Pearson, Gujarat and editorial independence

The next time one of its publications claims editorial independence, it’ll be a little less credible.

Pearson, the company that owns the Economist, Financial Times and fDi Magazine—an offshoot of the latter—can no longer credibly claim that its publications enjoy editorial independence. It just showed that the proprietors of the company can overrule the decisions of one of its publications’ editorial management team, albeit in response to vociferous lobbying. Surely it is reasonable to assume that if Pearson’s management can yield to one group of well-connected lobbyists, it can also yield to others? Of course, if governments exert pressure on media companies it is coercion; if shrill members of ‘civil society’ do it, then it is not only acceptable, but accepted.

We are talking about the episode of fDi Magazine’s Personality of the Year 2009 Award, which now has been given to the Indian state of Gujarat. Gujarat became a personality after the Gujarati personality it was initially awarded to was suddenly found unworthy of the award—although the factors causing the unworthiness were not hidden to the people who initially gave the award. When it first recognised Narendra Modi—fairly in the Acorn’s opinion—for his achievements in attracting investments to Gujarat, fDi magazine certainly knew that his role in the post-Godhra riots of 2002 was under judicial scrutiny. Now, there have been arguments that Mr Modi’s achievements are overstated—just as there have been arguments that Manmohan Singh’s role in the post-1991 reforms, and indeed those reforms themselves have been overstated. It is inconceivable that a publication with the FT pedigree could have been unaware of these criticisms. (See V Anantha Nageswaran’s post). They still chose to give the award to Mr Modi.

But Mr Modi’s detractors couldn’t digest that. They targeted the management of Pearson in an email campaign, dropping names of people and organisations that Pearson’s CEO was affiliated to and demanded not only that the award be taken back, but also a “public statement of regret” from the publication.

In such circumstances, you would expect a media organisation of repute to stand behind the decision made by its editors. It would not have been difficult for Pearson’s management to respond to Mr Modi’s critics—that he is innocent until proven guilty by the Indian justice system, and that they would be prepared to rescind the award in the event that he is pronounced guilty.

But in this case Pearson caved in. In a laughable move, it gave the Personality of the Year award to a region, and to boot “decided to highlight the geographic regions of all the other winners.” But it is unclear whether Iraq’s al-Anbar province, Nigeria’s Lagos state, Denmark, Mexico’s Yucatan state and United States’ Louisiana are also recognised as ‘personalities’ now (psst if you are a critic of Bobby Jindal—you know what to do!). fDi magazine also airbrushed Mr Modi from its webpages. (The original pages live in Google cache, for now).

Pearson comes out of this one with its reputation dented. The next time one of its publications claims editorial independence, it’ll be a little less credible. That’s a pity, because without the presumption of independence, it would only be fair to question the motives of the highly opinionated views coming from the Economist and the Financial Times. You know, someone might just have dropped the name of the president of the club that the editor is a member of…

Tailpiece: This episode shows that Mr Modi’s critics are the mirror image of his supporters. The former see him exclusively in the dubious context of the post-Godhra riots (where he has much to answer for) while the latter see nothing but the post-Godhra economic take-off that took place under his watch. And by ignoring reasonable arguments from the other side, they damage their own.

20 thoughts on “Pearson, Gujarat and editorial independence”

  1. True. But there is no debating the fact that Gujarat has become the leading investment destination in the country. Anyone who challenges that is just hating.

    On the other hand, he has not been indicted in any capacity for instigating the post-Godhra riots. Yes, it is under judicial scrutiny, but until it comes out with a finding, he is innocent.

    And an innocent man shouldn’t have to go through what he is.

  2. Well written, though i think the main learning from this is different.

    The main learning from this episode is that the media is hardly the pillar of dignity, rectitude, probity and all those impressive sounding hollow words that their talking heads love to use would have us believe.

    A bunch of connected, motivated and shrill sounding people can easily knock these guys from their perch. Very very easily.

  3. I find it slightly amusing that US-based Indian commies continue to get orgasms by getting some yankee outfit to bash Modi or some limey dude to diss him. Is there a world outside Modi-baiting for these weirdos? Most people — I included — would not even have known about FDI’s award to Modi but for the “activism” of these clowns.

  4. Very unfortunate post, Nitin

    Frankly, there is very little that Mr. Modi can do to wash away the blood spatter he put on India’s character with his clearly inept — and potentially criminal — leadership during the pogrom that happened on his watch

    Trying to airbrush this past, pointing to technicalities of his non-indictment, and seeking to restore his reputation by pointing away from the horrors on his watch — this is a surprising and unmerited support from the preeminent Indian blog of our times

    I do agree about the smaller point about Pearson. The sell-out of global media has gone on for quite some time now, and is one reason why thoughtful people read their words with a cynical eye

    Speaking from the political right (albeit not its fascist end)

    Primary Red

  5. Primary Red,

    Why does every opinion where Mr Modi is not explicitly condemned for post-Godhra 2002 have to be construed as “surprising and unmerited support” or pointing away from the horrors on his watch?

    I know there are people who have a single point agenda over Modi and Gujarat, see and insist that everyone else see everything in the universe must be seen through that lens. I see no point in everyone else joining them.

    Not every comment that does not explicitly condemn Mr Modi is an endorsement.

  6. As Kundera has so eloquently pointed out, the constant political and moral battle in these matters is between memory and forgetting

    Forgetting enables inadvertent rehabilitation of people with blood on their conscience. This is surely in no one’s interest

    Sorry to have riled you

    Best regards


  7. Thanks PR…. was beginning to believe that cheering Modi was some kind of certifying test to be on the political right.


  8. Pretty interesting “morality” this on which the non-fascist Right and the vocal fringe Left share a deep commitment to an abiding anti-Modi passion. Moral of the story is that politics makes for strange bedfellows alright, but so does morality. 😉

  9. PR,

    There is a danger in becoming Teesta Setalvad. So completely does the memory of one event consume her that she loses all sense of proportion and balance.

    Obsession is just as dangerous as memory.

  10. Udayan:

    Respect your POV but must humbly disagree

    I certainly do not obsess over Mr. Modi. He doesn’t deserve such respect. But I refuse to forget the victims of the pogrom under his watch. How can anyone possibly balance their horror with the equivalent of trains running on time?

    It’s precisely the natural societal instinct for balance that people like Mr. Modi crave. As time passes and memory fades, they do other (sometimes even good) things, the rest of us get busy with our lives, and soon we are weighing the recent good against the distant horrible. Eventually we forget and our inadvertent complicity is complete. How else does forgetting happen?

    Can there be repentance and absolution? Certainly — but the former must surely precede the latter. I ain’t seen no repentance, I ain’t giving no absolution

    Best regards

  11. Interesting that Mr.Primary Red delcares in every comment that Mr.Modi has “blood on his hands/conscience/whatever”.

    Each new evidence that comes out is in favour of Modi–the three missing days before the army arrived, the fake bajrang dal activists’ interview, the fake mass graves, the mega-meetings of jihadis in Godhra before the event, etc etc.

    But we know what Mr. Primary Red would say even when whatever committee the supreme court appoints, lets Mr.Modi go.

    At the same time, we need to understand that his intention is to provide justice to the “victims of pogrom”, not to be obsessed with “Modi-bashing”. Subtle isnt it!

    There is, as they say, “always something up the magicians sleeve” that would continue to bother him to the end of his life.

    Thankfully, there is no need to satisfy skeptics.

  12. There is a need to first of all to conduct an rigorous exercise regarding how to think about Godhra. Because without understanding what happenned in Godhra one can never understand its consequent fallout that took place in Gujarat 2002.

    An entire cottage industry of commies – islamists – and international ngo groups have emerged after feb 2002 with a co ordinated campaign that has an entire range of propaganda materials. It includes language like pogrom – genocide – final solutions – passengers themselves setting bogie on fire – RSS using train fire as Nazi used Reichstag fire to consolidate in power and so on.

    This cottage industry might stage a massive and sustained nude show to create mass distraction but that does not mean we get thrown off from learning vital lessons from Godhra like attacks that is most likely to happen in future as well.

    The Indian army had mobilized all across the international border after the Dec 13 2001 attack on Sansand Bhavan. This mass mobilization of Indian troops under Operation Parakram had made the pakistanis quite jittery and they most likely activated one of their islamic cells within India to conduct the Godhra operation.

    The attack was primed for the maximum effect as only the compartment with women kar sevaks was attacked.

    Now lesson number one to be learnt out of Godhra is that it has happenned once and it can happen again. The islamic cells within our borders might stage such attacks to create large scale internal destabilization in future conflict situations as well.

    But the entire entire thinking on Godhra is on the fallout in Gujarat while the essential lessons of sleeper cells operating within and launching undercover attacks during conflict situations is lost in the din.

    Another aspect that most liberal minds willingly dismiss is that it is not just Gujarat but most parts of India as well that lives with certain ethnic histories of conflict with islamists. This past becomes part of collective memory and of ones consciousness. Most commie-islamists academics deride and classify this memory as “hate” and “communalism” in order to peddle their own agendas of political expansion.

    But the post Godhra fallout in Gujarat affirms that such a consciousness is present and certain events trigger a kind of mass rage that cannot be contained. If a similar kind of attack would have happenned in Bihar under Laloo there would have been a similar fallout and would have been equally hard to contain. But the planners did choose their site with care.

    Rupture and destabilization are linked closely together and in India it is always going to be close call because history is like that. The nehruvian secular state has tried hard but has been unable to erase that past which still lives on in collective memory.

  13. @Pankaj

    As you rightly point out, collective memory plays a big role in understanding Godhra and its aftermath. IMO you’re spot on about the strategic implications of such an event.

    However, what happened in Gujarat (both the massacre and the subsequent riots) are crimes under the law. And the law doesn’t consider ‘collective memory’ a mitigating factor in a crime.

    IMO a transparent and speedy trial – like what has been happening after the Mumbai attacks – was in order. Bringing the perpetrators to book would’ve also made a small beginning towards a more positive collective memory; thereby setting the stage for addressing the strategic issues you raised.

    Unfortunately, even given the number of dead – easily more than 5 times that of Mumbai attacks – the end of the trial is nowhere in sight. I would say that none of the political parties are really interested in a speedy trial.

  14. @ Primary Red

    By condemning a man who you hold culpable in your personal view but who is innocent in accordance with the laws of natural justice and the rule of law, inviolable jurisprudential phenomena you see as mere ‘technicality’, you’re no better than the man you vilify. After all, isn’t that what Modi is accused of doing? That’s real talk.

  15. Interesting Primary Red thought Nehru’s “liberalism” saved India from becoming a Pakistan in a comment on a previous post. Well, of course, we also know “liberal” Nehru thought RSS killed Gandhi and banned it, with no proof what so ever – but who says leftist liberals need proof to do anything, let alone to do justice.

    So now apparently the fascist Modi has blood on his hands. Can we say Manmohan has blood on his hands because he didn’t protect the 500 people from Islamic terror massacre in a one single incident, ignoring all other terror attacks? But we forget blood-on-his-hands works in mysterious ways. It has be the right type of blood, of course, for the so-called liberals to accept it is blood.

    Too bad all lefties think all righties are fascists. According to them, one can’t be in the right and not be fascist! May be a non-fascist right ideologue is on the wrong side….better look around.

    -from the right

  16. “And by ignoring reasonable arguments from the other side, they damage their own.”

    The sad fact is that, today, there is no one truth on the issue. There is no single, impartial body to deliver this truth for the country at large in a timely fashion. (You do have the court system, but that works at a glacial pace). So you get many truth’s, opposing points of view, each equally valid, in the minds of the proponents.

    In such a situation, reasonable arguments do not find any traction. Only a persistent, shrill, over the top, argument will get you anywhere, and that is what we are seeing today.

  17. I can not undrstand just for few people FT group can change their mind. Anyways this award is for his success in attracting in investment in his region, nothing to do with human rights angle.

    So a professional organisation failed to undersand the words professional ethics and forgot & mixed the Human Right & Economic Development.

    One person may be BAD DAD for SON whereas he can be GOOD DAD for DAUGHTER.

    Please we must not allow the two different subject & move forward keeping in view HISTORY & PRESENT. Human Right violation may be (yet to be decided by honorable court, we are not the judge) & Economic Development.


    We must tell people to visit Gujarat (in view of Economic development) any other State in the Country for same view.

    Professor M. Sultan
    Jammu & Kashmir

  18. Jaichoo_t should be given an award-the most liberal and neutral obsever/commentator and most eminent arbiter of moral issues in the indian blogosphere

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