The Paid Pipers of Panjim

BY Augusto Pinto| IN Media Practice | 17/07/2008
People who read newspapers in the naïve faith that the journalists are batting for them, will get a rude shock after reading such accounts.
AUGUSTO PINTO reviews In Black and White: Insiders¿ Stories about the Press in Goa.

Book Review

 

 

 

In Black and White: Insiders¿ Stories about the Press in Goa. Ed. Frederick Noronha, Published by Goa 1556, Goa, 2008. Price: Rs 195.

http://books.google.com/books?id=11rRjnzhJQIC&dq=isbn:8190568205&ei=zbJqSIqJL5HUsgPk4629Bg   

 

 

 

The press is a Piper who will play tunes for whoever pays him, or at least whoever pays him some attention. This includes the publishers of newspapers, the advertisers, the government, the readers, and those who produce the paper – such as the editors and other journalists.

 

But at least on occasion, he must perform for the downtrodden and the voiceless; those who may never even be able to buy a copy of the paper or to read one. Or else, he risks losing his relevance. This is not just the case in Goa, regarding whose press this book is about, but is so all over India, and indeed, all over the world.

 

¿In Black and White¿ is an account of the press in Goa in recent times which gives ample evidence to this proposition. It is a collection of essays by Goan journalists from the time of its Liberation from Portuguese rule in 1961, up to the entry of The Times of India¿s Goa edition in 2008; with glances at the entry of new media such as the television and the internet, which have changed the face of journalism. But since one can hardly speak of a medium without speaking of the message it conveys – one also gets a series of snapshots of the momentous events regarding Goa that hit and sometimes did not make it to the headlines.

 

But before one examines the significance of this book, it is useful to remember that the story of the printing press in Goa goes back to 1556, when the first one in Asia was, by a stroke of luck, established in Goa. [A printing press, which was supposed to go to Abyssinia (nowEthiopia), with a batch of Jesuit missionaries, arrived in Goa on March 29, 1556. En route, while they were preparing to proceed to Abyssinia, news reached them that the Emperor there was not keen to receive the missionaries. Thus the press stayed in Goa and was set up at the College of St. Paul in Old Goa.] ¿Goa 1556¿, which has published the book under review, is named in memory of that event.

 

The first phase of printing in Goa was controlled by the Portuguese clergy and the government, and mainly occupied itself in publishing religious texts to help them in converting the local populace to Christianity. This phase continued till the middle of the 17th century when the last book of this Gutenberg type press rolled out. Printing in Goa resumed in 1821 when the government brought a printing press from Bombay, and began publishing a weekly called Gazeta de Goa to inform people about govt. policy.

 

But around 1846 onwards, in the midst of an era which the sociologist Robert Newman calls ¿traditional – colonial¿ the local aristocrats began to be able to afford to buy printing presses and began publishing journals, mainly weeklies and monthlies, to propagate the views of the factions they represented. For instance the O Ultramar sided with the Christian Brahmins, while the A India Portuguesa was the mouthpiece of the Christian Chardos [equivalent of Kshatriyas].

 

Apart from these, there were Marathi publications begun mainly by the Saraswat Brahmin merchants as a means of communicating among themselves without too much interference by the Portuguese, who were not too familiar with the language.

 

Then there were Roman script Konkani journals edited by either elite Catholics or the clergy. Most of these are now defunct but ¿Vavraddeancho Ixtt¿ [Workers¿ friend] and the monthly ¿Gulab¿ which still cater to mainly middle and lower middle class Christian readers of Goa and Bombay, are examples of such journalism.

 

The early publishers and journalists saw their papers as mainly performing a public service to their constituents (though in reality many of these papers were often merely pandering to the egos of the publisher-editors). In the tiny Goan market where advertisers were few, these journals often published at a loss, as is indicated by their high death rate.

 

But after Goa got liberated in 1961, a new era of publishing began. In the run up to the first General Elections to the Assembly of the then Union Territory of Goa, Daman and Diu, at least 5 Marathi dailies and one in English started. Of these, the ones that thrived belonged to rich Goan mine owners. It seems clear in hindsight that these were meant to be the handmaidens of the rapidly dominant bourgeois capitalist class.  However the papers also aimed at being successful business ventures.

 

The essays in ¿In Black and White¿ are mainly first person accounts, many of which are amusing. One example, the first essay "Sixties¿ Stories: Free Goa¿s First Polls" by the septuagenarian novelist Ben Antao, now based in Canada, is a stunner in demonstrating the way the owner - publishers could dictate how the Piper played. His account of the way he, as a young journalist with The Navhind Times in 1963, was lulled into first believing, and then  promoting the views of the publisher,  Vasantrao Dempo,[later to be awarded the Padma Shri]  with the connivance of the more worldly wise Lambert Mascarenhas, then co-editor of the paper. This story had it been presented as fiction, would have sounded unbelievable.

 

Antao swallowed the line that an Indian National Congress Govt. would be best for Goa. During these elections, Vasantrao¿s younger brother Vaikuntrao was a Congress candidate - his ticket given to him because of his wealth. Purushottam Kakodkar, the then Congress supremo in Goa became close to Antao, and fed him with reports of the imminent victory of his party. Antao naively churned out stories favorable to the Congress, blind to the ground reality that the election was a straight fight between the United Goans and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Parties.

 

Believing his own reports, Antao on the eve of the election, thought that it was now payback time and rang up Kakodkar with whom the 28 year old journalist was on first name terms:"Purushottam, can I ask you something?...Soon you will be Chief Minister of Goa…what will you do for me?¿ Kakodkar said," What do you mean?" "What I mean is, if you become the Chief Minister, can I be your Press Secretary?" Kakodkar was non-committal. One wonders what the state of mind of the then young reporter was when the results were out, and he discovered that the Congress didn¿t win a single seat.

 

If one didn¿t suspect it already, then this is a very clear demonstration of the way the press functions; each stake bearer bartering away their wares for their own gains. ¿In Black and White¿ is peppered with such stories. People who read newspapers in the naïve faith that the journalists are batting for them, will get a rude shock reading such accounts. Antao and others should be thanked for their candidness, as it may help people open their eyes to the reality of the media.

 

Antao¿s essay confirms an old media dictum: the press is not all that successful in deciding what people think; but it is spectacularly successful in dictating what people should think ABOUT. This point might have been confirmed had the editor managed to get more contributions from those who covered the mid- 1960¿s in Goa.

 

By now, the industrialist – publishers had realized that it was preferable to let clever minions do their bidding, rather than get dirty in the rough and tumble of real life politics and journalism. At this time Niraj Naik points out, these publishers who were mainly mine-owners were inflicting a huge amount of environmental degradation in the interior parts of Goa.

 

The gatekeepers of the press – editors, mainly from outside Goa, who were hired by the industrialist owners ; and the journalists they in turn hired - made sure that the stories of the environmental disasters being inflicted on Goa by the mining lobby never appeared on the pages of the papers they controlled. Hence public opinion on the issue remained muted, and the evil went unchecked.

 

This was the time when the momentous Opinion Poll was conducted in 1967. This was meant to determine whether Goa merged with Maharashtra or remained a separate entity. Also it was the time when the redoubtable Madhav Gadkari in the Gomantak was making a pitch for Goa getting integrated with Maharashtra. It was opposed by the Rashtramat, also in Marathi, which was anti-merger.

 

Although Raju Nayak does give some space to these agenda setting Marathi papers, a deeper analysis of their contribution to the long running Goan identity debate is missing. Former Gomantak Times, and current Herald editor, Ashwin Tombat has elsewhere opined that Gomantak played major roles in splitting the MGP after the Opinion poll, and in toppling Shashikala Kakodkar¿s government in 1979 by leaking the Budget. He also contends that the paper was instrumental in the MGP nearly defeating the Congress in the 1989 poll, and subsequently in splitting the Congress to form the PDF government in 1990.

 

While it is more plausible that there were socio-economic movements going on such as the Ramponkar [traditional fishermen] agitation that were fuelling political discontent; and also Machieavelian politicians like Dr. Willy D¿Sousa and A.N. Naik who were engineering such developments; there is no gainsaying that this paper was in the thick of things. It also was the main opposition voice to the Konkani movement in 1986.

 

There is need to examine the Goan press from the viewpoint of the readers which this book does not set out to do. Gomantak again, was for long looked upon as the voice of the ¿Bahujan Samaj¿, an euphemism for the lower class, lower caste Goan Hindus. It helped to reflect the tremendous social transformation that has overtaken Goa in the last few decades. In the bargain, it may have helped stoke communal feelings among its readers. Later Tarun Bharat took over this role, a role which the English language Herald was to oppose. Perhaps another book is needed to explain the role of these papers in communalizing Goa.

 

The 60¿s was the time when Goa was quietly becoming a destination for the ¿flower-people¿ – the hippies who were the harbingers to Goa becoming the tourist destination it is today. What the press¿s take on this phenomenon was, is not given much space here, nor is the more recent land grab attempts by various forces in guises such as the Regional Plan and the attempt to set up S.E.Z.s.

 

But the press scenario from the 1970¿s onwards is the strength of this book. The contributors of this volume who worked during this period give full vent to their Oedipal instincts. Journalists, who are regarded as holy cows by people even today, are shown to be the human beings that they are. Among those who get a tanning include Lambert Mascarenhas [by Ben Antao and Eugene Correia];  Uday Bhembre [by Raju Nayak] and K.S.K. Menon [by Valmiki Faleiro].

 

However the hero, or is it villain, of the book is undoubtedly Rajan Narayan. In fact the book was originally conceived as an e-book to mark in 2003 the 20th anniversary of the Herald¿s existence, the paper where he was the long time editor.

 

The foibles and failings of this remarkable man come into view.  When he was hired Narayan was an obscure journalist who had worked for a Free Press Journal magazine called Onlooker; and at the time he applied for the job had in fact been in advertising and public relations. O Heraldo was a  Portuguese - English daily paper that had been bought by the printer J.D.Fernandes, as much to import printing machinery, as to set up a challenge to the monopoly of the The Navhind Times.

 

Rajan went about his job to transform this obscure journal, brilliantly, or recklessly, depending on how one views the man. He discerned that the Goan Christian minority wanted a voice, and he positioned his paper to perform that function. Yet he did not wish to upset the applecart of the big businesses, and Frederick Noronha notes that an editorial  guideline in the Herald explicitly stated,"Reports or features critical of large companies are to be  avoided..." on the grounds that they could not afford to antagonize potential advertisers.

 

Given that much of the corruption that happens in the state is fueled by these companies, this makes for dismaying reading. Notwithstanding the fact that his actions may have polarized people on communal grounds, Narayan has played an important role in articulating some of the most important issues that affected Goan politics and society through the 80¿s and 90¿s including the language issue and statehood.

 

Incidentally the Herald¿s nemesis, the pro - establishment The Navhind Times, which is the subject of snide remarks throughout the book, remains an exception to the rule that the Piper should sometimes play for the poor or voiceless. In spite of being boring, badly produced, and having the reputation of being a government gazette, it has retained a large circulation in Goa.

 

¿In Black and White¿ helps the reader to understand that a successful newspaper is a collaborative venture. Some of those whose contributions are little known such as rural correspondents; compositors; proof readers; and newspaper vendors get interesting mention.  Valmiki Faleiro¿s account about the way a promising newspaper of the late 1970¿s, The West Coast Times, was killed because the owners could not come to an understanding with the printers¿ demand for better wages is an example.

 

The book comes at a time when there seems to be some very significant changes occurring in the Goan media. There are new media options like the ¿free sheeters¿ about which Miguel Braganza writes. But a more important development is the entry of media groups such as the Belgaum based Tarun Bharat; the originally Pune based Sakaal, now owned by the Sharad Pawar family, which has taken over Gomantak and Gomantak Times; and The Times of India which by pouring money into its Goa edition has made the other papers to sit up and spruce up their operations.

 

The stranglehold which the mining lobby had over the media appears to be weakening. Local television is becoming a reality forcing papers to become more visually attractive though frivolous in some ways. And radio is making a comeback through FM broadcasting.

 

And as Daryl Pereira notes, the phenomenon of the internet in recent times has had an enormous impact on the press. Mailing lists such as www.goanet.org and blogsites such as the journalist watchdog www.penpricks.blogspot.com are ensuring that the agenda setting function of the press is not left solely in the hands of editors any longer. This has resulted in the emergence a brash young breed of journalists such as Mayabhushan Nagvenkar, the Tehelka reporter, whose innuendo dripping article on the crime scene in Goa, reveals how skeletons are routinely hidden by the police on behalf of the local elite.

 

¿In Black and White¿ has the feel of the work of journalists whose everyday job is to write history in a hurry. As in a daily newspaper, one will find typos; and the editing could have been much better.

 

Still it is essential and enlightening reading for all those who consume the Goan papers along with their breakfasts.

 

Augusto Pinto is a lecturer in the Dept.of English at the Dempo College of Commerce, Panjim and a freelance writer, translator and reviewer.

 

 

 

 

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