Friday, February 08, 2013

Why I don't read The Indian Express

When I tell my journalist friends that I do not read The Indian Express, they laugh at me, try to conceal their disdain and contempt, and put on their sweet, reasonable tone to tell me that that is the only paper which has good news stories as far as journalists are concerned. My former Express colleagues cannot believe the blasphemy I am uttering. They are terribly uncomfortable. The reason I have stopped reading Express in spite of the fact that I worked there for 14 years in two stints is this: It does not give me regular news about events in India and abroad. Express specialises in special stories. Their argument has been: The news you will get anywhere -- from radio, from TV, even from The Times of India, Hindustan Times and The Hindu. What you will get in Express are those stories which those papers do not do. Perhaps there is a grain of truth there. And journalists revel that it is the journalists'paper. It is of course nice that there is a newspaper that makes journalists proud and they want to read it and they feel proud that their peers read it. It is a way of winning the respect of your colleagues. Express has also the other advantage. The politicians and bureaucrats and the academics read it. This is also a boost to the journalists. When they go to politicians and bureaucrats, there is a ready recognition. And of course, on those rare occasions, you have to turn to the academics they recognise too. The catch here is this. The readers of the Express -- journalists, politicians, bureaucrats, academics -- form a closed circle. There is nothing objectionable in this. What is missing is the common reader, the common reader who wants to what is happening, what the politicians are saying and doing, the policy statements and decisions, the movies, gossip about movie actors and actresses, a bit of fashion and all that sundry stuff, the stuff that journalists, serious journalists, politicians, bureaucrats and academics look down upon. So Express has developed into a small circulation newspaper, which is not read by all and sundry but by people who matter. It has become the newspaper of intelligent people, of opinion-makers. But Express is not an intellectual paper. There is a page devoted to pieces taken from that fake intellectual newspaper called The Economist. There was a time when Express carried a page from The Wall Street Journal. Those were the days of early liberalisation. And it seemed to get a piece from an American newspaper to brand it. It remains a strangely lower middle class paper which harbours an admirable rage against wrong-doing in public life of sorts. It is in many ways a crusader's newspaper as well. Again, there is no room for regular news. It is special news, exclusive news and nothing else. And Express has succeeded in what it has set out to do. It excels in special stories. There is another problem with the Express. The stories are full of spin. For them news is secondary. What is the spin to put on the story so as to grab the attention of the Express reader -- the journalist, the politician, the bureaucrat, the academic? So, the common reader who is looking for news is given a story with a spin. It became difficult for me to read between the lines, to discern the spin in the news stories. All I wanted was a simple news story, the facts. I want to make up my own mind. Express stories come packaged with a view as to what I should believe about a particular issue. There was a time when Express was seen as an anti-Establishment paper, at least in the political sense. When Congress was in power, and old Ramnath Goenka was around, the newspaper played this adversarial story to the hilt. Many of the RSS-minded lower middle class readers of the paper -- they formed the core of the readership of Express in the old days -- loved it as did the other right-wing minded members of the middle class. Many of those who worked for the Express were mostly liberals, a few of them were leftists. And it was a nice paradox -- liberals and lefties working for a right-wing press baron. For the most part, the old Goenka allowed stories to go and it was only on maajor issues that he took a stance. Perhaps the best editors of Express were Khasa Subba Rao and Frank Moraes. The rot started when Arun Shourie became editor. He was a crusader and not a journalist. And he was a blinkered crusader. In the late 1980s, he was fighting Rajiv Gandhi and chased that non-story called Bofors kick-backs. He supported V.P.Singh to fight Rajiv. Then when V.P.Singh announced the implementation of Mandal Commission recommendations, he turned against V.P.Singh, in the name of meritocracy of course. In this Express and Shourie were not alone. All the English newspapers turned against Mandal commission recommendations. As a right-wing paper, the Express remained a soft pro-BJP newspaper. Once in a while, the Dussehra RSS parade photo was used. After Goenka and Shourie, the paper aspired to be the Establishment paper, leaving its secure position as an anti-Establishment voice. It was perhaps inevitable. Express was a tacit right-wing paper, and when right-wing political and economic agenda became the agenda of the governments, it could not any more hold out against the governments. As there were too many Estabslishment papers, Express could not muscle its way in. It remains on the margins of Establishment voices. Of course, Express still does not believe in regular news of what has happened. It hunts for the exclusive story and gets it too. It does not mind that it has no common reader. The problem is that I do no read a newspaper as a journalist but as an ordinary reader. That is why, I cannot and I do not read The Indian Express.

2 comments:

Suresh Panje said...

After the demise of senior Goenka, the IE has been more into juicy sort sensationalism than journalism. No wonder, alongside Tehelka, it has been bagging IPI's annual awards. And indeed, sensational news sells more than real news that concern the man on the street. As a journalist, I wish to say that we guys in the Press play more politics than the dhotiwala Netas and other Netranis.

Mahendra said...

You are right on all counts, Parsa. IE is presumptuous when it tries to be a crusader. It is presumptuous when it editorialises and sensationalises its stories -- also "non-stories" as you put it in the case of Bofors. Last year's story of the army movement could not have done any journalist, any newspawper proud. The reader is intelligent, even arrogant, and wants to evaluate the news himnself/herself, without yielding that privilege to the newspaper. You are right when you ask: WHAT IS NEWSPASPER WITHOUT NEWS?

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