we, the media

The Bahrain ferry disaster

This just in from a friend in Bahrain.
I am extremely angry with the kind of shallow, superficial and senseless 'reporting' that seems to go on. Yesterday, a ferry capsized in Bahrain and among the 62 dead were, almost, 17 Indians. And yet... none of the Indian new channels that we get here (NDTV, Star News, Zee News) bothered to even give it the kind of saturation report that CNN and BBC and Al Jazeera did.

Ofcourse, while questions were raised about the safety of the boat and Bahraini officials were grilled to reveal the nationalities of the victims... what do you thiink the Indian channels were showing? Some conclave of some BJP legislators and some other shenanigans of the folks from Delhi. Oh yes, Star News had this interesting story on a little girl who was trying to stand on her feet or something. Very touching but I sat there with my mouth wide open.

Now I am not much of a fan of these Indian news channels, and so I checked the websites of some of the newspapers... and what do I find? The news is tucked right under some very important news like the next cricket lineup, political party soap operas, Gandhi-Bachchan shenanigans... and it was 'agency' news as if the newspapers wouldn't even be bothered by the death of 17 Indians.

Contrast this with CNN and BBC, and it was amazing to see how they picked up the story, followed the threads, asked the right questions, brought clarity, embarassed a few people, and in short... made us, residents of a small country, feel that our disaster was not insignificant at all.

As Gulf based Indians, we are more than aware of the indifference and apathy we experience at the hands of the Indian establishment. Just because the bulk of Indians in our part of the world are the labour class, it is assumed (I guess) that we don't matter in the wider scheme of things. But when it comes to investments in real estate, mutual funds, or just plain seeking money from us, then, they remember us with such devotion that one would want to weep with joy.

We are expected to be loyal and to remember the country at ALL times, especially when there is natural disaster, war or any other calamity but when something hurts us... complete indifference.

The irony is that the same Indian media and 'personalities' are the ones who cry hoarse against CNN, BBC and other multinationals using words like 'imperialism' and other kind words. And yet when the time comes to establish their own credibility they are found seriously wanting.

It is easy for them to accuse CNN or BBC to be western oriented but that doesn't explain why the Indian media choose to ignore and sideline the deaths of 17 Indians. I am, also, upset that a close friend died in this disaster and it pains me to see that his death and that of other Indians would remain a mere footnote and not the tragedy it really was.
Ashish Gorde at and

Ashish just sent me revised figures:
22 Indians have died so far and 13 British, 5 south Africans, 4 Singaporeans, 5 Philippines, 4 Pakistanis, 2 Thai, one each from Germany, Ireland and South Korea.


World Wide Help stalwart and pal Angelo Embuldeniya has more on the disaster here, here here, here and here.

Update: Angelo and Ashish will continue to blog about this on CSF II

Your comments on Ashish's take on the Indian media?

"Inflaming communal passions"

Naresh Fernandes, Editor, Time Out, is unhappy about the recent arrest of a TOI reporter for "deliberately injuring religious sentiments." He'd like to get a discussion going on the matter. Here's his letter.

Dear Editor,

I’d like to call the attention of your readers to a cynical attempt by political workers to inflame religious passions in Mumbai over the last week, harnessing the eager assistance of the authorities to turn the press into the scapegoat.

The chain of events went into play with the publication of a report on Feb 19 in the Times of India, detailing the arrest of one of its reporters under 295A of the IPC (deliberately injuring religious sentiments). The article says that the reporter, whom it does not identify, was arrested on the complaint of a local municipal corporator, who claimed to have taken offence at an article written one month ago about pets owned by Bollywood stars. It goes on to state that the arrest was carried out even though the paper had already apologised for details in the article that were later found to be inaccurate  the very details to which the complainant had taken offence.

A subsequent report in Mid-Day on Feb 21 casts more light on the episode. Though the Mid-Day report makes no mention of the arrest of the Times reporter, it says that the actress Manisha Koirala has been provided police protection “after her dog’s name sparked protests among Muslim fundamentalists.” The report says that “members of the community lodged a complaint at Versova police station saying that the dog’s name, Mustafa, was same as that of their spiritual head and had to be withdrawn immediately.”

While the Times management has forbidden the reporter from speaking to the press about the incident, her colleagues have identified her as Meena Iyer, a reporter on the Bollywood beat. They say that she was arrested by the plain-clothes policemen, who appeared at her home at 9 on the morning of Feb 18. At first, they even refused her permission to change out of her night-clothes and they jostled her, her colleagues say.

The episode raises troubling questions. To start with, since the report was published a month before the journalist’s arrest, the police have no real grounds for claming that it had inflamed communal passions. Instead, it is obviously the complainant who is seeking to stoke the fires. It seems baffling that the police would arrest the reporter, instead of the complainant. Considering that the police have in the past failed to act on complaints against hate speeches by such figures as Bal Thackeray, the alacrity with which they arrested Ms Iyer is perplexing.

This is further evidence the Maharashtra government’s willingness to cave in to the demands of fundamentalists, a sentiment that it demonstrated earlier in February by issuing a non-bailable warrant against the editor of the Mumbai Mirror under the same section of the IPC, for printing a photo of an allegedly offensive tattoo. The editor had to obtain anticipatory bail to avoid arrest. In January, the Maharashtra government banned the translation by American academic James Laine of a praise poem, “The Epic of Shivaji”.

Episodes like this greatly compromise our ability to effectively function as journalists, and must be countered with strong condemnation.

Yours faithfully,
Naresh Fernandes

More speculation about blogging and MSM

Found this article concerning blogging and mainstream media... yeah, another.
Is blogging a threat to newspapers? Is it going to have a major impact on MSM? etc? etc?

Valid questions all. Though I do think it's a little silly trying to pit MSM and blogosphere against each other all the time - it's not a war, you know. It's not even a battle. It will be - when blogging begins to pay, and when MSM can imagine itself without being paid-for.... besides, there are so many people who're doing both. In fact, I can guarantee that almost all bloggers who aren't already in print/on TV/ media of some sort, would love to get there. For money, perhaps, but not just the money.

I suspect we'd all like to be EVERYWHERE. MSM, if we can. Blogs, because we can. Introduce half a dozen other forms of communication, and we'd all like to play with it a little, even if we don't make a living off it.

Dear TR Vivek,

You have the right to your opinion and Chintamani has the right to his. Just that I am a bit jealous of your blog URL being splashed as the headline in the article where you belittle SEA-EAT and similar blogs, as also the idea of citizen journalism at large. How many hits are you getting! And to be listed as a blogger beside such star bloggers as Amit Varma and Jai Arjun Singh - what wouldn't I do for that! So: congratulations!

Let's come down to business. In that short piece you write how blogs like Mumbai Help can't save lives in a disaster, and so can't be equated with heroes: "Thankfully, some of the saner bloggers agree that it is impossible to prove that blogs save lives or make a difference."

Now Outlook is a mainstream publication. Tell me, how many lives did Outlook save in any of the various disasters of 2005?

Now you would say Outlook's job is to report disasters and not become a disaster relief NGO.

Bang on! So why expect a blogger to be Hercules?

You write: "For Mumbaikars who were stranded without water and electricity for a almost a week it wouldn't have mattered much which paper said what. Helpline numbers of electricity and healthcare providers were reproduced on the Collablog from other newspapers. Astronomical web-page hits and searches apart, what citizen reportage are we talking about?"

Now you would know that web-page hits and Technorati searches are an indicator of popularity. They indicate that people are reading this, which obviously means they are finding it useful. Am I right?

You would probably also agree with me that the internet is a global medium. Indian bloggers' first sight of a statcounter is shocking in that more than half the visitors are from outside India. People from all over the world visited these blogs. One of the things the Tsunami blog did was to direct people to charities where they could donate: making a difference, did you say?

If a Mumbai Flood relief blog is not of help to someone stranded in the floods, the same goes for a newspaper or magazine, because you would remember their circulation too was hit for some time by the Mumbai floods.

Another point about citizen journalism is that a blogger does not see himself as a citizen journalist! That is a label that media academics have coined, and does have some basis - why else would blogging be so big in the US? But then you wouldn't know about US scene, because you think Dan Rather was a blogger! But anyway, the label of citizen journalist is also one that the mainstream media has popularised and now MSM wants the blogosphere to live up to the label.

Now you would agree that that's grossly unfair. Bloggers blog to blog, to communicate. A blog is a mode of online communication and could be used in any which way. As a blogger, Chintamani is not bound by rules of writing or editing or any imperative to be a citizen reporter.

Your last sentence is very interesting: "For the urban twentysomethings with intellectual pretentions and the hope of being spotted by the commissioning editor of a publishing house, it's the new P3, or rather the virtual world's own India International Centre."

About a commissioning editor seeing my blog and publishing my book, you have said this earlier as well, and let me tell you that no blogger blogs just for that hope. One blogger actually turned down such a request from a well known publishing house.

About India International Centre, what do you have against the place? I have attended so many illuminating talks and what not at IIC that it is a compliment for you bloggers to be compared to the denizens of IIC! As for intellectual pretensions, hmmmm, okay, another day.

I hope you will respond.

Best wishes,

CC: Vinod Mehta


Citizen journalism + a view from a skeptic

Jane Perrone, in the Guardian newsblog, on The coming of age of citizen media (in which this blogger gets mentioned):
Perhaps most importantly of all, the TsunamiHelp blog has left a lasting legacy. The model of communication it forged has set the standard for web coverage of subsequent disasters, including Hurricane Katrina and the Pakistan earthquake, and many of the TsunamiHelp bloggers have used their expertise to launch similar projects on other disasters. And NGOs and academics are interested in using the TsunamiHelp model as a template for communication during future disasters.

And in the Outlook year-end special, two pieces by Jai and Amit on blogs and citizen journalism.

From Jai's piece
The reason for the impact of blogs like SEA-EAT (and later, Cloudburst Mumbai and Quake Help) was that they were run by teams of dedicated people who knew how to leverage the advantages of the internet—reaching a wide audience, pooling valuable resources from concerned people regardless of their location.
And from Amit:
It is true that in the hands of mediocre writers, the freedom that blogging affords can lead to self-indulgence. But I've found over the past year that the blogosphere is meritocratic, and readers are quick to sort out the wheat from the chaff. This is a new medium, and there's space for plenty more wheat.
And, this, from the in-house skeptic
The blog, a hero? You must be kidding. Maybe elsewhere in the world blogs and bloggers have made a difference during such natural disasters. But in India, over the past one year, where we have had a spate of natural calamities and bomb blasts, there is little evidence suggesting that this new medium, and its proponents have had any impact. Although a handful of bloggers have tried manfully.
I was tempted to just leave that without a comment, but I have to say this (and I'm quoted in Jai's piece and mentioned in Amit's, so you might say I have vested interest), but innit strange that two of India's most respected and widely-read bloggers write balanced pieces with no evangelistic statements, and it's the self-styled skeptic from mainstream media doing the ranting?

Cross-posted from my blog.

re-re-repeat funnies in Express, Delhi

Will SOMEBODY please explain why the Delhi edition of the very-loudly-empowered Indian Express has had the same cartoop strip printed day, after day, after repetitive day?

There's the one about Calvin telling Hobbes that he's wondering if human being and tigers go to the same heaven, because if they did, then they couldn't eat people, who are all supposed to be happy in heaven. Then Hobbes says that if they couldn't then the tigers wouldn't be happy.

This particular strip has been there for a week, at least.

Also, there's one cartoon strip called Cathy, where Cathy is taking her husband shopping and the last panel has the word 'nanosecond', mouthed by the salesgirl.

All the other strips have also been re-re-repeated. I can understand one day of repetition. Oversight by the sub-editor who was making the page... but day, after day, after day?

Somebody please go and tell the sub concerned.

The DNA of sting ops

A sting operation (or two!) is one of those things that gives media consumers rare insights into the fissures within the media. Over five years after India saw its first "candid camera" expose, we the media are still debating the ethics of sting operations: or we think we are, because I have not as yet seen a cogent argument which shows exactly how and why they are unethical.

Most arguments say that sting ops are money-making TRP gimmicks. This implies that they are, therefore, not in public interest. Chintamani does not understand why they can't be both, why we haven't discarded socialism here: Profit? I don't run my channel to make profit! That's a dirty word. I worship media ethics sir, not Mammon!

Now why can't good journalism be good business as well? Better than the Medianet way of making money, I suppose.

Another argument is that they "create" news rather than report it. This is a coservative stance which does not seem to appreciate that we live very much in a world of reality TV and market-driven journalism. In any case, news is always created at news desks, it does not appear on its own like the trees in the woods. Oops, even the trees are 'planted'.

K of Presstalk writes, "While I believe that such abuses of democracy need to be brought out into public, this was clear case of entrapment, which is illegal in certain countries." He does not make clear his stance on the issue of 'entrapment'.

You decide which is worse: entrapment or the acceptance of black money by a public functionary who is supposed to be working for the people rather than lobby groups. K also links to a DNA editorial which says, amongst other things: "It is troubling that the reporters of the website approached these MPs under false pretenses, by posing as representatives of an industry association. Why this subterfuge?" Do the edit writers at DNA know what a sting operation is?

The ethics about sting journalism are clearly debatable, and one can enter that debate only if it is shorn of the pseudo-socialist arguments about TRPs and profits. However, there are some basic media ethics which no one can dispute: like presenting both sides of a story. However, the Bombay newspaper DNA has been running a campaign against sting operations without presenting another side of the story (except one interview and one opinion piece by Prashant Bhushan). Even the tone of general reportage on Operations Duryodhana and Chakravyuh, like in this story, is negative.

Today it had Pioneer editor Chandan Mitra say, (you guessed it): "The TV shows that revealed our politicians in the raw, however, were not necessarily motivated the high ideal of cleansing the system contrary to the producers’ claims. They were primarily driven by the urge to make a quick buck or climb a few notches on TRP ratings. So, two wrongs don’t make a right."

So making money through advertisements on a TV sting operation is wrong.

He compares the breach of privacy in a sting operation showing corruption in the highest echelons of power with the ban of camera phones in a dandiya session in Gujarat! He does not mention the argument that it is impossible to "prove" an actual incident of a lobby group paying an MP to ask questions in the Parliament. What the cash-for-questions sting op showed, in my opinion, is the next best thing: MPs taking money for asking questions on behalf of a fictitious organisation. It proves what every journalist now says he knew for years.

It's not just this opinion piece by Mitra, but many other anti-sting operations articles by DNA that take a very similar stance. Here's a DNA Sunday special against stings. Here's one by Pankaj Pachauri of NDTV. Wait till you see a sting-op on NDTV, considering uncle Roy is one of the founders of a media school that will take just three months to train you to do hidden-camera stories. DNA also reports about the sting media school, without mentioning that Alka Saxena of Zee News is also on board. Every channel worth its salt will now have a 'sting cell', and you will see a sting op every weekend. Zee will not miss the bus, I bet. In which case it will be interesting to see DNA's coverage of Zee's stings, because Zee is part-owner of DNA! You think Chintamani is bullshitting? I have evidence:

Sting suggests you can buy clearances for medical college


This disturbing revelation was made by a Zee News team of Vatsal Shrivastava, Pramod Sharma, and Nikhil Dube, which worked its way through a chain of brokers and agents to negotiate a deal in which it would have to pay Rs20 lakh for two medical colleges.

The sting operation, which was telecast on Friday night, exposed some MCI officials, including Deputy Secretary Dr KK Arora. Though the Zee team did not take the process to its logical conclusion and actually obtain a certificate of permission, its investigation raises doubts about the functioning of the country's highest medical regulatory body.

So a sting operation by Zee does not raise questions of ethics extending to several editorial columns. One by Aaj Tak does. This example of a DNA report about a sting op on Zee belies ZEE's statement in DNA that it "has not been involved in any such operation, unlike other channels, which use it as a medium to create sensation." Note how, in that link, there are statements from Star and NDTV but not by Aaj Tak.

As I write this and dig more into DNA archives, I find they have a column by Rajat Sharma (of India TV, of 'casting couch' fame) defending sting-ops. And I haven't even got around to unearthing their coverage of Sting II on the MPLAD scheme by Star News and 'DIG'.

Finally, don't miss this funny legal angle they have. Lawyers are another tribe. More about the media's favourite lawyers in another post, another Christmas.


Recent Posts
The Bahrain ferry disaster
"Inflaming communal passions"
More speculation about blogging and MSM
Dear TR Vivek,
Citizen journalism + a view from a skeptic
re-re-repeat funnies in Express, Delhi
The DNA of sting ops
Heart of Darkness
Bad Mid-Day?
The Hindu gets 'inspired'

Media Watchers
The Hoot
The War for News
Spindian Express

And also
Reporters Without Borders
Bloggers Without Borders

October 2005
November 2005
December 2005
January 2006
February 2006
March 2006

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