Thursday, September 23, 2010

Indian Media, Commonwealth Games and Sainath...

An amended text of an email exchange with a friend: Journalism is a demanding vocation. As appealing as it is, it lays your soul open to the world. Unlike most professions that are becoming micro-specialized and super-skilled, Journalism marries two diametrically opposite skills.

First - Judgment of the external world – all the contemporary events, people, perceptions et al. As a Journalist you are required to see, assess, and judge the world with all its hosannas and gravitas; it’s not easy especially so as you are required to do all that being aware of your own biases and prejudices. You are required to be gregarious, extrovert and open. Any wrong call anywhere in this process, you’ll end up looking a fool. The other skill is writing – how very distant it is from the first. Can you think of any other act that can be more intimate and personal for a human being ? ( Hmm , sex you may say but sex is motor, not cognitive i.e not exclusively human) So, whatever you have seen and assessed, you have to reflect in your own mind, arrange the facts, perceptions and arrive at a judgment. Then you have to express it clearly so others can see what you have seen.

Indian media – We all know the writing / presentation in Indian media is above average for a race whose language is not English. But it is at the judgment they are so poor. It’s not that they refuse to see it, they quite simply can’t see it. My intense abhorrence of them stems back to this - their utter lack of judgment. And not just that, their Indian sense of completeness: they are perfect and beyond mistake.

Many a months back when I passed through India there were enough reports to raise concerns about the shoddy preparations and siphoning scams involved but media failed to mount any pressure whatsoever to get the job properly done. Instead they were all busy covering M S Dhoni’s wedding or yet another utterly unremarkable cricket series in Sri Lanka.

Incidentally as it happens – the weekly I had read in transit in India was the first weekly to carry an article about the games scam. Here are the links for the archives of the three national weeklies:

India Today This is the one I had read. August 2 edition. That’s 8 weeks before the kick-off.

Tehelka Cover Story August 28. Think of it, this is the group which congratulates itself on investigative journalism.

Outlook None that I can see. And hover over April 12 edition. It sounds of singing praises about the game.

Kalmadi and co are old hacks. They’ve built a career sucking off public money. I hold the new Indian media equally if not more responsible. The first report of any mismanagement and corruption came in summer, when the whole infrastructure was scheduled to be finished before summer. Millions had been allotted over more than five years ago and the Media accounts for the public money just two months before the event. But then Indian media is nothing more than deadlines, plagiarism and scratching backs. It is an assembly of semi-educated dimwits who can’t sit down and think. They neither have any influence over the legislature above nor can they touch the masses below. They are an enormous unaccounted waste of ink and bytes.

You have to bear in mind this is not an event that is to be held in a distant no man’s land. These people - the journalists and the politicians, both are mostly based in Delhi and would have been seeing each other regularly – both professionally and socially. Today no one speaks of what media owed the people. If Kalmadi and Co didn’t do their jobs properly so didnt the media. Slagging off Kalmadi is totally useless, leopards and spots. He should have been disciplined long back by building political and public pressure around him. The Media didn’t. Now they just ‘report’ the happenings. Usual Status quo. They deserve each other. Though it’s not something to be proud to state, I don’t hesitate a minute to say I really wish as many countries withdraw from the games. There are many ways of learning and for some the harder way works. It’s just how it is.


Also find this wonderful article about P Sainath during his recent visit to Canada.

Finally, this is a bit dated but still relevant thoughts by perhaps the only man in India who understands the meaning of the world Journalism. Not that I endorse all of his views but I admire that he is serving no one but himself - a fundamental requirement to be taken seriously in journalism. His anger is plain obvious.


Rajesh said...

There is a Kalmadi state of mind - that is impervious of job (is it?) evaluations and embarrassments; imperious in its sense of royalty above all Indian subjects, flanked by bureaucrats.

They have occupied the sports territories of this country by political force a long time now. Here is a link that is talking about one feeble voice against the rot:

The focus on India as it rides well above the recession wave is a given as it is easy for the western Journalists to go back to their filth and gross stories from India of the old. Let's hope these stories will go further and point the world to the native culture of corruption, lack of accountability and the tight grip by political establishment of dynastic and nepotistic variety. There is every chance now that these colonial political class might take the whole noise as a "hint".

A famous journalist from previous era (VP Ramachandran) refused to write a memoir to avoid hurting people. In his own words: "I did not like the political atmosphere in Delhi. Political parties functioned in clicks and groups and even journalists became part of one group or another. There was no scope for honest reporting."

Perhaps that is where we fail to confuse these journalists as those who you think falling well short of professional mark. Truth is they are part of the economic/political hierarchy and their reports are aligned with the policies of their own and employers. In the end, lack of quality is more out of habit than intent

Sunil said...


Thank you for those links. I think they are relevant and I do agree that the core Fourth Estate are part of political establishment, and therefore push their own hidden agendas as news. I think it is fair to say that this is more or less a common practice in many democracies. It is in the human nature to associate and work in selfish interests.

But the point I am making is the absolute lack of judgment in not one media house, but the whole industry. There is no idea of process in the whole machinery. The whole of games preparation was a story minefield at least for the last few years. Instead they have just made a gimmick out of it for 48 hours. WTF are they covering? The syndicate you speak of, as I said, can be seen in many democracies but the media calls the shots when there is a story. A good and a recent example is the MP - Expenses claim in UK last year. The whole legislative machinery was shaken down clearly by all media forces working together.

The games have been allotted to Delhi seven years back. The national media, instead of having a process to follow the preparations (as in everywhere, say Beijing before or London now), just ignored it, and, two months before the event, came up with the news of corruption. This is like covering a war after it has finished. Nevertheless, if you are so hand in glove with politicos and the Babus, why run like headless chickens , panicking a week prior to the event. At least, you could do a proper job of burying the story.

It is the lack of process. That’s the sort of point Sainath is making. In India there is no process to assess, prioritize and distribute coverage of news. A lack of process, say in any other Indian discipline, say transport or medicine would become immediately apparent. But in Indian journalism – which is a galaxy of its own with no one to be accountable to, just floats about making up its own rules, news and stories. So you have middle-aged editors who would have sucked up half their life to the politicians ordering a clueless Lady Sriram College graduated girl to go and interview Shahid Kapoor.

The figures Panicker quotes are wonderful but meaningless because number of years doesn’t in itself is good or bad thing, unless there is, well, again a process. You can’t argue that they stayed so long as a point against them because in India there isn’t an accountable process for a turnover in the first place. Quite simply, no one in India including Panicker himself was bothered about who governed Archery 20 years back because Indian GDP was shit. 

Secondly , to see Panicker write that is a bit of joke. I know he might write well, but he himself is everything that he is arguing against. If you want a good example of fiefdom and camaraderie you should scroll back and look how angrily and irrationally he defended Tharoor during the IPL gate.
Of course that he is friends with Tharoor, and wanted to stick it up to Modi is irrelevant. =)

Rajesh said...

Before going into the details, I think couple of things I want to clarify as to what I meant with those links:

The first link is not about Panicker's "voice", but what/who Panicker was talking about - specifically Rahul Mehra and his PIL. To me that is the only thing ever done in the entire history of fiefdom in independent India which again in the end didn't mean much.

Second point was about the patriarchal and semi feudal structure of press journalism. The best we had ranged from grandstanding moral indignation (VPR deciding to bury the hatchet of Nehru - Emergency era) to clear sucking up to political patronage. (B.G. Varghese v/s Azad). Even when I search for the "brilliant" media warriors from the time of Emergency, what stands out is this penchant for name recognition rather than any meticulous building up of a story.

I doubt if any Indian ever learned about their country or contemporary life from any of these journalist namesakes, which is a tragedy considering how inept Indian journalists are to provide any consistently intelligent narrative and context to counter the geopolitical agenda and stereotypes thrown around by foreign media. Most of the time, Indian media themselves are deviously and grotesquely in collusion with them with tragic results. People along with journalists are totally desensitized from processing their own lives and thoughts.

For example I read somewhere that out of all these strife in Kashmir, there was not one casualty recorded against Indian army's name. But the whole debate raged about Army's role and their murderous "legal protection" from human rights law. There is no Indian narrative anywhere of the whole farce. When I see Indian names bracketed with American names in NYTimes' (Amnesty Intl type) reports, I cringe.

In Sainath's own words (from your link), he reads the government articles to do his job. That is the clincher - none of these journalists can make any sense out of the tragic everyday life that is out there in broad day light. They live in the middle of a perpetual carnival of cacophony.

One more word on Panicker. There are quite a few like him that I have seen. who straddle both worlds and perhaps too intelligent to forget sometimes they are in the same mad house, and tend to take thmselves too seriously. They know they are celebrity in a perverse way and their affinities and dislikes are personal. It didn't surprise me that he defended Tharoor.

The Journalist friend who I met this year in India said he was happy to be away from stone pelters and hartal organizers, and in a government press meeting, busy making news out of handouts, after the dinner of course.

Sunil said...

I agree with all of what you have said on the further comment. I must admit I don't follow Panicker regularly, but I brought up the Panicker Tharoor episode, as it was equally hideous. I had put Panicker on my twitter list and during the Tharoor controversy, his updates and blog posts were blinkered, improper, and well, juvenile. As I have said in the post - part of the being journalist to be aware of one's own influences, biases and prejudices - and when to draw the line between a person and his work. Else there would be, just another fiefdom.

Dev said...

Humour time. According to an SMS I received a few days ago an anagram for 'Suresh Kalmadi' is 'Sir u made lakhs'. But according to a friend this anagram would have made sense thirty years ago!!!

Sunil said...


=), yes Kalmadi and Co are ahead of technology.

Finny Forever said...

really. the last thing sainath should be doing is endorse windows in the background. little things. little things.