Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Media self-censorship

A Deccan Herald article speaks of an unnamed company CEO’s disenchantment with IIT graduates. In reference to their poor caliber he is quoted as saying, “we are not likely to recruit them any longer”. Who are ‘we’ and who is this person speaking on their behalf? He is Mr Muthuraman, MD, Tata Steel.

Naming name in this context would have added credibility. Without the name, the story carries no thrust. And is unlikely to be taken with the seriousness the issue deserves. What’s worse, the writer of the newspaper article, Bhamy V Shenoy, exposes himself to the charge of dressing up his prejudice (against IITs) by inventing a quote by conveniently unnamed sources.

Dr Shenoy says he named the company and its MD; it was the newspaper that withheld the names. And he was not informed about it. A newspaper has the prerogative to edit any article it receives to make more sense of it or for reasons of space, editorial policy norms,or to address judicial or libel implications. And our media is also known to have exercised their prerogative to play favorites or not hurt their advertising interests.

Whatever the reason, the newspaper succeeded in watering down the story that speaks of the needlessly tough CET, the role of mushrooming coaching shops, and a corporate tendency to go to institutions other than IITs for recruits. The article was based on Dr Shenoy’s interaction with Mr Muthuraman (both graduates of IIT Madras) and some others at the recent alumni meet in Chennai.

Tata Steel MD’s observations were based on his recent interaction with a group of final-year students of IIT-Madras. Dr Shenoy quotes him as saying that the students could not even name the authors of the course books IIT students were supposed to have studied. Worse still, even some faculty members were no more knowledgeable about the subjects they taught.

Dr Shenoy, quoting his fellow IITans, attributes such sorry state to flaws in the admission process that encourage IIT aspirants to resort to coaching classes to clear a patently tough common entrance test. Once they are in IITs, students pay little attention to the rigors involved in higher education. The newspaper article, citing IIT admission figures in a recent year, says that out of the 979 successful candidates from the South Zone, as many as 769 were from Andhra Pradesh. In the Northern zone, says Dr Shenoy, Rajasthan is “an unlikely state that is reported to have been doing well by sending a high proportion of students to IITs”. This reflects the success of, what Dr Shenoy calls, ‘pressure-cooker coaching shops’ that have mushroomed in recent years in Hyderabad and Kota.

Dr Shenoy, who has worked in oil industry in the US for 20 years, is now settled in Mysore and intensely involved in social welfare NGOs and consumer activism. He writes newspaper articles in the fond belief that he could effectively put across a social message. He wrote the Herald piece – Brand IIT takes a knock – to be able to highlight correctable flaws in the IIT admission system.

This, indeed, was the point Mr Muthuraman had in mind in making his observations at the IIT alumni meet. Dr Shenoy said Mr Muthuraman and many of the IIT alumni that came to Chennai from all over the world were all in it together to ensure that IITs regained their past reputation. Mr Muthuraman, who was sent a draft of the article, is reported to have said that it deserved extensive publication in the media.

This piece has been cross-filed in Desicritics.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Scrapbook Jottings-3

September, 1979

Political Imperatives: Dr Rajni Kothari of the Indian Council of Social Sciences Research, addressing a seminar on India’s imperatives : “All our great achievements have so far been in the field of aesthetics, poetry and culture; our biggest failings have possibly been in politics”.

Women’s Movement: An angry young woman wrote to The Statesman that women’s movement should be encouraged, instead of being ridiculed. The paper’s reporter had described a women’s (New Delhi) Boat Club rally as a picnic for women in their Sunday best.

The reporter should have known better. Women everywhere give much thought to dress wherever they show up, a picnic or a protest rally. I read about the predicament of this girl in Paris who had been invited by students planning to burn down the Palais de Justice. She couldn’t decide what to wear for the occasion. So she didn’t go.

Indira Gandhi on poll campaign: Kaithal in Haryana greeted Mrs Indira Gandhi the other day with ‘murdabad’ slogans, but gave her a Rs.1 lakh purse for the party campaign fund. The Statesman called it a ‘mixed reception’. A lucrative ‘mix’, I would say. A hostile reception with a fat purse thrown in is better than empty zindabad slogans.

At the end of her electioneering day in Haryana, protesters wound-up with sore throat caused by slogan shouting. Mrs Gandhi’s party was reportedly richer by Rs.4,66,000, not counting the 65kg of coins she received at a poll rally in Jind where the organizers weighed Mrs Gandhi with one-rupee coins.

Piloo Mody: speaking to a drawing-room group at Friends Colony (New Delhi’s abode of posh people), observed Mr Charan Singh was a prime minister on ‘daily wages’; and Mrs Gandhi, leader of a party of ‘bonded labour’.

T A Pai, rail minister, told a Congress workers meeting in Panaji that politicians were changing parties more often than their shirts.

H N Bahuguna, union finance minister, conceded 'inability’ of the government to deal with the menace of black money. It would not be in a position to take hard decisions to curb black money circulation in view of the coming Lok Sabha Poll. The minister was addressing a conference of chief ministers of the Congress ruled states.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Scrapbook jottings- 2

Like most journalists I used to maintain a scrapbook, of mostly book excerpts, news trivia, and drafts of features/ book reviews I did for magazines. Sixteen single-ruled school exercise books of jottings, scribbled in my shabby hand-writings that are at times illegible even to me. I drew extensively (wouldn’t use the word ‘plagiarise’) from scrapbook jottings for my magazine writings.

Streaking across women’ college : Sept. 1979: Page One bottom-spread in Delhi edition of Indian Express spoke of a group of college students, with their pants down, dancing in front of a women’s college on Delhi University campus on a moonlit night. The boys said they indulged in ‘a little friendly ragging’.

Streaking, as they called it, was first reported in the US on April 1, 1974, when students who stripped themselves marched outside the White House to “lay bare the facts about Watergate and get at the naked truth”. Since then the craze spread out among students all over. They have done it on bicycles, motorbikes, ski-slopes and parachute jumps. A 67-year-old arrested for nude strolling in Ohio reportedly told the police, “I’m too old for streaking, I was snailing.

Godse Vs Gandhi: A news item based on a Hindu Mahasabha press release (Sept.1979) said Mrs Sindhu Godse, wife of Nathuram, would oppose Mrs Indira Gandhi in the poll; and Mr Gopal Godse would context against Raj Narain. (UNI, Bareilly).

RSS denial:RSS chief Balasaheb Deoras denied (in the media at Ujjain) that he had said RSS could form a government at the centre in 10 years. As he put it, some people were out to malign RSS at all cost.

Fake shooting: Jacques Mesrine, 42, bank-robber, kidnapper, con artist, and French, lured a newspaperman to an interview, riddled him with bullets, and shot the proceedings in Polaroid. The pictures were sent to newspapers that promptly published them. The journalist involved,Jacques Tillier, suffered superficial wounds. . .

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

From my scrapbook-1

Like most journalists I used to maintain a scrapbook, of mostly book excerpts, news trivia, and first drafts of features/ book reviews I did for magazines. Sixteen single-ruled school exercise books of jottings, scribbled in my shabby hand-writings that are at times illegible even to me. I drew extensively (wouldn’t use the word ‘plagiarise’) from scrapbook jottings for my magazine writings.

Excerpt from The Press Inside Out by Bill Grundy

Newspapers are very odd things. Unlike sausages or shoes, production lost through strikes cannot be made up by overtime when a strike is over. An edition lost is lost for ever.

The problem every newspaper faces is to be able to influence the influential, who are few, and yet attract the mass; to push a political line, and yet have some claim to fair reporting.. . .Reporting in depth is often confused with reporting at length. Many long stories tell readers more than they wish or care to know.. . .News is not what they buy newspapers for. . .As for newspapers, it is not the number of readers, but their spending power that makes a newspaper viable.

News and the BBC: In its early days news played very little part in BBC’s thinking. As the story goes, one night an announcer said: ”This is the BBC. There is no news tonight”. BBC was regarded as merely a miracle where a gentleman with an impeccable accent and manners would read aloud, in as non-committal a voice as he could manage, stirring things about fat-stock prices and hoggets and shearlings; exciting to farmers, perhaps; less so to others.

Page One of Daily Mirror, London (of May 17, 1960), in reproduced here in its entirety.

Mr. K !
(If you will pardon
an olde English phrase

Who do you think you are ?
Stalin ?