Tuesday, 15 March 2005

TOI v/s mediaah! - Sevanti Ninan weighs in at The Hoot

Sevanti Ninan's is a voice that we should have mentioned in our previous post, when we were pontificating about the lack of media critics in India. As our pal Nilanjana Roy said in an email, "Sevanti Ninan ... has been criticising the media for years without qualms about revealing her name."

So let me correct that oversight now, by quoting extensively from Ms Ninan's article in The Hoot on the TOI/Mediaah! affair:
The world of bloggers is agog with the news that Mediaah! the media blog run by Pradyuman Maheshwari, has abruptly shut shop after receiving a legal notice for defamation from the Times of India. But in [...] mainstream media, there has been scarcely a ripple. Journalists who had taken to visiting this gossipy blog precisely because it carried the kind of stuff they could not write, will turn elsewhere for their daily dose of gossip. It is unlikely that they will gather and protest, as some are fondly hoping. In the real world of MSM if you target a single entity whole-heartedly (ninety percent of Mediaah! postings were about the TOI or its group publications) you invite a legal notice. Usually, one article is enough to invite a notice from a biggie---ask any publication that has tried to write about the Ambanis. Publications receive lawyer’s notices all the time. If they shut down every time one arrived there would be no media left.


So was Mediaah! defamatory? Well, it carried language and insinuation that mainstream publications would not. Sample:

'Should Mid Day sell stake? Should it sell stake to the Times? Will Times use Mid Day to serve its own ends? Will it continue its policy of treating Mid Day journalists as B-grade employees and pimp Mid Day print space under the garb of Medianet?'

It was gossipy and irreverent. The nineteen posts ordered off were a mix of critique and news stories about the Times group. Defamation could be alleged not because of actual content but because of sustained targeting. The blog fired away merrily at the TOI, almost every single day. It had a source or sources within the newspaper, and that became its major selling point. It is hardly surprising that they moved to plug the leak. If somebody were to malign either Maheshwari or Mediaah! day in and day out, would either keep quiet?


We are, we may take it on now and then, but we don’t presume to target it. It is prudent to know the limits of your strength.

In the blogosphere the theme song is that a brave, independent blog is being snuffed out by Big Media. Come on! Make a noise! Save it! Freedom of speech is under threat.

The thing about free speech though, is that it does not come for free. Its price, at the very least is a lawyer’s fees. Pradyuman Maheshwari was offering no holds barred commentary on the media. If you are no holds barred, it stands to reason does it not, that the guy you are targeting will also be no holds barred? You have to be prepared for that, and cover your flanks. Or you have to duck and become subversive. The online world has a dozen methods of attack without being traced or pinned down. He should have tried some of them.


The comparison with Vir Sanghvi’s Rude Food is specious. If Sanghvi were to target the same hotel and restaurant day after day, he would be send a lawyer’s notice, but perhaps a more elegantly phrased one.


If a blog is raising an issue of national importance and providing evidence to go with it, the mainstream media will pick it up. But if it is a matter primarily concerning a media house with no larger implications, in India the media will not take on other media, no matter what. That has been Maheshwari’s misfortune.


Marginalien said...

Hmmmm. Inneresting.

I've been reading the Mediaaah posts here at Zigs, and wondering whether or not to post my thoughts on the subject -- not that I have anything positive to offer. I am never inclined to fight openly with the big guys because I lack the nerve/time/money -- however ideologically attractive it might be to stand up and be a David -- so I'm in the wrong frame of mind for answering your list of questions, Zig.

However, the further bad-boy point I wanted to make, and reading Sevanti's views sort of helps me to make it (though her article is aimed in a different direction), is that I like blogs exactly because they're outside the mainstream. They're able to do stuff, say stuff, BECAUSE they're in a media-shadow. That is (for me) their charm. Natch, it's wonderful when the shadows can become a source of great power, such as when a tsunami mows down defenceless humans -- but that's not, for me, the reason I enjoy blogging.

Sevanti's post reminds me that there's also that other argument to be made - that by tweaking the lion's tail a little too often, a little too much, this Mediaah mouse has had to cease to exist. Had it, in a sense, begun to forget that it was after all a mouse -- enjoying the privileges of mousedom, i.e. the option of being irresponsible and unaccountable on occasion -- and not a lion?

zigzackly said...

Fair point, M.

After my initial indignation - i hate bullies in any form, and am for free speech - and helped along considerably by Ms Ninan's piece, i'm inclined to agree with you.

Pradyuman had to expect retaliation, i guess. i still think, though, that the form that retaliation took was unworthy of the Times.