Tidbits of the region’s media

Chhetria Patrakar is Himal's roving media critic.

What a relief to see the Indian Express front page these days – no news of bombings or killings or scams. Just nice, clean, full front-page ads. But in the recent one for the UK-based Indian aluminium giant Vedanta Resources Corporation, Chettria Patrakar was horrified to see the name of Anil Agarwal, that (deceased) guru for all environmentalists, nestled closely with logos for the Madras Aluminium Company, Sterlite Technologies and Vedanta Aluminium. Surely these last are accused of all kinds of dastardly acts in Orissa – depriving Adivasi communities of their forests and livelihoods, and doing untold damage to the environment. But hold on, this is not that AA – it's another one, the founder-director of Vedanta and the 11th-richest Indian in the world. And what's more, CP hears that he has flung USD 1 billion of his USD 4.5 billion fortune towards the 'world class' Vedanta University on 6000 acres along the Puri-Konark marine drive. Oh reader, make no mistake – there are two Anil Agarwals who matter.

Unfortunately, sometimes people don't matter, as seen in this cartoon published by the popular English daily in Qatar, the Gulf Times, which targets migrant domestics. In this unfair depiction, the Southasian maid is made to be an atrocious baby abuser – a gross misconception of their vulnerable status in society.

A reliable source to a journalist may be as valuable as class struggle to communism, but this doesn't justify obsequiousness in the face of a moody Maoist, regardless of how many stories he can get you in a month. Maoist leader Koteswor Rao 'Kishen-to-the-ji' has managed to manipulate the media in just that, tipping off reporters to a tale when the time is right, and going out of service when the tale turns tasteless. He wouldn't pick up calls to answer journalists' questions on the recent murder of two sub-inspectors in Sankrail police station of West Midnapur; but he was on a spectacular rampage when it came to broadcasting the release of hostage Athidranath Dutta, officer-in-charge of the same police station. And all the while, the media gave prime-time access to his antics – his management of the hostage exchange, commandments over journalists, even his punishing them for taking pictures without permission, not to mention his intermittent revolutionary tantrums. Now this is one relationship that could really be overthrown.

Exiles are now also on air. The Burmese community-in-exile might have a government, activists and journalists of their own, but one thing they don't have is an independent television channel. Ostracised living just doesn't feel like home without one, which is probably why the Tibetan government-in-exile just launched a new channel – Tibet TV – with support from a local cable network operator. The channel will broadcast announcements made by the Tibetan Parliament and Cabinet Members, speeches by the Dalai Lama, as well as other news and information that builds on the cultural identity of the community. When can we look forward to – diaspora soaps and games shows?

In other telecasts, recently installed director of broadcasting at the Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Supriya Sahu, has begun gutting choked channels, opening passage for monthly meetings to hear concerns regarding clearances offered by the ministry. This is one job she is highly qualified for, with extensive experience as project director of the Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board – be it news or shit, it still needs to go in through one end and go out the other.

Speaking of bodily secretions and leaving little to the imagination, the Bhutanese Ministry of Health has distributed a visual step-by-step guide to wearing condoms, so as to curb the spread of STIs in the country. While the 'For Male' version has been distributed as insets in the Bhutan Observer, more discrete publicity measures may have been decided on for the female versions. Come to think of it, the Buddha never did condone prudity.

In other local newspapers, CP noticed an official name-change in the classifieds section of a recent Bhutan Times. The former City Legal Unit (Law Office) can now be found under Clues & Colleague. While 'Clues' may be a good start to intrepid investigation, CP may dust out those detective goggles to find out who this cryptic 'Colleague' may be. Housed in the same building as the Bhutan Times itself, the investigation office may see a few window shoppers, especially with the recent resignation of the editor and half the reporting staff of the weekly, along with stinging accusations by the management of a conspiracy to bankrupt the paper. While resentment between writers and editors is a longstanding joke everywhere, it seems editors don't find editing of their own work funny at all.

…and this while agencies in Pakistan are voluntarily choosing to hold their tongues. Eight news organisations met over a recent weekend in Karachi to discuss a code of conduct on how to conduct live coverage of 'terrorist' activities. Keeping in mind concern for their viewers, the representatives opted for restraint in the broadcasting of indecent explosions, public displays of affliction, and uncensored newsflashing. In matters of censorship, agent rather than agency seems to be more the concern, with managers requesting that the government not implement its own set of guidelines. Later, eight more channels headed behind the iron curtain for self-imposed backstage editing.

Talk about the media holding itself accountable! International and Pakistani media have strongly condemned an article that appeared in The Nation, accusing the New Delhi-based Southasia correspondent of the Wall Street Journal, Matthew Rosenberg, of holding secret meetings in restricted areas in Pakistan, not to mention working for foreign intelligence services and the private US military company formerly known as Blackwater. Following the exposure, the Committee to Protect Journalists made its customary denouncement, and 21 foreign news editors signed a strong condemnation letter addressed to Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira. While CP recognises that Mr Rosenberg may be an honest and upstanding journalist, what about the two government officials also implicated in the story? Rosenberg has since returned to New Delhi, and has the congenital convenience of nationality; but FATA-based retired Secretary Law and Order Secretariat Captain Tariq Hayat Khan and Additional Chief Secretary Habib Khan will probably have to rough out the storm 'in the field'.

Taking steps in the direction of media freedumb, Burmese journalists have been given surprise permission to cover a meeting between Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and Aung San Suu Kyi at the Inya Lake Hotel. Tuned in to her celebrity status, the junta felt it fitting to allow photographs, but didn't see the need to grant questions to reporters. While various private media houses, including the biweekly Myanmar Times and Eleven Media Group, published online accounts of the meet, the state-run media thought other news more pressing. For instance, the New Light of Myanmar reported instead on the fourth Miss People Style contest, held at the same hotel three days prior.

But there's no pleasing everyone. Tamils and Tibetans have tethered together to accuse The Hindu of being 'anti-India' and 'anti-freedom' – and, significantly upping the ante, of perpetrating media fascism. They claim that editor-in-chief N Ram is partial to lefty ideologies, and even comparable to Goebbels for his propaganda prowess! In an e-mail response to Friends of Tibet, rather than prove his journalistic independence, Ram threateningly incorporated government policy to justify his paper's standpoint. It is "well established that the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan supporters have been allowed to stay in India on condition that they do not indulge in political activities, including pro-'independence' activities, on Indian soil." Meanwhile, Ram and his oust-standing contribution to journalism were just selected for the K R Narayanan Award. Why? Well, of course, for his highlighting of the problems faced by ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka, for his fostering of better relations between India and China, and for sensitising readers to the effects of climate change. In this fairytale of the democratic regime of relativity, we end with a heartening assurance that everyone got their say's worth.

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