Journalism in Goa

About journalism and media issues in Goa... all views welcome. Everything but slander can be discussed here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Getting history wrong... JD Fernandes is actually the name of the bookshop

October 3 is a day when I spend usually on going back down memory lane, and reminiscing. So is October 10. The first day was when I entered for a full-time job into a newspaper office, in 1983. The second date was when the paper which we joined as college kids actually hit the stands. We thought Herald would be a big splash when it came out (with a dateline error) with its English-avatared first issue. Nobody, or almost nobody, noticed it. The Navhind refused to carry an advertisement about the birth of a 'rival' newspaper. To add to the tragi-comic situation, the Herald poster which was put up in a very few parts of Panjim read, "Announcing the birth of a new English (language) daily...." or something to that effect. Below it there was the photo of two singers with a guitar! On Monday, the Herald's few ad-packed extra pages reminded it was the 22nd anniversary of Herald's and our entry into journalism. Some comments on the occasion, mostly in response to what the Herald is saying (or not saying): * Editor Robin Abreu's brief front-page piece is titled 'Dev Borem Korum'. In addition to Rajan Narayan's almost patented phrase, he also signs off with an additional 'Devan Tumcher Bessaum Galum'. I think Rajan has added to the Konkani language and localspeak with repeated use of terms like DBK and Pratapsing *Raoji* Rane... * Robin is as much a man of few words, as Rajan is loquacious. While we did learn some positive things from Rajan and he was at first a great boss (specially in the early days), one of his traits as editor was to virtually fill the entire paper with his own writing. This has been commented on elsewhere; I think by RK Nair. Sometimes, this left less space (in both senses of the word) for his team. Perhaps an editor should spend his or her energies in getting out the best from others, rather than dominating the publication himself or herself.... Robin terms Herald Goa's "largest read paper" and says it is "getting stronger and stronger". His contention that "the changes over the past one year" have been undertaken "to meet the varying demands of our readers" can however be debated. Firstly, most changes are advertiser-driven and seem shaped with the trends being brought in by papers like the Times of India. The ascent of the marketing sections over editorial is clearly visible in many papers, including the Herald. This has little or nothing to do with providing a better product to the reader. (In fact, readability of such papers has gone down.) Instead, it has everything to do with jazzifying and sexing-up the product, under the (mistaken) belief that everyone wants a glamorous, colour and snazzy paper in between their hands, one that appeals to their emotions rather than to their brain, and one which is advertiser-friendly and conflict-free (it doesn't care about local concerns and ignores them often). THE NEXT THING that drew my attention was Uday Bhembre's article on Page 5, titled 'Remembering with gratitude'. It acknowledges "the contribution of Herald to the success of the language agitation in 1986". As someone working there in the heat of the "agitation", I felt then as I feel now that it was a lot of hot air, misplaced chauvinism and all that has resulted in frustration and unfulfilled promises. Few might the details of how the "agitation" was used for selfish purposes by its leading lights. I know at least one senior who was arguing for a raise in salary on the basis that the newspaper had "brought 75,000 people to the Azad Maidan" (or words to that effect). I couldn't agree more with Bhembre's view that "Herald... should not try to be a 'national' paper, in the sense that it should not ignor elocal news and run away from issues of local interest". He has an apt example when he says, "As a reader, I do not expect any local newspaper to ignore the controversial VCD product by the Government, and devote its columns to discuss films like Lagaan or Swades..." Well put. Bhembre says, "Herald should improve its Sunday magazine". Does the Sunday magazine still exist? It seems to have been given a quiet burial some months ago, or at least reduced to a shadow of its former self. Bhembre also adds that the Sunday magazine should "discuss books published in Goa especially in Konkani". Why Konkani? Because a lobby has hijacked a language and turned it into a barely-read one, which has no takers in its own language? It is quite a comment on the failure of the language protagonists that they need reviews of Konkani books in an English-language newspaper. Also, Bhembre seems to be contradicting himself when he argues that "in the present times, Goa needs newspapers which fearlessly protect the interest of Goans" and at the same time says "Herald has the potential; but to fit into that category it will have to practice free, fair and fearless journalism in the interest of the country in general and Goa in particular". The first statement suggests that the "interest of Goans" are somehow distinct from those of others. Or that someone who is not a Goan is impinging on these. The actual fact is that many of our contradictions lie within *our* society itself. Bhembre goes on to talk about the "interest of the country". As if Goa is one undifferentiated mass, and so is India. Bhembre also adds: "There is a perception in a section of the Goan population that Herald looks towards a particular community as a constituency. This perception needs to be dispelled." This is a debatable proposition. In a Goa where every paper is seen as a mouthpiece (or largely read by) one community or caste group or lobby (even the BJP has its own organ now!), the Herald gets consistently blamed as being a newspaper read mainly by the Catholics. Which it is. But what's wrong with that? In my view, the Herald (or any other paper in a similar position) need not be apologetic about this. Worldwide, papers have a preferred readership, when tends to be a group whose views are reflected and re-echoed in the newspaper they read. Sometimes the group might be based on politics (liberal, conservative, radical), or religion (Urdu papers, Marathi papers in Goa, former Portuguese papers here, etc). This is not a crime! Anyone running a paper will try to echo the views and concerns of his basic readership constituency. Unfortunately, the Herald gets put on the defensive, even while nobody even seems to notice that papers like the GT also show signs of wanting to cut into the "Catholic readership" market. What *is* wrong, I think, is to polarise readers of one community against the other, and to lead readers into believing that the 'other' are evil enemies out to destroy you. Many papers in Goa -- sometimes Herald too in the past -- have adopted such an approach, which is not just very unfortunate but also dangerous to the future of Goa. Herald needs to be more honest about where it stands, and try to adequately serve the Catholic readership -- which otherwise gets very little media space in Goa. It also needs to give a honest, liberal and secular leadership to the community. It needs to question corrupt politicians, specially those of a Catholic background, who are otherwise adept at throwing dust over the eyes of the common(wo)man without ever being challenged on the basis of the support they draw from the cornered minority community, which is itself a significantly large minority. At the same time, papers like the Herald have a crucial role in building understanding between different sections of the Goan population, both communities and castes, locals and migrants, etc. Just highlighting a few reports about Hindu religious festivals isn't going to fool anyone or ever be sufficient. JOE D'SOUZA, one of the preferred columnist of the Herald currently, has another piece titled 'A tribute to the voice of Goa'. He calls the Herald (actually O Heraldo, the shrunken O's at either end were a typographical trick intended to continue getting newsprint quotas in the days of the license-permit raj) a "predominantly Portuguese daily" started in 1900. Predominantly? I thought it was wholly Portuguese ... Those weren't days days of multiculturalism anyway. Or am I wrong? But the bloomer in Joe's piece is that he mistakes A.C.Fernandes, the man who went in for the shifting of Herald from being a Portuguese-language daily to an English-language one, with AC's father, J.D.Fernandes. Actually, the latter is also the name of the far-older stationery shop (named after A C Fernandes' father, and Raul-John-Oswald Fernandeses' granddad, so others tend to get confused too). For Dr Joe to get it wrong, not once but twice, is understandable. For a newspaper to forget its own history is -- and that too, going just 22 years back -- is surprising. This is the problem with a lack of 'insider' understanding of issues, an issue we have been debating on the Goajourno mailing list recently. See http://puggy.symonds.net/pipermail/goajourno/2005-October/002367.html What is also more noteworthy is the piece also erases the role played by Rajan Narayan in the Herald. There's no mention of this name. It's like the case of Leon Trotsky, who was wiped out of photographs when he fell out of favour with revolutionaries in Russia. On a related point, in the early days of the Herald (maybe the first year or two), Rajan Narayan actually named the entire team that brought out the paper in his anniversary edit. Right down to proof-readers and peons! But over the years, this was forgotten as the then-editor took on a larger-than-life image himself, and the Herald-is-Rajan, Rajan-is-Herald era began. Dr Joe claims that "Herald alone was the voice, which proclaimed (sic) about the extensive damage done by unscientific mining and haphazard urbanisation taking place in Goa". Actually, a closer look at the issues of the time shows that the paper was largely silent at the peak of what it later described as the rule by the Gang of Four (four of the controversial Congress politicians) and actually lionised politicians like Ravi Naik when they were in power, and unleashed the land conversions of the early 'nineties. (Ravi was heroised as the man who had the guts to jail Churchill Alemao; later on, Alemao himself came in for praise, after becoming, at one stage, the Godfather General of Goons! Joe would also like to believe that it was his and Norman Dantas' work in the Herald (I have great respect for Norman's work generally) that resulted in a House Committee to look into the Nylon 6,6 DuPont issue. Actually, a high level of industrial rivalry (don't forget the Nylon 6 link to the Ambanis and others) was more responsible in one of the few successful environmental protests in Goa. Believing otherwise would be an exercise in self-delusion. Joe also credits the Herald with standing up to the BJP when it was in power and Goa was facing the "manipulation of the press". I think the GT played a much more significant role. That too, even when the Parrikar regime seemed almost-invincible, not only in early-2005, by which time its fall was imminent. It is also questionable to portray the BJP as the only "arm-twisting" force affecting the Goan press. What about other politicians, including the Congress during its long years in power, and other smaller players too? Just a few thoughts. Your comments are welcome. FN

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