It was a treat watching M.J. Akbar last Sunday. The Asian Age editor-in-chief may not have been very illuminating, but relaxed and confident, he was very much the badshah of his four-part Darbar on television. Akbar was the first editor to make a foray into television, almost 20 years ago. Rigid and uncomfortable, he remained famous for his achievements in print. That is well in the past, his assured presence conveys eloquently today.
But now he has stiff competition. Sunday seems to be the editors’ day out on the idiot box. Apart from Akbar, the roll of honour includes Prabhu Chawla (editor, India Today), Shekhar Gupta (editor-in-chief, Indian Express), Vir Sanghvi (editor, Hindustan Times). You can spend the whole day watching their variously formatted talk shows, each at a different time and on a different cable channel.
All of them exude an easy familiarity with their famous guests, derived obviously from their status as editors. Obviously, that is not satisfying enough. After years in print, they still hanker to be reborn a Rajdeep Sardesai or a Barkha Dutt.
You won’t find a single editor of any major daily or magazine in England or America conducting his or her own weekly programme on television. They wouldn’t have the time, says a BBC insider. The productivity of Indian editors will surely turn them green with envy.
Blood on the floor
The way the American media is hyperventilating, you would think this was the first time an editor had got the boot. One leading light even described the departure of the New York Times editor and his deputy thus: “as unprecedented as Nixon stepping down.” No wonder the paper takes itself so seriously.
It has never happened in the New York Times, we are told solemnly. Well, join the club. The sad truth is, editors are, and always have been, utterly expendable. Indian Express changed eight in 17 years till Arun Shourie took over in the late Seventies. H.K. Dua, India’s ambassador to Denmark till last month, was justly proud of his nine-year stint at the Hindustan Times. As he told friends, “I am the first editor of this paper who has not been sacked but has retired.”
The public humbling of the Manhattan duo was not a first either. Rupert Murdoch did it years ago when he forced out The Times (London) editor. Instead of NYT’s refined instruments of a press note, and a news report and an editorial in its own pages, Murdoch was characteristically blunt. “It is true,” he told a television interviewer, “that I have asked Mr Harold Evans for his resignation.”
The abruptness too is not unique. It was less than a month ago that the NYT publisher had said he would neither demand nor accept the editor’s resignation. Indian owners could still teach him a thing or two. B.G. Verghese got his sack letter on the stairs of Hindustan Times while Sunanda K. Datta-Ray returned to the Statesman from a year’s sabbatical to find the managing director had usurped his powers and his job.
There is blood on newsroom floors the world over. Spilled when proprietors decided it is in their interest to do so. Their interest could well be in the paper’s interest too. And always, there are enough journalists to congratulate the owner for his decisive action. As has happened in the much-vaunted New York Times.
How many shrews'
It is their men — vikas or lauh — that have turned camp-followers against women, especially L.K. Advani’s acolytes. Five women journalists to be precise, who, they claim, are part of a “leftist-feminist conspiracy” to drive a wedge between the DPM and his PM. Advani’s men have never liked these “secular” women’s daily coverage of the BJP for five of the country’s leading newspapers. They have singled them out for special criticism, lampooned them as the “mahila mandal”, started a whisper campaign against them. What more they will do now is the worry. Or, may be, the Advani camp will learn their Shakespeare the hard way.