The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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It all happened over 50 years ago and even then it was no secret that Ramakrishna Dalmia and Jawaharlal Nehru disliked each other intensely. It was equally known that the first Indian owner of the Times of India blatantly used his newly acquired newspaper to mount a vicious attack on the first prime minister of India. But it is only now, with the publication of his biography by his dutiful daughter, that Dalmia’s flagrant use of his paper to grind his private axe is being openly admitted. Motives surrounding editorial judgments are that difficult to prove.

For instance, who is to say there is anything personal in the current campaign against former CBI luminary, Upen Biswas, by the Calcutta-based television company, Rainbow Productions' Two years ago, Biswas had relentlessly pursued and arrested Rainbow supremo, Ramesh Gandhi, on a number of charges (including one that stated he torched the Dhanbad income tax office to get rid of his files).

That may — or may not — be why Khash Khabar, Rainbow’s popular Bengali news bulletin on Doordarshan, has repeatedly raised doubts about a crack sleuth like Biswas being unaware of his tenant’s drug racket. Why a guest on Mukhomukhi, its talk show on Doordarshan, branded Biswas — in absentia — “corrupt”. Why Live Dashtay, its chat show on Tara Bangla conducted by singer Kabir Suman, drummed up support for the arrest of Biswas “on suspicion”.

The man known as a “giant-killer” till the other day felt helpless. The newspapers that had once lionized him were being circumspect but not sympathetic.

Then, last Sunday, another television programme came to the rescue. Khoj Khabar, the highly regarded current affairs programme on Akash Bangla, took on the Khash Khabar reports point by point and gave Biswas a lily-white chit. It included an interview with the landlord of Rainbow’s Anwar Shah Road premises that showed him only vaguely aware of what went on in the building. Conclusion: landlords seldom know what tenants are up to behind closed doors.

A brilliant piece of investigative reporting, many are saying. Or, was there a personal agenda behind this too' Khoj Khabar producer Dibyojyoti Basu was the creator of Khash Khabar who was forced out by Ramesh Gandhi rather disagreeably. May be, may be not.

With the leader'

Writing for nobody, that’s how one disheartened editorial writer described his years in a newspaper office. Conventional wisdom has it that few have time for a paper’s views on the raging issues of the day. But people who matter do. Editorials, it is said, influence the thinking people, the opinion-makers, the policy-makers. Not for nothing are they also called leaders.

So papers take their leaders seriously. The leader-writers are the Brahmins among hacks, the brains trust that rearranges the world in the editor’s image.

But The Times, they are a changing. First, the Times of India reduced its number of editorials to a measly one from a generous three. And a brief one at that. It wasn’t bothered by snide remarks that the “world’s largest read paper” was running short on grey cells.

Now, it has taken to highlighting one or two sentences in the editorial, quite like the way students mark their textbooks. In Calcutta the grey smudges are not so visible; in Delhi, where all pages are in colour, the highlights in pale blue stand out clearly.

With it the Times’s shift from elitist to populist appears complete. Let us keep our fingers crossed that this is not another trend the paper is setting. Otherwise, newspapers will soon be for the brain dead only.

Back to life

It’s been 30 years since Life became uncertain but the magazine is still refusing to say die. Now, it is going to be reincarnated as a Sunday newspaper supplement. The partner is still undecided but photographs, which made Life so famous the world over, will still be its mainstay. Here’s to a long Life.

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