Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Not unemployed anymore ...

It is not often that you wake up to such news on the front page.

State mulls dole to jobless youth

Another visionary scheme being thought over by the visionary government.

" pay unemployment allowance of Rs.500 for those who have passed SSC or have lesser qualification and Rs.750 to those who have Intermediate or equivalent qualification. Graduates and other professionally qualified are likely to be paid Rs.1,000 a month. "

So, if you pass 10th - earn Rs. 500/- per month without doing anything. If you pass Intermediate, earn Rs. 750/- without doing anything.

Apparently, this scheme is being designed to attract youth towards the congress party! If this does not amount to bribing the unemployed youth to vote for the congress, then what exactly is this?

And from whose pocket this money will come from? Ours - the tax payers. Yesterday, our visionary Chief Minister also said that collecting tax was similar to bees sucking honey without disturbing the fabric of the flower (or something similar to this) - essentially he is saying, we will suck as much as possible from you, the tax payer. Please shut up and pay!

He actually said "Taxes were collected without hurting people". Yeah right!

There just seems to be no end to this ruthless spending of money by the government. As fellow tweeter pavanvoice called it - this is "youth pension" !

Monday, February 27, 2012

AP Finance minister's budget speech...

The following post was written for Centre Right India, by Kesava and me. Pasting it here for reference.

"Continuing with the sustained efforts of the state to achieve ‘poverty-free Andhra Pradesh by 2015’..."

Thus begins the "Rural Development" section in the budget speech delivered about 10 days back, by the finance minister of Andhra Pradesh, Mr. Anam Ramnarayana Reddy. So this government wants to achieve poverty free AP by 2015. Let's revisit an old picture at this point of time. 

The government in the above ad said that there are about 7.5 crore poor people in the state (the budget speech puts this figure at 7.25 crores). This was in December, 2011 - which is not far too distant in the past! And within 3 months, we hear that this government wants to make Andhra Pradesh "poverty-free" by 2015! How will you bring out 7.25 - 7.5 crore people out of poverty in just 3 years? 

One way would be through Employment.

So our visionary government came up with a "new" scheme - Rajiv Yuva Kiranalu. They claim that 15 lakh jobs will be provided in 3 years. Pompous as it may sound, let us assume that this target is achieved. 15 lakh jobs - assuming these jobs will bring families of 5 members out of poverty - we have only 75 lakh people! That's like 10%! 

Before proceeding further, let's quickly take a look at this "new" scheme. 

In last year's budget speech - under "skill training for youth" they said - 

The Andhra Pradesh Employment Mission, popularly known as “Rajiv Udyogasri Society” has been established with the objective of imparting training to the youth so that they are better equipped to take up employment in the industries, services and business sectors

Now, here's a challenge - can you find the word "Udyogasri" in this year's budget speech? The reason you will not find that word is that this program was rehashed and given an another name - Rajiv Yuva Kiranalu. Don't trust me? Here's what the official website says: 

Rajiv Yuva Kiranalu is conceived by the Govt. of Andhra Pradesh to build job specific skills among the unemployed and place them in appropriate private jobs.

See the co-relation?

Ok, from this year's budget speech - 

To implement the new scheme of Rajiv Yuva Kiranalu, we have set up the Rajiv Education and Employment Mission of AP (REEMAP)

Please note that the employment mission already existed. And now, to implement one scheme named after Rajiv, they set up another mission in the name after Rajiv! 

The Chief Minister resorted to unbelievable levels of advertising for this program. Prime time slots on TV, ads in paper - all promising that the Prime Minister himself will come and give 1 lakh appointment letters in December (2011). We are in Feb now. The PM is yet to come (infact news is that, he rejected this offer too, claiming that to be a bogus scheme!). It has been announced that 1 lakh jobs have been provided - no list though of where and how! 

And before you accuse me of propagating the opposition's lies - this scheme has been criticized time and again by the ruling party MLAs, the ruling party's ministers, the state president of the congress party and none other than the Prime minister too! A snapshot of a news item in a telugu newspaper (from last week) is below. 

Training has been organized by the govt. for the benefit of MLAs to understand this program. Apart from the officers stressing on the "system failures" to achieve targets, they gave out some interesting statistics - in one job mela 1300 people were selected. Merely 56 people actually joined. 4% only - just imagine the kind of "jobs" being offered. The local MLA is reported to have said that people prefer to take up works under MNREGS instead of taking up small time jobs in these melas! 


A lot has been said, debated, discussed, derided and what not, on this scheme. Since there is only so much roads and drainages that you can construct in a village, the government is now desperate to somehow continue this scheme. And for that, it is now sanctioning construction of buildings! 

Sthree Sakti Bhavans have been sanctioned to the 1,068 Mandal Samakhyas @ Rs.25 lakhs per building by converging with MGNREGS Programme.

More importantly, through convergence with MGNREGS, construction of Gram Panchayat buildings and road works are taken up at a cost of Rs.437.29 crore.

And more importantly, the government announced a new scheme:

Under this scheme, additional funds will be provided to upgrade the work taken up earlier under MGNREGS into a durable permanent work

which begs the question - what purpose is MNREGS serving if works are not "durable" and "permanent" ? 


Despite all this, let's to assume the government will miraculously bring 75 lakh people out of poverty, through employment.  Majority of the remaining 90% will be from agriculture. So let's take a quick look at agriculture then. What is the government doing to bring them out of poverty? Nothing. Don't trust me? Read the budget speech here. Nothing! Andhra Pradesh faced a drought last year. 876 mandals (out of 1200 odd) were officially declared drought-hit. That's ~70%. What does the government do - send in a request for assistance from the ever active central government! And as if this is an achievement, the CM again mentions this in a speech in the assembly.

Additionally, the government announced that it has increased the man-days from 100 to 200 under MNREGS in drought hit mandals. We discussed MNREGS above, so nothing much to add to it. What if there is a drought next year? Same solution? What will you build then? Flag-posts on those buildings?

Let's hope, next year is going to be better, rains wise. Which would mean that we would have a similar environment as in say 2011-2012; which would mean that the farmers would still remain in poverty, right? You want to know why? Because while the input cost to the farmer is increasing, the minimum support price is the same. You think this is arm chair punditry? The farmers themselves are so distressed with these policies that they went on a crop holiday last year, in certain areas! A crop holiday! And guess what - the government does not even acknowledge this in their annual financial statement! 


If there is crop holiday for farmers, then there is power holiday for industries! And of course for domestic consumers, there are power cuts ranging from 2 hours to 12 hours. Please note – all these are official announcements and not some cooked up accusations. What progress would one really make without proper supply of electricity? And does the budget speech reflect any of these realities? Sadly, no!

Police, Law and order

March 11, 2011. The date is today marked as a black day by every Andhraite who admires the rich cultural heritage of the state. The million march which turned violent finally resulted in raging of statues of the cultural icons from Coastal and Rayalaseema areas. One did wonder about the state of security in AP. While this is the state of affairs in a thoroughly urban environment, in rural/agency areas it is even worse. In 2010, we saw some unpardonable crimes committed by Maoists. Dantewada incident is still fresh in public memory. 2011 was no different. One of the most gruesome attack was when Chattisgarh cops were abducted by Maoists in early 2011. The abduction of Malkangiri Collector R V Krishna and the letters sent stating Maoist demands indicate that border areas need much better policing. Even security personnel were under attacks [1, 2]. Maoists also continued to attack business units and government property [1, 2, 3]. This 2009 Reuters report stated that ill equipped police makes the security personnel easy targets. Police remain ill equipped even today.

It is no exaggeration in stating that in the last 2-3 years, the most over-stressed department has been the police department, given the number of agitations (some of them violent) that they had to face and resolve. Post these events, logical response of the government would have been to bring in some much needed police reforms. It was not to be, thereby sending a message to the anti-establishment brigade that "this government will not do anything on lawlessness".

Despite the fact that police hunt down dreaded Maoist leader Azad a.k.a Cherukuri Rajkumar; despite the fact that the urban police had a really tough time through most of the year police force have been the most stressed out department- there was little motivation for the police in Budget proposals last year. The situation continues this year too.

When Anam Ramnarayana Reddy presented Budget proposals, one would have naturally expected some motivation to the police force given the threats in urban and rural areas. The budget allocations disappoint heavily in this regard. Budget speech by the minister simply presents us the number of vacant positions and how they are going to be filled up. Police force faces a multi-dimensional problem, which this government is clearly not interested in solving.  In Amuktamalyada, Sri Krishna Devaraya points out the importance of police - "....Pay the foot-soldier punctually to earn his love and win over the horsemen with gifts. Give a good horse and a good elephant to a loyal warrior. Take care of the stables yourself....". 500 years later, we are clueless on how to make the police do better job and be efficient. 

While there is little endeavor from AP government to put police reforms on the top priority, there is no end to "social welfare". Government of AP continues to its extravagant spending in the name of social welfare while sidelining the primary duty of a government - security.

Is there anything good in this budget then?

The only new proposal (and a good one that too) in this budget speech is to construct indoor and outdoor stadium in every assembly constituency. If implemented well, this would be a major boost for sportsmen. 


If there is one glowing example to show "why governance model where government is a welfare machine, fails", then it is Andhra Pradesh. On the one hand, there are CBI investigations indicting some top businessmen, bureaucrats, politicians in some serious offenses committed by the previous government under the garb of "social justice". Despite the continuing investigations, GoAP proposes a budget allocation of stupendous 14,000+ crores toward social welfare - approximately 10% of total budget allocations (apart from amounts dedicated to freebies), while budget proposals to Police department, despite the prevailing security situation, is a mere 4,832 crores i.e., approximately 3 percent. In this 10% allocation toward "welfare", BC welfare is worth 3104 crores which is a 43% hike from last year and minority welfare is worth 489 crores which is a whopping 62% hike from last year. This probably explains what this government is eyeing. Opposition's concerns on this aspect have been sidelined as usual. 

Now, what about the tax payer? This budget doesnt want to provide relief to the tax payer by easing pressure on him to face high fuel costs, high real estate costs and heavy inflation. This budget doesnt also give the tax payer any relief from traffic, pollution, shortage of electricity and water supplies. Yes, as this blog post rightly said "tax payer remains the most abused citizen".

One important component of all the schemes being announced by the CM is the massive spending on ads for these schemes. This is bound to run into tens of crores of rupees (maybe even hundreds) - where is this money coming from? Maybe, in some cases the money spent on ads is more than the money spent on the actual scheme! 

We are discussing the budget speech of the Finance minister and not the budget per-se. Budgetary process involves the hard work of a lot of people – evident from this presentation here. Budget speech is however expected to be visionary and bring in promise of a new future. Alas! 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

That's all, Your honour!: Feb. 19-25

1. Last week, we were talking about the Italian navy personnel firing at and killing two of our fishermen off the Kerala coast. After "deliberations", the police could finally get to arrest the two nay personnel. And common sense suggested that the matter ends here, and the courts will take over from now on. However, Italy tried to work some "back-channels" to see how their personnel can be released. You can't blame Italy for doing that though. One of the "back channels" that Italy was working on was this - "...the Catholic channels via the Vatican to allow the two marines to leave for Rome after paying some compensation to the families of the killed fishermen".

Now, this caught our attention - given that this was printed in the front page news of The Hindu. And then the earlier statement of recently appointed Cardinal from India, Alencherry (who happens to be from Kerala) gained importance. He apparently said (which ofcourse was "misquoted" according to him) that " Kerala Government should not act precipitately against the Italian marines" and also said "he was in constant touch with the ‘Catholic Ministers’ in Kerala’s Congress-led Government". What can be more shameful and disgraceful than this? A couple of our citizens are killed, and here we have officers of the Church taking the opposite side of our citizens? Why should the Church get involved at all in this? Thankfully, other church officials in Kerala derided this statement by the Cardinal. There is still talk about giving monetary compensation in exchange for the nay personnel. If that happens, remember who worked that option out - the "catholic channel". However, the Indian government is crystal clear that the courts are the only competent authority to handle this case now. 

2. The Liquor scam in AP is turning out to be huge. The Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) has submitted to the court that the Liquor scam in AP is worth Rs. 15,000 crores! I am pretty sure, if you are outside AP you wouldn't have heard about this news, given the "national" media's obsession with other important things! A dealer being questioned in this case has also said that the excise minister himself brokered a deal between him and another dealer. The dealer also said that he paid Rs. 10 lakh bribe to the minister directly. As usual, the minister denied it. However, what is even more disturbing is that the minister and many other leaders are rubbishing this of as a conspiracy against a BC leader!! The CM has also brazened it out and decided to support the minister fully. Now, we surely know how the case is going to end up! The state congress chief has himself agreed that ~30 of his relatives are in this business. A telugu newspaper claims to have accessed the report and tells us that 20 ministers, 140 MLAs amongst thousands of others are involved in this scam! Yet - all we have to tall talk - no action. This article explains neatly how this syndicate works - it is a must read to understand this scam. 

3. Kingfisher airlines is in big trouble. The I-T department has frozen it's bank accounts and therefore Kingfisher is not able to make any payments. The result - many flights stand cancelled. Kingfisher is due a lot of money in taxes to the government, and their mounting losses haven't helped their cause either. But here is a must read article - "The Curious Case of Vijay Mallya and his bailout. And one more scam!" . Please read that exhaustive article to see how Vijay Mallya and the government colluded to rob our money! 

4. And finally, did you think that the 4.5% minority quota within the 27% OBC quota was restricted to jobs only? You are mistaken - now the supposedly premier educational institute in India, the IIT has decided to give 4.5% reservation for minorities within the 27% OBC quota. That's all, your honour! 

అదన్నమాట! ఫిబ్రవరి 19-25

ఈ వారం అసెంబ్లీ లో చాల వాడి వేడి చర్చలు జరిగాయి అండి. ప్రతిపక్షం వాళ్ళు అంకెల తో సహా పాలక పక్షం వాళ్ళని ప్రశ్నలు అడిగితె, పాలకపక్షం వాళ్ళు మళ్ళి పాత పాటే పాడారు. తెలుగు దేశం వాళ్ళు ప్రశ్నిస్తే, మీరు అధికారం లో ఉన్నప్పుడు ఎం పీకారు అని తెగ అడిగేశారు లెండి. మిగతా ప్రతిపక్షాలు అడిగితె, పెద్దగా పట్టించుకోలేదు కూడా! 

ముందుగ గవర్నర్ ప్రసంగానికి ధన్యవాదాలు తెలుపుతున్న తీర్మానాన్ని చర్చకు పెట్టారు. లోక్ సత్తా అధినేత జే పీ గారు మొదలు పెట్టారు. అసలు ప్రసంగం లో అవినీతి గురుంచి కాని, మద్యం వ్యాపారం గురుంచి కాని ప్రస్తావన కూడా లేకపోవడం ఏంటి అని ప్రశ్నించారు. ప్రభుత్వం ఏమి సమాధానం ఇవ్వలేదు. తరువాత చంద్రబాబు గారు మూడు గంటలు మాట్లాడారు. ఎప్పటికప్పుడు ఆయన మీద బురద జల్లడమే పని గా కొంత మంది నేతలు పెట్టుకున్నారు. ముఖ్యమంత్రి గారు కూడా ఏక వకాహనం లో సంభోదిస్తూ వచ్చారు. ఒక దాస లో ఏమో "మీరు హైటెక్ సిటి గురుంచి మాట్లాడితే, మేము ఎమ్మార్ గురుంచి మాట్లాడాల్సి వస్తది" అని కూడా అన్నారు అండి! ఎమ్మార్ అక్రమాలు అన్ని వైఎసార్ గారి హయాం లో జరిగాయి - దానికి హైటెక్ సిటి కి సంబంధం ఏంటి అండి ? యైఎసార్ గారి హయాం లో జరిగిన అవినీతి కి తెలుగు దేశం పార్టి కి సంబంధం ఏంటి అండి అసలు? 

పైగా, ముఖ్యమంత్రి గారు ఏమో రాజీవ్ యువ కిరణాలు వల్ల లక్ష మంది యువత కి ఉద్యోగాలు వచేశాయి అంట! ప్రతిపక్షాన్ని పక్కన పెట్టండి - కాంగ్రెస్స్ ఎమఎల్యేలే ఈ విషయాన్నీ అంగీకరించడం లేదు! ఆ లక్ష మంది పేర్లు , ఉద్యోగాలు ఎక్కడ ఎక్కడ చేస్తునది - ఈ వివరాలు మాత్రం ఎంత అడిగిన ప్రబుత్వం ఇవ్వటం లేదు. ఎందుకు సంసయిస్తున్నారు ?

ఆ తరువాత మద్యం వ్యాపారం మీద చర్చ మొదలు అయ్యింది. తన బందు వర్గం మొత్తం 30 మందికి మద్యం వ్యాపారాలు ఉన్నట్టు బొత్స గారే అంగీకరించారు. ఆయన చర్చ కు రాలేదు. మళ్ళి ముఖ్యమంత్రి గారు పాత పాటే పాడారు. చంద్రబాబు త్రుటి లో జైలు కి వెళ్ళే పరిస్థితి నుంచి 2003 లో తప్పించుకున్నారు అని మొదలుపెట్టారు. మళ్ళి ఇద్దరి మధ్య కోట్లత మొదలు అయ్యింది. ముఖ్యమంత్రి గారికి ఒక చర్చని ఎలా ప్రక్కదోవ పట్టించాలో బాగా తెలిసిపోయింది అనుకుంటాను. ప్రతిపక్ష నాయకుడు మీద బురద జల్లడం, ఇక ఆ పైన కోట్లాడుకోవడం. మరుసటి ఉదయం పత్రికల్లో ఈ కోట్లత గురుంచి రాస్తారు కాని అసలు చర్చ గురుంచి రాయరు కదా ! అదన్నమాట! 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

That's all, Your Honour!: Feb. 12-18

1. Last Monday, an Israeli diplomat's car was bombed. Apparently, motor cyclist planted it below the car. A similar attempt occured on the same day in Georgia too! Israel was quick to accuse Iran of masterminding these bombings. Iran was quick enough to reject this allegation. Police are saying that the bomb would have exploded within 3-5 seconds of attaching it to the car, and are looking at CCTV footage from nearby areas. The blast location is ~500 metres from the PM's residence, and this is what is worrying security experts! How can someone just plant a bomb and get away with it just so close to the PM's residence! And that too - this happened to be a planned attack on an Israeli diplomat! Investigations are still on - and knowing the speed at which we work - we can be rest assured they will go on and on! 

2. In another brutal incident, Italian navymen fired at and killed two of our citizens off the Kerala coast. These personnel were on an oil tanker, and saw a small boat approaching their ship. Without any provocation, these personnel started firing and killed two fishermen on that boat. The ship is now parked at the coast, but curiously no arrests have been made yet. Italians authorities tried to tell us that there was provocation and hence they fired - but that turned out to be entirely false. This incident also happened on our waters - so the matter is pretty serious. However, we are yet to arrest any crew member - not even a single arrest has been made so far! 

3. It's been a slow week. Not much to debate/discuss about. However, to end with - sample this news! The son of the President of India has been caught with cash of Rs. 1 crore! Last week, elections were held for 10 municipalities in Maharashtra, and the son who is also an Congress MLA was caught with this cash tells the media that this was meant for "poor candidates" in the elections! That's all, your honour! 

అదన్నమాట! ఫిబ్రవరి 12-18

రాష్ట్ర అసెంబ్లీ సమావేశాలు మొదలు అయ్యాయి అండి. అనుకునట్టు గానే మొదటి మూడు రోజులు సభ ఏమి చర్చికుండానే వాయద పడింది ! తెలుగు దేశం వాళ్ళు ఏమో మద్యం సిందికెట్లు గురుంచి చర్చించాలి అని పట్టు బట్టారు. తెరాస మరియు భాజపా ఏమో తెలంగాణా గురుంచి చర్చించాలి అని పట్టు బట్టారు ! ప్రబుత్వం ఏమో, అన్ని చర్చిద్దాం - కాని తరువాత చర్చిద్దాం అని చెప్తూ వచ్చింది. ఈ నేపద్యం లో సభ వాయద పడింది ! 

అయితే, బొత్స సత్యనారాయణ గారు తెదేపా మీద విరుచుకుపడ్డారు. ఎందుకు ? ఒక్క మద్యం వ్యాపారం గురుంచి మాత్రమె ఎందుకు మాట్లడుతునారు అని !! రైతులు సమస్యలు ప్రతి పక్షానికి పట్టవ అని అడిగారు !!! ఇదేం విడ్డూరం అండి ! సాక్షాతూ పలక పక్షం వాళ్ళు, ఈ ఒక్క సమస్యే ఎందుకు, మిగతా సమస్యులు గురుంచి కూడా అడగండి అని ఎక్కడైనా చెప్తారా అండి ? ఇన్ని సమస్యలు ఉన్నాయి అని చెప్పకనే చెప్పారు కదా! ఇది సరిపోక, ముఖ్యమంత్రి , ప్రతి పక్ష నాయకుడు కుమ్మక్కు అయ్యారు అని కూడా చెప్పారు అంట! ఇది మన రాజకీయాలు - కాంగ్రెస్స్ పార్టీ అధ్యక్షుడు, తన ముఖ్యమంత్రి మరియు ప్రతిపఖ్స నేత కుమ్మకు అయ్యారు అని చెప్పడం ఎప్పుడైనా విన్నారా అండి ? 

ఇది ఇలా ఉండగా, రాష్ట్ర హై కోర్ట్ చంద్రబాబు మీద విజయమ్మ గారు వేసిన కేసు ని కొట్టి పారేసింది ! ఇక తెదేపా శ్రేణుల్లో సంబరాలు ఆరంభం అయ్యాయి ! అదన్నమాట! 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Trysts with MSM - Part 19: Debate and participation!

MSM stands from Main Stream Media. 

CEO of NDTV, Vikram Chandra tweets this in the morning

On Big Fight this week -- the SIT report and what that means for Narendra Modi. Send in your comments!

And follows it up with

Also, would any of you tweeple who consider Modi the greatest ever like to come to the studio to speak about him?

I ask him back -

But do you have the report? If not, what SIT report will you discuss? @vikramchandra Simple Question. 

He replies back

@ssudhirkumar the various versions of what the report apparently contains?? Come - fly to delhi today!

He asks me to fly to Delhi "today"! 

I decline, saying this

@vikramchandra thanks for the invite. I find the debate patterns on english TV very distracting. thanks, but no thanks!

And I thought that settled the issue. Some well meaning folks have advised to me saying this might be a good chance to put a point across, but since this is a format, against which I wrote a detailed blog just last week, I was not too much inclined. 

Things changed by evening. At 4:06pm and 4:10 pm, Vikram Chandra asks me:

@ssudhirkumar Sudhir? Tell me? can you come to sudio in hyderabad if not in delhi? 5.30 pm today?? 

I was still not keen, plus less than 90 minutes to prepare for a debate is too short a time for me. He further taunts me asking

@ssudhirkumar why do you need to "think and prepare" on the SIT and Narendra Modi? I thought you normally have LOTS to say??

The taunting continued after I said that I do have lots to say, but need to organize thoughts coherently to speak in 1-2 minutes:

@ssudhirkumar so normally your thoughts are NOT coherently organized? Disappointed. Will miss you.

Again some well meaning folks advised it would be a good idea to put a point across, and even I thought that if this opportunity is let go, the taunting of "we gave you an opportunity, you didn't utilise it" will continue. So despite my strong thoughts on the format of the debate, I agreed to part of the debate. 

But since the notice was too short, I couldn't make it to the studio. I am in office, and was willing to be connected through skype etc. 

Here, Vikram Chandra insisted that I have to come to studio. I told him that I am at work and cannot possibly make it to the studio. But he insisted. 

@ssudhirkumar has to be studio! how can i do it on the phone? someone will give you the address

And so I let go. However, he continues

@ssudhirkumar btw, you have put out 57 tweets in the last 3 hours! While at work! Surely you could have found time for the debate?!

I did not expect that he will resort to such cheap shots. I was ready to debate, but not from the studio given the short time. I was willing to participate, but NDTV did not have the technical know-how of organising one other than their studio - how on earth was it my fault? I was told to fly to Delhi in the morning, and in the evening to drive to a studio? 

Upon hindsight - the debate had the following participants: 

@ssudhirkumar format is big fight.. you have to come to studio.. panellists are manish, nirmala, sanjiv bhatt, teesta, ashok malik etc

Maybe it is a good thing, I couldn't get onto the debate :D 

On a more serious note, some folks have accused me of chickening out, running away etc. I do not get the logic at all ! Twitter interactions are as direct as they get - why is participating in a TV debate the sole barrier of "daring"ness? 

We never shied away from any debate, only that we wanted a meaningful format for it. Despite strong thoughts, I did intend to participate given the fact that we live with what we have! Such short time to discuss modalities, and yet somehow I am at fault? 

Anyways, I asked Vikram Chandra to organise a debate on media and told him I will fly down to Delhi then! 

Also, he asked some other folks also to join in - but insisted that it had to be in the studio... so this discussion is not exclusive to me alone! Somehow though, he did find the time to count my tweets! 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fine, let's debate content, not the bias...

In reply to a tweet, Sagarika Ghose says:

"Judge us by the quality of our news..."

We often hear of complaints of bias in the English TV news media. Those who raise this question of bias (in a decent manner too) are dismissed brazenly. At times, we even get to hear things like - Judge us by the content etc. In the above tweet, Sagarika meant her channel, CNN-IBN, but let's extend the scope and discuss the "quality" of content (and not bias) on English TV news channels. 

Media needs to focus on real issues during campaigning. 

No no, that is not my arm-chair and keyboard punditry. In May 2009, in an online chat, I asked Dr. Prannoy Roy this -

What do you think the media has learned from this election?". 

"Dr Prannoy Roy: Interesting question, Sudhir. I think the media has learnt or should have learnt not to sensationalise small events.. serious issues like hunger or unemployment do not come into focus because these are hard to sensationalise. But tiny events like shoe throwing or a bollywood candidate are blown up beyond proportion. So media needs to learn to focus on real issues during campaigning. "

The man who runs NDTV himself admits that they dish out non-serious issues to the viewer. His own words - "So media needs to learn to focus on real issues during campaigning". 

The answer is so depressing to read. "Serious issues are hard to sensationalize" - this is how the english news media is run in our country!

Now, how do these people decide what news is good and viewable? What is their basis to "sensationalize" news? What comprehensive studies have been done to decide that "so and so is what the viewer wants"? Before getting into that question, let's debate "quality" further.

We will first talk about 2 interviews.

On February 10, 2012, NDTV interviewed Sushma Swaraj in a bizzarely titled program called "Truth vs Hype". The video and the transcript are here.

I wish to draw your attention to the last part of this interview:

NDTV: Are you still as strongly opposed to Sonia Gandhi becoming PM as you were?
Sushma Swaraj: As strong as ever. 
NDTV: And the famous three vows that you'd sworn you'd take if she became PM at that time?
Sushma Swaraj: I've no regrets for that. 
NDTV: That you will shave your head, that you will take sanyas?
Sushma Swaraj: I have no regrets for those vows because it still touches my sensibilities.
NDTV: It does?
Sushma Swaraj: It does.
NDTV: And tomorrow in the unlikelihood it was to arise again, would you take the same three vows?
Sushma Swaraj: Same vows and the same movement.  

On March 26, 2011 (about 10 months back), NDTV had another exhaustive interview with Sushma Swaraj . And in this interview too - Sushma Swaraj gets asked the same question

Barkha Dutt: Now, two questions. You say you are the same Sushma Swaraj. You were always like this. But the country also remembers the Sushma Swaraj who said she would shave off her head if Sonia Gandhi ever became the Prime Minister.

Sushma Swaraj made these comments in 2004. 8 years ago. She again gets asked about it in 2011 and then again in 2012. Same question, they get the same answer. 

Leave the gap between 2004 and 2012. Just between March 2011 and Feb 2012, so much water has flowed. Sushma Swaraj was praised by the media for her fiery and content based speeches in Lok Sabha. Show me one interview on english TV news where she was questioned about the issues and content in those speeches?

Take a look at the content of both the interviews - different people are interviewing her. In the 2012 interview, notice how the interviewer repeats the questions. Sushma says she felt ashamed (about the Karnataka episode), the interviewer wants to know if she felt terrible also! I mean, why? Watch the interview - you will see how the interviewer just does not want to divert from the topic. Later, he first asks her about the "famous three vows". Then after she answers, he tells us what those three words are! I mean, why?

Also notice, how little of *actual issues* of election are discussed in the interview. Three years after Dr. Prannoy Roy's wisdom filled words (that don't match actions), *this* is what we get? This is not unique to NDTV alone. Rajdeep Sardesai gets to interview BJP's national President about a week back. Instead of asking about real issues, he concentrates excessively on why Narendra Modi is not campaigning in UP. When asked why the manifesto of BJP was not discussed (full interview yet to be uploaded), he says:

Modi, UP campaign and Karnataka were today's issues! other issues can be discussed on other days

I was curious as to how one can discuss UP campaign without discussing manifesto and agenda of the party, but then...

Anyways, let's get back to the 2011 interview of NDTV. The interviewer is not happy with her straight answer on the CVC controversy. She goes on and on - 11 questions/interventions. Sample these two at different instances:

Barkha Dutt: Did you feel put down and snubbed in public, when he said that?
Sushma Swaraj: No, not at all.

couple of minutes later:

Barkha Dutt: But the fact is you were publicly contradicted by your party president on this issue.
Sushma Swaraj: I am saying I am admitting it that I was overruled.
Barkha Dutt: Did that make you feel that you wish he had said it to you in private instead of saying it in public?
Barkha Dutt: But the fact is you were publicly contradicted by your party president on this issue.

Sushma Swaraj: I am saying I am admitting it that I was overruled.

Barkha Dutt: Did that make you feel that you wish he had said it to you in private instead of saying it in public?

Why should the same question be re-worded and asked again and again. These journalists take umbrage when follow-up questions are asked on twitter - and they go about doing this repetitive stuff. There are some meaningful questions in both the interviews, but the repetitiveness and the desire to obtain some form of sound byte or the other has seeped into the TV system very badly. 

These interviews are just an example. Most interviews happen in this mould only - interviews of Karan Thapar are another prime example of wanting to cover multiple topics within a short time frame. 

Or let's consider their debate formats. Take a look at the snapshot below. 

This is pretty much the format followed across all tv channels. In this particular example, 8 people debating the Lokpal bill, and the debate ends in 20 minutes! The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha discussed this bill for about 12-13 hours each

What quality can you expect from such "debates"? 8 people shouting over each other's arguments. Some get only about a minute to make their case. Add to this - the moderation by the anchor. Do we really expect that such debates will be content based? These debates only mis-lead the viewer to the maximum possible extent. I personally experienced even how alert folks mis-interpreted stances by watching these debates. Doesn't the viewer deserve better?

IBN Live also runs a 30 minute show at 10pm - "Face the nation". 7-8 minutes go into advertisements. Another 7-8 minutes go into the anchor trying to pose queries/interrupt the panel. So what we are left with is 15 minutes. Believe it or not - in these 15 minutes, topics as serious as reservation, corruption and as mundane as book reviews are debated! How exactly do we ensure detailed content in such a short time? 

Speaking about names of the shows -

Prime time on english news channels is 8pm to 11 pm. NDTV runs a debate at 8 pm, 9 pm and 10 pm. Often times the same topic is debated, with different panelists (who offer no new perspective). I grabbed a couple of screen shots, when the same topic was debated on all three slots. 

You might argue that the specific topic above is very important - but the above example is the rule, not an exception! On another day - we had 

  • The 9 pm show is pompously titled "India decides at 9". I had a debate with the CEO on how they can run a show with that name, given that they don't represent entire India. He scoffed at me, and later tells that since he is also not a big fan of that name, it will be changed. It hasn't happened till date.
  • The 10 pm show is pompously titled "The Buck Stops here". I don't recall a single episode where the buck actually stopped somewhere. People debate; everyone shouts their views; and the shows ends. Why should such names be tolerated?
  • Atleast the 8pm show is named better - Left, Right and Centre. And more often than not, all three shows debate the same issues. 

Times NOW calls it's primetime show as "Newshour" and more often than not, the show ends up running for hours! On this particular show, more than the nomenclature, the content is again very distracting to the viewer! The anchor plays judge jury witness lawyer and what not! 

I haven't watched Headlines Today much...not because of any aversion but just never found the time. But I am pretty sure nothing is drastically different on that channel either. 

Essentially, either the same topic is debated with same points being made by different panelists or too little time is devoted to debate important issues. 

Take the example of any big ticket item - 2G scam for example. How many of us have become better informed on this by just watching the news channels? My bet - none! There's only sensation all around (sample this interaction with Bhupendra Chaube). Contrast that to print - read this timeline by the journalist who exposed it. Can anyone find such a link on any english TV channel? 

Let's take the hottest topic right now (no, not the Karnataka porn thing). The elections to the five states. Here's another challenge - Ask any ardent viewer of any english TV channel the names of all the five states that went/are going to the polls! How many will be able to name all of them? Why blame the hapless viewer? He/she is being fed with an overdose of UP elections. 

Fine, then does the viewer know what the main parties stand for in UP elections? No - that's because again the concentration is on "small events" (as is evident from a couple of samples above).

Then you might ask me - why should you care? 

You might say (and many anchors actually say this too) - If you don't like them, don't watch them. The point is not about liking, but being scared about the influence these journos hold. Where do they hold this influence? 

1. This issue was addressed in earlier blog on Mr. Ghulam Fai, written in CRI. Many of these journalists are part of, what is called Track-2 diplomacy with Pakistan! But we never know what exactly happens there! Most of the invitees from both sides of the border are retired officials, journalists and analysts. What qualifications do they have to run "diplomacy" between the two countries? Does the "qualification" depend on their airtime? The amount of shrieking on TV? Sagarika Ghose was part of track-2 once - how exactly is she qualified to hold talks? Isn't it disturbing to note that these people wield such kind of power?

2. These english TV news channels have some reach. According to a survey - 0.4% of total viewership - which roughly translates to ~25 lakh people. But I would imagine the viewership will be much higher than that. Maybe in ~1 crore ball park. That's quite a significant amount of population lapping up mis-informed views on a daily basis. 

In my opinion, an ignorant voter is worse than those who don't vote. This ignorance stems from watching such ill-informed debates/programs. Why should any voter be mis-guided and mis-informed? One might like the "style" of presentation by an anchor and watch the program - now what if the content is zilch in it? Doesn't it become our responsibility to call this bluff? 

3. English news channels are the ones watched outside India. The impression of certain sections of the world is formed by looking at these channels and their programs. Do we really want such bizarre content going out to the world out there?

So, coming back to the first question - What is their basis to "sensationalize" news? At times, we hear this argument that the news channels are just giving what the viewer wants. We are yet to find one comprehensive study that actually says that this what the viewer wants! What is this TRP rating system that everyone rants about? We do not even know how the system works, that everyone puts out ratings like the one below! 

On a lighter note, if you feel this blog has concentrated more on NDTV, then you have your answer above ;) 

Feedback mechanism

What is the feedback mechanism available? Very limited! NDTV does not even have a "" mail ID !! You can write directly to their anchors/editors/CEO but I think you know the chances of getting a reply back are bleak ( though I must mention that I came to know their mail ID's recently only and sent 3 mails on different topics, 2 were responded back to. earlier mails to were a waste of time)! 

Rajdeep Sardesai is very good at replying back to mails. He makes it a point to address the points raised in the mail. But then one cannot expect to write to him about every small thing, right? Atleast for me, the mail ID bounces back each time I sent a mail! 

I never wrote to TIMES NOW, but don't recall anyone saying they wrote to them and were replied to. 

The other feedback mechanism is twitter. Some anchors reply mostly to praise tweets. Some seldom interact. Some spit and scoot. Plus twitter is not an official medium to obtain feedback! 

This one time, Sagarika Ghose of IBN even blatantly lied to the viewers on her show. It snowballed into a big controversy - IBN apologised for the mistake but she was brazening it out on twitter. Only after a full 2 days, did she fully accept the mistake. 

Any discussion on TV media is incomplete without Radia tapes. Leave aside the rantings of bloggers, even journalists were appalled as to how the whole thing was handled by the media!

So then, What is the solution? 

Journalism needs to rediscover its soul.

Again, not my keyboard punditry. Rajdeep Sardesai said so, just a couple of days back. 

Or Barkha Dutt who had this to say last week - 

If you believe Twitter or TV, every issue in India is trapped in a Liberal Left vs Conservative Right polarised debate. These labels boring

The point she quite obviously misses here is that no one person can control the debate on twitter, but she can atleast control the debate on her TV! 

These kind of occasional sanctimonious utterings have become normal for us viewers/readers/tweeters. CNN-IBN atleast has a few positive programs in their kitty - their Citizen Journalists, India Positive, Real Heroes capture positive and inspiring news from across India. 

The point I was trying to make here is this - the very guys that run this medium are disenchanted with how it is being run, and yet somehow don't make an attempt to change it! 

As a small attempt, I have tried to write to the editors and interact with journos on twitter, to try and see if I can get my point across. A series of 8 letters to Editors Guild regarding coverage issues etc, a series of 18 different interactions with these folks on twitter (these are just the documented ones), letters to the editor, multiple blog posts that discuss the coverage in the TV media (some full, some in part - totalling more than 100). There is actually nothing new for me to add to the already existing documentation. Suffice it to say - we need better quality of news delivered to us on TV. They need to stop their brazen craving for generalization and sensationalism. 

I have one more appeal to make. There are some folks online who make some excellent arguments on media - but unfortunately tend to use derogatory language to make some points. Though the anguish is understandable, the argument is lost in that din. Please resist from using such language. There are some (very very few) who always use abusive language. This blogpost is not for them! 

Fine, but when will this blogpost end? 

Now! :)

Thanks for reading!