The Hindu Trilogy – I
Gandhiji was not a Communist but still he liked The Hindu.
When the Governor of Bombay, Lord Willingdon, banned The Hindu from Punjab and Burma in the wake of the Rowlatt Act agitation, the Mahatma protested and wrote letters to garner support for the newspaper. (Selected Letters of Mahatma Gandhi vol. 4, Navajivan Trust, 1968)
On another occasion, speaking to journalists on a visit to The Hindu offices he said: “I have never been tired of reiterating to journalists whom I know that journalism should never be prostituted for selfish ends or for the sake of merely earning a livelihood or, worse still, for amassing money. I think we have in our midst the making of newspapers which can do so”.
But saints and ideals have a shelf life in this country, and it wasn’t long after the saint died, that our newspapers – including that bastion of morality The Hindu – replaced ideals with one-liners and sepia-toned artwork come dry days.
There never was, never will be, a journalist of the calibre of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Sometimes he makes you wonder just how many men ’n limbs got pummelled into making him, that little emaciated fella with a toothy grin. His collected writings run into 100 volumes, and each volume is as bulky as War & Peace. Oh, and by the way he also won us our freedom.
MKG edited as many as six newspapers (or Journals as some liked to call them) during his lifetime: Indian Opinion, Young India, Harijan, Harijan Sevak, Harijan Bandu, and Navajivan. Not for him the writer’s block.
“In the very first month of Indian Opinion”, writes Bapu in The Story of My Experiments with Truth, “I realised that the sole aim of journalism should be service. For me, it became a means for the study of human nature in all its casts and shades, as I always aimed at establishing an intimate and clean bond between the editor and the readers. I was inundated with letters. They were friendly, critical or bitter. It was a fine education for me to study, digest and answer all this correspondence. It was as though the community thought audibly through this correspondence with me. It made me thoroughly understand the responsibility of a journalist.”
And this is what The Hindu advises the commentators before they prepare to, in Bapu’s words, establish an intimate and clean bond between them and the editor: Comments will be moderated. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (Example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not ‘the’, n is not ‘and’).
Granted, they aren’t Blackberry boys, but which century do they live in? Gr8, dis mst b wot dey call left-lib thnking, den.
One thing is certain: The Hindu would’ve folded in a matter of months had it practiced what Bapu preached. To cover-up the hypocrisy, it resorted quickly to what most Gandhian organisations resort to – assembled a bunch of extremely talented Left-Libs who love to yell morality and ethics from the rooftops. Rooftops of houses built on encroached land.
Bapu, the journalist, wrote: “From the very start I set my face against taking advertisements in these journals. I do not think that they have lost anything thereby. On the contrary, it is my belief that it has in no small measure helped them to maintain their independence”. (The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Navajivan Trust, 1940)
Yes, here is the father of our nation, telling us something about morality and ethics. And what do we do? We ignore ruthlessly everything he has ever uttered, as a saint or as a journalist.
Especially as a journalist.
January 1, 2012 was just another ordinary day. I woke up, found my coffee cup at my lips, and stared at the headlines of The Hindu. But even with my doped senses I knew something was amiss. There were no headlines! Instead, what greeted me was this:
Dear Mr. Varadarajan,
I write weekly columns for Newslaundry and it’d be helpful if I could get your response on a matter I am thinking of including in my forthcoming piece. The matter concerns an ad that was released and paid for by Mr H Vasanthakumar – a Chennai-based industrialist – that appeared in The Hindu on Jan 1 last year. In response to the criticism, you wrote:
“To all those who messaged me about the atrocious front page ad in The Hindu’s Delhi edition on 1 Jan, my view as editor is that this sort of crass commercialisation compromises the image and reputation of my newspaper. We are putting in place a policy to ensure the front page is not used for this sort of an ad again.”
Could I please ask you if you returned the money that you received from Mr Kumar for printing that ad, back to him, or gave it to a charity or an NGO? Considering that you were appalled by the publication of the ad, it follows that Hindu wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with Mr Kumar’s money.
I look forward to hearing from you,
Sorry, did I tell you another thing about Gandhiji? He replied personally to each and every letter that he received.
“It is now an established practice with newspapers to depend for revenues mainly on advertisements rather than on subscriptions. The result has been deplorable. The very newspaper which writes against the drink-evil publishes advertisements in praise of drinks. In the same issue, we read of the harmful effects of tobacco as also from where to buy it.” (Journalist Gandhi, Gandhi Book Trust, 1994)
Stop it, Bapu! You’ll exhaust yourself. Has anyone ever listened to you, let alone a newspaper that espouses journalism of morality? (Journalism of Courage® catchphrase sadly no longer available.)
When I last explored the DAVP coalmine (Directorate of Advertising & Visual Publicity; davp.nic.in) for my article Journalism of Chicanery, I thought it wise to leave the rope dangling down the shaft. Hindsight’s a good thing but foresight is even better, I hear myself say as I descend gently down that blackhole one more time.
Here’s a screen-shot of what I’ve had to wade through – in all, 573 “details” had to be clicked individually and the amounts that came into view tallied and added up.
Figure 1 shown below displays the money The Hindu and its sister paper, Hindu Business Line have received from the UPA II government for publishing ads celebrating the birth anniversary of Gandhiji. Forget the fact that this is our hard-earned money – or that there’s still Bapu’s death anniversary to be factored in – just remember to multiply this figure (Rs in lakh) by 20 so as to also take into account the unfathomable love and affection our state governments have for Bapu.
Figure 1. Money received from the UPA government by The Hindu for Gandhiji’s birth anniversary ads, 2008-2012, in lakh rupees. Multiply Rs 55 lakh by 20 to factor in the expenditure by the many state governments on the same day, and double this amount to include Bapu’s death anniversary ads. Final amount comes to approximately 20 crore.
This, then, is the ethics and morality of an institution called The Hindu, a newspaper that promises to follow in Gandhiji’s footsteps, but abandons the trail midway just to leech some quick buck on the side. Hey (N.) Ram!
There’s more, much more, and it’s only the back-breaking labour required to mine the deliberately-left-as-raw DAVP data which prevents me from setting up a permanent shop there. Still, like Jeeves one endeavours to provide satisfaction to Newslaundry readers – and so here it is.
Figure 2 shows the money deposited in the bank accounts of Kasturi & Sons (Acc # 1197200235), the proprietors of The Hindu and Hindu Business Line, by the UPA 1 and UPA II governments. This is taxpayer’s money – Rs 54 crore just from the Central government – that The Hindu has received gratefully, through mind-boggling, forest-chopping 573 cheques, 36 of them curiously drawn multiple times for the exact same amounts and dates.
Figure 2. Money received from the UPA I and UPA II governments by The Hindu for publishing government ads, in crores. The total money, 2005-11, amounts to Rs 54 crore. (Source: DAVP)
“I abhor the idea of a newspaper making money out of advertisements. It is a fraud on the public.” (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XVI)
You don’t listen, Bapu, do you?!
“…A pronounced pro-China tilt, blacking out or downplaying any news that is less than complimentary to the Chinese Communist regime…In the recent period, editorial integrity has been severely compromised and news coverage linked directly to advertising in a way that is little different from paid news.”
Bapu, please! Oops, my apologies – that one’s by N Ravi, the ousted editor of The Hindu
For a writer, where he writes is as important as what he writes. You’ll never see an Arundhati (I talk as though her writings are paintings – a Jamini!) appearing in Samna, the Shiv Sena mouthpiece, or for that matter Ram Guha rubbing shoulders with Kanchan Gupta at Niti Central. Arundhati and the Rams write for The Hindu because they sense that it, like them, has the highest standards of morality and ethics; that it is beyond reproach.
Had these infallibles demanded of The Hindu– like I demand right now – that at least part of its ill-gotten government ad money – our money, Arundhati’s money – be given away voluntarily, this is how their causes would have benefited:
489 schools and hospitals in Bastar, Dantewada and other Naxal areas; 97 IIC-type clubs for intellectuals to meet and interact; 25,210 Dharamsala-Delhi-Beijing one-way tickets for exiled Tibetans.
I apologise if these thinkers have written already to Mr. Varadarajan on the matter, threatening they’ll no longer write for The Hindu if it refuses to uphold the principles of journalism championed by Gandhiji.
For the sake of Naxals – at least those labelled as “Gandhian with guns” (Walking with the Comrades by Arundhati Roy, Outlook, March 29, 2010) – it would’ve been just, had Bapu’s birth anniversary ad money been utilised for their artillery needs.
And the vicious cycle of ethics would’ve been complete had Arundhati also published her hard-hitting essays on the genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka not in the British Guardian (This is not a war on terror. It is a racist war on all Tamils, April 1, 2009) but, instead, in The Hindu. I fail to understand why she dithered. So what if the then editor of The Hindu was a recipient of Sri Lanka’s highest civilian honour and a personal friend of President Rajapaksa.
Likewise, Dr Guha’s probing essay on the money wasted on ads (Memories at public expense) mysteriously found a different vehicle (The Telegraph, June 5, 2010) and not the morality-beaconed Ambassador he usually travels in. Perhaps Dr Guha was bound by the hypocritical oath? Or is it that the term Left-Lib is as oxymoronic as deep down he’s shallow?
The Hindu is no longer the guiding light Gandhiji once thought it was. It is, instead, that doe-eyed little deer that leaps and skips forever in search of the Kasturi that, unbeknownst, resides inside it. Its musky scent overpowered cruelly by the stench of easy money.
For my second piece in The Hindu Trilogy, I shall endeavour to understand the workings of another Hindu Institution, one whose name I didn’t mention in this essay.
Image Source: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/11264282@N02/4454735771/]