Partisanship at a venerable institution called The Hindu

  1. Instance1: Churmuri wrote about an apology tendered by Ram to an automative company;
  2. Instance 2: A couple of pieces by Ram on Tibet about which Shencottah wrote; and,
  3. Instance 3: An editorial criticising the Gopal Gandhi, Governor of West Bengal about which Rahul wrote; and, Arun Thiruvengadam writes more recently:

    I have long been a faithful reader of the Hindu. Of late, my loyalty has wavered because I believe it no longer has regular columnists who provide interesting and insightful commentary on the important issues of the day. (There are exceptions, as is demonstrated by the fact that contributors to this blog continue to provide links to and discuss some such pieces, but those who remain are far fewer and less regular than in the past). Moreover, most of the Hindu’s op-eds seem to focus more on international affairs (especially domestic politics in the UK), while ignoring commentary on pressing domestic issues within the country. The Hindu’s partisan stance on Nandigram may well turn out to be the last straw for those whose commitment to this venerable institution is already floundering.

It is a pity. And, the recent bit of history I learnt makes me wonder how, if ever, Hindu got its non-partisan credentials in the first place — during the freedom struggle, probably?

Update: At least somebody, at last, has recognised that  even reporting is slipping up when it comes to fairness, balance and accuracy at The Hindu:

According to the Editor-in-Chief, “We have done a perfectly balanced news and pictorial coverage of Nandigram and taken a clear editorial position, avoiding the traps of anti-left campaign journalism that various other newspapers and television channels have got into. I am satisfied that the news coverage has been accurate and balanced. Working out the editorial stand is our journalistic privilege. A serious content analysis of our coverage of Nandigram will vindicate my claim of factual and sober coverage. Of course journalism works with constraints when it comes to access to what happens in embattled or complex circumstances. But you always have a chance to catch up or fill in what happened.

“It is absolutely inaccurate to say we have not sent any reporter to Nandigram. Antara Das’ recent report, for example, speaks for itself.”

* * *

There was balance in the coverage to the extent that protesting voices against what was “happening” in Nandigram got adequate representation. But what was really happening? The reader was left to guess. The Home Secretary said it was a “war zone”; Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya described what had happened in Nandigram as legal and justified and added, “we have paid back in their own coin.” These widely reported (but not in The Hindu) remarks indicated something serious had happened and it needed to be justified. Obviously it was not Maoists and Trinamool alone, who were responsible for the situation and the published reports did not make things clear.

The reporting in The Hindu was selective. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s comment on the situation (while on his way to Kuala Lumpur) did not find a place and this had to be inferred from the Chief Minister’s reaction to it. Similarly, the Chief Minister’s “paid back” remark found mention only when there were reactions to it.

The unprecedented public protest in Kolkata was well covered, but one was left wondering what was the “situation” in Nandigram against which the intellectuals and artists were protesting. As a newsman, my first priority would have been spot coverage. That media persons were denied access to the “war zone” was unknown to The Hindu readers. The first Nandigram-datelined report, from Antara Das, appeared much after things had quietened down in the area. Nandigram did not get the detailed analysis that an explosion in tiny faraway Maldives got at the same time.

That is the Reader’s Editor: via Abi.

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7 Responses to “Partisanship at a venerable institution called The Hindu

  1. raj Says:

    Dear Guru,

    I had once written to the Reader’s Editor, Mr Narayanan, about an article by Arundhati Roy, bitterly critical of US policies. My point to him was that, in fairness, another article which responded to that criticism should have been published alongside

    He replied that :

    – we ought to distinguish between news and views. Being partisan or selective with respect to reporting news was clearly wrong. Whereas the paper was entitled to have its own ‘editorial’ views on any matter. ( meaning, I presume that it could lean towards the left or the right or whatever).

    – readers were allowed to respond to the article and their counter-views published. So, the balance was provided not on the same day, but over a period of days, as is journalistic practice.

    I now tend to agree with him. An editorial or an op-ed can take a certain strong- or even controversial position. Editor can apologise if he feels that views expressed in the paper were based on insufficient data. That doesn’t make a paper biased.

    The paper can be accused of being biased or partisan, only if it screens, gives prominence to, filters out or distorts actual news.

    I have been watching for this bias in The Hindu, in this light, and I haven’t seen evidence of any such strong distortions. Though there are minor instances. For example, I have written to them to explain the prominence in coverage of events involving the poer Kanimozhi or the social affairs minister, Poongothai Aladi Aruna. As if they are the ones governing the state.

  2. Guru Says:

    Dear Raj,

    That is a great comment — fairly detailed and very well argued. However, I do have some differing view points on some of the issues.

    Though I agree with the Readers Editor that the news should not have any bias, in my opinion, a non-partisan newspaper is one which writes its opinion pieces and editorials also in a fair manner. So, I tend to disagree with him that newspapers can be obviously partisan in their opinions and editorials.

    At this point, I should make clear as to what I mean by partisanship. Having Sainath write about the plight of farmers, though some might think is communist propaganda, is not partisan, in my opinion. However, while writing about Nandigram, supporting the communist party and the West Bengal government obviously is. In other words, what I mean by partisanship is supporting some wavelength of the political spectrum (in this case left) irrespective of whether they are right or wrong. And, that obviously is not OK with me. No amount of semantics about news and views cuts it.

    As you can see, all the criticisms noted above are about non-news pieces. Note also that Arun Thiruvengadam’s is explicit in his criticism — they are with specific reference to opinion columns and editorials. From that point of view, I think those critiques are right; as also you, when you demanded from the newspaper that they publish articles that argue for both sides of the issue, if the issue be contentious. (By the way, note also that even when reporting news, according to Ram Guha, Hindu was pro-establishment during the emergency.)


  3. raj Says:

    Guru, on the specific accusation by Guha that The Hindu was pro-establishment during the emergency, I need to say something.

    I find that when people like Guha label a paper as “partisan’, they usually mean that the paper is not dutifully reflecting the position they themselves have taken. On the ‘emergency’, there were many shrill voices condemning it, but there was also a body of opinion that it was warranted as it injected a dose of much-needed discipline. Almost the entire country, south of the Vindyas thought so, as retrospectively evidenced by the fact that in the polls of 1977, the Congress and allies bagged all but one of the seats for the Lok Sabha. The Hindu’s views may have reflected this popular opinion. But, I agree that being a national newspaper, it should have brought to light the horrible things happening in the north.

    Papers like the Indian Express, which emerged heroic during the Emergency, were also ‘partisan’ in the sense they never admitted the positive aspects of the Emergency, while dramatizing the excesses. Not to deny or condone, in any way, the lapses or excesses that happened.

    Also, I feel that it is not fair to judge a paper on the basis of its reporting during the days of censorship. Some defy the ban. Some don’t. If Morarji Desai meekly submitted to imprisonment, while George Fernandes went underground, the latter becomes more heroic in popular imagination, but an objective person might not think so..

    But, I see your point that the paper must attempt to be fair and balanced in its news as well as views, and I will be more vigilant while reading the paper.

  4. Guru Says:

    Dear Raj,

    Thanks for the clarification; I did not know that after emergency, Congress won all but one Lok Sabha seat in the South. It indeed is surprising that emergency, though imposed by the central government brought discipline to the South and cruelties in the North. I also find it curious that Guha, if I remember correct, does not make any special mention of such inhomogeneities in the manner in which emergency was perceived and implemented. It will be interesting to take a closer look at that.


  5. raj Says:

    Hey Guru, when do you get to sleep? Wasn’t it well past midnight when you replied?

  6. Guru Says:

    Dear Raj,

    Sometimes I go to sleep late in the night and stay in bed till very late in the morning. That is when my daughter sleeps so that I can work without disturbances.


  7. Impartiality, information loss and economics of newspapers « Entertaining Research Says:

    […] There are a couple of key points, I think: one is that it is the desire to appear unbiased, not to be unbiased actually. The other is that this argument might hold only when majority of people do hold the view that news organisations are politically biased. I do not know if it is true of India. Of course, in Tamilnadu, for example, some Tamil dailies were openly partisan. But, we did know of some which weren’t; I think Dinamani was one of the non-partisan ones; I do not know if it still is. In the English dailies, as I noted earlier, Hindu was considered non-partisan; it no longer is, and I doubt if it ever was. […]

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