The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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For Outlook, it is the best of both worlds: commerce as well as commitment. Sales shoot up every time it publishes an Arundhati Roy diatribe. Naturally, the activist-author is its favourite cover-girl, whatever her rant. Not that it could have had any doubt over the latest one, with anti-American sentiment riding high across the country. By that logic, it should come as no surprise that Americans have no time for this article, which is the text of a speech she delivered in New York on the 13th. But it does.

As if to lend substance to her impassioned words, the mainstream American media have completely blacked out one of the world’s 20 best women writers. There is not a mention of Roy and her speech in any major US newspaper or television channel. At least, not so far. Even the liberal and voluminous New York Times has given her the miss.

She figures only on websites, like Infoshop News, that specialize in “anarchist, activist and alternative news” and fringe radio stations like “Democracy Now”. Evidently, she is not the media darling abroad that the Indian media paint her to be. Or she is right in saying, as she has in the current Outlook, that “the sound and fury that accom- panies the legal and conceptual defence of Free Speech in America serves to mask the process of the rapid erosion of the possibilities of actually exercising that freedom.”

At their boss’s bidding

What happens when media houses become their own spin doctors' You get stories that look like news, read like news, are treated as news, but are really little more than advertisements for in-house “products”. Such as the headline in Headlines Today about India Today’s recent coverstory on the states. It wasn’t even a fell-fledged report on how the states ranked but was more like a teaser to promote the magazine that belongs to the group which also owns the fledgling television channel.

Such as the huge splash given by Times of India on its news pages to the launch of its very own Radio Mirchi. Such as the massive display given by both the Times of India and the Hindustan Times in Delhi to their respective food guides in their city sections. Over the last two weeks, both national dailies have been awash with “reports” of their own restaurant directory selling like “hot cakes”, celebrity endorsements of their “winning” volume, articles on what makes their particular guide so special.

Such as also the fulsome tributes to both these compilations handed out by highly-regarded columnists in their weekly outpourings. Senior editor, Jug Suraiya, began his column in last Sunday’s Times of India thus: “It was a great party. Aptly so. For it was launching a great product. The second edition of TOI’s Delhi food guide, a labour of gastronomic love brought out under the very capable orchestration of the Delhi Times editor…”

It could be argued that readers, and viewers, are not so dumb. They can see through a “news” item for what it is: publicity for matters of corporate, not journalistic, interest. Surely it is better that way. Better that people are not duped even if it means that the public will see the Press as just another business. And look upon hacks as just that: hired hands who jump to their boss’s bidding.

We’ve got the readers

An e-mail from a friend in Business India reads: “Amid all the depressing news at BI, it is heartening to know that we have emerged as the largest-read business magazine in the latest IRS [Indian Readership Survey]. I know advertisers go more by the National Readership Survey. Doesn’t matter. Things are so tough here, money is in such short supply. If we are still the leaders — it’s a position we have regained after losing it to Business Today — then it is saying a lot for journalists here. I for one am feeling as pleased as Punch.” Yes, readers are still the gods for some reporters and editors.

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