Sunday, September 27, 2009

The significance of Navaratri

After Sandeep Chaitanya’s explanation of the Bhagawatam on Doordarshan, through various episodes and in a very enjoyable and elementary style, the School of Bhagwad Gita has now made a mark as a reference point for all things spiritual in Hinduism. Many times, we celebrate festivals without really knowing what it is all about. Here is a simple explanation from the School of Bhagwad Gita, about Navaratri or the Festival of the Nine Lights. Makes for very interesting reading indeed:

Every Hindu festival has a spiritual message for the sadhaka. This nine-day festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil. In fact, the theme of the entire Vedas is reflected in the Navaratri festival: first remove all negativities; then purify the mind and cultivate
positive virtues; and finally gain spiritual knowledge and transcend all limitations.

Nava means nine and ratri means night. During these nine nights the Mother Goddess is worshipped in her variously manifested forms as Durga, Laxmi and Saraswati.

On the first three nights Durga is invoked for her strength and ferocity which are required to cut out from the mind it's strong rooted, deep-seated negative tendencies.

Goddess Laxmi is (then) worshipped on the next three nights. She is invited to bring in her wealth of noble values to nourish and purify the cleansed mind. Finally Goddess Saraswati is invoked on the last three nights to bestow the Higher Knowledge of the Self-possible only after cleansing and purification have taken place.

With the dawn of spiritual wisdom the little ego is destroyed. This destruction is commemorated on the 10th night with (by) the burning of an effigy. This 10th day is called Vijayadashmi (Vijaya-victory, dashmi-ten); or Vidhyarambha (Vidhya-wisdom, knowledge, rambha- joy) Victory Day or the Joy of Enlightenment respectively.

At Navaratri time the Rasa (dance of joy) of Shree Krishna and the Gopis is also performed. As the mind becomes purer, calmer quieter, a greater understanding of the nature of the Inner Self is revealed, giving rise to joy and happiness which is expressed in this dance of Realisation. Why is the Navaratri Festival celebrated at night? The spiritual message of night-time worship is that "you have lived long enough in the sleepy realm of tamas, it is time to get up now. Please, wake up!!"

Picture shows a typical Navaratri or Bommai Kolu. Usually, there is a series of steps and an arrangement of dolls, with Tamil women vying with one another to come out with the best looking kolus. The dolls depict gods and villages scenes. It provides women yet another opportunity to meet and gossip, share snacks and go home with sundal, coconut and other goodies. The kolu here was arranged by Jayashree.

Users of online a small lot, but there's a mobile phone revolution happening

Getting back to the subject of print and other forms of media, one of the questions in recent times asked not only by people in the media fraternity in India but also by those who have more than a passing interest in the changing face of journalism is: will print media eventually die and make way for television and online journalism? Of course, it’s a difficult question for even the experts to predict with some form of certainty. Indeed, if only we had recourse to a forecast we could trust, life would have been so much easier for most newspaper publishers.

“While the online media is growing very fast in India as well, penetration continues to be way lower than print or TV – primarily due to infrastructure and bandwidth issues. This is expected to remain this way for a few years at least. However, the users of online media are a small but influential group of people. The interactivity and vitality of online media make it an ideal tool for various initiatives,” says Rajiv Varma, CEO, HT Media.

Lifestyle changes in the developed countries have had a great impact on India as well. Access to the latest technology is almost simultaneous. There is no doubt that new products and services such as the Internet, Web audio and video, Weblogs and mobile phones are posing unprecedented challenges to the print media, which has been forced to adapt and change.

The arrival of the Internet in the early 1990s, coinciding with the economic liberalisation of the country, saw some Indian newspapers start their own Web sites. The Hindu became the first newspaper in 1995 to offer an online edition. Times Internet Ltd runs, India’s largest Web and e-commerce portal.

Ironically, today’s mobile revolution has brought the reader closer to the newspaper. Times Internet runs a service that is well connected to its print, television and FM channels. So does Sakal, a Marathi daily. Dainik Jagran, Rajasthan Patrika, Hindustan Times, Indian Express and several other leading newspapers all have mobile media channels. Nokia’s association with Malayala Manorama led to the launch of a vernacular news portal, a sort of mobile newspaper. Users of Nokia GPRS-enabled handsets in Kerala get national and international news in their native language, across categories such as sports, travel, music, astrology and movies.

Several newspapers have ventured into FM radio and television as well. Times Now, Zoom TV and ET Now are examples, as is Manorama News. Channel 7 is a popular offering from the Dainik Jagran stable. The Eenadu-Group-owned ETV has a large following in south India, as does Star Bangla TV in the east, a joint venture between Anand Bazar Patrika and Star TV. The Ananada Bazar Group is strongly building on its Internet and mobile properties and developing new models for its mobile business.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

State of media in India: Editors speak

Getting back to the subject of media, where is media headed in India? Let’s hear it from some of India’s leading editors and publishers.

Aditya Sinha, editor-in-chief of The New Indian Express, had written in his weekly column recently: “No one doubts that TV news is here to stay, and no one doubts that at some momentous point, Internet penetration of India will reach critical mass (it is only 5% of our population now) and online news will become the main source of breaking news. But what will happen to newspapers? Some people glibly say that newspapers will become irrelevant. Well, it’s true that nowadays TV news has more immediacy and impact… it’s also true though, that TV only drives the pitch of the debate; it’s actual content is hammered out in newspaper columns… Since then (referring to the Kargil war), the newspaper has reacted to TV by modifying its format: shorter news stories, more visually appealing front pages, an emphasis on graphics, and more colour. Newspapers that stubbornly resist this change find their circulation stagnant… Yet it is amazing that these newspapers are fighting for the ‘youth vote’, so to speak… the young don’t appear interested in reading newspapers. TV, mobiles, laptops, desktops and cyber cafes provide them with online access.”

Rajiv Verma, CEO, Hindustan Times, referring to the global economic downturn and pressure on advertising and shrinking media spend, says: “This has made media companies leaner and operations more efficient. HT Media has been able to withstand the downturn without any major downsizing and without resorting to pay cuts. While several media companies have reduced rates to woo advertisers, HT has focused on providing advertiser value by devising multimedia solutions and using its strengths to generate the multiplier effect for the advertiser.”

Regarding print media continuing to show robust growth, Sanjay Gupta, CEO, Dainik Jagran, explains: “Fragmentation of TV audience and low penetration of the Internet is one of the reasons, apart from the higher credibility of the print media in India. It makes it an important media for advertisers. The trend will continue in future also as regional markets in India have poor Internet penetration, and even TV due to lack of power in rural India has not been able to penetrate effectively.”

Reasons Varma: “We have a very evolved culture of newspaper reading – it’s a habit that is a part of who we are as a society. Indians still see media, newspapers in particular, as the fourth estate, and given our propensity for political discourse and engagement, newspapers smooth those conversations along. While new technology is growing in India, it is still not accessible to the vast majority, so newspapers remain a vital source of news and information. We have the benefits of learning from the rest of the world – where media technology has outpaced us – with respect to how newspapers have coped with the onset of new media and perhaps we have been able to very quickly evolve our newspapers, ahead of that kind of new media growth here.”

Says N. Murali, managing director, The Hindu, “The sharp advertising downturn, a consequence of the overall economic downturn, started adversely impacting the print media across the board from November 2008 onwards. The print media has also been reeling under the impact of higher international newsprint prices, exacerbated by the steep decline in the exchange value of the rupee over the last year. Newspapers have also reduced their page level in line with declining advertising. In select markets, cover prices of newspapers have also been moderately raised in the last few months. The last six months have been extremely challenging for the industry with no respite yet. The coming festival season starting October might see small signs of recovery.”

So, let’s wait and see.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Shashi Tharoor, you did nothing wrong. But this is India, minister... so, tweet cautiously

The moral of the story is that you cannot expect to be forthright or straightforward and earn a name in India. Nor should you try and be funny at times; appreciating humour is not something Indians are known for. Not at least Indian politicians.

What really was wrong in external affairs minister S. M. Krishna and his deputy minister of state Shashi Tharoor in staying a five-star hotel as long as they were paying for it from their own money? At least Tharoor said he was; he has after all a right to decide how his money should be spent. Of course, it is another matter that staying in a five-star hotel may not really be the right thing for any minister in India, a land of plenty, but sadly overridden by poverty and corruption and all the ills that can plague a country and its people. Yes, he could have stayed in a smaller hotel – not that you have to do a Mamata Banerjee every time, but when you have so many poor people who you are representing as minister, why should you flaunt your riches and live five-star, when you can very well set an example and be economical?

On that count, Tharoor has failed, that there is no doubt. But on the other hand, he has scored, with his transparency on networks like Twitter. It may be no surprise that Twitter itself must have got a larger following now thanks to the Tharoor tweets. Every second person I meet seems to be talking about “cattle class” and the “holy cow”. Hmmm…

So, where was the issue really? Why should people of his own party try and rake up the issue and make comments instead of accepting humour for what it is. After all, Tharoor did explain what “cattle class” really meant - it had nothing to do with people. Yes, the moment was opportune for some of them to throw barbs at him. Sonia Gandhi was travelling economy class; Rahul Gandhi made a Shatabdi journey; and others were following suit, more an effort to please party bosses. What else? Tharoor’s comment thus came at the wrong time for him and he said or tweeted what he did without even realising how nasty politics and politicians in India can be. Now, surely, he is much the wiser.

Aren’t there more important issues for politicians in this country to dwell on? Instead of wasting precious energy on matters that have really no significance, can’t our MPs and MLAs and ministers do something for the country’s betterment? What about providing drinking water in every village and district? What about ensuring citizens have good roads, electricity and access to hospitals? What about ensuring that every child gets a basic education? What about weaning youth away from drugs and alcohol? There are so many issues, you could write a book about them. But are our politicians interested at all in solving such issues? No way. They’ve never been the past 62 years… so why should they now? That substantial progress has happened despite all that is truly a wonder. Yes, a handful of people who have contributed, selfless people, very few of them from the political class. Without them, we might as well have remained a land of snake charmers and elephants.

The big lesson for Tharoor: Communicate cautiously; India is not the UNO. Also, try and spend less, even if it be on a personal front, when you are in politics you are supposed to be serving the people. And, yes, be very careful about the kind of jokes you want people to hear or read. Tweeting can be dangerous at times, minister.

Print holds out in India, Internet advertising set to grow 32%

It’s good sometimes to take a break from the routine. At the end of it you feel refreshed and recharged with energy. In companies and offices abroad – more so in the developed countries – people are encouraged to take an occasional break and they do. So, I did for a couple of weeks, a break from blogging after Madras Week. And then suddenly I realised that how things have changed in recent years after the advent of the Internet. That if you are in the media and if you run a blog, you can’t really afford to keep away for two weeks, not even for a day, if you can help it.

It got me thinking really. A broad sweep of the past two decades shows how the face of the media has rapidly changed in India and yet how an old habit like reading the newspaper has gained ground. When CNN brought the Gulf War to millions of viewers in India in the early 1990s, many had prophesied the beginning of the end of newspapers. Today, almost 20 years later, the newspaper industry is flourishing in India; it is the second largest in the world, after China.

Currently, India's print media is estimated to reach more than 220 million people. However, in a country of more than one billion people, about 360 million literate Indians do not subscribe to a newspaper. This, coupled with rising literacy, could mean promising times for the print media in the years ahead.

According to the 2009 FICCI- PricewaterhouseCoopers report, print media saw a growth of 8.7% in 2008 over the previous year – Rs 162 billion (USD 3.38 billion), from Rs 149 billion (USD 3.1 billion). Data released in the Indian Readership Survey 2007 show that India’s population had grown by 92 million (12.5%), and media audience had increased by 86 million (18.4%).

Indeed, the FICCI- PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that India’s print industry would grow from 162 billion rupees or $3.38 billion (2008) to 213 billion rupees or $4.44 billion in 2013. The relative share of newspaper and magazine publishing (87%) is not likely to change, says the report. The advertising segment, the report points out, will grow at 16%, compared to growth in circulation revenues of 8%. Circulation revenues are set to touch Rs 62 billion (USD 1.3 billion) in 2012, from Rs 58 billion (USD 1.2 billion) in 2008. The magazine publishing market is expected to reach Rs 29 billion (USD 604 million) in 2013 (Rs.21 billion, USD 438 million in 2008). Internet advertising is projected to grow by 32%, touching Rs 20 billion (USD 417 million) in 2013, from Rs 5 billion (USD 104 million) in 2008, increasing its share of the advertising pie to 5.5%.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Will J.S. Tissainayagam be released? He deserves to be.

The freedom given to the press to report events and comment is an exceptional variety of freedom. Without it, newspapers, radio, television channels and the online media would not be able to bring events as they unfold into millions of homes around the world. Many times, we take this freedom for granted, especially in India where, except during the years of the Emergency, the press has always enjoyed considerable freedom. So, when we receive news of fellow journalists in other parts of the world being denied freedom, it brings an element of sorrow. And when the treatment meted out is harsh and uncalled for, we can only unify in one voice and say that it’s wrong.

Now, have journalists in India voiced adequate protest over the 20-year jail sentence that a Colombo high court passed on journalist J.S. Tissainayagam on charges of supporting terrorism and inciting racial hatred in his articles? I doubt it. Yes, there have been several voices, but there has as yet been no unified shout against such treatment and a call to the Indian government to prevail on the Sri Lankan government to reverse the order and let the journalist go free.

Let me quote from a few sources. “The imposition of this extremely severe sentence on Tissainayagam suggests that some Sri Lanka judges confuse justice with revenge,”
Reporters Without Borders said. “With the help of confessions extracted by force and information that was false or distorted, the court has used an anti-terrorism law that was intended for terrorists, not for journalists and human rights activists.” A very strong statement indeed.

The press freedom organisation added: “We strongly hope that the appeal process adheres to the facts of the case and the spirit of the law. Meanwhile, until the appeal is heard, we urge the authorities to guarantee this journalist’s physical safety and health, which has deteriorated greatly while in detention.” Worrisome.

The Global Media Forum and Reporters Without Borders have announced that Tissainayagam will be the first winner of the Peter Mackler Prize, a newly created award for journalists who display great courage and professional integrity in countries where
press freedom is not respected. The prize will be awarded at a ceremony presided over by Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli at the National Press Club in
Washington on 2 October (Gandhi Jayanthi… what a coincidence!). The award honours the memory of veteran Agence France-Presse reporter and editor Peter Mackler, who died last year.

Aged 45, Tissainayagam, wrote for the Colombo-based Sunday Times newspaper and edited, a website targeted at Sri Lanka’s Tamil population. Tissainayagam has been detained since 7 March 2008, when the Terrorism Investigation Division arrested him. He spent his first five months in detention without any charges being brought against him. According to reporters Without Borders, the judge repeatedly extended detention orders and rejected requests for his release on bail. After five months in detention, during which many national and international press freedom organisations appealed for his release, he was suddenly transferred to Colombo’s Magazine prison, notorious for the physical mistreatment of Tamil detainees. It was reported at the time that he had been beaten.

Tissainayagam is the first Sri Lankan journalist to be convicted under the anti-terrorism law (Prevention of Terrorism Act or PTA). In fact, he is one of the few journalists anywhere in the world to be accused of terrorism because of their reporting.

Vincent Brossel’s (Asia-Pacific Desk, Reporters Without Borders) email mentions that more than 30 media workers have been killed in Sri Lanka since 2004. Many others have been assaulted, abducted, threatened or forced into exile.

The right to freedom of opinion and expression is protected under international law and is also recognised in the Sri Lankan Constitution. Brossel’s mail adds that Sri Lanka has a long history of torture and ill treatment of prisoners. Under the PTA, the burden of proof rests with the accused to prove that the confession was made under duress or torture.

Amnesty International denounced the verdict as a direct violation of Tissainayagam's right to freedom of expression and more broadly as an assault on press freedom in Sri Lanka. The organisation has called for the immediate release of Tissainayagam and his colleagues, and an end to the use of the PTA to silence peaceful dissent.