How The Hindu got hold of Wikileaks’ India cables

15 March 2011

The Hindu has a massive, six-million-word scoop today.

The newspaper has gained access to the 5,100 US embassy cables with the State department, thanks to Wikileaks, and has begun publishing them in tranches. (So far, only 40 or so cables relating to India have seen the light of day.)

The cables, in the words of the paper’s editor-in-chief N. Ram, provide:

unprecedented insights into India’s foreign policy and domestic affairs, diplomatic, political, economic, social, cultural, and intellectual“.

Besides, Ram, five senior journalists have pieces in today’s paper, analysing the cables: Suresh Nambath, Nirupama Subramanian, P. Sainath, Siddharth Varadarajan and Hasan Suroor.

The Hindu reportage is also remarkable for the candour with which the paper reveals how it got hold the cables and how it proceeded to put them out.

“Hopes of getting our hands on the entire India Cache rose in the second half of December when [Wikileaks founder] Julian Assange spoke, in a newspaper interview, of  “the incredible potential of the Indian media” in a context of “a lot of corruption” (waiting to be exposed), a rising middle class, and growing access to the internet – and specifically mentioned and praised The Hindu.

“Our active contacts with WikiLeaks resumed in mid-February 2011. A breakthrough was achieved without any fuss, resulting in a detailed understanding on the terms and modus of publication, including redacting (where, and only where, necessary) and compliance with a security protocol for protecting and handling the sensitive material – and we had the whole cache of the India Cables in our hands in early March.

“Unlike the experience of the five western newspapers, which were involved in a prolonged and complex collaborative venture even while making independent publication choices (described in two books published by The Guardian and The New York Times), The Hindu’s receipt, processing, and publication of the cables is a standalone arrangement with WikiLeaks, which, as in the case of the five newspapers, has no say in the content of stories we publish based on the cables.

“We quickly assembled a team of experienced journalists – writers, including foreign correspondents, and editors – as well as digital information and data specialists for the India Cables publication project, to which we gave no particular name.

“The team worked long hours in a secured office space, practically without a day’s break, sifting through the data, categorising, segmenting, and speed-reading the cables, searching with keywords, redacting if necessary, making a large first selection of what seemed most relevant and interesting, and re-reading the cables to write dozens of stories, formatting and uploading the cables online for global reach.

“Quiet, controlled excitement reigned for the most part within the confined environment, even when fatigue set in and nerves were frayed. It is still work in progress.”

The paper also places on record, upfront, that “the India Cables have been accessed by The Hindu through an arrangement with WikiLeaks that involves no financial transaction and no financial obligations on either side.”

Elsewhere, on the edit page, the paper’s deputy editor Siddharth Varadarajan, while analysing the cables on Iran’s nuclearisation, carries this curious paragraph:

“The challenge for Washington was to get India off the fence, especially when this would be seen in India as siding with the U.S. “An op-ed by a reliably anti-American reporter for The Hindu on September 1 encouraged the GOI to stand by Iran as the ‘litmus test’ of India’s willingness to pursue an ‘ independent’ foreign policy,” the cable noted.

Meanwhile, Varadarajan has clarified on Twitter just who the said “reliably anti-American repoter for The Hindu” was: Amit Baruah, former Islamabad and Colombo correspondent of the paper who joined BBC Hindi as its head.

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8 Responses to “How The Hindu got hold of Wikileaks’ India cables”

  1. Rakesh Says:

    I hope “The Hindu” doesn’t censor anything.

  2. Mysore Peshva Says:

    Hooray for The Hindu. Boo to Shri. Amit Baruah.

  3. Nikhil Pahwa Says:

    N.Ram has quoted Assange selectively: if I remember correctly, Assange didn’t single out the Hindu in his interview; he mentioned other publications, including the group behind Private Treates and MediaNet, when he spoke of “the incredible potential of the Indian media.”

  4. suvodeep Says:

    shame on hindustan times who are trying to undermine hindu’s work by saying such news carry no meaning since indian national congress already took a pro america stand….

  5. Geert Lovink Says:

    Experiences here in the Netherlands have been very disappointing. In January over 8000 Wikileaks cables were handed over to two camps of competing media organizations. Like in India only a few dozen documents were actually released. What is in the remains thousands of cables remains unknown to the general public. Shame on Wikileaks for making such bad arrangements! As to be expected the media caravan here in NL has moved on (Libya, Japan) and the interest in Wikileaks has fainted. What you should demand is that The Hindu shares the documents with interested groups and individuals that are willing to spend time to analyze them, beyond the hand full of scandals that the mainstream press is interested in.

  6. vertical man Says:

    Geert Lovink has made a very valid point. When I saw the Hindu’s splash on 15 March the thought that first crossed my mind is that Assange is probably unaware that the Hindu is among the most compromised newspaper in India today. It has a clear and unmistakable political agenda and it will choose to publish only those cables that will increase the heat on the current dispensation in Delhi. @ Rakesh too had this in mind I am sure. Ideally a few more newspapers should have been given access to the cables to avoid the kind of situation Geert fears.

  7. S Krishna Kumar Says:

    I am surprised by your drooling, uncritical adulation for The Hindu. It is a news paper known for its Marxist-Islamist agenda. Its claim of no-money-for-wikyleaks is dubitable. The Hindu’s friends outside India must have paid for the wikileak docs in some way.

    I dare say the wikileaks documents, now in the possession of The Hindu would be doctored to portray their ideological enemies as villains and their masters in China and Persian Gulf as angels.

  8. N.Subramanian Says:

    Sir,
    I agree that “The Hindu” is doing a great job. But so far it has brought out only info which is against PM during the last two times when DMK was in tight spot. The S Band scam started by “The Hindu” diverted the attention of media on 2G to an attack on PM. The second time when Raja’s associate was found hanging another information about “cash for votes” was brought out by the same news paper. It makes us to think whether it is protecting DMK.

    If it wants to show its impartiality which it claims it should bring out wiki leaks or other info about DMK and Sonia and her family.

    We have to wait and see.


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