The Bhutanese royalty has the New Delhi media eating out of its hand. Verily. King Jigme (50) and his son, the soon-tohe King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk (25) should probably advise India's burgeoning image-consultancy firms on ways to keep the clients' image shipshape. Chhetria Peirakar had thought that only the father had what it takes, but it seems that the dapper, apparently soft-spoken, prince has it too. He told the gushing Isha Singh Sawhnev of The Hindustan 'Time's, that the Bhutanese people love all things Indian. He added, "We love Hollywood – Preitv Zinta, Shah Rukh Khan and the Bachchans." Now there's a way to get into the warmest section of the throbbing Indian heart. Meantime, The Times of India carried the news of promised abdication as frontpage headline. Every other country in the neighbourhood would have felt envious about the Druk royalty's inside track to the New Delhi editorial offices.
Hmmm. See that The Hindu has brought a revolution of sorts. In a recent article by its national security specialist, Praveen Swam', the reference is to Pakistan Administered Kashmir rather than Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. It is vet another proof that the thaw in India-Pakistan relations is irreversible. We now await the rest of the Indian media to follow suit, and also for the Pakistani media to start referring to "India Administered Kashmir". The violence of 'occupation' needs to he replaced with the neutrality of 'administration'. Give me PAK and IAK over POK and IOK, any day!
The most popular picture to mark the first anniversary of the tsunami seems to have been the photograph of a leggy Swede woman with a full bust, walking barefoot with a child along the Khuk Khak beach in Thailand. This picture was widely printed in the papers on 27 December.
Best-selling novelist Orhan Pamuk went on trial in Turkey on 15 December, accused by the state of the crime of mentioning that "a million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds" had been sent to their mass deaths by the Turkish state after the First World War. As author Pankaj Mishra wrote in The International Herald Tribune, "The Armenian massacres are a widely documented tact. But it is an officially taboo subject in Turkev… Like all nation-states, Turkey has its own sacred nationalist myths and will protect them as fiercely as any society claiming the sanction of religion. This state-sponsored nationalism attracts a wide range of Turks, including many members of the educated elites." What CP would like to add, as we see Orhan Pamuk hounded and pelted on his way to court in Istanbul, is that all national educated intelligentsias of Southasia need to introspect. Who amongst us in mainstream media or mainstream academia has the courage of an Orhan Pamuk, to speak the truth about sacrosanct national subjects, be it Kashmir or Balochistan or the Jaffna peninsula or the Chittagong Hill Tracts? May we all learn from Orhan Pamuk, and wish well in his day in court.
Siddhartha Deb, the Bihari writer living in New York City, has written a marvellous account of India's elite press in the Columbia Journalism Review. He says this elite media is leaving the rest of the nation behind. "How many naked women do you need to see (in the papers) in the morning?" asks a recalcitrant journalist he interviewed in New Delhi. "A lot, if one goes by the English-language dailies in Indian cities," responds Deb. He picks up the city section of TOI known as Delhi Times which has six large pictures of women in the first page alone: "The women in these pictures weren't naked, strictly speaking, but the parade of models and starlets was unending." The Telegraph of Calcutta, found Deb, "carried a stream of images of Hollywood stars, Hollywood stars, and local models trying to imitate Hollywood celebrities imitating the Hollywood stars." More Deb: "The interests of the elite seem narrower than ever, even if one ignores the pin-up supplements and looks at the main sections of the paper. The daily diet consists of business, cricket, celebrities and politicians – more or less in that order of importance – and it comes at the expense of other issues that a democratic India should he debating." The writer is distraught at how the violence against minorities is increasingly distant from the world depicted by the media.
Rest in peace, Chanchal Sarkar (1926-2005). He did not believe in making waves, but he stuck his ground on issues of politics and society which were important for the people at large. In the last two decades, he reported mostly from the field even as his erstwhile colleagues cosied up to the powerful in the Indian capital. Chanchal helped many journalists of India, and not a few of Southasia, understand the intricacies of journalism, whether it was using the clever pen to get past the censors during Indira Gandhi's emergency of 1975-77, or as founder-director of the Press Institute of India at Sapru House, Barakhamba Road. He was a true liberal, wrote Rudrangshu Mukherjee in The Telegraph adding: "One could argue and differ with him, and he tried, in his always quiet way, to persuade with logic and reason. One could see that there was always a mind at work, not petty vested interests." Wrote Shastri Ramachandran in The Tribune of Chandigarh, "Chanchal Sarkar's distinction was that he could see the big picture, pick a detail and lead you through a lane to the large vista of life. Journalism was his world and what journalism could do for the world was his unfailing concern at all times. His writings reflected this ceaseless pursuit."
Enayetullah Khan, editor of the Dhaka daily New Age, and the weekly Holiday, died on 9 November after a long illness, marking the end of a colourful and controversial career of a diplomat-journalist well known to his peers around Southasia. He was known as 'Mintu Bhai` far beyond Dhaka's glitterati circle of which he was quite a part. Coming from an, illustrious political family, Khan did not shy away from challenging the establishment, be it the Pakistani overlords or the Awami League of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He has many detractors, and gave them opportunities to vent their ire by serving as a 'minister (under the military regime of Ziaur Rahman) and then ambassador to China (by military dictator Husain Mohammad Ershad). He started Holiday when it was Ayub Khan who was president, back in 1966, and served as its editor for four decades till his passing. His most recent endeavour was the daily New Age which has taken firm steps in the last two years as the second English language daily of Bangladesh. Here is how Ashok Mitra described Mintu Bhai in the Economic and Political Weekly, all the way back in 1975: "…a personable young man, Enayetullah Khan. Extrovert, loquacious, steeped in bourgeois sophistication, generous to a fault, liking the good things in life, Enayetullah Khan had as many enemies as friends."
Dhaka's Daily Star, reporting on a national convention on repression against journalists on 17 December, reports Sheikh Hasina, leader of the opposition Awami League, saying: "The day is not far away when you will he able to write about their (violence prone ministers and MPs) misdeeds, which you cannot now."
Did we not know it, that starting schools for media training is getting to be a big and satisfying business? An organisation named BAG Films recently brought together big names of the Indian media (Rajdeep Sardesai, Tarun Tejpal, Vinod Mehta, Suhel Seth, et al) to announce grand plans for a INR 120 million investment into the International School of Media and Entertainment Studies (and the acronym already suggested, ISOMES). The college is to be located in NOIDA outside Delhi, and will start taking students by mid-2006. Says the director of the fledgling institution, Rajiv Mishra, "it will emerge as not just India's but South Asia's leading media institute in terms of infrastructure, technical facilities, academic design, teaching methodology and faculty…We're going to be pioneers in media education for not just India hut also the whole of Southeast Asia." Ummm. The affiliation is with the Missouri School of Journalism of the American Midwest, and the four-year degree course will cost anywhere between INR 400,000-600,000. Ummm?
One should not overuse the word 'criminal' to depict some action or event that is dislikeable. But Chhetria Patrakar would like to use it — criminal — to describe India's New Delhi national media's disregard for the passing of the former President K R Narayanan on 9 November. The column inches were negligible. Nothing more need be said, but that this scholar statesman would never have demanded it but he deserved much, much more. The picture shows the late president during his failing health. Not only India, but all Southasia bids him adieu.
If you want to read some of the best book reviews or media reviews in all of Southasia, go to the website of The Daily Times of Lahore, and look up Khaled Ahmed. He also does a regular review of the Urdu press, and in a 30 December piece titled "What do the Pakistanis want?", he starts thus: "It is difficult to fathom what the people of Pakistan want. Those among us who are intense express their views without being asked. Those who are moderate of disposition will not say anything unless asked. In consequence, the national press becomes an arena for the expression of intense opinion. Usually it is the conservative section of society that is intense. In consequence, the media tend to represent a startlingly conservative population. The problem with the moderate person is that he prefers to yield leadership to the intense conservative because he fears extreme situations." Probably a Southasian-wide proclivity, Khaled Sahab!