Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Asia’s newspaper market By Ian MacKinnon

ACROSS Asia, rising newspaper sales are bucking the trend of dipping circulations in Europe and the US. China is now the world’s largest newspaper market with 107m copies sold every day, while India shifts 99m. Investors are jumping on the bandwagon by acquiring titles or launching new ones.

Mint, for example, is an Indian business daily launched by the Hindustan Times group and the Wall Street Journal. It now has a daily circulation of 120,000 and is on course to break even. Editor Raju Narisetti, formerly of the Wall Street Journal, is optimistic the conditions are ripe to keep the newspaper market buoyant across Asia, and in particular India, for at least another decade, in stark contrast to the gloom besetting “dead tree” media further afield.

“Internet penetration is very, very low in India,” says Narisetti. “It will change, but it’s not happening yet. As a result it will be 10 to 15 years before some of the problems of newspapers in the West are dealing with come to India.” The Indian market’s growth has led to a feeding frenzy for media companies that could end with blood on the carpet. “There’s a ‘gold rush’ of sorts,” says Narisetti. “Some will flame out in disaster and some will be successful.”Indonesia’s market is nowhere near as crowded. But it has some of the same economic and social pluses as India, prompting businessman James Riyandi to bankroll the Jakarta Globe, a new daily newspaper. He believes the paper can exploit the market dramatically better than the Jakarta Post, currently selling 30,000 to 35,000 copies per day.

In Cambodia, where a racing economy hit 9.6 per cent growth last year, Australian investors have bought out Michael Hayes, founder of the English-language Phnom Penh Post, who remains editor-in-chief. The Post, which will compete against the non-profit Cambodia Daily and the recently launched Mekong Times, has a circulation of just 3,000 as a fortnightly.

But even in this backwater, reassuringly, some things still hold true: newspaper barons and their egos. The latest salvo in the long-running feud between Hayes and the Cambodia Daily’s founder, fellow American Bernie Krishner, 76, came when Krishner discovered the Post was attempting to poach journalists.

— The Guardian, London

Ethical issues in advertising By Burhanuddin Hasan

ADVERTISING has been defined as “any paid form of non-personal presentation and promotion of ideas, goods or services by an identified sponsor”. In other words, advertising is the paid use of the media of mass communication to sell a product, a service or an idea.

As the economic outlook of Asian countries steadily improved, advertising became an indispensable mechanism in accelerating awareness, acceptance and distribution of goods and services. The basic objective of all advertisements is to convey the message to the desired target through some communication carrier. The commercial mass media available to advertisers are newspapers, magazines, radio, television, film, outdoor billboards, etc. Some advertisers produce their own medium such as direct mailing of leaflets and brochures.

With the advent of radio’s commercial service and later television and FM radio channels, advertising companies in Pakistan got a tremendous boost. The messages conveyed through advertising are short and crisp and much more attractive than most of the programmes broadcast by the electronic media, and, therefore, more watchable.

Since advertising has grown into a major source of financial support for TV channels, they are tempted to give as much as one-third of their prime time space to commercials. In fact there are no time limits imposed on advertising in popular programmes and even during news bulletins. The viewers naturally are frustrated with frequent commercial breaks and programmes lose their continuity and charm due to too many interruptions.

Likewise, largely circulated newspapers are giving as much as 50 per cent of their space, particularly on the front and back pages, to advertisements. In their quest for as much advertising revenue as they can muster, they do not even hesitate to print or put on air highly offensive, immoral and indecent ads in clear violation of journalistic ethics which have been wilfully put on the back burner. Viewers round the clock are deluged with the same commercials which are playing an odious role in corrupting the country’s social and moral values and escalating the demand for and prices of consumer goods beyond all reasonable proportions.

The ‘dream merchants’ of advertising are weaving a web of deception and glamour and projecting a mirage of false prosperity and artificially thriving economies in countries like Pakistan, where millions of people are living in abject poverty lacking even the most basic necessities of life. A large number of products advertised are serious health hazards such as junk food, in which children and youth have been made the main targets.

Another very unethical and dangerous form of advertising is the practice of ‘puffery’ which is American slang for the use of “gross hyperbole or subjective claims” in advertisements. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been empowered by the Supreme Court to stop false and deceptive advertising which through “representation, omission or practice … is likely to mislead the consumer and lure him to buy such products which may be harmful to his health”. The FTC has now been empowered to impose fines or altogether ban deceptive advertising. It has also formulated specific regulations to stop false and misleading advertising of products for children’s markets.

These actions have resulted in a considerable reduction in the incidence of gross distortions and misrepresentations. Similarly advertising of such products as cigarettes and certain brands of drugs and hard liquor which can cause terminal diseases have been banned altogether on the electronic media in the United States and the majority of countries of the world.

Pakistan is probably the only country in South Asia where products which are recognised health hazards are being advertised unchecked through puffery and false and misleading claims. There is no agency, official or otherwise, to check and control such harmful advertising, nor are there any pressure groups in society to provide protection to the unsuspecting consumers.

The Pakistan Advertising Association, incorporated under the Companies Ordinance, carries a clause in its Memorandum of Association calling for “protecting the art and trade of advertising and sales promotion from unethical practices and monopolies of foreign and house agencies”. In the present scenario it seems that this clause is not being implemented and is in fact wilfully ignored by the advertising agencies themselves.

There is need for the print and electronic media in Pakistan to join hands in launching a vigorous education programme to protect the country’s consumers from (a) deceptive claims of producers of goods and services and misleading sales promotion by advertisers; (b) excessive spending under the influence of advertising; and (c) the harmful effects of advertising on children.

The government may also consider setting up a watchdog commission like the American FTC to protect consumers from misleading and harmful advertising.

The writer is former director news of PTV.


Monday, August 4, 2008

Saarc is a rich kaleidoscope of people who disagree with it By Jawed Naqvi

KATHMANDU-BASED Himal magazine brought out a special bumper edition ahead of the Colombo Saarc summit, with 75 writers from the region grappling with the notion of South Asian identity. The magazine carried an exclusive interview with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his vision for Saarc and left me wondering why not the others. Himal editor Kanak Mani Dixit also piloted a symposium in New Delhi. Some of the comments from the discussions are worth recalling.

A.S. Panneerselvan of Panos narrated this hilarious if symbolic story he said he picked up from a former LTTE activist who now works as an attendant at a petrol pump in London. In the 1980s, according to the story, a bunch of LTTE boys were being trained by Indian intelligence somewhere in Uttar Pradesh. They were given a Tibetan cook who would often smile wryly or even smirk in a corner after serving them otherwise fairly agreeable meals. The cook’s odd behaviour was brought to the notice of the Indian army colonel who was in charge of the training programme who questioned him.

What did the Tibetan cook say? “My forebears came here in 1959 with the hope that India would help us get an independent homeland in Tibet, which didn’t happen. Now I am working as a cook for the LTTE cadres. Given that our stories are not dissimilar, I keep wondering whom they would be cooking the meals for.”

In a way the story symbolises a key issue Saarc leaders focused on in Colombo on Saturday and Sunday. To my mind the gist of Panneerselvan’s narrative suggests that each one of the Saarc member states is culpable in, if not always directly responsible for, giving one another a headache they now call terrorism. Other interesting views were thrown up at the Himal symposium, including one that advocated the self-annihilation of Saarc itself. Pat came a rejoinder: “For any entity to self-annihilate it first has to exist.”

Cynicism apart, the Himal special edition on South Asia threw up a host of perspectives and ideas that have the potential to transform the group’s collective energy into a positive force if all the leaders cared to absorb their import. There is one whole segment about history; demons from the past hovering over the region’s newly-constructed boundaries.

Ghazi Salahuddin’s description of an Indian who came to Karachi to participate in a seminar on civil society is heart-rending. “When it was his turn to speak, he talked about his family and his encounter with Pakistan. And then, suddenly, he started to cry. He cried like a baby. I often think of that touching incident, and wonder how the intelligence officers, who must have been in attendance, reported the incident.”

Navnita Chadha Behera says that by understanding the state from a Westphalian perspective, scholars in South Asia have refused to rethink the rationale of the state, and contend with the possibility that their security dilemmas are linked to the very character of these states in the region.

In his tartly headlined essay “Hate they neighbour, hug they enemy”, I.A. Rehman clarifies nevertheless that it is hardly good advice for any political relationship that has the people at its heart.

“The title to this article is not meant as advice to the people of Southasia,” he says. “It is merely a summing-up of the conduct of their governments and leaders over many decades, which has bought misery to millions upon millions of them. A hundred years ago, nearly the whole of Southasia, except for Nepal to a certain degree, was a British colony, much acclaimed for its quiescence. The privileged among the population were getting richer and happier, while the masses were engaged in a grim struggle to keep the wolf away. To prevent the latter from revolting, the colonial power decided to make the former stronger. This was also deemed necessary in order to charge the Southasians more dearly for the mission to ‘civilise’ them. The method was to offer what were described as measures for the subjects’ transition to self-rule. This process led to a gradual break-up of the traditional harmony among communities inhabiting Southasia, while it was claimed that bondage to the colonial power was the only force keeping them together.”

B.G. Verghese finds that despite and during the course of many vicissitudes and much trauma, conflict and population movements, Southasia retains its core identity as a coherent geopolitical entity and a natural resource region. In his view, its monsoonal climate gives birth to common river systems (now uniformly impacted by climate change), similar cropping patterns and a broadly common administrative and legal system.

Suhas Chakma is less charitable in his assessment. With the exceptions of politics in the Maldives and Al Qaeda-influenced jihad, he says, Southasian conflicts are all about the exclusion of ‘others’, be it on grounds of religion, ethnicity or caste. “Those espousing a Southasian Union, similar to the European Union, often point to the fact that Punjabis live on both sides of the border of two key actors, India and Pakistan. The discourse on Partition is largely about the Punjab. Bengal receives a footnote, because Mohandas K Gandhi visited Noakhali to calm rioters. But just a little further away, the destruction of an entire nation the Chakmas and other Adivasis of the Chittagong Hill Tracts rarely rates even a mention.”Vasuki Nesiah’s essay puts the focus on an issue that Saarc leaders are rarely inclined to discuss. According to the essay, a regional identity cannot be based on emphasising Saarc’s collective history, but rather on the struggle for justice and political possibility.

“There are many Southasias that we need to strain against here. There is the Southasia that was inscribed into the region through the geographies of the British Raj and the technologies of colonial governance. There is the Southasia that has emerged through the production of the post colonial state and its attendant national mythologies embedded in institutions of governance. There is the Southasia that is about notions of security and territorial integrity that are mobilised from Kashmir to the Nepali terrain, from Balochistan to Batticaloa notions of ‘security’ that are invoked by those deploying the sepulchre of statehood and those aspiring to it, those acting in the name of territorial integrity and those acting in the name of self-determination,” says Nesiah in the essay titled: A release from majoritarianism and multiculturalism.

Karachi-based painter A.R. Nagori’s oil canvas “Hanuman rescuing Babri Masjid” perhaps illustrates the religious trap in which Southasia has plunged headlong.

In an essay Counting the people Haris Gazdar takes a potshot at the colonial worldview still embraced by South Asian countries.

“Karachi is in Madras and Lahore is in Bengal; when will they be in Pakistan, and Pakistan in Southasia?” says the author tantalisingly, and explains: “During the late 1840s, the troops of the Bengal Presidency invaded the Sikh empire and conquered Punjab. Earlier in the same decade, a British expeditionary force had fought the Talpur Mirs at Miani, and annexed Sindh to the Bombay Presidency. But colonisation was not merely a matter of military defeat. Punjab and Sindh had seen many defeats and victories in their times. It was the establishment of a political system around the ‘settlement’ of land revenues that marked the real shift…In essence, Sindh and Punjab (and Balochistan and Pashtunkhwa) are still in presidencies of the British Indian empire. This retention of colonial structures has enormous ramifications. The Punjab village might have been a useful unit of land-revenue administration during that time. But it was also the repository of caste-based social hierarchy, which the British formalised.”

Allan Sealy’s short poem on nuclear lunacy in India and Pakistan is aptly titled “inchme pinchme”. It’s part of a narrative poem that starts in Fatehpur Sikri and ends on the Pakistan border.

Sadanand Menon’s first visit to Britain helped him experience the practical application of the principle of divide et impera. “In London, Birmingham, Bradford, one is physically confronted with the colonial dismembering of the Subcontinent into Hindu, Muslim, Punjabi and Bengali, now re-unified on British soil as ‘Southasians’.”

Sanjay Barbora works with Panos South Asia. He worries that Saarc constituents mostly like to view the entire Southasian region with an antiseptic security lens. They would not accept, for example, that the presence of renegades of different ethnic origins in a particular region is also a sign of a distinct kind of cosmopolitanism. There are some five dozen other absorbing essays on the potentially dry subject of Saarc in the special edition. They reflect the reality that Saarc is also a rich kaleidoscope of people who may not always agree with it.

Duplicity along the Durand Line By Irfan Husain

WHILE speaking to the media in the US on his recent visit, Prime Minister Gilani is reported to have said that one reason Pakistan’s fight against extremists was going badly is that our forces lacked “modern equipment”.

But more than weapons and communication equipment, what we really need are equal measures of political will and clarity of purpose. And this infusion of reality and common sense is not likely to be part of the American aid package. Although several visiting western officials have arrived with a blunt message for Pakistan to ‘do more’, they cannot really alter the mindset of our generals, or their hawkish civilian cheerleaders in the media.

The truth is that since the government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was toppled in 1977, it has been the army that has shaped the destiny of Pakistan. In particular, our Afghan and Kashmir/Indian policies have been determined in army GHQ and ISI headquarters. Civilian input has been virtually zero. When Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif tried to make peace with India, their governments were soon sacked by the establishment.

So what are the threat perceptions that are driving the Pakistan military’s agenda, and why are they now at odds with western expectations as well as national aspirations? For many years, India has been seen as the biggest threat to us, and the army’s entire focus and raison d’etre have been to somehow neutralise the danger our giant neighbour is perceived to pose. Thus, hundreds of billions have been poured into building up and maintaining a conventional force we can ill afford. Further billions have flowed into developing a nuclear arsenal and a delivery system.

After 9/11 and the rapid collapse of the Taliban, an ISI creation and proxy, military planners in Pakistan watched with growing alarm as India established a substantial presence in our war-ravaged neighbour. With an aid package of $750m, the Indian effort was second only to the Americans. Having alienated Iran through its pro-Sunni, anti-Shia policies in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan, Islamabad now feared a Kabul-New Delhi axis. In this altered regional scenario, the army’s vision of ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan had been replaced with the nightmare of encirclement.

How to prevent this from happening began to override considerations of being a staunch ally in the American ‘war on terror’. But clearly, our generals could not be seen as being openly pro-Taliban, and hence the charade of cracking down on militants. Although some 100,000 troops have been deployed on our porous, largely unmarked border with Afghanistan, the fighting has been largely desultory. And while this shadow-boxing has gone on for the last few years, the Taliban and their local allies have made steady progress.

Clearly, our army is caught in a dilemma: how to prevent the militants from operating within Pakistan, while allowing the Taliban to remain a viable fighting force. Currently, they are regularly disrupting Indian aid efforts within Afghanistan, thereby playing a role in GHQ’s strategy of preventing the advance of our enemy’s interests.

So when Washington demands that Pakistan should ‘do more’, it is actually asking the Pakistani army to act against its perceived interest. Equally obviously, the government cannot say this openly to the Americans who are losing more soldiers to the Taliban, partly because of the sanctuaries they have built up in Pakistan. And although the government issues its stock denials when confronted with evidence of duplicity, nobody really believes that it is not allowing the Taliban a free hand.

On July 28, Canada’s respected Globe and Mail daily led with this headline: “UN envoy backs Karzai against Pakistan”. The story went on to cite the Afghan president accusing Pakistan’s ISI as having had a hand in the suicide bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul last month. While this charge is not new, what was remarkable was that Chris Alexander, a Canadian diplomat currently serving as a UN deputy special representative to Afghanistan, agreed with Karzai publicly. When asked how Islamabad might react to the accusation that it was waging a proxy war, Alexander replied:

“I’m not sure, but there’s only one way to find out. The project on which we are embarked — with its high stakes, with its serious investment, with its sacrifices — deserves at least that level of courage … Otherwise we are really pretending that Niagara Falls doesn’t flow.”

In an editorial on the subject the next day, the newspaper wrote: “By stating his belief that the ISI is behind some major terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, Chris Alexander … has performed a valuable service. Ever since the founding of Pakistan in 1947, its armed forces have perceived their role in terms of the country’s rivalry with India. In particular, relations with Afghanistan were subordinated to this regional struggle. It was always a narrow point of view …

“The military’s control of [the] ISI must be relinquished, but the current Islamabad government, a shaky coalition, appears powerless to bring about the necessary change…. In the end, Pakistan’s own governance, sovereignty, stability and peace will depend on the government’s taking full, normal control of its own territory — as well as its own intelligence agencies.”

This is only one such comment to appear in the foreign media in the last few days. Indeed, hardly a day goes by without more or less open accusations of latitude being given to militants along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and along the Line of Control dividing Kashmir. Each charge is met with the same increasingly less credible denials from Islamabad.

The recent fiasco surrounding the government’s attempt to control the ISI underlined the agency’s power, as well as the coalition’s weakness. Soon after assuming office in 1988, Benazir Bhutto set up a committee to review the workings of various intelligence agencies in Pakistan. Air Marshal Zulfiqar Ali Khan headed this body and produced a report containing many sensible recommendations. But the government was too weak, and was toppled too early, to implement any of the proposals. Ms Bhutto’s nominated head of the ISI was routinely bypassed by his subordinates as he had not been appointed by the army chief. Nawaz Sharif’s appointee, Gen Ziauddin, was equally ineffective in controlling the all-powerful agency.

But now, the ISI and the army seem to be on a collision course with the United States. This adversary may prove to be firmer in resolve than the civilians who have tried to curb the establishment so far.