26 November 2012 Last Page

Delhi Diary

The print media knows it is drinking in the Last Chance Saloon, yet does nothing. Do we have a death wish?
Delhi Diary

Clean house

What a grim Diwali we’ve just had. Everywhere doom and gloom mounts. The depressing mood in Delhi was heightened by the pollution which hung from the skies like a dark cloud. You could see the despondency on people’s faces as they went about their customary Diwali shopping without discernible enthusiasm.

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Could things get worse? It does not seem possible, but don’t count on it. Those who rule us and those who are getting ready to rule us, pretend all is normal or almost normal given the “international situation”. It is the media which is spreading the negativity. To respond to these charges is a waste of time. Either our leaders don’t step out of their air-conditioned cars and Lutyens bungalows or they are pathologically delusional. The crooks are catching the crooks and claiming they are “cleaning the system”. One doesn’t know whether to cry or laugh.

People like me in the media can no longer get up on our soap-box and preach morality. Our own house is dangerously dysfunctional, riddled with venality. For a long time, corruption in the media has been either ignored or suppressed by the media themselves. At an Editors Guild meeting six months ago, I proposed that all editors voluntarily declare their assets and these be regularly updated and put up on the guild’s website. Nothing happened. Some of us have been repeatedly warning that external self-regulation for the print media can no longer be put off. Alas, each paper insists on regulating itself through its own corrections/clarifications column. Now, it is hardly a secret that editors hate acknowledging they have published fabricated news; even if a correction is printed, it is tucked away on an inside page. We vilify a person on the front page, and put the regret on page 17! In the past few days, the director-general of the BBC, who is also its editor-in-chief, resigned taking responsibility for a mistake the BBC had made. How many editors-in-chief in India would do that? The print media is drinking in the Last Chance Saloon. It knows it is drinking in the Last Chance Saloon, yet does nothing. Do we have a death wish?

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Cash down

Full disclosure: Most of my life’s savings and a few investments are in HSBC. I moved to the bank nearly seven years ago because I have known the country head, Naina Lal Kidwai, from my Pioneer days. She is well in with the political movers and shakers roaming the capital and I can confirm she is a terrific lady. How she got into this mess is as bewildering as Rajat Gupta’s criminality. I pray Naina happens to be just incompetent and ignorant about what was going on in her bank.

A friend who used to work for a foreign bank told me Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan were spot on. Although he didn’t know about the sordid money laundering in HSBC, his bank had people on the staff specifically tasked to facilitate the opening of secret Swiss Bank accounts. The facilitators acted as middle-men by providing the appropriate contacts while the gentlemen from Dubai would fly down, collect the loot from the client—and there the role of the bank would end. According to my informant, the bank made obscene sums of money on each deal. When he told his bank about the activities of these nefarious people, he was told to mind his own business. Frightening!

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Letter bin

Reading Ramachandra Guha’s instructive and entertaining piece, part of his new book  Patriots and Partisans (Penguin) in Outlook last week, I was reminded of my own experience. The bulk of letters I have received from the same tribe in the past 17 years, if not more, have been along similar lines. My traducers, however, besides being upper caste, humourless and resident overseas (mainly the US) also displayed weird sexual fantasies. I understand they are known as bestiality in the trade. My critics wanted my dog Editor to do perverse carnal things to me, and me to him. That is what they thought I was fit for. Frequently, these worthies would include Mrs Mehta in the perversion. Speculating about this menage-a-trois presumably gave them enormous thrill. These gents did not know Editor has been neutered and therefore has no sexual impulse. Were the letters abominably composed? Some, but most if not literary masterpieces, were quite acceptable and could have been printed in Outlook. Unfortunately, I did not preserve them. After sharing them with other editors at the morning conference, they would go into the bin. We had a good laugh—something my fault-finders were incapable of.

Pooch queries

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Some of Editor’s fans have asked why I don’t mention him in my diary anymore. Well, I thought he is passe. Anyway, he is growing old and not making any news. If he does anything disgraceful, I’ll keep you informed.

Last Week

I was reliably informed that Girish Karnad’s next target is a third-rate playwright called W. Shakespeare.

Vinod Mehta is editorial chairman, Outlook, and its founding editor-in-chief; E-mail your diarist: vmehta AT outlookindia.com

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or just type initial letters