not to reward the labour of authors but to ‘promote the progress of science and useful arts.'” Facts have never been subject to copyright; they cannot be owned. “Facts,” Google and Twitter say, “must remain in the public domain, free from any restraint or encumbrance.” And: “Allowing the first publisher to prevent others from copying such information would defeat the objectives of copyright by impeding rather than advancing the progress of knowledge.” Isn't the progress of knowledge the business of news?

On a practical level, Google and Twitter argue that the fear of litigation would “chill the lawful dissemination of important news by fostering uncertainty among news outlets as to how long they must ‘sit' on a story before they are free of a potential ‘hot news' claim.”  It is nothing short of shocking that news organisations are endorsing a form of court-supervised prior restraint and that they would restrict fair use yet they all depend upon it. Google and Twitter say “the modern ubiquity of multiple news platforms renders ‘hot news' misappropriation an anachronism, aimed at muzzling all but the most powerful media companies.

In a world of citizen journalists and commentators, online news organisations, and broadcasters who compete 24 hours a day, news can no longer be contained for any meaningful amount of time.” That is what we mean when we say news wants to be free: Facts must remain free to comment on, build upon, and pass
along. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

http://thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article500072.ece

Posted on 07.07.2010

Media: is Sarkozy's grip as tight as Berlusconi's?

By Kim Willsher

Even for a president known for meddling in matters that do not and should not concern him, Nicolas Sarkozy's alleged interference in the sale of Le Monde was shocking. Not because it was so unusual but because it was so blatant.

Hauling in the director of the country's most influential and respected daily newspaper to pull strings over its future played straight into the hands of those who criticise Sarkozy for being an omni-president. Shocking, but not an isolated example of alleged presidential interference. A few days later, two radio satirists, Stephane Guillon and Didier Porte, described by Sarkozy as “insulting, vulgar and nasty,” were sacked.

France is still waiting for the president to announce the new head of France Televisions — the three state channels — after he changed the law to give him the power to choose who he wants. Agence France-Presse, the world's third-largest news agency, has announced plans to turn into a public firm with state capital, leading to fears over its independence.

Add the events together and a pattern emerges prompting concern about the political pressures on France's Fourth Estate and fears of the “Berlusconisation” of the media, as one politician put it. It is a good soundbite, even if there are fundamental differences.

Silvio Berlusconi owns three of the largest private television networks in Italy, covering around half of the country's viewing audience. As prime minister he has control over the public service broadcasters too. Analysts reckon he has 90 per cent influence over
Italy's TV output.

Sarkozy owns no media outlets himself, but some of his closest friends do: friends he is not afraid to call when he needs them. Friends who give him a direct or indirect power, like Berlusconi's, over France's media.

In April, the magazine Telerama ran a picture of Sarkozy on its cover and the caption: “Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France Televisions”. The state-run TV company had long been subject to the president's interventions: among them, suppressing unwelcome publicity, and naming the directors. At the start of his five-year term in office, one of
his advisers at the Elysee, the former journalist Georges-Marc Benamou, suggested he envisaged at least a “co-directing of the TV channels with the Elysee.”

The president has often been accused of political interference in France's media, even before his election in 2007. In 2005, when he was interior minister, the editor of Paris Match was fired after running front-page pictures of Sarkozy's then wife Cecilia with her lover. It was said he was “absolutely furious” over the humiliation, and demanded the sacking of the editor-in-chief, Alain Genestar, by the magazine's owner, Arnaud Lagardere, whom he sees as a “brother.” A few months later, when Cecilia returned — briefly — to her husband, he stopped the publication of a book about her written by a celebrity magazine journalist with Cecilia's cooperation. Just before his election in May 2007, an incandescent Sarkozy could not restrain himself after not being shown what he saw as appropriate respect
before an interview with France Televisions. “Nobody was there to greet me. The whole direction needs sacking. I can't do it now, but just you wait. It'll happen soon enough,” he raged.

Since his election, Sarkozy has reportedly been involved in the hiring, firing and blocking of journalists on a number of occasions. The president's hand is also seen to be behind the prosecution of a French journalist now facing prison for using a leaked video of Sarkozy sounding off at a France Televisions studio engineer for not saying “hello”.

The pressure is not always direct: Sarkozy's closest personal friends are the five biggest owners of the French press. Lagardere not only owns Paris Match, but also Elle, the Journal du Dimanche, Tele 7 Jours, Premiere magazine and France-Dimanche, as well as several news and radio stations and cable TV networks.

Martin Bouygues, described as the president's “best friend”, was a witness at his second marriage and is godfather to his youngest son, Louis. He owns France's most popular TV channel, TF1, as well as Eurosport and several other cable channels. The two men are said to speak daily.

Another witness was Bernard Arnault, who runs the luxury group LVMH, which also owns the economic magazine La Tribune, Investir and Radio Classique.

Serge Dassault is a client of the legal firm where Sarkozy was a partner, a great friend — and owner of the group Socpresse, whose crown jewel is the rightwing daily newspaper Le Figaro. The band of loyal musketeers is completed by Francois Pinault, who
owns the weekly news magazine Le Point.

Finding themselves sidelined, some have turned to blogs. The successful Rue89 was set up by former journalists from Liberation, while another, liberte-dinformer.info, calls for more freedom of information. The Socialist MP Arnaud Montebourg says the mainstream
media are becoming “markedly concentrated in favour of rightwing interests”. He adds: “France is in the process of seeing its media become Berlusconi-ised. We're seeing only one way of looking at things.” Marc Baudriller, media correspondent for the economic
magazine Challenges, is not convinced by the Berlusconi comparison:

“President Sarkozy is an absolute political animal and yes he meddles, he likes to get involved in this area as in many others, but he doesn't have the entire French media in his hands. He cannot stop himself interfering in the media, but his powers are limited.”

In spite of his urge to influence France's media, things do not always go Sarkozy's way. As soon as journalists at Le Monde heard he was opposed to one of the business groups vying to take over the title, they swung behind the bid.

And amid a succession of scandals, the president woke up on Friday to find his friends were powerless to stop the attacks on his government. Admittedly much of the information had emerged from new media but Thomas Legrand, political commentator on France-Inter radio, said the traditional press had been stirred from its slumber: “There's a mechanical and healthy effect here. It shows that the more there are
efforts to concentrate power and to control the written press and broadcasting, the more the press plays its role as an outside
counterbalance.”

Berlusconi's empire

For the past 30 years, Berlusconi's family has controlled Italy's top three national TV channels: the Mediaset empire. As prime minister, Berlusconi also has a tight grip on the public service national broadcaster Radiotelevisione Italiana (Rai).

Together, Mediaset and Rai control about 90 per cent of the national audience and advertising revenue. The conflict of interest between Berlusconi's media holdings and his government position remains unresolved. Italy's constitutional court has ruled such a media concentration is illegal but its decisions have not been enforced.

Sarkozy's empire

Sarkozy does not own any print outlets or broadcasters. He does not have to. His friends do. Two thirds of all French newspapers and magazines are owned by the president's close friends Serge Dassault and Arnaud Lagardere, France's two main arms manufacturers.

Lagardere's affiliated company, Hachette, also owns most of France's publishing houses and a large part of the book and magazine distribution network.

As head of state, Sarkozy can appoint the directors of public service television and radio. He has been accused of suppressing unwelcome publicity at state-run France Televisions. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

Courtesy: The Hindu
http://thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article500073.ece.

Posted on 01.07.2010

Migration in progress: from print to the web

By Pranay Gupte

I was dining with John Seeley in the Grill Room of The Four Seasons Restaurant, the one place in New York where the city's elite habitually congregate for their “power lunch” five days a week. Mr. Seeley, like others in the wood-panelled, Philip Johnson-designed room, is a player — which is to say that, as founding editor of The Wall Street Journal's new “Greater New York” daily supplement, he's someone whose presence is immediately noticed and whose attention is sought, even by other influential figures in a power obsessed metropolis like New York.

Mr. Seeley, a trim, bespectacled man in his early 40's, wears his power lightly; he's an old friend, and one of the finest editors I've worked with. He takes his work very seriously, not the least because his new section is competing head-on with The New York Times' formidable local report, both in print and on the Web.

One of the topics we discussed was the decline of print publications and the question of whether major newspapers should put up a “pay wall” for the content they offered on the Web. The proprietor of Mr. Seeley's paper, Rupert Murdoch, is an enthusiast of the pay-for-content concept; The New York Times has announced that it will start charging visitors to its popular Web site for much of its content.

This topic may not have dominated conversation at every table of The Four Seasons Restaurant. But it would be safe to assume that it was lodged in the minds of the media tycoons there. On this day, the restaurant's other diners included a variety of top media figures, including Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, and host of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS; he was lunching with Henry Kissinger, the former U.S. Secretary of State, who privately advises media companies. (Newsweek has put itself up for sale, and the prospects of a financially viable future seem grim.) Mortimer Zuckerman, publisher of The New York Daily News was there, too; his paper's print circulation has been steadily declining, as is that of its Murdoch-owned tabloid rival, The New York Post. In another corner, the former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin was eating with Vernon Jordan, arguably the closest friend of former President Bill Clinton, and a former member of the board of Dow Jones, which publishes The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Rubin is co-chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, a prestigious think tank whose Web publications have been winning awards as well as more and more visitors. Still another diner was a top executive of Condé Nast, which recently shut down the bible of the food industry, the monthly magazine Gourmet, and is reviving it as a Web offering.

Upturned in the U.S.

“Print versus Web” is a topic that has upturned the media industry in the United States, and in many other countries, resulting in significant job losses for print journalists. In 2007, there were 6,580 daily newspaper around the world, including nearly 1,500 in the U.S.; by mid 2010, the overall figure is down by 500, while newspaper revenues have declined by a fifth on account of an advertising fall precipitated by the global recession, as well as a migration of many advertisers to the Web.

A prominent example of a print paper opting to transform itself entirely into a Web publication is the venerable Christian Science Monitor, the Boston-based newspaper that was founded in 1908 by Mary Baker Eddy. It shut down its daily print edition on March 27, 2009, citing losses of $18.9 million per year versus $12.5 million in annual revenue. It now offers content online on its Web site and via e-mail. John Yemma, the paper's editor, says that the move to go digital was made because the management recognised that the Christian Science Monitor's reach would be greater online than in print. He says that in the next five years the Monitor will aim to increase its online readership to 25 million page-views, from the current figure of five million.

In the United Arab Emirates, the daily business daily, Emirates 24/7 — which is owned by the Dubai Government company, DMI — announced a few days ago that it, too, would terminate its print edition. Like the Christian Science Monitor, Emirates 24/7 will be published daily solely as a Web newspaper.

While newspapers generally are suffering from a decline in advertising and subscription revenues, rising newsprint costs simultaneously besets them. U.S. East Coast prices — the barometer of global rates for newsprint — rose to nearly $600 a tonne in January 2010, compared to $464 in August 2009. Moreover, new contracts concluded after March 2010 include an additional $50 a tonne. (Indian publishers for whom newsprint constitutes the single largest cost element — accounting for 40 to 60 per cent of total cost, are bracing themselves for this rise, even though newsprint is current exempt from customs duty; publishers import 50 per cent of the 1.8 million tonnes of newsprint used annually.)

Here's another set of statistics that should be sobering for the print industry: The online ad business, excluding mobile ads, is set to expand to $34.4 billion in 2014 from $24.2 billion in 2009, according to a report released last week by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The same report says that newspapers continue to suffer from a decline in advertising revenue. According to the Newspaper Association of America, print advertising revenue dropped 28.6 per cent in 2009 to $24.82 billion. The PricewaterhouseCoopers report estimates that print advertising in newspapers will drop to $22.3 billion by 2014. It also estimates that mobile advertising in North America will quadruple from $414 million in 2009 to $1.6 billion in 2014.

With the galloping fortunes of high-technology driven portable gadgets such as Apple's iPad and the new iPhone4, media organisations clearly see the advantage of pushing content through telephony. This doesn't augur well for the print industry, although, of course, its decline may not suggest imminent demise.

Still, as The Wall Street Journal's John Seeley told me, smart media organisations are revving up their digital technology. “You need to be where the readers are,” he said. The Journal is in the comfortable position of having a daily print circulation of 2.09 million, compared to 952,000 for The New York Times. Neither paper is taking its relatively high print circulation for granted — both are spending fresh sums of money on boosting print circulation through ads and provocative marketing. But both are also accelerating their Web operations.

(Pranay Gupte is a veteran international journalist and author. His next book is on India and the Middle East.)

Courtesy: The Hindu
http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article492199.ece

Posted on 29.06.2010

Media's low credibility

R Vaidyanathan

Recently I had occasion to address more than 500 post-graduate students from different institutions. When they were asked how many trusted the media — print and electronic — less than 10 hands went up. Similar questions in the eighties had evoked a much larger positive response. At that time, some newspapers used to proclaim readership figures that were six times as much as circulation. Today, one would not be surprised if circulation exceeded sales in some cases. Many people buy newspapers but do not always read them.

Two major reasons are private contracts with advertisers and paid news. The former is linked to business news and the latter to political news. A leading national daily brought in this “innovation” of private treaties. The idea is simple. The media house acquires stakes in companies which are listed or planning a listing. In return, the media house provides the company with favourable coverage. Negative coverage is avoided.

Private contracts distort the idea of an independent media since the separation between editorial and advertising is gone. News space is for sale. The Securities and Exchange Board of India had, as early as July 15, 2009, warned in a letter to the Press Council about this pernicious practice. But the Press Council is a toothless old cat and cannot even purr, leave alone roar.

Hundreds of companies with billings running into crores have become media-friendly and the latter is significantly compromised. About the electronic media, the less said the better. The term “anchor investor” is more applicable to this media. Advisers and experts are a dime a dozen, and they give advice to viewers on what to “buy” or “sell”. There are apparently no conflicts, only interests.

At the ground level, the situation is obnoxious. Press conferences are nowadays called “envelope” conferences. Many companies give cash in envelopes to mediapersons for “positive” coverage.

While this is not true for all mediapersons, coverage will not happen without these “envelopes”. When I expressed surprise to a senior executive in a company during one of these press meets, he said: “You are ivory tower academics and do not know the ground reality.”

On the political side, it is called paid news. The recent Maharashtra elections revealed a sordid state of affairs. Due to sustained efforts by some reporters, the Press Council set up a two-man committee to study the issue and the draft report correctly observes that paid news undermines democracy. At the regional language level, it is embedded journalism, where every political leader worth his sugar has at least one media house under his control. Due to the actions of the supposed leader of the newspaper pack, independent media has become an oxymoron.

To be sure, it has been clear for some time that the media is often supine and subservient, but matters seem to be getting worse. Let us take some examples. The president of the oldest and largest party in the country, the Congress, has seldom given an interview to any media house. Nor has she addressed any open house. It can happen in Liberia or Somalia but should not happen in India. The media seems to have simply accepted the situation.

On the Bhopal tragedy, the media has rightly focused on the Anderson tales, namely his arrival, arrest and departure without any political leaders being involved! But what about Keshub Mahindra and the other executives? Mahindra has occupied important positions after the accident. No interviews with them. No talk about them. What about the factory inspectors of Bhopal?

What about the minister in charge and the secretary in charge of industry at that time? It seems Anderson single-handedly ran that factory from the US! The corrupt local bureaucracy and politicians should have been exposed, but the media has been silent.
Another extreme distortion is the recent floods and storms in West Bengal and Bihar which killed more than a hundred people. The electronic media was silent on the catastrophe since they were focused only on the IPL scandal. Some newspapers allotted little space for such a major calamity.

In the UK and the US, some print media companies did go upmarket in the last few years. It means covering more of art/theatre/opera/ music. In India, going upmarket means more of page 3 — skin and spin. The media do not consider India as a civilisation, but as a market. If so many million cars are sold in India and the figure is one car more than China then we have arrived.

A good number of media (print and TV) persons are actually not citizens of India. Probity requires that foreign citizens with Indian names should make a disclaimer in that regard, particularly when they write/speak on India’s security. But they don’t do that. So much for transparency.

Courtesy: DNA
http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/main-article_media-s-low-credibility_1399574

Posted on 22.06.2010

HowThe Hindu covered the 1984 Bhopal calamity

S. Viswanathan

With a former Chairman of Union Carbide India Limited, Keshub Mahindra, and seven others convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment by a trial court, the 26-year-old Bhopal tragedy case has reached a new stage.

The long wait for the families of thousands of victims who were either killed or seriously injured by toxic gas that leaked from the Union Carbide's chemical pesticide plant has not brought justice to these people, most of who are poor. This is a heart-rending case of justice delayed, justice denied. The subject therefore is back in the arena of public discussion.

Moves are on to take the issue to higher courts, either in India or the United States or both. Meanwhile questions are being raised and discussed over the whereabouts of Union Carbide Chairman Warren Anderson, the principal accused in the case and a proclaimed absconder. A hot question raised is who facilitated the escape of Anderson who visited Bhopal a couple of days after the disaster after being assured of “safe passage.” He was arrested along with a few other executives of Union Carbide but freed and allowed to return to the United States.

The main issue
The key issue, as it often happens, is being sidetracked: it is the accountability and culpability of those in Bhopal and New Delhi who made the critical decisions preceding and following the calamity.

Going back to the archives of The Hindu to discover how a newspaper of record covered the Bhopal tragedy, poring over 26-year-old files, was an enlightening and moving experience. Readers below the age of 40 may benefit from this because most of them could not have read the news and analysis published in the first week of December 1984.

The first report on the tragedy, headlined “350 killed as poisonous gas leaks from Bhopal plant,” was the lead story on page 1 of the issue dated December 4, 1984.
The opening paragraph reads: “At least 350 persons were killed and 2,000 badly affected when they inhaled poisonous gas, which leaked from an insecticide plant of the multinational Union Carbide company here early today.” The 1,500-word story, compiled with Press Trust of India and United Press of India reports as input, said that 20,000 people were treated at hospitals. The factory was ordered closed after methyl isocyanate, stored in an underground tank of the plant located near the railway station, began leaking some time after midnight.

According to first reports, 2,00,000 people in Bhopal (25 per cent of the city's population) inhaled the killer gas and it affected them one way or another. The gas had spread over a 40 sq.km. area and caught the sleeping population unawares.

The lead story provides comprehensive information related to the calamity — the treatment of the injured at different hospitals, the arrival of the Central Bureau of Investigation team, the house arrest of five senior officers of Union Carbide, the appointment of an enquiry committee, and the disruption of traffic. All that is expected in a report on a calamity is there in the report.

But although informative, the first report somehow fails to convey the enormity of the event, possibly because it looks like a patchwork of agency items. The supportive box has a lot of information on methyl isocyanate. A front page report carried an announcement that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had released Rs. 40 lakh for rehabilitation of the affected people.

The December 5 issue of The Hindu gives more information on the reasons and factors behind the tragedy and also cautions against the threat from a number of chemical units. It reveals that Union Carbide had stopped production of lethal gas worldwide. The lead story in the issue by a staffer revises the estimated death toll upwards to 1,000.
The leader, “The Bhopal tragedy”, adds to the value of the paper's comprehensive coverage. It leaves nothing unsaid. However, it ought to be mentioned that pictorial coverage of the calamity was quite inadequate. There were only three photographs in all: one, Rajiv Gandhi consoling the victims, the second, a photograph of an injured family, and the third, a picture of the chemical factory.

Shocking failure
Characterising the “horrendous” tragedy as “the worst environmental disaster in history” and emphasising that treating the injured, rehabilitating them, and providing relief to the affected families was the immediate priority, the editorial was both comprehensive and precise. It honed in on “the fact that the highly toxic methyl isocyanate continued to leak for nearly an hour and turned the neighbourhood into a virtual gas chamber, made it clear that there had been an inexcusable failure to discharge the responsibility on the part of those engaged in an inherently hazardous activity.”

The editorial noted that the State Government, which had been entrusted with the task of inspection and enforcement of regulations and of ensuring safety in factory operations, could not escape blame. It pointed out that it would be a worthwhile exercise for the State and Central teams engaged in examining the safety standards in the factory “to find out if these matched the safety standards built into a similar plant of the company in the United States” and whether the maintenance and operations were sound.

The leader made a pointed reference to the accident at a nuclear power plant in Three Mile Island in the United States, where, in contrast to the Bhopal case, “the safety systems came into play to prevent a major disaster and loss of lives.” This led to a re-examination of the design, operations, and safety features in nuclear stations across the world and, as a result, the dangers associated with nuclear power plants have been drastically reduced. (The Three Mile Island accident, which occurred in March 1979, was the most serious in the commercial nuclear power plant operating history of the United States, though it did not cause any loss of life or injury.)
The editorial drew a lesson from this: “The Bhopal tragedy should trigger such an evaluation in the chemical industry, particularly where highly toxic and hazardous materials are involved.”

It questioned the wisdom of building such industries in thickly populated areas. It called for “a close look at the regulations covering the production, handling and use of dangerous chemicals” and demanded that “in a matter affecting the lives and the health of the people, no slackness and no compromise should be allowed on such considerations as cost.” The editorial concluded by stressing “the need for greater awareness and alert among the people” while sounding a caution against “allowing a hysteria to be built up against the chemical industry or any other.”

The estimates of the death toll were rising by the day: from the 350 of December 4 to 2,500 by December 8. The Hindu's coverage picked up after December 6, with more staff journalists deployed to broaden and deepen the coverage of the calamity.

Insightful articles
Within a week, long reports and insightful articles began to appear from staff journalists, including veteran Political Correspondent G.K. Reddy and Washington Correspondent R. Chakrapani. These articles covered various aspects relevant to the calamity such as neutralisation of the poisonous gas, payment of compensation, legal initiatives, and the filing of cases seeking compensation in Indian and U.S. courts.

After verifying the details with his unmatched insider sources, G.K. Reddy reconstructed the arrest and release of Warren Anderson in Bhopal on December 7, 1984, which has become highly controversial now. In his report, “Union Carbide chief arrested and released” (December 8, 1984), he noted: “After the Central Government's intervention, it was stated that Mr. Anderson and others were only taken into protective custody and lodged in the company's guest house to save them from mob violence.”

He interposed this comment: “But the arrest and release of Mr. Anderson, despite safe conduct assurances given to him, indicated the deplorable lack of coordination between the Central and State Governments.” The Hindu's chief political correspondent offered this surmise: “It is quite possible that Mr. Rajiv Gandhi was not aware of the safe conduct assurance given to Mr. Anderson before he left the U.S. for India, since the Prime Minister had been away from Delhi campaigning in different States. So his Principal Secretary, Dr. P.C. Alexander, brought the facts to his notice today [December 7, 1984] while he was still in Madhya Pradesh, before the Centre intervened to secure Mr. Anderson's release and arrange for his flight to Delhi later tonight [December 7 night]”.
Can there be a better example of fair, factual, and sober coverage of a calamity and the responses to it?

Courtesy:the hindu.co.in
ttp://beta.thehindu.com/opinion/Readers-Editor/article475651.ece

Why our media can’t explain India

Aakar Patel

Manmohan Singh is rarely interviewed by Indian media. RSS journal Organiser scolded him for this in an editorial recently. But Singh is actually a talented interviewee and foreign journalists love him. It is almost embarrassing to read his interviews with Europeans because they are so fawning with him.
And yet the press conference he held in Delhi last month was his first in four years. Why does Singh not speak to Indian journalists? Let us look at his press conference. Here’s the first question:

Sir, mera naam Umakant Lakhera hai. Main Hindustan, jo Hindi akhbar hai, uska Dilli mein chief of bureau hoon. Pradhan mantriji, mera aap se yah sawal hai ki aap se pehle Bharat mein jitne bhi pradhan mantri hue hain, economy ke baare mein vey log bahut zyada nahin jaante the. Yah desh ki khushkismati hai ki aap economist hain aur aap ne azadi ke baad ka, Bharat ki economy ke utar-chadhav ka, bahut lamba samay dekha hai. Mera aap se yah sawal hai ki aaj price rise par control kyon nahin hai? Aisa kyon hota hai ki inflation kam hota hai aur mehngai badhti hai? Pehle ke zamaney mein mantri jab bayan dete they, to agley din mehngai ghat jati thi, aaj aisa kyon hota hai ki aap ke jo ministers hain, aapke mantri jo bayan dete hain, uske agle din mehngai badh jaati hai? Aisa kyon hota hai ke economy sarkar ke control mein nahin hai aur aam aadmi ka zinda rehna mushkil ho gaya hai? Common man ko lagta hai ke sarkar ke niyantran mein cheezein nahin hai. Economy ka jo slowdown hai aur jo mehngai hai, aap us par apne vichar prakat karein.”
The press conference continues in this manner. There’s little reason for Singh to engage Indian media, especially Hindi media, because it is all like this. The opening question asked by Washington Post’s owner Lally Weymouth, who interviewed Singh last year, was: “You are (US) President Obama’s first official state visitor. What would you like to accomplish in Washington?”

We find this sort of objective questioning difficult to do, as our television channels testify every night. This is because Indian journalists look not for information, but for agreement with the convictions they hold. European journalists do not make pleas on behalf of the common man (who in India is represented by the Hindi journalist rather than the prime minister).

There are good journalists in India, but they tend to be business journalists. Let us quickly understand why. Unlike regular journalism, business journalism is removed from emotion because it reports numbers. There is little subjectivity and business channel anchors are calm and rarely agitated because their world is more transparent.
Competent business reporting here, like CNBC, can be as good as business reporting in the West. This isn’t true of regular journalism in India, which is uniformly second rate.
V.S. Naipaul spotted this in our headlines. Citing ones such as “Masses must be educated to make democracy a success” he concluded, rightly, that India was “a nation ceaselessly exchanging banalities with itself”.

India is the only major newspaper market in the world where newspapers are open to selling their stories. The problem isn’t that Indian proprietors are evil or that they’re looking for short-term benefit while eroding the paper over time. In my experience of six newspapers, the proprietor has always been more knowledgeable than the editor.
The problem is the reader. It is unthinkable that its readers would continue to patronize The New York Times if it were revealed that the newspaper’s reporting was available for sale. But in India it’s fine, and the space is available for the proprietor to profit.
About 10 years ago, Indian editors came under pressure to take their newspapers “upmarket”. In Europe, going upmarket means adding pages that carry reports on opera and literature, but that’s not what the word means here.

In India, upmarket means carrying photographs of well-dressed, wealthy people: What is referred to as Page 3. Coverage of celebrities is actually downmarket, but in India it’s inverted. There’s no demand from readers for real upmarket content in India, and even if there was, there are few journalists qualified to provide it.

This is because you cannot make a living as a writer in India, which is surprising because we have 100 million speakers of English and think of ourselves as being a giant market. But this isn’t true and there is little consumption of writing. The reason Indian writers are paid little is that it does not really matter what you write here. One writer is as good or bad as another, and the good writer is actually the familiar face (which explains why the same people—Pritish Nandy, Shobhaa De—write everywhere). There is also the problem of quality, it must be admitted, and you can count the number of Indians asked to write for publications abroad on the fingers of one hand.

A century ago, 5% of India was literate. Formal schooling came to India only after Macaulay’s Minute, which we are taught to hate. Indians were educated in English in numbers quite recently, after we could produce no alternative to Macaulay’s vision. In the 1970s, this urban literacy in English produced publications that were new and different. India Today and Sunday sent reporters to write about India’s villages. What they came back with surprised readers, who hadn’t known what a truly frightening place India was.

Bihar’s police blinded a dozen undertrials with cycle spokes and acid in Bhagalpur (the story of this casual act of punishment took weeks to emerge). Government engineers on deputation regularly abused tribal women, and there was no end to stories about the barbarism in the Indian village (there still is no end).

But there was always something missing from this journalism, and it is this: You could read Indian newspapers every day for 30 years and still not know why India is this way. The job of newspapers is, or is supposed to be, to tell its readers five things: who, when, where, what and why. Most newspapers make do with only three of these and are unlikely to really tell you “what”. This is because urban Indians are tired now of reading the horror stories that come out of our villages. Only a couple of newspapers, such as TheIndian Express, persist in reporting news that isn’t pleasant, and they haven’t much circulation.

No newspaper at all can tell you “why”, because they do not know themselves. The same stories from 30, 50, 100 or 500 years ago keep repeating here, and the peasant will still murder his daughter for falling in love. The happenings in the city are also difficult to understand. The news from May was that Delhi University sold radioactive Cobalt-60 as scrap. This killed the merchant who bought it and crippled another. The university, which is supposed to be a research body, had unthinkingly buried some of the other Cobalt-60 earlier and this will poison the ground. Why are we so casual? Nobody can say, and there will be an explanation along the lines that it was an accident. But this will happen again, of course. Union Carbide’s plant in Bhopal was owned by Americans. But it was managed, staffed and run by Indians. Its foreman was Indian and its workers were Indian. Why were they so casual about their own safety? The media doesn’t know, but it is convinced the solution lies with getting Warren Anderson.

Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media.

Courtesy: Mint

http://www.livemint.com/2010/06/17185009/Why-our-media-can8217t-expl.html?h=B

Washington Post journalists repeat Israeli claims as fact

Sanjeev Bery
Executive Director, Freedom Forward

In the June 1st edition of theWashington Post, journalists Scott Wilson and Laura Blumenfeld uncritically repeat Israeli claims regarding the Gaza aid flotilla as fact. Wilson and Blumenfeld should recognize that Israeli officials have a vested interest in discrediting the activists who challenged Israel's blockade of Gaza. Instead, the reporters wrote a piece in which they presumed to know what Israeli officials were thinking -- not just what they were doing.

The piece, "Israel says Free Gaza Movement poses threat to Jewish state," runs in the Tuesday edition of the Washington Post. The first two sentences bear repeating in full:
Once viewed only as a political nuisance by Israel's government, the group behind the Gaza aid flotilla has grown since its inception four years ago into a broad international movement that now includes Islamist organizations that Israeli intelligence agencies say pose a security threat to the Jewish state. The Free Gaza Movement's evolution is among Israel's chief reasons for conducting Monday morning's raid on a ship carrying medicine, construction materials, school paper and parts for Gaza's defunct water treatment plant. 

The key phrase in all of this is the following: "The Free Gaza Movement's evolution [to include Islamist organizations] is among Israel's chief reasons for conducting Monday morning's raid..." Note that this isn't a quote from an Israeli official. This is the narrative of the journalists themselves. 

Why is this important?
No journalist can definitively write what Israel's "chief reasons" are for its raid. Journalists can only know what Israeli government officials publicly claim their chief reasons are. This isn't just true of Israeli officials -- it is true of all government officials.
Journalists are supposed to treat government statements with a healthy degree of skepticism. That skepticism is all the more important when dealing with an international conflict involving Israel and those challenging its blockade on Gaza civilians. As the cliche goes, truth is the first casualty of war.

The Washington Post reporters did quote Free Gaza Movement leaders who challenged the Israeli claim of a security threat. Where the reporters made a serious error, however, was in uncritically assuming that Israeli officials actually believe this notion of a "security threat" themselves. Maybe they do, maybe they don't.
In fact, there are good reasons to treat Israel's claims with skepticism. After all, the simplest explanation for an action is usually the best one:

The Israeli government is maintaining a massive blockade of Gaza.
Israel clearly doesn't want this blockade undermined, or they would end it themselves.
Therefore, they must intercept and stop all those who seek to publicly challenge their blockade.

With the death of at least nine Free Gaza Movement activists, this policy has now come at great cost to the Israeli government. But if people start believing that Israeli officials saw the humanitarian aid activists as a "security threat," those same officials will seem slightly less callous in their decision to deploy military force.

Washington Post journalists Scott Wilson and Laura Blumenfeld should have kept this in mind as they wrote their piece. When journalists assume that they know what officials are thinking, they run the risk of being held captive to a government's talking points.
Sanjeev Bery is the Executive Director of Freedom Forward.

Courtesy: The Huffingtonpost.com
http://huffingtonpost.com/sanjeev-bery/emwashington-postem-journ_b_595709.html?ir=Media

 

In the news, American news

Amulya Gopalakrishnan

Between electing a new president, getting on with two wars and holding off economic ruin, this has been a great year for the news and a terrible year for newspapers in the US. The Tribune's collapse was only the biggest headline in a year when newspapers all over the country folded or laid off (a total of 15,586 journalists).

Of course, India is a long way from that dire eventuality. Despite being temporarily hobbled by the current economic climate, newsprint costs, etc, our print media is one of the few bright spots (along with China and Japan) in the World Association of Newspapers' (WAN) otherwise wan reports. There are more readers, more journalists and more media outlets than ever. Close to 370 million literate Indians not currently served by any publication are all for the taking. Rising literacy and the "aspirational" associations of newspaper consumption, and pretty dismal levels of Internet use ensure that both regional and English publications can safely expect to be around for a while. But that doesn't insulate us from the same shocks, delayed as they might be. If anything, it gives Indian media a precious window, for a phase of low-risk experiment.

In much of the world, newspapers have been gently waning in economic health and cultural centrality for years, but now they're practically convulsing. In the US this year, newspaper stocks fell an average of 83.3 per cent, losing 64.5 billion dollars in market value. The digital onslaught has been exacerbated several times by the recession. Adspends have shrunk, and those there are naturally migrate towards the Web where it is possible to contextualise them to users (giving them a laserlike precision that newspaper ads lack). Whether you're reading this on paper or screen, you might be one of the thinning tribe of readers staving off the newspaper industry's slo-mo, but spectacular, slide into oblivion. This particular section of the newspaper — the edit and op-ed pages which curate commentary — has an even harder time proving its utility against a whole avalanche of user-generated and semi-professional content on the Web.

These are trying times for almost every sector, but few contend that the newspaper business will retrieve lost ground. Some blamed the flabby, corrupt press corps and complacent corporate practices. Others rejected the self-flagellation — "the crops did not fail because we offended the gods" and there's no point blaming journalists, said British media commentator Adrian Monck. Rather, like the professional porn industry or the music industry, travel agencies or encyclopaedia publishers, the newspaper industry is being cruelly outmoded by technology, one that renders the business of journalism hard to sustain. Newspapers, as a format, depend on cumbersome physical infrastructure, transport, presses, newsprint — in contrast, online publishing is virtually effortless. In many parts of the world, classifieds have moved online, delivering another mortal blow to the business. Plus, in the long term, if newsgathering can be crowdsourced from amateurs and sorted by them on user-driven sites like Digg or Reddit, who needs professional journalists? As new media ideologue and NYU professor Jay Rosen put it, can we envision "journalism without the media"?

To be fair, newspapers have mostly anticipated many of the Web's possibilities — pragmatically incorporating multimedia and links, and staggering their content from online updates to offline analysis. But they have failed to radically restructure their model, and it is unclear how they can. The theory is that compelling content will find a way, whatever the medium it's cased in, that a good piece of writing can exist across platforms. Except that it's not that simple — content itself has to shift shape along with user preferences. The Web frees text of many of print's petty strictures: headlines and hooks mutate, size is flexible. And yet, the mainstream media is reluctant to cast off beloved, well-worn templates. On the other hand, the blogosphere is brimming with ideas on how to invigorate dead-tree media, retool journalistic skillsets and make money online. Some suggest that traditional media outlets must learn to function like a mothership, letting popular writers build online mini-worlds and communities around their work. Others suggest that newspapers concentrate on deep analysis and literary standards — content to be an island of coherence and good sense in a sea of shallow user-generated content.

Whatever the ultimate form it takes, journalism is probably in no real trouble. The question is really not what a newspaper is, but what a newspaper does. The accountability and sense of public mission are not easily replaceable except by some other system where reporters will have similar stakes in accuracy. And for all the cleverness of crowds, citizen media are probably not going to supplant professional journalism, but flourish alongside. As happens with any media transition, the superfluous functions of the older medium wither away. But the troubling and as yet unclear matter is how newspapers will mould themselves around the Web, and crucially, how they will be monetised. Newspapers' online audiences in the US and Europe are flourishing, having long surpassed print readerships. But unfortunately, there's no clinching way of making money from that, because audiences demand news for free on tap. They might be the sourcewell for most of the blogs and aggregators — providing credible, institutionally backed primary reportage that is later recombined on the Web — but it's too bad no one's quite figured out the right price for this admittedly valuable mediation.

In a sign of the times, Tina Brown, whose previous media stints include Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Miramax, has now created news aggregator The Daily Beast. As she put it in an interview to Portfolio magazine, "Since nothing is working anywhere under the sun, you may as well play your best ideas. I mean, let the Darwinism begin!"

(Courtesy The Indian Express)
www.indianexpress.com/news/in-the-news-american-news/407404/

Learn with Media Hive: How US caught cold

K Fatma
Media Hive News Network

Any crisis in the US has a direct bearing on other countries, particularly those who hold their foreign exchange reserves in dollars and invest them in US securities. Since global equity markets are closely interlinked through institutional investors, any crisis affecting these investors sees a contagion effect throughout the world. As we all know when the US sneezes, the world catches cold. But in the last two years the US has caught cold. Bankruptcy suits, expansion plans on-hold, pink slips, stocks crash, cost-cutting measures and plant shutdowns etc have occupied most of the spaces in newspapers, magazines and news channels during the period. Though some positive signals have now started coming out from the US, as well as other parts of the world, yet everyone is concerned what went wrong in the in the world’s largest economy? What was this financial crisis all about?

One of the reasons for this crisis is believed to be a housing loan crisis brought about by a competitive banking system as it resorted to sub-prime lending. Banks gave housing loans to many customers, who actually did not possess the requisite repayment ability. The banks were counting big on real estate boom and hence had overexposed their investments in the sector.

In the US, borrowers are rated either as “prime” - indicating that they have a good credit rating based on their track record - or as “sub-prime”, meaning their track record in repaying loans has been below par. Loans given to sub-prime borrowers, something banks would normally be reluctant to do, are categorised as sub-prime loans. Basically, it is the poor and the young who form the bulk of sub-prime borrowers.

Between 2002 and 2007, the banks gave loans to sub-prime borrowers on a two percentage point higher interest than on prime loans. It resulted in substantially higher EMIs for sub-prime borrowers than for prime borrowers, further raising the risk of default. Lenders also devised new instruments to reach out to more sub-prime borrowers. Being flush with funds they were willing to compromise on prudential norms. In one of the instruments they asked the borrowers to pay only the interest portion to begin with. The repayment of the principal portion was to start after two years. They did so because they believed that the real estate boom, which had more than doubled home prices in the country since 1997, would allow even people with unreliable credit backgrounds to repay on the loans they were taking to buy or build homes.

But the housing boom in the US started petering out in 2007. One major reason was that the boom had led to a huge increase in the supply of housing. Thus, house prices started going down. The prices had dropped almost 50% from their peak in 2006. This increased the default rate among sub-prime borrowers.

As the property prices went bust, so did their optimism on the prospect of those investments. This was exactly what happened to the world’s two largest financial institutions – Lehman Brothers and Merill Lynch – as they suffered huge losses. Lehman Brothers reported a loss of $3.9 billion in the quarter ending June 2008 while Merill Lynch posted a loss of $4.65 billion in the second quarter. With their stocks crash, Lehman filed for bankruptcy while Bank of America rescued Merill Lynch.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) had officially declared recession on December 1, 2008. According to NBER, the US entered a recession in December 2007. The bureau said that the country’s economic expansion lasted 73 months, from November 2001, before contracting.

To know more about recession, click here.

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