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Saturday, January 31, 2009

On going Barkha bashing in the blogosphere

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Two months after the irresponsible behavior by almost all media houses, the outrage in the blogosphere is still there. It is particularly directed at one individual - Barkha Dutt. So much was her bashing that she was forced to issue a clarification on this issue.

Nanopolitician in his post sarcastic post a couple of days ago Congratulations, NDTV! gave the channel "Clueless Media Company of the Decade" award! Rahul in his fan letter to Barkha says "I am sure you will continue to make more news than you report". Barkha is no stranger to controversies. Former naval chief accused her of compromising the security of the troops by giving their locations. He blamed her for the loss of three Indian soldiers. (Report)

This latest round of bashing has caught up particularly after an apology was issued by Chyetanya Kunte, a blogger apparantly under the threat of filing of a defamation suit by the channel. A couple of facebook groups her behavior have registered thousands of members.

I am not sure whether this was an intelligent move by her. Blogosphere is huge and after all how many blogger can NDTV target. Instead of doing some careful soul searching, they are trying to intimidate fearless bloggers who like to speak their mind in an unbiased manner. However, the Indian media which routinely questions the politicians, bureaucrats and cricketers find it difficult to be on the other side. The recent activity on the blogosphere has hardly been reported by any of the media channels or newspapers. They consider news to be their exclusive domain. But blogosphere has changed the rules of the game but mainstream media still remains powerful enough to shape public opinion.

The legal notice by NDTV has actually had a negative impact on the image of the channel, even though in a limited way. Going forward, the media has to acknowledge the power of the people and no one is above them.

My personal experience of Barkha's style of reporting isn't good either. She is too melodramatic. I used to get disgusted watching her weekly show "We the people", where she literally used to feed words into the mouths of the panelists.

NDTV is often said to be pro-Congress while TV-18 which runs CNN-IBN is said to be pro-BJP. ManMohan Singh won the NDTV-Indian of the Year in 2007 while Barkha Dutt won Padma Shri in 2008. Is it there some relation between the two? Who knows? We all know how fair the awards selection is and several other recipients in the past have not accepted the award accusing that the 'selection was politically motivated'.

Now just to be fair, I would also like to add that Rajdeep Sardesai, the Editor-in-Chief of CNN-IBN, was also among the Padma Shri award winners of 2008. I am sure with my blog not attracting too much traffic, I won't be targeted by NDTV.

If you believe in Freedom of expression, please join the Facebook groups:Barkha Dutt for worst journalist in the world and Can u please take BARKHA off air!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Negative voting is positive for India

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With a plethora of happenings in last week that included the Republic Day celebrations and Mangalore attacks on women, the Indian media has hardly covered the issue of negative voting. Considering that the general elections are just round the corner, it is both surprising and shameful that media hasn’t given the issue its due importance so far and has instead been concentrating on issues like moral policing. This is not to suggest that issue is not important but a 'negative vote' can bring about much larger changes in our society.

Govt. of India has dismissed the recent suggestion of the Election commission of India as a part of the proposed electoral reforms, to give a negative voting option in the Electronic voting machines. There is a petition filed by the People's Union for Civil Liberties(PUCL) in 2005, before the Supreme Court seeking implementation of the proposed reforms of ECI. Opposing this PIL, the Govt. has argued that unlike freedom of speech and expression, voting is just a statutory right. Govt. even goes on to say that such an option is not healthy for democracy. (Source)

What is negative voting?

Negative voting is a privilege that allows the voters to reject all the candidates that are in fray. As per the present provisions of the Indian Constitution, a voter who seeks vote for none any of the candidates has give this in writing to the presiding officer giving in the reasons for doing so. The problem with this is that it is against the concept of secret ballot. Moreover it is a little cumbersome. Hence, most of the educated youth disgruntled with the political system, prefer to enjoy a holiday at home on the Election Day.

In a way they are right. The falling standards of the politicians of India hardly offer any hope and option. We have the likes of Pappu Yadav, , Taslimuddin , Mohd. Shahbuddin and many more representing the electrorate. Sanjay Dutt, who has been convicted in the 1993 Mumbai Blasts, is going to fight election from Lucknow. He may have done a lot for poor; he may have become popular particularly after the Munnabhai, but the fact remains that he is responsible for the loss of several hundred lives.

In the just concluded in Kashmir, the voter turnout was over 60%. Is this an indication of the rejection of the demand of azaadi? If experts are to be believed, the answer is a blunt no. People of the state need electricity, jobs and water and that’s what they have voted. If there was an election that included a negative voting option, surely a large number of people would have used this option. The story of the rest of the country isn’t too much different with people hardly having any confidence in the system. Some of my friends from UP say tell me how every elections they have to decide who is the lesser evil between SP and the BSP.

In such a scenario, the negative voting option has the potential to bring about large scale changes to the overall political system just like the way RTI is bringing about changes in our bureaucracy. But Governments stand on this issue is pretty much on expected lines. All political parties have resisted any major electoral reforms. For example, there is no institutional method of political funding. The recent case where over 2 crores Rs. was missing from the BJP office. Yet, there wasn’t any police complaint registered by the party. It will be naive to suggest that BJP is the only party which uses unfair means to get political funding.

Entities around the world that include "None of the Above" on ballots as standard procedure include the U.S. state of Nevada (None of These Candidates), Ukraine (Against all), Spain (voto en blanco), France (vote blanc), Colombia (voto en blanco), the United States Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the Florida affiliate of the American Patriot Party, and the Debian Project.Russia had such an option on its ballots (Against all) until it was abolished in 2006. (Source)

Our politicians may take great pride in calling India as the largest democracy; the same pride is however missing from the electorate. Please join me in signing of the online petition.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

‘Eliminating the tension’ rather than diffusing it

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It’s now almost two months since the 26/11 attacks. There have words and comments made from both sides. Ever since the attacks, I have been active on Pakistani forums like Pakspectator. One of the things that I have realized over this period is that there has been complete lack of acknowledgment of the problems that both sides face.

Pakistani public have shown a complete disregard for the huge anger of the Indians because of the Mumbai attacks. Indian public on the other hand hardly have any knowledge of the problems that Pakistan is facing today. I really doubt how many Indians know about the scale of problems in Swat, FATA and NWFP in Pakistan. Today Pakistan has lost control of almost the entire Swat area. Indian media has hardly covered these events.

The politicians on both sides know how to whip up nationalistic feeling by raising slogans and addressing rallies. This is quite an expected behavior from this animal. But one would have hoped for a better response from the media. It is people to people contact that can alleviate the mistrust among ordinary citizens in the long run. The cricket matches and bus-services brought people of two countries closer. Pakistanis are fond of our movies and soaps. Several Pakistani singers are now regularly working in Bollywood movies. A large number of Pakistani visit India regularly for medical reasons because lack of advanced medical facilities in their countries. It is quite unfortunate that the Cricket tour of Pakistan had to be cancelled. However, it better to postpone a tour and play in an environment where it promotes friendship rather than rivalry.

So what can be done to permanently eliminate the tension?

The media from both sides can really play an important role in this. The politicians on both sides would continue to arouse nationalistic feeling. Can the media on both sides come together? To start with lets say, there is a one-hour weekly show on CNN-IBN that is produced actually produced by the Dawn news. Vice-versa there is a one-hour weekly show on the Dawn news by CNN-IBN. Such an initiative would make people on each side more aware of the issues on the other side of the border and thus deny an opportunity to the politicians/military to raise nationalistic feelings. It could make an even greater impact if such an exchange would take place between a Pakistan-based-urdu news channel and an India-based-hindi news channel. It can further be followed up by columnists from both sides writing columns in each others newspapers. Recently there was an article in The Times of India about 10 myths that Indians have about Pakistan. They can be read from the following link.

A similar initiative was undertaken by two bloggers – one from each side. They decided to exchange emails about the developments after the Mumbai attacks, each one presenting his side of the story. Their blogs can be found on the following links Ahsan and Nitin. Unfortunately blogs and online forums is not a place that can shape public opinion on either side because of their limited reach. At present all we witness is mostly Pakistani politicians and diplomats on Indian news channels who say nothing but old rhetorics. Sometimes, Pakistani journalists do come to talk on shows. However, in such shows they merely answer questions put up by the Indian journalists. A full blown program produced by the media would allow them to present the story in their own way.

As an MBA student, I have been taught that if you remove the middle-man and bureaucracy, and instead empower people then you can improve the efficiency of the overall system. In this case, it is the media that can empower the people. I have been actively following The Dawn news for the past two weeks, and I have to say that it is one of the better and neutral channels of our neighbor. Their editorials are bold enough to criticize their government and even the military. Considering the kind of pressure that the Pakistani media works which includes the military, it is the responsibility of the Indian media to take the lead and start such initiatives. Ofcourse there are irresponsible channels and guests on both sides. Some of them include Zahid Hamid who keeps on blasting anti-India rhetoric on Pak-channels.

For the past two days, CNN-IBN has been continuously following up the story of Prime-minister’s health going into details of the surgery and why it is conducted. Is the man on the street worried about such details? Its time these channels realize that they need to do some real journalism and move beyond sensationalism. However, I hardly have any hope because just like our politicians, these news channels are completely hopeless too.

I don't believe that the issues between India and Pakistan cannot be solved overnight. I don't think even if the above initiative is undertaken, it is going to have any immediate impact. But in the long run, it is surely going to serve a purpose. The politician is hungry for votes. At the moment he can win them merely by raising tensions. Lets beat him on his own game. It people on each side are sensitive of the sufferings of the other, then he will be forced to make some substantial work rather than maintain status quo.

For all Indians, please do try and watch The Dawn News online via the link. Similarly I request my Paki friends to watch CNN-IBN online via the link.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

When will Media become responsible?

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More than 50 days have passed since the Mumbai incident but media interest in pursuing the story has not died down at all. I was shocked to see a CNN-IBN report yesterday which spelt out exact details of where and how was Ajmal Kasab being kept. Who are they trying to help by giving out those details and why would any ordinary person be interested in his whereabouts.

Nearly a decade ago during the IC-814 hijacking incident, the media went about asking for public opinion on whether the terrorists should be released or not. If media were to conduct a similar survey on whether should income tax be levied at all, I really doubt how many people would disagree with that. Decisions of national importance are taken in the national interest and not in a populist way. This is something that media has failed to understand and I don’t expect them to learn ever.

Compare the Mumbai incident where 170 people died to the thousands of poor farmers who regularly commit suicide in the countryside. But such incidents are rarely reported. There may be an odd story on this by elite channels like CNN-IBN but that is all what one can expect. Spicy incidents like ‘Arushi murder case’ is just the kind of fodder that the media thrives on, completely oblivious to what happens in the rest of the country.

How long can we continue to ignore the rural belt particularly those in the Bimaru region (Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa)? I remember once a professor of mine posed a hypothetical question to the class,”What if all rural people decide to migrate to cities. Already they live in dire straits and many of them migrate for their survival. They all know that in any case they have to end up in our city slums one day, why not do it today. What if the entire rural population decided to do so? Our entire cities would be turned in slums. “

It is surely a scary thought. Another of my professor said that historically, ‘every developed nation has developed because it had colonies in some form and it exploited the people of its colonies to develop itself’. Countries such as Australia and New Zealand did not have colonies in true sense but they exploited the aborigines or the natives. In US, we had the slave culture. China, which has been growing at a phenomenal rate, too has some form of exploitation. Chinese workers are exploited and not paid any competitive salaries.

So is this ignorance of the Indian society and media for the farmers justified? Is it necessary that some of us are exploited so that the country overall progresses? Unfortunately, I don’t any answers to these questions.