THE PEOPLE'S DAILY OF CHENNAI
Tibet and Sichuan have seen some determined protests by the long-suppressed Tibetans since March 10. The protests were initially started by Tibetan monks, but subsequently a large number of students and other sections of the general population joined in. The Chinese Army, which was taken by surprise, is in the process of putting down the protests ruthlessly.
2. There is no doubt they will ultimately succeed in ruthlessly crushing the protests, arresting those who participated and sending them to their own Gulags.
3.There can be different views on what the Government of India's attitude to the protests should be---sympathise with it or disaprove of it or adopt an ambivalent attitude? A decision on this has to be taken by the Government after taking the national interests into consideration.
4. But there can be no different views on what should be the attitude of the media to the developments in Tibet and Sichuan, particularly of a newspaper which projects itself to be independent and objective, with no agenda of its own. It has to inform the public of the various versions of the developments----the Tibetan, the Chinese, the Western etc--- and leave it to the readers to decide which version to believe.
5. If it has any views as to which version is more credible, it can express those views in its editorial columns for the benefit of its readers.
6. But, when a newspaper censors the various versions, blacks out the Tibetan version and disseminates only the version as put out by the Government-owned Hsinhua news agency of China, one has reason to feel shocked----- and sad.
7. Read the report as carried by that newspaper on its front page on March 17,2008. At the bottom, its says "Hsinhua, PTI and Reuters" as if the entire report is based on the versions put out by these three agencies.
8. It is not so. The portion regarding the disturbances in Tibet is totally the version of the Hsinhua with no clarifications or additions as to what the Tibetans have had to say. The Dalai Lama held a press conference on March 16,2008. Truncated versions of the press conference as disseminated by the Reuters and the PTI have been added on to the main Hsinhua version.
9. The Dalai Lama made two important points in his press conference. He accused the Chinese of cultural genocide in Tibet and asked for an international enquiry into it. At the same time, he made it clear that he did not want the Beijing Olympics to be disrupted. In its headline , the paper played up only what he said on the Olympics and remained silent on what he had to say about the alleged cultural genocide.
10. A few years ago, the paper came under a new leadership of the same family. Since then one could see a change in its editorial policy towards China and Tibet---- no publicity to the statements and activities of the Dalai Lama, no dissemination of his pictures, no publicity to the views and hardships of the Tibetans, no negative comments on China, only the positive to be highlighted and not the negative about China. Beijing to be projected as an angel in a world of villains.
11. More and more Hsinhua despatches started finding their way into the columns of this paper. The readers were told what a wonderful country China was, what a wonderful people the Chinese were, how there is nothing for India to fear from the Chinese.
12.Its Washington office was closed and shifted to Beijing indicating where its heart lay.
13. A Chinese interlocutor recently mentioned to me the names of two persons from this paper----one in its headquarters in Chennai and the other in its office in Beijing-- and remarked that if only all journalists were like these two, journalism must be the most beautiful profession in the world. I asked him why he thought so.
14. He replied that they write only positively about China. They never say anything negative.
15. All of us, who were born and brought up in Chennai, grew up on the mother's milk of this daily. Whatever little we achieved in our life and career was due to what we imbibed from its columns.
17. What a great family it was! What great names it had in its staff in its headquarters and in its field offices!
18. When we travelled abroad and mentioned that Chennai was our home town, people would immediately say " oh, the city of that famous newspaper". Chennai was known as the city of the Music Festival and this newspaper.
19. I am 71---- well on the way to making my peace with My Maker. How cruel to see this daily with which I grew up reduced to its present status!
20. Its founding fathers and the giants who served in it must be shedding tears in heavens over the way their child has been reduced to being the "People's Daily" of Chennai.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )