On the occasion of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s 127th birth anniversary, an old newspaper witnessed reincarnation. National Herald, established during the pre-independence days by Nehru, had gone defunct in 2008. On November 14, the newspaper was finally revived with the launch of its website in beta version.
Medium of the future
The rise in popularity of the internet has had a profound impact on news consumption patterns. Such a trend has not gone unnoticed by those who are leading the revival of National Herald. “Digital world has changed the news discourse in very different ways. Now the younger generation is comfortable only with digital,” says Neelabh Mishra, editor of National Herald.
Terming digital as the “medium of the future”, he mentions that National Herald will be a dynamic, 24x7 website, which will generate multimedia content. In its beta run, the website is far removed from its grand plans. “Right now it’s sort of Olympic heats except that it has performed in front of the public in private,” Mishra adds.
Digital drift, however, is not one-sided. National Herald will also come out in print version to keep up with its legacy. Beginning with English, the publication intends to follow a phased process of expansion that will enable it to publish content in Hindi and Urdu too. The task will not be easy to achieve with the project being currently handled by only 3-4 individuals.
New recruits are likely to be roped in once the beta trial run concludes. “When it closed down, (National Herald) had three publications, National Herald in English, Navjivan in Hindi and Qaumi Awaaz in Urdu. We will revive all three,” says Mishra.
While revival seems to have been on the cards for quite some time, media reports suggest that it could not be done quickly because of the legal turmoil faced by National Herald’s publishers. But the editor denies any such correlation.
“It ran into financial and professional difficulties. That is why it had closed down. We are trying to revive it and create a revenue model. We have turned it into a non-profit,” he says. Like most media organisations, National Herald will be deriving its revenues out of ad sales.
Party mouthpieces have a reputation of operating along partisan lines. Over the years, publications such as Saamna and Organiser have reflected the ideological standing of Shiv Sena and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, respectively. But Mishra does not view National Herald in a similar manner.
“It’s not a mouthpiece of the Congress. You find non-Congress people also writing in it. We have Sudheendra Kulkarni who has never been a Congressman,” he says. Maintaining that people can have genuine democratic differences, he argues the need to differ without being abusive.
When asked whether National Herald will publish criticism of the Congress on certain issues like dynasty politics, he responds by delving into the larger political nature of the democratic setup. Besides Congress, he argues that regional parties also have political dynasties. He points out at the prevalence of dynasty politics even within the BJP by citing the examples of union ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad and JP Nadda.
He is also quick to highlight the fact that the country has not had a Prime Minister from the Nehru-Gandhi family since 1989. “We will have a serious discussion on all these issues. Not abuse, gaali galoch or propaganda. The issues have to be treated not as propaganda but as a reasonable debate,” he says.
Elaborating on the ownership of National Herald, Mishra explains that Associated Limited Journal’s holding company is Young India that happens to be a non-profit. Unlike private news media entities, the profits are reinvested into the newspaper instead of going to the promoters.
Rajya Sabha MP Dr Subramanian Swamy has alleged that the Congress leadership comprising of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have illegally acquired the properties of National Herald. He claims that they are using the real estate property of Herald House for commercial gain.
An unimpressed Mishra hits back at the charges. “His case will not stand once the newspaper is running. His case is that you were given land to bring out a newspaper. That is not happening and that is why the intention is not to bring out a newspaper but to gather money from that and use the assets in a commercial way,” he states. In Mishra’s understanding, the case has fallen apart with the newspaper up and running again.
On the question of interest-free loans that Dr Swamy alleges were extended by the Congress to the publication, he cautiously says that the matter is sub-judice. But not before hinting at perceived dual standards when it comes to dealing with the National Herald case.
“I mean you look at any newspaper house in this street. Some of the biggest newspapers of India are here (Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg). They have also been allotted land on the same condition as National Herald,” he asserts. Going further, he adds, “They have the same kind of company structure wherein they have holding companies and subsidiary companies. Everything is there. If it is not illegal for anybody then how it is illegal for National Herald?”
In an age where Nehruvian values of secularism and pluralism are often attacked and vilified, National Herald will seek to defend those very values. It will operate in the secular, liberal space as Mishra believes that newspapers can also have a view. But the publication intends to provide space for a variety of views.
While they are open to crowdsourcing, editorial discretion will be exercised to keep away doctored and manipulated content. “There is a lot of propaganda against those values (Nehruvian). We will counter that. We will put facts before the readers and they will choose for themselves because we think that Nehruvian thinking was scientific and rational,” he insists.
Being a votary of free speech and expression, he opines that the right to dissent is an essential feature of a democracy. The last few months have resulted in numerous cases of media abuse from Kashmir to New Delhi. Mishra feels that while the constitution does provide for reasonable restrictions, the incumbent government has indeed crossed certain degrees.
“I don’t know whether it intends to or not but its actions show that certain red lines are being crossed which go against democracy and free speech,” he concludes.