Catering and contributing to the easy visuals craved by numbed attention spans, The Hindu has just unveiled a new ‘beta’ website. Chhetria Patrakar had long assumed that the folks at the venerable Madras offices would never move away from their archaic site, perhaps out of veneration for a relic of bygone days. With all of the print publications under the wings of the The Hindu Group [sic] already redesigned by a Tampa-based firm called Garcia Media, Mario Garcia, Jr evidently had little else left to do. So what’s with the outcry, once the web redesign came at last, about the print-media leviathan falling to a swifter digital media? The clean and intuitive interface makes news newsworthy, even if it shouldn’t be (keyword: SRK). Meanwhile, all the minor faults can fall under the excuse of the site’s mere beta form – brilliant! Following a string of site makeovers by Rediff, The Times of India, the Hindustan Times and Outlook, the Southasian media web is looking as charming – and user-friendly – as ever.
Meanwhile, a reconstruction of types is taking place in the form of post-war efforts in northern Sri Lanka. Regularly contextualised by Lankan papers as a metaphor of state grandeur and sky-scraping generosity, construction work on a 172-metre-tall transmission tower in Kokavil recently got underway. The Telecommunication Regulatory Commission has funded SLR 150 million of the SLR 400 million project to replace the previous tower, destroyed by the LTTE in 1990. Set to beam television, radio, wireless and cellular services by end year, CP will take this opportunity to suggest a bit of user scepticism, to prevent against any Sensationally Transmitted Diseases.
This region of ours seems to be infested with the virus Very sensacionalis. While CP condemns the banning of ostracised BJP leader Jaswant Singh’s book Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence, one cannot help but find Singh’s own subsequent comparisons to Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses a bit disingenuous. That the book topped the non-fiction bestseller list during the first week of its release only further solidifies the suspicion. Singh may no longer be allowed to brainstorm with the big boys in Shimla, but he’s about to gain big bucks and much footage.
And so the Journalist has found itself a new nemesis: the Blogger. So often discounted as a gasbag, a cheap thrill, an opinionated cockroach – there are just too many of them – of the information underworld, the Blogger has now emerged as the champion of honest and investigative reportage. At least in certain instances. An anonymous blogger on pkpolitics.com recently exposed the corrupt activities of three Pakistani journalists – Rauf Klasra, Nazir Naji and Muhammad Malick – documenting their amassment of wealth, often in the form of land bequeathed by the federal government. Repaying the favour in the form of vulgarities, the accused have made wild guesses as to the blogger’s identity – he/she hails from the CIA, from the Taliban, and even from Richard Holbrooke! So the whistle blows behind a web of guise.
Hiding one’s antagonistic identity isn’t always an issue. More the concern for rightwing Hindu groups is whether they want to be called puritan or progressive. After raising eyebrows at M F Hussain’s dressed-down depictions, they’ve crossed a furious brow at cartoonist Subodh Kerkar’s dressed-up delineation of Swami Ramdas. The caricature was published in the Marathi daily Lokmat a few days after another cartoon appeared from Kerkar’s portfolio of Lord Ganesh striking a variety of poses at his full-bellied best: as the Thinker, as Adam in the ‘touch of god’ and, more-physique-fittingly, as a sumo wrestler. The self-named attorneys of the Hindu pantheon decided to publicise Lokmat editor Raju Nayak’s and Kerkar’s phone numbers as inappropriate ‘personals’. They have since called in with threats of death and the chopping-off of fingers. Police in Goa have thus agreed to provide protection for Kerkar’s art exhibition, now cut short to just two from 11 days.
Drawing a commotion, a satirical cartoon show broadcast by VTV in the Maldives, “Maakana”, has had to remove a caricature of President Mohamed Nasheed due to ‘political pressure’. The show engages in a bit of fowl play, turning the country’s only two presidents in the past four decades – Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – into birds, Zaki and Ayya. The move has provoked the view that, when it comes to press freedom, both new and old are of the same feather. Even Reporters without Borders felt compelled to squawk against media meddling. Meanwhile, CP couldn’t understand why a country so undernourished by land would have anything against wings. Actually, President Nasheed himself says he quite likes his lanky poultry-al, which raises suspicions over the move. Is this another plot hatched to put the current government in disrepute?
Even the Taliban realises that a free press is better for everyone. Catching on to the utility of the media as premium propaganda, the Taliban public-relations campaign includes every form of information diffusion – from radio, television and print, to the Internet and cell phone. But the standard tactic seems to be self-prophesising ‘scoops’ – informing local journalists of attacks even before foreign or local security officials have a chance to speak; and outing civilian casualties, violations of privacy and general hubris. With the US military ruthlessly using social media to garner support back home and among the locals in Afghanistan, they could only learn from those on the ground. While this intelligence-numbing war of words between the ‘terrorist miscreants’ and the ‘infidel invaders’ continues, as always, it’s the people who lose out on clear-cut information.
Freedom rides on sustenance, however, and in the Maldives this comes in the form of government spending. Rather than commending President Nasheed’s decision to publish government notifications in the Government Gazette (instead of paying private papers for print space) as an honest separation between the Church of Information and the State Agenda, the Maldives Journalists Association has begun to grieve over its non-death. Since the industry seems dependent on capital from the capital, the journalists consider the break-off a form of capital punishment. To ameliorate the financial strain, President Nasheed has offered to set aside subsidies for newspapers in the state budget.
Anniversaries in Burma rarely seem particularly joyful, at least if we are to go off of the regular complete media shutdowns that always coincide. Isn’t it a coincidence that the numerals 8888 fit so well with the Buddhist principles of the Four Noble Truths, developed in the Noble Eightfold Path, since suffering marked the historic people’s uprising of 8 August 1988. As usual, this year the day saw an attack on the computer servers of Mizzima, the Delhi-based media group run by Burmese dissidents. CP has a piece of advice for the junta hackers next year: just take the day off. Meanwhile, amnesia about the historical event, more important for the state-run New Light of Myanmar, was naturally the 8 August founding anniversary of ASEAN, for which a courtesy call and chronicle couldn’t be missed.
In other steered reporting, the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Afghanistan forbade coverage of, or prediction of, violence during the 20 August elections, so as not to para-lies voters. According to Pajwhok Afghan News, which refused forthright to abide by the directive, the ministry changed the words ‘seriously forbidden’ from the Dari version to ‘request’ in its English translation. With scattered reports of attacks on journalists by security forces, CP reads the morning-after stories on peaceful elections with agnosticism.
To divert attention from the violence, the Afghan Foreign Ministry should have just organised a high-profile journalism junket to Pakistan. That way, pesky scribes could have just gone tumbling and bumbling away, similar to how Nepali journalists recently flocked next door as part of the prime minister’s entourage of 86 – 86! It seems there was nothing worth reporting back home.
Runny news, chattering, and uncontrollable hysteria- these are only a few of the symptoms suffered by a H1N1 infected media. Headlines reading on the front pages of almost every self-respecting media house, the medical face mask has become the frontline of the war on H1N1, DNA even comparing it to a “26/11 challenge for public health”. CP hopes for a quick recovery from the current swinery, to allow for healthy reporting.