When a newspaper is no longer a newspaper
March 19, 2008
THEJAS H.K. writes from Madras: There was a time not too long ago when I used to walk a couple of miles to get a copy of The Hindu in Mysore. Here, in the City of its birth, it is delivered to my room at 6 am, but over the last few years, a strange feeling of unease, even disgust, makes me run away from a newspaper I used to pursue.
Today, when the paper lands at my doorstep, I wonder if it is the same publication that professors used to goad us to read for its English; if it is the same publication that parliamentarians used to cut and quote; if it is the same publication that our parents used to say was the last word in correctness and credibility.
The unease, the disgust, has been building up for a while now.
Contributing factor number one has been the ridiculous reverence of all things communist: The one-sided coverage of the killings in Nandigram, which even the readers’ editor K. Narayanan noticed; the exaggerated coverage of the affairs of the CPI(M) and AIDWA despite the magnitude of their influence in society; the flip-flop on the nuclear deal.
Contributing facgtor number two has been reverence of all things DMK: M. Karunanidhi is called “a statesman of our time”; the distribution of free colour TV sets is hailed as a giant leap forward in terms of establishing social equality; the violence of M.K. Azhagiri, the splurge of money on the huge banners and cut-outs of M.K. Stalin go unquestioned.
And when the Cauvery tribunal hands out its award, the daily forgets that it is not just a Madras newspaper but a South Indian paper also published from Bangalore, and rejoices, hailing the decision of the tribunal to ask Karnataka to release double the amount of water it can keep for itself. Its sister publication, Frontline, runs it as a cover story.
Some of those actions can be traced to ideological kinks (”avoiding the traps of anti-left campaign journalism that various other newspapers and television channels”, as editor-in-chief N. Ram put it in response to the criticism of the Nandigram coverage), and to keep its core constituency—Tamils—happy.
But it is the national paper’s coverage of matters concerning China—be it its claim over Arunachal Pradesh or the uprising of Tibetans in Lhasa last week—that is deeply troubling, and has well and truly turned me off.
Exhibit A: When the Chinese foreign minister asserted during a visit to India that Arunachal Pradesh belonged to India, the paper ignored the report, but carried a mysterious editorial suggesting that the border row can be solved by adopting a “give and take policy”. India should give and China should take?
Exhibit B: The uprising of Tibetans in Lhasa has seen The Hindu go overboard, censoring, blacking out, polishing and giving a spin to everything, as if it is China’s National Newspaper, not India’s. And this after a recent piece on the Dalai Lama resulted in a Tibetan protest in front of the head office of the paper.
Just one example will suffice. On the day, the Dalai Lama was talking of “cultural genocide“, on the day The Times of India was saying that “Tibet unrest spreads beyond Lhasa“, The Hindu was saying, “Lhasa returns to normality“.
Result: “The Mahavishnu of Mount Road” is collecting labels by the lorryload. B. Raman calls the paper the “People’s Daily of China“. Nitin Pai calls the paper “Beijing’s Mouthpiece“.
Which is all so surprising.
When N. Ravi and Malini Parthasarathy were removed as editor and executive editor of the paper in an overnight bloodless coup in 2003, and replaced with N. Ram, joint managing director N. Murali (elder brother of Ram and Ravi) was quoted as saying this: “It is true that our readers have been complaining that some of our reports are partial and lack objectivity.”
The Hindu is open to precisely the same charges of partiality and lack of objectivity now. In fact, if anything, things have only gotten far worse. And this when Deccan Chronicle is around and this when The Times of India is slated for launch soon. Yet there is not a whisper at what this motivated and slanted coverage is doing to the core strengths of a great newspaper, built over 125 years by the sweat and toil of scores of journalists and non-journalists.
A newspaper is entitled to its views, of course, but when it starts twisting and distorting the news to suit the ideological inclinations of those at the helm, and his ideological blood-brothers, we have a problem on hand.
As it is, some newspapers now sell their editorial space to the highest bidder, there are wheels within wheels in advertising, and so on. If a newspaper, revered and trusted by hundreds of thousands of South Indians, joins the ranks, we have Big Trouble in Little China indeed.
Either we could be seeing a great institution being dismantled, brick by red brick, or we could be seeing the end of a free, fair, unbiased, vibrant media. Or both.