Vinod Mehta on the sinking credibility of journalists and why NDTV banned him

First published in Scroll.in on 29 November 2014.

Veteran editor Vinod Mehta was promoted in 2012 to the ceremonial post of editorial chairman of theOutlook group. That was two years after he published the Radia tapes story in Outlook magazine. On the eve of the publication of his second set of memoirs, Editor Unplugged: Media, Magnates, Netas and Me, he spoke to Scroll.in about the state of the media. This is the first of a two-part interview.

It’s surprising you have joined Twitter, considering you recently wrote that social media and you are strangers.
For the moment, flogging my book is my number one priority. Continue reading

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Had I spoken my mind on Bal Thackeray’s death, TV stations would have been burned: Vinod Mehta

First published in Scroll.in on 30 November 2014.

Vinod Mehta, editorial chairman of the Outlook group, published a bestselling autobiography,Lucknow Boy, two years ago. He then felt he had more to say. His new book, Editor Unplugged: Media, Magnates, Netas and Me, will be released by Arundhati Roy and Arnab Goswami in Delhi on December 12. In this free-wheeling interview around the book, he speaks to Scroll.in about a range of subjects. The first part of this interview was published yesterday.

You’ve republished your biographies of Meena Kumari and Sanjay Gandhi, but not your first book, about your early years in Bombay.
I wrote it when I was 26. Some of the contents of the book…My mother, who is dead now, was ashamed when she read it. I wrote in that book about many things which a young man of 26 years would write. About his bohemian life, his womanising, etcetera. You don’t care at that age what you write. I still have a copy of the book and the publishers are chasing me for it. Continue reading

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Between the bathroom and the kitchen, there is caste

First published in Scroll.in on 1 December 2014.

A new survey shows that untouchability is still rampant in India. This is important because many like to pretend caste is a thing of the past.

The survey of over 42,000 households across India by the National Council of Applied Economic Research and the University of Maryland shows that 27% of India still practices untouchability. More than one in every four people.

Even in rural India, there is awareness that caste discrimination is politically incorrect. So if you ask people if they practice it, they will probably claim that they don’t. Travelling as a journalist in north India, I have often heard people say, “Here there is no caste.” Ask them specific questions about inter-caste relations, and the lie is exposed. Continue reading

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The reader is not interested in the story

First published in Scroll.in on 9 December 2014.

Some years ago, I was a reporter in the founding team of a new news magazine. When the magazine launched, the marketing team sent journalists an email saying that we could gift four free subscriptions to anyone we liked, but could we please make sure the four recipients fell within the magazine’s TG?

I wondered what TG meant. The only TG I knew was transgendered. The marketing team explained that the TG they were referring to was Target Group. Our Target Group wasn’t merely SEC A++ as with most English language media. (SEC? Ah, socio-economic category.) There was more to the definition of our TG. The magazine’s ideal reader was someone whose monthly household income was Rs 2 lakh. Some months later they felt that was too ambitious, so reduced it to Rs 1.5 lakh. Wait, there was yet more. There was a category called bull’s eye. We’d hit bull’s eye if we could capture the attention of the reader who lived in one of the big metros, spent weekends in places such as malls where disposable income is spent, had a smart phone (which wasn’t yet ubiquitous), took at least one foreign holiday a year and had a “Segment C” car (which cost above Rs 5.5 lakh in those days). Continue reading

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In defence of Uber: Is the government passing the buck?

First published in Scroll.in on 10 December 2014.

2014 was the year of the app. Come to think of it, there is no major life activity that is not being overtaken by smartphone apps. Ordering food, going to the movies, calling a cab, dating, instant messaging and forwarding inane jokes, shopping, news, posting selfies, watching online videos ‒ all of it is now through your apps. The most popular apps for those activities are Zomato, BookMySHow, Uber, Tinder, Whatsapp, Flipkart, NDTV or Times of India, Instagram and YouTube. Apart from the obligatory Facebook and Twitter. If you are a young urban professional in a big Indian city, chances are you have most of these apps on your phone. Continue reading

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Two years after Nirbhaya, an ode to Delhi

First published in Scroll.in on 16 December 2014.

Every December 16 in Delhi is a gruesome reminder of how the city, and the world at large, is an unsafe place for women. Newer cases of rape continue to shock us, even as most don’t get noticed even if they get reported. Every December 16 is an anniversary of dismay. But for me it is also the anniversary of hope. Two years ago, so enormous was the public outcry over what came to be known as the “Nirbhaya case”, that it lasted a full month.

One had never thought Delhi could care, certainly not in the coldest time of the year, in the holiday season. Christmas and New Year, day and night, Jantar Mantar and Saket malls, camera phones and placards in hand, we made sure the world heard us. Continue reading

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A brief history of the decade that saw social media redefine the ‘mainstream’ news outlets

First published in Scroll.in on 26 December 2014.

It is the biggest natural disaster in living memory. It killed 2,30,000 people in 14 countries. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami struck at a time when many were busy with Christmas holidays. It was exactly ten years ago.

There is a lot for the world to remember and learn, but for many of us it is also an anniversary of another kind. When the tsunami struck, bloggers Peter Griffin, Dina Mehta, Bala Pitchandi, Sunil Nair, Angelo Embuldeniya and others got the TsunamiHelp blog going. The TsunamiHelp blog became a global news story by itself. Large media organisations such as the Guardian, the BBC and CNN wondered how a bunch of bloggers were able to collect and disseminate information about the tsunami much faster and better than the mainstream media with all its resources. Media coverage of the tsunami was quite bad to begin with, because it was holiday season, nobody knew what the tsunami was, and the locations were remote and widely spread. Continue reading

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