Indian Media In a muddle

Image result for newspaper
Without creibility, just a pile of waste paper (Raddi)?

A ‘NATIONAL’ INDIAN DAILY (no, I don’t mean notional, though  a 80-year-old typing on phone can make such mistakes) has shed copious tear, both in print and digital versions, over a ‘dancer’, known for vulgar record dances, not being allowed to dance in the plane on an international flight.

The same newspapers makes it a point to report every time Taimur Ali Khan Pataudi’s diaper is changed or he cried. The flirtations of film stars and idiotic speeches of morons passing off as leaders of political parties get most space in the print media or time on TV channels. We heard of Malala, the Pakistani girl shot by Taliban for seeking education  for girls or the man who shared the Noel Prize with her, Kailash Satyarthi only after she was shot or he got the prize.

All that they did earlier was pushed out of news space by frivolities which do not “inform, educate or entertain” – the primary purpose of journalism .- Titillation or pandering to baser human cravings are things that boost up newspaper circulations or TV viewership ‘ratings’.

Unfortunately people at large are interested in glamour and reel heroes in place of real ones.  And that is the main argument advanced by media for the new trend of sensationalization they indulge in. It is disgusting!

Recently I heard a discourse in which, departing from his usual religious issues, the speaker spoke of the respect that should be paid to the national flag, as Independence Day of India (August 15) was around the corner. He narrated the story of an Army officer who got a telegram that a son was born to him and was granted leave to visit home by his commanding officer. Just then a report of terrorist activity near the borders came. The CO told him to select some efficient and committed soldiers to be rushed to the spot.

The officer told his CO, “I can see my wife and son some other time, but I cannot see the national flag falling now.” He cancelled his leave, rushed to the troubled area, bravely fought the terrorists and shot them down. Just when he rose from his bunker, thinking all of them were down, one dying terrorist showered bullets on him. The officer died fighting for the country, without seeing his newborn son or  the wife he married just the previous year.

“No Indian news channel or newspaper thought the news worth splashing. Not a word was heard or read about the brave act. The world came to know about it from a BBC bulletin,” the  immensely popular speaker said.

This seems to be a world trend. Recently, an extremely popular American talk-show, EllenTube, had the host Ellen telling the audience that she would begin the day with good news. She picked up a daily newspaper, searched for good news in most pages and threw the daily down in disgust. All news items were about some evil even or the other.

Newspapers everywhere are facing existential crisis. Many are facing closure. Great ones like The Gaurdian have gone online and are appealing for public donations. Journalism in all media has lost its credibility. Social media news id quicker and more effective, but being un-regulated, gives scope to fake news.

In India newspapers like those run by Lokmanya Tilak, Agarkar, Prakasam or Motilal Nehru were a part of the freedom struggle. They were run with a purpose. I remember Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘Harijan‘ had a column titled “Weekly War News”, on Satyagraha in different part of the country.

The media’s argument “that is what the people want” to justify  sensationalization and running after TRP (ratings) is the same as that used by bad film makers. It has been proved beyond doubt that if good films are made, people do see them. Only when some indulge in titillation and a few are creative does people’s taste degenerate. The fall in tastes and morality is a reflection of the failure of leadership in all fields.

Real leaders lead, not just follow popular trends.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, RIP

Vajpayee, journalist, politician but essentially a poet at heart

He was born on Christmas Day celebrated all over the world – even by thousands of non-Christians. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was kept alive artificially on Inida’s Independence Day, August 15 and the life support was switched off only the next day, August 16 evening (as the I-Day for Indians living in the USA was still on India’s Aug.16 morning).

He could not have wanted to spoil the festivities on India’s Independence Day. That was typically Vajpayee, almost 94 years old.

This blog reported several deaths, but not repeating what was already available on the Internet or other sources but with personal glimpses. So let us continue that tradition.

Taking a group of 52 students of the Department of Mass Communication, Nagpur Universithy as one of the teachers accompanying them on a Delhi ‘study tour’ I was keen that it should not end up another pleasure trip of shopping event, which it usually did. So I prepared them for each visit, be it to a news channel, media house,embassy, politiciasn, Rashtrapatyi Bhavan or news agency office.

Then I remembered that one of my ex-students was working on the personal staff of the ex-Prime Minister and then Leader of the Opposition, A. B. Vajjpayee. We did not have an appointment. I asked the ex-student to find out if Atalji would meet us if we drop in unscheduled.

Vajpayee not only agreed and spent time with the boys and girls, some of them later journalists, but treated them to tea, asnwered their questions and made them proud to have wanted to become journalists – the profession he belonged to.

At the end, responding to a student who remembered him as a poet, he even recited one of his poems. A journalist by calling and a politician with a purpose, he was a poet at heart. And he distinguished himself in all these fields.

In sharp contrast to the present day politics of hatred, when Congress leaders vie with each other in abusing an belittling (neech aadmi, chairwala, hahhaha) Prime Minister Narendra Modi — one of Vajyapee’s discoveries — the late leader praised Indira Gandhi, when she liberated Bangladesh, as an incarnation of Goddess Durga.

That was Atalji. At a time when the Indian media, bereft of credibility, ethcs and social commitment, are seen at their lowest-ever level, he makes me (and many journbalists of yester-years) proud that thety belong to the profession of the former editor of Rashtra Dharma, Swaraj (Gwalior) and Panchajanya, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Choosing Words With Care

Beautiful face, ugly words

SASHI THAROOR obviously is proud of his mastery over words, as seen in his frequent verbal gymnastics with English words, flaunting obscure and rarely used ones dug out of some dictionary publishers.

For such a person to be be told by his own party to be careful in choice of words is nothing less than reprimand. More so for one who, by profession, deals in words; public relations is allied to journalism, if not a branch it, and that was his profession when he was an employee of the United Nations.

Perhaps he is one PR man who rose to the world’s highest position in his field, making India proud of him.

And so proud of mastery over words is Shashi Tharoor that he has been showing it off by using big bombastic words which made everyone rush to dictionaries. One suspected he was in the pay of dictionary k


Perhaps he, like all politicians, likes to stay in the limelight – even for wrong reasons like unsuccessful contest for the top UN post, multiple divorces, marriage (his third and her second or vice versa) or alleged affair with a Pakistani woman journalist, leading to his last wife’s suicide.

Sometimes over-enthusiasm makes people like Tharoor forget the very purpose of words – to communicate. Journalism is meant to communicate and not show off mastery over words, which are mere tools of the trade.

One may forgive Chidambaram for coining the term ‘saffron terror’ or former Home Minister Sushil Shinde for using a honorific for the Pakistani terrorist who masterminded Bombay blasts –in their over-enthusiasm to score over Bharatiya Janata Party.

But for Shashi Tharoor to say India was turning a ‘Hindu Pakistan’ under BJP is nothing but what the Congress high command chided him for: wrong choice of words.

And that is unpardonable for one who is primarily a wordsmith.

(Written on phone in train)

Purohit’s Patronising Pat – A Non-Issue Blown Up

Purohit and 'Prof. Nirmala

Tamil Nadu Governor Purohit who owns ‘The Hitavada’ daily and ‘Prof.’ Nirmala Devi

IS  A STRANGE EXPERIENCE to see someone you know personally being trolled and an incident involving him/her being blown out of proportion.

The Governor of Tamil Nadu, Banwarilal Purohit, finds himself (to put it in the words      of  a newspaper) in “yet another” controversy (as if he has been the perpetrator of many scams) when he patted the cheek of a woman reporter after she asked a question  as his

The apology
The letter of apology  (courtesy Dainik Bhaskar

press conference ended and he was leaving.  The  “controversy” about which many reporters “sought clarification” was a remark by  Nirmala Devi, the assistant professor of a college whose voice clipping asking college girls to please university officials sexually to get better marks went viral. She had said she was once present on a dais from which the Governor, Banwarilal Purohit, spoke. Many questions were asked implying, suggesting, or questioning,  the governor’s involvement  in some  racket with the professor. Nirmala  has been  arrested  on charges of luring four  girl students to extend sexual favours to university officials. 

Having worked for 15 years as a news agency head in a city where Purohit brought out an English daily and ran Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan   schools with several branches (where a majority of  teachers are  women) and knowing several journalists, including women, who worked in his newspaper, I had never heard of his behaving inappropriately with women or having any ‘affairs’.

Such matters, even when not published or exposed, cannot be hidden. There are always whispers about them – and there were none about Purohit.   A businessman, he had taken over the newspaper from a politician who was notorious not only as a “hero” of the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi but also for making advances  to a film actress, among other things.

Patronising pat
 The InShorts item

The Press, which had no guts to oppose the Congress minister then, was trying to make out as if  Purohit had some link to the woman professor simply because, as the Chancellor of all universities in his State, he happened to address a meeting from a stage on which she was also seated. As soon as the clip about her “advice” to the college girls went viral he had, as Chancellor of the university, he ordered a probe.

Touching someone “without permission” is, of course, not at all proper. The Chennai Press Club found his action an “outrageous” and “unbecoming conduct,” which was “neither exemplary nor condonable”.

An apology was demanded and  it was sent, signed by Purohit himself, by the Raj Bhavan immediately to the woman journalist who made a big issue of it on the social media, narrating how  she felt violated and washed her face many many times after the incident. She also sent a protest mail, though she too felt his action was ‘grandfatherly’.

He mailed back, “I considered that question to be a good one. Therefore, as an act of appreciation for the question…I gave a pat on your cheek considering you to be like my granddaughter.”  In his letter of apology, the Governor said he was in the print media for 40 years and that the “pat on cheek” was done with affection  to express his appreciation for her question, which came too late to be answered.

“I do understand from your mail that you feel hurt about the incident. I wish to express my regret and my apologies to assuage your sentiments that have been hurt,” Purohit added.

It is true that women in India do not like to be touched – even handshakes are normally replaced by the joining of hands in ‘Namaste’. Purhohit’s  act was patronizing and many do not like it.  I recall a former Chief Minister and an ex-Minister (incidentally both died in accidents) talking to me with  hands on my shoulders as if they were my friends,  –though I disagreed with both.  And they did not even know me well. Pats on the back were too many to be remembered.

But  then it was not considered inappropriate. Neither was a former President’s reply  (to a query by reporters why he always spoke exclusively to a particular woman reporter): “You wear saaris and come, I will tell you.” It was meant to be a joke and taken so.

Being patronizing is disliked. It may probably be an issue of cultural gap; Banwarilal Purohit  comes from Maharashtra  where the segregation of the sexes is not as severe as in the South. His association with a saffron party may be another (and perhaps the main) reason.  It could also be a hangover from the days when very few women were in the media, while they perhaps outnumber men now.

Whatever it is, his intentions cannot be doubted to blow a non-issue blown out of proportions by a Press with priorities mixed up.

Plan For Shoeb Centenary 2020 Now

Public memory is said to be phenomenally short. But politicians’ memory is conveniently so. Many great persons in the country are forgotten only because it suits the political bosses to ignore or underplay them.
While the centenaries  of lesser men and women are celebrated, a journalist who laid down his life for unifying the country at a very young age is being ignored.
October 27, 2020 is the centenary of a great journalist, Shoebullah Khan, who was editor of an Urdu daily Imroze in the Hyderabad State of the Nizam at the age of 20.  He courageously opposed the plans of the Nizam and the Razakar party of Owaisi (now MIM party) to make his state (now Telangana,  parts of Marathwada and Hyderabad Karnataka) join Pakistan or be an independent state. For this, the Razakar killed him brutally on August 22m 1948 and cut his hands  as ordered by Owaisi.
This was one of the triggers that prompted Sardar Patel’s “Police action” that liberated Hydeabad.
My book  ‘A TOWN CALLED PENURY – the Changing Culture of Indian Journalism‘  mentions how Congress, just to placate Owaisi and his party (which was used by the Congress for it’s communal politics), ignored Shoeb. However tributes were paid to him by Bharatiya Janata Party’s elder leader L K Advani in 2003.
A gate of Narendra Modi’s election  rally at Nizam College grounds in Hyderabad in 2014 (remembered for being the first such rally with an entrance ticket) was also named after Shoebullah Khan.
I appeal to all journalists and nationalists to observe the centenary of Shoeb for which a Shoebullah Khan Centenary Committee may be formed now to plan a national  programme for promoting excellence in the profession, instill social responsibility and  improve and regulate journalism education in India which in bad shape. Thus it would be an occasion for concrete and significant action instead of more speech-making.
The initiative may come from Osmania University Journalism Department which offers an annual prize in Sheob’s name for the top ranker in its examination. I mailed this appeal to hundreds of journalists. ONLY ONE responded.
Fake news may turn out to be a major problem of the first quarter of this century. The profession ha not been able to think out a way to counter this problem. An initiative in that direction can be taken during that certification.
The media, especially the print media to which Shoeb (and I) belonged is going through a crisis of existence. It may be taking its last breath and an initiative to save or reform it can be taken during the celebration.
The electronic media is badly entangled in TRP rat race resulting in sensationalism and lack of social responsibility.  The role of some TV channels in helping the Kasab-led terrorists in the 26/11 Mumbai attack is a case in point as also the frivolty dominating all media at the cost of significant news.
As I had pointed out journalism, supposed to inform, educate and entertain has reversed the order of it’s objectives, sometimes resorting to titillation instead of entertainment.

Journalism or mass communication departments have mushroomed all over the country after Hislop College in Nagpur started the first department in collaboration with Syracuse University, New York in 1952. Before that Punjab University’s journalism department had shifted from Lahore in undivided India to Chandigarh

There are scores of them but most of these departments are headed by people without any experience in the media, teach outdated syllabi and are ill equipped. Most dole out personnel for advertisement or public relations setups  — and that too not well equipped.
If some of their students do become good journalists, it is NOT because of them but IN SPITE of them.
An ‘All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) regulates engineering education in the country (clubbing with it, for no reason, management studies or MBA).
Why not have a similar body for journalsm education?

Our Blind, Frivolous Media

When I joined a newspaper in 1957 after  a few contributions were published, it was under a notion that journalism, in a way, was meant for the betterment of society and therefore was social work, the field I was associaharakhchand-sawlated from the age of 14.

It took me decades to realise that I was wrong. The Press of the freedom struggle days has become extinct. Print medium is overwhelmed by the TRP-driven electronic media with its  sensationalism and hype. Both, therefore, have no time and space for anything  not sensational or ‘hot’ news.

What should be the eyes and Continue reading Our Blind, Frivolous Media

Great News, Is It True?

cellxphonesThe printed word, my profession for the last 58 years, has lost its credibility.  No one believes in newspapers anymore.

The first informant to the people in general, in most cases, is not a newspaper but the electronic media. Of them TV has fallen to the lure of TRPs, which earn them the moolah. Continue reading Great News, Is It True?

MABF – Sethji Editors

Journalism, like politics, continues to be a career where no educational qualifications are laid down.  As all that matters is the  end-product journalists are expected to be good communicators proficient in writing; or in the case of  TV and radio, effective speakers.  (Some may add that both are the last resort of scoundrels).

Morning newspaper becomes  ‘raddi’  by  evening

With many fake newspapers coming up to take advantage of sops given to journalists, or use the clout to blackmail or make money, even communication skills are not needed to become an ‘editor’; those who write can always be hired if you have the money.

In Gujarat the name of the newspaper owner usually appears as editor (‘Tantri’) in the imprint line, with an anonymous de facto editor bringing out the publication. Legendary owners like R.N. Goenka and G.D. Birla, who wielded immense power in their newspapers, never posed as editors.Their name never Continue reading MABF – Sethji Editors

No More Scavenging With Pen

pen-1Writing on politics in India is a scavenger’s job; you can write only about dirty deeds of unprincipled people. The very word ‘politics’ has lost its original meaning to acquire a bad connotation. When one conspires or manipulates, one is supposed to be “playing politics”. Journalists think only ‘politics’ – who is stabbing whom in the back, who is pulling whose legs – is news. Even those who are disgusted with it and choose fields like sports or science have to cover politics there; ‘politics’ has become all-pervasive.

All political reporting is about parties which have sacrificed all values, principles and ideologies and have the single-point goal of coming to power and retaining it, about palace coups within parties, about people called ‘leaders’ who only follow — doing what the mob wants, even if wrong. Populism and evils like casteism, parochialism and use of money and muscle power are accepted as “electoral compulsions”, even by parties which once swore by principles.
What can a political analyst write about today?
On how a loyal good man, frustrated and grumbling about being always ignored in favour of dynasty members has been ‘kicked up’ into the Rahstrapati Bhavan as he cannot be kicked out?
On how one becomes a President or Governor not for any merit or erudition, but as reward for loyalty to ruling family or for nuisance value and ability to needle the rulers if not ‘rehabilitated’?
On how goondas posing as leaders work up mob emotions on issues which should be sorted out across the table and in the interests of the majority, irrespective of their language. religion or caste? On how these ‘leaders’ remain unscathed, grow rich and live comfortably in palacial properties even as the people whom they incite to violence lose lives or limbs or get locked up?
On how “people’s representatives” waste time in Parliament and legislatures on dharnas, freebies for themselves and trivial issues like a decades-old cartoon, naming of universities/projects or even more frivolous matters, but have no time to pass the Lokpal or Women’s Reservation Bills or laws to benefit children, dalits (who they swear by) and disabled?
On how ‘leaders’ of a party which criticisie rivals for corruption or illegal activities and “foreign jaunts”, themselves face corruption charges, get arrested or go on pleasure trips abroad with hangers on? On how they spend hundreds of crores of tax-payers’ money on ads to promote temselves while basic services suffer?
On how a CM spends crores on helicopter-hopping, poojas, homas and prostrating before pontiffs, ignoring draught and more urgent issues?
On how a leader with prime ministerial dreams prefers to be a puppet Chief Minister controlled by a disqualified politician and allows a wanted criminal ‘welcome’ a muder accused on bail, giving him a VIP treatment?
On how Union Carbide’s Andersons, Bofors’ Quattarochis and the corrupt with secret Swiss bank accounts are protected by leaders who then demand a probe into an anti-corruption crusaders’ money but refuse to reveal where their own party’s millions came from?
On how those responsible for a deplorable massacre of members of one community charge rivals –just to get a community’s votes– with (equally deplorable) genocide, but use their own power to escape prosecution while the rivals faced scores of cases and tet their own members go to jail?
On how politicians, film stars and gold-and-diamond merchants – all of them contributing little to the society — have become millionaires with political patronage while farmers who produce the food we live on are driven to suicide?
On how a ‘son of the soil’ who could spend crores on world tours for his extended family despite being a ‘poor farmer’, found only three billionaires of the state to choose a Rajya Sabha candidate from?
On how a company can lend money to the close kin of the ruling dynasty to buy land and then buy the same land from him at many times the price just a few days later or on how a government-allotted land worth hundreds of crores is ‘sold’ by politician-trustees to themselves for a paltry sum?
The list can be unending. The pen may be mightier than the sword, or the (key)board stronger than the bomber, but a journalist has to use it as a toilet brush to clean up the dirt spread by politicians.
Journalists who want to stop writing on politics and turn to human issues are, however, condemned to be considered “useless” non-entities.

I did.