Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Jyoti Basu Moves On

Lal salam, Comrade Basu...!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Vimsey Passes: Memories of a Legend Among Kozhikode's Media Veterans

VETERAN JOURNALSIT Vimsey, V M Balachandran, died this morning at his home in Kozhikode.

I was there at his house to pay my homage to Vimsey in the morning and there were many veterans of journalism in this city, like T Venugopal and P A Sreedharan Nair, both had served Mathrubhumi a long time with Vimsey, and many others like N P Rajendran and Vijyakrishnan who are still working there.

I have known Vimsey from late seventies when I used to be a student activist in this city. Mathrubhumi was the pinnacle of journalistic excellence in those days and the paper was still a place where you will come across people in khadi dress. People like T Venugopal and C Uthama Kurup and the late lamented V M Korath and R M Manakkalath belonged to this khadi group, while Vimsey was one person who came in his immaculate bush shirt and pants, with sharp eyes burning behind his thick glasses.

He was news editor and he was lord of all things at the main desk. I remember one day going to meet him in 1980 or 81, with a very interesting representation. T A Ushakumari, a fiery student activist from Azhiyur near Vatakara, who was then a PhD scholar at the history department of Calicut University, had been elected to the university syndicate as an SFI nominee and Mathrubhumi had published a photograph of hers.

I must say Usha was not a traffic-stopper as a girl but this particular photograph they had printed made even hardened cynics like me feel bitter. It appeared they had taken special efforts to make her look ugly and she was really much upset finding herself thus tarnished in the paper.

My errand was to request him to publish a fresh news photograph and he appeared in two minds. He spent a long time studying the picture they had published and he knew they could have applied a little more sense in selecting the photograph. But it would look silly to publish another picture simply because their photographers or library were not intelligent and sensitive enough in judging a picture.

He just cut some jokes about the way the ancient printing presses worked those days (when people had to ask which was the monkey and which one the minister if a photo of a minister visiting a zoo was published) and then moved on to other things. It was clear he would not budge.

Vimsey as an editor was sharp and quick, two qualities you need to survive in this dog-eat- dog-world. He had an abundance of both and perhaps that is why he survived for so long in Mathrubhumi. Still, he had to leave and then he worked at Calicut Times, an eveninger, where he worked with equal enthusiasm. The paper was not a big hit but he could build a young crop of good reporters and writers who are still active in the profession in various papers.

He was an excellent sports writer. He played with words and he made words bring the game back to you so vibrant: whether it be a direct shot into the goalpost or a scissor cut or the gallery's response to the players they loved...I loved reading him and when I read the insipid prose in our mainstream papers today, I do long for the days when Vimsey, K Koya and P A Muhammed Koya(Mushtaq), Abu and others were writing sports, just as I look back nostalgically at the days when Rajan Bala and Harsha Bogle were making magic with their words in the Indian English press.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Ethical Journalism in Theory and Practice: A Case of The Hindu Frontline

FRONTLINE, THE fortnightly from The Hindu group, was launched in 1984 and this week it has released its 25th anniversary issue, a wonderful collector’s item by any standards.

The Hindu has always stood for the best and most noble in journalistic practice and its adherence to professional ethics is well known. It has remained a beacon for media-persons in this country and I have always loved to read it which I have done from the mid seventies of 20th century.

Still, in spite of its best traditions and standards, those who have read it closely, especially from the lower segments of Indian people, had a sense that The Hindu was a newspaper for the elite and its progressive credentials are nothing but a veneer for what lurks behind: an upper caste and elitist mindset which has scant regard or empathy for the real concerns of the poor, the subaltern and minorities.

It became evident quite often, whether it at its shameless support to the Emergency in 70s or its refusal to cover the people’s resistance in West Bengal’s Nandigram, in recent months.

Unfortunately, I had to get involved in a case where The Hindu Frontline played a less than honourable role in presenting the Muslim concerns in the Love Jihad controversy in Kerala: It was a blatant misrepresentation of the minority viewpoint articulated by Thejas that enraged us, and finally we had to file a complaint with the Press Council of India, which is still to go for hearing and final resolution.

Here I release two letters we had sent, the first to Mr. N. Ram, editor-in-chief of the Hindu group, dated December 1, 2009 and the second to the Chairman, Press Council, dated December 28, 2009.

Letter to Mr. N Ram, dated December 1, 2009:


This has reference to an article in The Hindu Frontline, dated November 20, 2009 titled Divisive Debate, written by Mr. R Krishnakumar, your Thiruvananthapuram correspondent.

The article makes a reference to an editorial purported to be published by “the NDF organ Thejas” quoting the same from “an article in the pro-BJP Janmabhumi”.

Your report continues as follows:


The Thejas editorial was quoted as saying: “If young men embrace Islam, it is for terrorist activities; if young women do it, it is for love jihad. This propaganda is part of a well-planned strategy. Here, the police, certain sections of the media, even the courts are becoming tools in the hands of certain vested interests, for implementing their secret agendas. It is part of an evil design indeed that when Islam embraces (sic), it becomes the singular cause for restlessness for some sections and they try to put an end to it. Muslims are mere victims of Hindu fascists. Even then, we are portrayed as aggressors. Our aim is only to defend [ourselves] against aggression of Hindu fascists. The religious conversions undertaken by us are similar to those carried out by other religious sections. But Hindu fascists are hunting down and attacking those who come to Islam…..”


As editor and publisher of Thejas daily, published from four centres in Kerala, kindly allow me to infirm you that the editorial you have generously credited us with writing seem to be real news for us. In the course of the two months of October and November 2009, when the ‘Love Jihad’ issue came to dominate Malayalam media, we had published two editorials on the topic of religious conversions, love and other related issues. The first one, dated October 2, 2009, was titled ‘When Love and Jihad Come to the Courts, and the second, dated October 28, 2009, was entitled, Love Marriages and Religious Conversions.

I have attached copies of the two editorials for your reference and possible perusal. You may note that neither of the editorials do make any such references that your report has credited us with.

As a responsible editor and a well known public person, I hope you will agree that attributing completely false statements to others is highly unprofessional and unethical in any news media. Still such unfortunate incidents do take place (for example, the Janmabhumi’s false attribution to us in the article). But as a major Indian newspaper with high ethical standards, people do expect higher yardsticks from The Hindu and its publications. It was a most surprising experience to see The Frontline quoting Thejas from the columns of Janmabhumi, while the editorials of Thejas are very much in public domain and can be accessed for anyone in print or electronically. Still, neither your desk nor your reporter bothered to cross-check whether what you have attributed to us did actually belong to us.

Thanking you(Signed, Prof P Koya, editor& publisher, Thejas Daily.)

Letter to Chairman, Press Council of India, dated December 28, 2009:


Recently various news media organizations operating in Kerala had given wide coverage to a secret letter written by the Director (NI) of the Union Home Ministry to the Chief Secretary, Kerala, alleging that the Thejas newspaper had been indulging in communal propaganda.

We consider this a completely false allegation and we do refute it with vehemence. However, since we were not asked by the authorities to explain any of the news items /editorials/ articles we had published in the paper during the four years of its existence, we were unable to prove our innocence and protect our fair name in the matter. As a newspaper committed to support the cause of the minorities, dalits and other oppressed sections of Indian society, we have been often subjected to such heinous allegations without any factual basis from time to time.

We have generally ignored such allegations and insinuations coming from interested parties. However, we consider that a recently published article in a highly reputed national journal, The Frontline published by The Hindu group of publications, Chennai, was an extreme case of irresponsible journalism with a motive to tarnish the fair name and pubic image of Thejas daily.

The article, printed in The Hindu Frontline, dated November 20, 2009 titled Divisive Debate, was written by Mr. R Krishnakumar, its Thiruvananthapuram correspondent.
The article on the recent controversy over ‘Love Jihad’ makes a reference to an editorial purported to be published by “the NDF organ Thejas” quoting the same from “an article in the pro-BJP Janmabhumi”. The said editorial, which makes inflammatory comments against “the Hindu fascists” was quoted extensively in the Frontline.

But the fact is that Thejas had never written or published any such editorial. It was completely cooked up by Janmabhumi, a newspaper published by those belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, from Kerala.

As soon as The Frontline article was brought to our attention, I had written a letter to Mr. N Ram, Editor-in chief of The Hindu group of publications, inviting his attention to the false charges raised against us in his publication and requesting for correction of the same as soon as possible.

We regret to say that the letter written and dispatched on December 1, 2009, has elicited no reply or any action from the side of the editor of The Hindu group till today. Hence we are compelled to file this complaint with the Press Council seeking a direction to the Hindu Frontline to correct the mistake and ensure our fair name and public image.

(Both the letters were signed by Prof P Koya, editor and publisher, Thejas daily.)