(N. Ram is the Chairman of The Hindu Publishing Group)
The Hindu has been adapting to changing times, facing and overcoming a multitude of challenges, earning the trust and affection of millions of people across the country, and flourishing.
The Hindu has been adapting to changing times, facing and overcoming a multitude of challenges, earning the trust and affection of millions of people across the country, and flourishing. | Photo Credit: R. Ragu
From its modest beginnings in 1878, The Hindu has come a long way — and is poised to advance in the face of new challenges, its chief asset being its integrity combined with the public trust earned over the decades.
When The Hindu launched itself on September 20, 1878 on the strength of nothing but the ardent patriotism and commitment to progressive social reform of six young men who had managed to raise a rupee and three-quarters as seed capital, nothing seemed guaranteed, least of all longevity.
In fact, the founding editorial titled ‘Ourselves’, which is reproduced in this commemorative supplement, sounded a mixed note. It balanced clarity of public purpose — the pursuit of ‘fairness and justice’, the promotion of harmony and unity among an unfree people, the observance of ‘the strictest neutrality’ when it came to religion and the interests and demands of religious communities in a highly diverse society — with humility and diffidence about the outcome.
Around that time The Hindu was only one among dozens of newspapers that had launched themselves across undivided India within the freedom movement tradition, in contrast to the press owned and edited by Europeans that stood on the side of the British imperialist Raj. But unlike virtually all its like-minded contemporaries from that historical era, The Hindu has lasted the course, adapting to changing times, facing and overcoming a multitude of challenges, earning the trust and affection of millions of people across the country, and flourishing — thanks, above all, I believe to its fealty to the founding values, which have been contemporised in the Code of Editorial Values as well as the Code of Business Values adopted by the organisation in recent times.
Today the press, and the news media in general, across the developed world are perceived to be in crisis. Journalism, as we know it, is being described, obviously with some exaggeration, as ‘disintegrating’, ‘collapsing’, in ‘meltdown’. Its core values have come under assault and pressure from a combination of social, political, economic, and technological forces.
There is a sense, even within the profession, that news and the business model that sustains news have been ‘broken’. As a just-out book on the state of journalism and the need to remake it by Alan Rusbridger, former Editor of The Guardian, puts it, we are now ‘up to our necks in a seething, ever churning ocean of information, some of it true, much of it wrong’, there is ‘too much false news, not enough reliable news’, and ‘there might soon be entire communities without news. Or without news they could trust.’
Fortunately, in contrast to its general state in the developed world, the press as an industry is still in growth mode in India. But that does not mean the state of journalism is in good health, far from it. Freedom of expression, and as part of this, press freedom, has come under stress, pressure, assault, some would say siege, in India. The country ranked 138th among 180 countries figuring in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF), a Paris-based independent organisation that dedicates itself to freedom of information. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has, after careful enquiry and strict verification, documented the work-related killing of 48 journalists in India, including 34 murdered ‘in retribution for, or to prevent news coverage and commentary’, since 1992. India is one of a dozen countries figuring year after year in the CPJ’s Global Impunity Index where journalists are murdered, the cases remain unsolved, and the killers go free.
And India is very much integrated in the global landscape of false and fake news, much of it divisive, toxic, and dangerous to democracy and to the health of society — a threat magnified a billion-fold by the business models, algorithms, bots, filter bubbles, echo chambers, and so forth created by the Internet giants, the so-called technology companies, chiefly Facebook and Alphabet, that exercise hegemony, refuse to accept accountability, and increasingly contribute to a news and socio-political landscape that begins to resemble a dystopia.
Under such fraught and challenging circumstances, the need to strategise, renovate, remake journalism and centre-stage its core principles of truth-telling, freedom and independence, fairness and justice, humaneness, and working for the public good stands out as a top national and patriotic priority.
The Hindu, with its priceless asset of public trust earned over 140 years during which the world changed beyond human imagination, re-commits itself to this mission.