Friday, 19 December 2008

Covering Iraq is deadliest job for reporters, again

(CNN) -- Iraq proved to be the deadliest beat in the world for reporters for the sixth year in a row, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.The organization's annual year-end analysis tallied 11 journalist deaths this year in Iraq, down from 32 in both 2007 and 2006. Another 22 deaths in Iraq were being investigated to see whether they were work-related.
Those who died in Iraq were local journalists working for domestic news organizations. Among the victims were Shihab al-Tamimi, head of the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate, who died from injuries sustained in a shooting in Baghdad. Soran Mama Hama, a reporter for Livin magazine, was gunned down in front of his home after reporting on prostitution and corruption in Kirkuk.
Two media support workers died also in Iraq during the year.
Since the Iraq war began in March 2003, 136 journalists and 51 media workers have been killed, the organization said.
CPJ said the decline of deaths in Iraq was largely responsible for bringing down the worldwide death toll. This year, 41 journalists died in the line of duty worldwide, compared with 65 in 2007.
Journalists told the CPJ that they attributed the decline in Iraq to a variety of factors, including an increase in U.S. troop levels, the turning of Sunni tribal leaders against al Qaeda and a declining Western media presence in Iraq, according to the organization.
The organization said the numbers also reflected a shift in global hot spots to Asia and the Caucasus.
Thirteen journalists died covering fighting in the south Asian countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and India, the report said.
Three reporters were killed in Thailand, and another three died in five days of fighting among Georgian, Russian and local forces over the disputed region of South Ossetia.
Seven journalists died covering combat. Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana was killed by an Israeli tank shell in Gaza though he was wearing a jacket marked "Press."
The report said Israeli military authorities said the tank crew acted appropriately.
Mexico is the most dangerous place for reporters in the Americas, the CPJ report said.
On a street in Villahermosa, the capital of the Gulf Coast state of Tabasco, Mexico, radio host Alejandro Zenon Fonseca Estrada was shot dead. Four other Mexican journalists were killed under unclear circumstances during the year, the report said.
Another seven Mexican journalists have been reported missing since 2005.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Sakal Times Delhi Bureau nearly closed

I received the following mail from my young colleague Omkar Sapre who has quoted ‘a Sakal victim’. It came as a shock because I am now in Ahmedabad and unconnected with Pune’s media scene. It reminded me of the fate of all of us in The Indian Post in 1990 and The Observer of Business and Politics in 2000 when we were intimated about the closurea without a notice of even a day.

Shock this time is graver, though I am not a victim now, because I could not imagine that Mr Pratap Pawar’s son could do any such a thing. Also because, dear friend and Sakal group Editor Director Anand Agashe is among the management team.

All the best, dear victims.

Unfortunately for you, now there is no working journalists’ trade union to fight such cases. Only you and our peers are to be blamed for this as we had allowed the trade union movement to wither away during last two decades when metro journalists fell for the managements’ baits for fat salaries against ‘contracts’.

It strikes me simply because I, like Anand Agashe, were once upon a time at the forefront of Pune Union of Working Journalists and its apex bodies at the state and national level.

From: sakaal victim []
Sent: Tuesday, December 02, 2008 10:25 AM
Subject: sakaal times

Hi Friends. Do you remember the BiTV lockout? Something worse than that happened on the 30th of November, 2008. Sakaal Times, the English daily brought out in May (renaming the existing Maharashtra Herald) by the Sakal group of Pune (of the Marathi daily Sakal fame) and helmed by wannabe media baron Abhijit Pawar (nephew of NCP leader, Union Minister and former BCCI president Sharad Pawar), suddenly decided to close down its Delhi operations without any prior intimation to any of its employees, making nearly 80 people jobless at one go.

Those impacted are not worthless people – all of them had left secure jobs in respected media houses to join what sounded like an ambitious media venture from one of the most-respected media houses of Maharashtra. The plans were big – following the Pune edition, there will be editions from places like (Navi) Mumbai, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Ahmedabad and even a small edition from Delhi. The paper looked impressive – with well thought-out stories and a nice design. "Welcome to the Sakal family. Here all employees are treated like family members. Please visit our Pune headquarters sometime to know how we work like a family," were the golden words from Arun Barera, the CEO of the Sakal Media Group during his interaction with a bunch of us around July-August, when the paper's Delhi office was still in APCA House in NOIDA. APCA, helmed by Dilip Padgaonkar and Anikendra Nath (Badshah) Sen, had taken charge of recruiting people and launching the venture as a BOT project. They did the job nicely and handed over the project to the Sakal group on November 1, 2008. Everything seemed good for all of us.

Then since about a month ago, things began to go wrong – about 8-10 people were asked to leave, but resident editor Dhananjay Sardeshpande called in groups to assure that nobody from the news bureau and features would be touched. "Our plans have got delayed because of the market condition, but we will launch our Delhi edition by the end of this fiscal and our other plans are still there. We need all you people to be part of our vision," he told us. Just about two days ago, one colleague, who called him up, was told by Anand Agashe, director-editor of the newspaper, that whatever rumours were floating around were baseless. He, of course, said there will be a reduction of the number of pages, and a decision would be taken around December 2-3.

Suddenly, in the morning of November 30, a "Notice", actually a print out on a blank sheet of paper (not the company letterhead), signed by an "authorized signatory" whose name or designation was not mentioned, was found pasted on the locked gates of the premises at the 1st floor of Pratap Bhawan on Bahadurshah Zafar Marg, saying the Delhi operations are being wound up. The letter was dated November 30, while the termination notice, with a cheque for part of our salaries for this month and one more month (minus the allowances which are paid against bills submitted) were sent through speed post to all of us individually at our residence addresses from Pune on November 29 (some of us got the mails on December 1 while others are yet to get their individual copies).

The so-called 'Notice' said:

"(For the information of the employees working for Sakaal Times)

Subject – Operations of Sakaal Times at Delhi

The new daily is incurring heavy expenses on Delhi operations resulting into substantial losses to the company. You are aware that this is further compounded by the present serious downtrend in the economy. Due to the dame the circulation and the revenue generation of the newspaper has been seriously affected. Due to this it has become inevitable for the company to restructure its operations. On account of the said restructuring the Editorial work so far carried out at Delhi is no longer required to be continued. As a result, the operations are stopped forthwith and the persons working for Sakaal Times operations are being relieved. The necessary communication has already been sent to the individual employees on their postal address registered with the company. The relevant employees need not attend the office from today onwards.

The work of Magazines and TV will continue after some modifications of the premises for which the same will be closed for few days.

For Sakal Papers limited

Authorized Signatory"

There was a rubber stamp of Sakal Papers Limited, New Delhi affixed next to the illegible signature, which looked like an "A".

Agitated employees gathered during the day itself on Sunday, Nov 30, to discuss the matter. Quite astonishingly, colleagues who were working till late night on Nov 29 had no inkling of what was going to happen in the morning. In fact, one colleague was in Rajasthan covering the elections there when the lock out was announced!

The employees, finding that the premises have been locked out with some of their valuable belongings inside (eg, bank pass books, cheque books, etc.) decided to register a complaint with the IP Estate Police Station regarding this. Photo Editor K K Laskar, as the convenor of the committee of Sakaal Times employees formed to fight the sudden lockout, registered the complaint. Till then, nobody who has a say in Sakaal Times – Abhijit Pawar, Anand Agashe, Arun Barera, Dhananjay Sardeshpande, HR director Pradeepkumar Khire – picked up numerous phone calls made by senior journalists who wanted to find out the exact situation. But within one hour of filing the police complaint, Pawar called up Laskar, claiming there had been a "communication gap" and things should not have been done as they have been. He "requested" Laskar to ask all employees to come to office on Monday, December 2, to discuss the matter with a team from Pune.

Almost at the same time, Pawar, Khire, Agashe gave contradictory and false statements to media persons who contacted them on the developments. (From Mint - - "Abhijit Pawar, managing director of the 76-year-old Sakaal Media Group, said staffers had been informed earlier. "It has just been brought to my attention that the communication hadn't reached everyone, and I'm sorry if that is the case. I have been told that a communication had been made informally to senior members of the staff in Delhi and it was supposed to have reached everyone. Everyone is being adequately compensated," Pawar added".) Just look at the casual stance he has taken. Saying just a mere "sorry" for snatching the livelihoods of around 80 people. Just look at the way he claims "I have been told….". Do you "informally" communicate to senior staff or any staff members about a lock out (which anyway is a blatant lie as there was no such communication to anyone)? "It was supposed to reach…." The sheer insensitiveness of this man seeps through every word of his quote.

(from IANS - - "Sakal Papers' Director, Human Resources and Operations, Pradip Khire denied the charge of the staff that they had not been informed about the impending closure. 'It was communicated to them that their services are no more required and their dues are being settled,' Khire told IANS in Pune."). Another blatant lie. Can he provide any proof that staff had been informed about the closure? Even the "termination of contract" letter received by some people on December 1 (posted on Nov 29, but received only by some on Dec 1) does not mention anything about the closure. It only talks about the company's "right" to "terminate your services without assigning any reason by giving one month's notice or a notice pay in lieu of notice… the company has decided to exercise this right and is terminating your contractual employment w.e.f 30-11-2008 after working hours".

Where is the mention of the lockout? Can you find another such example of fork-tongued speak?

As we all know, there is a standard procedure for lock outs. Businesses may and do go bad, but the way Sakaal Times has done it, is pure evil. If it reminds everyone of how some Chit Fund Operators vanish after pocketing money of investors, well, you are not at fault. Any ethical company would have taken its employees into confidence, told them that they would have to shut down, and would have given them at least a month's time so that they can look out for alternative jobs. But this is what a 75-year-old media group does.

Please forward this to all media persons you know

This is what an aghast observer wrote to various e-groups:

From: Ram Singh <ramsinghstdelhi@>
Date: Nov 30, 2008 6:37 PM
Subject: Sakaal Times Delhi journalists to move court against lock-out

On Sunday, 30 November 2007, journalists with Sakaal Times in Delhi
were shocked to find the office locked and a lock-out notice put up.
Their anger is not so much about the shut down but that the Sakaal
management did not inform them personally. Their belongings are
inside, they have no idea about salary and compensation, and of course
jobs to look for in an industry no longer booming. Senior Pune
management have switched off their phones. The lock-out is illegal as
they have not followed labour laws. The journalists have formed an
action committee that plans to move court. The nearly 50 journalists
are angry and aghast at such despicable treatment. This is an insult
to journalists all over India who should rise to the occasion and send
their condemnation to Sakal Papers Ltd. This is a paper with deep
pockets thanks to its Marathi print monopoly. Its owner is Ahijit
Pawar, nephew of NCP leader and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar,
whose daughter Supriya Sule is on the board of Sakal Papers Ltd.

Please circulate widely.

============ ======

The notice:


(For the information of the employees working for Sakaal Times)
Subject - Operations of Sakaal Times at Delhi
The new daily is incurring heavy expenses on Delhi operations
resulting into substantial losses to the company. You are aware that
this is further compounded by the present serious downtrend in the
economy. Due to the same the circulation and the revenue generation of
the newspaper has been seriously affected. Due to this it has become
inevitable for the company to restructure its operations. On account
of the said restructuring the Editorial work so far carried out at
Delhi is no longer required to be continued. As a result, the
operations are stopped forthwith and the persons working for Sakaal
Times operations are being relieved. The necessary communication has
already been sent to the individual employees on their postal address
registered with the Company. The relevant employees need not attend
the office from today onwards.

The work of Magazines and TV will continue after some modifications of
the premises for which the same will be closed for few days.

For Sakal Papers Limited

[signed and stamped]

Authorized Signatory


Please note that the authorised signatory is not named.

The resident
editor, Dhananjay Sardeshpande, had not been coming to office for the
past week.
The employees have formed an action committee under the leadership of
Op-Ed pages editor Yogesh Vajpeyi and the Convener is chief
photographer KK Laskar.
Yogesh Vajpeyi - yogesh.vajpeyi@ - 9818033223
KK Laskar - k.k.laskar@gmail. com – 9868164433

This is just for information of all media people, because if in future this group tries to hire you, beware and don't fall for its so-called reputation. It's a den of cheats and liers.

Friday, 7 November 2008

US dailies make hey

Leading US newspapers said Wednesday they had been forced to fire up their printing presses again to keep pace with demand as consumers sought out mementos of Barack Obama's historic election. In the capital, about 400 people formed a queue in front of the office of The Washington Post to buy the newspaper after copies sold out across the city early in the morning. The Post, which increased its normal print run by 30 percent, said it had decided to produce an extra 250,000 copies of a special commemorative edition. The New York Times said it had increased its normal morning print run by 35 percent but had gone back to press to produce another 75,000 copies. The Chicago Tribune restarted its presses in the morning after the initial print run of 690,000 copies sold out in the early hours. The Tribune's vice president of operations, Becky Brubaker, said the second run would number up to 120,000 papers. The Chicago Sun-Times said it had printed extra 'tens of thousands' of copies but had also been forced back to press. For those who were unable to buy the historic edition of their favorite paper on the street, the Internet auction house e-Bay listed hundreds of copies of the day's New York Times, Chicago Tribune and other papers for sale, many for hundreds of dollars apiece. Newspapers were not the only news sources in demand as and other online news sites reported record traffic on Tuesday. said it received the largest daily audience in its history Tuesday with 30 million unique visitors, more than double the previous record of 13.4 million unique visitors during the Democratic primaries on Super Tuesday. (AFP)

Don't Blame the Journalism

Veteran Mumbai-based journalist Mahesh Vijapurkar has forwarded the following by
Paul Farhi, American Journalism Review, October/November 2008, ,
The economic and technological forces behind the collapse of newspapers
When the obituaries are written for America's newspapers, count on journalists to indict themselves in their own demise. You've heard it before, from a thousand bloggers and roundtable know-it-alls: We were too slow to adapt, too complacent, too yoked to our tried-and-true editorial traditions and formulas. We could have saved ourselves, goes the refrain, if only we had been more creative and aggressive and less risk averse.
To which I can only reply: Oh, please.
As newspapers shuffle toward the twilight, I'm increasingly convinced that the news has been the least of the newspaper industry's problems. Newspapers are in trouble for reasons that have almost nothing to do with newspaper journalism, and everything to do with the newspaper business. Even a paper stocked with the world's finest editorial minds wouldn't have a fighting chance against the economic and technological forces arrayed against the business. The critics have it exactly backward: Journalists and journalism are the victims, not the cause, of the industry's shaken state.

We've lost readers, to be sure. But that's been happening for decades, and not necessarily because of editorial quality. Disagree? Then try answering this: Did editorial quality kill afternoon newspapers?
Contemporary newspapers have their own problems, but the usual analysis about what ails us misses the point. Let's take a quick tour:
Fact No. 1: Despite everything you've heard, newspapers, even these days, remain remarkably popular. Some readers have left us (and many, it should be said, were dropped by cost-conscious publishers who no longer wanted to deliver papers to far-flung subscribers). But what's largely overlooked in the gloom is how many people newspapers reach each day. Almost 50 million buy one daily, and nearly 117 million read one, according to the Newspaper Association of America's research. Throw in 66 million unique visitors to newspaper Web sites each month, and the conclusion is inescapable: Lots of people want what newspaper journalists produce.
Fact No. 2: Newspaper readers – so often derided as old and unattractive to advertisers – are actually better educated and more affluent than TV news viewers. The average newspaper, for example, reaches about seven in 10 households with incomes of more than $60,000 annually, compared with about four in 10 for CNN and Fox News, according to Mediamark Research.
Fact No. 3: Every traditional news medium has lost market share, and some have lost more than newspapers. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, ratings for late local newscasts on network-affiliated stations across the country were 6.7 percent lower during the November 2007 sweeps than the previous year – a faster decline than newspaper circulation (down 2.6 percent daily, 3.5 percent on Sunday) during roughly the same period. This isn't a one-time aberration, either. Local TV stations in Washington, D.C., for example, have seen the ratings for their 6 p.m. newscasts plunge 37 percent from 1997 to 2007. Over the same period, the Washington Post's Sunday circulation has dropped 16 percent. Yet the local TV news business remains relatively strong, with far fewer layoffs and cutbacks and less end-of-an-era weariness than in most print newsrooms.

So if the problem with newspapers really isn't too few customers, or too many undesirable ones, why are they so threatened these days?
The problem has little to do with the reporting, packaging and selling of information. It's much bigger than that. The gravest threats include the flight of classified advertisers, the deterioration of retail advertising and the indebtedness of newspaper owners. Wrap all these factors together and you've set in motion the kind of slash-and-burn tactics that will hasten, not forestall, the end.
For decades, newspapers enjoyed what economists call a "scarcity" advantage. In most cities, there was only one outfit that could profitably collect, print and distribute the day's news, and it could raise prices even as it delivered fewer readers each year. Indeed, monopoly daily newspapers enjoyed enormous profit margins – sometimes as much as 25 percent or more – until very recently. But the scarcity advantage has faded; the Internet has essentially handed a free printing press and a distribution network to anyone with a computer.
The real revelation of the Internet is not what it has done to newspaper readership – it has in fact expanded it – but how it has sapped newspapers' economic lifeblood. The most serious erosion has occurred in classified advertising, which once made up more than 40 percent of a newspaper's revenues and more than half its profits. Classified advertisers didn't desert newspapers because they disliked our political coverage or our sports sections, but because they had alternatives. Craigslist and eBay and dozens of other low-cost and no-cost classified sites began gobbling newspapers' market share a few years ago. What they didn't wipe out, the tanking economy did. During the first half of 2008, print classified advertising nosedived more than 25 percent, as withering job, real-estate and auto listings erased $1.8 billion in revenue from newspaper companies' books. Newspapers have been uniquely hurt – television never had classifieds to lose.

Similarly, the disappearance of local chain stores over the past two decades has fallen like a series of hammer blows on newspapers. In my city, the names of the dearly departed included such homegrown advertisers as Hechinger hardware stores, Trak Auto Parts, Crown Books, Dart Drug, Peoples Drug, Raleigh's clothing stores and the department stores Woodward & Lothrop, Garfinckel's and Hecht's. TV lost some of these advertisers, too, but has gained the likes of Wal-Mart and other big-box outlets, which tend to buy airtime, not newspaper space.
Newspapers that were hoping to be rescued by their online ad businesses woke up to a sobering reality in mid-2007. By then, it was becoming clear that online advertising wasn't growing fast enough to make up for the rapid disappearance of print ads. In fact, at the moment, online ads aren't growing at all. Sales at newspaper Web sites fell 2.4 percent in the second quarter of 2008. This may be as ominous a development as the meltdown of print. Online newspaper revenues had grown smartly in every quarter since the Newspaper Association of America began tracking them in 2003. No longer.
There's still much that many newspapers can do to improve their Web sites: adding Twitter feeds, social networking applications, Google map mashups (maps over-laid with data), on-demand mobile information and, of course, more video. All good. But let's not kid ourselves. The online business model is still uncertain, at best. An online visitor isn't as valuable to advertisers as a print customer. Online readers tend to dart in and out, spending far less time on a newspaper site than a subscriber spends with a paper. And a portion of the traffic (how much depends on the paper) comes from outside the paper's circulation area, making these visitors irrelevant to local advertisers. I'm not really surprised that newspapers haven't figured out how to make the Web pay for all the things that print traditionally has. There may not even be a business model for it. But again: Can you really blame the newsroom for that?

The last wound is self-inflicted. Newspaper companies and other investors completed highly leveraged takeover deals just as the newspaper business rolled off the table. It's no coincidence that the most troubled newspapers are the ones owned by companies that took on enormous IOUs just as the newspaper apocalypse began. Some of these companies – Tribune, McClatchy, Journal Register, MediaNews Group, Avista Capital Partners, GateHouse Media – are now cutting like mad to stay ahead of the debt boulder bearing down on them. Meanwhile, Copley, Advance, Cox, Landmark and Blethen have all put some of their newspaper holdings up for sale. This all but guarantees more debt for the papers' new owners – assuming, of course, that the sellers can find buyers in the first place.
So add it up. Could smarter reporting, editing and photojournalism have made a difference? Can a spiffy new Web site or paper redesign win the hearts of readers? Surely, they can't hurt. But if we, and our critics, were realistic, we'd admit that much is beyond our control, and that insisting otherwise is vain. As British media scholar and author Adrian Monck put it in an essay about the industry's troubles earlier this year: "The crops did not fail because we offended the gods."
As is, I fear we're deep into the self-fulfilling prophecy stage now. In many ways, newspapers are dying...because they're dying. As their cash flow shrivels, owners aren't willing, or able, to invest in their papers to arrest the rate of decline, if not reverse it. Each cut in editorial staffing and newshole makes the newspaper less useful and attractive, which makes the next round of cuts inevitable, and so on. Some newspapers entered their death spiral months ago.
I suspect someday our former readers will be peering forlornly toward their empty doorsteps and driveways and wondering where the paper they once loved has gone. I will share their sadness, but not their shock. I've got some news for you, dear readers: Our disappearance wasn't your fault. And as a journalist, I can safely say, it wasn't ours, either.
Paul Farhi (, a Washington Post reporter, writes frequently about the media for the Post and AJR.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

America's Irresposible Media

The following is Evans Lips' article in New Statesman for those who still look at US media as model for objective responsible journalism. I suggest have a look at the comments posted at

How I would have loved to have had my ear against the door outside of the Boston Globe’s conference room on the morning of October 30th.
“A British paper discovered that Barack Obama’s aunt is living in squalor in a slum in South Boston.”
“A British paper!?!?”
The Boston Globe, headquartered in South Boston, had the story in its back yard. Yet it was the Times Online that first broke the news that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s aunt is living illegally in the US despite being served a deportation order several years ago.
She has collected welfare while managing to contribute – illegally - $260 to her nephew’s campaign.
This issue might seem trite, given the millions that both candidates have amassed during months of campaigning. But it begs a bigger question – where are the priorities for the American media?
Reporting centered on emotion and not based on researching the facts is alarming. But it is nothing new to this presidential election. There have been several instances where the media – confronted with relevant news regarding Barack Obama – has decided simply to remain silent.
It’s appalling to think that the press, an institution defended in the United States Constitution (The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom...of the press.") has squelched its own freedoms in order to help their candidate win – Barack Obama.
It’s no secret that the America mainstream media has a decidedly liberal bent to it. And this election may serve as “exhibit A.”
Consider several startling instances:
The Los Angeles Times is in possession of a 2003 tape where Senator Obama paid tribute with Palestinian scholar Rashid Khalidi at a private event. The Times is refusing to allow the pubic to review the tape claiming that they promised anonymity to the source that provided them with the tape. Khalidi served as a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1970s. Barack Obama had three reporters from newspapers that had endorsed John McCain removed from the campaign jet. Obama has built a campaign around inclusiveness and bringing people together. Where was the outrage from the rest of the media? Is this what we can expect if he wins?Statements made by Obama appear to have had expiration dates on them, meaning that as soon as he contradicts himself, the media covers its mouth. On March 18, 2008, Obama said, “I could no more disown Jeremiah Wright than I could disown my own grandmother.” As soon as Reverend Wright became an issue, Obama cut off all ties to Wright. Yet contradictions such as this have largely been ignored.
In late October, the non-partisan Pew Center for Media Research reported significant bias in the way major news media has covered the campaign.
Pew reviewed hundreds of TV and print news reports about the candidates. The results were disturbing.
Fifty-seven percent of all stories about McCain were negative, compared to 29 percent of stories about Obama; just 14 percent of McCain stories were clearly positive, compared to 36 percent of Obama stories. Twenty-nine percent of McCain stories were neutral, compared to 35 percent of Obama stories.
And maybe the incident here in Boston can serve as an example of America’s decline in objective reporting.
What advantages did the Times Online have over American media giants such as the Boston Globe and the New York Times? The answer appears to be simple - common sense and attentive research.
The key to the story lies in a book that has been read by millions, especially those involved with the Obama campaign. Dreams From My Father, an autobiography, is a story of how the presidential hopeful traced his Kenyan roots and focused his life’s mission.
The American media seems to have ignored the passage indicating that at least one relative of Senator Obama’s had left Kenya and immigrated to America.
At one point in the book, Senator Obama’s half-sister speaks about Africans who had emigrated to the West and presumably disappeared:
“Like our Uncle Omar, in Boston . . . They’ve been lost, you see.”
Lost, kind of like the mainstream media here in the United States. It may have been beneficial to American voters if more British news groups had covered our election.
It disturbs me to think about what other things they would have uncovered.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Divorce between US newspapers and AP?

I left United News of India in 1987 after serving the news agency for 17 years. I worked in two newspapers later and taught in media school for seven years thereafter. Thus I have no connections whatsoever with UNI for the last 21 years, yet my loyalty to news agency journalism in general and UNI in particular has remained unchanged.
That is the reason I was drawn to read Rick Edmonds blog today at
We youngsters working under Mr B R P Bhaskar and Mr K P K Kutty in Delhi’s news room used to hold AP in big awe because of its news coverage and worldwide reach. UNI had tie-up with AP. I was thrilled when my story was picked up by AP's Delhi bureau for the first time and was published abroad.
I moved out of Delhi headquarters and worked as Bureau Manager in smaller centres. Here I had to interact with owners of newspapers to strike bargains for subscriptions and to recover long pending arrears. (That was in addition to my journalistic responsibilities.) I remember how the owners would haggle for cheaper monthly fees. I could not afford to be tough to recover the arrears because these owners would threaten to quit our news service and switch over to PTI’s. Similar was the situation elsewhere in India.
I thus had a fairly good idea about why UNI was never in sound financial health. I notice from Rick Edmond’s blog that even in USA, even in case of the powerful Associated Press, and even during the new era, newspaper owners are no different.
Please read Edmond's blog:

What would happen if newspapers divorce AP?
What would newspapers miss most, I asked AP's Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll in a phone interview Friday, if they followed through on threats to quit the cooperative?Her answer surprised me. For some it would be comprehensive and timely sports coverage that frees up their own staff to cover local teams. But even more fundamental, she said, is "a fast, steady diet of multimedia news for the newspaper's Web site." A couple years after being introduced, AP videos are widely used on news sites and are a big part of the cooperative's mobile offerings. We are in an era, Carroll added, "when people want to know what happens when it happens, and their appetite for video is huge."

Tribune became the biggest player yet Thursday to announce it had given two-year notice and was considering pulling all its newspapers out of the wire service. (The Columbus Dispatch announced Friday it would cancel its contract in 2011.) Tribune's announcement was consequential, to be sure, but Carroll took exception to one headline labeling the move stunning. "We are always having these kinds of discussions (with dissatisfied members)," she said. "The difference is that this time they are announcing" what have more typically been confidential negotiations.

Without denying the severity of newspapers' financial problems, Carroll said, she is hopeful that peace can be restored. But there are barriers. AP has a little flexibility in negotiating with individual papers -- but only a little. "Because we are a cooperative, we can't offer city X a different deal than comparable city Y," she said. "We're not like the used car salesmen who says, 'I need to go in the back room and talk to the sales manager.'" Though Carroll is a partisan and not strictly in the business loop for these negotiations, I sought her out because she takes an editor's big-picture view of the conflict. I found it noteworthy that she wanted to talk more about improved services than deeper rate reductions.This week I got Goldman Sachs' analyst Peter Appert's latest forecast. He sees total industry ad revenues falling from $39 billion this year to $30.7 billion in 2012 (and from a peak of $49.4 billion in 2005). If the industry is shrinking almost 40 percent, from almost $50 billion to just over $30 billion in ads, can AP cut rates correspondingly?Carroll's answer was that AP cannot make those kinds of cuts in its operations, nor should it -- with international markets growing and broadcast and online clients ready for an expanded report. To me, that suggests plenty more friction ahead with editors as AP redirects resources to lucrative lines of business and other clients that are doing better than the newspapers that own AP.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Arun Kumar Bhandari is Chief Editor and GM of UNI

Some how I missed the following story about change of guard at UNI with which I was associated for 17 years until 1987. Thanks to Mr B R P Bhaskar, our news editor and my guru, I came to know about the development though 11 days late:
New Delhi, Oct 1 : Senior journalist Arun Kumar Bhandari today assumed charge as Chief Editor and General Manager of the United News of India (UNI) national news agency including its Hindi wing Varta and Urdu service.
Mr Bhandari has been associated with UNI for almost four decades now and, during the period, he was bestowed several key responsibilities every one of which he fulfilled successfully. After securing a degree in journalism from Punjab University, Chandigarh, he was selected by UNI and posted as Trainee Sub-Editor at the agency's New Delhi head office in 1969.
During his career, besides receiving some organisational awards for reportage, he was honoured by the Himachal Pradesh government for best development reporting and the Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha for parliamentary coverage.A diploma in Journalism (print and electronic media) from the International Institute for Journalism, Budapest, added to Mr Bhandari's qualifications.
He has widely travelled in India and overseas, including the United States of America, United Kingdom, Germany, Egypt, Colombia, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Pakistan, Nepal, China, Dubai, Singapore and Russia.

Friday, 3 October 2008

When will the media use the verb ‘condole’ properly?

It is rare that a journalist admits publicly that he/she has committed an error. It is still rarer that a senior journalist, holding the key post of a news editor, owns up a mistake committed by a junior.
(I should know because I was a journalist myself for over three decades.)
It came, therefore, as a pleasant surprise, when Ahmedabad Mirror, carried the following letter in its recent issue under the heading “Mind Your Language”:
When will the media use the verb ‘condole’ properly? The headline at the top of the page on September 20 says ‘PM condoles inspector Sharma’s death.’ Condole means sympathy. You can express sympathy to persons but not to death. Moreover condole (like sympathy) is an intransitive verb and can not take an object (death, in this case). Your headline and the story, should have read: The PM condoles with inspector’s family over/in his death.
Response from AM’s News Editor Pradeep Mallik published alongside was:
Thank you for writing and enlightening us on the correct usage of ‘condole.’ We stand corrected. Looking forward to more mails from you.
Those in the profession will know the importance of such a response when considered that the original story was not written by any AM staffer. It was a PTI story from New Delhi, probably edited and headlined by a sub-editor in the AM, Ahmedabad. And a news editor does not normally read every word of every story. Mallik could have passed the buck, on receipt of the mail from the reader, to PTI. Mallik did not.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Pennsylvania Supreme Court says newspaper can protect source

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a newspaper reporter does not need to reveal the identity of a confidential source used in a story about a grand jury investigation into alleged prison brutality.
The 4-1 decision dated Wednesday and released Thursday upholds a lower court ruling that sided with Jennifer Henn and her former employer, the Times-Tribune of Scranton.
Two former Lackawanna County commissioners sued Henn and the paper over a January 2004 story that said they were not cooperative in their appearances before the grand jury.
The Supreme Court said reporters cannot be forced to identify confidential sources — a protection granted by the state's Shield Law.
Grand jury proceedings are secret and state law bars prosecutors, court officials or jurors from discussing such investigations. Witnesses are not barred from discussing their testimony outside the courtroom.
Lackawanna County Judge Robert A. Mazzoni had ruled that the importance of grand jury secrecy outweighed the protections of the Shield Law, but a three-judge Superior Court panel determined that Mazzoni had carved out an improper exception to the law. The high court agreed with the panel.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Even American newspaper editors are struggling to adjust to Web

This new study tells us the status of US newspaper industry vis-à-vis new media. In our little research in Maharashtra, we had come across journalists and editors who dread to think of opening their e-mail in-boxes. Planning for the future exploiting new media technology is a far cry. What is your experience?

LAS VEGAS – US Newspaper editors are struggling to adapt as more and more readers turn away from the printed page and toward the Web, mobile devices and other means to get their news, a leading news industry researcher says.

Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, told a crowd of editors Wednesday at the Associated Press Managing Editors conference in Las Vegas that a survey of more than 250 newspapers calls into question whether newsrooms are planning ahead. "Do we have a plan for the future, or are we just sort of reacting as things come at us?" Rosenstiel said.

Rosenstiel said newspapers are being asked to shift from a product - the physical newspaper - to a service encompassing the Web, mobile devices and other forms to deliver information to consumers."It can be subtle, but it's a fundamental change," he said. Results from the survey released in July showed that just 5 per cent of editors were confident in predicting how their operations would work in five years.

The rest of the editors were equally split between being either somewhat confident or having little or no confidence. "Editors seem cautious and only marginally more confident than not," the study said.

"In the face of such uncertainty, several editors cited their staff's willingness to accept change and embrace new technology as the factor contributing most to their competitiveness." The survey was based on interviews with newspaper editors in 15 cities in four regions of the United States and senior news executives at 259 newspapers across the United states.

Editors attending the conference are mulling questions that were largely irrelevant to newspapers two decades ago before the Internet became a fixture. Today, papers are struggling to generate the same revenues from the Internet as they have lost in print ad sales, which has forced job cuts and tough decisions about content.

Tyler Marshall, who wrote the study titled "The Changing Newsroom: What is Being Gained and What is Being Lost in America's Daily Newspapers," said Wednesday that editors generally feel that things are changing so fast, it's hard to keep up while keeping news standards paramount.

Finley, editor of The Virginian-Pilot, said his newsroom has reorganized twice in the past three years, and could be reorganized again next year. He said the biggest change at the newspaper has been adding a team that focuses on breaking news online throughout the day.

"I don't think we've done anything revolutionary, but what we've had to do, and I think what every competitor has had to do, is be a lot more focused and really think a lot more about what we can do with the smaller staff that we have," Finley said.
Read the study:
Associated Press Managing Editors:

Friday, 22 August 2008

SC's observations: A warning singal for Media

The supreme court's comments on the media's overreaching itself seem to have not got the attention they deserve, but they need to be studied carefully by practitioners in the media business. the court was referring to the coverage of the aarushi-hemraj double murders, where the media played the "other" investigating agency, taking it upon itself to cast aspersions on the characters of the accused and of family members, to speculate wildly about what could have happened and to then set itself up as an alternative court of law. most of this, of course, happened on the plethora of news channels which disport themselves on our television screens but the print media is also guilty of sensationalising the case.
the media has already been under the scanner, with the information and broadcasting minister ready with his b! roadcast bill which aims to set some limits for tv news channels. this is something to be avoided. as has been discussed, the government should be kept out of getting involved in trying to "regulate" the media. however, the manner in which news channels have been conducting themselves is laying them open to more and more official scrutiny. they must now take action themselves or find themselves being acted against.
the apex court has castigated the media for behaving like a "super super investigative agency" and super is used in the latin sense of "over" rather than the colloquial sense of "wonderful". that is, the media is being seen guilty of extending its own brief and falling on the wrong side of the law. the result is the apex court sending notices to the union and uttar pradesh governments asking if there was any mechanism to restrain the media from reporting sub-judice cases. there is a certain vibrancy in the media which has a positive side too. it can be argued that had it not been for journalistic enterprise and aggression, instan! ces like reopening the jessica lall case would not have happened. this is true enough. but this has another side too, which is often seen in sting operations gone wrong and over-enthusiasm in covering stories that affect real people who may be innocent.
the supreme court's observations should be seen as a warning signal which, if not taken seriously, will affect the media as a whole, not just a few news channels hungry for higher television rating points. tv news has become a business desperate for consumers and all rules are being broken as a result. errant tv channels have to be made to realise that their actions are detrimental to the public interest. some amount of maturity in the tv media will have to emerge and the ethics of the news profession must be inculcated.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

SC asks media to observe restraint:

NEW DELHI: The hounding by the media of Rajesh Talwar as a key suspect in the Aarushi-Hemraj double murder case till he got a CBI clean chit made the Supreme Court on August 18 to ask aloud - Is there an urgent need for guidelines on responsible reporting of cases under investigation or pending trial?
The pitch was prepared by a PIL filed by advocate Surat Singh, who cited the case of Talwar and asked — Does media have a right to report whatever they please on the basis of police briefing, irrespective of the damage to the reputation and mental agony it inflicts on the accused?
A Bench comprising Justices Altamas Kabir and Markandey Katju, which during the last hearing had observed that the media - both print and electronic - should exercise restraint while reporting the Aarushi case, on Monday agreed with the petitioner that the reporting of the case left a lot to be desired. It issued notices to the information and broadcasting ministry, Press Council of India, Uttar Pradesh government and media houses on the PIL seeking to put in place guidelines for the media for reporting cases under investigation and trial. It sought assistance of additional solicitor general Gopal Subramaniam in this matter.
“We want to lay down general guidelines and not target individuals,” the Bench said while posting the matter for further hearing on September 23. The respondents were asked to file their replies within two weeks. Both the print and electronic media, the bench said, had a powerful influence over the masses. “The media has to be more responsible. It must not do anything by which investigation be prejudiced against the accused,” it added.
Accepting criticism as part and parcel of public life, the Bench said it was not worried about the judiciary or the judges. “We have sufficiently broad shoulders. But we are concerned about the reputation of people like in this case, Dr Talwar,” it said.
So moved was the court by the plight of Dr Talwar that at the stage of mentioning of the PIL on July 22, the Bench had passed an interim order observing that the media, both print and electronic, should exercise restraint in its reporting so as not to tarnish the reputation of Talwar.
Continuing its interim order, that is tying the media with the leash of responsibility, the Bench clarified: “There is no attempt to gag the media. But media has to be responsible at the same time.”
Source: The Times of India, August 19, 2008

Ideal and reality: media’s role in India

Reproducing here a thought-provoking article of Justice Markandey Katju, Judge of the Supreme Court of India

The media, along with art and literature, must help the people in their struggle against poverty, unemployment, and other social evils in contemporary India.
Having discussed, in a previous article, the role of art and literature in a country such as India as it stands today, we should consider the role of the media in such a context. What do we see on television these days? Some channels show film stars, pop music, disco 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 money are being spent on showing cricket, film stars, disco-dancing, and pop music? What have the Indian masses to do with cricket, film stars, fashion parades, disco and pop? The Indian media today are largely acting irresponsibly and not serving the people in their struggle against poverty, unemployment, and other social evils, as they ought to be doing.
Historically, the media were born as organs of the people against feudal oppression. In Europe, they played a major role in transforming a feudal society into a modern one. Everyone is aware of the role the print media played in preparing the people for, and during, the American and French Revolutions, as also in Britain. The only medium at that time was print, and writers such as Rousseau, Voltaire, Thomas Paine, Junius, and John Wilkes used it in the fight against feudalism and despotism. We know about the stir created by Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense during the American Revolution, and by Junius’ letters during the reign of the despotic George III in England.
The media became powerful tools in the hands of the people at that time. They could not express themselves through the established organs of power, which were in the hands of feudal and despotic rulers. Hence the people had to create organs that would serve them. In Europe and the U.S., the media represented the voice of the future, as against the feudal or despotic organs that wanted to preserve the status quo in society. In the 20th century, other types of media have emerged.
What should be the role of the media? This is a question of great importance to India today.

Big responsibility

To my mind, in underdeveloped countries such as 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 be brought to them and their backwardness removed so that they become part of enlightened India. The media have a great responsibility in this.
Underdeveloped countries like India are passing through a transitional age, between a feudal society and a modern, industrial society. This is a painful and agonising period. A study of the history of England in the 17th and 18th centuries, and of France in the 18th and 19th centuries, shows that such transitional periods were full of turbulence, turmoil, revolutions, intellectual ferment, and so on. It was after going through this fire that modern society emerged in Europe.
India is now going through this fire. The barbaric “honour killings” in western Uttar Pradesh districts such as Meerut and Muzaffarnagar of young men and women from different castes who get married or wish to get married show how backward we still are, full of casteism and communalism.
Our national aim must be to get over this transitional period as quickly as possible, reducing the inevitable agony. Our aim must be to make India a modern, powerful, industrial state. Only then will we be able to provide for the welfare of our people and get respect in the world community.

Need for cultural struggle

Today the real world is cruel and harsh. It respects power, not poverty or weakness. When China and Japan were poor nations, western nations referred to their people derisively as ‘yellow’ races. Today nobody dares to call them that as they are strong industrial nations. Similarly, if we want our country to get respect in the comity of nations, we must make it highly industrialised and prosperous. For this purpose, our patriotic, modern-minded intelligentsia should wage a powerful cultural struggle, a struggle in the realm of ideas. This cultural struggle must be waged by combating feudal and backward ideas such as casteism and communalism, and replacing them with modern, scientific ideas among the masses. Art, literature, and the media all have an important role in this cultural struggle. But are they performing this role?
Today in India there is a total disconnect between the media and the mass reality. A speech delivered by P. Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu and Magsaysay award winner, on September 6, 2007 in Parliament House in the Speaker’s Lecture Series, had some revealing facts.
The mass reality in India, which has over 70 per cent of the people living in the rural areas, is that rural India is in the midst of the worst agrarian crisis in four decades. Millions of livelihoods in the rural areas have been damaged or destroyed in the last 15 years as a result of this crisis, because of the predatory commercialisation of the countryside and the reduction of all human values to the exchange value. As a result, lakhs of farmers have committed suicide and millions of people have migrated from the rural areas to cities and towns in search of jobs that are not there. They have moved towards a status that is neither ‘worker’ nor ‘farmer’: many of them end up as domestic labourers, even criminals.
We have been pushed towards corporate farming, a process by which farming is taken out of the hands of the farmers and put in the hands of corporates. This process is sought to be effected not through guns, tanks, bulldozers, and lathis. It is done by making farming unviable for the millions of small family farm-holders due to the high cost of inputs such as seed, fertilizer, and power, and uneconomical prices.
India ranked fourth in the list of dollar billionaires but 126th in human development terms. This means it is better to be a poor person in Bolivia (the poorest nation in South America) or Guatemala or Gabon rather than in India. Some 836 million people (of the total of between 1.10 billion to 1.20 billion) in India exist on less than Rs.20 a day. Life expectancy here is lower than in Bolivia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia. According to the National Sample Survey, the average monthly per capita expenditure of the Indian farm household is Rs.503. Out of that amount, 55 per cent is spent on food, and 18 per cent on fuel, clothing and footwear — leaving precious little for education or health.

Hungry millions

A report of the Food and Agriculture Organisation shows that between the period from 1995-97 to 1999-2001, India added more newly hungry millions than the rest of the world taken together. The average rural family now consumes significantly less than what it was consuming earlier. Indebtedness has doubled over the past decade. Cultivation costs have increased exorbitantly and farming incomes have collapsed, leading to suicides by farmers.
While there were 512 accredited journalists covering the Lakme India Fashion Week, there were only six journalists to cover the suicides in Vidharbha. In that Fashion Week programme, the models were displaying cotton garments while the men and women who grew the cotton were killing themselves an hour away by flight from Nagpur, in the Vidharbha region. Nobody told that story except one or two journalists locally.
Is this a responsible way for the media to function? Can the media turn a Nelson’s eye to the harsh economic realities that over 75 per cent of our people face, and concentrate on some ‘Potempkin villages’ where all is glamour and show biz? Are not the Indian media behaving like Queen Marie Antoinette who, when told that the people did not have bread, said they could eat cake?
No doubt sometimes the media mentions farmers’ suicides in Maharashtra, the rise in the prices of essential commodities, and so on. But such coverage at the most constitutes 5 to 10 per cent of the total coverage. The bulk of it goes to cricket, film stars, pop music, fashion parades, astrology, and so on. Is this not really trying to divert the attention of the people from the real issues, which are basically economic, to non-issues?

Opium of the masses

Some TV channels show cricket day in and day out. In India, cricket is really the opium of the masses. The Roman emperors used to say: if you cannot give the people bread, give them circuses. This is precisely the approach of the Indian establishment. Keep the people involved in cricket so that they forget their economic and social plight. What is important is not the price rise or unemployment or poverty or lack of housing or medicines. What is important is whether India has beaten New Zealand (or better still, Pakistan) in a cricket match, or whether Tendulkar or Ganguly has scored a century. Is this not sheer escapism?
To my mind, the role of art, literature, and the media in our country today must be to help the people in their struggle against poverty, unemployment, and other social evils and to make India a modern, powerful, industrial state.
For this purpose, scientific thinking should be promoted, as science alone is the means to solve our country’s problems — not physics, chemistry, and biology alone but a whole scientific outlook, which must spread widely among the people. Our people must develop rational, logical and questioning minds, and abandon superstition and escapism. For this, the media can, and must, play a powerful role.
Many TV channels today show programmes on astrology frequently. Astrology is but superstition. Elementary common sense can tell us that the movement of the stars and planets can have no rational connection with our lives and cannot determine whether one will become a lawyer or a doctor or an engineer, or whether one will die at the age of 40, 50 or 60. Astrology is totally unscientific, but many TV channels propagate it, which is in my opinion is against the national interest.
The nation faces a socio-economic crisis. Artists, writers, and mediapersons must act responsibly and help the people solve their problems. This they can do by focussing on the real issues, which are basically economic, and not by trying to divert the attention of the people from the real issues to non-issues.

Source: The Hindu (

Monday, 18 August 2008

Indian Journal of Media Studies launched

My compliments to Prof Veena Noble Dass, the Vice Chancellor of Sri Padmavati Mahila Visvavidyalayam, to have encouraged and supported its Department of Communication and Journalism (DoCJ) to launch Indian journal of Media Studies.

Media educators in India would certainly join me to offer similar compliments to Prof Dass because vice-chancellors of most Indian universities fail to support such initiatives in media studies. It could because they do not realise that there is no media research journal for communication researchers, teachers, and students. It could be because of paucity of funds, or could be because such a journal for media research is always a low priority.

Prof V Durga Bhavani, the Editor and DoCJ Head and Associate Professor P Vijaya Lakshmi, have utilised the support to bring out the 98-page journal that has carried seven research papers. These deal with Telugu Press, Television and children, Internet use in Andhra Pradesh and gender sensitisation through media intervention.

The journal will be brought out every sixth month. The Volume I Issue I includes papers submitted by teachers from Sri Padmavati Mahila Visvavidyalayam. I do hope that the editors will make every effort to make the journal a useful platform for educators and researchers from other universities as well to justify 'Indian' in the title of the publication. Perhaps, eventually, the journal will be made peer-reviewed to ensure quality of the contents.

Indian Journal of Media Studies, Volume I Issue I (March 2008) published by Department of Communication and Journalism, Sri Padmavati Mahila Visvavidyalayam, Tirupati 517502 Andhra Pradesh.

Contact details:, telephones: (91-877) 2284536 and (91-877) 2284516, Fax: (91-877) 2284568 email:

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Causeless Journo/s in India

Following discusses media scenario in Kerala, but I have no doubt that situation in other states of India is no different. It does not matter if the newspapers are in regional language or the English ones. Any comments to offer?

Causeless Journo/s (CJs)?
Fourth Estate In The Age Of Social Movements

By Dr. T T Sreekumar (

The rise of social movements in the political horizon of neoliberal India heralds a transformation in the modes of reflexive social praxis involving a rupture with the overly familiar cultural nationalist and class based movements in the country. Beginning with the peasant movements in the 1980s, the appearance of what could be collectively called new social movements began to take concrete political forms. The feminist movement and the ecology movement have been particularly active in articulating a complex set of new themes and notions, which were strikingly dissimilar to the major concerns of the hegemonic political ideologies.

These movements have been largely territorial and often, in a political sense, marginal. What is significant is that despite the peripheral character of their existence, they have been able to influence political agenda and state policies, acting together as allies to a limited extent. Moreover, despite their reliance on spontaneity and crystallization of issues emerging at the provincial level, they exhibit a tremendous capacity for social survival.

Gail Omvedt has identified the dalit and anti-caste movements, women’s movements, environmental movements, and farmer’s movement fighting against hegemonic market production issues as the major new social movements in India. Conceding that the implications of the role of social movements in recent historical events depend on the definition and characterization of the movements, Omvedt seemed to reject the idea that new movements have been of negligible consequences compared to the class-based struggles. According to her, this is true only if the dalit movement is obliterated and farmer’s movement is disregarded as a new social movement. She provided a strong case for including farmer’s movement within any possible categorization of new social movements in India. The trajectory of the farmer’s movement has been brought to spotlight following the repression of farmers in Nandigram and Singoor in West Bengal and Chengara in Kerala.

Despite the massive surge in spontaneous grassroots movements that changed the social space of resistance and survival in India, the Media has been as a rule reluctant to come to terms with this emerging political reality. One of the reasons for this indifference was ideological. It has missed Media’s notice that the fact that new social movements are ideologically different from the old national and political movements. They are less hierarchical, following non conventional resource mobilization strategies and organically disinclined to stake claims to State power. The old movements comprised of political parties, organized trade unions or frontal mass organizations owing allegiances to central political formations. The issues that they took up A theoretical functionalism that underlie media practices in India failed to accept the transience, and evanescent nature of new social movements. They seem to be perplexed by the fact that movements arise without programmatic causes to uphold till dooms day. Multiplicity of temporally and spatially bounded causes upheld by varied social movements rather than a familiar practice of swearing by a single cause of usurping state power, has been particularly inconvenient to journalists who remain loyal to their Stalinist or cultural fascist roots.

Besides the exemplary examples of Sainath and a few others, scribes in the main stream media mostly present themselves as “causeless journo/s” (CJs) with pretensions of neutrality and a derision for those who stand up for the causes of the marginalized. The disdain probably arise from their own kinship ties or alliances with corrupt politicians or past association with Stalinist or cultural fascist media organizations. It seems to be the dictum that in the absence of a Supreme cause like class struggle or Hindu India, you should remain causeless as an indication of your neutrality and non-partisanship.

This phenomenon is becoming increasingly visible in Kerala’s political scenario. Social movements in Kerala are confronting an unprecedented and thoroughly hostile Stalinist and Savarna fascist repression. The ruling Stalinists in Kerala has unleashed an unprecedented spate of rhetorical and physical violence against people’s movements and activists probably in an effort to distract attention from a series of governmental and administrative failures and inner party squabbles. The mainstream media has been ignominiously indifferent to the excesses against marginalized communities, particularly dalits while devouring CPI (M)’s internal dissentions. “Classlessness” is perhaps a gripping contemporary politico-philosophical problem.

The first in the new series of salvos was gunned by a causeless rhetorician and columnist of the CPI (M) daily Deshabhimani (‘Patriot’ in Malayalam) Sukumar Azhikode. When Mahaswetha Devi visited Kerala to protest the forceful eviction of scores of households for the Vallarpadam road project in Moolampally, Sukumar reportedly called her “an insult to the nation”. Sukumar’s puerile outburst against Mahaswatha Devi was not an isolated incident. Overwhelming support for the intensifying land struggle in the Chengara plantation where landless dalits and adivasis have raised the demand for redistribution of agricultural land exposing the hollowness of widely trumpeted land reforms implemented by the CPI-Congress coalition in the early 70s with CPI (M) in the opposition, has been a major cause of infuriated assaults on social activists and progressive writers in the State. The neo-liberal revisionists in CPI (M) in Kerala have apparently taken a position that land redistribution is no longer a substantive political agenda.

One of the most hilarious yet disturbing manifestations of the harm that “causelessness” of CJs could engender was the virulent attack of the official ruling party media on a group of young activists who observed a Night Vigil in front of the State secretariat in support of the Chengara land struggle. Their hidden camera caught a husband and wife sitting close to each other in the Night Vigil and repeatedly flashed it as an example of “sexual anarchy” of social movement activists in Kerala. Interestingly, a Nietzscheian shock greeted the Stalinist media the next day when the participants held a press conference to declare that they believed in public expressions of love and affection and the hideous spying was perhaps a cultural proclivity that only the Stalinist 'parivar' shared.

The apathy of CJs in Kerala’s mainstream media has made the Stalinists bolder and at times Fourth Estate itself at the receiving end. Sumantha Banerjee has recently written in Economic and Political Weekly that the media photographer who photographed an SFI march in which they attacked a Youth Congress leader was assaulted to prevent him from “reporting and photographing their misdeed” resulting in “serious injuries to three journalists”. What is described as “petulant exhibitions of reprisal and violent intimidation against the media” Banerjee feels that “CPI-M is fast resembling the Right-wing parties like the Shiv Sena, and the chauvinist regional outfits like the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA)”. While the attack on media should be seen as part of the larger tactics of intimidation and violence unleashed against activists and social workers, the complacence of CJs of Kerala Media can be interpreted as tantamount to complicity in this criminal outburst. With civil society emerging as the last bastion of resistance to neo liberalism in India, the causeless journo perhaps has a final cause to destroy it.

(E-mail: )

Monday, 4 August 2008

Media Mimansa offers rich contents on University Education

Media Mimansa (Volume II, Issue 1, July-September 2008)) of Bhopal-based Makhanlal Chaturvedi Rashtriya Patrakarita Avam Sanchar Vishwavidyalay, deserves kudos for providing us a glimpse of the contemporary higher education scenario in India. The Editor and Vice Chancellor, Shri Achyutanand Mishra has taken pains to bring together veterans in academia to write about "University: Then and Now", the theme on which he had organised a seminar in Bhopal in June.
I am in a position to appreciate the efforts undertaken by him and his team because I have experienced in the recent past how difficult it is to involve so many scholars, from different parts of the country, for a seminar and later to bring out a comprehensive issue on the same theme. The editorial team has succeeded in bringing out the articles in Hindi and English, with a layout that is pleasing to the eye and easier to revert to specific topics that might be needed for reference later
The Media Mimansa is still in its infancy, yet it holds a promise for quality well-researched papers and articles of interest to academia in general, and communication educators in particular. I am confident about it because this issue has rich contents that enlighten the readers about the higher education in India, from 800 BC to the present era.
I do wish that the editorial team decides to put this and subsequent issues online so that anyone anywhere can access the journal anytime.

Price: Rs 30.
For details: Phone 0755 4228065 Mobile: 9425643429
Address: Makhanlal Chaturvedi Rashtriya Patrakarita Avam Sanchar Vishwavidyalay, E-8 Trilanga, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh

Film Institute Revives Lensight

Lensight, once a 'technical' journal for the celluloid professionals, has been reborn at the Pune-based Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) after about eight years. The new avatar of the publication will deal with a variety of facets of films and media, such as critical appreciation of films, personalities, music, and the dialectics of their organic interaction with society and its trends, according to FTII director Pankaj Rag.

The Institute had ceased publication in 2001 due to resource crunch. Mr. Rag, belonging to the 1990 IAS batch, took the decision to revive the journal immediately after he took over as Director in February last. This is part of his plans for the development of the Institute, which is to celebrate its Golden Jubilee year in 2010.

The bi-lingual journal was re-launched with contributions in English and Hindi from movie veterans, faculty, and students of the Institute. Govind Nihalani, an alumnus of the FTII, formally released the journal for publication recently, saying this would meet the expectations of both, the serious students of Indian cinema and moviegoers.

The 96-page issue covers a wide range of topics focussed on films such as critical evaluation of memorable Hindi films of the 1950s and 1960s, Renoir's masterpiece 'Rules of the Game', examination of 'looking' and 'image making' in literature, theatre and cinema through the story of Sakuntala.

The journal has articles covering experience of cinema through 'A space Odyssey', struggles faced during the making of award winning films, reflection on writing in films and a commentary on films and social change. Also included are articles on V Shantaram, and Nabendu Ghosh, and interviews with Rajkumar Hirani and Enoch Daniels and a serious discourse on recorded film music by editor Pankaj Rag himself.

Journal's Associate Editor Chandrashekhar Joshi says concerted efforts are being made to invite contributions from veterans in the profession and academia from different parts of the country. The plan is to publish at least three issues every year.

Single issue is priced at Rs 100 and annual subscription is Rs 300. For details: email:


Saturday, 2 August 2008

Sourcing the news

Young journalist Yogesh Joshi wonders:
With the following stringent rule-book, that reuters follows, can we a part of indian press ever be able to deliver, or shall we deliver better ?

Accuracy entails honesty in sourcing. Reuters' for that accuracy, and for freedom from bias, rests on the credibility of our sources. A Reuters journalist or camera is always the best source on a witnessed event. A named source is always preferable to an unnamed source. We should never deliberately mislead in our sourcing, quote a source saying one thing on the record and something contradictory on background, or cite sources in the plural when we have only one. Anonymous sources are the weakest sources. …

Here are some handy tips:

  • Use named sources wherever possible because they are responsible for the information they provide, even though we remain liable for accuracy, balance and legal dangers. Press your sources to go on the record.
  • Reuters will use unnamed sources where necessary when they provide information of market or public interest that is not available on the record. We alone are responsible for the accuracy of such information.
  • When talking to sources, always make sure the ground rules are clear. Take notes and record interviews.
  • Cross-check information wherever possible. Two or more sources are better than one. In assessing information from unnamed sources, weigh the source's track record, position and motive. Use your common sense. If it sounds wrong, check further.
  • Talk to sources on all sides of a deal, dispute, negotiation or conflict.
  • Be honest in sourcing and in obtaining information. Give as much context and detail as you can about sources, whether named or anonymous, to authenticate information they provide. Be explicit about what you don't know.
  • Reuters will publish news from a single, anonymous source in exceptional cases, when it is credible information from a trusted source with direct knowledge of the situation. Single-source stories are subject to a special authorisation procedure.
  • A source's compact is with Reuters, not with the reporter. If asked on legitimate editorial grounds, you are expected to disclose your source to your supervisor. Protecting the confidentiality of sources, by both the reporter and supervisor, is paramount.
  • When doing initiative reporting, try to disprove as well as prove your story.
  • Accuracy always comes first. It's better to be late than wrong. Before pushing the button, think how you would withstand a challenge or a denial.
  • Know your sources well. Consider carefully if the person you are communicating with is an imposter. Sources can provide information by whatever means available - telephone, in person, email, instant messaging, text message. But be aware that any communication can be interfered with.
  • Reuters will stand by a reporter who has followed the sourcing guidelines and the proper approval procedures.

We don't always get it right. There are times we should have pressed harder to get a source to go on the record with his or her name; there are times when we should have spiked (thrown away) a story because the sourcing wasn't totally up to our standards.