Mediaah shuts shop - again
Pradyuman Maheshwari's Mediaah shuts shop again after 'media biggie' sends legal notice.
After a day of waiting for readers' reactions, Mediaah
declares a shutdown - and still does not call the 'biggie' by
its real name.
BY OUR MEDIA EDITOR
- Who is the media
biggie Maheshwari talks about?
- Commonsense says it
could be the Times Group, but why does Mediaah not
mention that when it is absolutely safe to mention
it in the context of a legal notice? Could it be
- Why does Mediaah say
that it will be back in a domain that is registered
in someone else's name? Libel proceedings can work
against the reporter and editor; not just against
the domain name owner.
March 9, 2005
When we welcomed Indian tabloid weblog Mediaah.com, which comments on media happenings in the country, back to Web on January 17, 2005, we did not know that its new avatar would breathe its last so soon. In one-and-half months and amid a lot of acrimony, mediaah.com has managed to inflict on itself more than harm than any outsider would do. Now, it seems the site is going to be buried forever.
(Read our earlier story on mediaah.com
Despite being a member of the "free" media, I don't hold any brief for the media industry. I am aware that
often, newspapers and magazines do things diametrically opposite to what they preach. The supposed freedom of expression that the media claims to have is usually not awarded in generous measure to those working within the media. Many a time,
Indian media offices are as dictatorial and as whimsical as many of the stuff that they frequently write about.
But commonsense tells me that newspapers, magazines, TV and the web media are always commercial media, set up with the intention of making money or pursuing a cause. Mostly, the cause is to make money. If I have joined a media organization for the commercial purpose of earning money, I surely cannot blame the same organization of taking commercial steps in making its own money, can I?
Thus, news media, in India and abroad, several times overstep their journalistic brief in their hunt for circulation, TRPs and webpage views. This is not their fault. If they donít do it, another entrepreneur will do it and overtake them. When the revenue stream trickles down, the same journalists who were cribbing about ethics and journalistic mores will be cribbing about delayed salaries and heavy work load.
Does all this mean that journalists, nay, the media barons be let loose, overpowering readers with their own version of the world? If commercialism rules, what happens to the fundamental tenet, journalism itself?
Mediaah.com preened itself as the guardian angel of journalistic ethics. It claimed to be the media's media, brutally unbiased etc etc. And in its quest for more and more "salacious" and "selling" stuff, Mediaah landed in the same pit where many of its predecessors have found themselves before. We are not surprised.
Barely a couple of weeks into its re-avatar, Mediaah ran a story on a system crash at its office. The site said it had lost enormous amounts of data and as usual, said that it was overwhelmed by the reader support to Mediaah getting back up again. Mediaah started soliciting sponsors who would supply it with "laptops, broadband, telephone, fax" etc. However, there was no report on whether anyone had volunteered with the techno-gizmos.
Mediaah.com is (was) a weblog. Weblogs do not run on enormous technical infrastructure. Running a blog is simpler than writing a Microsoft Word document. When Dancewithshadows.com started up, all that its editors had was a couple of rickety PCs,
aam janta dial-up connections and no broadband, CD writers or laptops. Also, since most of the data resides on the site's servers, there was nothing much to lose when the DWS computers crashed, just like every old and overworked computer crashes.
The Mediaah solicitation of sponsors came in sharp contrast to its professed stand of not taking gifts and goodies. Just last year, in its previous avatar, Mediaah had attacked journalists accepting gifts at press conferences and from companies. The request for laptops and broadband came as a pleasant surprise to many.
During its cameo 2005 reappearance, Mediaah.com got into a tiff with Bennett Coleman and Company, the owners of Times of India, India's largest newspaper group. It put out a report saying that
it was in talks with Reuters TV for news. Times immediately slapped a legal notice on Mediaah.com and asked it to
apologize (according to Mediaah). Mediaah promptly apologized.
(Many have carried the same story, once can't help wondering
why Times decided not to target anyone bigger, say, Rediff
or Financial Times)
Immediately after the "apology", Mediaah published a bunch of "letters to editor", all of which supported Mediaah's case that Mediaah should carry on and not be afraid of the media giant that is Times. This is a general trend in the media industry, where editors cherry-pick those letters which suit their ideas and publish them to support their case.
The general tone of the letters was "Boo to Times." At the end, Mediaah said, citing its "reader support," that it wished it had not apologized to Times! Firing from his readers' shoulders, without taking his name, the founder-editor Pradyuman Maheshwari had cleverly (or so he thought) managed to stick to his stand. It was as good as an apology withdrawn.
Mediaah's anti-Times spots showed again when the Filmfare awards came up. Gutka baron Manikchand, who used to traditionally sponsor the Filmfare awards this time got embroiled in a case of underworld links and arrest warrants. Times dropped its erstwhile sponsor like a hot potato and started looking for an alternate sponsor. All through Times' search for a partner, Mediaah kept poking Times,
pointing out its inability to a get a consumer durable company or an FMCG firm to sponsor its annual pageant.
Finally, when Times found a millionaire sponsor, Mediaah whistled, making fun of the choice of sponsor and speculating how it would be to have an underwear company sponsor Filmfare awards.
The campaign of calumny got worse when, after the awards, Mediaah ran speculative stories on Manikchand's options to sue Times for dropping its as a sponsor. Though the story was "balanced" by saying why Times could be right also, Mediaah managed to keep its agenda in the spotlight -- that Times is in a mess. Anyway, Manikchand suing Times remained a fantasy only at the Mediaah offices.
This was soon followed by another speculative story on Times of India making an "irresistible offer" to acquire a stake in Mid-Day. Mediaah took its agenda further, getting its "8000 readers" to campaign against the stake sale to Times. Letters from nameless Mid-Day staffers appeared in Mediaah on why the stake sale is wrong and how they were planning to quit if the sale proceeded. Times took umbrage, Mid-Day took umbrage and Indian Express, which actually picked the stake kept silent.
(At the end of the day, we are none the wiser whether the
story was totally incorrect or whether it did have an iota of
Pradyuman Maheshwari's attempt to keep Mid-Day always in good humour backfired after the report. When Mediaah mailed a set of questions to Tarique Ansari, MD of Mid-Day Multimedia, he snapped back, saying "happy to oblige after you apologize for the libelous stories on your site."
(again, this is Mediaah's description of the events.)
Mediaah took the journalistic grandstand that it wonít apologize. It boasted of its "influence" among journalists, opinion-makers and investment bankers. It boasted that it has a readership of 8000. It said its own reports are no more worse many reports appearing in Mid-day. Mediaah's buttering-up of Mid-Day went to tatters with this. For the record, Pradyuman Maheshwari is a former employee of Mid-Day, where Tarique Ansari was his boss.
However, Mediaah took an about-turn by evening and apologized to Tarique Ansari. Mediaah deleted the earlier post
which said that it wonít apologize, and quoted Tarique Ansari as saying that some of its reports were "insulting in the extreme."
With this apology (the art of apology was perfected after the earlier apology to Times), Mediaah got answers to its questions. There was no fresh light thrown: no mention of why the stake was transferred, will there will further stake offloads, does the move have anything to do with HT's coming to Mumbai, etc.
By now, Mediaah must have got tired of saying sorry. So it devised another method to get around this: writing names of people, with asterisks
sprinkled all over; for eg; T*m*s for Times, E*p*r*s* for Express etc. Apparently, this brainwave happened out of the misconception that unless you fully name that person, he cannot take
panga with you. In a recent case were Asian Age editor MJ Akbar was in the spotlight over an alleged relationship, Mediaah carried the story naming MJ Akbar as A*b*r, MJ etc.
What peurile logic! Suppose I call you a f*c*i*g a*s*o*l*, does it leave you in any doubt as to what I mean? And if I say that there are asterisks in between, does it save me from the punch from you?
And this is what finally what happened. On Wednesday, Match 9, 2005, Mediaah ran a lead story, which said that a leading media group has slapped a notice on it to stop defaming it and remove 19 posts which appeared on that
group in Mediaah. A disheartened Mediaah says it is going to shut shop.
Since transparency in Mediaah always meant deleted posts, withdrawn apologies & retracted grandstandings, there was no mention
of the name of the company slapped the notice. Commonsense tells us that it is the formidable Times, since no other media company was featured as many as 19 times in its short re-avatar.
(But is it the Times? We have only Mr. Maheshwari's curious
phrase 'media biggie' to go by. It could be anyone. We cannot
understand Mediaah's reluctance to name the 'media biggie'.
After all, if someone sent a legal notice to you, that is the
one time when you can mention the said company's name. If
Times sent a legal notice to Mediaah, then Mediaah would be
well within its rights to mention them by name. Why don't they
do so? We are clueless- ). The misconceived safety of asterisks had failed to save Mediaah.com from doom.
Now that the last prayers are being said for Mediaah.com, we have a word of advice for aspiring media commentators. Do not think that all is fair in media wars. Do not put out unsubstantiated stories. Do not be driven by agendas and prejudices. Do not target any one particular company/group/person. Rumours and masala are good to hear and pass around, but not good enough to put in the public domain. Apologizing for something which was genuinely wrong is correct and gentlemanly. Retracting that apology citing popular support is not. Journalists from time immemorial have accepted gifts from press conferences and companies. If you feel this is wrong, lead by example - do not solicit laptops and broadband. Name letter-writers, and make it transparent. Above all, stand by truth, not just your own story.
One last word: Nick Ciarelli, a Harvard student and publisher of Thinksecret.com is fighting a suit with Apple Computer for publishing material which have been damaging to the company. (See full story
and Nicak Ciarelli). Nick's fault according to Apple was that his blog leaked sensitive information which is Apple's trade secret. Apple has asked a California court to issue subpoenas to find out who revealed the inside information to Nick and a couple of other websites. The wesbites have tried to hide behind the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which protects journalists from revealing their sources of information. Apple Computer argues that bloggers do not come under the definition of "traditional media" which is covered by the First Amendment. In its initial observations, the court has agreed with Apple. The final verdict is not out yet. If blogging is finally judged as not journalistic, it could have a bearing on the future of the freedoms and protection currently available to bloggers.
BY OUR MEDIA EDITOR