Friday, August 31, 2007

So is the Broadcast Bill a bad thing?

The TV channels keep on harping about how bad the 'Broadcast Bill' proposed by that slick-willy, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi is like a draconian act that even the Gestapo would not have thought up. However, yesterday when 'India Live' the latest incarnation of 'Janmat' a channel that virtually no-one watches managed to create a riot in Old Delhi, you wonder if even sting operations in the 'public good' need to be regulated.
While, there is no doubt that this sting operation weeded out a person who has no place in civil society, should the channel have gone live with the sting before it informed the local authorities? I think it should have. Of course, the said channel was proudly thumping its chest - 'Hey look, we caused a riot! Yay!'
Listen, to repeat I do not believe that what these guys did in itself was bad, but before airing they should have informed the police, even gone to the Delhi Police Commissioner or someone at the Central Government and had this woman arrested. Plus, the Police should have been warned to give them time to react. Should the school not have been identified? Maybe yes, but that is debatable.
At the same time, while the 'premier' English news channels have harped on about how evil the act is, the fact remains that through the day some of non-English channels could not care less. Watching TV in the afternoon is like watching a comedy show if you put on certain channels which really care more about Katrina Kaif visiting Salman Khan than anything else. Heck, the outburst of judges on India's cacophonic music shows makes for an half-hour special! So where does news end and where does entertainment begin?
So should channels who have lost the plot when it comes to news be held accountable? I think they should. Either that, or they become news channels again. I'm not saying that there is no room for entertainment, but create special channels for such reporting and with stings, at least co-ordinate them when you are exposing something that will rankle the public. Don't keep shooting yourself in the foot and then start frothing at the mouth.
Oh yeah, and NDTV has sold its soul to Kingfisher - Vijay Mallya is the lead sponsor of their new lifestyle channel which will be called NDTV 'Good Times'. Don't know what to say! But VM had this to say...

The Kingfisher brand has come to epitomize a lifestyle that encompasses some of the finest things in life and is today synonymous with delivering a premium experience. The NDTV Good Times channel would leverage from the editorial credibility and quality of the NDTV group and the strong lifestyle appeal of the Kingfisher brand and icon, to offer Indian viewers a world-class television entertainment experience. The shared values of the Kingfisher brand and NDTV Good Times - a great lifestyle, the good times and living in style are highly complementary.

Didn't know that really...
And if you haven't ever read this fantastic blog called Guruphiliac, do so now!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Minty-Fresh down south.

Three southern Indian editions are around the corner for Papermint shortly, maybe even before the close of the calendar year. While Bangalore is a strong market for ET, Hyderabad and Chennai should be interesting. The paper will have an editor in charge of the southern editions based out of Bangalore. Phase-II for the paper should be interesting, particularly since the quality of their features have improved slowly but surely. News breaks on the other hand...
After seeing yesterday's events in Bihar and reading some of the apologists excuses in the papers, I have been wondering if the mere presence of a video camera gives life to a mob. Not that mobs need much of an excuse, but has the advent of TV News made them crazier? As it is, the difference between news and entertainment, or to use that wonderful term tamasha has blurred to such an extent, it does become a bit difficult to make out what is what. I wonder how difficult it is for an editor to decide to scrap a news show because Salman Khan farted? Not too difficult I imagine.
But, giving coverage to otherwise peaceful and small groups of people and egging them on is standard practice in India. It may not win Pulitzer's but it can win Indian TV awards and gets you eyeballs. Or so one believes. Heck, when Richard Gere kissed Shilpa Shetty, cameramen and reporters went and found small groups whose worldview echoed their own insular ones and egged them onto protests. Heck, if this isn't editorialising what is?
Back in the day when I was a trainee, I had a colleague whose interviewing style was "So what you are saying is XXXXX?" and before the startled interviewee could mutter an answer, it was too late. Technically, nothing wrong in putting words in someone's mouth, technically it still is not incorrect to write that "XXX believes that YYYY is a bitch". That was a lot better than making up quotes or waking the dead, which thanks to the advent of cameras you can't really do. But what you can do with a camera is possibly far worse.
I am not condoning what happened in Bihar, though I am pretty sure that the poor bugger would have beaten to a pulp inside the thana anyway and the cops were so lazy that they let the mob take care of their work for them. But, did the camera egg the mob on? Did the presence of TV cameras make the Gujjar protests worse than they should have been? While I would like to think that it did not, a part of me has a feeling that it did.
PS : When you are carrying a massive visual below the masthead like HT did today morning - they should at least get the planes right. I am pretty sure I was not the only person not sniggering when HT identified a JAS-39 Gripen as a MiG-35. Might have been a small mistake had they taken small images or taken it in an inside page, but for the location this is an awful mistake. Heck, you can even see the Swedish AF markings. Sure, you can argue I'm an aircraft fanboy, but still...

Monday, August 27, 2007


I came back from a rather lazy weekend in Bombay where thankfully I managed to steer clear of doing crazy things. Beer, smokes and football only with a different group of people this time. Quite enjoyable. Anyway, soon after I returned by the evening flight yesterday I was coerced somewhat by a friend I had not met in a while to meet up. Like more than half the people I know, this guy also hacks around for a living and interestingly we had some points to make about media criticism online.
"You know why more people don't do it?" he told me, "Because they're shit scared they will get caught. And when they caught and if they've been stupid idiots regarding what they write on the blog, they'll be unhirable!" And of course, he proceeded to give an example of a chap who has pretty much shot his career to shreds because of this and argued that a whole generation of senior editors will never hire the bugger.
But then again, I still believe an online blog/commentary on the way Indian TV anchors/reporters look, talk and generally do news stories is a completely decent idea. I mean, there are so many pancake faces and women with bad hair day's on TV and this is before we get to the diction and elocution part. Among TV anchors while I still believe Vishnu has by far and away the best elocution of any anchor, there are others with fake accents and awful diction. Then scripts, watching TV around seeing how a bunch of unelected twits (Karat and Yechury) trying to hold our (flawed) democracy to ransom and the horrific blasts at Hyderabad, I noticed a horrible usage of adjectives.
But this is not going tob be a job for me. And before TV-types pipe-in with vitriol, I think this will be a great idea because criticism only improves the final product. What say?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Transforming reportage...

While there is really no substitute for going out there and 'getting the news' or being a newshound, don't you think Google and Wikipedia between them have pretty much transformed the way we work in the media. In a get-rich quick world where no-body is expected to remember a pretty face or worse still a byline beyond a few seconds, these two online tools have been short-cut extremis devices.
Even though this means that sometimes what look like well researched articles read dangerously like Wikipedia entries, it also means work gets done a lot quicker. I have no clue what I would do without Google. Roll over and die maybe. because the Bossman and his ilk sometimes ask for the most innocuous of information which if you were trying to find stuff the old way would take a few years. But then again, Google has made accessible a whole treasure trove of information to people. One can argue that the internet already might have had the information, but how many people would care to go to the BSE or NSE website and search through reams of information for a specific bit of data. No matter how easy to access or well-designed the site, unless you know what the hell you're looking for as a journo, you'll still use Google. Heck, I'll admit that I've found the strangest sites through Google as well.
I would guess I've become quite good at setting search strings and exploring the whole gamut of Google services, including the very good desi version of Google Local, which I believe will be merged with Google maps and kill the dreams of quite a few Indian start-ups - I know people are screaming over at Web18! But has Google changed the way you report or access information?
PS : Just discovered this while going through Google Analytics. Well, must admit I'm a tad surprised! Also, someone asked for a post on the radio business, and I have to admit I really don't know that much other than the fact that 104.8 FM is the worst channel on earth. And I also hear stories that two senior eds from TVTN have quit to join the Samajwadi Party mouthpiece - Sahara Samay at salaries of Rs 7.5 lakh per month. Of course, if the TV channel is run as well as the airline was run, I don't know how money will really help. Of course, to sell your ethics to protect Mulayam and Amar for that kind of money is well... dunno what to say!

Monday, August 20, 2007

News, news, wonderful news...

The funny thing is that while people are blaming the Commies for creating the impasse in the government and distinguished editors like Mr Sanghvi talk of the ideological bankruptcy of the Communists, and while the rest of the media try to blame the Chinese for the impasse, which is something I don’t deny (the Chinese don’t like the deal one bit, but today’s Commies aren’t as crazy as they were in the 60’s – when Mani Aiyar was a one of them), everybody forgets one thing.

Who on earth is responsible for this mess? Y’see, distinguished Editors will blame Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury, not remembering that the not everybody is up for elections right now, other than the BJP which sees huge opportunism right now, even though if they were in power they would have done the same thing. And believe me, I’m a right-wing sympathiser.

I support the Nuclear Deal simply because the Americans are giving us a fantastic deal. This is an American administration that is seriously hobbled and is looking for friends and also wants to use India as a bulwark against the Chinese. Any which way, the question I asked above is who to hold responsible for the impasse – and while journalists loathe to blame one of their own – I think the blame should pretty much completely and totally fall at the feet of Sanjaya Baru, the Prime Minister’s inept and incompetent Media Advisor.

Why on earth did Manmahon raise the stakes all of a sudden? I’m pretty sure because Baru put him up to it. No, Baru DID put him upto it! Heck, the interview was in The Telegraph, a paper that is only read in Calcutta (though ToI is #1 in Calcutta now according to the latest circulation figues). This is not the first time Baru has made a monumental cock-up, there have been cases of leaked letters and botched quotes before - notably during the Natwar fiasco! A senior editor at a large English Daily when I asked him, “So do you believe Baru has been a ‘slight’ disaster?”, replied quite sardonically, “Slight???”

I’m sure the media will continue to vilify Karat and his ilk, and while I am no Left-Wing sympathiser, I believe these guys are getting a bum deal. This is a crisis not of their making, this crisis was created by the country’s worst PR professional, and for that he should lose his job!

That said, are we totally prepared for an election right now? Narendra Modi certainly hopes so, a national election will take the spotlight away from Gujarat, Praful Patel won’t because Air India will place a $10 billion follow-up order next year. But for a media perspective? I guess this will mean that INX (Hear stories of Barkha+INX+NDTV Options) will start with their feet running and relegate Headlines Today yet another notch, and CNN-IBN and NDTV will definitely be battling for ratings, and we will hit silly season again with 1001 stories about how ‘great’ Rahul Gandhi is.

Whatever it is, we are heading for interesting times.

Just on another note, it has been mentioned that the Indian media's collective failure to report on the floods and concentrate on Sanjay Dutt was the lowest point the media has touched in decades. And I agree. Sanjay Dutt is a good actor and one would like to believe a reformed drug addict, but why his tragedy made the front and ten middle pages of every daily and hours of television time while hundreds of people died in Bihar is puzzling. At a level it is antipathy I would believe. Bihar floods every year and every time Bihar floods it is a chance for Laloo and Nitish to start fighting again. It is beyond me why the state has not invested in simple flood defenses, but that is another argument. The collective euphoria of the media at Sanjay Dutt getting his interim bail minutes ago is a bit crazy too. I will not be surprised if the media takes credit for Sanjay's release. Sometimes I wonder...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A conversation...

Not exactly a state of the media post, but I was talking to a friend who has recently quit the profession the other day and she made a few points which I found very appropriate. I asked her to put her points down in a mail and though she asked me to clean it up, a combination of sloth and the fact that I really don't believe this needs any cleaning up, because that will really make it lose its import. Here is that person's undiluted email (she calls it a rant, but anyway).

I've done my time at plenty of media organisations for over ten years and I am stunned by the whole attitude of self righteousness journalists as a clan possess. They are the first to lift a finger and point out favours for bribes, sexual discrimination, gender biases in society, religious discrimination and social ostracisation based on everything from size and weight to ugly betty-ness. Now imagine this - what would any media organisation do if the GM or MD of a major MNC or bank was caught demanding free lunches/ all-expense paid trips from a five star hotel just because they had their account? Cry bloody murder more often than not. But that is what most media organisations and their journalists do. What would the media do if appointments to key positions in an organisation - let's say hypothetically dear lawyers - Reliance were found to have been because of the candidates proximity to a certain Mr Ambani? Bring the house down? Please tell me which of your editors/ senior journalists have been appointed purely on merit based on a series of interviews and not on proximity to top management?

As a woman, I have worked with the top private sector company - Tatas, arguably the top public sector company - IL&FS a mom and pop shop that shall remain unnamed and over 4 different media organisations. I have never been sexually harassed or felt threatened, had my promotions questioned or been unfairly treated in any of the former. I have had issues, yes. But there were always forums, platforms, channels by which to address and solve them. The Tatas famously used a mentoring system by which you can sit down and sort an issue against your immediate boss - with the intervention of seniors without this being used against you in any way in the future. And it works brilliantly.

Protest in a media organisation and stories and spiked, killed, you will be offered a quiet transfer if you make a big enough noise, or you can find a job with an opposing camp if you simply won't be quiet at all.

The only organisations to turn me down with concerns about gender and sexuality at job interviews have been media organisations. One then-senior editor thankfully now no more than a peer, once famously said to me 'You are qualified and capable but you are a single mom and I don't believe you can deliver, so sorry.' In any other industry that would have been grounds to sue.

I have worked with top media bosses sitting in their second floor then-durbars at recruitment phases where candidates who fitted the part were turned down because 'they were too fat'.

Private sector companies have processes and norms in place. Recruitment is taken very seriously and follows civilised standards. You need to justify why you've hired someone, you check credentials, you background check them. Then they are held accountable for what they bring to the table. Everywhere except in the media.

Who does the media think it is? Look at the world around you - every industry has norms except the media. Every industry is progressing into making the workplace a safer healthier more professional environment except the media. The things journalists get away with would be grounds for getting the sack in any other industry. You even need to justify dating a co-worker in some, let alone taking a free meal.

Is the media really equipped to point a finger at any other industry, social or political evil? Look in the mirror guys and oh... take out the trash.


Edited for typos!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Monumental moments in graphic design!

Sorry, I was out of town over the weekend and I have been fairly snowed under with work after that, partially due to the fact that Monday was spent negotiating landslides in the hills. But, of course, sometimes you should just grin and bear it when it comes to work. Also heard my boss tell me something which got be a bit worried, "Start allocating work now, you're not a kid anymore!" Hmm, that will be a strange transition to make, but what the heck.
Anyway, this is a quick short post about the latest news channels to hit our TV's shortly - what you see on the side is their new logo - News X. And I must admit, all assertions of class that this channel will make will have to taken with a huge dose of salt if that is their logo. Well, it is because it came as an official mailer. Looks strangely inspired by Cingular's logo, but I'll go out on a limb and that NDTV's logo is still the classiest on Indian TV.
Anyway, there is a lot of weird gossip here and there, but I really haven't had the time to post it. I will do so pretty soon, but whenever I get the time that is. Enjoy the rest of the week while I murder my keyboard!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Back and barely alive...

The problem with taking a self-imposed sabbatical from alcohol is that sometimes when you start drinking again, it can get a bit hairy. So, after being alternately a good boy and then a bad boy, I've decided to take another break from booze. Masybe the fact that my throat feels has this weird after-taste of Pinot-Noir and Baileys, maybe it is a good idea. I think the Sambuca shots from last night are still sloshing in my insides.
Anyway, to respond to the last post.
Far-fetched? Never denied the fact that it wasn't - but from Bennett's perspective it makes complete sense, while some people might laugh it away, the whispers are getting stronger. Maybe because this blog attracts bored types in this world, but also from the type of people to whom the internet remains an enigma.
Will it happen? No clue whatsoever. But, as I said, the possibility exists. After all, the combined entity would have a 95% market-share in North India. Need a good way to reach SEC A/A+ in North India, can't beat this combo.
Will it be allowed to happen? Remember, Madam is an RS MP for the Congress (from Rajasthan). But, I am pretty sure that there will (and there should) be a public outcry. But then again, given that sometimes you realise that there in nothing worthwhile in either paper, should people care if at all. Of course, at least both papers haven't come down to Aaj Tak/India TV standards as yet - a funny world where dwarves get married and people have sex with trees, though disconcertingly Rakhi Sawant is making it out of the supplements and into the main papers (though I must admit, I do have a grudging admiration for the spunk of that woman).
Was I drunk when I wrote the post? No, I usually post from office. I have better things to do when drunk than write on a blog. Or work.
I have been fascinated with new apps on mobile phones of late - particularly Facebook on the mobile. I mean there is a weird feeling writing on someones wall when you're sitting across them. Of course, I'm a complete social misfit, and with this application I complete the process, but heck, who cares? And for god's sake, someone please give the mobile operators more spectrum!
Next post based on a conversation I had with a friend in Bombay on the state of the media.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Another tale...

The story goes that when EchTee decided to part ways with its erstwhile editor it was done in an awfully graceless fashion. At the same time, the previous Editor, who has dreams of becoming a TV star and still has an office on the First Floor of the building announced that the guy was being fired just as the CEO was urging him to sign the severance package. So, people were actually texting the guy asking him if he was indeed being fired while he was being fired. The story gets even more interesting that it was the sudden cancellation of a column written by an ace TV journalist that broke the camel's back!
But, that my readers isn't the whole story. The story gets even more interesting...
Bennett&Coleman, publishers of The Times of India and The Economic Times, and part owners of Times Now, by far and away the largest media group in the country are supposedly interested in buying a stake in HT Media.
Yes, really!
The two papers combined will have a stranglehold on the Delhi market and monopolies in several other small city markets across Northern and Eastern India.
But why would Mrs B want to sell?
Ever since she was elected to the Rajya Sabha, Mrs B has been a very conscientious Member of Parliament, really, no sarcasm intended. Her interest in handling the day-to-day affairs of the paper are diminished and her sons do not seem to be interested as well. Sameer Jain on the other hand is already grooming his daughter for her future role. HT has also been lurching from one Editorial crisis to another, and strangely enough, it is fairly widely accepted that despite their sometimes silly focus on pointless stories, ToI is the better paper. You would never have said that two-three years ago, where people parised HT for their editorial content. Nowadays, you do get the distint feeling that the paper is becoming a 'Me-Too' sort of place.
What happens? If BCCL steps in with money, at a substantial premium to current market price to buy a largish stake in HT Media, it actually helps them compete with the India Today Group's new planned daily paper - the Daily Today or whatever it is going to be called (I will reserve judgement on that till later). Whether it is another case of BCCL management driving themselves paranoid yet again before a new product - they drove themselves and editorial nuts before Papermint launched. After that their was massive consternation among management and editorial at ET - 'We drove ourselves crazy... About THIS?' Heck, every ET staffer I met in the weeks following Papermint's launch was actually pissed that the new paper wasn't the product they hoped it would be.
What might also happen is that BCCL will send one of their Editors (Gautam?) to run HT, with most BCCL senior writers having risen through the ranks and not being imports from foreign climes, this could lead to a truly competitive daily market. The problem is that how competitive can two papers from effectively the same umbrella be? Well, they can be different, if positioned smartly and with semi-decent content. The issue is now with regards to Papermint, you seriously wonder what will happen there, if such a takeover does go through.
Unlikely, some of you might say, HT will never give up control. Maybe, but this a rumour that has being doing the rounds recently. Not the chotta-motta rumours you hear from the line staff, but from senior guys and from the markets. Another reason to give some amount of credence, HT and BCCL have been collaborating on Metro Now. Which, while a rabid rag and positively unreadable most of the time has been doing not so badly.
Legalities? There is nothing like the FCC in India. PRDM wants to regulate TV News content in India, and can't really stop this short of passing a legislation preventing this, which is unlikely to happen. We do not have something like the FCC in India or anti-monopoly laws which would prevent something like this.
This will be fairly interesting to watch. Whether it will finally happen or not might be speculative in the truest sense of the word, but while we obsess about new-age TV companies, if the Grandmother of all media companies becomes aggressive, things could really spice up a lot!


Over at Greater Kailash, it seems that the habit of dipping wicks has taken another victim. This time a rather high-profile one. After years when people never complained it seems that one person, goaded on by other influential people in the organisation went up to the bosses to complain. Sex it seems is becoming the last stop before people go down the road to perdition.
Not that sex hasn't happened before or won't happen again. The stories we all know about several people are gory at times but other times just plain sad. Of course, if you ask around you'll now hear stories about how how the latest sexual predators in media organisations are not men, but the fairer sex.
The stories, the stories...

Friday, August 03, 2007

US acquisition

The rumour mills are abuzz with the news that one of India's largest media houses is looking at acquiring a chain of US publications. The Boss is currently in the US finalising the deal and is accompanied by a host of i-Bankers. We have had imports come to India and not exactly being successful running newspapers, I wonder if we will soon start exporting journalists - not the types who run away to do Fellowships - but 'on-site' guys - you know the thing that the IT companies call 'onshoring' telling the Yanks on how to run a newspaper. Dangerous turf the US - Murdoch country!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Live Blogging

If you are to believe the handset manufacturers and the telecom operators, blogging from your mobile device and not the PC will soon be the norm. So here I am sitting on a Shatabdi Express on my way back from Punjab trying to do exactly that. i'm cheating in one sense because I am using a Nokia E90 with a full keyboard instead of trying to type out a blog post using T9, which knowing the lengths of my posts is not something I would want to do. But that said, this is fun! i'm not the first person to blog this way and I believe many more people will join this bandwagon.
What am I doing in Punjab? Well, a story is the short answer, a rather fascinating one in fact. Why haven't i been posting more often? Well, i guess the not so long answer is that I simply haven't had the time. When I do have time, it is in situations like this. But i do have access to devices which make m-blogging, or so goes the term a lot easier. Is this the future of this medium? Don't think so as yet, but when next generation networks come along people will want content for their mobile phones, and I believe a lot of that content will come from other mobile phones.
By the way, Google might soon be launching a SMS based search function from mobile devices in India. I guess this is partly because there is so much confusion about spectrum and so much jostling. Mobile phones made the son of a (rich) panwallah into one of India's most admired businessmen, and everyone wants a piece of the pie and many people are willing to pay a huge sum for it. I believe it was because a certain nephew didn't like sharing with his uncle that he lost his job. Anyway, whatever happens I'm pretty sure I will be there delivering content from a variety of devices.