Tuesday 18 October 2011
Friday 30 September 2011
Apart from the reflected buzz emanating from hyperactivity of the Tamil and Malayalam newspapers in recent months, the WAN-IFRA conference was interesting. The newsroom summit discussed innovative concepts that can continue to leverage the content leadership of print, and there were many presentations that included case studies and examples from Asia and India.
Thursday 29 September 2011
Friday 9 September 2011
Wednesday 31 August 2011
Sunday 21 August 2011
Indian newspaper readers woke up to a bizarre print spectacle on 20 August, a day also celebrated as Sadbhavna Divas. Page after page contained advertisements issued by the Congress-led Central and state governments, and various public departments to commemorate the birthday of Rajiv Gandhi, former Indian Prime minister. Initial surprise gave way to shock which turned to irritation, and finally anger as the reader flipped through newspapers that carried the late Prime Minister’s handsome face staring somewhere into the space on almost every page.
In response to a similar advertising blitzkrieg on the death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi in 2010, Ramchandra Guha had written, “A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”
If spending Rs 300 crore of the taxpayers’ money in self promotion through hero worshipping its former leader (incidentally, named in the Bofors scandal and accused of owning Swiss bank accounts) isn’t corruption, then what is? As the Congress-led UPA government struggles to save its reputation in the wake of accusations of corruption in almost everything it has undertaken in its second term in power, such shameless self advertisement can only ruin its image even further.
Pritam Sengupta from sans serif estimates that there were a total of 108 advertisements amounting to 48¼ of the published pages in the well known English dailies Hindustan Times, The Times of India, The Indian Express, Mail Today, The Hindu, The Pioneer, The Statesman, The Telegraph, The Economic Times, Business Standard, The Financial Express and Mint (Berliner).
‘Sadbhavna’ in Hindi refers to noble thoughts and having good feelings for others. But sadly the action of the Congress party at the centre and across some states displayed little nobility of thinking or action even on the day it has set aside to entertain noble thoughts.
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Wednesday 20 July 2011
NoTW, which published its last edition on 10 July after 168 years of existence, did just that. In its zeal to be on top of news it got inextricably enmeshed in the process of creating news. It hired services of investigative agencies which would hack into voice mails of people to gather information. In the case of a then kidnapped teenager Milly Dowler, the hacking of the voicemail box led her parents into the false belief that she was alive when she had already been murdered. Stories of the dirty tricks being adopted by NoTW reporters had been doing the rounds since 2005. But it was a whistleblower on the Dowler case published in The Guardian on 4 July that did NoTW in.
The paper had already been incurring losses. The immediate reaction of Rupert Murdoch — folding up the paper — initially looked like a tactical move by the media mogul to save the chances of being able to buy a lucrative television channel BSkyB. It never came to that. The public outrage over the revelations was so great that Murdoch had to withdraw the bid. Several conciliatory and remedial steps were subsequently taken but to little avail. The damage had been done.
The Murdochisation of media (read: thinking only of profits and treating the newspaper not as a medium of social communication but as a product which can be and has to be sold at any cost just like shampoo and soaps) has not left even India untouched. Though so far no media organization has been accused of tapping phones for the sake of getting stories, that being the preserve of the government and the intelligence agencies here, there have been enough cases of journalists being caught on tape discussing ministerial berths and passing information from one party to the other with obvious implications.
There have been very many other instances as well of Indian media houses entering into unethical barter deals and ‘creating news’ for money or planting biased reports in return for favours. The issue is not of journalists tapping phones but a broader issue of ethics. NoTW used phones to pry into the lives of people for the sake of stories, Indian journalists have been schmoozing with corporate brokers for the sake of personal gains. Some may argue that this is worse than trying to collect information for the good of the paper or making sales grow.
Amidst wide-spread condemnation of the tactics adopted by Murdoch and sons for the sake of sensationalism, there are also some voices of dissent which say he brought life to British media and revived its fortunes. This can also be said for one of the most successful media empires in India. But Indian media still respects the privacy of people’s lives to a large extent and doesn’t stoop to the level that tabloids in Britain have.
The NoTW case also brings to light the inevitability of news gatherers going to extremes for the sake of unearthing something different. In the age of Facebook and Twitter when everything and every information is available at the touch of a button, how does one create content which is exclusive? Cut-throat competition legitimises going to any extent for the sake of a scoop. Reporters are hounded endlessly by desperate editors to bring something different. Discussing private lives in public is what we have learnt from social networking. Is it any surprise then that a media house resorted to tapping phones of ‘news worthy’ people? What would have they learnt by tapping the phone of Afghan war veterans — possibly what kind of excesses were being committed by both the sides on war front. That would be both sensational and interesting. And if in turn it helps bring to light injustice done in the name of war, probably no harm in it either. But the same thing becomes unacceptable if it destroys somebody’s reputation or jeopardizes somebody’s life. As happened in the case of Dowler. If the girl had not been murdered or if the tapping had led to the murderer, probably it would all have been for a good cause.
Media houses which engage in sting operations take this risk all the time. It is the ultimate thrill for a reporter to be present at the scene of ‘crime’ while it is still being committed. There would have been nothing better for the ‘rogue’ NoTW reporters, when they were eavesdropping on phone conversations, than getting the story from the horse's mouth. Even if they had been able to see the outcome of their actions some years later, it is unlikely that any of them would have liked to trade their places with someone else. It is only when a sting goes badly wrong that everybody's wrath turns on the third person who had been trying to pry too deep rather than on the actual culprit. There is ultimately a thin line between right and wrong here.
(Aside: Etymologists would find an uncanny similarity between Murdoch and murder. Co-incidently, the name is also close to Mordor: the fabled dwelling place of the evil one — Sauron — in JRR Tolkien's mythical universe of Middle-Earth in Lord of the Rings).