India’s Best Journalists: Arun Shourie # 1

Ravinar, worked with one of India’s largest selling newspapers and other orgs in Marketing functions who sincerely believe a corrupt media is the most dangerous threat to any democracy writes about 10 most respected journalists in India on his blog Media Crooks:

Since the article on India’s Worst Journalists-2012 (IWJ) last April I had received many suggestions to do one on India’s best. Some even recommended that the same ‘worst’ should be put to another poll to find out which are the best among them. When I looked up the ‘Charter of MediaCrooks’ there were hundreds of provisions to identify and talk about the crooks but not a single one to identify the good ones or the best in the business. Fair, since that wasn’t the task of MediaCrooks. So I derived inspiration from the ‘Worst list’ and ‘manipulated’ the Charter to enable this site to identify the best journalists. The candidates on the best journalists list were all picked by people on the social media. (Thanks to all who contributed). If I had left it to the Anti-SocialMedia (MSM) probably none of these names would have figured.

There is something else about the journalists on the list. You won’t find most of them flamboyant or glamorous. You won’t find most of them frequently in those back-scratching media awards functions. The greatest thing about the candidates on the ‘best’ poll is that when they write an article or appear on TV it is highly unlikely you will find them asking: “Oh God, what should I tell them”? They speak their own free minds. So here are those who have been voted India’s Best Journalists (Poll results on the top right of this page):

10. Ashok Malik – Malik has been in the business for over two decades now. His association has mostly been with The Pioneer but you can also find him in other journals and lately also on many TV channels as a panellist. His writings are not the kind that will set you on fire but Malik manages to put across his views and arguments gently and without offending. That might be surprising since many bios of his mention his wanting to be a gossip-writer in film magazines. That’s hard to believe because he looks so serious. It would be nice, though, to see a gossip column from him – just to see some stuff from him on the Poonam Pandeys, Sonam Kapoors and Uday Chopras.  In any case, don’t expect him to be politically incorrect. Like other successful journalists who have adapted to the Internet Malik understands and values the social media. He is happy to write in a form that the MSM wouldn’t consider really ‘Sexy’ in these times. He speaks his mind anyway and that’s the obvious reason he’s here.

9. Madhu Trehan – She’s one of the survivors from the journalism of the old world charm. The co-founder ofIndiaToday, India’s first weekly news-magazine, has many firsts to her credit. The other significant claim to fame has to be her video news-magazine ‘Newstrack’, in the days of Doordarshan’s monopoly, which was made available as videos through her magazine and through regular video outlets. But Madhu Trehan is not on this list for her past laurels though. She has re-invented herself and has been active on the social media. Her news channel Newslaundry is growing in popularity. It’s a site where Madhu and her colleagues launder the regular crooks in the media with a lot of humour and candour. Viewers and readers of Newslaundry have often felt she has been soft on the crooks but that takes away nothing from her sincerity and her commitment. She has also learned to engage with the crowd on social media. Her popularity is on the up again.

8. R. Jagannathan – Business World, India Today, Express group, Business Standard, DNA he has worked with all of them. A significant involvement has to be the launch of Business Today. Other than that he has spent relatively smaller tenures with most of these publications. But TheJaggi, as he calls himself on Twitter, came to greater prominence with FirstPost. Though I call Firstpost the online sidekick of the Network18 group (CNN-IBN, CNBC-TV18 etc.), Jaggi has brought a lot of balance and freshness in the online news business. As editor of Firstpost not only his own articles but even those of others have largely been truly interesting and fair. That’s what is amazing. Since the group’s TV channels are heavily biased and are nearly political mouthpieces, Firstpost doesn’t appear to be so. Being a business journalist himself, his articles on economics and financial matters make exceptional reading. I don’t have numbers but I would dare to state Firstpost could easily be the most popular dedicated online news site at the moment and will grow in strength. A lot of credit for that must go to TheJaggi.

7. P. Sainath – He calls himself a ‘rural’ reporter. One of the few Indians to receive the Ramon Magsaysay awards Sainath is the art movie equivalent of Bollywood in journalism. And I say that in a nice way. On the mainstream media degenerating into entertainment he once remarked: “”I felt that if the Indian press was covering the top 5 per cent, I should cover the bottom 5 per cent” and that he does splendidly. On another occasion he observed there were 400 journalists reporting on a Fashion show in Delhi but not one reporting on poverty in India. One recent article by him “Reaping gold through cotton, and newsprint” about the misreporting and twisted journalism by TOI is indicative of the tenor of most of his articles and exposes. It is indeed surprising that he hasn’t been called upon to be a panellist on TV shows relating to farmer suicides and such related issues. Maybe he just detests the very format of these debates and avoids them. Outspoken against Paidmedia and other evils of the press he is one reporter who should be inspiration for a lot more.
6. J. Gopikrishnan – There must be a reason his name starts with G. His stunning investigative reports on the2G scam has exposed many corrupt politicians and the entire UPA govt itself. Gopi, as he is called in trade circles, systematically pursued and exposed the manner in which scarce nation resources were sold for a song by the corrupt. Naturally, apart from rising popularity among people a number of awards followed as well in the last year or so. The mostly compromised bigger media outlets started following the 2G story only after his reports. That Gopi works with a relatively small newspaper like The Pioneer also reflects on where good journalism is coming from lately. In the words of his own editor, Chandan Mitra, “He has put on no airs despite the accolades he has received and the many awards he has won. He remains committed to his profession and profession alone”. What followed Gopi’s reports are similar assessments by the CAG on 2G and worse, the explosive Radiatapes that exposed the media-politician-lobbyists nexus. More power to him.
5. Sucheta Dalal – She could have been somebody…. Somebody like… You know who, a media super celebrity. She could have easily compromised ethics and traded that for millions. But Sucheta Dalal is one of the most reliable financial journalists around. From the Harshad Mehta scam to Ketan Parekh to current misdeeds in the financial markets she has served ordinary investors and consumers all her career. Having worked with all the major newspapers in the country she now runs her own web magazine, Moneylife. Apart from various investment and securities boards, including those of the govt, she is also on the board ofConsumer Education & Research Centre in Ahmedabad. In the crowd of many unscrupulous financial and stock market journalists, in print and on TV, she stands out like a beacon. One hopes future aspirants in this domain will look to her for inspiration.
 4. M. J. Akbar – There isn’t much that I need to write about MJ Akbar that people don’t already know. From a Trainee in TOI to launch of major journals like TheSunday andTelegraph and to also being a member of parliament there isn’t much that MJA hasn’t achieved. One of the senior most journalists of India he has also authored many books. In particular, his analyses of Indo-Pak relations are easily among the best anyone can get to read. His recent launch, the onlineSundayGuardian, has acquired a fair bit of popularity on the internet news readers. SundayGuardian is as hard-hitting a news magazine as you can get. He is currently the Editorial Director of IndiaToday and their TV channel HeadlinesToday. That he retains a high level of popularity after four decades in journalism say everything about why he is still rated as one of the best.
 3. Kanchan Gupta – He is most famous for his association with The Pioneer and even more so as an advisor in the PMO for Atal Behari Vajpayee. Apart from writing on politics and current affairs you could fairly call him a reasonable expert on middle-east affairs owing to his work in that region. He can be subtle, wry and sarcastic but don’t expect him to make you fall off your chair laughing. Straight-talking, blunt and sometimes provocative, his writings do not spin facts. That’s the reason he is very popular with the right wing and not so popular in the mainstream media. Often appears on TV shows but gets shouted down very easily. That is not so much because he doesn’t have a booming voice but because he stops when asked by the moderator and cares to listen to others. In a country where journalism and media is dominated by communists and being ‘right-wing’ is almost criminal, his success stands out for his brilliant, insightful and honest writing. Has been another one to quickly learn the future of media is online and has now started his own venture called Niti Digital.
 2. Swapan Dasgupta – Quite easily the best and most popular of contemporary journalists around. That should be a surprise because he too is a ‘right-wing’ journalist. Not just that, he also happens to be the most sought after TV panellist. I refuse to call him an ‘intellectual’ as many do since I consider that term reserved for ‘Nobeler’ souls. Let’s see, I would callAmartya Sen or Dileep Padgaonkar an intellectual. Which is why it is dismaying to find him debating ‘intellectuals’ like Mani Shankar Aiyar. SD is simply blessed with an extraordinary abundance of simple common sense. That’s what makes his writings a delight to read. The number of journals he writes for is too long to be listed here. Sharp observations, deep insights and simple honesty are key features of his writings. Like Sachin Tendulkar he is not gifted with great vocal chords but he makes up for that with his solid batting. If he is on a TV debate you are assured of a decent one without the usual cacophony that passes for debates. Whatever one’s ideology he is clearly a role model for budding journalists.
1. Arun Shourie – This is quite a surprise. I say that in a nice way because Arun Shourie hasn’t been a very active journalist for quite some time. That he remains the best journalist with voters is a tribute to his standing and accomplishments. He is the first of India’s true investigative journalists who led to the fall of a Chief Minister in Maharashtra in the eighties. His most reputed tenure is that as the Executive Editor of Indian ExpressAt one point the Congress govt had nothing less than 300 cases slapped against the IE after the Bofors episode. Author of many books, MP and was also a minister under the NDA govt. It’s distressing for many that since the days of Shourie the fiercely independent IE has more or less become a ‘handler’ of the govt’s agenda. He had also strongly opposed Pratibha Patilfor president and it’s not so hard now to see why. Every article and book written by Shourie is perhaps better researched, more thoughtful and provocative than any of the ones by many modern day journalists. Not surprisingly, he was he named as one of the International Press Institute’s 50 World Press Freedom Heroes of the past 50 years in 2000 apart from being honoured with the Magsaysay award. The likes of Shourie and the others on this list keep the flame of hope for good journalism floating.
So there it is; India’s Best Journalists and I expect they will remain so for quite some time. In an age where skin colour, lipstick, make-up, laundering and brokering skills determine the prominence and influence of a journalist, it is not very difficult for them to stand out. I believe they would have stood out anyway. If most of the media crooks are a danger to democracy and freedom then there are some who strongly protect it too. And those are 10 good reasons to cheer.
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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

Peepli live reporter left scooped out by wily editors?

NDTV‘s anchor and one of the outspoken &  dare devil journalists Sunetra Choudhary had been chasing a UPA minister for some time. He’s never been part of a TV discussion, he rarely gives interviews and yet, he’s often the newsmaker himself. His lack of media savvy perhaps worked in Sunetra’s favour as after the millionth call to his people and haranguing them with her questionnaires, she  finally got them to convey her message. When they called her to confirm a half-hour interview slot, Sunetra couldn’t believe her luck.

At the appointed hour, she arrived with her tiny battalion of producer, camera people and assistants to claim her date with breaking news. The Minister had just arrived, and they were setting up, when she was called in for ‘a word.’

“Let me give you the interview like this only, why the camera?” said the minister.

Surprised Sunetra told him, “Excuse me, sir, you know I’m from a TV channel?”
Finally, the minister decided to level with her. “Actually some other journalists got to know about this and they cornered me in the Central Hall,” he said, referring to the area in Parliament where senior journalists can mingle with MPs and ministers over tea. “They said you can’t talk to her. They made me promise that I won’t be seen talking to you on TV or I would have to speak to everyone which I don’t want to do.”

Astonished Sunetra again pleaded, “But, Sir, you promised me?”

“I know but what can I do? They weren’t just any old reporters, they are well-known editors,” he said apologetically, naming the heads of two other channels. He looked helpless, and the NDTV anchor heartbroken.

Now with her headline-hunting dream shattered,  She returned to office telling her colleagues this unbelievable tale of

“how big-time editors were going around ruining opportunities for small fry like me.”

“But why are you surprised?” they said. Apparently, this happens every day in pursuit of the ‘exclusive story.’

Read her full column in DNA: http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/column_sunetra-choudhury-scribe-vs-scribe_1681672

The Love Triangle of Godmen, Indian Media and the Naive Public

Seeking ‘sampurna nirvana’, ‘moksha’, ‘enlightenment’, spiritual solace or whatever name you give to spiritual wisdom, has always been an expensive affair. Thanks to the introduction of technology, social media, 24*7*365 news channels and some unique PR strategies, the new age God-fellas are able to reach out to a larger audience.

The multi-crore controversial ashrams, mega-donations, special high-tech discourses, mind boggling foreign funds, exclusive telecast copyrights and the jet-set lifestyle of the gurus, everything has an enigma that has turned out to be a fatal attraction for the Indian audience, especially the middle class audience. The economic boom in the last decade has further improved the prospects of Godmen and their followers.

Be it the old, famous and renowned spiritual leaders like the Sai Baba, Osho, Asha Ram Bapui ji, Morari Bapu, Maa Amritanandamayi or the relatively newer ones like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Baba Ramdev, each of them have carved a unique path for themselves in the spiritual world.

The riches of today’s Godmen and the organizations they head are sufficient to give them the status of large organizations and corporations. The rise of several Godmen in the recent years has created a general belief that it is one of the shortest paths to create wealth. Or perhaps to evade the tax laws? Undoubtedly, cash speaks and cash rules in the Godmen market that exists today and is almost a parallel economy, in itself.

The Indian media has consistently maintained a love-hate relationship with the Godmen and has worked as per its needs and the TRPs. One of the most classic examples we witnessed recently was the explosive news coverage of Nirmal Baba, alias Nirmaljit Singh Narula. While it hasn’t been proved if the allegations against him are true, it was indeed ridiculous to watch the same news channels exposing the Baba, where his early morning discourses were being shown!

It is quite clear that in the TRP dominated era, even the TV channels look out for stuff that can boost their earnings. Why can’t they just skip programs in which they don’t have any faith or belief or if they are suspicious of the motive of the people involved in them. After all, if they are telecasting a program, it is the responsibility of the TV channel, to ensure that the program is rational and is not done by a controversial or suspicious person. But then, why do they need to care if the morning 5.30-6.30 slot, earns them decent money. It seems it all boils down to revenue generation and a purely business relationship.

It is not difficult to understand why the Indian middle class in the past decade has unknowingly helped several Godmen to transform into millionaires and billionaires from just being a saint looking out to make a living in the world. The new age God-fellas have chosen religion combined with lessons of self-help to dispel the proverbial ‘ignorance’ of life. In fact, all this is easy to do in India because we have majorly been a religious country, with an unparalleled diversity in all forms of faith. It is often said that we have more temples than schools in India. As numerous faiths collide in India, it has become far easier to give birth to new forms of religions and mixed faiths.

(courtesy: Youth Ki Awaaz & Astitwa)

Moreover, India is at the cusp of great urban development and it is happening in all cities. The peace and union of joint families is transforming into just one family norm, giving way to atomism. The isolationism, the fierce competition, endless insecurities and especially the stark uncertainties that life throws in urban cities becomes a great recipe for the Godmen to lure people. A cheerful peppy talk in alignment with the psychological condition of the person by the divine Godman is surely a stress buster for many people these days. For some it is a relief that some larger-than-life image is there to protect them and for some, it is just an unknown, unexplainable journey of discovering a spiritual guru. That’s India- more than a billion people with millions of faith backed by trillions of reasons!

So, as we can see, the love triangle of Godmen, Indian media and the naïve public is really interesting. The same media that highlights the Godmen as the ultimate saviors, turns them down to expose their frauds. The same public and followers go mad when they discover that their saviors are just common human beings with same selfish ambitions like the rest.

The nexus between religious institutions and money has always been a reality of human civilizations, and it continues to be so even in the current era. While the public has often been duped of its modest donations by some aspiring God-fellas, it will indeed be interesting to watch how the relationship between Godmen, common man and the media changes over the years, as rational thinking and scientific organizations work religiously towards issues related to blind faith and superstitions. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure these days. The common man has endless options in the form of a spiritual guru, even with tempting discounts, perks and of course, special mental peace packages! So eventually the ‘nirvana economy’ is indeed exciting, interesting, mystic and of course, rich!

Remove all partisan propaganda from Doordarshan: Madhu Trehan

5 things on TV that must be washed out quick

By Madhu Trehan

1. Remove all partisan propaganda placed by party in power from Doordarshan

This is a television channel funded by tax payers’ money. It is used as a private channel by all parties in power, promoting themselves and their self serving “news”. It has the largest reach and must be used for public benefit, not for any political party’s propaganda.

2. Remove soap operas that promote women who are subservient to in-laws and husband.

Kill the demure, sly intrigue and show strong women who stand up for themselves and call the shots.

3. Remove ads that show speeding cars and motorcycles as cool.

Make it hip to drive slow and carefully.

4 .Remove ads that require “Don’t try this at home”.

Warning is flashed so fast that you can’t read it and many are too young to read. Too many incidents where kids have tried stunts at home and died.

5. Remove ads which show you can buy affection by giving gifts of diamonds, cars, etc.

It inculcates a distorted image of what relationships require and degenerates into propaganda that promotes crass materialism. Creates shallow values instantly.

Veteran journalist Madhu Trehan is now Director, Newslaundry (www.newslaundry.com)

(courtesy: mxmindia.com)

‘print media journalists are in many ways able to come out with a better fact’

Unlike the manufactured truth or half-truth or something else (of electronic media), the print media journalists are in many ways able to come out with a better fact.

Who can come out with a better truth, a television journalist or print media one. Apparently the former, equipped with camera and microphone, is in a better position to break more ground than the unarmed pen-pusher.

While speaking in a function organized to release his book, “Anna: 13 Days That Awakened India,” in Patna on March 18, the author Ashutosh, who is incidentally the Managing Editor of IBN-7, explained the role the media, especially the private electronic channels, played in exposing corruption at the top level and the advantage the TV channels have in doing that. (In Delhi the book was released by Anna Hazare himself on March 21).

Ashutosh narrated how in August last he literally abandoned his studio to spend days covering Anna Hazare’s fast as he actually wanted to know the truth, that is, how the common mass think about the issue.

Since Ashutosh writes for the print media too he was, in no way, running down its importance though he was critical of English-speaking class as well as some fellow journalists who, according to him, opposed Anna’s movement. But a big question arises from what he said. Is a high-profile television journalist really in a better position to know the real truth? Or it is still the faceless low-profile reporter of any newspaper who can do this job in more appropriate way?

True, the private television channels have decisive edge in showing all sorts of happenings related to any development, movement, scams, mishaps etc. The print media may never match them. But so far gauging the real mood of the people or gleaning the truth is concerned the print media is still ahead and will remain so in future too.

The likes of Ashutosh––or even the lesser mortals in the channels––are not better-positioned to know the real truth because they are not unidentified. It is very difficult for them to maintain ear-to-the-ground approach. As most of the people, to whom a TV journalist approaches for any view, know him or her, they would speak more guardedly. They would give byte, according to the demand of the situation. After all the charm of appearing in camera prompts a person to give the view to the liking of the journalist, who is asking the question. Since an overwhelming number of those present at Ram Lila Maidan were aware of Ashutosh’s stand on the fast those interviewed would not say anything against it.

A girl student of a college learnt this lesson a wrong way a few months back when she told a top lady electronic media journalist something about a particular chief minister, which was not of her liking. That journalist half-smilingly told the girl that she is not interested in negative comment about that particular leader. The hapless girl did not get space while the bytes of her friends were prominently highlighted.

A print media journalist does not behave like a celebrity and can mix in the common mass. He could gauge the mood of the people by just eavesdropping in the crowd, in the suburban train, bus etc. S/he can stand up in long queue for getting cooking gas cylinder anywhere in the country. S/he does not even need to disclose his/her identity. So unlike the manufactured truth or half-truth or something else, the print media journalists are in many ways able to come out with a better fact.

Even for sting operation the TV media has to rely on anonymous face.

Though the TV camera may highlight the apparent hardship of the people the inner feelings and pain could be known only by the journalist who stand with the toiling mass without giving his or her own introduction.

It is always man, or nowadays woman, behind the machine who matter. But in case of TV journalism it is machine––that is camera––which do most of the work. The role of person behind it gets minimized. Yet many senior TV journalists often end up boasting that what they are showing to the world is the ultimate truth. In this brave new world of media the truth itself has become a relative concept.

Genuine News Coverage Media: Print (60%), Electronic (33%) !!!

News TV, it’s time to watch your back ..

There’s a lot that editors of news channels in India need to chew on.

“Who does more genuine news coverage: newspapers or television?”, was the question The Hoot asked readers in a poll. Sixty percent of the respondents to the poll believed that it was the newspapers and 33 percent chose television (the rest were undecided).

From a poll to some scathing remarks by chief justice Vikramajit Sen, heading a high court division bench hearing petitions relating to the violence at the Bengaluru City Civil Court on 2 March. “The bench took the government to task for not initiating any action against TV channels which had spread wrong news about some policemen being killed in the 2 March violence.

“In three weeks, nothing has been done. It only shows lack of administration,” the bench observed. As regards the media, especially electronic media, thebench was of the view that they were only interested in pulling down the rival channel and about viewership.

Sevanti Ninan, editor of The Hoot, confirmed to Firstpostthat 526 readers had participated in the poll – and that’s a significant number, considering the profile of readers of the website. The Hoot is not a ‘consumer’ destination; it’s more a platform for serious and informed discussion and debate on news media in all forms. “The subcontinent has plenty of media, it does not have enough scrutiny of the media. This portal is the outcome of the concern felt by a group of practicing journalists at some recent trends in journalism in this part of the world,” The Hoot says about itself – and that’s why news TV editors should be concerned about the poll.

Justice Vikramjit Sen should not have needed to make the comments he did. News channels created a body to look into issues such as the one that Justice Sen is concerned about – theBroadcast Editors Association. The BEA, which has fiercely protested against Press Council of India chairman Justice Katju’s move to bring TV under the ambit of the council, has done little to look into issues that Justice Sen is worried about. The last announcement by the BEAwas when they issued guidelines for the coverage of the Aishwarya-Abhishek baby.

The Hoot poll and Justice Sen’s remarks should be seen by the BEA as a wake-up call. Ignore the signs at your peril; more incidents similar to the Bengaluru one will see courts demanding action. Not on a case by case basis, but from a long-term perspective.

And Justice Katju might win – only because the BEA doesn’t do what it was created to do

(courtesy: Anant Rangaswami  & Firstpost)