Monday, December 31, 2007

Spam sometimes...

Clearing out my inbox at the end of the year I found this gem of an email sent to me yesterday. I was wondering if I could do something about this, because this is a rather scary mail. I just know I am going to get blasted with PR spam next year!

Hi! Wanted to be the first to wish you Happy New Year..on 1/1/08.

We have an updated database of 6000 of India's leading journalists. (TV and print) This email database maintained and updated as of 31st March'2007 contains the following details:-

1. Name 2. Office email id: etc. and/or Personal email id:
(@yahoo/gmail etc) 3. Media Name/(Hindu etc.) 4. City (New Delhi etc.) Maintained in Microsoft Excel Format and YOU will not find it anywhere else.

Includes senior and middle level journalists with leading newspapers, television channels, business press and magazines. e.g . ToI, IE, Outlook, Business Today, NDTV etc. Includes VS (HT), BK (ToI), RS
(CNN-IBN) and PC (Aaj Tak) among 6000 others.
Can be imported into all email merge software for personalised sending.

You ARE going to use it for blasting Press Releases, new product announcements,corporate briefs or press conferences to these 6000 public opinion moulders.

We would like to sell this CLICKING database to you.

If interested, to receive a no-obligatory, sample list of 100 from our master database of 6000 pls reply blank email [address withheld] with
SEND100FREEMAIL30dec07* in the Subject.


customer support

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bhutto's death.

Don't know about you, but I do think the papers have gone a bit overboard with coverage of Mrs Bhutto's assassination, taliking about the 'cursed' dynasty and thus making the obvious comparisons to the Gandhi's and even speaking in nice terms of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, even though that man was a mass murderer in Bangladesh. Only Kanwal Sibal, former foreign secretary, writing in the Mail Today (you'll have to go to page 6 of today's e-paper, there is no way to directly hyperlink to the story) says what I thought yesterday. Even though you can argue that a lot of the militancy is a direct result of General Zia ul-Haq's policies and while I am no student of global geo-politics, I do know that several thousands of Indian civilians and security personnel have died of a direct result of the militancy fanned by Benazir. I do not know why we are celebrating such a woman's death. I would also like to point toward Jemima Khan's fantastic piece in The Telegraph in October.
Yes, it is sad that she was killed and I would like to pass on my condolences to her family. Nobody should die in such an awful, brutal and violent manner, but what is that saying about 'You reap what you sow'? Anyway, it appears that Al-Qaida (or is it Al-Qaeda?) killed her. We should be worried here about the future of Pakistan, as should the rest of the world. One of the more popular military 'secret plans' being bounded about in Delhi is the joint Indo-US-Israeli plan to knock out Pakistan's nuclear warheads, but I'm more worried about nutty Islamic terrorists with bombs strapped to their bodies.
There is also another another story which should be highlighted. Evidently Delhi's MLA's who are the laziest of the lot don't like newspapers printing that fact which is available on their own website. Did you know that last year Delhi's budget was passed in two minutes? Good on TOI, the MLA's elected in Delhi are horrible and if this wasn't the national capital and because many authorities are beyond their control (such as the DMRC) they have not managed to screw it up. But they still should work instead of lining their pockets.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Biased Media? Really?

There is a mail circulating among members of the Editor's Guild of India which essentially ccuses the Gujrati media of 'corruption' and bias and that they tacitly supported the BJP during the recently held elections. Of course, some members are crying 'blue bloody murder' and demanding a 'fact-finding panel' which of course gives unemployed former journalists something to do. Now, I do know that media in smaller towns are far more 'commercial' and more in the 'old school' of 'I'll rub your back if I you can do something for me later on', and some of it is pretty crude, but then again, local TV channels and media outlets in many cases in Gujarat were already owned by BJP members.
Anyway, my point not arguing that the media in Gujarat was biased, but so was a vast majority of the national media against the BJP. So please go ahead and appoint a fact-finding panel but also investigate the role of the clowns who were sent to report from the frontlines, heck, cover the international media as well, because their reportage is almost completely based on that of the Delhi-based english media. Bhupen Chaubey aside, most TV reporting was virulently anti-Modi. Print reporting was a bit more balanced despite the screams of Tehelka which got lost in their own hype, even the Indian Express was a bit more rational.
Back to the point, can the media help but being biased? The Gujarati media was in a sense reacting to virulent Anti-Modi talk spouted by incompetent reporters (yes, I mean you NDTV - send people with brains to cover elections next time and not people who try and find people to find their stories) by the Delhi-based media. So what we got was no sense of balanced reporting, other than the occasional agency article from either. So, so to those guys who are suggesting that the role of the Gujarati media should be investigated, do a through report and do some introspection.
What say?
Plus this comment got me making many phone calls at night, and two people didn't confirm it, but did not express surprise either. "What did you expect with a clown at the top?" one told me. I've heard that there are lay-off's happening at that channel, and some of the boffins over on the print side are rather happy of this state of affairs.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Modi's back...

At around one yesterday when the scale of Modi's victory became apparent, I sent an SMS to a senior BJP (sort of) spokesperson related to me which was a simple 'Congratulations'. The reply, 'Thanks, I hope secularists learn some lessons'. But still this is not a time to be smug and point out to the english media at large that three successive good monsoons coupled with the fastest economic growth of any large state in India, the only state where the implementation of Special Economic Zones (SEZ's) has been without trouble, which, despite the fact that Modi withdrew free power from farmers, giving them a regular supply through the day instead, would mean that people are fairly happy.
Nope, Godhra had to be brought up, Tarun Tejpal had to chase some RSS cronies disillusioned by Modi's development talk and got them to blabber out lies. The look on Teesta's face yesterday has quite tragic honestly, but the fact of the matter is that even if you go around claiming that a 'particular community' is sinned against and 'ghettoised', their socio-economic indicators are the best in Gujarat and not in states where their 'political' interests are taken care of. Look, I did not want to watch NDTV or CNN-IBN harping on about this stuff, what they have done now is create a middle-class hero. Anyway, this post isn't going to try to make sense of the electoral thumping, but sound economic policy can win you elections. No matter what people say against Modi, spend some time in Gujarat and you will understand why Modi stormed back. OK, so the comb-over was a bad idea!
The problem with Modi coming back to power is going to be quite simple for many other parts of the country. Firstly, after shutting up the fringe loonies in the right-wing movement, the RSS cannot protest the possible clearance of alcohol sales in certain parts of Gujarat. Expect alcohol sales to be allowed in certain hotels very soon. This would make Ahmedabad a far more happening city, now that the riverfront work is almost done. But the biggest problem for the rest of India, and particularly Maharashtra and the southern states will be the lure of Gujarat. The new deep water ports in that state are going to seriously upset the apple-cart for many older businesses. Gujarat is building more shipping capacity than the rest of the country has, and while port development in the rest of the country is hamstrung by some protestor or the other, it has stormed through in Gujarat.
Five more years of Modi and Gujarat will become a gigantic SEZ! I don't pretend to know what will happen in 2009, but this poster-boy for the BJP could really help them, even though it is pretty certain that the BJP will lose Madhya Pradesh which has a clown in charge.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The $12 billion media colossus!

I was just being told with a person close to the negotiations from the Private Equity side that Bennett and Coleman which is looking at a potential divestment sometime in early 2008. Any such divestment will potentially value BCCL at between Rs 40,000-50,000 crore, which at today's delightful exchange rates for erudite shoppers on Amazon, particularly those who like graphic novels is worth $12 billion. This of course is initial talk, there is indication that BCCL will divest any share, after all they do own two money printing presses called The Times of India and The Economic Times respectively.
However, if BCCL were to divest and if the cash did not go towards organising the craziest Bombay Times party ever, it would deal a killer blow to the hopes of several up and comers in the print media space - read Raghav Behl. As it is, Behl has made BCCL hurry up the introduction of a Hindi business paper (a translated ET) thanks to the tie-up with Jagran and his tie-up with Forbes to launch a monthly business magazine (nice piece here), after the ABP Group has waffled (as usual) on their Fortune tie-up. Any cash infusion in BCCL that ranges from $1-1.5 billion can be used by the paper to double its efforts across the country, maybe even finally launch a Chennai edition and also move beyond Hindi and Marathi when it comes to language papers.
And with masses of cash coming into print in 2007-2008 salaries will obviously move higher, but this begs one simple question. Where on earth are the journalists to man the papers? Heck, someone could even ask a doofus like me to become an editor (it actually did happen some time ago, making me almost choke on a batata vada). Now, that is a scary thought!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New telly channels!

No, we aren't talking about the soon to be launched News X, with its brand-new brand ambassador Dada!
or about UTV Business, which I thought would have started by now...
But about the now strongly rumoured 'MintTV' from HT. Supposedly technical people are leaving other networks in droves to this new not-yet-formally named channel. This isn't the first time that HT has forayed into TV, they had a disasterous foray into home-ent almost a decade ago called 'HomeTV'. With their online division also sprucing up their act, and HT Media now a listed company, I guess investors have to constantly see something exciting.
Not that the Times Group's forays into TV have been 'very' successful, Zoom is an unmitigated disaster and Times Now.. well ho-hum. I guess unless you can get the top leadership right, there will be problems.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Quick Notes.

I thought the folks at India Today would have realised that Communists are not to be trusted, anyway, this one should play out well. I believe India Today has been 'banned' by Karat and the man is fuming that he was quoted verbatim.
On another note, some sad news, Tejeshwar Singh, DD newsreader of yore passed away a few days ago. I still believe that he was one of finest newsreaders this country has ever had, and this in a era where people can't pronounce proper English and have pathetic diction or put-on fake accents. But I doubt the man ever managed to live down Jalwa, but he was a genuinely nice man.

A legal misunderstanding.

Is it just me, or has there been a lot of tension between the media and the judiciary of late? I mean, this is the same judiciary that has in the past protected the media from legislative over-reach, courtesy Indira Gandhi and both her sons. But lately, in the midst of the media boom there have been some fascinating cases and some rather peculiar decisions.
The first was the censure of Vijay Shekhar, Zee News correspondent on exposing corruption in the lower judiciary. While some might question the means, any person with half a brain in this country knows that the lower judiciary in this country is anything but upright. Heck, the ‘advocates’ in a district level court operate like a mafia and the judges in these places are hand in glove with them. The previous sentence is liable for judicial reproach, but the average Indian has lost faith in the judicial process completely.
The second case is obviously the case regarding the Mid-Day journalists, who were put into jail without being given a chance to explain their positions. I’m sorry but how on earth was justice served in that case? I am not talking as a journalist, but as an average citizen. By sending those people to jail, all the honourable court did was to cement the idea in the heads of Delhi traders that the Justices involved were corrupt, their (his) reputation mixed into mud for all eternity. If the Court had taken a rational decision, the (accused) retired Justice would also be able to defend himself, and their decision leads most people to believe that someone is trying to ‘hide’ something.
The third, is a bizarre recent ‘suggestion’ by the Delhi High Court, which recommends that every ‘sting’ operation goes through a I&B ministry appointed committee. Thousands of tons of ink and newsprint have been wasted ever since that suggestion on newspaper edits which no-one reads questioning this suggestion. If it is taken any further, we can be assured of articles by Barkha and Rajdeep questioning the logic of the decision, so I am not particularly surprised that our I&B minister hasn’t peeped a peep!
Legal issues have come to roost in the media. I was being told recently by a close friend that the number of lawyers employed by NDTV alone has increased seven-fold in the past three or four years and some stories take weeks to get cleared by ‘leagl’. As the media becomes more competitive, more and more legal issues will pop up, because sooner or later we will be discussing the sexual habits of India’s cricketers on the front pages. I’m really looking forward to the tour reports from Melbourne this time round!
But, coming back to the issue at hand, there is now a dichotomy between the judiciary and the fourth estate. Part of the problem is a lack of knowledge on both parts. The other night there was a show hosted by a very senior anchor on Afzal Guru (on CNN-IBN at 10PM) where I was surprised at her lack of legal knowledge – if the Supreme Court has taken a decision – there is no legal issue left. The SC does not pass Death sentences lightly, basic civics lesson.
But anyway, that was just an illustrative example of a fairly senior journalist who does not understand issues (why she brought up the term Kashmiri Muslim however was beyond me, caste or creed had nothing to do with the case), and I can pretty much assure you that most journalists don’t understand legal issues. I have sit for hours sometimes to get into the nitty-gritties of telecom lawsuits, but that is an area where the lawyers aren’t quite sure either. If you were to ask me, as a journalist, on the merits of some major case or another, chances are that I wouldn’t know a thing.
Therefore, I would really like for someone to establish a Media-Judicial Centre, where such issues can be discussed and some amount of thinking can happen and some amount of thinking can happen, and instead of filling up such a centre with senile retirees, get insightful new thinking from field reporters and younger editors and younger lawyers. Because, while the media is evolving not just with TV, but soon to live streaming online video and what not, media law will need to evolve. You cannot judge the media with half-century (occasionally older) old laws. At the same time, journalists of all hues need to understand that in an rapidly expanding economy, the first industry that benefits is the legal industry and even young reporters need to understand the law and the implications of every story they do.
This is just an idea, but I think it can work, I think it should be there. Anyway… Comments welcome.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Things that make you go Argh!

No seriously, people mailing me Press Releases with massive powerpoint attachments explaining something or the other is just one problem, another, more serious one is running into a failed journalist in the 40-60 age group. These individuals who did not either become senior editors, members of parliament/diplomats/lobbyists or out and out politicians, TV stars or set up their own media schools (in some cases, before someone politely points it out to me, all three categories) are seen at some dinner parties where there is free (but usually always cheap-ass distilled molasses passing off as) whiskey and constantly whine about the depths of depravity that Indian journalism has fallen to.
Listen, I do not for second doubt that Indian journalism is in need of serious help, but on the whole, and I must stress the words 'on the whole', the quality of journalism and journalists has improved dramatically from the stuff in the 80's and 90's and is a far cry from the government sponsored drivel we read in the 60's and 70's. The last two decades gave us some fine journalists, and I am rather proud of being a second-generation journalist (more hints, if you have to mistake my identity, don't mistake me for an incompetent driver) but journalism today is braver and more competent, though sometimes takes some issues to the edge of reason (the Sanjeev Nanda case on NDTV for example). Don't get me wrong, there are still examples of incompetence all over the media and instead of government perks, the media is riddled with stories of corporate freebies - there is the recent case of the retail correspondent of a pink paper who goes shopping for free, not that the newspaper concerned has much in the way of ethics either.
Yet, everything said, the media in 2007 is far, far more inclusive, though it is still accused of being elitist, than it was in 1997. It is not a clique of former students from Stephen's and Presidency. Heck, when I look around, I am one of very few Stephanians from my vintage in the print media. And even though one TV network in particular is attacked for being an old-boys club, even that network has been forced to become more inclusive.
Sure, the media still does have rotten apples and you could argue that the number of bad apples has gone up considerably particularly in the local language television media, and I've had the misfortune of meeting some of them, but the yield of the apple crop has improved as well. The only problem that journalism will face is that some of those who lament the loss of the good old days teach in media schools and media schools themselves have not understood what the internet is all about.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bad Taste...

I don't want to see a dead body on the front page in the morning, I don't care how important the story is. Someone died, don't desecrate him by carrying a picture of his dead body on the front page. And while I'm at it, drop the Edit page too, I really don't want to read sanctimonious articles by people who should really be put out to pasture. And please improve your Business section as well, though I do think the Sports pages are awesome!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Zippity Zappity

This has nothing to do with media affairs, politics or anything of the sort. Since I don't run a personal blog any more, some silly posts will manage to infiltrate this blog!
I couldn't think of a headline, so I just put together a string of words. No I'm not stoned or drunk nor is my existence a sign of the malaise that afflicts Indian journalism, I think. Anyway, one of the honchos who helped me in my early career, by the very simple fact that he met me and spent time explaining things to me is retiring today, and I can't honestly say that I am not feeling a bit sad. I actually went ahead and got one of the nicer pictures we had of his in our library framed and will be presenting it to him. Pointless writing about this actually.
What did warm my heart a bit though is that the next installment of Harold and Kumar is coming out year! The R-Rated Trailer is here!The movie version of Speed Racer (Trailer)is also coming out, and one comment describes it as an insane 'Peyote Trip', which would mean that I could really have some fun watching this movie. Yes, I do watch my fair share of arty, insanely slow movies, which are beautiful and in the case of Almodovar make you realise you don't smoke quite enough pot as you should, but a silly commercial movie every once in a while is great fun.
My favourite movie this year was the Brit Action Comedy Hot Fuzz. If you haven't seen it, you don't know what you've missed!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Pet Peeves II

The mumbling non-committal interviewee, and these meetings are invariably with either non-desi executives or early morning meetings. Some of these meetings invariably turn out to be a chance to catch up on coffee, because half the answers get lost in either the accent or are not answered - "We don't disclose those numbers..." The weird thing is that those numbers are often revealed (though sometimes on page 467n of the Annual Report) but our friends just have to act cagey. I have figured out what is a 'forward looking' question by now, and what the Regulators can claim to be out of line, but so being fed bullshit is sometimes very irritating. Especially at nine in the morning. Then again, god knows whagook those guys have been fed by their PR handlers, they could go to disgruntled nutjobs to find out about me. Who knows?
Though you also manage to get interesting interviews once in a while. A recent interview I conducted with an industrialist was on a beach, another one was fun because the person (strangely for a foreign executive) came out with all guns blazing! Of course, you also get the most fascinating interviews with some characters who suddenly claim that their company is developing some all-new thing (which invariably would be a copy of something else) or that they expected a 40 per cent market share in a years time from under one percent today. You don't know what to ask delusional interviewees, because if you ask 'How?' you will be stuck there for half the day and be subject to quadruple your daily recommended dose of Powerpoint's, without one worthwhile slide.
Anyway, enough cribbing.