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.