“Your ‘India Yatra’ series continues to be engrossing,” wrote reader Anand Desai. “It is a wonderful collage of stories and pictures of hope and despair, of struggles and victories— an ideal documentary of ‘incredible India.’ Please accept this small award of excellence in journalism from me, well before more trophies are thrown your way for this campaign.”
Ishare this letter not merely to toot HT’s horn, but as a pretext to talk about the larger issue of the role of the press in the political process. For readers who haven’t had a chance to dip in to ‘India Yatra’, it is a series of articles that we began publishing a month ago and will continue to run for the next two weeks.
Headed by one of our senior editors in NewDelhi, Neelesh Misra, it features the work of 30 HT journalists and an equal number of photographers who have travelled across the country to get a feel of the issues people are most concerned about.
(The entire series is available on the web at blogs.hindustantimes.com/indiayatra.) “The problem with political coverage in India, especially around election time, is that we have become completely mesmerised by politicians,” said Misra. “So things like caste equations and things like which politician won where and how many times take precedence over the issue at stake.
“In this series, we wanted to cut through that completely and look at elections from the point of view of the people, and not from the perspective of the politician. We wanted the entire political campaign across the country to be seen through the jigsaw of concerns of people across the country.
Through well-told stories, we wanted to highlight their problems, hopes and dreams.”
It’s not that we are not featuring politicians, talking about their prospects or dissecting their records.
We are doing that too, as you can yourself see every day.
But ahead of this general election, through the ‘India Yatra’ series and other stories with a similar flavour, we also want to provide people information and insight, not just about their backyards, but about places in the country they may never have heard of but which the leaders they elect will have to engage with.
It is nowa truism that the press plays, or can play, a crucial role in a democracy, of which elections are the most visible manifestation. Before a general election, everyone becomes more aware of the power of the press.
The American playwright Arthur Miller once described a great newspaper as a “nation talking to itself.” Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian-American publisher who instituted one of the US’s most prestigious journalism awards, said of his country, “Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together…”
The press is often called the “fourth estate” — after the legislature, executive and judiciary. But the term actually goes back to the French Revolution.
Around that time, France’s Estates General had three groups or estates — the clergy, the nobles and the commoners.
The British politician Edmund Burke was supposed to have pointed to the reporters’ gallery and said, “There sat a fourth estate,more important far than they all.”
Is that still true? We hope so.