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Monumental matters

india Updated: Sep 13, 2009 01:13 IST
Sumana Ramanan
Sumana Ramanan
Hindustan Times
Sumana Ramanan

Sumana Ramanan,
Senior Editor

One reader criticises HT’s coverage of the state government’s plan to construct a statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji. Last week, HT carried a two-part package on this plan. On Thursday, it published the results of a poll on the front page and a detailed article inside.

The poll showed that 71 per cent of those surveyed and 60 per cent of those among them who spoke Marathi as a mother tongue felt the statue was a waste of money. The article inside talked about why people opposed it, focusing on music composer Vishal Dadlani’s online campaign to get support for a PIL opposing the plan, which he plans to file in court this week.

On Friday, the coverage had three components: an article on the environmental issues involved, an interview with Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and a first-person account by Mumbai-based writer Shantha Gokhale. Here is what the reader had to say about the coverage:

“I wish to condemn the malicious opinion poll conducted by HT with the sole intention to oppose the proposed erection of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s memorial by the government of Maharashtra.

“Any work of building a monumental structure, which will be seen and respected by generations to come, must be carried out in a proper manner, and such works cost money. What is wrong about it?”

I asked Shashi Baliga, Sunday Features Editor, who supervised the two-part series, to respond. Here’s what she said:

“‘Malicious’ is a very strong word. We’re certainly not guilty of such devious intent. But I have to admit that our coverage on the first day might have seemed one-sided to someone who approved of the project. (However, the majority of readers’ letters we received thanked us for picking up this issue and opposed the project.)

On the first day, we had Vishal Dadlani and others explaining why they think this memorial is a waste of taxpayers’ money. But we did not present a view from the other side -- for reasons I explain below. Perhaps that’s why the reader thought we were being ‘malicious’.

“The reality is a lot less dramatic. The idea was to have a view from both sides — Dadlani on the one hand and Chief Minister Ashok Chavan on the other.

But the chief minister is not a man with time on his hands at the best of times. Now, with elections round the corner, he was very hard to reach. So we couldn’t get his reaction for the first installment.

But we knew we had to get his view at least by the second day. So Dharmendra Jore, our resourceful deputy chief of the political bureau, managed to catch Chavan as he was interviewing candidates vying for those all-important elections tickets, and got his reaction.

The result was more balanced coverage on the second day, with both sides having their say. So you could blame the elections and the rush for party tickets, but certainly not malice on our part.”

I agree with Baliga that the first instalment may have appeared one-sided because it lacked a counterview, although in its entirely the package was balanced.

Her response ought to have also given readers an insight into some of the pressures of daily journalism and why sometimes, despite a newspaper’s best intentions, it might have to make compromises on a given day.

Let me end by saying that I don’t think the newspaper commissioned the poll with the intent of rubbishing the project. Moreover, neither the questions nor the answers were anywhere near inflammatory, so there was no question of holding back the results.