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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)
The second tranche of American diplomatic cables published by The Hindu today in collaboration with Wikileaks, throws light on how newspapers—yes—have become a delivery vehicle for politicians and parties to deliver cash to voters at the time of elections.
The paper quotes from a cable sent by Frederick J. Kaplan, acting principal officer of the US consulate-general in Madras, to the State department, after meeting M. Puttarajan, an aide of Union chemicals and fertilisers minister M.K. Azhagiri, son of the Tamil Nadu chief M. Karunanidhi:
“In an instructive and entertaining section titled ‘Can I get another morning paper?’ Kaplan explained the modus operandi for cash distribution adopted by the DMK in Thirumangalam: “Rather than using the traditional practice of handing cash to voters in the middle of the night, in Thirumangalam, the DMK distributed money to every person on the voting roll in envelopes inserted in their morning newspapers.
“In addition to the money, the envelopes contained the DMK ‘voting slip’ which instructed the recipient for whom they should vote.” This, Kaplan noted, “forced everyone to receive the bribe.” Patturajan , he wrote, “confirmed the newspaper distribution method of handing out money, but questioned its efficiency. He [Patturajan] pointed out that giving bribes every voter wasted money on committed anti-DMK voters, but conceded that it was an effective way to ensure the cash reached every potential persuadable voter”.
The Kaplan cable reports that Patturajan expected difficulties in replicating the Thirumangalam model in the 2009 parliamentary election because the Lok Sabha constituency was seven times the size of the Assembly seat.
According to the cable:
“Azhagiri has been forced to ratchet the payment back down to more typical levels, but he still plans on giving it to every voter through the newspaper distribution method.”
Little wonder every politician and political party wants to start a newspaper?
Cartoon: courtesy Keshav/ The Hindu
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:
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.