Better to be ?national? than ?anti-national?
By N. Kunju
Newspapers in India are grouped as being national and regional. The basis for such division is irrational, if not idiotic. Only English papers with a large circulation from the national capital qualify to be ?national?. For example, the two Times published from New Delhi consider themselves to be ?national?. Even English newspapers that are not published from Delhi are not national, even though they may have a very high circulation.
As for the language papers (as if English is not a language!), the ones in the national language Hindi are not found to be ?national?. Newspapers in regional languages like Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali, etc. may have a circulation running into millions, but they are not national. Thank God, they are not called anti-national!
The two newspapers that claim to be full-blooded ?national?, adopt all sorts of gimmicks of one-upmanship to prove their respective prominence. Inflated circulation, repeating advertisements at no extra cost, increasing pages with no substance?are all these tactics adopted in the race to be No. 1. In the process, they throw false accusations on each other using prime space.
The daily that weighs a quarter kilo is dropped at your doorstep for the ridiculously low price of Rs 1.50. The housewife sells it to the kabadi every month end for almost that much money. What is amusing is if you travel by train to Delhi from the south, you get the Bombay edition in Nagpur for Rs 3 and further up in Jhansi, the Delhi edition with more pages is available for Rs 1.50.
Once upon a time, these newspapers used to be known by the name of their editors. Devdas Gandhi, Frank Moraes, Pothan Joseph, B.G. Verghese, Khushwant Singh?all had never published their photos or written bylines for their column in the papers they edited, but everyone knew they were the editors. Today, no one knows who the editor is; you have to search the imprint line to find out. Most newspapers are managing without an editor, meaning that they have only managing editors.
As for the contents of these national papers, they wait for a scandal or a disaster to occur and dwell on it for days. Rape and murder are served in plenty with breakfast. The possible kick-backs in the buying of an aircraft carrier worth Rs 3,000 crore is no news, as no one has the patience or ability to investigate it. But the purchase of vegetables for an Army unit costing a few thousands could hit the headlines. Occasional raids of callgirls racket in posh localities give a thrill to the police as well as to the readers with elaborate descriptions and suggestive colour photos. The so-called ?Page 3? has expanded into a daily city supplement displaying photographs of the glittering nightlife of the rich and powerful in the city.
As for the news, the maxim ?facts are sacred, opinions are free? is generally flouted. One doesn'tknow which is news and which are views, as they are intermingled. As such, these newspapers have become viewspapers. And even the cub reporter wants to express his opinion in his report. Why not, when he gets a byline for his six-line one-column news? Till recently, special correspondents could not get a byline for their political analysis.
One is amused at the vehemence with which the Indian ?national? papers argue against entry of foreign capital in the newspaper industry in the name of safeguarding our culture and tradition. But the foreign press could not have done a better job of distorting our culture and tradition than our self-styled ?national? newspapers.
(The writer can be contacted at 42-B, Pocket-I, Mayur Vihar, Phase-I, Delhi-110 091.)