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Posts tagged ‘Social Networking’

Lessons for “V d Tweeple” & “We the people” on forging India ahead

“Kuch Kar Guzarne ko khoon chala, koon chala” (The blood stirred to do something), is an immensely inspirational song from the Hindi film “Rang De Basanti”. Over the last few weeks, my blood has boiled, rather than stir, at an immense sense of shame over being a mute spectator to India’s cancerous growth of corruption. Corruption across public institutions and political parties in India is no news, its something we have lived with throughout our history. But the last few months have seen scandals of shocking magnitude been exposed with wide-reaching ramifications. Throughout our history, we have relied on a combination of multiple bodies to make sure that the corruption is kept relatively at check, exposed when out of control, and the guilty are brought to justice even if it is late in the day. These include, but are not limited to: the Central Bureau of investigation (CBI), the judiciary, the Comptroller Audit general (CAG), the Lok Ayukta, and principally the mainstream media (MSM) whom we relied on to give us a relatively accurate picture of what is going on. One by one, the integrity of these bodies itself, has been questioned, but today we face a very dark day when the integrity of the MSM is under immense scrutiny, and thus leaving the average Indians gaping at a cloudy prism of information, without knowing what to believe, and what not to believe. It all started with the leak of tapped conversations between Niira Radia, an influential corporate lobbyist, in the public domain, a few months back, and later by Open & Outlook magazines in mid November, 2010. These magazines exposed her conversations with politician, her corporate clients, and significantly, respected Indian journalists who mould public opinion, and throw a light into the intense behind the scenes activity and lobbying to place the right man in the lucrative telecom ministry of India in 2009, to tap financial benefit from having their man. That man itself, is Mr. A. Raja, who had to quit his post as telecom minister in November 2010, when it was established that the auction of 2G Telecom spectrum to operators, has been rigged by him, and has cost India at least 39 Billion USD (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._Raja). He is from the DMK party, which is a Tamil regional party, which is an ally of the ruling congress party.

It is indeed a tragic irony, that India which has been a strong driver of the “Information age” that we live in, is in danger of being blinded and misled by the MSM, and collectively failed to deal with the truth on time, in what is known as the “Radia tapes” controversy. The controversy itself would not have been known to a majority of Indians, if the social media / twitterati / netizens did not find the courage, drive and intelligence to fight the organized mass media blackout, that was orchestrated to protect a few influential journalists from public scrutiny.

Today, there are many un answered and worrying questions that I attempt to structure and address them in one essay This would be a detailed, candid, deeply introspective, yet solution seeking blog. I would touch upon multiple aspects of the functioning of our media, corporate, political system and civil society, but cannot claim insider knowledge on many topics, and hence would leave you with probably more questions than answers.

First up, since this is going to be a very political and controversial subject, I need to add a disclaimer here. I write this, and all my blogs as a private citizen, and a common Indian. I do not represent any company, group, party, ideology or internet activism group on my blogs. There are multiple vested stakeholders and average citizens engaging in shrill discussions online with the mass media, and I do not support or oppose any particular view point. Rather, I believe each person is more than capable of speaking for himself, as I am doing now. For a further understanding of my identity to those who do know me, kindly read the section “About me” before you proceed further.

The big questions in our minds:

1. What are undisputed the facts of the matter, as established news publications, and as acknowledged by the public figures involved? What exactly are the accusations? Has any financial undoing been established, directly or indirectly? If, not why are some of us making such a big deal out of it?

2. Who are the broad constituents of MSM; those are relevant to this discussion? Is the state of affairs in regional / vernacular / not so big media houses, the same as MSM, better, or worse? How has the MSM reaction, coverage, and analysis evolved over the course of last few weeks? Are we saying that the entire MSM is rotten, or are there still very respectable voices we listen to? Now that the MSM has finally discussed the journalists’ names on print and T.V, is it necessary to air these tapes to the general public?

3. What are hashtags like #barkhagate and who created these terms? Are they by any means affiliated to any religious, political group, or informal entity such as #internethindus? If not, why is this categorization by the MSM dangerous to the civil society?

4. Why is internet community so shrill in seeking the sacking of specific journalists, and are they behaving like a “lynch mob”? What is the historical context towards the immense hostility shown by thousands of netizens towards the MSM? Why is one particular journalist, Barkha Dutt the face of the debate, when so many more people are involved? Don’t we know that everywhere in the world, journalists are bound to be ideologically biased, and seeking to further interests of corporate that have stake in their media houses? Are we netizens naive, or is there a reason in asking for a utopian level of ethics from our MSM?

5. What lays beyond the tapes, in terms of corporate – political – public institution corrupt practices? Isn’t the corruption and nexus cutting across the political parties Is a smoke screen being created by some to divert public attention to the Radia tapes, and ignore the massive government scandals?

6. Is the 4th estate completely compromised, or is there hope for it to emerge stronger? How can the MSM co-exist with the ever growing clout of the informal internet based social media activists (5th estate) , and is it possible to look at this as mutually beneficial and healthy relationship? What is the tremendous positive opportunity that this historic moment in our country presenting to the average citizen as well as the mainstream media? Should, and how should the so called or informal internet based social media co-exist with the organized media? In the age of wiki leaks, is it possible for traditional and informal media to live in isolation?

What are undisputed the facts of the matter, as established news publications, and as acknowledged by the public figures involved? What exactly are the accusations? Has any financial undoing been established, directly or indirectly? If, not why are some of us making such a big deal out of it?

Here, is a brief summary of what started off as a small story of leaked Radia tapes a few months back, and what spiraled into a fire known as #Barkhagate. The wikipedia page on the Radia tapes controversy captures the summary quite accurately “The Radia tapes controversy relates to the telephonic conversations between Nira Radia, a professional lobbyist and an acquaintance of the (then) Indian telecom minister A. Raja, with senior journalists, politicians, and corporate houses, taped by the Indian Income Tax Department in 2008-09. The tapes led to accusations of misconduct by many of these people. Nira Radia runs a public relations firm named Vaishnavi Communications, whose clients include Ratan Tata’s Tata Group and Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries”.

The people whom Radia interacted with in the course of her work, and whose voices have featured on the tapes available in the public domain so far, read like a “Who is who” of Indian public life:

Politicians: Raja, former Telecommunication and IT Minister; Kanimozhi, Rajya Sabha MP; N.K. Singh, Rajya Sabha MP

Journalists: Barkha Dutt, Group editor, English news, NDTV; M.K. Venu, senior business journalist ; Prabhu Chawla, editor of India Today magazine; Rajdeep Sardesai; Shankar Aiyar, then with India Today Group; Vir Sanghvi, HT advisory editorial director

Industry Heads: Ratan Tata, Tata Group; Tarun Das, former CII head; (Mention of) Mukesh Ambani, Reliance Industries; Manoj Modi, Reliance Industries

Others: Ranjan Bhattacharya (foster son-in-law of former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee); Suhel Seth, management guru and columnist

It has to be said here, that from what has been leaked to the public domain of the 5,000 odd conversations that are available with the IT department, most conversations are not of journalistic, public value. These are everyday conversations X or Y could have. Some of the conversations show a strong degree of lobbying, while in some it is very mild innuendo, and cannot be taken as any gesture of wrong doing.

These tapes were first published in the Open Magazine, and then the Outlook magazine, in Mid November: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/nation/some-telephone-conversations

http://outlookindia.com/article.aspx?268069

Outlook and the Wall Street Journal are the few publications of repute that have covered these conversations, view points, in great detail, and have sections of their online portals dedicated to this topic. There is a treasure trove of information on these sites, that I request you to read, and there is no way I can repeat them here. I salute the editors of these publications along with my social media friends, for contributing facts and views to this debate.

None of the people named in the tapes, originally disputed the conversations were authentic, or the voice was not theirs. As the public outrage grew, some of the journalists maintained that though the voices were indeed theirs, selective parts of the conversations were strong together to present a not so faithful account.

Here are examples of some of the late clarifications, after intense to very valuable critical view points for more than a week, a sufficient time to prepare a strong defense:

http://www.ndtv.com/page/?type=barkha-statement

http://www.virsanghvi.com/CounterPoint-ArticleDetail.aspx?ID=582

http://outlookindia.com/article.aspx?268162

The Congress party initially claimed these tapes cannot be verified, in a shocking statement of denial, and hasn’t followed that up with a more updated version of the truth, the last time I checked. The BJP made mild noises in the parliament on the tapes, but the fact that it hasn’t made as much noise as you would expect from the leading opposition parties, is probably a function of its house not being in order on corruption scandals and the anxiety that the other tapes, may feature potentially embarrassing conversations for its parties. More worryingly, it may not want to antagonize its already poor relations with the MSM. The BJP did however make a demand that the JPC probe into the 2G scam should feature the Radia tapes. We may probably never know the truth on why the BJP is so quiet on this and failing tactically and morally as an opposition.

Ratan Tata, has moved the courts to block the tapes from being accessible to the public, and gave an interview to Shekhar Gupta of Indian expressing discussing how potentially this was a ploy to divert attention from the bigger 2G scam: http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/news/walk-the-talk-with-ratan-tata/178312by

NONE of the conversations I have heard so far prove any direct financial mal practice or a quid pro quo, material wise. But most of the conversations reveal a broad agenda of Ms Radia to ensure that her clients benefited by having the right ministers in the right places, by having the journalists echo her clients’ view point in their columns or stories, and by using the journalists as go-betweeners or conduits between her corporate interests and the political party in power, the congress.

The broad issues that the critics of the journalists and MSM have pointed out, can be summarized as follows:

A. The journalists, have long been suspected of a strong left-liberal, pro congress bias, which by itself is perfectly fine, but something they have denied all along. These conversations indicate how close the journalists are to the ruling congress. Or at least, how close they claim to be.

B. As a journalist who was privy to an in depth understanding of how corporate were trying to lobby for ministries, favoring terms, this should have been the biggest journalistic story of their lives. Yet, none of them have published these stories, or hinted to the general public of the behind the scenes affairs. Thus even if they did absolutely nothing wrong, they failed massively in their duties as journalists of repute.

C. They promised acts that went way beyond their bounds as journalists. Thus, they misused the power of access that their employer gave them, for their personal agenda.

D. Once the tapes were leaked, by refusing to discuss them in their news channels, by refusing to air them on their channels or publish the transcripts on their papers, and by denying the critical public a credible explanation, until absolutely forced to by the social media activism, they have made what was a fleeting suspicion of wrongdoing, look like an attempt to bury the truth. There is absolutely no way to explain this attempted full black out, which is presently an attempt to massage the discussion in their favor

Who are the broad constituents of MSM relevant to this discussion? Is the state of affairs in regional / vernacular / not so big media houses, the same as MSM, better, or worse? How has the MSM reaction, coverage, and analysis evolved over the course of last few weeks? Are we saying that the entire MSM is rotten, or are there still very respectable voices we listen to? Now that the MSM has finally discussed the journalists’ names on print and T.V, is it necessary to air these tapes to the general public?

For the sake of discussion, I would refer to the large English newspapers, T.V channels, and their regional affiliates as the MSM. It is not possible for me to discuss the role of every regional news channel or newspaper, and hence the discussion would focus purely on the response, reactions of the MSM.

At the same time, I have to convey my inference from the few public debates I have heard on this debate, which the mess in regional and small news channels / papers is far worse, and there is a worrying lack of strong media guidelines being created, let alone enforced. The mess in Indian media, was captured wonderfully in the movie that satirized Indian media “Peepli Live”, and is India’s official entry to this years Oscars as the foreign film.

Outlook was one of the few credible MSM groups that ran the story with detailed follow-ups. Subsequently the only coverage it received (in rough chronological order) was from Washington post, Wall Street Journal, Deccan Herald, Express Buzz, The Hindu, Times Now, and CNN-IBN.

This is not to say that all of the Indian media is dumb and un ethical. Across the political spectrum of viewpoints, we still have active journalists like P. Sainath of the Hindu just to take an example, who remain loyal to their profession’s soul and write about topics we tend to ignore in a lucid, intelligent way. But, to the vast majority of the public, the NDTVs, CNN IBNS, Times Nows, Indian Expresses, Times of India, and Hindustan Times represent the English MSM

Last Friday, CNN-IBN had a panel show conducted by Karan Thapar, that was the first time that any news channel I follow, referred to Barkha, Vir, Venu, and Chawla’s names on air.

Sagarika Ghose of IBN, acknowledged the social media pressure that made her news channel take this up more seriously that it initially did on twitter, when she tweeted “OK twitterati please can you stop bombarding me with barkhagate. YES it’s a wake up call, YES we are all looking inward, YES we will all act!”

So, if by the time you read this blog, you have already heard a debate on this topic in public, and wonder why the hell I am making such a noise, please remember that if not for people like us, you wouldn’t have heard this story. I personally tweeted for weeks till my fingers ached, heard stories of people who tweeted and blogged taking leaves form work, and one impressive story of someone who was injured and immobile, and decided this was the most productive and useful thing he could do!

Some of the twitter conversations war filled with hate and rage, and some of the conversations revealed the simple minds of many Indians, but I stood along side all these people in pushing the media to the brink. The voices were shrill and perhaps the battle cries lost a lot of objectivity, but this had to be done, to ensure the media opens up and speaks about their holy cow. I have no sense of pride or shame about my actions. I felt I did what I had to do.

What are hashtags like #barkhagate and who created these terms?  Are they by any means affiliated to any religious, political group, or informal entity such as #internethindus? If not, why is this categorization by the MSM dangerous to the civil society?

#Barkhagate was the first hashtag created on Twitter to open up a social media debate on this topic. A Facebook group, and a blog with the same name was created, that went viral with thousands of people signing up, posting links / discussion, commenting on the same. I cannot say exactly who created #barkhagate (though I have a guess, but don’t want to reveal the person’s name as the MSM has in the past went after normal people to strike fear in the public). But as one of the thousands of people who tweeted day in and day out on the #barkhagate tag, I can only say we are all in it together.

Many of the people who were very critical of Barkha Dutt for multiple reasons (some I would elaborate on in the next section), felt that this was a catchy tag, and it spread rapidly. I am not for or against using that tag, and the strong suggestion that Barkha Dutt was the single person involved in a scandal.

Last week, after the #barkhagte tag trended on top for over a week, the twitter algorithm removed it from the top trending topics. Of the few active tweeters at that particular time there was a debate on whether to continue tagging #barkhagate, or create a replacement. I was of the opinion that a replacement tag would be a good idea and suggested #mediamafia for the following reasons: 1. It removes the suggestion of individual slander, and helps us remember that a larger section of the media is involved in the controversy either by featuring on the tapes, or by colluding with those on the tapes in the black out, 2. From a historical understanding of how I perceive the Indian media, I have no doubts that at times it behaves like a mafia, and is selective on the right to free speech, 3. In case of a proactive move by Barkha Dutt / NDTV to remove the tags associated with her name from Twitter, a generic tag name would not suffer, and the public debate would continue.

Since I floated the idea, the tag has been trending in top 5 for almost another week now, making the discussion of Radia tapes with multiple pseudonyms, the biggest story of the Indian Twitterati. And yet, this was blacked out by the MSM that runs 1 hour stories on 2 minute celebrity tweets, for far too long.

On all of these topics, the greatest positive for me was the coming together of a diverse set of Indians, who shared no common religious, political, ethnic, linguistic common ground. All of us were united in the media scrutiny, but as in a true democratic medium like twitter, deeply divided on our ideologies. I am emphasizing on this, as I was pained to discover the counter strategy by the MSM, and vested interests to paint all of us as a lynch mob of bigoted, right wing Hindus, funded by the Sangh Parivar. That is about the stupidest, most idiotic, and the most irresponsible statement I have ever heard on this subject.

The same applies to the thousands of Christians, Muslim, brothers and sisters who participated in these debates with me. Using divisive tools such as religion has been the way the British colonialists, and political parties have exploited us all along. Now the MSM has joined this deeply polarized, brazen escape route to deflect valid criticism. In the cloud of politically / ideologically / religiously motivated and abusive tweets by some, many of our sensible moderate voices, and highly relevant questions to the media, were almost lost.

Whatever action you may or may not take on the Radia Tapes, I request the MSM not to characterize everyone who questions you as a vested interest or a fringe elements / nuisance in the society. By doing so, you are not achieving any credibility for yourself in the long run, you are deepening the polarization in our society that many of us fight so hard to reduce, and you also reduce any potential chances of mutual trust between the average Indian and your fraternity. I cannot speak for all netizens, as the internet is a true democracy in action in terms of its sensible and ugly voices mingling together. I cannot speak for all, but anyone who searches these hashtags would know that amongst the many right wing Hindus (or #internerthindus as Sagarika Ghose of IBN categorized them) un-necesarily critisicising Barkha’s pro Kashmiri Muslim bias in this debate, there were so many thousands sensible voices of Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike asking very profound intelligent questions to the media

Why is internet community so shrill in seeking the sacking of specific journalists, and are they behaving like a “lynch mob”? What is the historical context towards the immense hostility shown by thousands of netizens towards the MSM?  Why is one particular journalist, Barkha Dutt the face of the debate, when so many more people are involved? Don’t we know that everywhere in the world, journalists are bound to be ideologically biased, and seeking to further interests of corporate that have stake in their media houses? Are we netizens naive, or is there a reason in asking for a utopian level of ethics from our MSM?

Most Indians hate or love Barkha Dutt, and there are very few people I know who were neutral to her. I had a lot of respect for her during the Kargil war coverage, where she made her name and earned her celebrity status. But I do remember thinking, as a naive college kid, if it is a security risk having live T.V coverage when the war was actually happening. I didn’t think much about it at that time, but subsequently understand that her war coverage has been critically analyzed by many public figures including those in the armed forces. I am not taking ay sides here, but would leave her Kargil war coverage as one of the many inflection points when people started getting really upset with her.

Subsequently her championing of many causes such as empathy to Kashmiri separatism, celebrity murder cases such as Jessica Lal (while not spending much air time on not so famous people who were murdered or raped brutally), the Tsunami coverage, and the coverage of the Godhra riots in 2002, left most people polarized. To some, she represented a journalist who told the human suffering angle in every story and that endeared them. To others, who had strong views on these subjects, they saw her as shrill, loud, and in constant belief that her view point was the only opinion that mattered (I personally think her viewpoint on quite a many things are valid, but that doesn’t matter when you don’t let the panel or audience talk when they disagree with you)

But to most, the most shocking incident came during the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Hers was not the only coverage that was shameful, but her T.V channel cannot deny that by revealing sensitive information, and live coverage of a counter terror strategy, they could have POTENTIALLY, UNWITTINGLY helped the terrorists in their mission.

While I was shell shocked, the biggest blow was to come later. A blogger called Chaitanya Kunte wrote a very critical blog after the Mumbai attacks against the T.V coverage of NDTV / Barkha Dutt. Mr. Kunte is a common man like you and me, and was obviously shell shocked and that reflected in the choice of his words, and some bias in his arguments. He is no journalist, and wrote a piece that most bloggers would consider good enough to publish. NDTV acted in a brazen manner, swooped down on him, forced him to remove the blog and issue an apology instead. Kindly Google his name, and check if you can see the original blog. Chances are you won’t, but nevertheless every Indian ought to know his name.

He is the face of the common man, who dares to question a bid media house, and a celebrity journalist, and got punished in the end. This was the symbol of the MSM’s bullying ugly face, and any one who challenges me why we use names like media mafia, would be urged to study this example. A mafia don would have been proud of such an attack on an individual who chooses to question his intelligence or authority. In my mind, he is the icon of our fight for a media soul searching drive.

Barkha has constantly questioned why people have attacked her more than anyone else. Well if she read this blog, she would know, but perhaps so sue me as well? I don’t know and I don’t care if she does. Its about time we stopped making heroes of these average journalists who sensationalize everything for TRPs, violate un-written yet well understood journalistic code of conduct, lose the plot from being a person who covers the story to being the story, wear their political biases so blatantly on their sleeves without ever acknowledging them and mislead the public, bully anyone who dares question them, and most importantly, do not have an ability to “JUST SAY SORRY”.

To me she is has fallen as a public figure, political commentator, and TV celebrity anchor even if no quid pro quo can be established in this episode. It’s for NDTV to decide what to do with her, and they can take the moral high ground, or believe that people can always “watch another channel if they don’t like her”, or that people will forget this fuss in a few months time. Trust me, we will stop watching your news channel, but not forget this episode for a long time to come!

As for Vir Sanghvi, you just need to listen to the tapes, and match it with everything you have read or heard from him. The tapes reveal the extent to which Vir is politically close to power centers, and the extent to which he can distort the truth so as to present his friend’s viewpoints. There is enough evidence to suggest that one his popular counterpoint columns., matches very closely what Radia dictated him to write. It is difficult for me to write any more on his actions without losing my cool, so would stop here. But, please do listen to the tapes featuring him.

As far as media ethics itself is concerned, none of us are living in a fairy tale land where all news is true. We do acknowledge that media houses are run by cooperates, and media interacts on a daily basis with the good and bad people, and there is no utopian world.

But here is why, in spite of working in a corporate myself and acknowledging the pressure the media houses may face, I still seek a soul searching amongst the fraternity:

A. The Indian media, probably has the most preachy, “holier than thou”, and wise tone when attacking political, or advising the public, or jumping to conclusions about political / public leaders in a jiffy. The choice I am asking you to make is to tone down the preachiness, or be subject to the debate yourself. You can’t have the cake and eat it too!

B. Most Americans or Europeans are smart enough to understand the political and corporate connection between each media house. Most Indians do not understand these subtleties. Most Republican voters would watch Fox News, and Democratic left-liberals would watch MSNBC, and it’s accepted as part of the game. Apart from Pioneer, and Outlook, none of the media houses I know of accept their political ideology and are categorical about it. In, short you can quote honestly that you are pro congress before you play 200 propaganda stories of Rahul Gandhi in a poor man’s house, or taking a train, or you maintain you are neutral and keep the news un biased. You are well within your right to be pro party, as long as you can explain your stance in a well informed and intelligent manner. I am not a left winger, but I admire Vinod Mehta of Outlook for always being categorical about his ideological bias. If you for example, love Rahul Gandhi so much or hate Narendra Modi , you owe the country a credible explanation in terms of books, documentary shows, etc that describe why. Today I may not vote for Rahul, but if I watch a T.V show that presents a critical study of his achievements, I may be inclined to. (I am just kidding, I know he has done nothing worthwhile so far, but still if he is the media darling., I’d like to know why)

C. You cannot have different rules for different people. In your TRP wars you play tapes of sex scandals involving god men, exposes of corrupt politicians, hate speeches, and seditious speeches again and again, but you have collectively blacked out airing the Radia Tapes. You can collectively brainstorm on how to be more responsible as a MSM in airing sensitive tapes, or you can say we will air all tapes immediately without verification. You need to have one consistent rule book in your game

What lays beyond the tapes, in terms of corporate – political – public institution corrupt practices? Isn’t the corruption and nexus cutting across the political parties? Is a smoke screen being created by some to divert public attention to the Radia tapes, and ignore the massive government scandals?

Most tweeters, bloggers would probably just seek Barkha or Vir’s resignation, and forget the rest of the people involved. That doesn’t apply to people like me, for in spite of whatever strong views I may have on these journalists, I know that they are very small fish in a large ocean of sharks and killer whales.

Every public institution in the country is under the scanner, and as Ratan Tata mentioned, it is quite possible that the tapes were leaked by vested interests in power to deflect the attention from the corruption scandals. I have tremendous respect for Ratan Tata to understand that he was seeking a level playing field in the political decisions of the telecom spectrum allocation, but by not allowing the common man to hear all the tapes and make up their minds, he is not helping us clear the air. Rather, the air has started becoming murkier.

There is long way to go before, India can achieve social an economic development that is good enough for it to be classified as a developed nation, leave alone superpower status. As discussed in my previous blogs on challenges facing India, having an ethical, intelligent, modern, and pro active media that gets its house in order is the critical first step in our long and painful journey to progress.

The media is the prism through which we view the society, nation, and the world, and today the prism is extremely distorted. Fixing the prism may not fix all the problems, and neither would breaking it altogether. But we need to collaborate in ensuring the media comes out of this dark episode in a healthier shape.

Is the 4th estate completely compromised, or is there hope for it to emerge stronger? How can the MSM co-exist with the ever growing clout of the informal internet based social media activists (5th estate) , and is it possible to look at this as mutually beneficial and healthy relationship? What is the tremendous positive opportunity that this historic moment in our country presenting to the average citizen as well as the mainstream media? Should, and how should the so called or informal internet based social media co-exist with the organized media? In the age of wiki leaks, is it possible for traditional and informal media to live in isolation?

Ayushmedh, a friend of mine, wrote a blog a while back wondering of the traditional MSM as we know would and shouuld be replaced by a 5th estate of informal netizens discussing news: http://jindagi-ek-pathshala.blogspot.com/2009/03/fifth-estate.html

He is not the first one with the idea, and neither would he be the last. We live in the age of Twitter, Facebook, Wiki leaks, Google, Blogs, YouTube etc, where it is possible to make news reach people in no time. It’s called “going viral” and more often than not it happens to bad news or ugly sensationalistic trash. But every now and then, such as the Mumbai Terror attacks, the IPL scandal, and now the Radia Tapes controversy, the 5th estate has shown its tremendous positive value to the society

But I live in no illusions of self grandeur, dreaming that I would run an internet based news agency one day that makes NDTV feel like an extinct dinosaur. I know that when the dust settles on this all of us would get back to our busy careers and personal live.  On the contrary, I strongly believe its time for both sides to acknowledge how they can compliment each other and make sure that in the Information era, credible, intelligent, ethical, and quick dissemination of information prevails.

Here are some rough thoughts, on how this should pan out in the long run:

A. Educate everyone you know to use traditional and social media pro actively. When a simpleton drinking tea and reading news in rural Tamilnadu, develops the intelligence to verify what he read in his Dina Thanthi news paper, by checking it on the latest internet connection he got at his home, you have forced the traditional media to improve its standards

B. The internet empowered generation can serve as a powerful conscience keeper, by constantly forcing the media to develop better standards and accuracy

C. The social media guys who do not get to interact with the news makers, can benefit from hearing what journalists who have that power access, say on social media forums

D. The fact that we literally FORCED CNN-IBN to have a panel discussion on this topic, is a positive sign for me that while the MSM can be very selective in its hearing, it is not fully deaf. Every intelligent person with international exposure, or curiosity to look beyond traditional media, that I know of, would vouch for you that the quality of shows, documentaries, panel discussions, and topics on channels like BBC, Discovery, National Geographic / History channel, even Al Jazeera, is far better than most Indian channels. I would personally blog about topics I would love to see discussed on Indian T.V, and when this sort of feedback is slowly but surely addressed, you have a winning formula

E. Public figures, especially politicians should be aware that if they were living in the west, they cannot get away from being silent on so many topics of national interest. I would love to see a panel show debate on topics like the NREGA, the Gujarat / Bihar development story (are these true, or are these illusions?), check back on previous corruption scams, India’s defense strategy, India’s approach to counter Maoism threat and ensure development in the tribal areas. Imagine if you could get Arundhati Roy and Chidambaram to spar at each other on the Maoism topic. Too many of our leaders and ministers get away from not airing publicly what their approach to any topic is, and I think that’s because they do not have any approach at all in the first place. The modern 4th / 5th estate can help us separate the wheat from the chaff and tell us who the credible leaders are across party lines. In fact one of the tweets, I shared, ran something like this” I dream 4 D day, when I can watch a pre election T.V debate b/w Mayawati, Sonia, Modi, Nitish moderated by Karan Thapar”

F. How many books have you read by our MSM celebrities? How many of them are capable of writing one on the topics they love to shout loudly about? How many of them have the ability to present a policy paper on engaging with China? How many people can tell you what REALLY happened during J.P Narayan’s socialistic movement, without living in the 1970s themselves? The answer is quite a few, but none that you and I may have heard of. There are like I said, many credible journalists, and perhaps it is time the MSM brought them to the fore, and the average social media geek read them first before jumping into a lets bomb China first discussion on Twitter

Like I mentioned earlier, this blog would perhaps have more questions than answers. But the very fact that many common men like me have these questions, and would eventually find an answer, leaves me with hope. In fact, I can state without doubt this rather dark blot in our history as a free speaking democracy, has actually given us a tremendous opportunity; It has given us a historic chance to blend the voice of the different India, and evolve a society that can discuss freely, critically yet non abusively about topics we had no clue about earlier; It has also given us the opportunity to wake up the middle class from its long slumber of indifference to the society, and placed in their hands, a chance to make up for days when we slept; It has given a chance for Hindus and Muslims to walk side by side in asking for more from its public figures; It ha s given a chance for the credible journalists to emerge even stronger in public view, while the tainted ones can either acknowledge their mistakes and improve, or live in denial and fade away; It has given a chance for the day when a villager in U.P or Rajasthan, would vote for a particular party or leader based on a well informed decision, and not because party X paid channel Y to make a hero out of leader Z.

This is not a dream, but a statement of hope. I pledge to make this hope come true for my future generation, would you care to join me?

Cheers!

Vasu

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The winter writing season begins…

A big hello to regular readers and those who stumbled on this blog by chance!
Many thanks to all of you who have read, commented, and shared your views on my blog all these days. And some old faithful who checked in from time to time, noticed I haven’t written anything at all for a long time, and dropped a kind note to check if I am doing fine. I have had a challenging, yet fruitful year and doing rather fine!

Here is why I haven’t written as often as before, and why I woke up from the slumber to start blogging again now:

To start with, it was a very demanding and significant phase of my career and life in Switzerland, and I was fully occupied on excelling at that! Also, I had this strange feeling mid 2010, that in 6 months or so I am going to hit 30. That’s right, I am hanging on to my last days as a 20 something, and I was mentally making too much of a fuss of this 20s to 30s jump. I did an informal audit on the targets I set myself when I moved from 19 to 20, and figured out I did pretty well, but there were some very important personal things to finish. There was very mind space for serious writing

Perhaps the more important reason was the success of my last blog entry on my life in Switzerland. So, many of you had written such appreciative comments, that it got me thinking very hard about my communication style. I figured out that I have the ability to look at every topic / subject in great detail, and in many layers, but I was capable of making a mess while trying to explain that. And I also have this strong desire somewhere to be understood in the correct way, even if you don’t agree with what I say.

So, for most of this year, I have conducted an experimentation on all forms of communication. Instead of rushing out to talk, write, or blog, I have held back my thoughts but making a note some where. I have listened more, and studying each an every topic I have a view on in greater depth. So, I have enforced this discipline of silent observation for a long time and its been quite rewarding.
I’ve also used mechanisms such as Face book / Twitter to vent out my instant 2 minute solution to all world problems, and far more aware of the responses than before. It has been a very interesting experiment, and perhaps this is why the concept of “Mouna Vrath” or a vow of silence has been so popular in India. Well, I haven’t been totally silent, but listening much more than speaking has made me see the world in a very different way. You should all try it some day!

Having done all that, and earning myself a mini vacation during the winter, I would get back to active blogging shortly. The fact that I have scribbled random things on paper, or bookmarked interesting links on the net, leaves me with a wealth of material to write about. So many wonderful changes have happened in my life, and while I do not go into details of my personal life on my blogs as a rule, it does influence my way of thinking as a person.

Here are the things outside of my personal life, which I have thought actively about this year. This is just a brief synopsis of what I am going to write about:

God & Religion: I read and watched a fair bit of Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking this year, and have been fascincated at the tremendous progress science has made in explaining our world’s mysteries. Yet there is a feeling that the more you discover, the more there is to discover! At the same time I ahve experienced a fascinating phase of personal life, bordering on magical. Thus, after close to 3 decades of wondering now and then, if there is a god up there, or if he / she made the rules of the world as we know it, and studying all the far right and far left view points, I have one simple, profound conclusion that has mad eme feel very light and relieved: it doesn’t matter, at all, one damn bit. It could sound like a bizarre theory to some, it could sound like a simplistic definition of agnosticism to some, but I have to write in detail about why it doesn’t matter.

“Multi culturalism” is dead, says Angela Merkel, and that simple statement violates everything I have believed in all my life. In spite of all the tensions & challenges the world faces as globalization and movement of people grows at a rapid face, the only way forward for the human race is multi culturalism, movement of people across the world, and blurring of all the artificial borders we have erected around us. Most large countries have failed to adapt to a multi cultural population, but the failure to carry out the idea correctly should not lead to killing the idea in the first place. I have always believed, and live every day of my life with the view that the entire world is my home, and I am capable of building a bond with any damn person, anywhere, irrespective of color, faith, sex, age, or even language. It is not so easy for every one to reach where I have in life, but once you are there and see the truth, you’d like to stay in this beautiful place where I am.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.” Charles Dickens. These wonderful words of Dickens’s are so relevant today. I have no doubt, that we live in one of the most exciting times in human history, and we have a golden chance to correct many wrongs.

Can / should / Would India be a super power, or the leading nation in the world?. My one line answer is no, at least for the next few decades, but I need to lay it out with more specifics. I don’t think any form of super power is good for the world, i have no doubts India would make tremendous progress on multiple fronts, and I also think the dynamics of the world as we have historically known it would be tremendously altered in the next few years. But how should India handle its massive problems, and what place should it have in the world. My views, though not unique, are not quite mainstream, and it’s a collection of thoughts on my mind all my life.

An underlying theme to all the topics above is that of balance. The word is far more relevant today in our age of instant communication, than ever before. If somebody says something that’s blasphemous to my faith, I shoot him down immediately, or write some blog attacking the person. If somebody has a problem with the way the government handles a situation, you get a mike and call for a revolution, and attract a few thousand people on the streets and the T.V cameras. You don’t like a mosque being built somewhere, and over night you spread a story of how Obama is a Muslim, and does not have his heart in the right place.
We live in the information age, where there is one simple truth: A good view spreads fast, but a ridiculous and dangerous view travels faster. Everybody starts to think and communicate in extremes, knowing that your online views are quite different from what you would say in real person. In many ways, the internet age has highlighted to us, the extremist side in each and every one of us. And this leads me to lay out the need for being balanced, well researched, and sensible in our view-point.

As a way of cheering myself from the weight of all these topics I have taken up, I would also write some light-hearted notes about what I look forward to in my 30s. Laughing about it is probably the only way I’ll escape this feeling of growing old!

So, that’s broadly the agenda, so to say.
Cheers!
Vasu

The dark and sinister confessions of a facebook addict

Facebook threw up an interesting statistic to me. “How addicted am I to facebook”. It was a shockingly high number, and so high I dared not publish it. Damn, it was even higher than that of a good friend of mine S,  who I keep taunting in jest for being on Facebook all the time! 

And she coolly  suggested I have to first admit there is a problem. She made it sound as if I was an alcoholic in need of help! 

While all that was in good humor, I couldn’t help thinking about it. Have I let the online social networking world take over my life? 

The short answer was no, and the long answer is as follows: (And this is dedicated to my well meaning friend who got it wrong nevertheless!) 

I have been observing how people use / misuse social networking for a while. I think some people use it very smartly and that is irrespective of how much time they spend on it. Some people may spend less time, but may go about it in a way that doesn’t help them or their online  friends. So while it is a good idea to keep your time spent on it to the bare minimun, it’s also important to understand how we use these technologies, and where we should draw the line. 

I have a few guidelines that I try my best to follow when it comes to social networking, specifically for Facebook. This is based on what I did in the past, and found to be a waste of time / harmful, and what I have seen others doing: 

  1. I don’t typically add friends I do not know at all
  2. I do not add friends to show that I have a few hundred friends on my Facebook
  3. I do not use it to read up about people’s personal info or stalk women (Women, you could be either flattered or shocked if you know how many men you never know stalked you online!)
  4. I try not to share very personal feelings, discussions, moments, photos etc
  5. When I see something very significant posted on a friend’s profile (such as a child’s birth,  a separation, or a new job) I make it a point to contact them over phone / in person. A lot many people think it cool to just click on “like” and not bother there after
  6. I use the privacy settings pretty well, to control who can see what
  7. I do not see my friends as “virtual only”. If anybody on my Facebook happens to be in and around where I live, I make it a point to call / meet hang out with them
  8. I use it to promote my thoughts / websites etc, but I do not rely entirely on Facebook for that
  9. If I go somewhere and take pictures, I do not upload a few hundred pictures and expect my friends to see all of them!
  10. I do not play any games on Facebook 🙂 

Now you may, or may not agree to the points above, but I think it’s a good idea to develop your own guidelines and stick to them. Else we all may have technology like this take over our lives, and affect our ability for normal human relationships one day! 

On a lighter note, one of my best friends ever – B, refuses to tag herself on photos of us together. She truly believes she does not look cool enough in those pictures, and apart from laughing out loud and screaming “Women”, I didn’t bother about it. I know a lot of other friends who take such things seriously. Do  you need a Facebook picture / wall post, or some stupid Facebook quiz to tell you who your best friends are?

 P.S: I know the title of the blog is misleading, but it’s always a nice feeling to pull a fast one on people 🙂

 Cheers!

Vasu

It’s a Free Country…So why can’t I pick the technology I use in the office?

Lovely read from the WSJ on corporate IT policies. It would be interesting to see how the future shapes up…  

Link to original article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703567204574499032945309844.html 

By NICK WINGFIELD 

At the office, you’ve got a sluggish computer running aging software, and the email system routinely badgers you to delete messages after you blow through the storage limits set by your IT department. Searching your company’s internal Web site feels like being teleported back to the pre-Google era of irrelevant search results.

At home, though, you zip into the 21st century. You’ve got a slick, late-model computer and an email account with seemingly inexhaustible storage space. And while Web search engines don’t always figure out exactly what you’re looking for, they’re practically clairvoyant compared with your company intranet.

This is the double life many people lead: yesterday’s technology for work, today’s technology for everything else. The past decade has brought awesome innovations to the marketplace—Internet search, the iPhone, Twitter and so on—but consumers, not companies, embrace them first and with the most gusto.

Even more galling, especially to tech-savvy workers, is the nanny-state attitude of employers who block access to Web sites, lock down PCs so users can’t install software and force employees to use clunky programs. Sure, IT departments had legitimate concerns in the past. Employees would blindly open emails from persons unknown or visit shady Web sites, bringing in malicious software that could crash the network. Then there were cost issues: It was a lot cheaper to get one-size-fits-all packages of middling hardware and software than to let people choose what they wanted.

But those arguments are getting weaker all the time. Companies now have an array of technologies at their disposal to give employees greater freedom without breaking the bank or laying out a welcome mat for hackers. “Virtual machine” software, for example, lets companies install a package of essential work software on a computer and wall it off from the rest of the system. So, employees can install personal programs on the machine with minimal interference with the work software.

Some forward-thinking companies are already giving employees more freedom to pick mobile phones, computers and applications for work—in some cases, they’re even giving workers allowances to spend on outfitting themselves. The result, they’ve found, is more-productive employees. There’s a reason professional chefs bring their own knives to work, rather than using a dull set of blades lying around the kitchen.

What century Is This, Anyway?

For a look at how sharp the divide between work and home can be, consider my experience. The Wall Street Journal gives me a laptop with Windows XP, an operating system I found satisfying when it came out eight years ago but that lacks a lot of modern touches, like a speedy file-search function. My home computer, meanwhile, is a two-year-old iMac running the Leopard version of Apple’s Macintosh operating system. Among other virtues, it’s got a search function called Spotlight that lets me track down files in a flash.

Or take email. Please. There’s a limit on how much email employees can store on the company’s system, and I routinely bump into it. So, I need to spend time hunting through old notes in Microsoft Outlook and deciding what to keep and what to delete, or risk a shutdown of my account. I’m not the only one; a colleague told me she often receives messages with large attached files that overload her inbox while she’s asleep. That means she can’t receive any more mail until she gets into the office in the morning and cleans out her messages.

Limits like those are tough to swallow when you consider how generous free email services are. In nearly five years, for instance, I’ve used only about a quarter of the storage space in my personal Gmail account from Google Inc., despite almost never deleting messages. Furthermore, I can search for old Gmail messages almost instantaneously, while the search function in the email I use for work is painfully slow.

When they get fed up with work technologies, employees often become digital rogues, finding sneaky ways to use better tools that aren’t sanctioned by the IT department. In my case, I’ve installed a search engine called Google Desktop that lets me quickly scour my hard drive for files, and a product by Xobni Corp. that does something similar for Outlook email, even though neither is approved by my IT department. And those programs have made a world of difference. In a simple test, it took Outlook two minutes to track down an email from a few months ago, based on a few search terms. Xobni found the message before I finished typing the words.

The Journal declined to comment on its policies. But even with the potential for productivity gains from newer technologies, it’s tough for many enterprises to stomach the prohibitive costs of a companywide upgrade to the latest software and hardware, especially during the current economic downturn. Research firm Gartner Inc. estimates enterprises will cut technology purchases by 6.9% this year, which would be the biggest decline on record.

Furthermore, there are indirect costs connected with upgrades that give businesses an incentive to stick with battle-tested technologies, like the hassles of retraining workers and of dealing with buggy new products. In one example, many companies never bothered to upgrade to Microsoft’s last version of its operating system, Windows Vista, in part because of technical issues with the software when it was first released.

Home-Field Advantage

It wasn’t always this way. For years, the big breakthroughs in computing technology came in corporate IT departments and university computer labs. But that started to change as the cost of PCs plunged and they became fixtures in people’s homes. Now consumers buy more PCs than businesses do—and the consumer market spurs the most interesting innovations.

Instant messaging reached the mainstream through America Online. Amazon.com Inc. used the technology behind its shopping site to become a pioneer in “cloud computing”—where businesses rent resources in Amazon data centers rather than running hardware and software on their own. Apple Inc.’s iPhone broke new ground in Web surfing and running applications on mobile phones.

The rise of the consumer market also means people have gotten a lot smarter when it comes to technology—and a lot less patient with substandard stuff at the office. Even with the weak economy, companies will find it harder to recruit savvy workers if they don’t let them use their favored technology.

Some companies have decided the best solution is to start giving workers what they want. Until a couple of years ago, Kraft Foods Inc., the consumer-goods giant, had a rigid approach to workplace technology that was typical of many big companies: It locked down PCs so employees couldn’t install software on their own, and it prevented them from accessing sites like YouTube and Facebook. When it came to hardware, Kraft offered a limited choice of smart phones and Windows PCs.

Executives began to worry that the company’s technology policies were preventing employees from staying in step with trends. Kraft was a consumer company, they figured, so workers needed to be more familiar with the technologies that consumers were using, whether the iPhone or YouTube.

So, the IT department stopped blocking access to consumer Web sites, and the company started a stipend program for smart phones: Workers get an allowance every 18 months to buy a phone of their choosing. (Over 60% picked iPhones.) Kraft has also started a pilot program to let some of its employees pick their own computer. One catch: Employees who choose Macs are expected to solve technical problems by consulting an online discussion group at Kraft, rather than going through the help desk, which deals mainly with Windows users.

“The win for Kraft is employees are more productive if they use devices they’re familiar with,” says David Diedrich, vice president of information-systems technology, security and workplace services at Kraft.

A Brighter Tomorrow

The prospect of giving employees choice may be too frightening for some companies to contemplate, but there are ways of doing it without completely giving up control. Employers could require workers to sign agreements promising that they’ll back up all their data and run the latest antivirus software and won’t download pornography. Employers can also require workers to run all of their corporate applications inside a virtual machine on the computer, which seals company information off from everything else.

Still, financial-services companies, law firms and others may feel the need to maintain stricter control, for regulatory and legal reasons. Even some companies moving toward letting employees choose their own computers, like consumer-goods maker Unilever PLC, say the policy won’t work for every employee inside a business. One reason: Many companies offering free choice ask workers to troubleshoot technical problems on their own, and some people simply aren’t up to the task.

That said, many executives agree that change is in the air. Chris Turner, Unilever’s chief technology officer, says the pressure to relax IT policies is bubbling up, especially from young employees. “They look at your standard corporate desktop and say, ‘I can’t work with that,’ ” Mr. Turner says. “If you can make it an attractive thing that they want to work with, that’s a hugely powerful thing.”

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