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.