Archive for May, 2013

Media Powerhouse Attacks Freedom Of Press.

27 May 2013
In couple of days after I wrote about the Tale of “Attorney General Goolam Essaji Vahanvati” two opinions, I came across a piece in that referred to a Caravan Magazine article on the same gentleman. Caravan article was scathing on Vahanvati’s “opinions”: Inside Man. The convenient opinions of Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati. It is a longish article done by  Krishn Kaushik that was richly embellished, which inflated its girth, but was woefully short on substance compared to the space it commandeered. However, what was of interest is that a law firm, Agarwal Law Associates representing its client Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG), had issued a legal notice to Caravan Magazine to stop publishing the said article or face the penalty of defamation proceedings. It was an attempt at censorship, an anathema to media’s champions of freedom of speech and of press freedom: “Mahesh Agarwal’s letter to the editor of Caravan urged him to note that the ADAG had given the law firm “peremptory instructions to lodge legal proceedings, both civil and criminal, in the event of your publishing any news or article or material that concerns our clients and is defamatory and/or malicious”“. Paranjoy  Guha Thakurta did that “Hoot” on ADAG’s failed attempt; failed because heedless of the threat Caravan magazine went ahead to publish the article. 
Thakurta should have known about corporate assaults on press freedom to throttle  truth coming out in public -the virus of litigious US corporate world is upon the Indian scene in a big way, as he himself had faced wrath of another corporate for an article he had done for LiveMint.Com in February last. That corporate happened to be Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd (BCCL), arguably  India’s biggest media conglomerate. One of Media’s own, which loves to pretend to champion freedom of speech and press, was caught suppressing that very freedom. In an extraordinarily unusual move, BCCL chose to legally threaten not the portal “Live Mint” -another media house, which carried the article, but its author, Thakurta. When an offensive is launched, one chooses a soft target or an identified weak link, which in this case BCCL reckoned is the author. However, Live Mint decided to standby Thakurta legally. The intimidating posture failed. This was the story The Hoot, which does a fine job of media monitoring, brought out yesterday: Bully Tactics? “The owners of Bennett, Coleman and Co like to sue, or at least send out intimidating legal notices.  They do not pick on people their own size unless they feel considerably provoked. When The New Yorker columnist Ken Auletta profiled them last October in a piece called Citizens Jain they were not flattered and sent a long threatening letter charging that his article contained many falsehoods and that he had not spoken to their executives. Says Auletta, “The New Yorker assigned a factchecker, with my support, to check my piece and found no falsehoods and noted that I spoke with their top executives. Our lawyer sent a lengthy letter forcefully challenging their claims. This was several months ago, and that was the last we heard.”“.
The link provided to “Citizens Jain” throws up a blank page at The New Yorker. I wondered if Jains had succeeded in intimidating the US magazine. But search on its site (see above) showed up the article link, however, this link too leads to the same blank page of The New Yorker. I almost decided that my earlier conjecture was correct, when I saw a little blue lock symbol next to the article title. It may therefore be “charitably surmised” that article is accessible only to “paid subscribers”. 
Returning to the Thakurta’s story on BCCL, what was in it that irked the powerful media house? “It’s a legal battle that has been going on for nearly two decades… Ranged against The Financial Times Ltd (FTL) of the UK, which belongs to the Pearson group, is Times Publishing House Ltd (TPH), a part of the conglomerate of companies led by Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd (BCCL), publishers of TheTimes of India and the The Economic Times… To many, BCCL has already won the battle since it has been successful in stalling FTL’s attempts to publish a facsimile edition of the Financial Times in India. People familiar with developments at FTL, however, say the UK firm is challenging multiple legal actions brought by BCCL in a determined manner. They claim the Indian media conglomerate’s actions are aimed at “subverting” government policies that have liberalized the working of the country’s print sector“. BCCL was not to be disheartened by its failure to intimidate Thakurta. It went after a still smaller and softer target than a known journalist from mainstream media.
The new target was a blogger, a law student, who went by the name, Ms. Aparajita Lath. She was threatened through the agency of lawyers, K. Datta & Associates, for her “temerity” to write a post based on Thakurta’s article on issues germane to intellectual property rights (IPR). Her post was carried on, a blog site devoted to De-Coding Indian Intellectual Property Law. Luckily for the 22 years young lady, it was not her blog alone, and it was led by Ministry of HRD Chair Professor of IP Law at WB NUJS, Salt Lake, Kolkata, Mr. Shamnad Basheer. Professor Basheer did not take kindly to the notice sent to Lath, which he said used “vile language and highly aggressive tone“. Well versed with lawyerly tricks because of his training, he decided to reply not “in kind” but in a language that made it “unmistakably clear” such “legal tantrums” would be most unwelcome. “To conclude, we strongly and staunchly deny all your puerile claims. We take strong exception to your imputation of bad faith to Aparajit a whose writings on the blog have always reflected the highest values of journalistic integrity and passion . If you continue with this character assassination and threaten us any further, we will be cons trained to initiate legal proceedings against you. This will needlessly fill the coffers of two sets of lawyers, but perhaps that’s what you really want. In the sincere hope that your client is smarter than you, we remain…“. That hopefully should cool the tempers at BCCL for some time to come. Or would they? Bullies are not easily dissuaded by such “gentle snubs”, unless and until they find themselves with bloodied noses every time they try their intimidating tactics. BCCL is neither the first nor the last to use its clout to silence dissenting voices, though it may be first from the media business to target individuals from media or blogosphere.
  1. Censorship, Ambani Style: Gagging Media, Ignoring Accusers.
  2. Rs, 500 Billion Story : Defamation Lawsuit against an activist.

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