Monday, April 21, 2008

When N Ram supported freedom of speech

Sunil Mukhi (TIFR Mumbai) has been digging through his archives, and unearthed an example of when N Ram was pro-free-speech. Recently, of course, he has refused to provide any coverage on China's crackdown on free speech, while industriously pushing the Chinese line on Tibet.

What was that example? When my colleague T Jayaraman wrote protesting the nuclear tests in 1998, and was threatened with action by the then director of this institute. And why was that an occasion that free speech needed to be defended? Could it be, as Mukhi observes, that Jayaraman's position happened to coincide with China's?

Why do we bother with Ram? His newspaper would by now be wallowing in obscurity if the other papers weren't such utter rubbish too.

Space Bar had a recent post on "found poetry". (It is amusing that Wikipedia's article on the subject cites one of the earliest examples as occurring in a 19th century mechanics textbook.) Anyway, it occurred to me that Ram's reply to his Readers' Editor had a certain rhythm to it. As follows:

We have an arrangement with Xinhua. We
've also used Western agencies and P-
T-I. The violence reported, you see,
We confirmed it all editorially.

'Twas Tibetans done it, some hundreds of them.
The Chinese authorities, first unprepared,
Moved quickly to stop the riots and mayhem
In Lhasa and elsewhere. No effort was spared.

The violence in Lhasa, by every account,
Was done by protesters, who included monks.
No case of violence (or none that would count)
Came from the police or paramilitary bunks.

Why edit the Lama? Because he's a splittist
And tended to justify the murderous
Riots. Other than what we published,
Letters to us were not very numerous.

(Well, the meter is a bit bumpy, but one takes it as one finds it.)


Space Bar said...

Heh! I vote you instantly send this to The Hindu!

Sunil Mukhi said...

Well I just found that N. Ram also supports freedom of speech when his staff are being arrested!

The Hindu, ca. 2003, has the following report on the famous occasion when the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly got the police to arrest some staff at the Hindu on a privilege issue:

"This is a direct challenge to the freedom of speech and expression," Mr. Ram told a crush of journalists at the newspaper's head office. "We will challenge the move in court and in all democratic fora, starting with this newspaper."

"It's outrageous and highly undemocratic. ... It has become a major national question.

It's sort of amusing that all this outrage was over police actions that would have led to a few days detention. I agree that's an unpleasant fate, and N. Ram may be right in calling it "outrageous", but does he not realise how minor a degree of harrassment this is when compared with what the Chinese government regularly hands out to offending journalists?