Anyone who says that the English media has no individuality and it is not necessary to read more than one newspaper considering all newspapers publish the same stories ad nauseum obviously has not been reading our English dailies.
Over the years, especially in the last quinquennium, the English language papers have struck out on their own to such and extent that their individuality shines through with glaring distinction. No two papers are alike. Name them and one will see their difference. Many go to great lengths to publish stories that are exclusively theirs. One would hesitate to call them ?scoops? but they certainly are.
Take just one newspaper, Hindustan Times. On September 22, it front paged some insulting remarks about Delhi made by a Dutch diplomat and a senior member of the Royal Netherlands Embassy at that. The diplomat, Arnold Parzer was quoted as saying that in Delhi ?anything that goes wrong does go wrong, everyone interferes with everyone else, the people are a darn nuisance, the climate is hell, the city a garbage dump.? And he is further quoted as saying: ?New Delhi is the most miserable place I have ever lived in!?
Is this front page news? In India'scapital, one believes it is. Shri Parzer must have had an upset stomach or may be he had a quarrel with his wife, but no diplomat in his senses would ever have made the kind of remarks that he made. Reportedly he was pulled up by his superiors but again, the question arises: Is it front page news? Or are we trivialising news?
On the same day (September 22) no other paper cared to publish the story which, for all one knows, was and ?exclusive?. Three days later Hindustan Times (September 25) published a story on the front page that said that in just one day eleven farmers in Vidarbha committed suicide and that in just one month?September?Vidarbha reported 97 suicides. That certainly was big news. But why didn'tthe paper have the families of the dead interviewed? How severe was the desperation of those who wanted to end their lives? What was the reason behind the desperation? How come only farmers in Vidarbha have been committing suicide? Are conditions of farmers elsewhere in the country any better? The Hindustan Times report said that the final draft of the first National Policy for Farmers prepared by the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) is ready. The paper did not follow-up on that. If a draft was ready was it available to the press? If it was, shouldn'tthe matter have been pursued further?
On that same day HT City carried the results of a poll conducted by the HT City-C Fore in Delhi among the youth on homosexuality. The poll said that 52 per cent of Delhi'syoung think homosexuality is not a crime, that five out of ten youngsters feel the media is too harsh on gays and lesbians. Fair enough. But shouldn'tone have a similar poll taken, say, in Kerala to counter-balance, so to speak the thinking in Delhi'syouthful circles? One of the strong points of the media is the opening given to columnists to air their views. Happily India has an abundance of journalists qualified to be columnists and it is always a pleasure to read them.
On the issue of Pope Benedict'sremarks on Islam, for instance, a plethora of views have been aired doing justice to the subject, not only in editorials but in columns as well. Deccan Herald, interestingly enough carried three columns, one by N.J.Nanporia, a former editor of The Times of India, another by Sunanda K.Datta Ray and a third by a Brazilian theologian and writer, Leonardo Boff. Nanporia raised some significant points. He said that the Pope'saddress was in a way ?an echo of the ?clash of civilisations? theory so naively and conveniently endorsed among others by Bush and his associates.? The writer held that while faith, as the Pope has implicitly emphasised ?is abundant in the Islamic world but glaringly deficient in the West?, ?faith qua faith, irrespective of where it is held does not guarantee non-violence??and important point to remember.
Nanporia pointed out that the Pope'smessage ?was and is addressed in the main to the West, a call for faith, reducing the quote from the 14th century Byzantine emperor to irrelevance.? Sunanda K.Datta Ray went down the corridors of history to pin down Christianity as no less prone to violence as Islam. He pointed out, very rightly, that the ?evil and inhuman methods? Pope Benedict accused Muslims of ?were the regular practice of the inquisition, the tribunal to suppress heresy, and quoted chapter and verse to prove his point. It showed a lot of scholarship.
To be more specific he drew attention to Pope Piux XII's?acquiescence in Nazi atrocities and John Paul II'srefusal to call the American invasion of Iraq a ?just war?. The church, however, he added ?has an edge over Islam? in the sense that ?Catholic apologists can argue that persecution of heretics, Jews and Muslims reflected an age that was bigoted and brutal?. Leonardo Boff, the Brazilian is brutal in his comment on Pope Benedict'sremarks. To him, ?the Pope'sact is a cause of scandal and shame for Christians as well? and the quotation cited by the Pope ?is completely inappropriate?. Boff said that ?the mind of Pope Benedict is still ruled by the doctrine of papal absolutism formulated in 1302 by Boniface VIII which sustains that it is necessary that every human being submit to the Pope to obtain salvation?. Said Boff: ?A Pope can, on his own, make decisions on everything. Meanwhile millions of Catholics together, do not have the authority to make decisions on anything. This absolutism explains why Benedict XVI doesn'twant to ask forgiveness.?
However, Boff noted that ?the doctrine of (papal) infallibility is very limited in its application?. What is puzzling is that not many newspapers have really bothered to comment on the Pope'scomment in depth. The New Indian Express (September 15) carried a provocative column by S.Gurumurthy who made this very point. ?But why? he asked, ?are our secularists, Leftists, intellectuals deafeningly silent on this clear and unambiguous declaration by the Pope against Islam and secularism?? The answer is clear. In part it is because of cowardice. No intellectual among our secularists would want to take on either Christianity or Islam lest he be accused of communalism. The fear is so deep that the entire approach is one of letting sleeping dogs lie. Who would want to offend Christians and Muslims when it is safer to keep quiet and let the controversy die on the vine? A exception was The Free Press Journal, which has always been a journal of courage.