When I was growing up as a teenager in small coastal town way back in the 1930s, it was a great privilege to be able to read The Hindu which in those times was read by very few in rural areas with the exception, perhaps of a few lawyers and school teachers and, maybe by some government officials. My father was the President of a local club and the paper was delivered to us at home late in the evenings. For news to go around that I was reading The Hindu made people look at me with wonderment! Today the paper is a far cry from the paper of the thirties. The changes at first were gradual, but they have now accelerated, no doubt to keep up with the times. Presently it has become more aggressive and daring, which is as it should be. But what is most endearing is its efforts to educate the young through a special edition (8 pages, Rs 3) called The Hindu In School. A Kolkata edition of it was recently released by West Bengal Governor M K Narayan.Shri Narayan said that at a time when there was an overdose of “wrong and sensational” facts, the paper had built a reputation for being honest and correct.
The Hindu In School apparently was first launched in April 2012 and has done very well. It is surprisingly being published from fifteen centres which in itself is something of an achievement. I understand it is given to schools free for a week for students of Class VI to XII. Fancy a paper bringing out an edition strictly for students! That is an extremely imaginative effort and it should be replicated by other dailies. And why not?
What bothers me in reading our regular dailies – and I read about a dozen of them every day – is the very little effort made to put out what maybe called ‘positive’ news. One suspects the contemporary theory is that ‘bad’ news makes ‘good’ news. The stress on violence, for example, in stories about the Muzaffarnagar riots makes painful reading. Aren’t there any good people, both among Hindus and Muslims, in the district who call for recognition, if not praise? There surely are. Thus, I read a small news item in Hindustan Times (September 11) of two persons, Shyam Singh and Madan Pal, living in a village just 20 kms from Muzaffarnagar who have been defending their Muslim neighbour’s house to prove that not all is lost.
The Telegraph had carried a story about a farmers’ rights protagonist, Mahindra Singh Tikait who, back in August-September 1989 had led a 40-day agitation to secure the safe return of Nayeema, an abducted Muslim girl. The movement, Nayeema lao (Bring back Nayeema) had turned iconic as a symbol of communal common cause. Surely, there are many such stories that go unnoticed? Why are we persistently going for ‘bad’ news? Is it being very sophisticated to do so? Then we have coverage of political leverage which is just as much disgusting. Some one has to say some ugly things about Narendra Modi and that gets quick reportage. Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar excels in damning Modi given a chance, and the ‘chance’ is given to him. By now everyone knows his views on Modi and do they need repetition? We don’t hear much these days from Manesh Tewari and Digvijay Singh who brought disgrace to the Congress Party by their often vile statements. They have evidently been told to shut up. Politicking does not have to be reduced to leaders insulting each other often vindictively. That is not politicking. Everybody is entitled to their views and individually they are welcome to express them at private parties or group chats. But the Media is not a vehicle for blackening one’s opponent’s character. Much was recently made of an alleged comment by a leading secularist and one with great distinction. UR Ananthamurthy – that’s the one – is reported to have said that if Narendra Modi is elected Prime Minister, he will quit India. I have great respect for Shri Ananthamurthy, winner of so many major awards. Perhaps those were not the very words he said, or, maybe he did say them in a moment of great personal angst. His views on Modi are no secret and ‘newsworthy-wise’, I guess, they surely made ‘news’. But this is where the media comes in. Even great men may occasionally say mean things, but should the media make a big show about them?
One expects a certain sophistication from our leading newspapers; what Nitish Kumar says about Modi is forgettable. Luckily Modi has not reciprocated by way of retaliation.