National Geographic: “Join the Indian Army”

You can’t make this stuff up:

“After grilling 30,000 enthusiastic and patriotic youth applicants across the country, Nat Geo has selected the final five who will embark on a journey to win themselves a never before opportunity to experience the life of an Indian Army Officer, said Keertan Adyanthaya, Managing Director, Fox International Channel and National Geographic Network India.  ….

“I firmly believe that in the age of scripted reality shows, a docu-reality programme like Mission Army will attract millions of people from different age groups across the country. We firmly believe that this programme will showcase the Grit, the Valour & the Glory of the Indian Army and encourage brave young men & women to join the Indian Army,” added Keertan Adyanthaya.

Using the good name of National Geographic is essential to that recruiting effort:

“We are very happy and proud to partner with National Geographic Channel for Mission Army, as we feel that the values and authenticity the channel brings, will enhance and bring forward the true spirit and grit of the Indian Army.”

—  General Vijay Kumar Singh, PVSM, AVSM, YSM, ADC, Chief of Army Staff


The National Geographic Society is a non-profit, tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) public charity. Which begs two key questions:

Why are U.S. taxpayers effectively subsidizing
an organization that helps
recruit soldiers for India’s Army?
What prevents National Geographic’s partners in
Russia, China, and the Middle East
from using our Society’s good name
to expand their armed forces?

And just in case you think Mission Army is a one-time aberration, check out:



Dear John: Let’s Talk.


  • Therese

    How sad that the National Geographic name is associated with this, and other, drivel: the dumbing down of America and trying to make $.

    • Hi Therese – This item was a jaw-dropper for me. Just breathtaking. The question is how NGS can manage to hang on to its non-profit 501(c)(3) status when the Channel is producing shows like this one.

  • J Jr.

    vomitous and a darn good question.

    • Still waiting for a darn good answer — or any answer.

  • Hi,

    Well, this looks interesting to put it politely. 🙂
    However, the channel has basically not much to do with the NGS as the majority owner is Fox. The other thing is that as far as I know, there are profit oriented parts of the Society like National Geographic Films, which is a taxable company.

    Apart from this, I agree that the National Geographic name should not be associated with such ventures.

    • Ferenc – Point taken about News Corp’s ownership of the Channel. But to me, this isn’t a tax or ownership issue; rather, it’s about what John Fahey might call Brand stewardship. It’s about protecting the good name of National Geographic. And while NGS doesn’t financially control the Channel, my understanding is they exercise editorial control. If so, why wasn’t it exercised here?

      (Thanks for stopping by.)

  • Absolutely agree. People won’t differentiate if they watch/read something with the National Geographic logo, because they’re not aware of the ownership structure. (why should they be anyway?)

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  • Adkins

    There was a time when the Society approved a new notion of collecting “an American song collection” on LP discs. The project was weighed, implemented, produced a couple of albums … and was then rescinded by the Board as “too commercial” and a danger to the Society’s scientific and objective status. Even the idea of selling NGS on newstands was too commercial; you could only receive the magazine by being a part of the Society, by joining the exploration of science, geography, and sociology. This was a fussy doctrine but it reflected the intellectual rigort of the founders and of its later stewards. The original ideals of the National Geographic Society are in tatters, largely because it continued the  royal Grosvenor princedom. An old-line NGS staffer, pegged the herditary problem of “Young Gil,” and his adoration of money wheeling and dealing, of getting into bed with Time-Life, of a hundred cheapening factors; he said, simply, “The blood ran thin.”

    • Hi Adkins,

      Well, I sort of agree. Something has been lost — no doubt about it.

      But you can look back at the history of NGS, and see many different organizations. I’m fascinated by the period from the 1940s through the 1970s — when the Magazine experienced breathtaking growth, yet did everything from sell U.S. War Bonds on the cover to unapologetically celebrate The West. (Pre-war, it was a very different magazine: ) Sure, we did science & geography, but it was “national” in ways that struck a chord with readers. 

      Re: “the blood ran thin” — the Grosvenor era is over. We have fresh blood at the highest levels. And I can’t see that’s helping. 

      Gil faced a very real problem in the late 1980s & early 1990s: Membership had peaked, and he sensed — correctly — that something at NGS had to change. Some 20 years later, the change has come. Most of what I write here at Society Matters is based on a simple idea: John Fahey has misdiagnosed what ails NGS, and, as a result, he has dramatically undervalued what is the Society’s greatest asset: the more than 4 million people who are still paying for the Magazine, and, more important, who are still paying attention. Sadly, we have nothing new to say to them. We keep pushing rhino pictures at them, hoping they’ll stick around. But they won’t. They’re leaving, and once they’re gone, they won’t be coming back.

      There’s still time to fix this. But there’s less of it now than there was 10 years ago.

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.


      • Adkins

        I left NGS in 1988. But I never left, not in my head.

        Bill Garrett changed our reporting style, our international approach, and sharpened our edge before Gil fired him. We were doing original work, real journalism rather than the earlier “travel wonders” style. And, since Garrett was technically apt, we were doing real science, tackling complex and even controversial issues (like illegal artifacts, which is curious in the context of the kerfluffle with AIA).

        You’re right that the Society ails. The cure probably isn’t conservative and it isn’t business as usual. It’s surely aggressive reporting on real issues that affect all of us. It’s probably even getting into trouble occasionally, bucking politics, recommitting the Society to the idea of science as a part of human exploration.

        So much to do! So many things to explain in a world of dizzying tech change! Damn, Alan, I would walk into work tomorrow if I could assail the explanations that would help citizens understand the strange new world blooming around them. No, I never left in my head or my heart, and it’s a deep pain to see the mighty Society lack courage.

        One thing the Society should be doing, and the thing with which I’d most like to help, is scientific outreach for young people, teaching new generations to question dogma and web superstition, reassuring them that science is continually working at reality, not an abstract and useless textbook model.

        Pushing rhino pictures Just Isn’t Enough.


        • There’s an entire generation of people who could echo your comment: “I never left, not in my head.” What puzzles me is why so many folks feel that way, but have mostly disengaged from what’s happening at NGS right now. 

          What you described — scientific outreach, questioning dogma & web superstition — that was very much a front-burner issue for Bill Allen when he was Editor. He loved the science stories & taking the Creationists to school. But his editorial tastes didn’t help stop the slide in membership. Bill Garrett might have changed NGM’s reporting style & sharpened its edge, but what he championed wouldn’t stop the slide either. 

          What would? Realizing that far more people can now do what only a handful of journalists did 20 years ago. Write, photograph, film… publish. And realizing that your readers are now your collaborators — that’s new. Call it “open journalism”: 

          The best part: the skills you develop as a journalist are the skills you need to be an informed citizen. Asking good questions. Listening carefully. Weighing evidence. Sharing information. Drawing conclusions. A world of “citizen journalists” is not only good for democracy and good for open societies, it’d be good for our Society, too. But it requires NGS to realize that rhino pictures are no longer enough — and that the locus of power is no longer at 17th & M Streets; it’s with the members, who are heading for the exits. 

          NGS is almost a public trust — at least the 501(c)3 part is. No family owns it. No foundation controls it. No union makes demands on it. There’s just John Fahey & the Board. That’s it. About 20 people. And while finding a fix to what ails NGS isn’t easy, I’d suggest it’s still possible — but only if the door & windows open up. Or, as the “open journalists” like to say: We need more transparency, responsiveness, participation, collaboration, and connection. Problem is, the hatches are battened down pretty tight right now. Which is why I still hope you’ll consider clicking Like on THIS

          Shine a bright enough light on the place, and things will begin to open up. Or so I hope.

          Be well, Adkins…

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