Friday, September 21, 2007

Journalists sentenced.. haws!

Hmmm... but read some more ... in HT and there are others...

My contention here is quite simple, of the three pillars of government, the Judiciary can protect itself from all allegations of corruption by using contempt. Lawyers, notoriously corrupt ones, can bend the rules of law quite easily. The Delhi High Court acts with surprising speed in sentencing journalists but ponders for years about the culpability of the Ansal brothers in the Uphaar case. If one of their own is questioned, the Courts suddenly become swift. There have been journalists who have exposed corruption in various courts in the country - such as the Punjab and Haryana HC in Chandigarh (remember the Chandigarh Golf Course issue) and have been hounded. The contempt laws are stacked in favour of a bunch of people who will defend their own!
I believe no body in this country should be above scrutiny, I am not saying that what the Mid-day journalists said was the truth, but if they had the gumption to print these allegations, they should have a proper mechanism to get to the bottom of these allegations. This is not the first time these allegations have been raised - an article today morning in HT proves that point.
Anyway, will write a bit more over the weekend, even though tomorrow will be an awful day for me!

Thursday, September 20, 2007


One, Two, Three. In a weird sort of way, I feel for some of the people who work there and had nothing to do with the 'non-sting', however, I still maintain that culpability must be placed at the door of the Editors and Management of the channel. Anyway, I think yet another re-brand might be around the corner for this channel.
An anonymous commenter on the last post pointed out the habit of advertising masquerading as content - heck, I have one channel for that - NDTV Good Times. Anyway, it is true that in these commercial driven times sometimes there is a whole lot of you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours that goes on. If Reebok helped organise an interview you must put in the company's name somewhere if you want to get an interview the next time. The problem is that a 'Reebok makes great shoes' should technically go into a product section in the business pages of the paper, not in the Sports Pages, but when most newspaper/channel bureaus run like little fiefdoms with minimal interchange of ideas, this of stuff ends up happening and some interviews or stories end up reading like advertorials because the story has been poorly placed/positioned.
Of course, this is not to condone what goes on, journalists should have the gumption to avoid getting taken in by the fluttering eyelids of the PR girl and ask what they want to ask and write what they want to write. Does it happen that way? Naah!


Over the last couple of days, I've reverted to type and am dispensing advice from 'K's Book of Wisdom' to several friends, all of whom are very well sorted in their professional lives but something have living, breathing disasters in their personal lives. The ironic bit is that my own personal life is a bit of a minefield and I've had the most godawful experiences in life and love, but, but then again, I guess I've always been one to take on the problems of the world. My Class 12 teacher even told me that I have this bad habit. Then again, I guess I've stopped offering unsolicited advice, but that said, I do have some friends whose lives are so knotted up, that it would take an Alexander to untie it.
But, the issue here is that almost all my friends who are going through issues in their lives are media professionals. I was trying to figure if that was because I tend to know more journalists than the average person or if it was because our lives are really rather messed up because of the way we lead them. At the end of the day, I guess that it is difficult to maintain the professional/personal balance for many of us. Lately, I haven't had much time to myself, let alone have time to give to another person. Not that I mind that, but I look at a couple of my Editors who slog away till midnight at times and wonder just how accommodating their spouses are. Needless to say, the spouses are not journo's.
It isn't always like that, and I should know better than most. If it hasn't been made painfully obvious before, my father is a senior journalist and his climb up the ranks, when he was in his early-30's put a huge amount of pressure on my parents marriage and unfortunately (or fortunately) the marriage gave way. You can't shed tears about something that happened close to two decades ago, but as the media has expanded dramatically and the pressures of the job have shot through the roof for many, many more people. Sometimes, we can make the most incongruous things become a life or death issue and put everything else on hold. We forget that sometimes a line needs to be drawn.
I'm not saying that the media is any different from other professions, but because I guess most times, we tend to be overly-educated, socially liberal sorts anjd if two of these species get together, particularly the smarter, better educated ones, something has to give. Maybe, these are just growing pains of a growing industry, or maybe this is just the start of the beginning. I'm not saying it hasn't happened before, there was a famous case at 'the' pink paper in Bombay about a decade ago where things were thrown at each other an estranged couple which worked there. It is just that it seems to be happening a lot more now. Or maybe, they're just so many, many more media-people now.
Anyway... I really need a break!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Apologies for not writing regularly, I really haven't been able to find time to write a rant on the state of the media in India. I'll invent some time to write about something soon enough, but not right now, I've just managed to make some time for myself after a while, which does not involve huge amounts of booze! I need to give my liver a break, it will be card season soon, and being the good Delhi boy that I am, I will gamble away large sums (for me that is!) of money. But then again...
Take care folks!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Where are we headed?

At the risk of letting in even more people on my identity, today morning I was a moderator (along with a close friend) at a panel discussion with journalism students. Of course, several topics were raised, and on the whole despite being rather paranoid about how the event will go off, it actually went off surprisingly well. I went a whole hour and a half without saying 'F***', which is, given my recent tendency towards abusing everything, quite a record. Also I managed to pass 90 minutes without either being cynical or pompous, another record of sorts!
I was disappointed to learn that many students do not follow international media trends as much as they should, particularly a rather elementary understanding of the internet, those students who had grasped the concept of how the internet is changing the way the media is functioning though were very well clued in. Fair enough, blogs aren't that big news, but for students of mass communication, I do believe that the internet should become proper course material - these are kids who will be working in the media as the internet does begin to dramatically transform lives in India and they should have an idea about what is happening out there.
The conversation did swing towards 'sting' operations and the ethics of sting operations, and of course, the 'non-sting' that was carried out recently. None of us on the stage, and this included a person who is pretty good at 'hidden camera' work, believed that what happened was good and also agreed that certain guidelines need to be followed. But, that said, with the costs of establishing a channel coming down and the only way for a channel to stand out being sensationalism, how on earth can one control it? What is happening in the Indian TV news sphere is fascinating, and a TV news channel is seen as a profit centre. The cost of establishing a national channel is what - Rs 25-30 crore, and a local one say around Rs 15 crore? Given the economic boom, ads are not a problem and nor are getting enough viewers to sustain yourself. Actually, unless there is an economic downturn things really won't change.
The problem, I feel is getting enough editors - good editors and particularly good people in the 27-35 age bracket are at a huge premium. People like me actually, and the good ones, and I do know quite a few are in many cases going through a massive crisis of confidence - I have far too many 'Why the f*** are we doing this?' conversations nowadays. It is great to talk to some senior people, or in my case different senior people, ever so often just to get an idea what goes on their head. Of course, I read the discourses like Rajdeep's today, but these discourses aren't conversations. I personally feel that there is a disconnect between the three generations of journalists in the media - the seniors, the middles and the juniors. Nobody gets anyone else and they hardly spend time talking to each other...
On another note - I saw NDTV Good Times and must declare it is a complete Travel and Living clone, but lets put it like this - a bad clone. You know, kind of like Mini-Me is to Dr Evil in Austin Powers...

Thursday, September 13, 2007


According to a legendary story, a part of which was even implied by Mani Ratnam in Guru, a famous business tycoon once said that 'Every man has his price'. Entrapment, according to me, when used in a 'sting' operation is just that. The reason I never did agree with Tehelka's or CobraPost's method's was because it was entrapment, it was not 'hidden camera' operations trying to help a family recover their dead son's body from the clutches of a corrupt Delhi cop, nor was it an exposure of a illegal racket in organ trading.
The problem with entrapment is just this, some Members of Parliament caught in the 'Cash for Questions' scandal were exposed taking small sums of money, and were thus easy to expose, but how are they any less guilty than the MP who goes on a foreign junket sponsored by a company, or for that matter the bureaucrat who gets a bottle of Johnny Black for Diwali. They were not, those guys were just naive, and yes, while selling Parliament time for small sums of money might seem incredulous, special interests spend much, much more wining, dining and entertaining people with access to power.
See, people can do desperate things for money or lust. And while all of us would like to believe that 'we' are above that, I am not so sure how I would react if I was in a sitation like that. Fair enough, we don't (usually) accept gifts (though I am a sucker for model planes and cars) but if a situation arose where I believed where no-one would be the wiser I could get away with something, would I do it? In the sense, while I might not sell-out for petty change, but if big money and/or beautiful women were involved would I sell my ethics out? I don't know the answer to that question very honestly, because it is bloody easy to say, "Not Me! I am not like that", but I have seen very few people in my life who are as straight as an arrow and most of them were members of a Christian Fraternity.
At the end of the day, we're all human and entrapment, while it can expose several ills of society is essentially taking advantage of human frailties, and that isn't a story or a fair way of getting to a story. I still contend that certain types of 'Sting' operations can help society at large, but the type that is most prevalent in India are not paragons of journalistic excellence. And on another note, the more I read about this LiveIndia TV episode I find it incredulous that the channels Editor is trying to distance himself from the story, Sudhir Choudhary is more responsible than the reporter for the broadcast of the story and as Editor should be culpable as well.
Anyway, these were just my two cents...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Je Na Sais Quoi...

The title has nothing to do with the post, but then again I'm an old-school journalist who has seen the strange ways of the desk, where headlines involved stringing together adjectives and verbs in really bizarre combinations. Anyway, back to the matter at hand, televisions high and mighty have been debating the ethics (or not) of sting operations in the light of the recent case of the 'non-sting' and they all pretty much whole-heartedly agree in a convoluted manner that sting operations are good, but they should not be mis-used. Not a single one suggests any redressal mechanism or having a set of policies in place to prevent the abuse of the medium.
See, as a commenter on the last post pointed out, we already have the Press Council of India which is there to regulate the functioning of newspapers/magazines and news agencies in India while maintaining their freedom. The PCI Act which was instituted in 1978 in the wake of Sanjay Gandhi's censorship regime during the Emergency is a fairly comprehensive act and has in a way contributed to the development of the media in India. Of course, some believe that the PCI is toothless - heck, according to their website - rather respectable publications such as Outlook Money and Traveller and Businessworld still owe them money - laughably small sums (Rs 600 in the case of Outlook Traveller). But the act does have this provision and I quote...

Power to Censure

14(1) Where, on receipt of a complaint made to it or otherwise, the Council has reason to believe that a newspaper or news agency has offended against the standards of journalistic ethics or public taste or that an editor or working journalist has committed any professional misconduct, the Council may, after giving the newspaper, or news agency, the editor or journalist concerned an opportunity of being heard, hold an inquiry in such manner as may be provided by regulations made under this Act and, if it is satisfied that it is necessary so to do, it may, for reasons to be recorded in writing, warn, admonish or censure the newspaper, the news agency, the editor or the journalist or disapprove the conduct of the editor or the journalist, as the case may be :

Provided that the Council may not take cognizance of a complaint if in the opinion of the Chairman, there is no sufficient ground for holding an inquiry.

(2) If the Council is of the opinion that it is necessary or expedient in public interest so to do, it may require any newspaper to publish therein in such manner as the Council thinks fit, any particulars relating to any inquiry under this section against a newspaper or news agency, an editor or a journalist working therein, including the name of such newspaper, news agency, editor or journalist.

(3) Nothing in sub-section (1) sha11 be deemed to empower the Council to hold an inquiry into any matter in respect of which any proceeding is pending in a court of law.

(4) The decision of the Council under sub-section ( I ), or sub-section (2), as the case be, shall be final and shall not be questioned in a court of law.

Now, the fact remains that people would rather turn to the convoluted and abused legal system for redress rather than the PCI - but as sub-section (4) mentions, the decision of the PCI is final. Of course, the PCI cannot either fine or imprison editors, reporters or publishers for malafide intent, which is what happened in this case.
I do believe that if malafide intent is proven, people should be imprisoned, after all if I try to hurt someone physically I can be jailed, why should the same not apply if i try to hurt someone through an article. However, very often, and this is particularly the case today, many journalists are for lack of a better word - dumb. And I mean Editors too, maybe not in places like the Times or NDTV, but at small hack-shops like Live India, you'll be working with a bunch of stupid scumbags, then what? You can't sue someone for being stupid can you? Though, shutting down a channel run by people with an IQ of under 25 might be a good start.
Should the PCI be allowed to fine news organisations, or if malafide intent is proven can the accuser go to court for civil damages? If Uma Khurana proves that 'LiveIndia' ruined her reputation and standing can she take the TV channel to the cleaners? I believe she should. The PCI Act needs some modifications to deal with emerging media trends, because the way we consume news is changing dramatically, and the media should be kept under a leash. Heck, business publications in India are more scared of SEBI than they are of the PCI - so would giving the PCI more teeth and giving it a more meaningful executive committee which includes active journalists and not retired bureaucrats and assorted losers might be a start.
I'll be having a chat with a friend of mine who is a fairly accomplished 'sting' reporter over the week, will keep you posted on the conversation. And as one letter asked - are no-poaching agreements legal? Well, I'ld like some comments on that by email if you guys have anything to say!

Another question - Do you believe the breaking of the Geetanjali Nagpal story by Metro Now (why does the site not work) was a publicity stunt? I don't think so, I believe it is a fantastic tabloid story, the first really good story broken by Metro Now, exposed the fashion fraternity for the hypocrites they are I remember this wonderful quote from a model - "Are you implying that there are drugs in the fashion industry!" - something I am still laughing over. And honestly, picking up someone of the street and helping them to a better life isn't a bad thing, heck if she has a husband and a son, even better. Tabloid journalism? For sure, but this was in my humble opinion good tabloid journalism.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The non-sting!

In my last post I asked whether the Broadcast Bill, per se is such a bad thing? This was in the light of the haphazardly conducted sting operation by 'Live India' which now turns out to be fake. Of course, a friend at NDTV had told me on the day of the sting that Sudhir Chaudhary, the Editor-in-Chief of the channel did not have the what-would-you-call-it deep-rooted belief in ethics that say most normal journalists have (hah!). In fact, in turns out that both the Editor and the Reporter had tried to run this story at the former employers - India TV, where even that most sensational of channels, and no stranger to the 'honey trap' system decided against it.
Anyway, no point delving into the news, but what the fallout of this news item will be. I'm sure in the columns that will proliferate Edit and Op-Ed pages from tomorrow, there will be calls for the arrest of the editor, the reporter and the 'aspiring journalist' (and this leads to quite disturbing questions in its own right!) girl who posed as the prostitute. Fair enough, I agree with that - if AKB can be sentenced to one month's RI for 'criminal defamation' of a much less injurious nature (you did know this, didn't you?) these three should be locked up for a year at least and blacklisted from the profession. Not that some of these start-up channels really care who the hell they hire and this only made the news because it happened in Delhi and the newspapers decided to get to the bottom of the story. From the reports I've heard, in small-town TV channels such irresponsible reportage is like par for the course.
Which brings me back to the simple question - How can you control rogue journalists? I mean, lets be honest there will be rogues because its all about ratings and thus advertising and thus money? You need rules, and this incident will be used by PRDM to push through the Broadcast Bill, or at least used as an excuse. Now, the argument that NDTV and CNN-IBN will use is that it would be unfair to bring them under the purview of this act and governments that don't like these channels such as Mr Modi's will use this act to crack down upon them. Which is a very valid fear. This bill will also put in a a lot of needless bureaucracy. But you do need some sort of standards council where in case of conflict such things can be vetted - what is in the public good, what legal recourse people should take, heck, what standards should be followed! I don't believe Tehelka's and India TV's 'Honey trap' system is fair and is open to huge amounts of abuse - like Tehelka's relentless pursuit of politicians of a certain party.
But, things can't be this wild. To use an analogy - could the aviation boom in India happened without Air Traffic Control. You would not want pilots to compete with each other to land on the runway first and SpiceJet and Indigo chaps running their airlines like a Blueline Bus service (Delhi-wallah's will understand) ramming pedestrians left, right and centre. But, the Broadcast Bill is a bit draconian and the TV channels are saying that we don't want any rules at all. That is clearly an untenable situation, a compromise needs to be found. What it will be I have no clue, but honestly, the sooner it is found the better.
On another note, there is a strong rumour doing the rounds that Rajiv Verma, CEO, HT Media has quit/bee fired. If true, you really have to wonder what the hell is going on in that group! First the Editor and now the CEO. Phoren-Returns not working too well, I wonder if the Jain's, their managers and editors are sniggering!