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‘Fair’ Journalism

When I was in my teens, I remember that the main source of getting information was through a limited number of newspapers and Doordarshan News. The debate that time was on the style of reporting – amongst the English newspapers in my home city of Kolkata, while it was reported that The Statesman did ‘direct’ reporting with a ‘matter of fact’ tone, it was alleged that The Telegraph reported the same incident with more ‘flair’, more in a story-telling mode. However, I don’t remember much controversy on the whether there was distortion of facts or not. And on a lighter node, watching Doordarshan News was a kind of a torture because of lack of visuals – still the incidents were reported on an ‘as is’ basis.

Then came a whiff of fresh air, when Prannoy Roy started with a capsule programme of “World This Week”. We had a glimpse of the world in a 30 minute slot. The whole family used to be riveted in front of the idiot-box watching impacts that happened across the world. That probably gave us an indication of media-starved Indians what journalism and news reporting should be like in the years to come. Immediately, Prannoy Roy became a household name and the making of mega-stars in the news making industry started from that moment of history.

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Next came a barrage of channels that carried out news using the cable television distribution channel. NDTV was the pioneer with 24 x 7 news first time in India probably ? It was still Prannoy Roy who led the show and budding news anchors started to make their marks in the national arena. While NDTV became a household brand, many other breakaways mushroomed in the market and they also became strong brands very soon. All facets of life – politics, international news and dynamics, sports, entertainment – everything started to be covered across channels. Associated with the competition, came the fight to gain TRP which is directly proportional to viewership.

Frankly speaking, I did not even hear the very word of “TRP” and its significance only till recent past. The other word that I learnt in last few years was “paid media”. Initially I was perhaps naïve not to believe in that. Why will an journalist put in a biased view of an incident when his / her job was to report on what happened ? But to my dismay, I soon discovered that different news channels started to portray the same incident differently – imposing their ‘point of view’ on that incident. I don’t know whether that falls under the ethics of journalism, but I did not like that concept at all.

You report on what happened on a ‘matter of fact’ mode – it is upto the individual viewers to make ‘judgement’ on different perspectives. I, as a viewer, am not interested with what a channel thinks, but rather I would prefer that freedom to be given to me. Unfortunately, that became the fashion. Very soon, we could see one incident being portrayed in one way in one channel and the other channel showing the same incident in a totally different way. Coincidentally, the views matched with the biased interests of different political parties. And I could not remove the thought from my mind on whether the media has become “paid media”. This thought started to get deep in my mind when some of the mega-stars of Indian TV channels were “alleged” to be the ‘middleman’ between business houses and political parties, trying to broker some deals.

Now, that has gone to another level. In order to score high on the battlegrounds of TRP, circulating unverified video’s, telecasting so-called “doctored” clips has become the order of the day. Whether the media houses are themselves producing the same or whether the so-called “paid media” channels are just executing orders from their masters – it is not clear to me as a viewer. But the very consequence of all the actions has resulted into an individual doubting each and every news whether that is the truth OR whether that is a lie; whether that is the truth OR whether that is just a biased version of the story !

While the electronic media has evolved drastically in India in last 20 years, I think the deterioration has been drastic as well. You just keep on shuffling the news channels and I can bet, any person can guess whether that channel reports in line with what Congress party wants to say or what BJP wants to say or what Left parties wants to say !

Overall, the trust that was there 20-30 years ago on printed and electronic media has now vanished from the common man. I don’t know whether the media channels feel the same, but as an ordinary Indian citizen, I feel ashamed on how “fair” journalism has fallen so low !

Hope some day better things will prevail in journalism and till that date, I can only keep on hoping !

 

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The modern era revolution ?

The world is going through a tough time with lot of potentially big issues that can destabilise the modern day society. The world is today integrated in a matter that did not exist so much even twenty years ago. The inter dependency of countries are intertwined through many channels – whether it is through import and export or through dependency of resources (both natural and human skills) or through political compulsions that trigger lot of funding across nations, the fact remains that we are all nodes of a huge interconnected network and we cannot build enough firewalls to insulate ourselves in times of disturbance and chaotic situations happening in some part of the network. I would tend to describe the entire world as a huge octopus with all countries being its tentacles, some big and some small; but if you prick any one of the tentacles, you will definitely feel the tremors and impact in all the other tentacles. Its as simple as that !

So, once we acknowledge the interdependency, we cannot ignore what is happening in a different part of the world with the thought that this will not effect me as a nation or as an individual. It is bound to touch us whether we like it or not.

Now comes the recent turbulent times which got triggered by the financial scams in the USA which even potentially led to the total collapse of the banking system of a lot of big countries. There might be so many reasons and analysis behind the collapse, but to me this was greed leading to corruption amongst big institutions. This has led to a situation where the world is yet to recover from the recession across the so called developed countries. But did that allow the smaller and developing countries to go through their predefined path of growth ? Don’t think so … As the growth rates inspite of being positive have come down. I know politicians will relate that to inflation, corruption, etc .. But the fact remains again that the growth rates are coming down.

The next big thing to me that has hit us is a real sense of people revolution facilitated by technology through social networks. Regimes that were thought to be untouchables came down like a pack of cards by simple pressure from the common people. Probably the era of the “people voice” has started in the modern era. The scales and the impact of this varied from country to country, from issue to issue. Even in my country I was really surprised by the spontaneity of the common people to come down heavily against corruption – the momentum might be hard to be maintained with the same pace it started with, but our beloved politicians just could not ignore the voices, which they had ignored for so many years in the past. Hence there was a flurry of parties trying to encash that by showing solidarity to the peoples voice, but when it came to the fact that people were targeting them as being the most corrupt, then their true nature came to the front, but that’s another story for future.

People have become so much frustrated with greed, corruption, some few people getting rich and the poor becoming poorer, that they have come up with amazing expressions in the streets of Delhi, Wall Street, London, etc. Again this is becoming a global phenomena that governments can hardly ignore.

This probably has now triggered the frustration of the people within the European Union that its very existence might be at stake. I am not an economic expert at all, but my common sense tells me that by simply taking austerity measures will not solve the problem. That can be a tactical move for a short term horizon, but you definitely need growth to remove the gloom hovering around Europe. And common people are not seeing any such measures being taken or being talked about …. And that has reflected in the election results in Greece and France. Spain, Portugal, Ireland are all under crisis and time will tell how the common people will voice their concerns.

People are relating this as return of socialism and communism and the end of capitalism. However I don’t look like that at all. To me, these incidents symbolises the frustration of the people which is shown by removing the current governments, does not matter what type they fall under. It is probably a coincidence that the current governments were more on the capitalist line, I am sure the same treatment would have been rolled out if they were socialist. The problem of economic inequality is a problem which will probably cause lot of headaches to the governments of various countries, unless they make a honest try to minimise that.

Net-net: the signals are ominous : the power of the people are growing and it will be foolish of anybody to ignore this.

Economic Growth & Health

I have a strong conclusion that health conditions or even the awareness of good health practices are a direct function of economic prosperity of the individual. This has been arrived by looking at my family, my friends and their families around. Let me try to explain:

The principle rationale behind this conclusion is based on the fact that if I am not economically strong, how can I think anything beyond my basic survival strategy followed by some avenues for saving for a better future ? My life becomes circled on various transactions to reach this objective and to try to achieve this, I spend 14-16 hours a day with the rest 20% – 30% of the time spending in taking some rest in order to recharge myself for the next day survival.

Once I have some money in my bank and I think my basic standard of living has improved (which can be easily measured by the method of transportation now being mostly used, by the frequency of visits to restaurants and movie theaters, etc), then I automatically think of various other subjects that will tend to make my life longer and yet happier.

That is the time I hear on terms like “returns from equity much better than debt instruments”, impact of social marketing and social-commerce and of course, the various terminologies that pertains to the health barometer. I tend to know what HDL stands for, why triglyceride is not good for the long run, what are the parameters that normally come under a Lipid profile test, etc. By the way, I am not a doctor by profession, nor am I associated with the medical line; yet, there is a big knowledge investment on health parameters to allow me to even lecture to my friends on what food they should avoid if they have a high SGPT !

However, at the end of the day, do we, sometimes tend to think that “ignorance is bliss” when we can have two cream-cracker biscuits thinking of the moron who actually named this as a “cream cracker”  !! Who would have cared for this knowledge and deprive us of the niceties in life ?

Well, guys, if you feel the frustration similar to the above, let me tell you one thing – you definitely have gone up the economic prosperity value chain :-)

The scene of “obscene” pricing

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Very recently some of my friends, including myself, were debating on the topic of the prices of the expensive smart phones available in the market and one of the common conclusions being drawn was that the prices can be labelled as “obscene” to a common man. That led me to think what defines this definition of obscene pricing and whether the corporations have the right to go for this kind of obscene prices of products.

The basic philosophy of corporations is not only to make profits but to maximize the same at a minimum cost. This is because this will allow the companies to grow, make more profit and by that measure make the share holders happy. Hence in a free economy, any organisation has the right to price any of their products in a manner that will help then to make more profit and I personally believe that is not a crime. If they price a product insanely high resulting in people not buying it just because they don’t see the value in buying that product at that price, then obviously the company will not generate that amount of sales to create any profit and will soon be out of business. While pricing, they might definitely target a particular customer category which might make the other customer categories feel that the same product is “too costly” for them to afford it.

However if the economy is state controlled, then the scenario might be current as the government will feel the necessity to control the prices of the various products and hence to the consumer, they will feel that they are getting the prices as dictated by a bigger and powerful body. Obviously this will lead to the lack of options to the consumer and hence in the longer run the people living in that country will feel that they are deprived of the fundamental right of having a self determination of choosing a right product for his use and to his own liking. We have seen that happening in several countries in the 20th century.

In a free economy if a business is so lucrative that a company can afford to maintain an “obscene” pricing, then either the company has some unique technology to invent an unique product which no other company has; or they are the first entrants with that product in that market. But it will be a matter of time when the prices will be coming down with competition coming in to take a slice of that thriving market.  The best example we have seen in recent years in India is in the telecommunication sector wherein the prices of hardware as well as services 10 years ago was quite “oscene” and only a few selected people could afford that price. But now you will find a mobile in the hands of every person walking in the street. This is what a free economy can do to an obscene pricing.

Inventions or “first of a kind” products can afford to keep a very high price in the beginning, but the balancing power of a free economy will force the system to come to a price equilibrium. Till that comes, there might be instances when the prices looks “obscene” – but it will be the force of the competition which will bring down the insane prices to sanity !

The evolution of football … from a layman’s eyes

The hangover from the Argentina – Venezuela match still lingers in Kolkata. Even though the match did not rise to great heights (as I had anticipated) and the teams played at perhaps best 30%-40% of their normal pace, still the class was evident from the likes of Messi, Higuain, Di Maria which definitely points a finger to the ever-increasing difference in the football standards between our clubs / country with a nation who currently ranks 9th in the FIFA rankings. But this match has allowed my mind to go back to history and analyse the evolution of the game. By the way, I am no expert, nor have I obtained any heights while playing football, nor have I googled to read articles on football evolution. This is based on my own personal interpretation of what I had witnessed international football from the age of 7-8 years old.

My first glimpse of international football was when I saw the flowing hair of Mario Kempes in 1978 final against the Netherlands. I still remember distinctly the goals of Kempes, the midfield patrol by Ardilles, the great physical play with the referee forgetting to blow the whistle against the so-many fouls being committed and of course, the huge amount of small pieces of paper on the ground. Now, after seeing many world cup matches till 2010 world cup, I would still rate that as a great classic match ever.

The game that time was fantastically flowing style – flowing with great attacks, flowing with the opportunity given for individuals to display their skills, flowing with attacks through the flanks and the middle by 5-6 attackers and of course, a greatly physical play. That time, the referring regulations were not that strict – hence, if you were a great player, capable of dribbling past me with skills as well as pace, then I need to kick you either on your shins or even your thighs to make you stop. The average goals scored were quite high – simply because the football was focused on scoring goals. So, even you concede 2 goals, good teams had the capability to score 3 or 4 goals.

But how will the comparatively weaker teams survive ? They have also come to win matches and even proceed as near to the finals. Well, the formations were changing to 4-4-2 to counter the attacking game. I will cramp you up in the mid-field, will cramp more in defense, use both man-marking and zonal markings, will be physical as well – let me see how you can score goals ! So, I start to draw matches, which earlier I was losing like anything.

But if I have to proceed in the world cup, occasionally I do have to win matches as well. Hence, I have to score goals, at least in some matches. Then I bring in two side-backs with lot of pace and stamina. And I rely on counter-attacks. I also introduce a libero – who will stand a little behind the rest of the defence and will scuttle all attacks. My strikers should have classical finish – may not be a game maker and I will rely on either long balls or very swift movements through maximum 2-3 passes to suddenly attack my opponents. This was the equivalent of guerrilla warfare – catch the opponents unawares. The Italians were best in this and their catenaccio style was so effective that they won the cup in 1982. Paolo Rossi became a hero and the great Brazilians were humbled. Imagine a team with players like Zico, Socrates unable to find any answers against an ‘ordinary’ Italian side. Inspite of so many attacks, Brazil failed, Rossi scored a hat-trick and subsequently history was written. This to me was a game-changing phenomenon – it proved that you simply cannot have an excellent attacking side but with ‘zero’ defense.

1986 was perhaps an ‘aberration’ when it comes to football strategy. An ‘aberration’ in the name of one Diego Maradona. There was no strategy for Argentina – just allow Maradona to play. Inspite of so many fouls committed against him, Maradona was unstoppable and won the World Cup. I had seen clippings of Pele, Garrincha, Cryuff. Never have I seen one individual carrying single-handedly an ‘ordinary’ team to a world cup victory. Even a tight man-to-man marking in the finals could not stop the man – Maradona withdrew himself to his own half, took his marker and two more defenders, passed the through ball to Burruchaga and rest was history.

The next major change in strategy was pushing the game to 120 minutes and then go for the penalty shootout. People say tie-breaker is a lottery – but still I cannot find any explanation as to why Germany has been so good in tie-breakers. The strategy for success has changed for good – go for defense-first-then-attack and then rely on counter-attacks. Suddenly we saw a tie-breaker ‘specialist’ goalkeeper in the name of Goycochea. In the normal 90 / 120 minutes, he was average standard, struggling to read flights during free-kicks and corners. But when it came to tie-breakers, perhaps God used to enter him and he was invincible. Otherwise how can you explain Argentina playing the finals ? They played the most negative football, accompanied by some Maradona theatrics on the field – but still pushing strong teams out in the penalty shoot-outs.

The importance of dead-ball situations were always there – but in earlier times, all teams played attacking football and hence scoring goals through free-kicks were felt more during the late 80’s till date. Suddenly we had the experts coming up in free kicks – starting from Maradona, Platini, Baggio, Hagi to more recent names of Beckham, Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Figo till current names like Forlan, Messi, Xavi, Robben, etc

All teams, including the Latin American teams, started playing ‘defensive’ style – in line with the Italian / European strategy. They continue to do so till date and that is why the average goals per match has started reducing. FIFA made conscious efforts to protect game-makers, to encourage more goals. Hence the strategy of play-acting is now often used as a strategy. If goals are hard to come because of ‘defensive’ strategy, either you rely on set-piece movements, dead-ball situations or you try to “create” free-kicks and penalties. Every striker in the world probably have tried play-acting on the field multiple number of times. I am sure, this has become part of the strategy.

The last 2 years have perhaps made another game-changing strategy. This is a very effective strategy, but extremely difficult to implement. To me, this is the ultimate entertainment, the ULTIMATE strategy. Perhaps this was envisioned by Cryuff in the 70’s – but now championed by Barcelona, Spain and to some extent, Argentina. The strategy is to keep maximum ball possession (to the extent of 65%-70%) & frustrate the opponents, play great passing football, constantly probe the opponents cracks in their defense and then go for the kill. I think Johan Cryuff’s ‘total football’ was based on this philosophy and through he personally could not achieve this, he definitely was instrumental in giving the philosophy to Barcelona when he was the coach. Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol have mastered this in Barcelona and this is a treat to watch. Spain played this in 2010 world cup and became the deserving champions. Barca literally toyed Manchester United in the Champions League to become the Champions of Europe. For this, you need class players, years of practice with same players and great physical stamina and skills.

But to me, this is the ultimate in football unless another game-changing strategy gets evolved in the future. Who knows whether a lesser-known country or club will come up with something unique to rock the football world.

Till then, we can only watch Barca’s magic and wish “if I could have played like Messi …….”

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Let’s follow Japan

When I started my professional career, I was exposed to something called The Quality Circle, which is encouraged by many organisations. Basically, it encompassed the philosophy of one Mr. William Deming – an American who was not recognised for his recommendations, who moved to Japan on an invite and was instrumental in the rise of Japan for quality products. At one point of time, the word “Japan” symbolised lack fo quality and was looked upon with a smear on a face. However, thanks to Mr. Deming, the Japanese found out the huge potential within its production line and soon became a leader in quality products – surpassing their American counterparts quite easily. The laughing-stock of international forum had become the leaders in a very short timeline. This was Japan transforming to a great example to emulate.

The World War-II had destroyed many countries – but the most severely impacted was Japan, after the two atom bomb attacks. The country was grounded, buildings razed to the ground, physically exhausted, war-criminal acts pursued by other nations. Obviously, the country was ‘finished’. Then how come within a span of 40 – 50 years, the country has risen like a spectre to be treated with respect and become one of the leading countries in the world ?

Only recently I read an article on Japanese honesty and I quote from the article

Since the March earthquake and tsunami that leveled much of Japan, thousands of wallets containing a total of $48 million in cash have washed ashore — and been turned in, ABC reports. In addition, 5,700 safes containing $30 million in cash also have turned up.

Japanese honesty !

This is simply unbelievable to me – here is a nation destroyed by a huge earthquake, many of the people living in distress having lost all their earthly things, the temptation to get ‘free’ money is huge … yet, 2.3 billion yen of cash has been given back to the owners ! Amazing – specially coming from a country where we see huge scams, corruption everywhere in public life …

This country is worth emulating and instead of going towards Russia or US, we should take lessons of national pride, honesty, hard-work, honesty from this country named Japan !

Evolution – for good or bad ?

I hereby attempt to compare the changing face of two popular sports (at least for many Indians) – Cricket and Soccer. I tend to compare the current state of matters in the respective World Cups with the versions that I watched in the late 80’s and try to conclude whether the evolution of the game has become exciting for the new generation or has taken a step back.

First comes Cricket, of course – how can go for anything else being an Indian :-)

The current rules and regulations have made the game ‘exciting’ for a generation who did not have the chance to watch the same version in the late 80’s. The field restrictions, introduction of power-plays, the restriction of one-bouncer-per-over, etc etc have forced teams to become more aggressive in batting. The bowlers may cry their voice hoarse – but net-net, the game has turned over to more exciting times. In the late 80’s, if a team used to score at a rate of 3.5 without losing any wicket, we used to say “wow”. Nowadays, anything less than 6.0 runs per over in the initial 10-12 overs is looked upon as a crime. Earlier, a score of 230-240 in 50 overs was looked upon as a fighting and even winning total. But if you think that by making the same total in today’s game, you will win a match, then I would suggest to take a walk ! Earlier, we had to count how many Indian’s could actually hit a sixer – we were left with limited names like Srikkanth, Shastri, Kapil. Now-a-days, we have to count how many cannot hit a six – and the number would be limited to only 2 – 3 players. Hence, the game has taken a step forward making it more exciting.

Now comes Soccer …….

We grew up with the mesmerisation of Samba football by Brazil, the great flow of Kempes, Ardilles and Maradona’s, the clinical striking by the Rossi’s, Linekar’s of the world. The music called soccer was very much visible when we saw the Socrates, Zico’s, Platini’s of the world gliding through the football pitch and either scoring goals or making way for others to score. The football was great – a typical end-to-end stuff with lots of attacking moves, great skills and overall a fantastic flow to watch from basically any team in the world cups. But if you see the general nature of the game in current world cups – it’s more strategy, more ‘defense-first’ approach and coaches think how you can stop the flow of the opponents instead of concentrating on generating the flow themselves. Gone are the days when you could see personal flair and grace, gone are the days when even you could see fantastic free-kicks – that itself has become almost extinct (and of course, the players, coaches blame the ball for that !!). If you see the last 2-3 world cups, the quality of soccer has changed to more defense, more stress on counter-attacks (rather than normal attacks), more crowding of the midfield, more players of the definition “defensive mid-field” or “blockers” have come to the arena. Apart from perhaps Barcelona Football Club, rarely I have seen flowing, passing football at an international arena – be it from Brazil, Argentina or from Holland, Germany, Italy. To me, I think football has evolved (rightfully or wrong-fully) in a “negative” direction wherein the game have not increased its excitement, but gained more in the tactics of “stop the opponents at any cost” instead of “lets outplay our opponents”. That is why even the current Copa America 2011 (which is currently in its group league stages) have 17 goals in 11-12 matches (if I remember correctly). This itself reflects in which direction football is moving forward …..

I know many of you will not like the above analysis, but as always, I am ready for a healthy, passionate debate :-)

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