Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Suresh Kalmadi is an easy target than a Sharad Pawar

There is a Soviet silence on television these days. Beneath the noise of the 2G scam and the chaotic cacophony of Parliament lurks a deeper silence that haunts every minute of every channel. The decision to blank out the murky goings-on involving some of India's top names in journalism is a staggeringly significant one. To be sure, the silence pervades most of mainstream media but leaps out of television strikingly because of its tendency to pounce on stories of this kind. For television channels, otherwise willing to go to any lengths for the sake of eyeballs to collaborate with each other in this way is quite unprecedented, and therefore particularly revealing.

But some facts are undeniable. The authenticity of the recordings have not been seriously challenged. The conversations on record show that senior journalists go way beyond the brief of news gathering into news-making by brokering power. It is quite clear that corporate interests are actively injected into the framing of news coverage. Lobbyists do not seem to plead for favourable coverage but issue instructions to journalists, including senior editors. Which are willingly listened to and in some cases, followed.  And finally, when these facts come to light, almost all of media clamps down and blanks out any coverage whatsoever .
The clarifications issued by those allegedly involved so far have been terse and interestingly, have been largely focused on the internet, which is the only space where one can catch a glimpse of the widespread public outrage. Even here, none of the people concerned allow for any comments to be put on their sites. The attempt is to brazen it out by denying the existence of any problem in what amounts to an Orwellian erasure of the present. What we have here is in effect, a case of media issuing a massive vote of no-confidence in itself and in everything it professes belief in. The desire to pursue the freedom of expression and the public's right to know has evaporated the moment the object of scrutiny is the media itself.

It is important to listen to the recordings and not go only by the transcripts, for the tonality of these exchanges is quite revealing. There is an ease, a feeling of being on the same side that pervades conversations between the media and the powerful. The eagerness to please is evident as is the thrill of being part of the world of such important people.
In the last few years, journalists have become Big People who are most comfortable when dealing with other Big People. It is no coincidence that we have a 'summit' run by a media house that is underway and which carries photographs of ornate looking journalists mingling with the bejewelled power elite –described as 'the who's who enjoying free flowing conversation over a lavish spread of cocktails and sumptuous food'. Of course, this is hardly limited to any one media house — every media organisation worth its name has something similar — an event which is designed to get cosy with powerful people and glamorous celebrities. In a deeper, more fundamental way, the interests of the media and the power elite have begun to coincide. The media today is an exponent of power, rather than a watchdog over those who exercise power as it is a participant in the culture of celebrity rather than its critic.

As a consequence, the media rarely attacks the truly powerful. It uses its power to isolate the vulnerable and trains its guns at them. The really powerful politicians are rarely put to sword and critical stories about the rich are almost unheard of. The interests of a few are looked after and the successful media people in turn lead lives of sponsored magnificence. 

A cozy circle drives the media agenda — we see the same people on all the talk shows and it is no coincidence that a large number of them appear on these tapes. The illusion of media activism is created not by the incisiveness of the reportage but by its shrillness.  
A Suresh Kalmadi is much easier to attack than a Sharad Pawar and it takes no courage to go after Ruchika's molester. By going after easy targets and chasing symbolic issues rather than substantive ones, the media discourse is flattened; the aristocracy of banality flourishes even as it schmoozes with each other.

Whichever way you look at it, there is no justification for the media to black out this controversy. Of course, it must be careful about not casually besmirching the reputation of the individuals involved by ensuring that it uses the highest standards of fairness in its coverage. But to argue that the issue does not merit coverage is untenable. If it feels no reservations about covering sting operations, which are flagrant violations of the privacy of those involved, it can surely not hide behind the privacy fig leaf. If the silence is attributed to wanting to make absolutely sure that the tapes are authentic, then that principle should have been applied in other cases too. Also, no one has seriously challenged the authenticity of the tapes. And if, the silence is part of an unwritten code of protection that the media offers to itself, then it is time to dismantle that pact. Not only because it must treat itself in exactly the same way as it treats others but because it is the right thing to do.
From Santosh Desai's column in Times of India. More Here

Shining India, Crying India and Rahul Gandhi!

Rahul Gandhi, the general secretary of India’s Congress party, often says that there exist “two Indias” — one of the rich, and one of the poor.
Those two Indias were in evidence a couple of weeks ago, when closely timed events on opposite sides of the planet brought into relief the deep divides that in many ways define this country.

In Mumbai on Nov. 7, President Barack Hussain Obama told a group of students that India was no longer a “rising power,” but rather an “already risen” power. He celebrated an economy that “has risen at a breathtaking rate.”

Three days earlier, in New York, the United Nations released the 20th edition of its Human Development Report, a publication that has in many ways become the authoritative measure of poverty and deprivation.
India ranked 119th of 169 countries. The nation’s eight poorest states contain as many poor as the 26 poorest African countries combined. In terms of life expectancy and even gender inequality, India rates below its neighbors of Bangladesh and Pakistan.
None of these figures deny the remarkable strides India has made in recent years. But if India is indeed a risen power, then it has risen despite its terrible poverty — despite lingering inequality and despite widespread deprivation that has left millions in conditions that are almost medieval.

After nearly two decades of economic changes that were to have ushered in an era of prosperity, it is clear that in some ways the nation has been naïve: high growth rates alone cannot cure poverty.

The problem, as Anirudh Krishna, a political scientist at Duke University in North Carolina, and the author of a remarkable new study on poverty, put it to me, is that “poverty in India has become very resilient. The numbers hardly budge.”

Indeed, while official estimates suggest that poverty has declined since the advent of reforms, other recent studies suggest that it is in fact far more widespread than had been thought.

At least three government committees have been formed to count the poor in India. The variance in their findings — ranging from 37.2 percent to 77 percent — suggests not only the prevalence of poverty, but also that its very nature is misunderstood. For all the attention directed at the issue, poverty remains something of a mystery.

Mr. Krishna’s study, published in September as “One Illness Away: Why People Become Poor and How They Escape Poverty,” is in large part an effort to peel away the layers of this mystery. The outcome of a decade of work in five countries, and the result of conversations and surveys with more than 35,000 families, one of its chief goals — and accomplishments — is to flesh out our understanding of economic deprivation.
There are several insights in this book, but one of Mr. Krishna’s more important is that, as he writes, “poverty is not an undifferentiated mass living beneath some theoretical or statistical line.” It is, rather, a constantly churning pool of deprivation, with those who escape being replenished by a new population that has fallen from relative prosperity.

In a 25-year study he conducted in Andhra Pradesh State, for example, Mr. Krishna found that while 14 percent of households escaped poverty, another 12 percent became poor. Overall, there was a 2 percent reduction in the poverty rate, but 26 percent of households had seen their status change.

While working as a government officer, Mr. Krishna said, he frequently found that closely located villages, benefiting from the same welfare programs, nonetheless had widely divergent levels of development. This led him to conclude that “it’s not just a question of getting the program right; there’s something about a village that mattered.”

In other words, poverty, and its cures, are highly context sensitive. Welfare schemes can only succeed if they take account of local conditions.

In practice, Mr. Krishna suggests that this means government programs need to include a strong degree of local control. They must be broad enough to work across nations and regions, but flexible enough to allow for local variance. As a model, he points to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, a public works program that allows villages to set their own priorities by choosing which projects receive government funds.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the dangers of overly broad approaches to development, arguing that it was essential to stay close to the ground and focus on details. That argument is reinforced by Mr. Krishna’s work, which suggests the multiplicity of conditions included under the general rubric of poverty.

Like cancer, poverty is not a single disease. It is a scourge with many symptoms and causes. And it is for that reason that, also like cancer, it is so difficult to eradicate.

From Akash Kapoor's article in The New York Times. More Here

Barkha Dutt, Veer Sanghvi and Adolf Hitler


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