It is one thing to scoop the cables of American diplomats obtained by WikiLeaks, and it is quite another to project WikiLeaks’ maverick founder, Julian Assange, not merely as the facilitator of the cable-leaks but as the fount of all wisdom contained in them. But The Hindu has managed to do both inside 30 days.
First, the Madras-based behemoth published the first tranche of the 5,100 cables obtained by it, via WikiLeaks. And now, a glowing, front-page story by editor-in-chief N. Ram in today’s paper has Assange offering his view on the Indian prime minister’s disputation of the authenticity of the US embassy cables.
Inside, on the op-ed page, is the first part of a 60-minute interview by Ram and The Hindu‘s UK correspondent, Hasan Suroor, with Assange, in which the “brilliant and articulate editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks” offers his view on —pinch yourself—“a broad range of issues relating to India, the world, political economy, journalism, the goals and methods of WikiLeaks, and the threoretical framework worked out by its chief”.
Question No. 1: Mr. Assange, the publication in March-April 2011 of the India Cables accessed by The Hindu through an agreement with WikiLeaks — and thank you very much for that — has made a dramatic impact on politics and public opinion in India. As you know, it rocked Parliament and put the Manmohan Singh Government on the back foot, at the same time not sparing the Opposition. The Indian news media, newspapers as well as television, have picked up the continuing story in a big way and, I think, WikiLeaks has become a household name in India. Not that you were not known before but now it has great relevance in India, as Bofors did in the late 1980s and early 1990s. How do you think this compares with the impact Cablegate had when it first broke in November of 2010 through The Guardian and four other western newspapers?
Julian Assange: I am very encouraged by what’s happened in India – for The Hindu that’s 21 front pages and there’s a spectrum of publishing in India which I think eclipses that of The Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and The New York Times, and El Pais, which were our original partners, although some of them had also done some very fine work. This is something we have seen with some of our other regional partners in Latin America, like Peru and Costa Rica coming up before elections — that the local focus is able to really burrow into important details.
I am tempted to say, based upon my reading of The Hindu that it is in a position to report more freely than these other papers are in their respective countries. That may be, I suspect, not just as a result of the strength of The Hindu but as a result of the weakness of the Indian federal government as a structure that is able to pull together patronage networks and suppress journalism as a whole in India. While it’s certainly true that each one of the factions involved in Indian national politics is able to exert pressures, I think it is encouraging that India as a whole has not turned into one central pyramid of patronage, which is something we do see a bit in other countries like the United States.
Read the full interview: ‘WikiLeaks has provided the critical climate for political change’
Photograph: N. Ram, editor-in-chief of The Hindu (left), with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange (courtesy The Hindu)