Indian food regulator’s Rs 1000 crore media blitzkrieg to improve ‘food safety’ !!!

The meek justification being offered for this disproportionate funding for publicity is that people have to be made aware about various provisions of the Food Safety Act, 2006.

It appears India’s food regulator has got all its priorities horribly wrong. The regulatory body plans to spend a whopping sum of over Rs1,000 crore just on publicity during the 12th plan period.

The amount the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has sought from the government for publicity related activities is much more than what it plans to spend on its core activities – developing food safety standards, setting up testing labs, surveillance and so on.

Out of Rs6,548 crore for various projects and initiatives planned during the 12th plan period, as much as Rs1,019 has been earmarked just for publicity.

The meek justification being offered for this disproportionate funding for publicity is that people have to be made aware about various provisions of the Food Safety Act, 2006. While detailed rollout schedule and clear deliverables have been shown for various activities, the authority remains vague when it comes to its gigantic media spending plan.

All that the proposal says is ‘awareness generation/ IEC programme would be as per well-thought-out media plan to be undertaken regularly using all forms/formats of publicity having wide reach’.

The Rs1,000 crore media blitzkrieg is expected to result in ‘overall general awareness about food safety rules/ regulations and sensitisation of various stakeholders about food safety issues’.  Rs350 crore under the so-called media plan will be spent for undertaking a ‘comprehensive campaign utilising audio and video and print media for dissemination of messages’. An amount of Rs319 crore has been proposed for publicity utilising ‘non-media vehicles’ such as multi-coloured pamphlets on food safety, hygiene, prevention of food spoilage, use of potable water in cooking etc. Such material will be distributed to schools, vendors and will be displayed at bus and railway stations. Another Rs350 crore would be disbursed to states at the rate of Rs2 crore for every state every year for publicity in local language. (courtesy: Dinesh C. Sharma & MailOnlineIndia)

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Whistle blower homemaker Vidyut Kale at receiving end of IT Rules

Vidyut, a housewife having little income is at serious risk of being attacked by a team of seasoned lawyers with money to burn for daring expose corrupt practices.

Remember Vidyut Kale, daredevil homemaker-cum-blogger that blogged to draw attention to the Keenan and Reuben murders when mainstream media had reported the story and let it go & due to her efforts led to large-scale media attention that helped the poor families get attention to their case and prevent the killers from going scot-free…??

Now, Vidyut is chased by a batteries of lawyers to delete the contents on her blog aamjanta.com about her expose on history of alleged financial misdoings by Belvedere yacht party fame Lt Col (retd) Gautam Dutta and Anju Datta of Marine Solutions..  She has received a take down notice for her article being defamatory. The IT Rules are so arbitrary that she has no chance to defend herself against the takedown, because no explanation or even verification of the premise of the take down notice being correct is required.

Legal voices on Twitter have pointed out that the legal notice that Vidyut received is stupid, as Vidyut is the author, not an intermediary, and the IT bill applies only to intermediaries. This means, that she does not have to take down her content, but the lawyers can make her ISP block her website if she does not, yes, without a court hearing. In short, the IT bill is evil, but has not legally been used against her yet.

In reporting stories from the RTI documents related to sailing scams she was again covering an area that is not big enough for mainstream media, but an important leak of money as well as integrity for the country. Not to mention the illegal practices around sailing making it a security risk through norms of “looking the other way”.

Anand Philip (Cerebral Salad/Anand Philip Blog) a friend of Vidyut appeals on his blog:

Vidyut, who is a housewife and has little income is at serious risk of being attacked by a team of seasoned lawyers with money to burnfor daring expose corrupt practices. This is a very concerning sign for freedom of speech and whistle blowing in our country. Any media attention highlighting her situation and precarious situation of smaller content producers in India like bloggers, independent artists, cartoonists, etc and the role played by the IT Rules will go a long way in protecting their rights and drawing attention to their victimization. 

Sexcapade: Social Media movement is a ‘satyagraha’

The CD controversy surrounding ex-Congress spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi has given rise to numerous debates in prime-time discussions in mainstream media. Most of these have pointed to the “lack of control” in online media platforms.

In one way, these debates were an ideal opportunity for some sections of the mainstream media to vent their disapproval of online commentators taking the liberty to criticize them. Amid these fiery debates, however, an attempt is unfortunately being made to tame the medium.

The crux of the criticism of social media by the mainstream media is not dissimilar to that dealt with by Gandhiji when he explained the importance of satyagraha (soul-force) in Hind Swaraj.

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In responding to a point made on how numerous instances in history show that war and violence have been more effective than soul-force in enabling nations to rise from oppressive regimes, Gandhiji said that history was the record of aberrational events which interrupted the regular course of nature rather than an accurate representation of the natural course. Because wars and violence were unnatural and soul-force was the natural course, he explained, history recorded the former.

In conveniently painting social media into labels of various kinds, the mainstream media is missing the wood for the trees. Just as history reported primarily on the blood and gore of wars and the ensuing conquests and victories, the mainstream media has ended up focusing almost entirely on the unnatural obnoxiousness and aggression of the social media and the ensuing ‘victories’ when, for example, Singhvi resigned from key posts.

It is now well-known that since many years, much of the mainstream media has been controlled by a few select groups. The “right to tell the truth”, as R Jagannathan points outhas been mortgaged because of an over dependence of television and print media on revenues from sources having an interest in controlling or shaping the dissemination of truth.

Additionally, the constraints imposed by many sections of the mainstream media upon itself in practicing ‘access journalism’ in this competitive era are fairly visible in the manner in which facts and views are presented. The race to get exclusive scoops on political developments has compromised the ability to critically evaluate significant governmental programs or serious political wrongdoings.

Viewed in this context, the Internet has been the best thing to happen to liberate journalism from such shackles. Internet has led to a real democratization of facts, thoughts and ideas and has challenged the orthodox notions that the power to have a say is the exclusive right of the mighty and the influential. The only accusation that can be validly sustained against online commentators writing without financial obligations is that of ideological rigidity.

Furthermore, this low cost model has plugged the gap created by television and print media in its coverage on critical issues facing the nation. For example, many recent debates on the Right to Education Act or previous debates on NREGA completely overlooked serious perils which were covered at length by bloggers on social media. Time and again, several nuances and the visible impact of major governmental programs neglected by mainstream media have ultimately cropped up either during the implementation of such programs or in legal challenges in courts.

More often than not, it has been found that online commentators had written on these very nuances at length on their blogs.

In situations where the mainstream media is found to have overlooked serious indiscretions by our politicians, the online commentariat is bound to exhibit its outrage and ask questions. At times, sadly, the outrage and the questioning is replaced by spitefulness and voyeurism. Equally, however, this excuse is conveniently used by many senior journalists when confronted with genuine challenges to their views or their reporting.

By engaging in sweeping criticism of social media or categorizing it into a politically motivated or ideologically homogenous unit is an act of dishonesty apart from being an act of convenience. Castigating the social media by inviting like-minded public figures can only help confine oneself further into the bubble which the New Delhi gentry is infamously known for.

Moreover, when senior figures in mainstream media attempt to rubbish online commentary because the latter’s right to tell the truth ends up offending it, the unequivocal impression sent out is that the former resents the democratization of opinions and voices brought about by the internet. It, therefore, risks being perceived as a mere extension of the intolerant State acting to strengthen its access journalism department. Conducting periodical shows on Swami Vivekananda to inspire the youth to participate in the process of nation-building has little meaning.

Just like several online commentators and observers filter out half-truths and blatantly prejudiced coverage in the mainstream media and absorb insightful and constructive discourse, it is time mainstream media did the same with social media. It is important to realize that in the age of technology, truth and opinions are no longer the monopoly of the powerful sections of the media.

There is huge potential of nurturing a symbiotic relationship between social media and mainstream media to elevate the overall standards of journalism and reporting. In a way, the symbiosis has already begun with various shows and news reports basing their discussions on the views of the online commentariat. This synergy must be strengthened further in a manner that the two mediums supplement, rather than isolate, each other.

Cut beneath the clutter and the abuses, and one can find a wealth of intellect out in the World Wide Web. And that too, free of cost. (courtesy: Kartikeya Tanna  & Firstpost.com)

Infosys ‘whistle-blower’ on visa fraud by Indians, victimised by colleagues !!!

It has been 17 months since Jack B. Palmer first made a quiet complaint through internal channels at Infosys, the giant Indian outsourcing company he works for, saying he suspected some managers were committing visa fraud. Since then, Mr. Palmer says, he has been harassed by superiors and co-workers, sidelined with no work assignment, shut out of the company’s computers, denied bonuses and hounded by death threats.

But what has driven him nearly crazy, with bouts of depression alternating with rage, Mr. Palmer said, is the silence. Since last April, Mr. Palmer has been stewing day after day in his home near Montgomery, Ala., contemplating a blank Infosys screen on his computer and agonizing over whether his whistle-blowing was worth it.

Mr. Palmer said

“They did the worst thing they could do to someone who is used to working 80 hours a week.They sit me at home and cut me off from everything. My life is floating in Infosys purgatory.”

Mr. Palmer’s experience since he filed his first report in October 2010 alleging misuse of business visitor visas for Indian workers is a cautionary tale about the perils of confronting a big corporation. Mr. Palmer’s travails have been compounded because he is in a small minority of Americans employed by the huge company, which has $6.8 billion in annual revenues and about 15,000 employees in the United States alone, most from India.

lawsuit Mr. Palmer filed against Infosys in February 2011 prompted federal prosecutors in Plano, Tex., where the company has offices, to open a criminal investigation that is still expanding. Federal investigators are looking into whether the company used workers from India for certain kinds of jobs here that were not allowed under their temporary visas, known as B-1. They are also examining numerous irregularities in the company’s hiring practices and documents, federal officials said.

Infosys, a fast-growing global business that has carefully built a reputation for integrity, vigorously denies Mr. Palmer’s accusations and is fighting his lawsuit in federal court in Montgomery.

Mr. Palmer, 44, a software project manager for Infosys since August 2008, said he decided to sue the company, claiming he was punished for reporting corporate misdeeds, after executives pressured him to drop his complaints. But even as the months have crawled by, Mr. Palmer has not quit his Infosys job, fearing he will not get another one now that he is known as the guy who went up against the Indian company.

“The mental and physical challenge one takes on after blowing the whistle is excruciating,” Mr. Palmer, who is known as Jay, wrote in a recent e-mail. After what he has seen, he said, “It will be hard for me to advise anyone to blow the whistle. You’re around people every day, and then all of a sudden you are staring at four walls.No one will hire me and I can’t quit, so they just torture me. I have become numb and cumbersome to this world.”.

In Senate testimony and court documents, Mr. Palmer charged that Infosys brought Indian workers on short-term visitor visas, known as B-1, instead of longer-term temporary visas, known as H-1B, which are more costly and time-consuming to obtain. Infosys and other Indian technology outsourcing companies are consistently among the top users of H-1B visas, but in recent years intensified scrutiny by the State Department has made those visas more difficult to get.

The B-1 is for foreigners coming for conferences or to conduct training, consulting or contract negotiations who continue as employees of the company abroad. They are paid at the generally lower wage rates of the home country.

Mr. Palmer is still on the Infosys payroll, but with no work and little communication from the company, and his moods swing erratically, he said. He has struggled with drinking, gained and lost 20 pounds and taken medication for anger and depression.

Mr. Palmer said his troubles started soon after he filed his first report through an internal whistle-blower channel designated by Jeffrey Friedel, a senior Infosys lawyer. Within days of his report, Mr. Palmer said, it leaked within the company. One manager threatened to fire him, he said, and he received angry calls from co-workers. In November 2010, according to court documents, he found a death threat, neatly printed, on the chair in his office.

The India Social Summit 2012 – journalism is social ? tweet in 140 words !?!

A print journo @ India Social

It’s THE media… or medium, depending upon how you look at it. It’s the future, though statistics assure me that it is not the only present. I can breathe a sigh of relief. Being a journalist who loves the print medium more than online (there… I’ve said it!), it was reassuring when it was collectively agreed upon by the experts of the New and Social Media domain in India, that print and long-form writing is not dead (yet… but then that’s a distant yet). I currently do not have to look at a career change. Yay!

It’s not easy being part of the cusp generation that has grown up having seen the old-world print-centric journalism and is currently living among the New Age Twitter-savvy, information super-highway kids. My heart is in print, while it’s expected to be connected online. Especially so, if one is cooped up for two straight days in two rooms filled with mostly (and ironically) middle-aged media experts and amateurs who’re discussing the all-important future of media and this ubiquitous phenomenon, or even parallel universe if you please, that is social media.

The India Social Summit 2012 in New Delhi was a conclave of people who live simultaneously in the virtual world. It’s the kind of place one would imagine a Marshall McLuhan or a Claude Shannon or a Warren Weaver, had they been alive today, sitting around much-less-fancier tables discussing the “hows” and “whys” of (social) communication media and methodology. Akin to most of those present—in the audience or part of the panel—they too probably wouldn’t have known where this Social Media was headed, how would it impact our lives—and by that virtue, the world—but they would have all agreed in unison that this proverbial change is definitely looming large… Honestly, put it in that perspective and one suddenly feels all important! I might have been in the presence of greatness!

The questions, though, remain…in an economy-driven world, how do we monetize this social media? And, in a more sotto voce kind of a way, how do we manipulate people to our benefit?

Although the first question was raised over and over again, just one (whom I managed to hear) actually went ahead and called out the elephant in the room by referring to the latter.  The always-entertaining-yet-thought-provoking chief belief officer of the Future Group, Devdutt Pattanaik, went out and said it in a non-sugar-coated fashion: “Communication is manipulation”.

Yes, indeed. No matter how many times everyone spoke about “being relevant”, “reaching out”, “engaging”, “conversing” with one’s audience/followers/fans, the bottom line was—how do I “manipulate” them to choose me over everyone else?! And, as a corollary, how do I make money out of that?

So, quite unsurprisingly, the second-popular buzzword (phrase?) at the summit just had to be ROI. Return on Investment. “I know I have to put in money in this Thing. I know I can’t ignore it. But what do I get in return and how soon?” Commerce. Monetization. Simple.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s the way the world works. The interesting thing, though, was that after three days (of which I attended two) of intensive brainstorming by media experts, I don’t think anyone had quite figured out the answers to those questions. No one could say WHY Kolavari di had gone viral. No one could figure out HOW one Aakar Patel column could make four out of 10 words trend in India. No one could stand up and confidently say THIS IS HOW it’s to be done. No one knew WHERE this phenomenon called social (as the medium is called by the “cool” people) was headed. And every time anyone mentioned a social campaign or idea that they’d tried, the almost immediate question was: Have you monetized? If the answer was a rare yes, those around would just have this look of concealed envy as they mentally debated whether it would be inelegant to ask “how?”, or in the case of a more Proletarian “no”, everyone would just slowly drift away seeking those answers elsewhere.

So, as a print journalist who had recently been introduced to this strange, intangible world, I tried desperately hard to crack this formula of how to make the “relevant” people “listen” (one’s editor did, after all, mention making it a criterion in the appraisal system of our integrated newsroom!). As I cluelessly wandered around a world where referring to each other by one’s Twitter handles rather than by one’s real-world name was more natural, trying to absorb everything that came my way, and live-tweeting (I actually went as far as downloading the Twitter app just for this) the event, at the end I still walked away with a general feeling reminiscent of Isaac Asimov’s Multivac: Insufficient data for meaningful answer.

Having said that, there were still quite a few quotable takeaways from the event. Here are a few:

First, some good laughs:

  • It used to be “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours”. Now it’s “You like my Facebook page, and I’ll like yours”. — Rohan Jha, Sony Music
  • Narad ke bina marketing nai kar sakte (Without the spirit of Narad, it’s hard to capture the essence of marketing). — Devdutt Pattanaik, Future Group
  • Shopping malls exist to give us aukat (significance)…it’s a social service industry. — Devdutt Pattanaik
  • Tata Nano…it’s the cheapest car for the poor people. I don’t earn money to be poor. Rs1 lakh to buy poverty!? — Devdutt Pattanaik

On a serious note:

  • Social media is almost like “The Opium” that makes you forget the crushing isolation of contemporary India. —Anisha Motwani, Max New York Life
  • For a person engaging through social media, escaping and seeking cushion behind false identities gives a sense of empowerment to share his enlightened opinion to the world.
  • 4Cs model for effective scale up in social media: content, conversations, community, commerce.
  • You are not alone: A live event is a virtual stadium. — Sanjay Mehta, joint CEO, Social Wavelength
  • No one can predict what will go viral, virality is relative. — Rohan Jha, Sony Music
  • What works (in the social space)? Content that is honest, unexpected, original. — Rohan Jha
  • Sponsored tweets are yet another form of advertising. — Samir Pitalwalla, Disney
  • Communication is manipulation. — Devdutt Pattanaik
  • The journey from I don’t care to I do care is what’s the story today. — Shivnath Thukral, Essar
  • The future of reputation is all about listening and then engaging. — Shivnath Thukral
  • If in social media you’re unidentifiable, unapproachable, unsociable, then why are you on social media at all? — Shivnath Thukral
  • It’s not about how many people “like” your page. It’s about the FP (followers vs people who talk about you) ratio. An FP ratio of 0.03-0.05 is average, need to do better; 0.06-0.08 is decent, can do better; 0.09-0.3 mean you’ve done a good job; and if it’s 0.4 and above, I’d be interested in the brand! — Arun Nair, Mahindra Holidays
  • A “like” is an opportunity. — Karthik Nagarajan, Group M
  • If your idea’s good, people will share it. — Sandip Maiti, Experience Commerce
  • Internet blurs the lines between amateurs and professionals in content dissemination. — Gautam K. John, Akshara Foundation
  • There is democartization of content, and we have to reintegrate (strategy) according to that. — Madhavan Narayanan, Hindustan Times
  • Content is king, but Attention will be empress. — Madhavan Narayanan
  • A brand is really a brand, an inanimate object, until enough people start caring about it. — Gitanjali Sriram, Naked Communications Media
  • (In the social space) invite interaction. Allow people to share control. Be brave! — Gitanjali Sriram
  • Over time, media will be driven by technology and not by content…(which is) the biggest casualty of all this. — Suhel Seth, Counselage India
  • Social Media is actually a chamber of hollow echoes. — Santosh Desai, Future Brands
  • Social media amplifies and accentuates what traditional media puts out. — Santosh Desai