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Posts Tagged ‘Journalism

Doubts Punctuate The 1950 Milan Kundera Spy Case

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“Mirek rewrote history just like the Communist Party, like all political parties, like all peoples, like mankind. They shout that they want to shape a better future, but it’s not true. The future is only an indifferent void no one cares about, but the past is filled with life, and its countenance is irritating, repellent, wounding, to the point that we want to destroy or repaint it. We want to be masters of the future only for the power to change the past.” The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

As if taking a cue from one of his characters a dark secret from the past threatens to crash on the opening chapter of Milan Kundera’s life. In October 2008, the Czech weekly Respekt published a story that claimed Kundera informed on one of his countrymen in 1950, leading to the man’s imprisonment for 14 years in a hard labour camp.

The basis of the assertion was an old police report that fell into the hands of Adam Hradilek, a historian researching the bleak days of Czechoslovakia’s Communist past. The police document reopened the story of Miroslav Dvoracek and that of his childhood friend Iva Militka. The report also brought the past of arguably the most brilliant literary surgeon of communism in Eastern Europe to the forefront. It is a widely reported and misreported story in which the jury is still out on the truth and doubt remains the only certainty.

The 1950 Police Report
The police report dated March 14, 1950 says: “Today at around 1600 hours a student, Milan Kundera, born 1.4.1929 in Brno, resident at the student hall of residence on George VI Avenue in Prague VII, presented himself at this department and reported that a student, Iva Militka, resident at that residence, had told a student by the name of Dlask, also of that residence, that she had met a certain acquaintance of hers, Miroslav Dvoracek, at Klarov in Prague the same day. The said Dvoracek apparently left one case in her care, saying he would come to fetch it in the afternoon… Dvoracek had apparently deserted from military service and since the spring of the previous year had possibly been in Germany, where he had gone illegally.”

The most important thing is the veracity of the police report and from what has come out the document is being considered as genuine (though there is speculation on whether its contents are genuine). Jerome Depuis of the French magazine L’Express travelled to Prague and cited the historian Rudolf Vedova from the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (USTR), the same institute Hradilek works for: “We had the document analysed by the Czech Secret Forces archive. The paper, the names listed, the identity and the signature of the officer were all examined—and the document was found to be authentic.”

Around the same time Jiri Grusa, a Czech poet and in 2008 the president of the international writers association PEN, told a German radio station that he went to Prague to see the police document for himself. Grusa said that he now has no doubts that “the document is real. There’s no denying it. Only it is not Milan Kundera’s document, it is no denunciation, it’s a police annunciation. And if Kundera says, I didn’t do it, then I have to believe him.”

The Background
In 1948 a putsch in Czechoslovakia led to a communist takeover. This resulted in the armed forces being purged and veteran airmen who had flown with the RAF in the war (about 40 per cent of Czech Air Force) were demoted, kicked out or sent to labour camps due to their exposure to the West. Even students were not spared. Two boyhood friends, Miroslav Dvoracek and Miroslav Juppa, who had attended the same school in a small town in Eastern Bohemia were included on a list of expulsions in a memorandum from January 1949. When they were ordered a month later to join an infantry unit, Dvoracek and Juppa, aided by Juppa’s girlfriend Iva Militka and her relatives fled to West Germany.

Click on the headline to read the full story.

Give Mohammad Amir Another Chance

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A billion dollars can’t buy you an ounce of the talent that oozes out of Pakistan’s young left-arm fast bowler Mohammad Amir. Is there anything that an aspiring fast bowler would not trade to-have-even-half of what this 18-year-old boy has in abundance? And is it, therefore, a rational question to ask that why would the proud possessor of such rare gifts betray his calling? And what is it in the cricketing world that is even remotely as valuable as what Amir already has?

Money, and more money. The answer, if proved, is not surprising but shameful as it says less about Amir and more about the world of grown-ups in which he is no more than just a cog. Amir has made the cricket this summer worth watching: That eagerness to grab the ball, the jouissance in his delivery stride that is akin to the flight of an eagle, and the bite that is as venomous as the sting of a viper. He’s engineered batting collapses, made the ball talk with late movement and perfect length, and on certain days he’s looked like taking a wicket almost every ball.

What has the ICC or the various cricket boards done this summer apart from making big bucks by striking lucrative deals? What portion of the money that cricket generates trickles down to the players who shed their blood and sweat on the field and what portion goes to bloating-and-gloating cricket administrators? I don’t know the answer, I’m just curious.

I find it difficult to blame young Amir and exonerate the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), the International Cricket Council (ICC), and the seniors of the Pakistani cricket team. A boy of 18 would not have even dreamt of doing this had it not been for the corroding influence of his team’s seniors.

The best of mankind’s youth start out in life with a sense of enormous expectation, the sense that one’s life is important and that great achievements are within one’s capacity. The great Wasim Akram had 45 scalps after 14 Tests and Amir at the same juncture has 51. It could be a stellar career. Now the administrators would hang this young boy knowing fully-well that what he has done comes nowhere close to what they do all of their lives.

Would the entire Commonwealth Games scandal come out in the open and the guilty punished? Will we get to know who made what-should-not-have-been-made in the IPL scam? I am doubtful. Although I am pretty certain something would be handed over as punishment if the spots stick to the three accused in the Lord’s Test. Columnist Pradeep Magazine said that the system that pollutes the mind of someone so young should take the blame—the PCB, the ICC, and the team seniors was what he said categorically.

In her introduction to the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of The Fountainhead author Ayn Rand wrote: “It is not in the nature of man—nor of any living entity—to start out by giving up, by spitting in one’s own face and damning existence; that requires a process of corruption whose rapidity differs from man to man.” The youth getting corrupted says a lot about those that are past their prime and are running the affairs of the world.

Now there is a lot of talk about how the involved players should be punished severely and that an example should be made of them so that it serves as a deterrent for the future. Should we turn a blind eye towards the bigger problems that the sport faces and hang those few found guilty of spot-fixing?

Suddenly you have players from most countries talking about how they were approached by bookies and how they did or did not report the incidents. Why is all this talk coming out now? Mohammad Amir is an insanely-talented cricketer and that is to his credit but he is also a product of a corrupt environment. That corrupt environment will now punish him and would then claim to have cleaned itself. That, alas, is called justice.

If cricket is to be salvaged as a sport then the cleaning up must begin at the right place, at the source of corruption. The rotten cricket administration that makes the big bucks on the backs of talented players needs to be made accountable and the brouhaha that is being made about the tip of the iceberg has to stop. Australian writer Gideon Haigh wrote after the Lord’s Test: “Corruption has become cricket’s gravest challenge, and it neither begins nor ends with the Pakistan cricket team.”

Shane Watson rightly questioned whether the ICC really wants to eradicate match-fixing and spot-fixing from cricket due to fears the problem might run too deep.

Watson said the fact a newspaper was responsible for highlighting the irregularities involving Pakistan’s recent performances showed the ICC’s system was unsuccessful. “The ICC anti-corruption unit is not really working,” he said during a sponsor’s function in Sydney. “That’s totally to do with the ICC, so they really need to step in and really get to the bottom of it. Maybe they don’t want to get to the bottom of it because it might run too deep.”

Mass murderers get away in this stinking dunghill of a world. Criminals sit in public offices and racists set agendas for nations. Amir deserves more than a second chance given the kind of people we put up with every day of our life. Don’t forget, he’s just 18.

The Australian Coverage Was An Embarrassment

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Some publications and cricket writers in Australia have a tendency to pounce on a visiting team if they have an indifferent start to their campaign or lose the first match badly. The press takes no time in writing them off as spoilers of a summer entertainment that is considered a natural right of the Australian public that enjoys healthy competition. Apart from a few brilliant writers like Gideon Haigh, respected the world over and those like Greg Baum and Peter Roebuck who give every visiting side its due; a lot of the Australian media sometimes forgets the essential thing while writing about visitors: the context. The West Indies have been the latest sufferers after their capitulation inside three days at the Woolloongabba, Brisbane.

The coverage accorded the West Indies after their defeat inside three days at the Gabba even by the expected low standards was harsh. It is a different matter that West Indies picked themselves up and the next match was a draw and the loss at Perth was close and could have easily gone the other way. Australia made 520 batting first and when the West Indies came out it was a Gayle thunderstorm and not the Fremantle Doctor that struck the WACA.

Gayle was the first wicket to fall having made 102 in 72 balls out of the total of 136 runs for the first wicket; he struck nine fours and six sixes in the counterattack. The team could only manage 312 and that gave Australia a lead of 208 going into the second innings. The West Indies blew the Aussies apart for 150 in the second innings and in their chase of 359 runs just fell short by 36 runs.

During India’s 2003-04 tour of Australia, Steve Waugh’s farewell series, the two words that India heard in the lead up to the first Test at the Gabba were ‘chin music.’ The Gabba is an Australian fortress where the last time Australia lost was in 1988 against the West Indies and for India in Brisbane what could one say in a preview. “Playing an Indian team softened by early defeat at Brisbane—as seems inevitable—will be the perfect platform to greater things. Steve Waugh’s retirement at the end of this series might symbolise, to the sentimental, the end of an era—but by no means will that bring an end to Australia’s dominance in world cricket,” wrote Amit Varma of Wisden Cricinfo India. Seldom have series results been predicted before even a ball is bowled but such was Australia’s domination in home conditions that it is the Indian team that should be hailed for their performance rather than admonishing the writer for getting his series preview wrong. It was a 1-1 draw and Steve Waugh’s farewell series was saved more by Steve Bucknor and Billy Bowden in the second innings in Sydney than by their batsmen. It has been written about and the Cricinfo coverage can be accessed to see the merit in this assertion.

Veteran writer and commentator on Caribbean cricket Tony Cozier said that no one is more painfully aware of the rapid disintegration of West Indies cricket than West Indians themselves. The proof has been before our eyes for at least a decade now, at our once-filled grounds, on our television screens, in our newspapers.

“For all that, the abuse and scorn heaped on the team in the Australian press following its defeat in the first Test in Brisbane last week—by an innings and in three days—was undeserved. Comparisons with Australia’s similar decline in the 1980s, when their overall win-lost ratio in 92 Tests was 18-36 (5-16 against West Indies), were conveniently ignored.

Instead, we had this supercilious comment from Malcolm Conn, the long-serving writer for the Australian: ‘Have the West Indies really sent their full-strength team to Australia? Surely the real team must be still on strike, because if this is the best the combined might of the Caribbean can muster, then Test cricket is in terminal decline.’

He was in the Caribbean with the Australian team in 1984 when West Indies did not lose a single second innings wicket in the five Tests, winning the series 3-0 on the way to six successive victories. As I recall, no one suggested then that Test cricket was in terminal decline because of it.

Nor was there any consideration by the West Indies board that the series ‘should be cancelled and all tickets refunded’, the line Ben Dorries came up with in the Brisbane Courier-Mail after the Brisbane match. And, as bad as the Aussies were back then, they were not chided that their Test cricket had become ‘a complete and utter joke’, another of Dorries’ pearls.

Fortunately there are those of substance and influence with a more sympathetic, and realistic, take on West Indies cricket, men such as Greg Chappell. “I’m hopeful that some of the work that’s being done to help West Indian cricket become strong again is successful because I think they’re a very important member of the cricket family,” Chappell said.”

Leadership Is Not Divorced From Daily Life

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Ratan Tata

Ratan Tata in a rare moment of uncertainty and anguish.


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

From The Second Coming by W.B. Yeats, who wrote the poem in the aftermath of the First World War in 1919.

It is always a perfect time to talk about leadership; just like it is always a good time to demonstrate it. This post will try to catch the essence of this elusive quality around which large corporations are built and complex global issues tackled. This is a subjective post because of the screen created by the ‘I’ through which I observe leadership.

“Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences,” Susan B. Anthony. Susan travelled in the United States and Europe and gave 75 to 100 speeches a year on women’s rights for 45 years in the 19th century and she worked for more than 50 years for women to have the right to vote in the US.

The first subjective observation is that there is a distinction between being in a leadership position and having leadership qualities. Leadership does not come with the corner office or with a title that sounds impressive; it is a quality that a man brings to the office and not the other way round. I don’t think leaders need challenges to excel; that to me sounds like the police need gangs and crime to function and the intelligence agencies need terrorist plots in order to work well. Leadership can be seen in simple every day situations and the lack of it may not be that apparent in daily life but it gets exposed completely in a crisis. That is because a crisis is a test of character; and leadership has everything to do with character and almost nothing to do with position and power. Cut to the chase; leaders face the music.

One such crisis or rather devastation began on the night of November 26, 2008; when 10 drugged and systematically- programmed killing machines reached the shores of Bombay having navigated their way from the port city of Karachi. The 62 hours they survived in India’s financial capital have been the ‘suspended fatal hours’ around which the wounded consciousness of a nation has been hanging for over a year now.
One significant point has now become public knowledge; and that is the complete lack of leadership during those 62 hours. There was no one in command when the 10 trained terrorists armed to their teeth tore through the flesh of our complacency and carpe diem ethos. The Indian Express consistently did marvellous stories by picking up the pieces in the aftermath of the attacks and stories were also broken by Times of India, Hindustan Times, Hindu and many other Indian publications and also by some international news organisations. And from Tavleen Singh and Shekhar Gupta in The Indian Express to Vir Sanghvi in the Hindustan Times and Thomas Friedman and Patrick French in The New York Times, some brilliant columns challenged stated positions right through the year.

An AFP picture by Pedro Ugarte showed the anguish of a man with abundance of leadership qualities. It was Ratan Tata, looking up as the last of the flames were being doused and a lot of smoke was billowing from his over-a-century-old heritage, on the morning the torment ended and the last of the hell-bound jihadis had been taken out. It was a picture that captured a decisive man in a fleeting moment of agony and an indecisiveness borne out of factors beyond his control. When Ratan Tata later spoke to most of the TV channels and gave an interview to Fareed Zakaria on CNN there was no hint of indecisiveness and there was no dilemma about the road ahead. He spoke about the important things first and everything was so real about his manner and his concerns.

Our Booker heroine, Arundhati Roy, did a piece for the Guardian that had all the qualities of a good fiction writer struggling to come to terms with facts. “Thanks largely to the part it was forced to play as America’s ally first in its war in support of the Afghan Islamists and then in its war against them, Pakistan, whose territory is reeling under these contradictions, is careening towards civil war,” wrote Roy. What is the source of this assertion? The first instance was neither forced and nor run according to American wishes; Zia-ul-Haq was worried that Pakistan may get sandwiched between Russia on one side and India on the other and he wanted to take the war across the Khyber Pass to keep the Russians on their heels. He entrusted the ISI to manage the liaisons of Pakistan with the CIA and with Saudi Arabia’s GID (Saudi Intelligence Agency), headed by Prince Turki. The proselytizing Wahabi oil money through Saudi charities was also swelling and the ISI and its vault was at the centre of it all in the 1980s. This is sourced information available in many books and for key assertions the primary sources have been listed by a few journalists with immaculate sourcing, astonishing work ethic and a great understanding of nuance.

Lack of justice may have made it easy for the LeT to establish sleeper cells within India but this has not been a plan that would have been even whispered in front of those who provided fringe help. I don’t buy the theory that the terrorists picked their targets in Bombay because they were upset about the Indian Army being placed in war-torn Kupwara. Andrew G. Bostom, MD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Renal Diseases of Rhode Island Hospital, published a comprehensive and meticulously-documented book in 2005 named The Legacy of Jihad, Islamic Holy War and the fate of non-Muslims. Ibn Warraq in a foreword to the book wrote that ‘Dr Bostom has gathered together an impressive range of primary and secondary source documents relating to the theory and practice of jihad, and to a certain extent the condition of dhimmis, non-Muslims living as oppressed tributaries in Islamic countries’. It is a great work for those who can face facts and want to learn about them. “Andrew Bostom speaks of jihad as a ‘devastating institution,’ yet the evidence he provides demonstrates that jihad was also a devastatingly ‘effective’ institution,” Lee Harris wrote in his book The Suicide of Reason.

Was the angst in India about the fact that they also picked the high-end five-star hotels along with CST and those who have a voice made a lot of noise? Maybe 20 per cent of it had to do with that but I think 80 per cent of the anger was the result of being slaughtered by a neighbourhood butcher who just saw us napping in our own backyard. It was the unabashed nakedness of violence and our complete helplessness to deal with it that caused the outcry. Bombay gets me derailed every time and I’ll just say one more thing before coming back to leadership: The United States is not going to stand up for us if we don’t stand up for ourselves. Our leadership needs to realise this.

It is odd how so many people in leadership positions find it difficult to use the three hard-to-say phrases according to Mark McCormack and a fourth one according to me. “I don’t know, I need help, I was wrong, and I am sorry.” There is nothing wrong with any of the four phrases. I don’t know why people find it difficult to say I don’t know so I am not going to give any theory around it. But not admitting what you don’t know always leads to suspicions about what you do know.

My only global example for leadership quality is Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela; just think about the man and what he did for South Africa in particular and for humanity at large. South African cricket writer Telford Vice was very busy recently in conducting a poll for an all-time great South African XI with separate introductions to various disciplines and the middle-order was a tight spot with many contenders. An edited extract: “The middle order is the archetypal South African batsman’s natural habitat, the place where push comes to shove for him. …Some South Africans seem stifled by technique, while a few make a mockery of it. The majority take the coaching manual as their guide to varying degrees, and conjure the rest as they go along.

There is something in the national character that relishes proving people wrong. South Africans appear to be better than most at realising that the light they see at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train, even when the rest of the world is convinced that it bloody well is.

This is, after all, the country that should have been broken by centuries of race hatred and inequality. It wasn’t. Then it became the country that should have been destroyed in the aftermath of those centuries of race hatred and inequality. Again, it wasn’t.

Instead, the centre of South African society held firm thanks to the leadership of a man whose north star was fairness and justice for all. In another world, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela would have made a middle-order batsman of the highest order. He’s not on our list of contenders for South Africa’s middle order, but those who have made it aren’t in the habit of letting people down either.”

Imagine saying this and meaning it: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
This is pure leadership quality without an ounce of the divisive politician.

The Content Is What Counts

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I read a few posts in the last week or so and some of them have been like sparks that ignite something and some others have been so razor sharp that they have cut through the morass of any lateral drift and made a point that has simply rendered a lot of debates pointless.

The most-provocative and brilliant one has been the speech of Les Hinton, CEO Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones, on November 30 at Hyderabad. Hinton remarked to world newspapers that ‘Free Costs Too Much.’ His long speech qualifies the criteria that it talks about; it is the kind of content that a reader would be willing to pay for. A small portion of the speech is used here to build the argument of this post.

“It is true that Google is at the heart of the crisis confronting journalism today. That their almost incalculable—and and growing—power warrants great vigilance. But the main, and most uncomfortable, truth is that this industry is the principal architect of its greatest difficulty today.

We are all allowing our journalism—billions of dollars worth of it every year—to leak onto the free internet. We are surrendering our hard-earned rights to the search engines, and aggregators, and the out-and-out thieves of the digital age. It is time to pause and recognize this—Free Costs Too Much. News is a business, and we should not be ashamed to say so. It’s also a tougher business today than ever before. We have survived other perceived threats—radio, television, cable TV. But this time it is different.

Eric Schmidt, Google chief executive, said recently about the debate on free versus paid: ‘As long as you’re on the side of the consumer, you’re pretty much on the right side of all these debates.’ No doubt he is right. The consumer will determine the business. Consumers will seek the valuable over the vapid because they always do.

Only a few hours ago in Washington DC, Rupert Murdoch, the chief executive of News Corporation told the US Federal Trade Commission: ‘In the future good journalism will depend on the ability of a news organization to attract customers by providing news and information they are willing to pay for.’”

The speech of Les Hinton was delivered in Bangalore but I could not find any meaningful coverage in our papers but that could just be due to my inadequate search and may be some great write-ups were done that I missed—I did get a couple of results but they lacked the passion and the vigour of the speech.

Eric Schmidt wrote an opinion piece that was carried by the Wall Street Journal the very next day. “It’s understandable to look to find someone else to blame. But as Rupert Murdoch has said, it is complacency caused by past monopolies, not technology, that has been the real threat to the news industry. I certainly don’t believe that the Internet will mean the death of news. Through innovation and technology, it can endure with newfound profitability and vitality. Video didn’t kill the radio star. It created a whole new additional industry,” Schmidt said.

The Google chief has a point here as complacency by past monopolies has hit the newspaper industry pretty hard and revenues have moved substantially towards the Internet in the US. In India, though, the flagships of big media houses have been sustaining their loss-making ventures. A few years ago, Vinod Mehta, the editor of Outlook magazine said in a television programme that the journalists are not the ones who are worried by the foreign media coming to India and it is in fact the proprietors who are more concerned.

Just as Hinton rounded off his tour to India; the Hindustan Times on December 5 became India’s first newspaper to be available on Amazon’s Kindle. In an announcement on their website, they said that they would be offering their daily newspaper on Kindle for a monthly subscription of $9.99.

Keith Desouza wrote on techie-buzz.com regarding this development: “Personally I think that it is ridiculous price to start out with, considering that a hardcopy newspaper costs Rs 5 in India, which would take the total cost to Rs 150 or ~$3.5 per month. In fact, HT has several offers which offer their hardcopy subscriptions for the entire year at half the price they are selling the Kindle version.”

Despite Keith’s pessimism I think it is a good move in the long-run and if HT is able to provide relevant and high-quality content as a differentiator in the future then this presence would serve them. Even now it could bring some subscriptions as a start from the sizeable Indian population in UK and the US.

The decision-makers for foreign private equity investments as well as foreign institutional investments in India, along with the policy-makers at world level, would be more willing to pay Dow Jones Newswires, Bloomberg, ThomsonReuters, the Wall Street Journal and the likes because of the quality of their content and their reporting of financial markets. India should throw open its media in this time of global competition; some local bullies may get kicked around but the industry as a whole would benefit—which in turn would reflect in the gains we would make in other industries as well.

An insulated industry will languish with petty competition as the only yardstick; opening up would show that there is no dearth of talent in India. Sachin Tendulkar would not have been a great player with only the inter-state Ranji Trophy as his hunting ground; his greatness is that he competes with the best in the business and comes out as a winner.

“Every clique is a refuge for incompetence. It fosters corruption and disloyalty; it begets cowardice, and consequently is a burden upon and a drawback to the progress of the country. Its instincts and actions are those of the pack,” these are the words of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek; please Google if interested in her life.

Les Hinton also spoke of a former WSJ editor: “Barney Kilgore, the inestimable former editor of the Wall Street Journal and the CEO of Dow Jones, said something we ought to remember in this time of transition. The man who would create the first national newspaper in the US and redefine journalism in the process, said a long time ago: ‘The fish market wraps fish in paper. We wrap news in paper. The content is what counts, not the wrapper.’

Free costs too much. Good content is valuable. That hasn’t changed. It never will. The question is who will provide the content and who will be compensated fairly for the value delivered.”

Is It Just The Front Page That Has Died!

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I read a dirge by famous columnist Vir Sanghvi—in a blog he maintains for hindustantimes.com—on the death of the front page over the last year or so. As a consumer of more than half a dozen newspapers I can also vouch for receiving some dead bodies on a daily basis. And here I mean not just the front page but that part of the bundle that goes to the heap in the storeroom with every crease in tact.

I buy different newspapers for different reasons and despite the recession some of them are part of an old habit while some of them are just for my neighbours to know that a journalist lives here and, therefore, buys more newspapers and magazines; never mind the fact that the world and he himself is recession hit.

This post is also an elegy, though the scope here is vast and encompasses much more than just the front page and tries to sniff if behind the death of the front page is the debris of the strongest pillar of the fourth estate; the institution of the editor. I don’t have extensive factual basis for such a nauseating inkling but then it has been that kind of a year where I am finding it difficult to believe that the six-letter title of ‘editor’ automatically means some simple ‘virtues’ like transparency, ethics, a basic minimum honesty, the competence to gauge the merit of a story and the most important quality to know what to do when confronted with an ethical dilemma.

“The newspaper is of necessity something of a monopoly, and its first duty is to shun the temptations of monopoly. Its primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted. Neither in what it gives, nor in what it does not give, nor in the mode of presentation, must the unclouded face of truth suffer wrong. Comment is free but facts are sacred.”—C.P. Scott, Editor, Manchester Guardian, May 6, 1926.

This is a time when the newspapers are competing with quality material that readers have access to much before the broadsheet comes out and that number is going to go up with the broadband coming, the economy growing, and the literacy rate climbing up. Quality is going to live and no matter where it is the interested reader will get to it.

That does not in any way mean that the bullshit is going to go away because a lot of people don’t know the difference and a lot of journalists cater to that market because they don’t know what else to do themselves; so all of it lives side by side. I have had some classic interactions over the years with the relatively-new as well as the senior old hands to have a decent first-hand experience of journalistic ‘copelessness’. The details are both horrifying and hilarious and some of them have even been on official channels; it is at best a subject for a book and not a long post.

The average marketing professional has his logic: “We’ve come up with a study that the market loves bullshit and we don’t understand why you can’t give more of it.” A story I read in livemint.com by Aakar Patel explores whether India’s high-growth can continue and says, “Nine half-literates are produced by our colleges, by Nasscom’s numbers, for every graduate of passable quality.” Mathematically then there has to be a probability for these semi-literates finding a way to the newsrooms. And also some probability of heading the newsroom. Also if there is just one literate for every nine semi-literates; it would be quite unsuccessful to cater to just 10 per cent of the population that is of passable quality.

So I come to my morning bundle and the Hindustan Times is the first paper I see on Sundays for the columnists I follow; on other days I look at its design and then go elsewhere to find something to read. I take The Indian Express for news as their reportage is excellent. The Times of India to see the pace and the direction that the market-leader is setting. The Economic Times for clean good copy that one can learn from and for some of their international business coverage that is unlikely to be found in any other paper. Last Saturday I took my first Crest and it was a pleasure; the edition was miles ahead of what any paper had on Tendulkar completing 20 years of international cricket. Three more daily papers that do not deserve mentioning serve some purpose or the other in my house.

When columnist Patricia Smith of the Boston Globe was forced out in June 1998 after having been found to have made up quotes, Andrew Marshall of the British newspaper The Independent had a go at his American peers in an article on June 23, 1998.

“British journalists have been smirking at two high-profile scandals involving two of their American peers who made up quotes and events in articles for two highly-respected publications. No, that sentence will not do. Since we are writing on the subject of journalistic accuracy, let’s be spot on. British journalists have been laughing hysterically, slapping their thighs and fighting desperately to retain bladder control. ‘We have long suspected that all this fact checking stuff was a charade,’ said a source close to me yesterday. ‘And now we know.’”

It is quite natural to think that lapses in journalistic accuracy would cause some major concern to our editors as well. And to point them out would not be considered as tantamount to being ‘the enemy of the fourth estate’ in India. As a journalist it is very heartening to know via the Medium Term that the heart of the Chairperson of a large newspaper house of the country is tilted positively towards the editorial aspect of the business. What is disheartening is that the hearts and minds of ‘some of the people’ responsible for editorial quality and journalistic ethics in the same newspaper house are not in their jobs. I’ll spare you the details but don’t be disappointed they will come up in the static pages once I have learnt how to organise the sub-folders.

On Saturday, though, the Hindustan Times did an exceptional bit of investigative journalism on a front page top box with a wonderful picture of Tendulkar under a good headline ‘The everlasting run machine’. I should not have been reading it as it was not a Sunday but I did; and so I found out.

“30,065 Runs scored in international cricket in both forms of the game (Tests and ODIs), the highest by any batsman. Ricky Ponting, again at second place has 24,057.” The numbers are wrong in both the cases; by 10 runs for Tendulkar and by 401 runs for Ponting. The sum total actually is in all three forms of international cricket where Tendulkar has played just one T20 international and scored 10 runs while Ponting has played 17 matches and 16 innings for his 401 runs. Although it is a very complicated error to achieve; it is understandable that this could have happened due to lack of communication.

Lets gear up for the investigative part now. “43 Centuries scored in Tests, the most by any batsman. Ricky Ponting of Australia comes second with 39.” This is an open insult in a country where cricket is a national obsession and the gap between the Little Master and the Tasmanian called Punter a subject of everyday discussions. Ponting scored his 38th Test hundred in the first Ashes Test of 2009 played in Cardiff beginning 8th July and did not manage a three figure score in the rest of the series. Who knows where he was caught scoring his 39th Test century after the series was won 2-1 by England and I signed off writing a post titled ‘A Sad Ashen Pundit’ after HT signed off with ‘A Sad Ashen Look’?

Thank You, Prabhash Ji

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This piece is a tribute to Prabhash Joshi, who died of cardiac arrest late on November 5, just after watching his favourite cricketer Sachin Tendulkar play the innings of his life in a losing cause. This is also a lament that the space occupied by journalists like Prabhashji, who have the printer’s ink in their veins and the ability to confront ethical dilemmas head on, has contracted further by his passing away.

The extraordinary thing about Prabhashji was that he remained ordinary; rooted to the grassroots and committed to the everyday concerns of the common man. The common man is a much-abused word in today’s media, Aam Aadmi, is the Hindi equivalent used quite often. I could switch on the TV right now and one of the English channels would be saying ‘but amidst all this there is no relief for the common man,’ or ‘the common man continues to suffer.’

A legendary journalism teacher asked our class as to why we thought that a particular newspaper was the best in the region. The answer given was that it satisfies the common man. The next question kept hanging in the air for a while longer: How do you know that an ABC newspaper satisfies the common man? The answer came from within me and 17 years later I still cherish the teacher’s accolade. ABC is the best newspaper in the region and I know that it satisfies the common man because it satisfies me. For Prabhashji it was not a statement; it was the way of life throughout. I don’t know from when the journalist became different from the common man? The headline that I just read in the Chandigarh Tribune says, ‘The man who felt the pulse of the people.’ Who are these people?

Prabhashji could have done all that by feeling his own pulse. He instinctively knew the concerns of the common man because he was one himself; and that perhaps was one of the reasons for his mass appeal. I am borrowing from a story in Sify that has quoted Pankaj Pachauri of NDTV news channel saying: “Prabhashji was someone who never came under any pressure, either political or market pressure. He was one of his kind. He single-handedly ran a campaign against communal forces at the time of the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign.” Hats off to you, Prabhashji!

Prabhashji loved cricket and Sachin Tendulkar was his favourite player; but it wasn’t just that and his reading of the game was tremendous. When I first heard Prabhashji on an NDTV cricket programme, it left me mesmerized. He was brilliant; and it is my bad luck that I could not hear his views on the game more often.

Renowned sports journalist Pradeep Magazine started his career when Prabhash Joshi was the editor of The Indian Express in Chandigarh. “There was a child in him; and I think Prabhashji understood that in journalism everyone is a victim of the system. He felt that sport was still innocent and his passion for cricket helped him remain sane and kept that child inside alive. I owe my career to him. The work he did after his retirement was phenomenal; as he had unshackled himself, and was no longer tied to any master,” Pradeep paused and carefully chose each and every word while describing Prabhashji.

That Pradeep Magazine had worked for about three years directly under the editorship of Prabhash Joshi was something I learnt only a day ago while reading another tribute. This is when I thought that a first job with Prabhash Joshi must have had a big impact on Magazine as a person and also as a professional entering the field. In my association with Pradeep Magazine, I have found him to be a simple man with a lot of warmth. The big thing is that he takes criticism even better than praise and will not let that affect his friendship. Most importantly; just like Prabhashji, he is upright and fearless.

Sometime in mid-1997, when I was about to move on from the Down To Earth, Prabhashji’s son Sopan had just joined the environment and science fortnightly. It was only for a few months that we worked together as colleagues. He was cheerful and spontaneous; and quiet about his father until the information leaked out through the HR forms he had filled.

Sopan took a media roundtrip before coming back to Down To Earth as the managing editor of the fortnightly. The few months in 1997 were enough to seal a friendship that has lasted more than a decade; though most often it is just a phone call. On that day I just messaged him; as I knew the cremation was at the banks of the Narmada. Yesterday, I got to speak to Sopan for the first time since the day the Hyderabad match was turned off after Sachin’s wicket in his home. Prabhashji had a bypass surgery done many years ago and also had a pacemaker since the last few years. He complained of chest pain that night and could not make it to a private hospital.

The travel schedule of Prabhashji was very hectic and he wasn’t resting as much as the doctors and the family would have wanted him to. I knew what an unreasonable question it was to ask Sopan as to why they did not stop him, or advise him against travelling. He said they used to try. It was easy to understand that the man who never got cornered or gave up under pressure by either the political or the market forces; would not have had it any other way.

It has been a big personal loss for my friend but he was composed when he returned my call yesterday; he spoke with ease and concealed grief. Sopan was straight as an arrow when we worked together in 1997, and I don’t think he would have changed much as the down to earth quality that he had came originally from living with an extraordinary ordinary man; who was father to him and an inspiration to millions.

Sopan also knows that it is a personal loss for me in a different way; the loss of one of the editors who placed ethics and transparency above all else—and both of us were quite sure that such people existed in the mainstream media. The dilemma for the editor is always ethical and never intellectual; and the person who has it in him/her faces it in a direct manner.

Mark Twain must have met a few editors of the kind that even I have had the pleasure of working with in my journalistic career of about 16 years when he said: “I am not the editor of a newspaper and shall always try to do right and be good so that God will not make me one.” The salaries have gone up many-fold and that in itself is a very good thing, though, it also has a flip-side; as the editors who can’t earn respect can at least resort to buying it.

Prabhashji was different. He earned it all his life.

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