Utpal Borpujari

July 31, 2009

NMML becomes battleground for intellectual control

Filed under: Culture,Deccan Herald,Government,Media — Utpal Borpujari @ 2:34 pm
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By Utpal Borpujari

A no-holds-barred tussle between two groups of leading intellectuals of the country for the control of the historic Nehru Memorial Museum & Library (NMML) in Delhi is heading towards a finale with everyone waiting with bated breath to see if incumbent director Mridula Mukherjee gets an extension or not.

Mukherjee, whose term ends on July 31, is at the focus of a massive row between the two groups represented by equally-eminent intellectuals fighting to gain control over NMML, with both accusing the other of misdemeanour leading to decline  of the august institution.

With letters and petitions flying thick and fast from the two groups to the Prime Minister, who heads the NMML Society, the government is believed to have found itself in a tricky situation as to how it would bring peace between the feuding groups.

The task has become even more difficult with those opposing Mukherjee’s way of functioning including names like Ramachandra Guha, Mukul Kesavan, Nayanjot Lahiri, Partha Chatterjee, Sumit Sarkar, Mushirul Hasan, Geeta Kapur and Sunil Khilnani, while those speaking for her include Arjun Dev, Madhu Kishwar, Shantha Sinha and Madan Gopal Singh.

Mukherjee, who is said to be keen on an extension and oversee the Rs 20 crore modernisation programme of NMML, which is a public body under the Ministry of Culture, which is currently handled by Prime Minster Dr Manmohan Singh himself.

The anti-Mukherjee group has gone hammer and tongs against her in a communication to the Prime Minister, signed by 57 intellectuals, alleging that during her tenure, NMML’s core areas of excellence have been severely compromised with.

According to them, NMML has stopped its excellent publication programme, nearly put a complete stop to acquisition of rare manuscripts and oral histories, and going completely against its scholarly mandate, opened its doors to political groups aligned with Congress for meetings and events.

They have also demanded that the appointment of the NMML director should be done in a “transparent” manner as it is done in the appointment of directors of institutions like IITs and IIMs.

On the other hand, the pro-Mukherjee group has alleged that the other group had gone into the protest mode to protect Guha, who was a member of the fellowship selection committee under the previous NMML dispensation, about which the Lok Sabha Petitions Committee had found serious irregularities.

It has alleged that the role of the committee in selecting fellows who had not even applied for fellowships had been questioned by the Petitions Committee as well as a fact-finding committee set up by NMML executive council vice-chairman Dr Karan Singh.

This group has even alleged that Guha and some others are keen to see Mukherjee removed so that the inquiry process could be subverted. The pro-Guha group, however, has refuted the allegations, saying that selection process had been honest and fair and those selected included several world-class scholars.

The end-game of this sordid intellectual drama is expected to reach its end when the NMML society, which has Sonia Gandhi as a member, meets in the near future, but the question in the minds of those concerned is whether this bitter fight would besmirch an excellent academic organisation’s reputation for good.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 31-07-2009)

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/16875/intellectuals-loggerheads-over-nehru-museum.html

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July 28, 2009

Banning TV channels every now and then does not work: Soni

By Utpal Borpujari

As the new Information & Broadcasting Minister, Ambika Soni has her hands full. From the debate on whether the country needs a broadcast regulator to thinking of increasing the FDI component in print media, she is working on a range of subjects she has inherited from her predecessors. Soni talks to Deccan Herald’s Utpal Borpujari on what is on her mind:

You have been of the view that self-regulation would be the best way to go for the broadcast media. At the same time, the Broadcasting Bill is still pending. Can you describe the exact situation?

This government it totally committed to freedom of expression & speech and dissemination of information in whichever sector. But nevertheless, there is a Broadcasting Bill which has been around for over ten years. Probably India is the only country in the world which has no regulation, everybody else has. And people do think there is a need of a regulator because the explosive way the sector has grown and new technologies are coming in. I have had two sittings with the self-regulatory bodies, News Broadcasters Association, Indian Broadcasting Foundation and Advertising Standards Council of India. They have their own code of self regulation, but I have constituted a small group with the I&B Secretary as its head, to discuss the issues involved. It’s not about having a content code, but there has to be some kind of dos and don’ts.  I personally feel that one should not resort to things like banning channels every now and then.

But the issue is how do you regulate all the channels in all over the county, because all of them are not members of bodies like NBA and IBF.

There are the downlinking and uplinking guidelines laws, and all channels adhere to the Cable Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. Under that Act, one can be sent an advisory. In the last 3-5 years, 200-plus advisories have been sent out. This is where they will have to discuss the method of getting everybody to agree to certain basics. I suppose a list of dos and don’ts would have to be drawn up, but it is only my loud thinking, as I don’t want to pre-empt the discussion the Secretary is going to have with various groups.

Is there a move to increase FDI in print media?

There was a preparation for a Cabinet note on this as many from medium and even larger newspapers have been suggesting why not have 49 per cent FDI or 26 per cent FDI plus FIIs and all that, the cap being 49 per cent. But there are some media houses which are of not the same view. I personally feel it will be a good way to infuse capital, and it would create better facilities without interfering with the management control, and would give better transparency. I am going to try and make the effort to talk and find a way to increase the FDI. This is only what I can say, because there is no move from the Commerce Ministry to push it. I am going to talk to the Commerce Ministry and media houses.

The film censorship regulations were also up for an overhaul. When can the new regulations be expected?

I have not been able to speak with CBFC chairperson Sharmila Tagore because she has been abroad. I am going to talk to her, on how to make it more film friendly and user sensitive. I have found that our regional boards have large number of people on them. I will talk to her to find out what she has in mind. I have just got Nandita Das to agree to be the chairperson of the Children’s Film Society of India. Like this I would like people to get involved. I am forming an advisory council of 15-20 eminent people connected with this ministry – media people, film people – so that that can be our public face, giving dynamic inputs, out of the box suggestions on how this ministry should remain relevant.

Talking about oversized regional boards of CBFC, the allegation is that often the party in power packs its people into them.

There has to be a little more thought given to who all come into this body. It is a rotational thing, and there are more than 150 people. Sometimes there are complaints that films are not cleared over small technicalities and sometimes that they are cleared too liberally. So the people who are on the board must realise the responsibility that it’s not just an add-on or a perk, but a very conscious responsibility. We have to have some kind of data bank on who all are attending the meetings and what discussions take place.

What are your plans regarding the film sector?

India is the biggest film producing countries in the world and most countries want Indian film producers to make films in their countries, because they feel those will be great advertisement for their tourism industries.  Outside, Cannes should not be the only festival where we promote our films. We should look at festivals like Berlin, Dubai and Shanghai. The industry has the major problem of piracy, and there is a thinking that maybe I should ask the Finance Ministry to make the blank DVDs more expensive to deter pirates.  Another important thing is the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa. Goa is a great destination, I want IFFI to have a higher profile so that it is in the international calendar. I was told Indian film stars don’t want to come to the festival. If you are going to have a bureaucratic affair, nobody is going to come. While the ministry people do the work, the public face should be less governmental and more creative. The focus has to be on talent representing the whole country.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 27-07-2009)

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/16085/banning-tv-channels-every-now.html

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