Saturday, March 28, 2009

Goebbels and the Hindu

Paul Joseph Goebbels was a German politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. Goebbels was a genius at propaganda which he used with great effect as editor of the Berlin Nazi newspaper Der Angriff (The Attack) and as the author of a steady stream of Nazi posters and handbills. His position on propaganda was clear -- ""That propaganda is good which leads to success, and that is bad which fails to achieve the desired result," he wrote. "It is not propaganda’s task to be intelligent, its task is to lead to success."

Today's propaganda article carried by the Hindu, commemorates "Serf's Liberation Day " a new national holiday declared by the Chinese authorities to commemorate, what they and, needless to say, Mr N. Ram call "Democratic Reform" (which) "did away with feudal serfdom and slavery and the theocratic system in Tibet, emancipated a million serfs, and laid the basis for the autonomous modern development of the region as part of the Chinese socialist system". (Democracy? In China and Tibet? Did I miss something; have I been asleep like Rip van Winkle and missed some momentous happenings?)

Congratulations. Not a word about the repression and killing of thousands of monks during this liberation in 1959, a fact that even the Chinese Government itself has acknowledged in the past as a mistake, when it undertook the repair of the Potala and Jokhang palaces which were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Not a word on the circumstances that drove the Dalai Lama and his band of advisers to India. Not a word on the years of repression documented by numerous independent Human Rights organisations, numerous news organisations like the BBC and the New York Times and numerous writers like Patrick French (hardly the kind of Westerners who look at Tibetan past through rose-tinted glasses and imagine it to have been Shangri-La like many Hollywood celebrities).

N Ram uses the favorite bogey -- the feudal system -- to justify all that has happened. But this is just a straw man waiting to be knocked down. Even his Holiness the Dalai Lama has acknowledged the feudal and unequal theocratic system that existed at that time and has spoken of a more democratic set up were he to ever return to his homeland. However the issue goes much deeper. And it has to do with the ethics of news journalism. As a veteran journalist, Mr Ram is surely aware that one does not mindlessly and mechanically quote Government handouts as gospel truth. He would not do so with Indian news sources emanating from the Government of India -- then why accept blindly that of the Chinese Government - one that is notorious for suppressing democracy movements, internet sites, press reports, in fact every type of free flow of information that happens to be critical of the Government and the party?

There is something deeply unprofessional, and downright dishonest about a journalist who reports uncritically, nay, admiringly, propaganda masquerading as truth. But it's more than that -- there is something deeply unethical in using the pages of your own newspaper to peddle propaganda by an authoritarian regime. It is one thing for Xinhua to parrot the outpourings of the Chinese Government. Xinhua does not pretend to be anything other than a Government news agency (there isn't any other kind in China). But for the Hindu to do it in the guise of news reporting and independent opinion is a travesty of the journalistic code of ethics. As Jon Stewart of Comedy Central told the business correspondent of CNBC recently, after the collapse of half a dozen finance institutions which CNBC failed to warn its viewers about: we both sell snake-oil, but at least we call it snake-oil. Here, for example is a quote from Mr Ram:

But right now, thousands of Chinese schoolchildren and university students are sampling the historical evidence at an exhibition on the ‘Democratic Reform in the Tibet Autonomous Region’ at Beijing’s Cultural Palace of Nationalities. You can see they are engaged, at points wide-eyed and wide-mouthed with astonishment, as they see and file past the documents, the photographs, the artefacts, and the instruments of the most savage medieval torture imaginable, which were employed, by both the lay and monastic serf-owning nobility, right up to the middle of the 20th century to conserve ‘friendly feudalism.’ In the last week of February, I spent a couple of hours at the Beijing exhibition, observing the exhibits as well as the reactions of the young visitors. It was a powerful and compelling unveiling of the truth.

The 'truth' according to whom, Mr Ram? For ages, totalitarian regimes have tried to brainwash the younger generation into believing that there's was the best system - the Nazis did it, so did the Soviet Union and of course so has China. Surely as the Editor of a major newspaper you are not so obtuse as to assume that an exhibition organised by the Government will tell 'both' sides of the story? Is this how investigative reporting is done - deciding on a momentous time in a state's history by looking at the "wide-eyed and wide-mouthed" faces of children watching some exhibits?

Perhaps I am just tilting at windmills...As my friend Ananthanarayan has pointed out in a comment in the past, do credit the readers of the Hindu with basic intelligence. Indeed, why not. Mea culpa.

Tailpiece: Just happened to see this piece through Rahul Siddharthan's blog.


AmOK said...

This is getting a little heavy for poor readers like me OLO. How about discussing something like Global Warming. MR. Dyson keeps telling us Al Gore (and by the way Ed Witten as well) is wrong. Or, you could try even lighter-weight topics -- involving windows, air conditioning and such-like. I try to read the on-line version of The Hindu but I think they only refresh it twice a year.

Anant said...

OLO: pending detailed comments on this post due to upcoming travels, I thought one might regale the following where the key phrase is that China executed far more people than the rest of the world put together. Why not have Mr. Ram run a story on this?

Anant said...

OLO: after a restful couple of days in Shillong I am returning to my various unfulfiled obligations, which include a comment on this post. I have read it very carefully and I find that the LO has pipped me to the post on every issue. Indeed, it is unethical for a newspaper to simply carry views from a state news agency and not give any other contrasting points of view. It is also curious as to why The Hindu would do such a thing. At the time of the changes in Nepal, Prachanda was carried on the frontpage every single day, even as our own country was seeing intolerable inflation and there were problems all around. I must say that it is not fair on the readers to use a reputed paper to carry out propaganda for foreign states or for specific political parties. On the other hand, where does one go to read about the last lecture on the Ramayana in Mandavali?


longnose said...

Well,, Rahul appears to have latched on to the obvious which most of us, regular readers of Hindu, knew all along. Ram is a card carrying member and like his elk in CPM,extremely pro china.It is not unusual that the news publications or the journalists play ball for one party or other or promote one cause or the other.It is also common that most of the free press world over is populated by these leftist idiots.That is why the new world order brought in by the web is changing the way the people get information.The days of Ram and his cohorts trying to influence people for their personal causes using printed medium is no longer possible.

Rahul Basu said...

longnose: I have always known N Ram to be, as it's called, a 'card-carrying member'. After all I have been reading the Hindu for upwards of 20 years.

What bothers me is the shameless and blatant pandering to the Chinese point of view. This is propaganda with a pile-driver, and hence of limited usefulness even from the propangandist's point of view. Surely an intelligent man like Ram would try to do it more insidiously, hoping thereby to hoodwink the public in the guise of presenting balanced material. I suspect even the People's Daily or the late lamented Pravda did a better job than the Hindu!

longnose said...

Rahul,, I agree to your point of view. But you will also agree with me from many examples we see around us ( apart from Ram)that those who hold dogmatic views,hardly care what others think of them.Infact, these people are easy to understand and ignore than those who look and sound goody goody ( pardon my english) and then be devious allthrough.These are the most dangerous specimens the human breed should be wary off.

After the advent of web, I hardly read Indian newspapers.What I do is scramble through the web editions of Rediff , Hindu, TOI,ExpressIndia for the headline news and for analysis I follow the articles written by few selected journalists like Srinivasaraghavan, BS Venkatesh for business, BS Raghavan on security, cho on Tamilnadu politics,Rohit Brijnath, Nirmal Shekar, WV Raman and few others on Indian sports, BBC/Guardian for sports, Newyork Times for Books,American naval website for storms brewing off bay of bengal.We now have the advantage of bypassing the self styled gurus and latch on to the real gurus who know the subject they write inside out.There are lot of trash passing of as journalists in India.
On a positive note I find Businessline as one of the best newspaper.Most of them who write in this know their subject.I also find Stateman from Calcutta as another good read.

Shamnad Basheer said...

Terrific post. Could learn a thing or two from your style of writing.

N Ram is a thorough embarrassment to Indian journalism. Dishonest, unethical and ready to stoop to any level to falsely propogate what his rich sponsors would love the world to believe.

As you rightly pointed out, the "feudal" attack is really a strawman--and never does the Dalai Lama ever justify that phase. What I find paradoxical is that in rebuking the Dalai Lama's supposed anti China activities on Indian soil, N Ram suddenly becomes an unabashed supporter of Indian govt policies! He's even addressed a legal notice to a movement titled "Save the Hindu" cautioning them that they are supporting a cause that is against Indian national policy. So according to N Ram, our media is to toe the govt line in all its policies? What a deceitful hypocrite!