It seems quite like the early Nineties. Foreign brands rushing to India, lured by the 200-million strong “great Indian middle class”. Except, now it is the turn of the foreign print media.
The air in Delhi is resounding with brand names such as the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Business Week. Only the long-awaited (the memorandum of understanding was signed ten years ago) Business Standard-Financial Times deal has been announced. There are at least half a dozen or so more newspapers desperately waiting in line.
They may have a long wait ahead. Going by the talk of talks so far, other foreign investors with saleable brands are not keen to give them away for the meagre 26 per cent share that the government permits foreigners to have in “news”.
So, Business Week is reportedly planning to be on the stands by April 2004 by carrying reproductions of stuff from past issues, thereby avoiding the stigma of “news”. The representatives of the Wall Street Journal roaming the corridors of the Indian Express and the Times of India are apparently only looking for someone to only print and distribute their brand.
The New York Times has already got the Asian Age to carry a special weekly section of NYT stories that is prepared in New York and only printed and distributed in Mumbai. On Saturdays, the Asian Age is sold wrapped inside the NYT supplement. On a newsstand you can actually see a NYT masthead in its trademark font among the layers of newspapers.
And, if the Times of India group is really hiving off Femina and Filmfare and the events that go with them, the Miss India contest and the Filmfare Awards, to the BBC’s magazine division, it could be giving away the controlling share too. These too are in the non-news categories. The more things change...
He is, they say, “the most celebrated newspaperman of the late 20th century,” “the most famous newspaperman of his generation” who was “once dubbed ‘the greatest living Englishman’”, whose departure from the scene next month will mark “more than the end of one journalistic career”. Who do you think the British papers are talking about'
The answer: 61-year-old gossip columnist Nigel Dempster. Yes, a gossip columnist.
That is not a species we are familiar with in India (Dempster was only born in Bombay). We don’t have gossip columnists, not in the Dempster mould. Highly popular, highly feared, highly paid, Dempster’s sole task since 1973 has been his column, six days a week.
In the process, he invented high-society tittle-tattle as a newspaper staple and also the trademark bitchy style for all gossip columns to come. It wasn’t just what he wrote but the way he wrote it that grabbed attention.
Most Indian journalists would die of shame if they were given such an assignment. Indian papers just don’t take gossip columns at all seriously (some follow the practice of the tonier British papers and call them “Diary”). Usually they are the by-product of reporters’ daily grind, stuff they can’t palm off as “news” or rumours they know can’t be taken seriously.
With the result that Priyanka Gandhi having a baby or Aamir Khan breaking up with his wife becomes “news”. With Dempster, such items of public interest remained firmly where they belong: in the gossip column. Some of the scoops that made him such a great journalist are Princess Diana’s bulimia; Harold Pinter’s affair with Antonia Fraser (which was news even to the playwright’s wife); “Maggie [Margaret Thatcher] is to become a grandmother.”
The best policy'
Which is the best company to work for' Texas Instruments, if you go by the Business World, Procter and Gamble if you prefer Business Today. But neither mentions a media organization in their top 25. Nor does a media house figure in Fortune’s choice of 100, the mother of all such ratings. Either all the lists are very honest or very dishonest.