Celebrating 100 issues of PrintWeek in India

By 07 Mar 2016

Most of the team at PrintWeek India has seen Spotlight. I have seen it thrice. All three times, before it won the Oscar for best picture. It’s a movie about print journalism. I like that. In the seventies, there was: All the President’s Men. That film was based on the bestseller by former Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, two junior reporters who expose a White House cover-up that led to President Nixon resigning on 9 August 1974.

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From our very own India, there are three cinematic gems: New Delhi Times, Kamla and Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron. But the Indian avatars take a tough cynical look at journalism’s mission to inform and do good. That scribes, as a rule are: the dregs of the human race.
 
This is the generally held view. Most people have a pretty poor opinion about the print journalist. Persons I interview, including top-ranking CEOs and industry pundits, rate journalists at the bottom of the human pyramid. Politicians and lawyers revile news reporters in the vilest terms. Some over-extend that logic. They thrash journalists. Like the Honourable MLA and Honourable lawyer who became violent at the Patiala House court in February. 
 
There was a protest march in a few cities. Many mainstream media colleagues attended it. Harmless pacifist stuff. The chit-chat during the march I attended was about whose bylines are the best, who is doing authentic investigative reporting (precisely five and half people of which three and half stories have been spiked by top management), the fierce determination of reporters, the bravery of top editors and a world in which they believe, they can bring about change.
 
Four types of print stories
 
A well-known cartoonist pooh-poohed us do-gooders over tumblers of Old Monk and Lassi. He said there are four types of print stories, in India today.
 
- The seditious story
- The bailable story
- The story by a journalist who needs to be thrashed or banished, or preferably both
- The stenographer
 
The cartoonist added, after a rigorous round of bottoms up, that the bane of Indian print journalism is, most of the stories are the Category Four Type, the stenographer.
 
The reason to discuss this while celebrating the hundredth issue of PrintWeek India, the role of the press. When you read the autobiography of KM Mathew, Eighth Ring, one understands how newspapers in Kerala like Swadeshabhimani, Malayala Manorama and Mathrubhumi propagated the message of the Indian freedom movement. The owner of the Swadeshabhimani was deported in 1910 for his anti-British stance, the properties of Malayala Manorama were confiscated in 1938, and Damodara Menon, the editor of Matrubhumi was arrested in 1942 for supporting the Quit India movement. 
 
And so, from Kesari and Mahratta both edited by Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Young India, Navjivan and Harijan all edited and run by Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian newspapers have been a fulcrum of protest.
 
And so, the print battles with the Rulers of the Land began in 1857. A prominent Urdu journal like Payam-e-Azadi which supported the noble cause gagged with the Vernacular Press Act. This imposed restrictions on the newspapers and periodicals of the day. Many of them perished. This included the Jame Jamshed and Chabuk (both Bombay Gujarati newspapers) and the Hindoo Harbinger.
 
The concerns raised by these newspapers were typical after the Revolt of 1857. Underlining feature of the imperial phraseology, whether it was the European Vagrancy Act of 18672 or the insertion of the Clause 124-A as the Law of Sedition in 1870, was “prestige and character of the British rule in India”. This included Pherozeshah Mehta’s Bombay Chronicle (started in 1913) and edited by B G Horniman (an Englishman), who was deported for his anti-British editorial stance.
 
The reason one mentions this is, the laws were brutal 150 years ago. They laws are equally potent now.
 
Plus the Indian government has allocated US$132 million for the implementation of a surveillance system called the Central Monitoring System, which enables the government to bypass service providers and directly monitor phone calls, text messages, and Internet use.
 
This is a system which is suspicious of its 1.3 billion citizens.
 
According to a Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report: 37 journalists have been killed in India. Several journalists were attacked over the year, including two by the police. Most of those who have been eliminated are investigating high and mighty corruption scams or an expose about an industrial hub or political party.
 
This is a serious matter.
 
A magazine which completes 100 issues is not a historic event. If you look around at your newspaper vendor stall, most Indian newspapers are at least two decades old. The Times of India is more than a century old. Malayalam Manorama is 125 years old. Rashtriya Dipika is more than 125 years old. The Punjabi Daily Ajit and the English paper from Punjab Tribune are both 60-plus years old. And Mumbai Samachar which will complete two hundred years in 2022.
 
Sunil Poddar of Poddar Global says, “Around a decade ago, India was a small player. Now, it is the only country in the world where demand for newsprint is growing.  In the last decade, consumption of newsprint in India has grown around three times from one million tonne to three million tonnes.” Contrast this with China where no reads the People’s Daily, the official party organ. Readers read it for classified ads for job placements. The people of the land are not interested in a newspaper which parrots the voice of the government.
 
Moral of the story: Democracy in India is noisy. But democracy in India is healthy. Also it is great news for the print business.
 
Ramu Ramanathan
Editor of PrintWeek India

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