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Book Review : More News Is Good News

Published January 22, 2017 by vishalvkale

MORE NEWS IS GOOD NEWS

UNTOLD STORIES FROM 25 YEARS OF TELEVISION NEWS

The current book under review is from NDTV,  in part a chronicle of its 25 years journey so far, and in part a telling series of stories from these 25 years, ones that bring us face to face with many queries, questions, hard truths, uncomfortable realities as well as stories from under-represented genres. This book is also a management case study – albeit a rather longish one, one that I would recommend each and every person in Industry anywhere in the world read. This is, to top it all off, a standing lesson in the trendlines in the Media, as well as the how these developed over time, making it a powerful value addition to anyone in sales and marketing!
The collection of stories is tastefully done, and with strategic thought; you get a lovely read, one that triggers your mind into questions, realizations, learnings, entertainment and fun all in the same volume, making it a true rarity. This book is a collector’s edition, one of the books that belong in the must read category, and in the library of every Indophile, every Indian non-fiction reader and everyone related with Industry and the Media. The language is fluid and easy to comprehend, and the content is well laid out, properly edited and presented in swift read format – not too detailed, not too crisp.

THE JOURNEY

You get a ringside view to NDTV and its entire journey – which is a management lesson for many a company and industry. You can feel the passion, and the commitment of the company; its adherence to values and its employee friendly atmosphere. These are the two factors that are most critical to success in any industry – passion, and valuing your employees; and this shows in what I would like to refer to as an excellent case study for business management professionals. This is the way you build a company! There are deep learning to be had nearly every experience: the launch, the implementation, the new products, the daily grind in first a new and then subsequently an older company, and  of course especially the way hurdles are overcome.

THE MEDIA

For people not from the Media trade, one of the biggest take-aways this book brings is a fascinating look at the Television Trade from the inside, what makes them tick, the many many minutiae revealed and/or discussed in the book, the way the people and the Television programmes operate, the background of the shows we see on the screen, how they are planned and many other small and large aspects. That is what makes this book a truly fascinating read, and an entertaining ride. Perhaps the most important is a fascinating and riveting closing chapter that deals with online media, its launch and the issues it faced…

STANDOUT ARTICLES

The best topical articles, apart from the points discussed so far, that make this book extra special are the ones on Kargil – the first an account of the Kargil War Coverage & the next Kargil Ten Years Later; From Jessica to Nirbhay; Ravish Kumar; the simply awesome Gaza Notes article; Lutyen’s Journalism; Centre-State Dynamics; and the one article that is to me head and shoulders above the entire book, bar none : the one titled Whose Side Are You On… a deep, searching and hard-hitting article on journalism, reportage and the personal aspect from a journalist’s eye.

BEHIND THE SCENES

I mentioned above that the book takes us deep into Media territory, giving us a ringside seat and a fascinating internal look at the mystic world of Media and particularly Television; it actually does far more than that. The book rates so highly not just because of the points I have mentioned – but because it takes you into the mind of a journalist. You as a reader, for the first time, get a peek into the mind of the journalist, the men and women we all watch on TV everyday. For the first time, we get a feel of the emotions, thoughts, debates inside the minds of these people; we get a peek at the challenges they faced and the minutiae behind the epochal stories that we remember so vividly, like the ones given above in the preceding paragraph.

QUESTIONS AND REALITIES

The other aspect of the book is that it forces you to face a series of questions, some small, some large; some of minimal importance – while others being quite critical. This is done not through rhetoric, but through had evidence, leaving little scope for argument; these are field observations, some of which I myself have noted with disquiet, though on a much smaller scale and on a much lesser dimension. My only hope is that these are the exception and not the rule. Let us hope so, hope that this too shall pass, that we are in a passing phase! I will not like to prejudice the reader as to the content, so let me leave it at that; read for yourself, and make of it what you will is my view on this. Suffice it to state that these are evidence-based, and not opinion-based. These are points all of us have to ruminate upon for ourselves in our own minds… kudos, NDTV, for a brilliant first book! Rated 5 stars out of 5!
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Pay Commission And The Armed Forces – A Layman’s Introspection

Published August 15, 2016 by vishalvkale

PAY COMMISSION AND THE ARMED FORCES
This is a topic I came across when I got a Whatsapp forward of an NDTV Discussion on the 7th Pay Commission and its impact on the Armed Forces – given in the Video clip below. This was a discussion anchored by Barkha Dutt, and featured an Ex Army Chief, A former Finance Secretary, A Senior Retired Police Officer, several other middle level Armed Forces Officers and political representatives of two parties. A very high quality discussion, this featured decently presented pros and cons form both sides of the debate very fairly, and yet, the contents were worrisome.
The debate, or dissatisfaction of the Armed Forces {as per the media video above}, is around the 7th Pay Commission Recommendations in terms of some allowances – Hardship Allowance, for example in comparison to the other services, and parity with other services, among other things. Yet another vital point raised was the apparent absence of representation of the Armed Forces in the commission. Some recommendations are, to be quite frank, even from a layman’s perspective, very strange indeed; add to that the views of the civilian bureaucrats, and it creates a rather mildly troubling scenario
I am trying to choose my words with caution, given my lack of expertise in this area; I don’t proclaim to be an expert on Service Salaries and Service Rules of either The Armed Forces or any other Government Service; that discussion – debating the minutiae involved is beyond the scope of my blog and my knowledge. Neither is that the point of the article I am writing; these matters are complex, requiring specialized knowledge of a high order. Naturally, these are not amenable to public debate in social media, at least; that said, matters arising from this debate, tangential in some ways, and yet extremely vital and disturbing need the public consideration.
When a Former Army Chief uses the words “Blatant Discrimination”, and “Injustice” in reference to the Armed Forces treatment – on whatever parameter – it is time the public takes note of this. The points raised by the Ex Chief in this debate are hard-hitting, and specific; they need to be addressed. I am sure this is happening at Government levels, but given that these are public statements, we should take note of them, and be informed
Furthermore, when 18 Ex-Chiefs write to the Prime Minister, in regard to any matter whatever under the sun, and the said public authority does not respond, it is one thing; that matter might be under consideration, requiring silence on the part of his office. But when an Ex-Chief laments the lack of response from the same august office in response to the letter, and in the same discussion notes this has never happened before, {or words to that effect} , this is frankly disturbing. We aren’t talking of one or two Ex-Chiefs; we are talking of a whole bunch of them – no less than 18 in number.
This is not a matter for blame-gaming; neither is it one for hypernationalism and fervent patriotism. This is a matter of silent contemplation, of a deep introspection. The reason for that is that the statements above, disturbing as they are, point not to the political class, but straight to us, the people of India. Yes, the same people who go hyperbolic in arguments, conversations, Social Media and the like on nationalism and the praiseworthy deeds of the Indian Armed Forces. This includes I, My And Myself, as I too have been sharing Indian Army Deeds on my Facebook page quite regularly.
I say this because of two reasons : one, the political class is due to us, due to our votes, our opinions, and our ambitions. It responds to the people and what they value. While it is beyond debate that the political class, despite the weaknesses, has tried to do their best – their hands are tied by the conflicting demands on the exchequer in a resource-scarce economy. In such a scenario, balancing the scales of the spending is not a task for weak hearts. We can’t just up and blame the political class; it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it responds to the public, howsoever much may anyone deny it.
If we want the political class to give more to the Armed Forces- then that “more” is going to have to come from somewhere else. That means, some other areas will have to sacrifice; it is for us, as a people, through our voice and opinion, to determine the percentages to each demand – and this is expressed through our elected representatives. Similarly, if the issues of disparity etc expressed are to be addressed – it might just require additional spends on the budget. Where is that money going to come from? It has to come from some other head!
That is the entire point – we accept that The Armed Forces are pretty damned important, they protect us and so on and so forth; but do we, through our deeds – as opposed to statements and Social Media comments – express this sentiment? Are we, as a people, prepared to go the extra mile for the sake of the betterment of the Armed Forces? Are we prepared to sacrifice something for these people – the ones who readily give their lives for us? You can even extend that argument for the Paramilitary and other security forces, some of whom sure could do with more!
This is important, as it is only when the political class realizes that The Armed Forces are on priority no 1 for the Indian People, or at least among the top, will a fundamental change in approach come about. And that won’t happen unless we really understand what they go through and the sacrifices these brave soldiers do in order that we can be safe. Further, there has to be a far greater realization of the working conditions, demands and the career problems faced by these brave people. Rather than give armchair comments from the complete safety of our laptops, desktops and sofa sets, we should try and understand what these people go through.
I say this because of some rather stunning comments I heard in discussions around The Armed Forces by civilians which have surprised me and frankly shocked me; the insensitivity shown towards the Armed Forces is quite shocking, as is the complete lack of understanding of their requirements, their problems and the conditions under which they operate. Excuse me, these people are willing to die for the country – are you willing to do that? Are you even capable enough of such a tall order? Do you have that inherent capability? It is far harder a task than going to a foreign land to work, or working in the safe protected environs of most civilian jobs, perhaps even all!
Take the example in the discussion – how can you equate a posting to the North East for some classes of bureaucrats with a frontline high-altitude posting in the Armed Forces? It is, on the face of it, ridiculous! And yet, that is what has transpired as I understand from the discussion – correct me if I am wrong. How did this come about? Clearly because of the factors listed above – given that the bureaucrats arose from within us, they didn’t drop down from Mars! Would this have transpired had there been a better understanding of the reality among the educated civilian classes, from which the public servants arise?
But we, the people – are interested not in these things, by and large – but in going to foreign lands to earn, migrate and quit the nation;  or to do a cushy peaceful  job that guarantees our safety. We are the armchair  brigade – self included. There is nothing wrong in that – each individual has own desires and ambitions; and is entitled to self-fulfillment. But that does not mean you ignore the justified needs of the people who lay down their lives for you; or that you are not prepared to sacrifice – should the need arise – for their sakes, just as they have done a million times over since 1947!

Sure, this is a dreamy article; an article that calls for public introspection, internal soul-searching. I do not blame the political class, scream at them, or find fault with them; and the reason  is that, so far as I am aware, no peaceful permanent change has ever been triggered without a dream at the core of the change, a dream that initially sounded foolish, immature and impractical. If I can influence even one reader to introspect – my task has been done. But this introspection is required for all of us – we, who wear our patriotism on our sleeves, and yet spit on the road, bribe, urinate in public, ignore the needs of the poor, and so on and so forth…

Famers, and The Urban Indian

Published February 2, 2016 by vishalvkale

The past few months {and more} have seen a whirlwind of news regarding great moves by the NaMo Government; highlighting a series of developments and laudable initiatives by this Government by the Media as well as the Bhakt Brigade on Social Media. That is indeed good; a positive environment engenders a powerful impetus towards growth, and is a significant factor. Positivity engenders growth and development, problem resolution in a manner negativity can never do.
In all this euphoria and positivity, one factor lies ignored; the status of the Agriculture Sector. This article isn’t about The NaMo Government, but about our {Urban India’s} response – or lack of it – regarding the Agriculture Sector, about how it has taken the back seat, and about how we just don’t respond, or are not even aware of, the status of this sector, its issues and the problems that plague it. While news regarding Farmer Suicides reaches us due to the sensationality factor, the real issues and problems this sector faces never reach us. And for that, we the people are to blame.
Rising Farmer Distress in some parts of India, for example in Maharashtra is but one aspect of this; the aspect of drought that has hit large tracts of India is another and potentially more troublesome and serious a factor to hit us. Add to this the lack of serious attention to the myriad problems that inflict the agricultural scenario, like Seeds for example, or unbalanced fertilization to take another pertinent and current example.
And yet, despite the scale of these problems, neither the mainstream Media or the larger Social Media is focussed on these factors; the large number of news articles, updates etc are built around digitisation moves of the current Government, Smart Cities, Bullet Trains, Railway Modernisation, Make In India, Digital India, FDI and Economic Growth, Basic Office Hygeine steps by the NaMo Government, Aggression {long-needed} towards the needs of the Armed Forces etc.
Not one of the points listed above is unimportant; not one is without value. Each step truly laudable in its own right, and very welcome. Credit where credit is due; fact is fact. But critically and interestingly, Crop Insurance apart, no news in relation to the Agriculture Sector has made it to Social Media, or to the News that I am aware of – not to the tune of the others, those I mentioned above. That means either the Government has done nothing; which is highly debatable – given that there is a ministry devoted to this; or that we aren’t aware of it- which is far more likely.
The state of affairs in Indian Agriculture is there for all to see, and requires no data to prove it. The shocking evidence of your eyes should shake anyone from stem to stern, with rampant poverty, and abject conditions the moment you move into the Rural parts of India. And yet, we Urban Indians continue to bask in the glory of moves and steps that largely benefit Urban India; I refer to Smart Cities, Make In India and Bullet Trains etc. Even the praise of Digitisation in Social Media hovers around facilities for Urban Indians! Why doesn’t the status of the Farming Community in India reach the consciousness of us Urban Indians?
The news that is coming out is disturbing, to say the least; The Maharashtra government has declared a “drought-like condition” in 14,708 of the state’s 43,000 villages. This means the drought covers 34% of the state, as per a Times of India Report. Another Hindustan Times report states As of Nov-end, nine of India’s 29 states had officially declared a drought, and 302 of the 640 districts are living in drought-like conditions.  That is approximately 50% of India. Another report from October categorically mentions : For India to grow at 8%, agriculture must grow at least 4%. Yet, the farm sector has barely crawled at 1.9% in the first quarter (April-June) this year. It could get worse when the effects of a widespread drought become visible in the next few months.
The same report goes on : Between April 2014 and February 2015, the value of India’s farm exports dropped nearly 3%, as prices in global commodity markets fell. In August this year, tractor sales were down 23%. Rural wages rose at a slower 4.6% pace in a 12-month period ending in June, compared to a 12% rise in the same period a year ago.; earlier, the same report made this point : Alarmingly, a rural distress — marked by slowing wages, poor incomes and lower profits from farming — now looks getting entrenched.

{Image Credit : Hindustan Times, article linked in references}



Another Hindustan Times article strips the Urban Indian naked in this blunt statement, which I fully endorse : Obsessed with the latest, hyper-emotional social media trend, India’s people and mass media are all but oblivious to Bharat’s emergency situation. The only national newspaper that has consistently followed collapsing farms and failing rains is Mint. As of last week, nine of India’s 29 states had officially declared a drought, and 302 of the 640 districts are living in drought-like conditions. If you ask why none of this is on India’s primetime television shows or splashed on front pages, I will only say that the media, in general, are not interested and neither, dear reader, are we.Sad, but a completely factual indictment of the status of Social Media.
The same report had made this point : The data indicate the essentially dead-end nature of Bharat’s jobs and realities and a worsening farm economy, which grew only 0.2% last year. If it grows that much this year, we should be lucky. The under-reported and largely ignored farm crisis has been made greatly worse and more urgent by two years of scanty rain. Fact upon relentless fact can be piled up to build the case of neglect by we the people in our consciousness…
Going further, a Reuters report goes even further, with facts : Last month, India made its first purchases of corn in 16 years. It has also been increasing purchases of other products, such as lentils and oilmeals, as production falls short. Wheat and sugar stocks, while sufficient in warehouses now, are depleting fast, leading some traders to predict the need for imports next year. The same report also has this stunning statement from an analyst : “There’s a complete collapse of Indian agriculture, and that’s because of the callous neglect by the government,” said Devinder Sharma, an independent food and trade policy analyst.
In our Euphoria about the various Urban developments, somewhere along the line, the hands that feed us, the hands we owe everything to – the farming community in India, lie forgotten. This does not reach the awareness of Social Media, which is busy extolling the virtues of Urban Development and the various and admittedly excellent steps undertaken by this Government in its tenure so far. The reality of the farming scene is  not even on the radar of Urban India.
Furthermore, the other side of the story lies forgotten. I had noted categorically in my budget analysis last year, and I quote : And then, you expect the states to implement what is in essence a centrally thought plan. While the plan to devolve to states is laudable, there is a dire need to pull up recalcitrant state governments.{ http://reflectionsvvk.blogspot.in/2015/03/is-this-government-on-wrong-path.html}
Note this article from The Indian Express, which corroborates and confirms my reading of the state of affairs:  “During the UPA regime, the Centre contributed 90% for the initiative while the state pitched in with another 10%. But following the Narendra Modi government’s decision to slash central assistance for most centrally sponsored schemes from April 1, 2015, the Centre’s share has gone down to 60%. A condition that this reduced share will be released only after states release the matching grant was also imposed. Given the fund squeeze in the state, officials admitted that funds earmarked for the scheme in 2015-16 have not been released to districts so far. The scheme is applicable in 33 out of the 36 districts in the state. With funding support drying up, it has now come to light that the societies have tapped into the unutilised development funds marked in 2014-15 for the farmer training initiative for meeting salaries of the staff. {Jan 7, 2016}
Farmers produce the food we eat; this is a fact. Their troubles should be on the forefront of the nations’ priorities; alongwith the needs of the Armed Forces. The proofs and reality given above bear mute testimony to two realities : one is the lack of awareness and churlish attitude of Urban India towards the farmers and rural India; and the other reality being the gap highlighted by the Indian Express article on the change in the method of operation of UPA vis-a-vis NDA, which is exactly what I had foretold long back. I am sure the Government will learn and take corrective measures {Note article from reuters}; question is – will we, the people, wake up and understand that it is the Rural India that requires our helping hand? That extolling Urban Developments alone does not suffice? Will the Urban Indian wake up? 

References : 

News Priority – Indian Stories, Or International?

Published November 17, 2015 by vishalvkale

The recent story of an Indian mentioned by our honourable Prime Minister reaching the headlines has kindled a series of questions in me; what were our local Media doing when this was happening? Why aren’t such local heroes and success stories given more attention by the Media and the press? Why does the NRI-PIO story, the international news, the sensational or the world affairs take precedence over important local issues? Going deeper, why are we affected by these stories, and give lesser credence to the local?


Note : It is not my contention we ignore the international aspects; just that there needs to be a proper balance, which is currently absent


This event came at the culmination of a series of experiences regarding Media, when I noted lesser coverage to local issues, even important ones like tragedies and floods etc in India, even on social media, where the international triggered a huge response, and you had to actually hunt to find the local Indian reference. I slowly started clicking on local newspaper sites, most of whom I follow, and discovered a different world entirely; the world of the vernacular.

This has even lead to my first Hindi book on Shivaji Maharaj; but more of that in its book review. I intend to write on this as a comparison after a few months, but for now – the numbers tell the tale. Media is tilting towards these news houses, and I can see why. There is a reason : and the reason seems to be content that is in consonance with the audience views and requirements…

I have, for the first time in my life, shifted over to Lokmat {Marathi}, Dainik Bhaskar {Hindi} and the difference is palpable. I get far more value and far more meaningful news and views on current affairs, near-zero soft-porn or vulgar content, lesser sensationalism, NRI-PIO coverage is far lesser, local achievements get highlighted, local problems get aired – the experience is an eye-opener. The quality is far superior to what I had imagined. They might even be ahead in quality, for all I know. Reading a news portal is fun once again, is all I can say.

The numbers tell the tale. Out of a total revenue of 22400 Crore in 2013, local print had the lion’s share : 13800 Crore { Hindi : 6900 Crores, Other Languages 6900 Crore}. Having shifted over to Hindi and Marathi, I can readily see why that should be so. The disconnect is total with the English Media, by and large, for me as a person. {Exceptions are there even in English Media – but the exception proves the rule}

What do I care what happens in the USA, by and large? {Not applicable to geo-strategic or business issues having a direct impact on India}. Or in Europe? I am more concerned, both as a professional and as a citizen, with pointed local matters. What use is the views of an opinionated NRI / PIO class whose views are completely immaterial? Or the views of an international audience? Who cares what these classes think, beyond a certain point? We are a sovereign nation. We can mind our own business, and need no advise from anyone whatsoever.

What use is the achievements of an Indian Citizen or PIO abroad? I mean who cares? They left India, didnt they? They exercised their democratic right. Let them be happy and prosper. Who cares what they achieve? I certainly don’t; I would rather read about the home-grown success stories, which are in abundance. As per me, the real successful Indians who make a conscious choice to stay at home; who consciously choose India despite having the opportunity to go abroad – not your NRIs and PIOs. Does our Media portray these real successes?

These nameless and faceless Indians are helping make India a better country – with their blood, sweat, toil, effort and sacrifice. There are a lot of things money and dollars remittances from abroad cant purchase – and it is these attributes that cannot be purchased that determine the success of a country! I don’t say that you should go abroad – it is a connected world; and you should not be living in a shell. That would be disastrous. There are clear advantages to be had from a strong emigrant population; the problem is in the level of importance given to them vis-a-vis the real success stories – the stories of Indians who choose to stay in India and give their all.

Those who left, did so for personal benefit, which is a right they exercised, and is not to be grudged. But that also means that there is no reason to celebrate their successes; they left India. While the advantages are undeniable, and their love for their country is also not in question – the problem is in our response to these NRI-PIOs, judging from reactions on the ground, and from the amount of Media attention the English Language media gives them, which is completely out of all proportion to their importance to India, which is not quite as big a factor. As I said – dollars don’t develop a country; blood, sweat, toil, sacrifice and unstinting hard work is what results in development. The money is the result of all these.

The choice rests with you and me; it starts with us. I have consciously made a decision that local news, affairs and local success stories and their coverage are more important;  that these people who leave India dont matter; that international news is important only to a point, not the be-all and end-all; that the local tragedy takes precedence over the international. I have consciously decided to focus only on India. That is the only way; Ek-Se-Ek-Jude-Ek-Zanjeer-Bane. There are a lot of people like you or me; only we get the wrong impression by way of the Media which pointlessly plays up international stories ignoring truly Indian stories. That, and lesser sensationalism are the two significant reasons, apart from lack of local coverage – that account for my shift to Marathi and Hindi Channels and News.


I am reminded of a statement by an educated young woman I met : if all of us educated people leave, who will serve the country? For every one who leaves, there are dozens who consciously decide to stay at home, where they belong. We are a nation of 1.27 Billion; what difference does it make if a few hundred thousand leave? It makes no difference whatsoever. It is better they leave rather than be less productive at home, just dreaming of a life abroad. It is best for everyone concerned. But that is our opinion; may or may not be shared by all


The ones who stay back are the ones who can be depended on the develop India and take it forward. Dollars dont develop a nation; sweat, sacrifice, toil, hard work, blood and unstinting effort does. Rather than think of those who left, think of those who stayed back; or even those who came back to add value. Think of those who died for our Mother – Flt Lt Nirmaljeet S Sikhon, Havaldar Abdul Hamid, Captain Vikram Batra, Lieutenant Manoj Pandey, ACP Hemant Karkare and many many more. Think of Dr Kalam; think of the innumerable resident Indians who have done us proud, without wanting to leave India.

We have a huge number of local stories to celebrate; we can celebrate them. And for that, we dont need or want the Media. Not in the internet age. If we vote with our choice, and quit such papers who peddle this – then perforce they will have to stop such reportage. If we start giving more stress to local Indians, then the message that goes out is that it is not an achievement having gone abroad; the real achievement is in staying home – despite its problems. Home is after all, Home. It is where you belong.

ऑनलाइन लोकमत
मुंबई, दि. १६राज्यातील १४ हजार ७०८ गावांमध्ये शुक्रवारी राज्य सरकारने दुष्काळ जाहीर केला आहे. राज्यात दुष्काळाची भीषण स्थिती पाहता लवकरात लवकर सरकारने दुष्काळ जाहीर करावा, अशी मागणी विरोधकांकडून करण्यात येत होती. यावर आज मंत्रिमंडळाच्या उपसमितीच्या झालेल्या बैठकीत दुष्काळ जाहीर करण्याचा निर्णय घेण्यात आला.

Some 14708 villages in Maharashtra facing a drought like condition does not find a mention in any English Language Newspaper site that I could spot among the 4-5 I looked at on the day I found this article; I was so struck by this, that I saved the link. And some of the listed news are NRI news, or sensational news, or international news etc on that particular date;  if it appeared later, I cannot say. And this important thing does not even feature on it, when I looked at it! And further, I have been noting this on many an occassion; this is not a one-off. Where are our priorities?

The choice rests with us; we determine the modal response. Let us place our vote forward, and start regarding those who left as unimportant to the equation. Let us start placing greater emphasis on Indian News and Views; let us start appreciating the importance of local news and developments; these have the greatest and most visible impact on our lives. Let us start appreciating Indian successes, and let us start placing lesser emphasis on “Videshi” brigade. Let us start appreciating that less sensationalism and more news matters.  It starts with you and me. With us…