11.3.08

The media and I

A few 'gems' of dealing with the big behemoth...and this is just one example.

Today, everyone is discussing the media. There are a number of cases where this happens with greater subtlety.

I am tempted here to share my own experience in the past.

November 29, 2000: I submit my column for Mid-day. I call up the next day to check. Am told by the Op-ed editor, “Don’t you know?”

“What?”

“Your column has been dropped.”

That Saturday, December 2, I did not touch the paper. People I knew called. A film-maker visiting from the US wanting to get in touch with me called the paper and was told by the News editor that he had not seen the paper!

No explanations were given. Nothing. Till date.

I did the most unusual thing. Called up the VHP president in Mumbai. He was surprised to hear from me and that I would even have the temerity to suggest that he or the Hindutva parties were behind it.

The subject of the column was extremely topical about the ceasefire in Kashmir. Feeling lost, I recalled the name of a website and mailed it with a short snappy Intro. I got an immediate response saying, “We will use the old Intro.”

Old Intro? I wrote back and they sent me a link to one of my articles they had published on June 29, 2000. I had no clue how it got there, but I started surfing the pages. It was all very interesting and different for me – and then I saw this post which completely took me by surprise:

June 30, 2000 9:12am PT

dear farzana

welcome….

i got your regret note on the anniversary party. not cool.
we object to being dismissed as "Mid-Day etc" especially since this article was written specifically for us (incidentally, we have copyright on it) and when you are yourself a "respected author and columnist".
anyway, nice to see you here, i think you'll be a much bigger hit here than you are in bombay.

Regards

It was signed by the then Editor of Mid-day!

Do you know of any editor who is in touch with you, has your email address and phone numbers coming on a public forum to ask you why you did not attend an office party?

Does the editor of a paper go around welcoming people on another website?

Yes, this was my column for Mid-day, but as a freelance columnist there was no issue of copyright. (He has published five articles on the same website and he did not mention the source. He even contributed a piece recently, trying to mourn about the treatment meted out to a Pakistani singer trying to be popular…)

Do you know of any editor who says that his columnist will be a bigger hit elsewhere than in the paper he edits? (He could not alas be popular or get sufficiently noticed either at the website or in the paper he edited. Incidentally, till the very end the ‘Mailbag’ carried several letters in response to my articles and they were prominently displayed together with my picture, for god’s sake. So, either he had no say in the matter or he was playing a double game.)

And double game it was. Someone had posted my first piece without my knowledge or consent. It was only much later that I bothered to find out. It came from an email address that was faked in my name not by some twit, but from the newspaper that I had been a columnist of for 11 years! I was shocked. Obviously it could not have been done without the knowledge or consent of someone high up…I should have been angry, but considerable time had passed; instead I feel sorry and perhaps even a bit flattered for being given this much importance (the media’s devious methods were exposed in my essay When Puppets Hide Behind Pomposity that first appeared in an anthology.)

That column ran for 11 years and survived four editors. They had their differences with me, but there was no discord. After he joined, he in fact gave me a carte blanche to choose the slot. For a while I was the only columnist in that spot – the top half of the edit page. Later, they got others…and we never had any run-ins.

It really became sad when he came to the site to announce, “I have sacked her.”

The publisher put the onus on the Editor and the editor had to show he had power. He made a rather petulant comment about the Introduction which stated: “Farzana Versey is a widely read and respected author and columnist in India. Her columns appear in Times of India, Indian Express, Mid-Day etc. She is particularly famous for her extremist and anti-establishment views”. What a sneaky thing. Since I did not post the first piece or the Intro, this was a way of hitting out at me…and this does not even sound like something I would write.

This was my response to a letter posted by someone who was supportive:

Thank you for expressing your concern. Yes, my “widely read” column of 11 years was dropped without prior intimation. And do not tell me about how things are done in the US, for if I were to follow that principle, people would be in deep s-h-i-t here. I must admit I did have second thoughts about responding to you on this Board, but I did not start it, so I guess it is perfectly legitimate and also fair to you; as you are aware, I had ample opportunity to make a noise about it were I the type. All I can say is there are kinds and kinds of people, and if I start stooping to their level, how different will I be? Incidentally, those who titter about my “anti-establishment” credentials had insisted on using the bottomline, “Farzana Versey refuses to sit on the fence…” in their paper! You are right about the misuse of a public forum, but I can only feel sorry for them. In fact, I admire the fact that this place can convert cowards, who do not have the guts to personally inform someone about their intentions, into gloating “sackers”. Just one small point: I have been an independent columnist who wrote with the courage of her convictions, so my column can be done away with. I cannot be “sacked”. Only employees, and that includes editors, can be.

Caution? Me? No, that is for wimps and media puppets posing as poseurs.

As for the rest: RIP.

No letters in the newspaper, and the fact that seven years later there are people who still recall that column clearly means that the letters were not being published. When I questioned them, they put up one. I wrote a response:

The Editor
Mid-day
Mumbai.
Jan. 10, 2001

Dear Sir,

This is with reference to Dr. A.A.Shaikh's letter (Mid-day, Jan 6) "Where's Farzana?" and your admission, "Farzana Versey's column has been discontinued".

Since this has appeared after a month of my request to you to let the readers know that my column had been dropped and it was not I who had run away from the heat, I do hope you will give me the opportunity that has been denied to me to address my readers, many of who have made attempts to get in touch with me and have come to their own conclusions.

Dr. Shaikh has rather uncharacteristically gone through the pains of mentioning my last article, the assumption being that writing about Hindus and toilet seats could have been the problem. Dear readers, this was 'editorial discretion'. I would like to categorically state here that in the 11 years that my column appeared, only a small part of it was addressing communal issues, and as a journalist I saw it as my duty, more than a right, to do so. My being a Muslim has always been incidental to my existence, and more so to my professional persona.

None of the past editors has agreed with my views completely, and the fact that I survived their disagreements, without meeting them or attending their parties I might add, reveals that there was room for my kind of thinking. I am in no mood for syrupy goodbyes and it goes against my grain, anyway, but I must thank those of you who have read me. I am aware that I provoked/hurt/irritated (ahem!) many of you, but you went through it all, which is why I can say in all honesty that my emotional involvement with this paper was entirely justified.

I am today even glad that my column was spiked without any notice or the chance to bid you farewell, for I can come to you where you are rather than from the ivory tower. When I look back, I can be extremely proud of the fact that it was always my writings that mattered, for better or for worse; I did not become a recognisable 'face' - even the editor will not be able to spot me. This I think has been the most satisfying part of my career.

Sure, nobody is indispensable, but by merely blowing out a flame, you cannot douse the potential of fire.

Since my columns were never censored, I am hoping that this letter is carried as it is, and I know it will be because truth must always prevail. And for a publication that prides itself on the readers' supremacy, I do not think it can selectively shirk from this responsibility now.

So, should we just celebrate silence?

Yours sincerely,
Farzana Versey
Mumbai

My letter was not published. An insecure paper, an insecure editor.

PS: That editor now writes for Pakistani papers regularly; he writes as a champion of secularism. People who don't know or those with short memories won't give a damn about this. Even if they do, they won't, especially since his writing is 'simple'. Hypocrisy rules. Surprising it is when people talk about freedom of expression.

This is what I meant when I wrote When Puppets Hide Behind Pomposity. Please do read it here.

7 comments:

  1. FV:

    Teri mehfil se uthataa gair mujhko kya mazaal,

    dekhta tha mein ke tune bhi ishara kar diya

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am glad those folks are part of your PAST.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Don't know a lot about the Asian Age affair so no comment.

    Off-topic, what do you think about Asma Jehangir's visit to Kashmir without commenting on human rights, and the Modi visit and the gift? Asma Jehangir's explanation is that she is there in the capacity of a UN rep and not as a Pakistani ... That 's not really convincing. The UN rep Terje Roed-Larsen who is not even a Palestinian but Norwegian, reacted as follows after visiting Jenin in April 2002:

    "While visiting the Jenin camp last Thursday, Mr. Roed-Larsen made various comments to reporters. He described the destruction by the Israeli Army as ''morally repugnant,'' and said it was ''shocking'' that relief workers had not been allowed into the camp for 11 days. ''Combating terrorism does not give a blank check to kill civilians,'' he said. He also infuriated the Israeli government by summoning foreign ambassadors to relate what he had found."

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C00E3DD1F3FF930A15757C0A9649C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all

    Or maybe I should wait for your blog on the subject?

    ReplyDelete
  4. PS:

    "biich me.n pardaa du_ii kaa thaa jo haayal uTh gayaa
    aisaa kuchh dekhaa ke duniyaa se meraa dil uTh gayaa" - Zafar

    BJ:

    At this rate I will have only a past! But thank you...I know what you mean...

    WMW:

    This is about my 'affair', but you don't have to comment...

    Re. Asma I had made a reference earlier to her meeting with Yasin Malik...for the rest, will you wait?

    ReplyDelete
  5. I found you first here so all this is news and shows your strength.Thanks for sharing also the media article on the other blog

    ReplyDelete
  6. FV,

    I have also been surprised by your sudden disappearing from Mid-Day..

    Have been a long time reader of yours, so definitely missed your articles...Never agreed with your views completely but then that was never the point either..

    Did not know the whole politics about this affair. Even after reading this post, I am not sure I completely understand as to why your writings were discontinued..Hopefully, we can see you back as a regular writer in Mid-Day soon..

    And,hence I was delighted when I came to know that you blogged. Always feels gr8 to read you...

    Keep Inking!

    Cheers,
    HP

    ReplyDelete
  7. KB:

    This is a good enough place to have found me...you get to see my weaknesses as well!

    HP:

    As I said, I myself do not till date what was the real reason...

    I did not mention that the Ed finally realising he was at a loss said that I was the kind of writer who did not take briefs...which was hugely funny...of course I don't. But when I spoke with a friend she said just ask him to give you a brief...so I did...he was totally stuck and had no answer.

    Anyway, my satisfaction arises from people's memory, which is not as short-lived as we think.

    ReplyDelete

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