OPINION

How the TOI Misleads India

August 26, 2007
Ledzius

Few of us in India would have missed the colossal marketing effort for "Lead India" by the Times of India in print as well as on TV going on now.

I fail to understand what exactly is the purpose of this. It seems that there might be more to it than meets the eye.

Apart from catchy slogans like "Domination starts with DO", the TOI has roped in Shah Rukh Khan as the campaign's "face". He says, "Let's stop basking in our glorious past or day dreaming about our great future". He also goes on to remind us, "Remember, you are not stuck in a traffic jam. You ARE the traffic jam". If you say so, o King of Bollywood.

They also have created a website where you can apply or nominate someone else as a "Times Leader" in your city.

I still have not made sense of this stuff. What exactly is the TOI trying to achieve here? While the underlying rhetoric that ageing Indian politicians are corrupt and petty minded is nothing new, are these people taking it a step beyond by trying to form a parallel government comprising SMSing twenty somethings to bypass the elected one?

While the above may sound silly, I am actually a bit unnerved regarding Lead India's unwarranted activism regarding the Indo-US nuclear deal. While I am for the deal myself (and so are most educated people in this country, including major newspaper editors and columnists), we have to remember that the Left might have some valid objections which we cannot gloss over. Even Kapil Sibal had agreed to engage in a debate in Parliament over this. If the Left decides to pull out of the UPA after the debate, it is a different issue. We are operating according to the norms of parliamentary democracy, in which case we play by the rules of such a system.

But the TOI has jumped the gun and wants strategic deals to be signed based on SMS polls. It has published the results of SMS polls (where 93% are in favour of the deal), besides editorials and readers' letters lambasting the Left. It did not publish even a single counter-argument (perhaps deliberately?).

In today's (26 Aug) newspaper, on the front page there is a Lead India article titled "More than ever, need for leadership". In this article, they state, "In the last few days, we've sought reader feedback through multiple channels - sms, mail, blogs - and commissioned extensive polls in a bid to understand what the people of India feel about the ongoing political farce. The overwhelming response seems to be one of disgust at the myopia and pettiness being exhibited by those who are supposed to lead the country".

Am I the only one here to feel that the TOI is not just reporting opinions, but manufacturing them as well? You could always take any side of any argument, give it a rosy spin, belittle the other side, and then take an opinion poll, and publish it on the main page to gain more converts to your side. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy after that.

As a daily that claims to be India's most read newspaper, the TOI should show some maturity and restraint in dealing with sensitive issues. It cannot appropriate the emotions of an impulsive, dreamy-eyed SMSing youth to push its own agenda (and boost its circulation). It would border on the verge of unethical corporate behaviour to do so. Leave activism to the various groups and NGOs. You either make news, or report it, but not both.

But that's what the TOI seems to be doing. I think the TOI should continue to do what it does best - feature baggy eyed middle aged men and women toasting on its "Page 3", and leave it at that.

But it is true that the TOI has bigger ambitions, and something that goes beyond print. Already, they have entered the online matrimonial and job market, as well as television (the Times Now channel). It seems like the Lead India campaign is really for domination. The question is, by India, or the Times group itself?

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#1
Aaman
URL
August 26, 2007
12:35 PM

I'm glad you've picked up this issue. It is actually yet another step on the road to perfect neo-liberalism, when the corporates and markets feel they can replace the state. Of course, as our good friend Sridhar responded to Nandan Nilekani's article "When The State Took Flight", these are mere "Flights of Corporate Fantasy".

Unfortunately, the media/corporate complex hasn't shown much success in actually running anything more complex than a company or a small social unit. And they generally follow the NIMBY approach to governance (Not In My Backyard), which enjoins adherence to rights and policies on everyone but themselves.

#2
Prateek
August 26, 2007
01:11 PM

This is definitely not the first time TOI has pulled a stunt like this. Their self-congratulatory advertisements masquerade as front page stories.
Earlier this year I was on a business trip to Gujarat and for the whole week the local Times supplement was spewing anti-prohibition propaganda. Not saying I support or oppose their stance but they made no effort to veil their intentions.
Long ago when they outsourced their search engine to Google they ran a headline saying "their" search engine returned more results than Yahoo. Simply pathetic.

#3
Atlantean
URL
August 26, 2007
01:11 PM

TOIlet paper has never been known for broadmindedness and seriousness anyway.

#4
smallsquirrel
August 26, 2007
02:16 PM

atlantean... LOL TOIlet paper!
that is brilliant.

I have written to the editor of that piece of shit paper so many times I have lost count... their editorial staff should all be sacked, and that is their smallest offense. I do believe they manufacture news, and misrepresent the rest.

#5
Aditi Nadkarni
URL
August 26, 2007
04:07 PM

Ledzius: "I think the TOI should continue to do what it does best - feature baggy eyed middle aged men and women toasting on its "Page 3", and leave it at that."

Hahaha, awesome! :) And so true!!

TOI is not a newspaper any more...its more like one of those gossip magazines that thrive on sensationalism. The neutrality and bystander approach that should be the fundamental angle of any fair news media is drastically lacking. They have substituted opinions with bias and perspective with propaganda.

Good piece Ledzius!

#6
Ledzius
August 27, 2007
01:48 AM

Aaman- perhaps they are taking the term "corporate governance" literally?

Others- most of us here might dismiss the TOI as just trash, but there are hundreds of thousands of young dudes out there who really look up to it as a model newspaper. I'm sure this explains its increasing readership. It is this thought that makes me worried.

#7
Chandra
August 27, 2007
01:55 AM


I was brought upon a dose of Express and Hindu and never understood the deal called TOI. Over time I realised that all our newspapers are garbage....However, one of my British colleagues who spent some time in India recently felt that Indian newspapers (TOI included) were better than British ones -......in other words newspapers around the world are garbage........

#8
Sujai
URL
August 27, 2007
02:43 AM

Ledzius:
Right on!

I was thinking the same- would the new leaders be brought on by SMS polls now? And what is this whole charade for? Are they going to make a new political party?

TOI is doing the same thing it is trying to counter. It is JUST TALKING and NOT DOING anything.

What are these debates for anyway?

Instead, I would like to join a TOI campaign if they want to clean up the MG Road picking up all the plastic! Instead of 'cut-pasting' some old speeches and writing columns on 'leadership' if they are genuinely interested in DOing something, they should try to at least put 10 begging kids off the roads and put them in a school with boarding and lodging.

Ledzius: I completely agree with you on all counts on this! It is quite annoying to see this 'activism on your face' everyday.

#9
anon
URL
August 27, 2007
03:38 AM

"should try to at least put 10 begging kids off the roads and put them in a school with boarding and lodging."

I bet they have already done this and many things through their Times foundation. dude, stop your silly tirades

Question to author - Have you read the 123 agreement and other related arguments in full.??

The left is being silly by opposing the nuke-deal. The deal is not a losing proposition for India. The US and Japan want India to be Balance of Power in Asia by acting as a counter-weight to dictatorships (Russia & China). But the selfish left wants to serve its masters in Russia & China.

#10
AnArch
August 27, 2007
04:08 AM

and the selfish promoters of the deal want to serve their master in the United States, perhaps?

#11
JC
August 28, 2007
11:42 AM

Dunno what all the hulla is about, it is natural for the media to take one side or the other.. dont see an one complaining when the Hindu carries one editorial after another casting apprehensions on the 123 agreement...and if this is about more ppl read TOI than Hindu then its just a function of the free market...if more ppl want to read what TOI has to say thr is no point complaining.

#12
uma
URL
August 28, 2007
11:54 AM

I've switched from the TOI to the Indian Express lately. At least I don't have to see Shahrouk's or AB's mug every day on the front page, either of the main paper or the supplement.

Atlantean I loved your comment and Chandra, I agree with you completely. Newspapers these days are really garbage.

#13
Anupallavi
August 28, 2007
11:54 PM

Echo #11. Dunno what all the hulla is about. It is unfortunate but an accepted norm for many a publications to take sides or at least be posturing. You would not find pro black, pro gay, pro global warming rhetoric on Murdoch's Fox news, would you? TOI may have a tabloidesque feel to some of its articles and coverage. There is a market for it and people are lapping it up; who are we to say it needs to be serious, put me to right back to sleep journalism at the crack of dawn ? That's we the neo-intelligentsia or pseudo-neo-intelligentsia that moonlights in journalism ..(not my words, blogs these days are labeled so by serious journalists)

I understand where this is coming from. America still laments on the legacy of Edward R. Murrow going to dogs ; People, USWeekly, Observer, Star et all are more popular. Go figure..

If we have a blasé attitude to anything that's not serious journalism, one of you dare explain why DC's parent BC has a GlossLip? Coz that's not in your face tabloid-ism ; it touts to uphold the highest values of journalism and the upkeep of Murrow's legacy?

Sure ...

"It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not."
--Andre Gide

If TOI is able to give what people need irrespective of what the *experts* feel, more power to them. Remember, You are not forced to read it.

#14
Tanay
URL
August 29, 2007
08:43 AM

Anupallavi,

Appreciate your comments but just a few points.

That's we the neo-intelligentsia or pseudo-neo-intelligentsia that moonlights in journalism ..(not my words, blogs these days are labeled so by serious journalists)

First try this interesting post by a DC editor, Kishore.

The mainstream journalism will definitely pose that. Also contrary to the general perception, the bloggers are not here to intrude into the domain of journalism. They are here to post their views and opinions in the most unsanded, WYSIWYG format. Also the main facet of the blogs is that it allows for a direct communication that cuts through the existing model that the media follows, of 'talk to the press and then select bits and pieces to fit one's story'. The second point is the instantaneousness of blog publishing, if you had followed the DC posts, say the recent Hyd Twin blasts, can you hear the words straight from the mouth of a person who has seen the turmoil, in his/her own words say in less than 2 hours time. It did happen here at DC.

So is this point blank reporting or pseudo-neo-intelligentsia?

Blogs are a not a challenge to anyone or anything, it's the voice of the common man. It's a force for good allowing people to correct some of the criticism that the press can create when it doesn't execute its responsibilities properly and sidestepping delicate issues. The important question here in terms of the impact on journalism is in the value-add that it does.

Why DC's parent BC has a GlossLip? and are we Ok with it. I feel it's Ok to have a bit of gossip and show business related posts without sidelining the main course. I can't comment on BC but DC does concentrate on varied topics primarily sticking to its main forte, of a South Asian focus on media, culture, politics and sports. But if gossip, sensationalism, SMS polls and paper campaigns becomes the métier for a national daily then the public is going to raise this.

Yes, as you suggested just don't read it (meaning TOI). Fine, we do that. But since we live is a free democracy, so even if I read 'The Hindu' or 'The Deccan Herald', I should express something which I dislike of-course with full courtesy and decorum. That's what the author of the post has done.

PS : Anupallavi, just wanted to share that there is nothing acerbic for the point that you raised. Just that I wanted to share my views about the blogs Vs journalism conflict. Hope you get my point.

#15
Darpan
August 29, 2007
10:44 AM

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat." - Teddy Roosevelt

#16
sridhar
August 29, 2007
11:51 AM

Dear Ledzius,
Thank you for writing a bold critical piece on TOI.

The mainstream media largely churns out mediocre content as they are merely shopping guides selling goods and services to the readers.Critical writing induces serious reflection which may dampen the shopping instinct and turn away the young spenders from the newspaper.When the newspaper spices up its content with gossip and lifestyle the paper attracts the right demographic profile, ie, young spenders.

But the damage done to their obligation to inform the people on important issues is considerable.Maybe that's the reason why people are turning to the alternative media to source their information.

#17
Anupallavi
August 29, 2007
10:55 PM

Tanay,
Thank you for the reply. Rest assured, your comments will be viewed in the context it was made and my reactions to it will purely be issue based and objective(hopefully :) ). I do get your point; I disagree with it as well.


Blogs are a not a challenge to anyone or anything, it's the voice of the common man


Couldn't disagree more Tanay. Look at what bloggers have achieved (I'm all for it, don't get me wrong) in the USA. They turned the tide in the 2004 elections; have unmasked many a rotten politicians; uncovered hypocritical clergymen; outed racist and last but not the least given us so many forgettable Lohan,Hilton,Ritchie blow by blow(ironic, the phrase can be construed in so many different ways!) accounts. BC has had many a valuable articles and GlossLip has covered many a nuisance. While one caters to a creative itch the other, not so much creative one ..

The underlying point is : be it GlossLip or TOI or DC-BC that carry GlossLip ads as a sister site, they cater to a need that's in the market. It's a fair game ; I just do not subscribe to the holier than thou attitude...

About blogs vs mainstream : We are comparing apples to nada here. When the crap hits the fan and there is a breaking news, I do not run to DC, I turn to the CNNs,TOIs or BBCs. Reason : I know they are more invested; more accurate; reasonably objective; have lot more content ; you do not have to navigate a truck load of crap and in short efficient. Sure blogs have their space. They are bidirectional, your voice is often heard and reciprocated ; but you need to be able to navigate thru tons of crap to get to blogs you trust . Blogs can afford to be factually wrong and get away with it, blogs are not constrained by realestate of a news paper and on and on. The most important of all : A vast majority of blogs are passable(I'm being kind here..)

Even in good ones(like DC) you see someone chronicle their obsession with Sambhar & Upma. There is passable fare here as well.And there are some really good ones. GV, Anu Bakshi for instance. Your piece on Lalbagh (a while ago) is still one of my DC favorites.

The sentiment is best described by Sakshi's favorite "To each according to its own..." phrase.

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