ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: Editors, reporters and correspondents at The Hindu are in a state of shock and disbelief today after another grovelling apology to an automotive major from their card-carrying Editor-in-Chief N. Ram appeared on the pages of the paper.
“In the Open Page article by R.S. Anand titled ‘The way we showcase India abroad’, a sweeping and baseless statement was made about a Kirloskar product, suggesting it was outdated. The Hindu apologises for this unwarranted assertion and withdraws the Open Page article from its website,” the apology signed by the editor-in-chief reads.
The “offending” piece by Anand, a student at RWTH in Aachen, Germany, comprised run-of-the-mill reflections on the Hannover Fair, and contained just two references to Kirloskar—both of them in the same paragraph.
“Companies such as HMT, BHEL, Kirloskar, etc, participated in the (Hannover) fair. My fellow German students were shocked to see the engine displayed by Kirloskar which was designed a century ago. They asked me, ‘Are they still using this one?’” the “offending” paragraph went.
That was enough for Ram, otherwise a champion of free expression on television and in public forums, to go out crawling on all fours.
“Just what does our editor find so sweeping and baseless about that statement,” asked a senior editor of the paper on condition of anonymity. “And anyway it is not the author’s statement, it is the quote of a German visitor.”
Hindu staffers are bemused that Ram, otherwise particular about details, should not have published the date of publication of the offending piece—May 21, 2006—in the apology. “It’s almost as if he doesn’t want readers who have back copies of the paper at home to go back and check,” a staffer said.
At the same time, many senior editors and journalists within and outside the Hindu are horrified that the whole article has been axed from the paper’s website although the references to Kirloskar were contained in only one paragraph.
“Look at the irony. We lecture the world on why Da Vinci Code should not be censored. We lecture the world on why Fanaa should not be blacked out. And yet, because some rich family is offended, we remove the whole piece from the website. Is only the paragraph at fault or the whole piece? And what will the author tell his German friends about The Hindu? That the paper has very elastic journalistic ethics, depending on who is offended?” the editor asked.
There is yet a third angle to the apology which is that it comes over and above the head of the much-vaunted Reader’s Editor, K. Narayanan, whom Ram has been projecting as the panacea of all journalistic ills in the country.
“Was Kirloskar’s complaint brought to the notice of the Reader’s Editor? If not, why not? If so, what was the substance of the complaint—that somebody had a view that the advertiser did not like? So, is Ram the Advertiser’s Editor? Doesn’t this undermine the position of the Reader’s Editor,” a staffer asked.
The Kirloskar apology is the second inside 20 months since Ram displaced Malini Parthasarathy and his brother N. Ravi in a bloodless palace coup.
On October 20, 2004, Ram published this:
“The contents, tone and language of ‘Kudos to Tata Motors’ by C. Manmohan Reddy (Business Review, The Hindu, October 18, 2004) are highly inappropriate. The Hindu conveys its deep regrets to Mahindra and Mahindra and also to Kotak Mahindra, ICICI Bank, and Citibank for the publication of the article.”
In that case, all the “offending” piece did was to lambast Mahindra and Mahindra for showing a “singular lack of responsibility towards the environment”.
“They choose to sell Bharat Stage I versions of the vehicle in large numbers in many of the 11, large and environmentally sensitive, cities where all the other automotive manufacturers have switched to BS II versions—all to save about Rs. 5,000 to 6,000 on very profitable SUVs that cost nearly Rs. 8 lakhs, on the road,” Reddy wrote.
That was enough for Ram to apologise to M&M and the auto finance companies. However unlike in the Kirloskar case, the offending M&M piece continues to remain on the paper’s website along with the apology two days later.
Media watchers say they are not surprised that both the apologies have gone out to automotive companies, which are big advertisers on the pages of The Hindu and many of which are located in Tamil Nadu.
What they find hilarious is that a committed communist should be so servile and obsequious to capitalists.
“Here’s a paper that day in and day out extols Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, Prakash and Brinda Karat. And yet to see it saying sorry for such minor journalistic indiscretions, if they are indiscretions, suggests duplicity, if not plain hypocrisy,” says a journalist who has seen better days under G. Kasturi.
“At least with The Times of India, you get what you see. The paper makes no bones about protecting the advertiser’s interest. Here on the other hand, free speech is being twisted by a very forked tongue that wants the cake and wants to eat it too.”