Papers – Looking Back Midweek
The major dailies had thrown some clues to be decoded. But, in hindsight, drawing conclusions can be deceptive.
Coffee is staking its claim on morning time with a techno-lingual sense of timing. The Hindu’s language column on Tuesday, 13 March (Know Your English) tells you that the morning newspaper reading with coffee is a caffeine window – the time slot to have your coffee or a drink with caffeine in it. Now that was overdue. Even self-confessed coffee addicts like novelist R. K. Narayan refused to go beyond tea while describing the morning ritual of poring over newspapers. Remember in one of his essays (published in the collection A Writer’s Nightmare, 1988) he talks about people whose idea of heaven is a leisurely morning with a newspaper and a cup of tea? Coffee is no longer the newspaper’s mistress – it has slotted itself to replace tea in the wife’s role.
Going through the front pages of four major dailies The Times of India (TOI), The Hindu , The Indian Express (IE) and The Hindustan Times (HT), you could find some common ground of editorial prioritization of stories, but large spaces of front pages were given to different and, of course ‘exclusive’ stories, in which the papers were positioned as the only storytellers. This might be a statement of each paper’s news sense or different editorial calls. However, this could also be attributed to something else – newspapers depending on exclusive reporting on front pages for redefining their relevance in an age of 24 hour news channels and online magazines.
So, first the stories that found their way to the front pages of the four dailies. The notable ‘commons’ were – government lifting the ban on cotton exports; match fixing allegations staging a comeback with reports of a Bollywood honey-trap for Pak cricketers (HT got the oomph moment and published the grab of the actress, face blurred); Mamta Banerjee scrapping her plan to attend swearing-in ceremonies of Punjab and UP Chief Ministers (hurting prospects of a Third Front); and Vijay Bahuguna named as the new Uttarakhand CM.
The papers had chosen to give their own spin to the settling dust of Assembly polls. The Hindu had a lead, with byline shared by two of its leading reporters, which said: Post – UP, Congress and BJP in a conciliatory mood in Parliament. It analysed the repercussions on the forthcoming Parliamentary session, drawing the inference that the Congress was open to the opposition’s suggestions and the BJP would drop its boycott of P. Chidambaram. IE, HT and TOI were keeping the speculation about a Third Front firmly in business, with different papers reporting statements of different leaders (TOI reported Nitish ready for snap polls, non-committal on Third Front, HT reported Akhilesh says no to early polls). Interestingly, only HT found it fit to give the President’s addressing Parliament, front page space.
The Indian Express reported on the centre toughening its stance on NCTC conceding only a little negotiating space with state governments and DMK putting pressure on the central government to support a US-backed resolution against human rights violations in Sri Lanka. A series of reports on a looming power crisis, as the mercury is set to soar, also found mention on the front page with the first report published on Tuesday (March 13).
As a build up to the budget, TOI and HT have tangentially hinted at their neo-liberal expectations and grudges. Pro-market orientation of their economic discourse is to seen in how TOI has a loaded question on the front page – “Scrap Income Tax?”(March 13), whereas HT ‘s concern for economic liberalization is visible in the front page report – “Big-ticket reforms on hold for a ‘safe’ budget session.”(March 12). The only front page report on India’s diplomatic moves has appeared in TOI which analyses India’s efforts to “spread its tentacles into Central Asia via Iran”.
On the edit pages, there are only few common issues across papers. The centre’s post poll predicament has invited editorial dissection and advice. TOI attributes it to UPA’ s “trust deficit”, lack of “effective consultative mechanism to thrash out contentious issues”. It also says that the Congress is not “talking enough to its allies”. The paper advises others too, as it says: “Other UPA partners have an equal obligation to make alliance work. The spirit of cooperation, however, is sadly missing from other parties blanket opposition to every central policy from FDI in retail to GST, even when the Congress does consult them”. Did TOI need anything else than FDI in retail as a policy heartburn issue? IE is more scathing on Congress’ mismanagement of UPA-2, as it observes in its edit: “Congress needs to acknowledge its own responsibility for the perception gaining ground that the Centre does not hold”.
The Hindu has come up with a timely edit on completion of 25 years of the demand for a Bodo homeland. In an editorial comment titled “Bodoland at Crossroads”, the paper observes that “skepticism about Centre’s perspective on the long-term problems of the region persists. A coherent policy, not ad-hocism, should be the hallmark of its approach”. Did you expect The Hindu to be less Hindusque in its policy prescriptions?
IE’s third edit on Monday (12 March) was perceptive in dissecting the mechanics of a viral 30-minute video about Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony.The paper remarks: “the campaign shows the efficacy of social media in spreading a message while exposing its limitations equally well. Complexity is not well-served by internet-shortened news cycle – the Uganda in the video is stripped of both history and context…As an attention-grab, Kony works – until the next viral video.”
Two articles that you should not have missed on edit pages were Ashutosh Varshney’s – A New Dawn or False? (IE,12 March) and – Looking beyond the Global Slowdown (The Hindu 13 March) both insightful reads. Find out why, if you have not.
The papers missed the state stories; the hinterland was conspicuous by its absence in the inside pages too. However, the terms of discourse had been set on some issues and were promising in parts. Perhaps we may look forward to more encompassing and multi dimensional engagement from the world of print. The world that still holds.