Fountain Ink: Giving journalism a fresh perspective and journalists their much loved space

Shradha Narayanan writes in her article titled “Writing long with a different ink” in The Hindu about Fountain Ink, a Chennai based short magazine of long form journalism, which had a humble start and comes wrapped in a minimalist cover:

Fountain Ink a Chennai-based magazine, has gone big with essays and photo stories instead of fiction and poetry. When the team behind Fountain Ink, was faced with the choice of either going all out or staying low key, budget constraints made them choose the latter. The team behind this magazine, only eight issues old, has no complaints. Fountain Ink was founded to favour long-form writing with detailed reportage, essays and photo stories, giving journalism a fresh perspective and journalists their much loved space. All this content is wrapped in a minimalist cover and the magazine itself comes at a low price of Rs. 20. During the first three months of publication, the magazine was sold at just Rs. 5 in Chennai.

Fountain Ink refrains from being a literary magazine and has gone big with essays and photo stories instead of fiction and poetry. “Fountain Ink is a short magazine and so they can choose to concentrate on a few long pieces,” says Sreekumar Menon who teaches at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.

“The thought is to revive the culture of writing essays,” says Saurav Kumar, the magazine’s editor. The essays section, unlike reportage, carries contributions from non-journalists too. Topics are diverse and the expertise of the writer in the subject area shines through his/her writing, spruced up by illustrations. Issues that the Indian is familiar with are discussed here and leave the reader with narratives that increase his/her understanding of issues one may not otherwise feel connected to.

A Writer’s Road, an article on hardships faced by the regional language author in the magazine’s January issue is so absorbing that it gets the reader racking his/her brains for strategies to help promote the regional language author.

The ‘photo story’ section is also one to look out for. Whether it is a collection of Mario Miranda’s work or a glimpse into the unreleased work of Sudharak Olwe, the photos are introduced artfully.

‘Q and A’, the interview section, lets us have long conversations on subjects with the people concerned, which is a welcome change in the world of two-line commentary.

Read the full article in The Hindu: “Writing long with a different ink”

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Aamir Khan’s “moral” marriage code of conduct

Bollywood’s ” aam aadmi” (ordinary man) Aamir Khan writes in his column titled ‘ It’s your entire life — not just an event’, in The Hindu about his thoughts on marriage:

Second time lucky in love!- Aamir Khan, who divorced first wife Reena Dutta after 15 years of marriage, fell in love with Kiran Rao during the shooting of Lagaan and married her. (photo courtesy: Hindustan Times)

Let’s give marriage the importance it deserves — in every sense, financial, emotional, mental.

Marriage is a terribly important part of life. It’s a partnership you form, a companion you choose, hopefully for the rest of your life. Someone who helps you, who supports you and vice versa. The way we view marriage and the way we approach it determines how our life could end up being.

Today, I want to largely address youngsters, because most of you who are older are already married and for better or worse have already made your choices.

….Should you agree to spend the rest of your life with someone just because he/she carries an attractive label such as IIT or MBBS? Is one marrying the person or the label? Shared interests, like-mindedness, companionship, shared sensibility, sense of humour — shouldn’t all this matter?

….Instead of spending all that money on the wedding day, why not decide to take the amount set aside for the girl’s wedding and give it to her to use to kick-start her new life with her spouse? Instead of that lavish function, why not just have a simple, sharbatwedding and give the girl the money instead? It will be so useful for her life? I believe sharbat weddings are a great idea. Call as many people as you desire, serve them a soft drink and say thank you for coming and for blessing the newlyweds.

Have fun. Enjoy the day. Make merry. But with simplicity.

…And please take your time over that decision. Understand, probe, check, go deep. The better you do this, the happier life is likely to be. Take the step of marrying only when you are fully satisfied about the character and temperament of the person you are marrying.

…. Should we not invest in our daughter’s education instead of saving up for her dowry? Make her so accomplished and independent that she is capable of crafting her own future, and becomes the master of her own happiness. Then she won’t need a greedy, useless groom to complete her life. Let her marry a person who respects her. Let her marry a man who she believes is worthy of her. Whom she is happy to spend the rest of her life with. 

Read the full article:  ‘ It’s your entire life — not just an event’, in The Hindu

Two Film Censor boards in India; CBFC & Udipi ‘Muth’ !!!

KVSS muddle continues!

State of Karnataka, now has two Censor Boards – CBFC & Muth, the Pontiff Board. The Swamijis who are far away from films and pleasures of this world volunteered  to watch a commercial Kannada movie ‘Katari Veera Sura Sundarangi’(KVSS)  that has got U/A certificate.

Sri Santosh Guruji : This time the senior pontiffs like Sri Vishveswara Thirtha of Pejawar Mut, Sri Balagangadharanatha Swamiji of Adhi Chunchanagiri and Sri Siddaganga Mut Sri Shivakumar Swamiji have asked the juniors to stop at it from this film KVSS.

“For the first time, heads of various mutts have raised voice against a film that depicts Hindu religion and Gods in poor light. Many films that have objectionable dialogues were made in the past. We are warning producers not to make such films in future. Dalits are also Hindus . We cannot overlook the Court order. Yet we have set an alarm bell. Here afterwards any film, film music, bhajans, plays etc should not defame the Hindu gods and goddesses. This time the senior pontiffs like Sri Vishveswara Thirtha of Pejawar Mut, Sri Balagangadharanatha Swamiji of Adhi Chunchanagiri and Sri Siddaganga Mut Sri Shivakumar Swamiji have asked the juniors to stop at it from this film KVSS.”

: said Sri Santosh Guruji as the collective opinion of various religious leaders  &  bodies called “Math” in Karnataka after suggesting more cuts in KVSS in contrary to the court’s order. On the city Civil Court stay order he had nothing to say. We have to obey the court. Court is above the Swamijis he replied. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other organisations had raised objections over some controversial dialogues and scenes in film.

A meeting organised on Thursday evening to amicably solve the controversy surrounding the forthcoming film KVSS ended in an anti-climax. The producer had agreed to remove objectionable scenes, but a court order against its removal was brought to their notice. K Nagaraj, Regional Officer, Central Board for Film Certification, has said that no one can interfere or disturb the screening of a film once it was okayed by the Censor Board. Whether to agree to Swamijis or to Court order is his piquant situation of the producer Munirathna Naidu and distributor Rockline Venkatesh.

On Thursday evening Sri Lakshmivara Thirtha of Shiroor Muth, Sri Bharathi Swamiji of Adhichunchanagiri, Sri Sureshananda Swamiji, Sri Santosh Guruji and other Hindu Association leaders watched the film at Renukamba Digital theatre suggested two cuts and brought some respite for the producer Munirathna Naidu of kVSS the legal hassle has put the producer in the scissors again. While appreciating the producer for effecting six cuts that show Hindu religion and Gods in poor light, Santosh has advised him to remove two more scenes – one criticising Rama and Krishna and the other one where hero kicks Gods.

Producer of Rs.15 crores first high quality 3D film KVSS  Munirathna Naidu despite of high tension he is facing for the film has decided to make another 3D film after all problems get over.

The Dalit Rakshana Vedike has brought a stay order for the film screening without any cuts from the existing censor cuts suggested. That is very clear that Dalit association has not liked the suggestions made by Hindu Swamijis.

On the appeal made by Sri Pejawar Muth Swamiji, Sri Balagangadharanatha Swamiji and Sri Siddaganga Sri Shivakumara Swamiji we have seen the film . Till that time we found two more cuts not made and Munirathna Naidu has agreed to it stated Santosh Guruji.

While the Swamijis watching three fourth of the film KVSS suggested for two more cuts for the film and then release the film on Thursday night the piquant situation for producer Munirathna Naidu and distributor of the film Rockline Venkatesh was the City civil court stay order for showing the film KVSS according to the first censor version. The stay order was brought by Dalit Rakshana Samithi. The fact remains that in some parts of Karnataka ‘KVSS’ is screening the first censor version as it is without cuts. Producer Munirathna Naidu agreed to the call of the Swamijis and making necessary changes consulting the Regional Censor Board. Meanwhile he has to rush to the City Civil Court to Dalit Rakshana Sangha filing a case.

‘kali ma’ beer new names: jai ho, pee le, de daroo or dobara !!

Burnside Brewing Co.:To those who have been patiently waiting, we humbly ask that you wait just a little longer and to anyone we have offended we sincerely apologize.

An American Brewery Company has apologized for naming a beer after Hindu goddess “Kali-Mata” and said it is currently scrambling to rename the product, amidst protest in the Indian parliament. The “Kali-Ma” beer which was scheduled for launch Tuesday has now been postponed till the Portland-based company ‘Burnside Brewing Co’ finds a new name for it. “Kali-Ma” the beer was earlier announced as spiced wheat ale involving cardamom, fenugreek, cumin, India dandicut peppers, etc., and showed the picture of Goddess with four arms and three severed heads.

Burnside apologized on its facebook page and posted:

In response to pleas from the Hindu community we have decided to postpone the limited release of “Kali-ma” our imperial wheat ale flavored with Indian spices and Scotch-Bonnet peppers. It is NEVER our intention at Burnside to offend or alienate any race, creed, religion or sexual orientation. …To those who have been patiently waiting, we humbly ask that you wait just a little longer and to anyone we have offended we sincerely apologize. 

 

To this post an Indian Ashutosh Shrivastava suggested some name which maybe hit in US market with migrants as well as American:

As I hindu and an ardent beer buff, I really appreciate your gesture and look forward to the launch of the beer with a new name.Considering the fact that your beer has some flavours of Indian spices, here are some suggestions:

“Jai Ho” – It is a widely known slogan from an oscar winning movie called “Slumdog Millionaire”. It was also used as the election slogan by the current ruling party in India.

“Pee le” – Its a hindi word that means “Go drink”.

“De Daroo” – It means “Give me the drink”

“Dobara” – Means “Second round”.. what fun is a beer if people dont ask for another.

Jai Ho !!!

Hindu investigates how the Old Lady champions the cause of BT cotton & suppressed the suicides

P. SAINATH, the rural affairs editor of The Hindu and is the author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought writes an real investigative essay Reaping gold through cotton, and newsprint on how the Old Lady Of Boribunder, Times Of India, champions the cause of crooked politicians and multinationals to promote the genetically modified BT cotton and suppress the suicides of farmers:

The same full page appeared twice in three years, the first time as news, the second time as an advertisement (in The Times Of India)

“Not a single person from the two villages has committed suicide.”

Three and a half years ago, at a time when the controversy over the use of genetically modified seeds was raging across India, a newspaper story painted a heartening picture of the technology’s success. “There are no suicides here and people are prospering on agriculture. The switchover from the conventional cotton to Bollgard or Bt Cotton here has led to a social and economic transformation in the villages [of Bhambraja and Antargaon] in the past three-four years.” (Times of India, October 31, 2008).

So heartening was this account that nine months ago, the same story was run again in the same newspaper, word for word. (Times of India (TOI), August 28, 2011). Never mind that the villagers themselves had a different story to tell.

“There have been 14 suicides in our village,” a crowd of agitated farmers in Bhambraja told shocked members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture in March this year. “Most of them after Bt came here.” The Hindu was able to verify nine that had occurred between 2003 and 2009. Activist groups count five more since then. All after 2002, the year the TOI story says farmers here switched to Bt. Prospering on agriculture? The villagers told the visibly shaken MPs: “Sir, lots of land is lying fallow. Many have lost faith in farming.” Some have shifted to soybean where “at least the losses are less.”

Over a hundred people, including landed farmers, have migrated from this ‘model farming village’ showcasing Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech’s Bt Cotton. “Many more will leave because agriculture is dying,” Suresh Ramdas Bhondre had predicted during our first visit to Bhambraja last September.

The 2008 full-page panegyric in the TOI on Monsanto’s Bt Cotton rose from the dead soon after the government failed to introduce the Biotech Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill in Parliament in August 2011. The failure to table the Bill — crucial to the future profits of the agri-biotech industry — sparked frenzied lobbying to have it brought in soon. The full-page, titled Reaping Gold through Bt Cotton on August 28 was followed by a flurry of advertisements from Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech (India) Ltd., in the TOI (and some other papers), starting the very next day. These appeared on August 29, 30, 31, September 1 and 3. The Bill finally wasn’t introduced either in the monsoon or winter session — though listed for business in both — with Parliament bogged down in other issues. Somebody did reap gold, though, with newsprint if not with Bt Cotton.

Bhambraja, touted as a model for Mahyco-Monsanto’s miracle Bt, was an obvious destination for the committee headed by veteran parliamentarian Basudeb Acharia. Another was Maregaon-Soneburdi. But the MPs struck no gold in either village. Only distress arising from the miracle’s collapse and a raft of other, government failures.

The issues (and the claims made by the TOI in its stories) have come alive yet again with the debate sparked off by the completion of 10 years of Bt cotton in India in 2012. The “Reaping Gold through Bt Cotton” that appeared on August 28 last year, presented itself as “A consumer connect initiative.” In other words, a paid-for advertisement. The bylines, however, were those of professional reporters and photographers of the Times of India. More oddly, the story-turned-ad had already appeared, word-for-word, in the Times of India, Nagpur on October 31, 2008. The repetition was noticed and ridiculed by critics. The August 28, 2011 version itself acknowledged this unedited ‘reprint’ lightly. What appeared in 2008, though, was not marked as an advertisement. What both versions do acknowledge is: “The trip to Yavatmal was arranged by Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech.”

The company refers to the 2008 feature as “a full-page news report” filed by the TOI. “The 2008 coverage was a result of the media visit and was based on the editorial discretion of the journalists involved. We only arranged transport to-and-from the fields,” a Mahyco Monsanto Biotech India spokesperson told The Hindu last week. “The 2011 report was an unedited reprint of the 2008 coverage as a marketing feature.” The 2008 “full-page news report” appeared in the Nagpur edition. The 2011 “marketing feature” appeared in multiple editions (which you can click to online under ‘special reports’) but not in Nagpur, where it would surely have caused astonishment.

So the same full-page appeared twice in three years, the first time as news, the second time as an advertisement. The first time done by the staff reporter and photographer of a newspaper. The second time exhumed by the advertising department. The first time as a story trip ‘arranged by Mahyco-Monsanto.’ The second time as an advertisement arranged by Mahyco-Monsanto. The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

The company spokesperson claimed high standards of transparency in that “…we insisted that the publication add the source and dateline as follows: ‘This is a reprint of a story from the Times of India, Nagpur edition, October 31, 2008.’ But the spokesperson’s e-mail reply to The Hindu‘s questions is silent on the timing of the advertisements. “In 2011, we conducted a communications initiative for a limited duration aimed at raising awareness on the role of cotton seeds and plant biotechnologies in agriculture.” Though The Hindu raised the query, there is no mention of why the ads were run during the Parliament session when the BRAI Bill was to have come up, but didn’t.

But there’s more. Some of the glowing photographs accompanying the TOI coverage of the Bt miracle were not taken in Bhambraja or Antargaon, villagers allege. “This picture is not from Bhambraja, though the people in it are” says farmer Babanrao Gawande from that village.

Phantom miracle

The Times of India story had a champion educated farmer in Nandu Raut who is also an LIC agent. His earnings shot up with the Bt miracle. “I made about Rs.2 lakhs the previous year,” Nandu Raut told me last September. “About Rs.1.6 lakh came from the LIC policies I sold.” In short, he earned from selling LIC policies four times what he earned from farming. He has seven and a half acres and a four-member family.

But the TOI story has him earning “Rs.20,000 more per acre (emphasis added) due to savings in pesticide.” Since he grew cotton on four acres, that was a “saving” of Rs. 80,000 “on pesticide.” Quite a feat. As many in Bhambraja say angrily: “Show us one farmer here earning Rs.20,000 per acre at all, let alone that much more per acre.” A data sheet from a village-wide survey signed by Mr. Raut (in The Hindu‘s possession) also tells a very different story on his earnings.

The ridicule that Bhambraja and Maregaon farmers pour on the Bt ‘miracle’ gains credence from the Union Agriculture Minister’s figures. “Vidarbha produces about 1.2 quintals [cotton lint] per hectare on average,” Sharad Pawar told Parliament on December 19, 2011. That is a shockingly low figure. Twice that figure would still be low. The farmer sells his crop as raw cotton. One-hundred kg of raw cotton gives 35 kg of lint and 65 kg of cotton seed (of which up to two kg is lost in ginning). And Mr. Pawar’s figure translates to just 3.5 quintals of raw cotton per hectare. Or merely 1.4 quintals per acre. Mr. Pawar also assumed farmers were getting a high price of Rs.4,200 per quintal. He conceded that this was close to “the cost of cultivation… and that is why I think such a serious situation is developing there.” If Mr. Pawar’s figure was right, it means Nandu Raut’s gross income could not have exceeded Rs.5,900 per acre. Deduct his input costs — of which 1.5 packets of seed alone accounts for around Rs.1,400 — and he’s left with almost nothing. Yet, the TOI has him earning “Rs.20,000 more per acre.”

Asked if they stood by these extraordinary claims, the Mahyco-Monsanto spokesperson said, “We stand by the quotes of our MMB India colleague, as published in the news report.” Ironically, that single-paragraph quote, in the full-page-news story-turned-ad, makes no mention of the Rs.20,000-plus per acre earnings or any other figure. It merely speaks of Bt creating “increased income of cotton growers…” and of growth in Bt acreage. It does not mention per acre yields. And says nothing about zero suicides in the two villages. So the company carefully avoids direct endorsement of the TOI’s claims, but uses them in a marketing feature where they are the main points.

The MMB spokesperson’s position on these claims is that “the journalists spoke directly with farmers on their personal experiences during the visits, resulting in various news reports, including the farmer quotes.”

The born-again story-turned-ad also has Nandu Raut reaping yields of “about 20 quintals per acre with Bollgard II,” nearly 14 times the Agriculture Minister’s average of 1.4 quintals per acre. Mr. Pawar felt that Vidarbha’s rainfed irrigation led to low yields, as cotton needs “two to three waterings.” He was silent on why Maharashtra, ruled by an NCP-Congress alliance, promotes Bt Cotton in almost entirely rainfed regions. The Maharashtra State Seed Corporation (Mahabeej) distributes the very seeds the State’s Agriculture Commissioner found to be unsuited for rainfed regions seven years ago. Going by the TOI, Nandu is rolling in cash. Going by the Minister, he barely stays afloat.

Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech’s ad barrage the same week in 2011 drew other fire. Following a complaint, one of the ads (also appearing in another Delhi newspaper) claiming huge monetary benefits to Indian farmers landed before the Advertising Standards Council of India. ASCI “concluded that the claims made in the advertisement and cited in the complaint, were not substantiated.” The MMB spokesperson said the company “took cognizance of the points made by ASCI and revised the advertisement promptly…. ASCI has, on record, acknowledged MMB India’s modification of the advertisement…”

We met Nandu again as the Standing Committee MPs left his village in March. “If you ask me today,” he said, “I would say don’t use Bt here, in unirrigated places like this. Things are now bad.” He had not raised a word during the meeting with the MPs, saying he had arrived too late to do so.

“We have thrown away the moneylender. No one needs him anymore,” The Times of India news report-turned-ad quotes farmer Mangoo Chavan as saying. That’s in Antargaon, the other village the newspaper found to be basking in Bt-induced prosperity. A study of the 365 farm households in Bhambraja and the nearly 150 in Antargaon by the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS) shows otherwise. “Almost all farmers with bank accounts are in critical default and 60 per cent of farmers are also in debt to private moneylenders,” says VJAS chief Kishor Tiwari.

The Maharashtra government tried hard to divert the MPs away from the ‘model village’ of Bhambraja (and Maregaon) to places where the government felt in control. However, Committee Chairperson Basudeb Acharia and his colleagues stood firm. Encouraged by the MPs visit, people in both places spoke their minds and hearts. Maharashtra’s record of over 50,000 farm suicides between 1995 and 2010 is the worst in the country as the data of the National Crime Records Bureau show. And Vidarbha has long led the State in such deaths. Yet, the farmers also spoke of vast, policy-linked issues driving agrarian distress here.

None of the farmers reduced the issue of the suicides or the crisis to being only the outcome of Bt Cotton. But they punctured many myths about its miracles, costs and ‘savings.’ Some of their comments came as news to the MPs. And not as paid news or a marketing feature, either.

(Disclosure: The Hindu and The Times of India are competitors in several regions of India.)

P. Sainath can be reached at: psainath@vsnl.com.

Paid News Business In India: Murdoch & Co.may be praying to be born in India in “agle janam”!

In the “paid news” affair some of Indian media’s market leaders have been named as the major violators, but remain largely unscathed. Should this episode in British media history say something to us in India, asks PADMAJA SHAW. She writes in her column Issue In Media in a pioneer media watch-dog website The Hoot :

……The pattern is pretty much the same with other major issues concerning the conduct of other media houses. No one is willing to cast any “stones” apparently because all perceive themselves to be living in glasshouses. When a media baron is on the verge of being arrested, a lightening phone call would go to all the media houses and the story is killed and the arrest managed. When a CBI charge sheet is filed on a media house, it is buried deep under the spike, even as CBI charge sheets against all and sundry are dissected and individuals are tried and convicted in ten-minute studio discussions.

Well then, are we unhappy that our media houses are grubbing money and not primarily chasing power instead? Is spending better than earning? Since there is no real answer to this ethical dilemma in India, one would like to exit with a fond possibility: Murdoch and his offspring may be praying that they be born in India in their “agle janam”!
……In India, in the “paid news” affair, again it was the market leaders who have been named as the major violators. The news organisations also could put pressure on the Press Council of India (PCI) to prevent publication of the Thakurtha-Reddy report and to keep their names out of public knowledge.

What was the crime? Some major newspapers and journalists were either offering package deals for coverage or taking individual payments to ensure favourable coverage during elections. The PCI-sponsored report on paid news estimates that the unrecorded money earned this way could run into several hundred crores. The newspaper giants involved were earning big illegal bucks for providing favourable coverage. Neither the tax departments nor any other investigative body in India has been asked to look into this affair where there was a secular openness and willingness to accept payments from anyone who is willing and to promote the payers’ cause for the money taken. It is the same newspapers that lose no opportunity to hold forth editorially on democracy and criminalisation of politics.
Read the full column in The Hoot : But who will bell our big guys?

Hindustan stands by Katju’s opinion in The Hindu: Media (read, channels) are irresponsible, reckless and callous!

Media cannot reject regulation

Chairman of the Press Council of India Justice Markandey Katju wrote in The Hindu

If red lines can be drawn for the legal and medical professions, why should it be any different for profit-making newspapers and TV channels?

….The way much of the media has been behaving is often irresponsible, reckless and callous. Yellow journalism, cheap sensationalism, highlighting frivolous issues (like lives of film stars and cricketers) and superstitions and damaging people and reputations, while neglecting or underplaying serious socio-economic issues like massive poverty, unemployment, malnourishment, farmers’ suicides, health care, education, dowry deaths, female foeticide, etc., are hallmarks of much of the media today. Astrology, cricket (the opium of the Indian masses), babas befooling the public, etc., are a common sight on Television channels. 

Paid ‘news’ is the order of the day in some newspapers and channels where you have to pay to be in the news. One senior political leader told me things are so bad that politicians in some places pay money to journalists who attend their press conferences, and sometimes even to those who do not, to ensure favourable coverage. One TV channel owner told me that the latest Baba (who is dominating the scene nowadays) pays a huge amount for showing his meetings on TV. Madhu Kishwar, a very senior journalist herself, said on Rajya Sabha TV that many journalists are bribable and manipulable.

 ….Why then are the electronic media people so furiously and fiercely opposing my proposal? Obviously because they want a free ride in India without any kind of regulation and freedom to do what they will. 

Read the full column in The Hindu: Media cannot reject regulation