On the occasion of World Press Feedom on May 3, top journalists and politicians held a panel discussion on the 'Limits of Dissent' at the Mumbai Press Club.
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In front of a massive gathering, Outlook Editor-in-Chief Krishna Prasad, NDTV's Sreenivasan Jain, Mid-Day Editor Sachin Kalbag (Moderator), senior journalist Shekhar Gupta and Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu debated on the topic.
Ten months into his term as Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi has graced the Indian media with his first-ever interview after taking over the country's premiership. Amidst increasing voices of disapproval over its proposed changes to the Land Acquisition Bill — which has been branded anti-poor — and concerns over his government’s lack of performance by industrialists, Modi has taken stock of his achievements of the last 10 months in this exclusive interview to Hindustan Times.
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Although the interview is in Q&A format, the questions are more like sub-heads. They are there, but they don't ask much. Both the questions and the answers seem to move towards a pre-determined goal — to highlight the PM's achievements.
Media houses paid their tributes to the last great editor, Vinod Mehta, who died on the morning of March 8.
Mr Mehta, the founding Editor-in-Chief of Outlook, left his indelible mark on journalism for his wit, freshness of approach and integrity.
Some obituaries from colleagues and fellow-journalists:
Chandan Mitra in his tribute in The Pioneer calls him "An Editor From Beginning to End"
"Vinod’s qualities as a writer are sufficiently well known to merit recall. But as an editor, he was universally applauded not for his scholastic understanding or linguistic flourish, but the sheer simplicity of prose. I always found him to be a man who knew his limits as a journalist.
Never an intrepid reporter running around to break news stories, Mehta came up trumps because of his uncanny ability to package a story. This set a trend at a time when Indian journalism was mostly glorified stenography, merely reporting which politician said what. He was less concerned about a paper’s lead story and more about whether the gossip items in the daily Diary column were juicy enough."
The Hindu in its article penned by Smita Gupta says that his demise marke the "End of an Era in Journalism".
"If he had an unerring instinct for a good story, he also knew precisely how to spin a done to death story to extend its shelf life. He revelled in controversies and scandals. At Outlook — where I worked for six years — editorial meetings were always brief: if you had not pitched your idea with almost headline-like brevity, you were in danger of losing his attention. When your story was written, he knew exactly what needed to be elaborated on, sometimes pushing you to say what you had hesitated to say. Always democratic, he never held a disagreement on a story anyone might have had with him against that person. He was never pompous. Mr. Mehta, of course, was not infallible; if he had dismissed a reporter’s assessment and then found later that he was wrong, he might not have apologised, but he would make it up to the reporter swiftly — for instance, by handing out a plum assignment."
The article in The Indian Express , written by Coomi Kapoor throws light on The Lucknow Boy's journalistic journey.
"Vinod was an iconoclast who brought a breath of fresh air into the fairly conservative world of journalism of the nineteen eighties. He had an unconventional approach towards editing newspapers, brimming with ideas he was shorn of any pomposity. He started out in the profession as editor of Debonair magazine, known then more for its steamy semi-nude centre spreads than its literary content. But Vinod introduced thought provoking articles to give the magazine a new character. From Debonair he went on to launch a new Sunday tabloid , the Sunday Observer, whose chatty informal style and out-of-the-box approach to displaying stories, pioneered a new form of Sunday reading. The political gossip column became a staple along with human interest pieces on the high and the mighty."
While Anjali Puri in her obituary in Business Standard talks about his editorial finesse.
"At editorial meetings, his eyes lit up at the hint of scandal and controversy, and he was deeply suspicious of what he saw as preachiness or pretentiousness in a writer, though sometimes respectful of genuine erudition and originality. The worst thing he could say about a prospective columnist or a book reviewer was “boring as hell”. Stories are legion about Mehta’s knack of packaging a story more boldly than a nervous reporter had intended, especially since he was never too weighed down by political correctness. Once, in his Mumbai days, he famously gave a serious piece by a feminist writer on the pressures on women to conform to depilation and conventional norms of femininity, the headline: “ I love my hairy legs”."
Arnab Goswami pays his rich tribute in Times of India calling him a man of immense integrity but thoroughly unpredictable.
"In this complicated world where journalism has come to coexist with intrigue, agenda, lobbies and motive, Vinod was the one editor who wasn't looking over his shoulder to check what others thought of his news stories or his opinion. Vinod, I will miss you. You were the most straightforward man I have dealt with. The kindest human being I have known."
M J Akbar in Economic Times says Mehta always lived the life of an editor.
He talks about his honesty and fearless attitude and the decision-making capability as an editor.
"This much must be said of him, and for most of his contemporaries: they did not confuse integrity with heroism. It was simply a non-negotiable part of their job, an aspect of generational inheritance, for Indian journalism has great men and women of enormous honesty and brilliance in its hall of greats. Vinod Mehta wore his honesty lightly. That is why it looked so comfortable upon him."
Saika Datta, who was his previous colleague at Outlook, writes how Mehta always stood by him and other fellow journalists, in Hindustan Times.
"Early in my career with him, as I chased down a major arms deal and its attendant kickbacks, the arms dealers were trying their best to shut down the story. They were filing suits in courts, seeking injunctions to ensure that the next story could be killed before publication.
But Mr Mehta gently put an affectionate arm around my shoulder one evening, probably aware of the tension that had crept into my face. “Don’t worry my friend,” he said, “if we go down, we will go down together. Just do your story and I will handle the rest”. Then, he walked away."
Anil Dharker in Hindustan Times talks about the journey with the 'Editor Unplugged'.
"What distinguished Vinod from his contemporaries was that he was no respecter of reputations, and politicians particularly were the objects of his mockery. That’s why when he moved to Delhi, he never developed a cosy relationship with ministers and politicians. His run-ins with proprietors was partly a result of this at-arms-length attitude. His falling out with Vijaypat Singhania at The Indian Post and LM Thapar’s Pioneer were spectacular in their suddenness, but he was stubborn in not following any diktats. In the battle that ensued someone had to go. Obviously that was the Editor."
Tarun Tejpal who worked as the managing editor of Outlook writes in the Mumbai Mirror:
One of the first impressions that formed was that of the two great editors with whom I worked - Aroon Purie [of India Today] and Vinod - the first was good with the solid story while the other had a thing for the hot story.
It became amply evident to the reporters who worked at Outlook that, unlike Purie, Vinod would not plunge into the minutiae of their workday lives. No one had to hew to a prescribed editorial line and the Editor-in-Chief would allow each one of us enough room to do our job unimpeded.
Principally, these were the gifts that remained with Vinod wherever he went and whatever he helmed - the Sunday Observer, Indian Post, The Independent, Pioneer Debonair and Outlook - openness, the pattern of seeking the gossipy side to a story, of being vivacious in his approach to the piece and, always, having a great big adventure.
Ajaz Asharf writes in the Firstpost:
But for all those who had worked under his helm, Vinod’s most exemplary and endearing quality was the democratic spirit he spawned in the organization he led. Editors are mostly authoritarian, inspiring fear and silence and revolting obsequiousness. Vinod chose to create a relatively flat world, where there were designations symbolizing responsibilities more than degrees of power. Even the most junior staffer could swing into his office; he wasn’t “Sir” but Vinod; you could toss four-letter words at him as frequently as he did at you.
Smruti Koppikar, his previous colleague at Outlook, writes in Scroll:
He belonged to the rare and diminishing breed of editors who did not court people in high offices or flaunt his friendships with the mighty names of our times. He lived, ate, drank, drove, worked and worried about old age in a commonplace manner that many of us do.
It was his voice that stood out. Over the 40-odd years of his journalism, through the years in Debonair, The Sunday Observer, The Indian Post, The Independent, The Pioneer and Outlook, his voice came to stand for some of the most cherished values in journalism and public affairs: integrity, independence, irreverence and impartiality. He was the liberal iconoclast in the true sense, with slices of scathing wit and rare humility.
Ajith Pillai, another former colleague, writes in Scroll:
At one point, rather early in his career, it had become fashionable to say that Vinod Mehta knows nothing but his paper has credibility. So one must use the space he provides. A rather skewed logic, which did not bother him one bit. I worked with him for over 25 years and I can say that he simply judged stories on their merit and not because of their ideological tilt. This is perhaps why so many left- inclined journalists, human-rights activists and feminists were keen to write for him. At the same time, he accommodated right-wing views and stories provided they stood the test of reason.
The Editor's Guild issued a statement on Vinod Mehta's death, which they called 'a grievous loss to the media world':
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In the passing of Vinod Mehta, the media world has lost a liberal, independent voice and the world of public discourse in India a reflective contributor who spoke his mind without rancour or fear. The veteran journalist who build up several publications, including Outlook in his last innings, was of an exceedingly generous spirit and has been a mentor and guide to scores of journalists. Gentle in manner and speech, yet firm in his views, he maintained a scrupulous distance and independence from political leaders and parties and was held in great respect by all in media, politics, industry and academia.
The Editors Guild of India of which he had been president will miss his wise counsel and guiding hand, and the media and the public policy worlds his thoughtful and perceptive observations.
On Jan 11, PTI reported that a Greenpeace India activist, Priya Pillai, was stopped from boarding a flight at Delhi airport to London, where she was scheduled to address British Parliamentarians on the 'infringement of rights of forest communities'.
On Jan 12, Pillai shot off a letter to the Home Ministry seeking an explanation for forbidding her from leaving the country.
However, when asked to comment on the issue, Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami told reporters, "I have no idea (about the incident). Let me get a report... I shall seek a report."
An editorial on the incident in the Mint said:
"The substantial point is, should a government curb such freedom when a person plans to travel abroad and campaign against the country’s economic security? For example, activism against thermal and nuclear power plants that can imperil energy security of the Indian people? The answer is not clear-cut.
Denial of liberty may sound atrocious but endangering of economic security is a far worse proposition."
The piece created quite a stir on Twitter:
The Indian Express, in its Jan 14 editorial, says:
"A nation which wants to project itself as a serious power should have the confidence to tolerate dissent and deal with bad publicity...It should remember that if Bangladesh embarrasses India with better development indices, some of the credit goes to its flourishing NGO sector, which complements services delivered by government. The social sector should be seen as a partner in the process of development, not a political adversary paid in dollars to lobby for alien agendas and foment dissatisfaction in the countryside. Lobbying and activism are legitimate acts. The government’s response should be to negotiate. The puerile alternative of offloading inconvenient people mars the image of confident maturity that India is trying to project."
Another report in the Indian Express dated Jan 22 says:
"Days after Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai was offloaded from a flight to London at the IGI airport in Delhi, it has emerged that the Intelligence Bureau (IB) used the "etc" category in an internal order of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to issue the lookout circular that stopped her from flying out. This was done as there was no criminal case against Pillai, officials said."
Mass organisations and concerned individuals issued a statement condemning state intimidation against activists and people’s groups:
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"We, the undersigned, unequivocally condemn the ‘offloading’ of environmental activist Priya Pillai, associated with Greenpeace India, at the Delhi airport on 11th January 2015...It then appears that the decision was made solely by intelligence agencies on basis of ‘national interest’. Rather than an isolated case, it seems that the NDA Government and intelligence agencies are making a habit of preventing activists from travelling abroad for meetings."