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A newspaper defends itself

January 21, 2008

A lot of people lambaste the media and some go to extremes. But it is unusual for the media to speak out and write something in it’s own defense. That was why I was surprised to read this article in the Times of India editorial page (not an ediorial), in which the newspaper defended itself against a vicious power point presentation circulating on the web.

The presentation criticizes a particular article by Ashish Nandy which contains statements against Narendra Modi and also some rather broad based generalizations about Gujaratis and other communities, including one that I belong to. Nandy wrote:

…Recovering Gujarat from its urban middle class will not be easy. The class has found in militant religious nationalism a new self- respect and a new virtual identity as a martial community, the way Bengali babus, Maharashtrian Brahmins and Kashmiri Muslims at different times have sought salvation in violence. In Gujarat this class has smelt blood, for it does not have to do the killings but can plan, finance and coordinate them with impunity. The actual killers are the lowest of the low, mostly tribals and Dalits. The middle class controls the media and education, which have become hate factories in recent times. And they receive spirited support from most non-resident Indians who, at a safe distance from India, can afford to be more nationalist, bloodthirsty, and irresponsible.

Outrageous statements eh?🙂 But yes, that is all that they made me do. Grin in disbelief that someone actually believes this kind of stuff. But not everyone was happy. In the presentation that I mentioned, Nandy has been called a psychopath (!) and all because of his rather extreme views which I am sure were written to be deliberately provocative. And unfortunately the people who made the presentation had no idea that The Times of India publishes all sorts of views and unless the piece is an editorial, the article does not reflect the views of the newspaper. But Nandy’s article has been misconstrued to reflect the views of the newspaper, and as a result the Times of India has been rubbished…called a bananna newspaper (!)

And the Times has responded to this criticism…a quote from the Times article:

There’s a power point presentation circulating on the web. It expresses the fury of some readers at the Times of India for publishing in these columns an article by Ashis Nandy that is severely critical of Narendra Modi and Gujaratis. It lampoons the Times, ridicules our journalists and ends by calling us a “banana newspaper”. I thought this might be a good opportunity to clarify to readers what this newspaper stands for and believes in, so that you know where we come from.

The newspaper not only clarifies that the anti-Modi piece was not an ediorial (and what people write under their names is their business), it says it is a ‘liberal’ newspaper and offers “a wide variety of opinions” to readers.

I wondered why the Times bothered to defend itself on this….because there is a lot of criticism about the Times of India today. It appears that everyone one meets is divided into two camps. The Times of India camp and the anti-Times of India camp. It’s difficult to find someone who is indifferent!

There are various articles floating around the web about the Times making money at the cost of ethics. One of these articles (this is an update) accuses the Times of promoting companies in which they have themselves invested. This is far more damaging (as it means that the ET will not give unbiased economic coverage) but the Times has not reacted to this to my knowledge. What they did react to is the hate campaign. There was no need to because there are strong anti-Modi and pro-Modi lobbies. And those who are pro-Modi object to anything negative being written about him. Take my rather mild criticism of Modi:

( 1) My headline said:

A third life for Narendra Modi

I got a message saying that I had no right to write a headline like that!🙂

I had also mentioned that I have never been a Modi fan and my concluding lines were:

…I personally may not believe that Modi deserves to be Chief Minister the third term round, that he deserves to pay a price for what happened during the riots…

Now how mild is that!
Despite that I got some hate mail!🙂 I simply ignored the sender. Modi has a lot of champions who will not tolerate any criticism against him at all, no not even anyone’s personal opinion as I think insecurity runs high.

The Times is showing signs of similar insecurity. They are probably nervous about the power of the web, and the power of Utube. For the first time in this century, people can compete with the power of a major newspaper in terms of reach. That Utube presentation can reach more people that the Times ever could!

Update June 08: It is interesting that the Supreme Court has come out in A. Nandy’s defence and has “restrained the Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government from arresting social scientist Ashish Nandy in connection with his article in The Times of India. The court slammed the government for initiating criminal procedings against the journalist curtailing freedom of expression. ” A good move. I mean, if a person cannot express his views, what sort of a democracy is this!

Related Reading: About fake stings and fraudulent journalism
My views on the Indian Media
Indian print media in trouble
Print readership takes a beating in India

27 Comments leave one →
  1. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    January 21, 2008 9:13 am

    Nita:

    An interesting post, and provocative in different ways for different people. As far as ToI goes, the lady doth protest too much. The only reason one continues to read it is that in the part of India in which I live the TINA factor has to be reckoned with.

    As far as Ashis Nandy is concerned, being acquainted with him for 35 years or so, I would venture to suggest that he is not being deliberately provocative; he actually means what he says. He is one of that vanishing breed of intellectual-cum-journalist who spares no punches, whatever be the audience he is addressing.

    (An aside: Ashis is a Bengali married to a Gujarati, and continues to maintain his contacts with Gujarat. By going on record with his views I’m afraid he’s made his future visits to the state prone to avoidable unpleasantness).

  2. observer permalink
    January 21, 2008 12:17 pm

    Interesting, as i see it, by and large toi is pro central gov in power because of insider info and the very large revenue it garners from tenders contracts and full page adverts. they never publish peoples names which adds to the mystery
    Gautam Adhikari is he one of the Adhikari bros that run sab tv

    but this is good as u said

    “The Times is showing signs of similar insecurity. They are probably nervous about the power of the web, and the power of Utube. For the first time in this century, people can compete with the power of a major newspaper in terms of reach. That Utube presentation can reach more people that the Times ever could!”

    It will shake them out of their complacency , and hopefully force them to find more meaningful readable content

  3. Raj permalink
    January 21, 2008 3:59 pm

    Nita,

    Interesting article! I do not read the ToI (it is almost absent in my part of the country),but from what I see on their channel,I had the impression that they were sympathetic to the Right-wingers.It maybe due to my own Left-wing views,or maybe due to Reuters influence on their channel.Now I may need to do a bit more research before arriving at any conclusion about Bennett and Coleman Limited.

  4. January 21, 2008 4:49 pm

    Vivek, yes I too think that Nandy means what he says…

    Observer, toi is pro-govt., no doubt.

    Raj, I personally do not think that toi is right wing. they are very pro congress for one thing. they are simply a profit making organisation.

  5. Raj permalink
    January 21, 2008 6:59 pm

    Nita,

    You must be correct since I guess you read the paper everyday.Anyway, even if they are just a profit making organisation,that would be enough for me to classify them as leaning towards the Right.Since I wear Left tinted spectacles,I view anything that is not as Left-wing as I am as belonging to the Right 😉 😀

    And I did not know where to write this comment,but the header image is simply beautiful.Is that the sea-link that is under construction?

  6. January 21, 2008 7:08 pm

    Raj, thanks. Yes, that is the bandra worli sea-link and I took this picture in around sunset and combined two pictures into one.

  7. January 21, 2008 9:38 pm

    Hi Nita,

    I grew up reading TOI and it shaped my opinions until something happened to the newspaper in 2003 and it turned to the tabloid path. Now regarding the newspaper’s defe

  8. prax permalink
    January 22, 2008 12:05 am

    toi is passe try this link
    http://newspostindia.com/
    found the content quite good

  9. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    January 22, 2008 8:17 am

    Priyank,

    2003??? You’re being too charitable. It’s been much longer than that. For at least eight years I’ve been carrying on a campaign (in a small way, of course) for revising the page numbering system, with the front page as 3a, followed by 3b, 3c, 3d….Ed, Op-Ed…3[x-z], Cricket a, Cricket b, Cricket c…Hindifillum a, Hindifillum b … and so on. The Ed and Op-Ed are just to salve their conscience. I don’t think there is any earnest underlying belief.

    When was the last time anyone found something in ToI that seemed worth preserving as a clipping?

  10. January 22, 2008 8:39 am

    Priyank, I too grew up reading the Times and I think for me the disillusionment started when the front page became an ad flap. However today the toi gives very comprehensive news, there is no doubt about that. btw, i think you did not complete your comment…

    Prax, thanks for the link.

    Vivek, toi has a grip on a lot of the news agencies and therefore is often first with the news. It is because they have been around for such a long time!

  11. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    January 22, 2008 11:06 am

    Nita,

    //…toi has a grip on a lot of the news agencies and therefore is often first with the news…/

    Speaking from my experience of the Ahmedabad edition — the only one I get to see regularly — this is not true. Not only is it NOT first with the news, you often find the same item repeated almost verbatim in different places of the same issue. On locally important but non-sensational stories it has either no follow-up or very little. And reports of some of the glamorous “local” events are straight reproductions from the Mumbai edition, a fact which dawns upon the reader after reading halfway through the piece. The Indian Express scores much higher on the first two of these three counts, but is poorly edited.

    Finally, this business of being “first with the news” is just a lot of hogwash — a carryover, I think, from the TV news culture in which “your channel” is the first or the only one to break a story, blows it out of all proportion to its actual significance, and in the next day’s papers you find the same story relegated to its deserved place on page 5, bottom left corner, 2 cols. X 8 cm (including headline in 18-pt. bold and credit line).

    @ Raj: To help you along with your research, let me tell you that Bennett Coleman is just a “brand” now, and any associations it may have had with quality of editorial content and reporting are strictly ancient history. (My wife, who worked for 10 years with ToI, often comments that it is older than the Government of India and the Indian Railways, and the age tells!).

  12. prax permalink
    January 22, 2008 12:13 pm

    Ajay shah has a nice article on the times
    http://ajayshahblog.blogspot.com/

  13. Raj permalink
    January 22, 2008 1:04 pm

    Vivek,

    Thanks for that insider perspective on the ToI.My research is over now because regular readers like Nita (who has also worked for the ToI),Priyank and you yourself (armed with your wife’s valuable insider opinion) tell me that it is no longer a broadsheet,but has turned into a ‘broadloid’.I am alarmed at the rate at which once respected broadsheets are turning into broadloids (broadvoids?).They are insulting the intelligence of readers of all ages by going down that path.

    I tend to agree with you on “the first with the news” and “first shown on your channel” ad-lines.The newspapers and television channels must understand that news first breaks out on the internet.All the more reason for them to concentrate on publishing in-depth,balanced and detailed articles and thought provoking editorials and op-eds rather than resort to sensationalism and trivialism to retain readers.

  14. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    January 22, 2008 3:10 pm

    Raj,

    //…All the more reason for them to concentrate on publishing in-depth,balanced and detailed articles and thought provoking editorials and op-eds rather than…//

    Oh but they do! ToI went straight ahead reporting on Edmund Hillary’s funeral arrangements (on an inside page) without bothering to report the fact that he had died. Of course it is expected that the reader would already know about the death from “your channel”!🙂 !

  15. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    January 22, 2008 3:23 pm

    Raj,

    //…I am alarmed at the rate at which once respected broadsheets are turning into broadloids…//

    Good lord! You are so out of tune with the times! Don’t you know that the only thing that matters is what sells. Sell! Sell! Sell! That is the mantra of the global market economy. And you’d better want to buy it, or else! (Don’t we bombard you with ads to persuade you?). As to what sells, what should sell, it’s we the sellers who decide. Why bother with the death of Sir Edmund (that old has-been) when there are more exciting things happening like wardrobe malfunctions at fashion shows, or moronic film stars sitting on panels that decide (with overwhelming help from supporter SMS’s) who should Lead India?

    PS: I’m no financial whiz-kid, nor a player in stocks and shares, but I’m watching the present global stockmarket panic with great interest and some apprehensive amusement.

  16. Raj permalink
    January 22, 2008 10:21 pm

    Vivek,

    If what you said is what mainstream journalists and editors think is keeping up with the times,I would only be too happy to go back to reading palm leaves… or clay tablets… or even rock inscriptions 😉 😀 Thank God for the world wide web!

    Speaking of stock markets and fashion shows,here is an article by P.Sainath on the way journalists cover the ‘exciting’ things…

    http://www.hindu.com/2006/04/01/stories/2006040100731000.htm

    I just have one small grouse against this chap P.Sainath.Why does he just restrict his articles to one newspaper (and its sister magazine)?Or to be more precise and practical,why are there so few journalists like him in our mainstream newspapers?Maybe no one wants to read about inconvenient truths anymore! (thanks for the phrase,Al Gore) Why should they want bread when they can eat cake? Why should they want water when they can drink fine wines? Why should they want khadi when they can wear leather? 😉 🙂

  17. ulag permalink
    January 23, 2008 8:17 pm

    ToI gets a lot of criticism because it sold its editorial space and made it commercial. I dont get that. What does it mean exactly?

  18. January 23, 2008 9:48 pm

    Well, it is believed that the editors take money in return for writing what they do in their editorials. I don’t quite believe this Ulag. But what I dislike about the toi today is that they do play some sort of exchange game and if you read Sucheta Dalal’s article (the link is given in my post) you will get an idea. As for certain ‘news’ items, well they are paid for.

  19. ulag permalink
    January 23, 2008 10:05 pm

    that was very informative….thanks!!!

  20. January 24, 2008 1:16 pm

    Most English newspapers in India are already sold to foo. Where foo is any big corporate or political parties.

    TOI is anti-Gujarati from birth and I love to avoid reading it!

  21. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    January 24, 2008 1:42 pm

    Kartikbhai,

    “Foo” etle shoon chokkas samjhyo nahin, pan koipan udyogsamooh ke rajakiya pakshne vechai jawoon e matra ingrezi chhapani visheshta nathi. A vastusthiti lagbhag aapani badhij bhashaona chhapaney lagu pade chhey.

  22. January 27, 2008 5:33 am

    Nita,

    An interesting post, I do not read the TOI paper edition but I do check the TOI website every now and then. Now a days most news papers and most media sources in India (and indeed world over) are agenda driven. The more agenda driven a news paper is, the more defensive a news paper gets. So the TOI getting defensive may be unusual but not totally unexpected. I am certain we will see more such things in the future, and not just from TOI but from other papers as well. There is not a single news paper that can claim to be unbiased and balanced in their coverage, every single one of them has an agenda. This is one of the reasons I try to get my news from many different papers (actually their websites) so that I can understand what ‘really happened’ rather than what is ‘being presented’.

  23. January 27, 2008 8:29 am

    Ramakrishna, thanks. Yes I too like to keep up with my news by reading different newspapers otherwise one feels manipulated. but i think I sympathise with times of india now. Today I got a comment telling me that I should “go to hell” because of that summary i wrote on Modi! This means that there are many of those who are pro-Modi who are intolerant of other people’s views. Frankly this kind of support for Modi frightens me. I too have my favorite politicians but am capable of entering into an intelligent dialogue with those who don’t like them. Without intelligent discussion it is not possible to have a healthy society and without opposition it is not possible to have a healthy democracy. Whatever agenda times of india has, they have a right to allow others to voice their opinions, whether pro or against. I have personally read several pro Modi articles in that newspaper. Their editorials are anti-Modi but in a democracy everyone has a right to their views and they need not go to hell for that. I think those who have such extreme thoughts in their heads (not being tolerant of others views) will surely burn in hell. Murderers, killers, rapists and other evil people should also burn in hell.

  24. January 27, 2008 9:00 am

    Nita, I don’t remember who said this “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” but I strongly believe in it and as such I support the right of the TOI to express their opinion(whether Anti-modi or Pro-modi or whatever else).
    I completely agree with you that we should be civil enough in a democratic society to respectfully agree to disagree and a healthy discussion bodes well for a democratic society.

  25. Raj permalink
    January 27, 2008 1:53 pm

    Nita,

    //…I think those who have such extreme thoughts in their heads (not being tolerant of others views) will surely burn in hell. Murderers, killers, rapists and other evil people should also burn in hell.//

    I harbour similar thoughts in my mind about evil people! But I often wonder if there is a concept called hell (no,I am not talking about religious concepts here),because evil people 👿 only turn others’ lives into hell (on earth) by their actions! 😡

  26. January 27, 2008 2:05 pm

    Raj, you are getting philosophical now! well, I think that most people who do bad things have a conscience somewhere deep down and things eat into them and this has an effect on their health or perhaps their peace of mind and their personal relationships. I do believe that it has an effect but ofcourse there are exceptions. Truly conscienceless people do exist, and they are pure evil. They will feel no guilt, but then, they are crazy anyway! Such people will certainly be denied the pleasures of living, which means satisfying, loving relationships. This is just my world view!🙂

  27. January 29, 2008 3:23 pm

    Vivekbhai, Sad and true. We have our own case for Gujarati language newspapers sold out already!

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