Monthly Archives: February 2015

Indian teacher in Doha forced to quit over Modi caricature

See how well-known our PM is, and how everyone is scared of him! More than Obama, is he?
A woman teacher at a prominent Indian school in Doha was forced to resign after she posted a derogatory caricature of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on her Facebook account, a media report said on Thursday.

The caricature last week had triggered a huge outcry in a section of the Indian expatriate community as some objected to it, saying the ‘photoshop’ work was insult to the Prime Minister.

The teacher, who was not identified, said the caricature was circulating on social media and she had just picked, shared and posted it on her Facebook account.

“I didn’t create the caricature nor did I post it to insult Modi,” The Peninsula quoted the teacher as saying. “I just used it to protest against what has been happening back home.”

The teacher was initially suspended for three days pending inquiry by the management, the paper said.

On Wednesday she was asked to put in her papers, which the teacher said she did.

Her friends told the newspaper that they found the school’s action shocking because India being a democratic country, its citizens enjoyed freedom of expression.

However, contacted for comment, the management of MES Indian School said they had asked the teacher to quit since she used the school’s name and logo with Modi’s caricature.

“Being a teacher, she shouldn’t have posted such a derogatory caricature on her Facebook account. A teacher is a role model for the entire society,” said a senior official from the management.

The teacher said she didn’t know how the school’s name and logo appeared on her posting. The school official said that after the posting of the caricature by the teacher the school got calls from several parents.

Meanwhile, the Indian embassy here said it had received some complaints informing them about the teacher’s Facebook posting and they forwarded it to the school management.

“Yes we had received complaints about it and we forwarded it to the school…It is a private school. We have no say in their matters. The decision to terminate the services of a teacher comes under school’s authority,” an embassy official told PTI over phone. Continue reading Indian teacher in Doha forced to quit over Modi caricature

Stop fostering hate speech against us: Open letter to Arnab Goswami from civil activists

Dear Mr. Arnab Goswami,
We, the undersigned, who have on many occasions participated in the 9:00 p.m. News Hour programme on Times Now, anchored by you, wish to raise concerns about the shrinking space in this programme for reasoned debate and the manner in which it has been used to demonize people’s movements and civil liberties activists.

On 17th and 18th February 2015, in the News Hour show , a section of activists were invited to contribute to the debate on the “offloading” of Greenpeace representative Priya Pillai. Right from the start, the activists were denied the right to articulate their views. Not only were their mikes at times muted, they were repeatedly heckled and subjected to hate speech, with you, as the anchor, encouraging, even orchestrating and amplifying these responses.

We would like to make it clear here that the point to note is not our personal hurt, humiliation or the lack of respect shown to us from the other panelists, the anchor, or the channel. We also recognize that combative questions could be put to us when we participate in such a programme and that people may express their disagreements in a heated manner.

But we do object, and take serious exception, to the repeated branding of activists as ‘anti-national’ or ‘unpatriotic’ – words that are terms of abuse and hate-speech, and that can, when repeated ad nauseam in an influential media space, have serious repercussions. Rights activists, public figures and defendants in legal cases have been subjected to hate crimes, and even killed, in the country.
The media, which has a duty to conduct itself responsibly, cannot be allowed to aggravate the vulnerability of human rights activists, who are already being targeted, vilified and demonized, by the state and other vested and dominant interests.

We are aware that on earlier occasions, too, many other guests at the News Hour studios have also been subjected to similar treatment by anchors like you or your colleagues. In the process, debates and discussions on important subjects of national import have been reduced to a one-sided harangue, with differing and dissenting voices being deliberately stifled. Loose allegations have been made about them, aspersions cast on their motives, and insinuations made about their patriotism, with all obligations of the media to conduct themselves in a neutral, fair and accurate manner being flung to the winds.
Our objection is not restricted to the occasions when activists have been subjected to this treatment. We find it equally objectionable when guests with points of view opposed to our own, are at the receiving end. We seek media space for rational presentation of arguments – our own as well as those whom we may disagree with, not for endorsement of our points of view by the media.

We believe it is important to seek transparency and accountability from the media. We are concerned when journalistic ethics outlined by the National Broadcasting Authority (NBA) are willfully and habitually violated. We would like to cite here relevant portions of the Code of Ethics issued by the NBA.
“News shall not be selected or designed to promote any particular belief, opinion or desires of any interest group….

“Broadcasters shall ensure a full and fair presentation of news as the same is the fundamental responsibility of each news channel. Realizing the importance of presenting all points of view in a democracy, the broadcasters should, therefore, take responsibility in ensuring that controversial subjects are fairly presented, with time being allotted fairly to each point of view….
“TV News channels must provide for neutrality by offering equality for all affected parties, players and actors in any dispute or conflict to present their point of view. Though neutrality does not always come down to giving equal space to all sides (news channels shall strive to give main view points of the main parties) news channels must strive to ensure that allegations are not portrayed as fact and charges are not conveyed as an act of guilt.”

“… avoid… broadcasting content that is malicious, biased, regressive, knowingly inaccurate, hurtful, misleading….”

The television shows cited here were designed to canvas certain views held by the Government and the Intelligence Bureau and appeared as a platform for the public heckling and jeering of the activists involved, not just by other panelists but by the anchor himself. Far from maintaining neutrality and professionalism, you as the anchor were blatantly and aggressively opinionated, and never once provided the space for guests, whose views differed with yours, to voice their own opinions without continuous interruption and heckling. Apart from the fact that a fair allotment of time to them was never made, never once did you as the anchor consider the legitimate questions they raised as worthy of a response.
Not surprisingly then, an opportunity to question the accusations raised by the Government was not allowed. Instead, Government allegations were presented as self-evident facts by you as the anchor. You went on to claim that you had the ‘facts’ to prove the ‘anti-national’ character of one organization in particular and activists in general. While the responses of the activists on these panel were deliberately distorted, you as the anchor insinuated baselessly that the said activists were employing ‘hackers’, and that they had ‘deposed against India’.

We know that a similar scenario has been played out on many other occasions on the Newshour. The label ‘anti-national’ is attributed to invited guests without any basis in fact or law, as a term of abuse and hate-speech. Similar terms, used as forms of hate-speech, include, ‘Naxal’, ‘terrorist’, ‘terrorist sympathiser’.
It is inappropriate and irresponsible for channels to label anyone as ‘nationalist’ or ‘anti-national’ or ‘terrorist’ or the like. If panelists indulge in such terms, it is in fact the duty of the anchor to rein them in, and to ensure that such loaded and provocative words are not used to drown out the substantive points of the discussion or disagreement.
For moderators of the debate to allow such terms to be hurled at participants, and in fact to endorse and repeat such terms, is a gross abuse of the media’s immense power.

On one previous Newshour show on sexual violence in December 2013, intended ironically to mark the first anniversary of the ‘Nirbhaya’ rape, a prominent panelist on your programme repeatedly shouted that the two feminists on the panel were ‘Naxals who believed in free sex’. As such, the words ‘Naxalite’ and ‘free sex’ need not be pejorative. All sex should indeed be free. But in this case the terms were used as tools of abuse, equivalent to ‘terrorist’ and ‘slut’, in order to detract from reasoned argument.
Surely, even debates involving panelists’ views on, or association with, the Naxalite movement in India, have to be conducted fairly and reasonably, without allowing the term ‘Naxal’ to be used as a form of abuse or to heckle a participant. Surely, even if participants and guests support self-determination in Kashmir; or are representatives of another country; or hold an abolitionist view on the death penalty; a news channel inviting them to express their views has the obligation to allow them to do so without being branded as ‘terrorists’ or ‘anti-nationals.’ If the Government can have talks with organisations who hold these opinions, or with leaders of these countries, they are surely entitled to be heard on national television with a modicum of dignity?

In protest against the vilification of activists and dissenting opinions, and the violation of the basic norms of professionalism, neutrality, reasonableness and fairness, we have for the present decided to stay away from Times Now debates. The purpose of this gesture of protest is to demand accountability of the television media, including Times Now, to the norms outlined by the NBA’s Code of Ethics. We take this step as an effort to promote public debate and a responsible engagement with opposing ideas and stances in order to deepen democracy.

Vrinda Grover – Lawyer, Supreme Court of India
Sudha Ramalingam, Lawyer, Madras High Court and Civil liberties Activist
Pamela Philipose, Feminist and Senior Journalist
Aruna Roy, Right to Information, NREGA and Democratic Rights Activist
Anjali Bharadwaj, Right to Information Activist
Kavita Krishnan, Women’s movement and Left Activist
Kavita Srivastava, Women’s movement and Civil Liberties activist
cc: All signatories of the letter. Continue reading Stop fostering hate speech against us: Open letter to Arnab Goswami from civil activists

Church attacked in Deralakatte, Mangalore

25 Feb. When the St Joseph Vaz Church personnel woke up in the morning on 25 February, the first thing they saw was a vandalized grotto of Mother Mary and Infant Jesus, in Deralakatte near Mangalore.
St Joseph Vaz Church is a famous church in Mangalore – because it happens to be a pilgrimage centre dedicated to St Joseph Vaz (Blessed Fr Joseph Vaz was canonised, or declared Saint in early January by Pope Francis in Sri Lanka).

The shrine is held in high esteem by the locals as well as many people of various faiths from different parts of the country. The shrine also has a ‘holy well’, a grotto, a novena with solemn celebration in the first week of December.

Deralakatte is about 14-15 km south-east of Mangalore town, towards Kerala border. Mangalore university is situated closer to Deralakatte (in a place called Konaje); Infosys has set up a huge campus nearby.
The act was committed in the night of 24 February.

Boycotting Times Now

The Indian 24×7 English news channel Times Now just refuses to stop amusing me! Yesterday, while surfing or rather looking for a particular English news channel, by mistake, I happened to pause for a while on Times Now. The anchor was crying, ‘Rahul Gandhi is missing! Nobody knows where he is!! But Times Now knows something!!!’
Thanks! Off to next channel!
Now there is one more thing about the same screeming channel. Read
On Feb. 23, Kavita Krishnan, secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association, posted on Facebook that she and fellow activists Vrinda Grover and Kavita Srivastava, had refused to appear on Times Now for a panel discussion on the alleged sexual harassment case against TERI DG RK Pachauri. “We’re doing this in protest because we believe the News Hour programs systematically incited violence against people’s movement activists by branding them as ‘anti-national’.” Krishnan was referring to the Feb. 17 News Hour show on a Greenpeace activist stopped from going to London.

Troubled Mahavishnu – Sevanti Ninan on The Hindu and its Editor-policy

The Hindu board meets every month. Last month, it postponed a decision on the editorial leadership when editor-in-chief N. Ravi steps down this month at the age of 66. Last week, it took that decision, making the current editor Malini Parthasarathy the sole editor of The Hindu. With this, the paper reverts to what used to be the norm before the advent of N. Ram as editor-in-chief in 2003—a single editor. From its inception. The apparent camaraderie at the end of the day-long board meeting when all family members on the board endorsed the decision on Parthasarathy, could be shortlived. Stability at this media company—run by a fractious family of four branches—always threatens to be tenuous. Privately, its members must be telling each other, “Wait till the next coup”. These have now taken place in 2003, 2012 and 2013. The two strong personalities in this low-key South Indian family are Ram and Parthasarathy. Each previous boardroom upset has tilted the fortunes of one or the other. Right now, Kasturi and Sons Ltd is beset by larger problems, which affect the company and the newspaper it publishes. It is difficult to tell whether the Mahavishnu of Mount Road (as it is nicknamed) is more afflicted by its financial uncertainties or its editorial ones. In the year ended 31 March 2014, the company posted losses for the first time. It put the figure at Rs.65 crore in an office announcement and attributed the loss to having to pay the wage board mandated salaries for the staff. (People familiar with the matter say the current financial year may see similar losses as well.) The announcement was made to explain why it was not paying bonuses. And after Parthasarathy and Ravi took over the editorial reins from Siddharth Varadarajan and Ram in October 2013, the paper has lost both big names like P. Sainath, and Praveen Swami as well as some good reporters. Given the allegedly whimsical nature of editorial decision-making over the past year, and the temperamental handling of staff, will editorial talent worth hiring stay away? Among the big family-owned newspapers in India, The Hindu has always been in a class of its own. It was paternalistic, it looked after its employees, paid mandated salaries, met healthcare costs and even the less competent were not sacked or moved around. In return, non-family employees were expected to know their place in a set-up where the owners also worked in the publications. All of that was easier when it was king of its market with no competition to worry about. The entry of competition into its territory changed that. First the Deccan Chronicle came, then The Times of India. The latter now offers its product at Rs.1 to The Hindu’s Rs.4, takes away advertising and has affected circulation. TOI puts employees on contract whereas The Hindu has unions, which still exercise considerable influence over some members of the proprietor family. While the wage bill has ballooned after a Supreme Court order making wage board scales mandatory for non-contractual employees, the company’s bottom line has also taken a hit because of starting a Tamil paper in 2013, also called The Hindu. Board members feel it needs to be marketed better to make the investment worthwhile. A Business Line edition begun in Mumbai 10 years ago is not doing well either. The Hindu’s own circulation figures, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, dropped by some 77,000 copies between July-December 2013 and January-June 2014. It has picked up circulation again thereafter, overall, but insiders say that is a gain from the school edition in Tamil Nadu, which brings little advertising. The most visible action at the paper these days is cost cutting, across the board. Smaller offices may be closed. Employees got no bonus last year, no annual increments, no saris and dhotis at Pongal. The Rs.2 thali at the Chennai office canteen is now Rs.20. Incentives are being offered to staff to shift to a contract system of compensation, something other newspapers, not just The Times of India, did much earlier. Less visible is the strategizing that goes on as the management attempts to fight back. One CEO was hired in 2011-12 and then fired, before that the management used to be run by family members. Last June, another CEO took over, who is also on the company board. Around the same time, two independent directors, Vinita Bali, formerly of Britannia, and S. Mahalingam, formerly of Tata Consultancy Services, joined the board. They attend board meetings every month to advise on market strategies and management systems. As the culture of a feudal family set-up yields to better management practices, a remuneration committee has been set up, which will determine pay scales for new family members coming into the company to work there. Two members of the fifth generation currently work in the paper. But some practices remain problematic. The Hindu is today a Rs.1,000 crore company with a growing family eyeing opportunities within it. Its shareholders have expanded from the two sons of the founder to their 40 descendants and spouses. There are 11 whole-time family members on the board, drawing salaries. Exactly two out of those 11 (including Parthasarathy) will have an assigned role. Yet in the statement of profit and loss for 2013-14, all 11 were shown being eligible for a total compensation package each of Rs.49 lakh a year. Whether these salary and perk packages will survive the overall cost cutting remain to be seen. Sadly, the paper’s cost cutting is affecting readers. Those in Delhi now get a thinner paper with less pages, at twice the cover price of the edition sold in Chennai where the pages are more in number. Supplements like the Sunday magazine, Literary Review and Metro Plus are down to four pages, and on thinner newsprint than before. Good stories are fewer, given the editorial departures, the travel budget cuts, and the constant shuffling of beats under the current editor. A reader who picks up The Hindu today may find herself spending less time on it than she did before. As she assumes sole charge, Parthasarathy’s challenge will be to ensure that a paper whose voice has always counted matters as much as before. In a statement issued on 29 January, the Hindu said, “Sevanti Ninan’s OpEd piece titled “Troubled Mahavishnu” that The Mint carried on January 28th 2015 is riddled with factual inaccuracies, presents inferences as facts and is tendentious, drawing unwarranted conclusions based on a lot of what is pure fiction—for instance, the jibe “wait till the next coup”. There are egregious errors such as stating that the Board meets every month and that the decision on editorial succession was postponed. We are disappointed that a reputed newspaper like The Mint has allowed such unverified, sweeping commentary that doesn’t deserve to be taken as serious or responsible journalism, which is supposed to be first and foremost a discipline of verification. For the benefit of the readers of The Mint, we would like to place on record our outrage at this piece of journalism.” Sevanti Ninan is a media critic, author and editor of the media watch website She examines the larger issues related to the media in a fortnightly column. This column has been updated to incorporate a rejoinder by The Hindu.​
Continue reading Troubled Mahavishnu – Sevanti Ninan on The Hindu and its Editor-policy

13 words that can hurt your credibility without you even realizing

By Sarah Schmalbruch

Most people don’t realize how they sound to others.

The words you choose could hurt your credibility without you even knowing it.

An obvious one is “like,” but there are less obvious words and phrases that might be tripping you up.

We spoke with Carmen Fought, a professor of linguistics at Pitzer College, and Deborah Tannen, author of “Talking From 9 To 5: Women and Men at Work” and a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, to find out which words undermine your credibility, why we use them, and how we can stop.

The words

Hedges: “Sort of,” “kind of,” “pretty much,” and “maybe”

Tannen says these are the words you use when you don’t want to say something outright.

According to Fought, using hedges may make you seem less confident, which can be especially detrimental at work. “We don’t want someone working for our company who is so insecure and who won’t be able to make decisions because they’re paralyzed with self-doubt,” she says.

Intensifiers: “Really,” “definitely,” “absolutely,” and “totally”

According to Fought, overusing these can have the opposite effect of intensifying. “It weakens your credibility in some ways because if you have to tell us how really, really, really great this trip was, maybe it wasn’t that great,” she says.

Tannen says intensifiers can also make a speaker seem overly dramatic. “You run into the risk of seeming to be so over-the-top that you lose credibility for another reason,” she says. “You seem to be exaggerating; you seem hysterical.”

Fillers: “Like,” “um,” “er,” and “ah”

Fought refers to these words – or sounds – as “discourse markers.” “It’s a little word that we use to buy time or space, and it’s really common,” she says.

Tannen says fillers are automatic in our speech and are present in every language. “We all have automatic ticks when we speak,” she says. “There’s an impulse to put something in that space when you stop [talking].”

Apologizing: “Sorry”

If you’re starting a majority of your sentences with “sorry,” you may want to put an end to that habit. According to Fought, constantly saying “sorry” can cause employers to question your abilities. “You don’t want someone who is so overly apologetic for everything that you feel like they’re not going to take ownership of their ideas,” she says.

We want to sound like our friends, so we use words they use.

Why we use them

While we might think we’re having great, deep conversations, the truth is much of what we say is meaningless. “A large percentage of the words we use don’t mean anything,” Fought explains. “We spend a lot of time talking in ways that… read further at the link below:

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‘All ministers in Modi government are frustrated, but no one is speaking up’

Prodyut Bora, the man who resigned from BJP accusing Narendra Modi and Amit Shah of arrogance, speaks out on what’s wrong with the party and the government.
by Kishalay Bhattacharjee

For many, the pinstriped monogrammed suit was enough to know how much Narendra Damodardas Modi loves himself. But if anybody had any doubts, his party colleague, Prodyut Bora, a member of the national executive of the Bharatiya Janata Party, spelt it out on Wednesday. Putting in his papers, Bora accused Prime Minister Modi and party president Amit Shah of being arrogant, undemocratic and highly individualised.

Bora may not have the heft to create a flutter in the media but his could be the first pebble in the pond which throws up concentric ripples of discontent that he claims each cabinet minister and party worker has been expressing individually.

A business school graduate (IIM Ahmedabad), Bora joined BJP in 2008 after his corporate days with a belief that his home state Assam required a new political thinking. He felt the BJP could offer that. Given the abysmal state of the party in Assam, he said he joined the party with “a dose of skepticism” but hoped that things would change.

With his experience in the software sector, Bora became a key backroom man who founded and headed the IT and online cell of the BJP. It is believed that Modi’s rise in the national platform was aided by online and social media campaigns. In that sense, Bora sees himself as someone who played a role in creating Modi’s public profile. So what led him to change his mind less than one year into the Modi government? Excerpts from an interview:

Why did you quit?
The general drift in the party worries me. What worries me even more is that no senior party leader, no minister, speaks up. There is collective wisdom which is superior to individual thinking. But that’s going away within the party. I am not part of the government but from what I get to hear when I talk to people in the government is that decision making is getting increasingly centralised in the Prime Minister’s Office, which is almost like it becoming a presidential form of government. I personally don’t have any problem with the presidential form of government, but if someone wants it, go and change the constitution first. In democracy, you evolve in keeping with the times. But to evolve so quickly, and in a way designed to centralise authority and build a personality cult, then that’s dangerous.

But when Narendra Modi was made the leader, didn’t you anticipate it would get centralised?
You are always willing to give a guy a chance. He ran Gujarat in a particular way, but Gujarat is a medium sized state. Running a country is different. There are more checks and balances. Leadership base is wider. I thought, obviously, when he comes to Delhi, things would be different, why prejudge him. I said no, let me give him a fair chance. But the way things are going, it is worrisome.
In your letter, you have given the example of the foreign secretary being appointed without consulting the foreign minister. But are there any specific examples that you have personal experience of?
I’m not part of the government. How can I give more information than what is available in the media?

But there must have been something strong that made you feel compelled to go public. A lot of people in your place would not have gone public. Even if you get back to doing business, you have to do business with the government.

Other people who could have been in my place make their choices. I make mine. Above the individual is the party, and above the party are principles. This is something that a cabinet minister should have spoken up about, or somebody else in the government. Why has no minister spoken about it?

Do people discuss this within the party?

Of course, people discuss, in fact people discuss all the time. All the ministers are frustrated, all the senior leaders are frustrated, all the national office-bearers are frustrated. Go and speak to them. Don’t take my word for granted.

If that’s the case, how do you think Modi and Amit Shah would be able to sustain the government?

I don’t know how they are going to do it. All that I get to hear is that no minister is allowed to appoint his or her OSD (officer on special duty). Please go and find out that how many ministers have their own OSDs. Very few of them have. That’s because nobody wants an OSD appointed by somebody else. Another example is the choice of Kiran Bedi (as the chief ministerial candidate of Delhi). She is a fine lady. Nobody would have a quarrel with her public record. But the larger question is were the rank and file of Delhi consulted? This is the general drift that I am seeing in the party, the government, and even in the states. What happens is that people tend to follow the style of the leader at the top, and people try to replicate it.

Is the result in Delhi elections a reflection of that?

Possibly yes, possibly no. I am more familiar with Assam, where the organisation is extremely corrupt.

When you say the BJP is corrupt in Assam, is there any evidence?

In my letter, I have pointed out that the leader of the legislative party was changed immediately after the Rajya Sabha elections because of the voting behaviour in the house. The votes did not tally, what does that indicate?

That there was exchange of money?

Whether or not there was exchange of money, you have got to explain to the party why the votes did not tally. What I am saying is that there is political corruption. Political corruption is when you stay in one party and yet work on the directives of another. People in BJP in Assam are working as the fifth column of the Congress. Why is it that in Guwahati, we win the Lok Sabha seat, but never win a single Vidhan Sabha seat.

Do you think BJP will have a better chance in Assam in 2016 assembly elections?

The elections are still a year away but the way things are showing up, I don’t think any gains that the BJP makes are going to be sustainable, because ultimately you have to have leadership that you can trust.

After you sent your resignation, has the party responded?

No, the party hasn’t responded officially, but unofficially lots of friends called up.

But you don’t know whether or not they have accepted it?

That’s their choice.

But you are determined to step out?

After writing a letter like this, I don’t think they would want me to stay (laughs). Somebody has to play this role. Somebody has to point out these things. I have done it. It is for other people to figure out how valid my criticism is.

Where do you go from here?

I will rest and chill for some time. The last few weeks have been traumatic.

I remember that you had told me once that you have a five year deal with your wife that while she works, you get to chase your passion. You have had your five years in politics. Is it now time for your wife to take a break from work?

She’s kind (laughs). She has given me an extension of another 10 years,-but-no-one-is-speaking-up%E2%80%99 Continue reading ‘All ministers in Modi government are frustrated, but no one is speaking up’

T N Ninan: News or ads? T N Ninan

The former chief political commentator of The Daily Telegraph in London has written a damning piece about how his former newspaper has suppressed or severely under-played news about the British bank HSBC. The bank has been at the centre of journalist and now police investigation for the way it ran its Swiss operations, and the role it played in tax evasion and related practices; consequently, it has been much in the news. That HSBC would try and indeed succeed in attempts to muzzle a major British newspaper is news, if true. HSBC has apologised to the British public through newspaper advertisements for its banking transgressions. What it has to say on the Telegraph’s former columnist’s revelations and allegations with regard to the use of advertising money as a tool to influence editorial behavior would be interesting to find out.

Do companies try such stunts in India? You bet they do. Most publishing houses in India know from experience that the country’s largest business houses don’t think twice about blacklisting a newspaper and denying it advertising if offence has been caused by any reportage or editorial comment. Many state governments (which are often run as private empires of the chief minister of the day) do the same. Now even public sector entities, more bound by internal rules than whimsical owners of private enterprises, have resorted to the practice. HSBC, if it has been doing what is alleged, is therefore in good Indian company.

The institutional defence against such pressure is of course to have an independent editor. The advertising sales staff feel the pressure of being blacklisted because they miss sales targets, but most editors would consider this a minor irritant. Publishers would like to get over the conflict, but are usually hesitant about asking an independent editor to tailor editorial content in line with an advertiser’s wishes. This changes when the editor is also the owner (as is increasingly the case), or if the editorial department has been made completely subservient to the business interests of the publishing company – which too is less of a rarity than before. In the case of the Telegraph, the change seems to have come with the editor being replaced by a “head of content”. Such innovations are not unknown in India.

Company chieftains show a lack of awareness of the implications of their blacklisting decisions. If they withdraw advertising on account of editorial conduct, they draw a connection between the two that self-respecting publications try to keep apart. If the publications were to repay the advertiser in the same coin, it would mean publishing reams of negative stuff about a company if it did not give advertisements. The word for such conduct would be blackmail. But then, blacklisting publications is blackmail too, so why shouldn’t a publication repay in kind? The only thing that stands in the way of such a response is a publication’s internal code of editorial ethics, which would stand for accuracy, fairness and balance. But does the offending advertiser have such a code?

At a time when technological changes are putting ever more pressure on the bottom lines of news publications, their vulnerability to financial pressure has increased. Indeed, publications bought trouble by lowering the price of publications to absurdly low levels in order to win circulation wars; that increased dependence on advertising money. In the last couple of years, as it has become ever clearer that advertising money is moving away from print, some publications have started raising cover prices to levels closer to the cost of newsprint and printing. If the advertiser does not pay, the reader has to. Ultimately, readers get editorial quality and independence if they are willing to pay for it. Continue reading T N Ninan: News or ads? T N Ninan