Thursday, April 28, 2005

Translation issues

Amit Varma raises a valid point about the issue of translation in the media. I've always been irritated by the way NDTV chooses to translate quotes. Invariably, its a summary of what the speaker has just spoken - and quite often it isnt as accurate. And from what little I've seen of other news channels, the problem isnt restricted to NDTV alone.

I'd rather have the news channels translate what the speaker says word-by-word, and leave it to the viewers to summarize.

NDTV again

I wonder how I missed mentioning the Walk The Talk program in my previous post on NDTV. Well thought out and implemented in style by Indian Express' Shekar Gupta. He's managed to interview a whole host of people including an ex-CIA chief, RSS's Sudarshan (in the episode that got him the most footage) and this week he's walking the talk with Kofi Annan. Should be an interesting one to watch.

Talking of Shekar Gupta, the other print media personality who used to floor me with his analysis of foreign policy matters was Dr. C Rajamohan. He was a regular in most foreign policy discussions on NDTV, and wrote rather regularly in The Hindu as well. He hasnt been doing either for some time now. Wonder what he's upto...

Another person who excels in discussions on foreign policy is G. Parthasarathy, who has been India's top diplomat in various countries including Pakistan. He seems to be a favourite of NDTV anchors as well :p

On another note, I've cribbed a lot about how biased the US media was while reporting the war on Iraq. I did know some bias would exist towards India in our own media, but it was indeed revealing to note certain instances of it live on tv. Both involved Burkha Dutt. The first was on the day the Tourist Reception Centre was attacked. Burkha sought to interview members of the public who were present on the scene, and one of them went on a tirade on how he'd rather have Kashmir be a part of Pakistan than of India. Burkha was quick to cut him off and get us back to the studio while she sorted those tiny issues out there. Also, another instance was in the We the People program (aside: another remarkably good prog) in the same week. When Sajjad Lone tried voicing his opinion on how the Indian government should accept that the bus was the result of the sacrifices of Kashmiri people all these years, Burkha quickly switched to someone else. But well, I guess she doesnt want to antagonize her target segment which is India. The question is whether this runs contrary to her journalistic ethics that should put pursuit of truth above everything else.

Come on! Come on!

Nice song. Esp the rap beat. Have been listening to this song for over a month or two now.. Still cant get it off my song list.

"Come on! Come on!"

Quickfix Courts?!

I’ve wondered quite a few times if there was any one magic switch that if turned on would quicken the way the common Indian is treated. I have now come to believe there is one such switch – though turning it on would be a rather difficult, if not impossible proposition. The one-step solution would be to improve our legal infrastructure.

It’s become a cliché to state that India is over-legislated. With all these laws in place, Indian legal system can probably be said to look good on paper. But quite like our cricket team, being good on paper is just that. In the actual sense, we are better only than minnows like Zimbabwe and Kenya in cricket – and I bet the position won’t be quite different in the legal system either.

We now have a judicial system that thrives on procrastination – and its not just lawyers asking for yet another adjournment. The Mumbai Blasts case has stretched for more than a year since the trial was completed. The honourable judge has been using this time to come up with his judgment. As pointed out here, in the Mumbai Blasts case there are around 150 suspects behind bars – some of whom will possibly be acquitted and released. So in effect, those innocent people are spending yet another year behind bars coz “Their Lord” hasn’t made up his mind yet.

I can recall at least one other such case – that was against Jayalalithaa in the Supreme Court. And the judge (or was it a bench, I don’t remember) sat on the case for more than a year. At least, the accused wasn’t spending time in jail then.

And then there’s of course the statistics on how poor the conviction rate is in India (and how it’s been worsening with time), and the number of undertrials behind bars who’ve overstayed the maximum possible sentence they can receive for their stated crimes.

The one single step that can help change the situation is to bring in judicial accountability. I propose that the following statistics be published regularly:

1. Number of cases handled per day(probably split into many categories based on the nature of crime)
2. Avg time taken to conduct the trial (prosecution and defense separately)
3. Avg time taken to pronounce judgment after the trial arguments are completed
4. Fraction of judgments delivered in the past that have been overturned by higher courts

These parameters should also be taken into consideration when the judges are to be promoted.

Loose generalizations

This thought struck me yet again today when in a television interview, some rock-star was talking of an event in some other rock-star’s life. He was describing how the whole world was stunned by that. And here I am – totally unaware of who these two rock-stars are and whatz the big deal with the incident anyway?!!

It struck me especially since I read in an opinion article recently in Week or Outlook that cited how the media (esp electronic media) uses terms like “common man” and “average Indian” rather loosely. The article went on to describe the average Indian – one who does not pay any tax simply because he earns a paltry few cents a day (I must admit I don’t remember the numbers off-hand. I do remember that a huge percentage of Indians earn less than a dollar a day, which is the universally accepted standard for the poverty line).

So the next time you read of the average Indian being affected by outsourcing, BPO or the income tax, think again!

BSNL aint tat bad, after all

Turns out if you want to find the address and owner's name of any landline number in India, its just a click away! Actually, a few clicks away – the user interface isn’t too good, but I’m not complaining. :)

And for those who still don't believe it, click here.

NDTV 24*7

Innovative programming, insightful analysis, dynamic set of anchors and quite often over-sensationalist. That’s probably the best way to describe the NDTV 24*7.

Some of the particularly impressive innovations are Foreign Correspondent (as Ajay Shukla – the anchor describes it, it’s a panel discussion with foreign correspondents to understand how they see India because how they see India is often how the world sees India), Special Report series (a half an hour spent on an issue – to delve into its roots and explain the various dimensions of the issue. I especially loved the one on the sale of land that once housed mills in Mumbai) and Double Take (though I initially didn’t quite like the concept of puppets, once I started watching the program it turned out to be pretty good).

On the other hand, the main flaw I find in their programming is their constant urge to editorialise while they should in fact be reporting. Invariably in the last sentence of the report is a value judgment the anchor passes on the subject of the news item. The other irritating thing is the hierarchy among anchors that seems to have set in. This phenomenon was clearly observable when the Tourist Reception Centre at Srinagar was attacked the day before the first S-M bus rolled out. Nidhi Razdan was doing a rather good job of reporting from the site, when she was cut-off mid-way by Burkha Dutt who it seemed had just reached the spot. From then on, Burkha was acting as the chief anchor hooking up to the studio or other places for soundbites, when in fact the person at the studio should’ve been doing this. Consequently, not only did Burkha contradict some of the facts Nidhi had stated, she kept coming back online to report nothing new at all. It seemed rather absurd that an otherwise excellent reporter would feel insecure if she didn’t talk once every few minutes.

In any case, NDTV 24*7 is by far the best news channel in town and definitely one of the few channels that makes a life under the CAS regime a lot easier even without a set-top box.

Seedy Act, eh?!

I meant CD Act i.e Communal Disturbances Act :p which as NDTV reports has been prepared by the UPA government to prevent recurrence of the Gujarat riots. If it ever were to be passed by the parliament unto a law, it looks like an awfully powerful weapon in the hands of the union government.

Wonder how regional parties belonging to the UPA like DMK would react to the bill, given their stated claims of working towards increasing the autonomy of states in our federal structure.

Also, how would this act work? God forbid, something like Gujarat happens yet again – say in Gujarat. Modi gets his police working towards maintaining law and order, while the UPA sends in paramilitary forces. One ominous scenario I can predict in such a situation is when the two forces are at loggerheads and end up lathi-charging each other. As for the rioters, who cares?

Look who’s talking!

NDTV 24*7 reports that the RSS chief Sudarshan has "accused" Pope Benedict XVI of belittling other religions. Haha.. so good of NDTV to provide some humour along with the regular news.

News Flash: TATA plans to buy BSNL’s broadband service in 2006

What else can one make of the pathetic service VSNL has been providing to its dialup consumers? Its as if they’d rather have us all shift to broadband. Every time I try to go online, I’ve got to face numerous rejections from VSNL before it lets me log on. And to its credit, it does not repeat the same error in some 3-4 attempts. Not that it lets me stay online for too long. Just when I start chatting with someone, VSNL decides I’ve had enough net-time for now, and plugs me out of the system. There it goes yet again. Damn it!

Hype in the media - The ESISI Syndrome

In the past few weeks, quite a few “historic” events have occurred in India – or so the media would like us to believe. Be it the Srinagar - Muzaffarabad bus service, the visits of Wen Jiabao and Pervez Musharraf, or the Indo-Pak cricket series, the media would love us to believe that every second of each of these events has something historic about it.

While I agree that all the above (except probably the Indo-Pak cricket series) were historic, what I object to is the constant live commentary that something earth-shattering is happening at that particular instant. It was especially irritating to hear this kind of stuff in the cricket matches. Every once in a while, one of the commentators would say “This is a very crucial phase of the game”.

I guess it’s just that the commentators (be it in politics or news) have to make themselves and their news coverage seem important (and quite often a lot more important than it actually is) to the viewer so that he doesn’t switch channels – or worse, switch off the tv. Its an instance of what I call ESISI syndrome – Excessive Sensationalism to Increase Self-Importance.

Hopefully the media would realize sooner rather than later that by making every second of news seem important, they decrease the relative importance of any news – and viewers think in terms of relative and not absolute importance. In other words, it’s always a fight for the viewer’s time and he/she may choose to watch the channel that he considers more important than the rest.

Sue the politicians

As I was watching the Rajya Sabha proceedings live on DD – and no prizes for guessing the decibel levels – this thought occurred to me.

Given that the elected members are elected and paid by the electorate (well, paid by taxpayers who belong to the electorate), the elected reps provide services to the electorate – their consumers. So can I sue my MLA, Lok Sabha MP and TN Rajya Sabha MPs in a consumer court if I believe they haven’t served me to my satisfaction?

I guess there are quite a few parameters to judge an elected rep’s performance – say his attendance levels in the assembly/parliament, or the number of times they’ve raised issues related to their constituency in the a/p proceedings, or by comparing their performances with the promises they made during the election campaign. In fact, could I possibly sue a party – say BJP for not building the Ram temple at Ayodhya in spite of promising to do so in their election manifesto?

If Vajpayee were in cricket

I believe Vajpayee would’ve been a rather attacking batsman if he were to play cricket. Right when I thought he’d go defensive in the face of RSS chief Sudharshan’s attack on the BJP’s old guard, our man goes on the offensive with a statement that he agrees with Sudharshan. Quite a nice ploy to get his party to strongly either endorse or reject Sudharshan’s comments. I guess any collateral damage this move might cause to Advani’s position as the BJP chief wouldn’t worry Vajpayee too much either.

Tracking posted items in India

I had thought for long that only multinational logistics providers like DHL or FedEx provide facilities for online tracking of packages. It came as a rather pleasant surprise to learn that government-owned Indian postal service wasn’t too far behind either. The next time you send something on Speed post, you can track your package on . Well, at least that was the link I was given in the post office. The link doesn’t work right now  Did I feel happy a bit too soon?! I guess I should've known better than to expect the site to work. :(

Barring the bars

I guess the Maharashtra government would rank among the very highest in terms of IT-savviness. It felt dance bars were “corrupting the youth” and got down to work. And their solution has also been amazingly simple – Ctrl A + Del

Down-south, Chennai police commissioner is also flexing his muscles – in the moral policing field. Hez ensuring that all hotels close their bars by midnight, as they should according to their license. In an interview he gave to a tam magazine, he laments that he’s got to do this because some parents told him that its upto him to save their children from the devil.

God save us all!!

Bulla ki jana

Am lovin’ it. Nice song. I couldn’t quite appreciate the song b4 I saw the video. Nice funda to provide the subtitles for the song in the video. The main reason I liked the song was tat it was the kind of phil that I love – who am I, why am I here and what’s the point? Not surprisingly, I also loved Main aisa kyun hoon..

After a short break...

I've been unable to post any messages on my blog for the past few weeks due to some incompatibility in my ISP settings. Looks like it works now that I've changed my ISP. During the break, I have been writing down a few things I'd have liked to post. Will post them assuming Blogspot and my ISP dont play any more games with me.

Aah, its so nice to blog after this interval!!