Non-resident Keralites, at least in UK, do not have much of a choice when watching Malayalam TV channels. They are usually at the mercy of local dish TV operators that do their own scheduling and editing, showing scant respect for the subscribers. They even truncate serious interviews and documentaries to show old Prem Nazir-Jayabharathi film songs. It seems that the channel bosses back home have little control over their agents here. Asianet and Asianet News are two locally available Malayalam channels and subscription for both together costs about £160 a year. It was the insensitive local editing and programme scheduling that prompted me to look up Asianet.
Asianet is reputed to be the biggest Malayalam TV broadcasting house, which airs multiple channels. Yet, if you Google for Asianet, the results can be quite confusing. A search for Asianet landed me Asianet Communications, Asianet Global, Asianet Satellite Communications, Asianet Data Line and Asianet Digital TV among other things. Finally I had to call my journalist friend back in Trivandrum to solve the mystery.
I am told that, now Asianet is more than one company. A big chunk of the original firm has been acquired by none other than media mogul Rupert Murdoch. The remaining three of its channels, Asianet, Asianet News and Asianet Plus, are controlled by Rajiv Chandrasekhar, technocrat and former CEO of BPL Mobile. He holds majority shares, through Jupiter Entertainment Ventures, his Bangalore based company. Other prominent share holders are Reji Menon, the original promoter of Asianet, T V Madhavan and K Madhavan, the current Asianet MD. Two brothers of Reji Menon and K P Mohanan, the current Chief News Editor also hold a few shares.
Besides owning FM Radio ‘Indigo’, Rajiv Chandrasekhar’s future media ambitions include Asianet channels and FM Radio channels in Kannada, Tamil and Telungu, the other three major south Indian languages. He is also a Rajya Sabha MP representing Bangalore. The sitting Director of Karnataka Power Corporation and also a former advisor to Government of India on Information Technology, Chandra Sekhar indeed is an admirably smart cookie with many more colourful feathers in his cap. Currently Asianet is reputed to have a 35% share in the 250 Crore Kerala advertisement market.
The write-up about Chandrasekhar was just to impress upon the reader that Asianet is controlled by a very capable chap. Now let us come to the real subject of this little piece here.
Every Saturday, K P Mohanan, the News Editor of Asianet, presents a programme called ‘Kanvettom’, in which he is the star-in-chief. He usually analyses and comments on political or social issues that are of recent media interest. The Asianet website claims that ‘Kanvettom’ is a very unique editorial programme, ‘the first of its kind in the history of Indian news television’. Being the news editor, it seems that Mohanan has created his own war medals and is wearing them in public like some quaint general from a banana republic. The site also introduces Mr Mohanan as a veteran journalist and editor, who has worked with major media organizations in different parts of the world and also as a permanent member of the World Press Institute, Minneapolis, USA. He also claims to have interviewed a dozen Prime Ministers and Presidents, including Margaret Thatcher and Jimmy Carter.
Now, about World Press Institute, any journalist can apply for a membership if they have the following.
1) At least five years of full-time news experience 2) Fluency in all aspects of English 3) Several written essays 4) Three letters of recommendation 5) At least three work samples.
There must be at least a thousand south Indian journalists who meet those requirements. WPI seems to be some sort of a charity school that instils American values of journalism in budding journalists from third world countries. They also arrange tours across America and hold interviews with available celebrities and politicians. Most probably, Mr Mohan must have interviewed his celebrities as part of his internship at the said World Press Institute. To know more, please do visit: http://www.worldpressinstitute.org
It is common knowledge that being a print media journalist and an electronic media man are poles apart. The traditional journalist most probably did his work the previous night in his pyjamas with a bottle of rum as witness. Whatever one came across the next morning was an erudite one man show, with no supporting crew. The electronic media man, unless someone else scripts his show, needs all that a bit more. He requires an unobtrusive presence that sets aside the centre stage for the subject that he discusses or the person he interviews.
Here, I am not belittling the unseen print media professional. I have personally known some of the greatest, like K Balakrishanan and P C Sukumaran Nair. (Strangely, both of them would have made fantastic electronic media personalities, just because they knew what they were writing about and never deviated from their subjects). Two modern equivalents (almost) would be Gouridasan Nair and T N Gopakumar, who by virtue of being alive in the present times have the good fortune to prove themselves more than adequate in both the versions.
Now let me come back to the news editor at Asianet. First of all, Mr Mohan dresses up and grooms himself too much for the part. (Do we have a male Oprah Winfrey doing a soliloquy?) Secondly, in every episode, HE IS THE SUBJECT. His voice modulation, emphasis, gestures, facial expression and everything else is a NO-NO lesson for any aspiring TV/Radio journalist. Finally whatever he says comes out as a biased personal opinion and a not as an impartial evaluation. The rather disturbing on-screen presence of the News Editor goes on to highlight the brilliance of other very professional Asianet newscasters and anchors like T N Gopakumar, Prasanth Raghuvamsom, Manjush Gopal and a dozen others. All of them set a great example for Kerla’s electronic media journalism, prudently stepping aside to leave the centre stage solely for the subject at hand.
Here I have a couple of questions for the brilliant Rajiv Chandrasekhar. Despite you being a very smart businessman, why is the news editor at Asianet allowed to blatantly project himself, hogging the centre stage and paying scant respect to journalistic sensibilities? Has anyone bothered to rate ‘Kanvettom’ for its journalistic values? Why is Mr Mohan let loose, throwing to wind the concepts of a sane and sober media presence? Why do we, the paying viewers deserve him? I am sure that the issue of minor shareholding has nothing to do with it. Rajivji, it is time for some quick cut and paste at your desk.
However, Kanvettom is the not the most tasteless programme we have seen on Asianet. That trophy goes to supporting actor Jagadeesh, who with his appalling English and brassy costumes, talent searched future comedians and mimicry artists. When he cold-heartedly murdered those haunting Mukesh melodies, the spirit of the great man was seen restlessly pacing the Royal Albert Hall, where he did one of his greatest performances.
As always, at all times, may better sense prevail.
NOTES: (1) The visual used in this article is courtesy, Asianet website. (2) If there are any errors, please do correct me. (3) This piece is authored by my right as a paying Asianet subscriber. (4) It is not the blogger’s aim to personally offend or insult anyone.