Avantibai who? Read the NCERT textbook

Rani Avantibai rose in revolt against the British during 1857, much like Rani Laxmi Bai

In yet another example of the role played by political pressure in shaping school curriculum, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has found merit in the demand to include Rani Avantibai Lodhi in school textbooks.

Last year, following an uproar engineered by MPs of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in the Rajya Sabha during the monsoon session, the HRD ministry had advised NCERT to consider the inclusion of the 19th century freedom fighter in textbooks. The protest had led to two adjournments in Parliament.

The council, apparently convinced by the ‘sentiment’ of the House, has made Rani Avantibai Lodhi a part of popular recall. The freedom fighter has been mentioned in NCERT’s social science textbook for Class VIII – on pages 58 and 59 under chapter five called ‘When People Rebel’ – from the new academic session that began last month.

Rani Avantibai rose in revolt against the British during the country’s first war of independence in 1857. She ruled over the Ramgarh state, today in Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh. She is known to people in the state through folklore and, that apart, there isn’t much information available. The story of her battle with the English has often been likened to that of Rani Laxmi Bai, a must-read in history curricula followed by schools across the country.

(courtesy: MailOnlineIndia & Ritika Chopra)

Read the full story: Avantibai who? Read the NCERT textbook

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India’s Info Commission: Parking lots for retired civil servants & govt. fixers

Information commissions in India male-dominated: study

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has released a study that takes stock of the functioning of the information commissions in India, which it said are male-dominated and far away from meeting their full potential.

The study, A Rapid Study of Information Commissions – Established Under the Right to Information Laws in India, was released on the eve of the seventh anniversary of the passage of the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) in parliament, on May 12.

CHRI’s research team conducted a quick study of the membership of all 29 information commissions (including that of Jammu and Kashmir established under the J&K RTI Act in 2010) against seven parameters.

The findings show that information commissions are far away from meeting their full potential and are male-dominated. Not one woman of eminence has been appointed chief information commissioner anywhere in India. Less than 15 percent of the information commissioners were women.

At least 30 percent of the posts of information commissioners around the country were lying vacant as on May 1, 2012. This includes posts of state chief information commissioner posts in Maharashtra, Manipur and Tripura. Only 83 information commissioners and chief information commissioners had been appointed against 117 posts all over the country. The state information commissions of Jharkhand (six), Tamil Nadu (four) Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh (three each) top the vacancy list.

In 2006-07, a little more than half of the posts in information commissions were occupied by retired civil servants. In 2012, two-thirds of these posts had been cornered by retired civil servants, particularly those from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). The case of Haryana is even more interesting as 50 percent of the membership of the Haryana state information commission is made up of a husband-and-wife team that retired from the IAS.

The J&K state information commission is the only multi-member body to buck the trend of having retired IAS officers on board.

Less than 10 percent of the information commissioners are from the field of journalism and mass media. Governments seem reluctant to trust the eminence and expertise of citizens who have never been civil servants in their lives.

Of serious concern is the fact that three information commissioners served as members of political parties prior to their appointment (in Kerala, Nagaland and Punjab). The RTI Act bars members of the information commissions from being affiliated to political parties. It is not known whether they resigned from the primary membership of the political party before taking on their current jobs.

All information commissions except that of Mizoram have dedicated websites but less than 50 percent of them have uploaded their decisions in appeals and complaints cases disposed until date. Similarly, more than 50 percent of the state information commissions do not display the cause list of cases on their websites. Section 25 of the Central RTI Act makes it mandatory for information commissions to prepare annual reports on the implementation of the law in their jurisdiction. The state information commissions of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim and Tamil Nadu have not uploaded any annual report on their website until date.

While underlining the need for governments at the central and state level to work closely with advocators of transparency to assess the pendency of cases in the information commissions, CHRI Director Maja Daruwala stated, “The size of the information commission should be determined on the basis of objective criteria”. She also stated, “Public access to all decisions of information commissions must become the policy instead of being left to the caprice of the information commissioners.”

Venkatesh Nayak, programme coordinator at the Access to Information Programme, who led the CHRI research team stated, “Governments and civil society must work together to identify objective criteria for determining the suitability of candidates other than retired civil servants for appointment to the information commissions. The RTI Act intended to provide a diversity of life experience to such bodies from the fields of science, technology, law, management, social service and mass media whereas practice has turned them into parking lots for retired civil servants who are sympathetic to the political establishment.

Community Radio will dry out in India

Sevanti Ninan writes in her column Talking Media (livemint.com) about the Community Radio (CR) services affected by the spectrum policy.

A spectrum story

The ministry of I&B has been holding periodic consultations to see if it can give a fillip to the spread of CR

Here is a spectrum story that does not make the headlines. No fancy lawyers arguing on behalf of top-drawer clients, no Rs. 1,000 crore sums to bandy about, no industry associations seeking meetings with cabinet ministers, or a 2G or 3G label to guarantee page 1 when a story lands on the desk. And completely without the drawing power of Aamir Khan on Star TV to compete for media mind space.

The drama is small scale: a meeting boycotted this week with the ministry of information and broadcasting (I&B) in the hope that some pressure will be exerted, a one-day no-broadcast strike by community radio stations on Wednesday in districts across the country, which will be noticed by the communities they cater to, but nobody else. Desperate consultations with each other by very small radio broadcasters catering to communities within a 5-25km radius, in scattered districts of the country.

In April, a small community radio (CR) station, run by people dedicated to the Brahma Kumaris in the hilly area of Mount Abu, got a rude jolt. Radio Madhuban 90.4 FM caters to a rural community around the town of Mount Abu. Its website has the usual pictures of happy cows and smiling people. April brought the annual licence fee invoice from the wireless planning and coordination wing (WPC) of the department of telecommunications. This is the wing which allocates spectrum and had announced in March that rates were being revised upwards from 1 April this year. The announcement had tables to help you calculate the rate for the spectrum you were using.

But until Radio Madhuban got its notice, nobody quite understood what the implications were for CR stations, which have always got concessional rates. The short-range radio spectrum for which they had paid Rs. 19,700 the previous year, would now cost Rs. 91,000 for an annual licence. That might be less than chicken feed for the Bhartis, RComs and Telenors of this world, but was bad news for a small community radio, which in any case struggles to be viable.

Why it was done is probably because spectrum rates were upped across the board after the Supreme Court’s judgement on getting higher value for natural resources. But if that is the case, it directly contradicts the 1995 judgement of the Supreme Court which says the airwaves belong to the people. Can all users of spectrum be lumped in the same category for pricing purposes? True the CR licence fee has remained unchanged since 2003, but then elsewhere in the world the trend is to bring down costs of CR to enable its spread. Some countries have a free citizen band of spectrum.

The ministry of I&B has been holding periodic consultations to see if it can give a fillip to the spread of CR. There are some 120 stations now, the majority run by universities and colleges, because that is how the policy started out in 2002. The government, always terrified of what little people might do to national security, opened up a band of very local spectrum for use by educational institutions. By 2006, they gathered courage to open it up further. But there is an impressive list of ministries who have to clear each licence. Which is why it has taken 10 years to get to 120-plus stations going operational, the majority still linked to educational institutions.

So who needs CR when we are drowning in media of all kinds, including rural direct-to-home (DTH) and cable television? Communities that need information and entertainment in local dialects in rural areas, and even on the fringe of metropolises. Communities that have learnt to create their own radio programmes. There is Gurgaon ki Awaaz and a new radio station called Radio Mewat, catering to communities outside Delhi. There is Apna Radio in Tonk, Rajasthan, Chanderi ki Awaaz in Madhya Pradesh, Radio Namaskar in Puri, and Sangham Radio, the oldest of them all, in Medak district of Andhra Pradesh. They put out local news-you-can-use and music. Do they now need to become a source of revenue for the government of India?

There is a body of CR advocates called the Community Radio Forum who make a few basic points. Is this just another way of denying access by raising the barriers to entry? In actual money terms, what the government gains from charging Rs. 91,000 each from 125 community radio stations is a pittance. The bigger non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and university radio stations might survive this fee hike, but it will be the last straw for the smaller CR ventures run by local-level NGOs. They are yet to find a sustainable revenue model for CR.

There is nothing to indicate that a body like the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is seized of this issue. They have bigger fish to fry. And evidently, in the government of India, ministries such as I&B, rural development and communication and information technology don’t consult each other as to what their priorities are, when they make policy.

Sevanti Ninan is a media critic, author and editor of the media watch website thehoot.orgShe examines the larger issues related to the media in a fortnightly column.

India’s Hindi Newspapers: ‘NaiDunia’ vs ‘Dainik Jagran’

Tears are being shed for NaiDunia and its exasperated new owner is wondering why

Talking Media | Sevanti Ninan

Two newspapers were started back in 1947, in towns of the Hindi belt not that far from each other—Jabalpur and Jhansi. Last week, one acquired the other. In their 65-year trajectory, one produced some of the most venerable Hindi language journalists the country has known, the other achieved growth which has made it the most read and highest circulated paper in the country. No prizes for guessing who acquired whom.

Dainik Jagran, the country’s leading newspaper, acquired NaiDunia, now headquartered in Indore, in a cash deal. NaiDunia, which has been much romanticized for producing Rajendra Mathur and Prabhash Joshi, towering figures in Hindi journalism, and for nurturing a culture that set the journalistic benchmark for the Hindi press, finally succumbed to market realities. It suffered huge losses in the last few years. But it began to lose the battle a long time ago.

n early 2005, Ajay Chhajlani, son of one of the three founders and the man who had presided overNaiDunia’s heyday, explained to me how the paper came to lose out. In 1967, it was the first paper in the country to make the technological shift to offset printing. From the early 1980s to the mid-1990s it was in technological transition, even as its three original owners died one by one. Meanwhile, newspapers across northern india were becoming multi-edition. “By the time we thought of multiplying, newspapers had become capital-intensive.”

There was another factor not mentioned then. Whereas the third generation of other leading newspaper families in the Hindi belt entered the media business, Ajay’s son Vinay went into software. When things became critical in the family newspaper after an expansion to Gwalior, he came in, got an infusion of finances from a leading industrialist, and led a short-lived revival and expansion which included an edition in Delhi. But the losses only mounted till the backing for Vinay Chhajlani dried up.

Dainik Jagran, meanwhile, was less about scaling the heights of journalism than about expanding from early on, and getting masses of readers.

The editor of Prabhat Khabar, Harivansh, a noted figure in contemporary Hindi journalism, recently published a long piece over three days extolling the high-minded, spartan living tradition of NaiDunia’s early editors. One took no raise for eight years on a salary of Rs150 a month. The other asked for a salary of Rs75 a month. He wrote about NaiDunia’s glorious contribution to the intellectual life of the period.

But that was in the past. Is small and high minded now unviable?

Harivansh’s essay invoked Marx, Engels and Darwin, among others, to warn that it was inevitable in a market economy that the big fish would gobble up the little fish. And, it diagnosed the changes in the newspaper industry that are making it near impossible for the small, family-owned newspapers of yore to survive. Rising costs of raw material, including newsprint, the fact that advertisers favour big publications, and the advent of papers like Sakshi andDNA in a crowded market where it needs an investment of upwards of Rs1,000 crore to launch a newspaper.

Tears are being shed for NaiDunia and its exasperated new owner is wondering why. The way Sanjay Gupta, India’s leading media baron, sees it, he is not gobbling up NaiDunia, as is being made out. He is giving it a capital infusion that will put it back in the race for readership in Madhya Pradesh.

“I am not gobbling them, I am making them grow strong. I am giving them their right place to survive in the market. If (Dainik) Bhaskar buys them, they will close it down. I am buying and mentoring an old brand which would have withered away. Today a Mid-Day is standing up to a DNA and HT (Hindustan Times) onslaught and even a Mumbai Mirror because I have given them an infusion of capital.” (His company acquired Mid-Day a couple of years ago.) He adds: “If a newspaper is about an idea of journalism and not able to survive, it needs to go and sit in the lap of a media group. Whatever its tradition, it is going to be a stronger paper.”

Gupta says that today the debate is twofold. Should you earn out of journalism, and if so how much should you earn? “I don’t think we should start disowning capitalism and start moving towards socialism.” And he adds dryly, today nothing can be small or it will be gobbled up. “This logic was applied in our family 30 years back. Expand, or perish. We began in Jhansi and then in time we launched in Gorakhpur.” They were not an entrepreneurial family backed by large funds, but they were clear that it was a business. “Back in 1947, it was also to make money. We were not some kind of an NGO.”

And for one journalist involved, the wheel has come full circle. Shravan Garg, who is now NaiDunia’s chief editor, has to help the newspaper regain ground from Dainik Bhaskar. He was the man who in September 1993 took over running Bhaskar in Indore and oversaw its overtaking of NaiDunia in that market. The challenge is now reversed.

Sevanti Ninan is a media critic, author and editor of the media watch websitethehoot.org. She examines the larger issues related to the media in a fortnightly column.

India News to launch in MP, Chhattisgarh

India News, the 24×7 Hindi news channel run by Information TV Pvt Ltd (ITV), is planning to expand rapidly. Launched in 2009 in Haryana, the news and current affairs satellite channel is all set to launch in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in April 2012.

Confirming the news, Rakesh Sharma, CEO, India News, said, “We will shortly be launching India News – Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.”

Owned by Piccadilly Group, which has multiple interests in media (print and electronic), ITV currently offers a vast bouquet of  channels including India News, India News (Haryana), India News (Bihar & Jharkhand), India News (Rajasthan), India News (Punjab), India News (Uttar Pradesh & Uttarakhand).

Sharma informed, “We are pleased to share with you that India News (Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand) have attained the No. 1 position in TAM Week 12. This outstanding achievement says a lot about our dedication and commitment towards our viewers. The most important point which reflects this achievement is the age of our channel – it is only two-months young! The market was already flooded with numerous national and regional news makers and to leave our footprint in such a fierce marketplace was only possible because of our belief in impartial journalism.”

(courtesy: Ananya Saha & http://www.bestmediainfo.com)

After Mid Day, Jagran group to buy Nai Dunia

The Jagran group that publishes the country’s most widely read Hindi newspaper, Dainik Jagran, is close to buying out Nai Dunia, the Indore-based Hindi daily promoted by Vinay Chhajlani.

According to sources familiar with the development, the talks have been on for a while and the deal size is expected to be around Rs 300 crore.

Nai Dunia was started in 1947 and is published from Indore, Gwalior and Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh and from Bilaspur and Raipur in Chhattisgarh. If the deal goes through, Dainik Jagran would get an avenue to expand in Madhya Pradesh and central India. Currently, the Kanpur-based newspaper group has two editions in Madhya Pradesh, at Bhopal and Rewa. It is published from Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Bihar, Delhi, Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and parts of Rajasthan. It has 37 editions.

In 2010, Jagran bought Mid Day, the afternoon tabloid based in Mumbai, from Tariq Ansari for Rs 200 crore in an all-stock transaction. The deal also included Sunday Mid-Day, Gujarati Mid-Day and the Urdu newspaper Inquilab, along with its website, mid-day.com.