In September 2012, when I was appointed as the Readers’ Editor I made a solemn promise to the readers that “I will strive to do my best to be an effective interface between The Hindu’s readers and the 134-year-old institution.” One part of this task is to be a carrier of the readers’ opinion to the editorial, share their concerns and rectify mistakes if there are any. The other part is to inform the readers about the thought process and the editorial guiding principles that define this newspaper.
Over the last two weeks, the paper displayed excellent leadership qualities and I would like to share this with the readers. The way the newspaper handled the developments since the gruesome killing of Lance-Naik Sudhakar Singh and Lance-Naik Hemraj is a classic testimony to upholding the highest principles of journalism.
First, it condemned the killing in no uncertain terms. Second, it went on to find out what caused the provocation. On January 10, Praveen Swami in his report titled “Runaway grandmother sparked savage skirmish on LoC” gave a detailed background, which helped to contextualise the issue in a more informed manner. An Editorial on that day, “Playing with fire”, was a wise counsel to the two nuclear neighbours.
The editorial on January 16, “Stop baying for blood”, called for a sober approach and drew our attention to one of the irrefutable facts about the Indo-Pak relationship, when it said: “Not every malaise has a cure; some can only be managed better or worse, and certainly not through indiscriminate bloodletting. India’s relationship with Pakistan is one of them.”
On January 17, Nirupama Subramanian’s “Beware the dogs of war” looked at the peace dividend experienced by the people of Kashmir on either side of the LoC since the 2003 ceasefire agreement. She wrote: “…despite the violations, how vital the ceasefire has been to changing lives on the ground for people living on both sides of the LoC — the Kashmiris that both India and Pakistan claim to speak for, and whose best interests both nations claim to represent — and what a crucial anchor it has been for peace efforts in the region over the last decade and therefore how important it is to secure it.”
A day before that, Praveen Swami’s “Green Books, red herring and the LoC war” gave a fair idea of the Pakistan’s military’s thinking and drew a crucial line between the alliance of Pakistan military and jihadist forces and what is important for India. He wrote: “It is self-evident that preventing a rapprochement between jihadists and the generals is in India’s best interest — one reason why Prime Ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh proved willing to pay the political price for a policy of strategic restraint. That the will to continue doing so is fraying in the build-up to the General Election is evident. India has, so far, punished Pakistani aggression with a variety of means, conventional and covert — but the seduction of grandiose gestures is growing. Indians must become aware, though, that a more muscular response to Pakistani aggression on the LoC, like all instant gratification, will come with a price that probably isn’t worth paying.”
Fidelity to fundamentals
If one reads all these journalistic work in tandem, one discerns The Hindu’s adherence to the elements of journalism as enunciated by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel. Of the nine fundamental elements of journalism listed out by these eminent journalism teachers, the series of stories in The Hindu illustrates the working of four doctrines: 1) its essence is a discipline of verification, 2) its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover, 3) it must serve as an independent monitor of power, and, 4) it must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
First, the newspaper verified the claims of the Indian army and found out more information including the ceasefire violation of the Indian army too. Second, it maintained an independence from those it covered, in this case the military and the governments of India and Pakistan, by bringing out the story of the people of Kashmir on either side of the LoC. Third, it independently looked at the ceasefire violations meticulously and served as an independent monitor of power. And, it provided a forum for public criticism and compromise, an aspect that is very critical in any emotionally surcharged situation.
Talking about the need for providing a forum for criticism and compromise, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel said: “The news media are the common carriers of public discussion, and this responsibility forms a basis for our special privileges. This discussion serves society best when it is informed by facts rather than prejudice and supposition. It also should strive to fairly represent the varied viewpoints and interests in society, and to place them in context rather than highlight only the conflicting fringes of debate. Accuracy and truthfulness require that as framers of the public discussion we not neglect the points of common ground where problem solving occurs.”
I think The Hindu’s coverage of the situation since the killing of the two soldiers strove to bring out the common ground for problem solving and reducing the frayed tempers and helped the overall narrative from descending into a war cry.