Thursday, November 28, 2002

I have come to be a regular reader of Frontline—which I believe is India’s best newsmagazine. It is a fortnightly from the publishers of The Hindu. The editor N Ram deserves a pat on the back for keeping it sober and serious, covering only those issues in the news that deserve attention. None of the sugar-coated packaging of news (in other words, sensationalism) regular in the other mags like India Today, Outlook and the dumb The Week (from Kerala’s own Malayala Manorama empire). Frontline shares its sobriety with its parent newspaper.

Newspapers are regarded to be important tools in the democratic process, but somehow I find them a criminal waste of time. The only good use they are to me are for pure information—like the day’s TV programmes, for example. The unprocessed information termed news that is found in them is only a kind of drug to make a stupid readership feel they are exerting themselves in a worthy intellectual task. How many avid readers of newspapers have the patience to read through a whole book? Somewhere in this exaggerated worth attributed to newspapers I sense a malaise that taints our times.

This malaise is only growing—especially with the advent of 24/7 TV news channels desperate to find sensational issues to keep an audience with delusions of gravity glued to the ‘idiot box’. Thus I find colleagues in my office discussing in graphic detail the contours of the latest sensational murder—gleaned from hours of Aaj Tak and Zee News—with the pride of one who is making a flamboyant display of his learning; while I have less respect for him than for the adolescent salivating over memories of the silicone-enhanced morphology of Pamela Anderson on display in the previous night’s episode of ‘Baywatch’.

But most of these ‘news junkies’ will find it an arduous effort to read through an issue of a publication like Frontline. Because they cover in detail real news, because there are real issues that demand discussion and deliberation. Because the only eye-candy to be found in those pages is perhaps a photograph of burqa-clad Afghan women queuing for rations, and not the décolletage of the latest starlet who has made it big in tinsel town.

Interesting articles I have already read in Frontline’s latest issue, apart from regular news coverage, include those on this year’s literature Nobel winner Imre Kertesz, on painter Apurva Desai, A G Noorani’s book review that introduced me to the fascinating political writings of Hans J Morgenthau (which reminded me why at one point of time I wanted to do my graduation in Political Science), and the Hindu Right’s attack on Kerala’s secular intellectuals like writer Zacharia.

One thing though: I don’t claim to have a balanced perspective on current affairs as I had not been following the news at all over the last couple of years, and though my liberal leanings sympathise with Frontline’s position on most issues (the news articles themselves are opinionated as in a newspaper editorial, sometimes fiercely so), the magazine’s strident opposition to the Rightist forces of Hindutva and its anti-US stand on both the Israel / Palestine and Iraq situations, sometimes seems too grating to feel like an unbiased stand. Or maybe I’m wrong and N Ram knows better.slcw