I compared the reporting of the events in other Indian newspapers (English) and also The Guardian and the New York Times with that in The Hindu from March 15 to 19 and could not but note the wide gap which led to the readers’ protests. (The angles given to the stories and their display are not to be questioned; that is editorial privilege). Overall, these points struck me as noteworthy:
1. Reliance on Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency. Its reports should have been balanced by inputs from other news agencies, but their use was scanty and selective. No doubt they too would have had their angles and biases but that would have been another side of the picture. Why was The Guardian, otherwise used extensively, ignored (except for an eyewitness account which was not very informative)?
2. The Hindu’s perceptive correspondent in Beijing, Pallavi Aiyar, made no contribution, except to report Prime Minister Wen’s press conference.
3. The statements of the Chinese Prime Minister and the Chinese envoy in Delhi were fully reported. The Dalai Lama’s were truncated versions. Many readers noted that his remark on “cultural genocide” was edited out.
4. The most surprising feature was the total absence of Tibet in the “Letters to the Editor column” — in which otherwise comments appear even as events are unfolding and continue for days. A few letters appeared after an article and an editorial were published and ceased abruptly.
Of course, the Editor-in-Chief responds:
The readers’ comments and my observations on them evoked a response from the Editor-in-Chief. The following are the main points he made:
We have an arrangement with Xinhua. We have also used western agencies and PTI. The violence reported and confirmed editorially was by Tibetan discontents, some hundreds of them. The Chinese authorities seemed unprepared at first but moved to stop the savagery in Lhasa and violence in some Tibetan areas. The riots were easily overcome. The violence in Lhasa, by every account, was by protestors, who included monks. No specific incident of violence by the police or paramilitary forces has been reported by any credible news source or eyewitnesses.
The comments in the column fail to look critically at the abundant editorialising in the guise of news. If the content in The Guardian, The New York Times, and Western news agencies is analysed, the problems of professional news reporting on the Tibet developments can be better appreciated. They were full of editorial judgments and loaded phrases and were often inaccurate (such as death toll). Their websites published wrong photographs or photographs with wrong captions. The Dalai Lama’s statements were edited because he is a separatist and tended to justify the savage and murderous riots in Lhasa. Not many letters were received other than what we published.
Nobody asked Pallavi Aiyar not to report in The Hindu on Tibet. She has been on leave during the relevant period.
(Pallavi Aiyar covered the Prime Minister’s press conference on March 19. She also wrote a comparative study of China and India, on March 19, in Asia Times Online. There were references to the Tibet developments. Her editorial page article in The Hindu on April 3, 2008, placed the Tibet developments in a new perspective, from the angle of the Chinese people.)
Yes; he did say that:
The Dalai Lama’s statements were edited because he is a separatist and tended to justify the savage and murderous riots in Lhasa.
I was not aware of Hindu’s policy of editing statements of separatists and that of those who justify savage and murderous riots (Did they report the statements of Raj Thackeray? How about Kashmiri leaders? Or, leaders from the North East?)
By the way, I do not know if the paragraph in parantheses is Readers’ Editor’s observation (to note that he is not in agreement with what the Editor-in-Chief has to say), or an explanation from the Editor-in-Chief.
In any case, the Readers’ Editors conclusion is not even satisfying to me (which is not really surprising considering the fact that he considers Pallavi Aiyar a perceptive journalist, who, as Abi notes, compared Dalai Lama to Osama bin Laden in one of her pieces):
What readers look for is accurate and consistently reliable information. That requirement has to be met, and the feeling should not be allowed to grow that there is propaganda of some sort.
“The only answer to all this can be journalism of high quality, rooted in well-defined principles, clear-sighted, ethically and professionally sound, determined to put editorial values first, responsive to the needs of readers and the market within clearly worked out journalistic parameters .…” I am quoting from The Hindu editorial of August 23, 2003.
PS: By the way, I find the observation that Hindu published all the letters it received telling; as the Readers’ Editor noted there was almost a total absence of letters on the issue — which already indicates that the readers who notice Hindu’s hypocritical standards have already given up (or, probably, not even reading the Hindu anymore).