Being half detective, half diplomat
Er. Prabhat Kishore
The aim and aspiration of every reporter is to become ultimately the special correspondent or special representative of his newspaper. This is practically the highest post that a reporter can achieve by his diligent, honesty and responsible work throughout his life. In early days, these were known as Special Representatives, which used to be closed preserve for English in our country, for English-owned papers like “The Statesman”, “The Englishman” (Kolkata), “The Times of India” (Mumbai), “The Pioneer” (Prayag), and “Civil & Military Gazette” (Lahore).
The English-owned newspapers used to keep Britishers as special representatives, because they could easily mix with the British rulers in the country and get interesting news from them without many difficulties in Delhi or Shimla.
The Indian newspapers had neither the resources nor the advantage to keep such special representatives in the capital of the country. After independence, the English owned newspapers started selling their newspapers-
The Statesman, The Times of India (Bennett Coleman & Co.), The Pioneer etc. and the Indian industrialist started buying them. Now there are no English-owned newspapers in the country. After independence, the circulation of newspapers started increasing at a very rapid pace.
Readers wanted more and more positive news, and the Indian proprietors felt the necessity of recruiting talented men as special correspondents for Delhi and other Metro cities. Since the ministers or bureaucrats were no longer Englishmen, there was no necessity to maintain English Special Correspondents, who also preferred to go back to England. These people were replaced by talented Spl. correspondents of Indian origin. They are now the aristocrats of the profession. They are better known to the readers because their news-stories always bear their names. They are in this respect even better known than the editor of the paper whose name appears only in the last page at the bottom in very small types.
The era of special representatives started during the viceroyship of Lord Curzon in about 1899. Important names are Howard Hodson (The Pioneer, Prayag), Edward Coates (The Statesman, Kolkata), Sir Edward J. Buck (The Englishman, Kolkata), Edward Dallas (Indian Daily News, Kolkata). They were all posted at Delhi and Shimla. They were able to maintain right relationship with the British administration from the Viceroy and Commander-in-chief to all the members of the executive council and all the ICS bureaucrats in Delhi or Shimla.
Two Indians of great eminence, K. C. Roy and UshaNath Sen (Both were knighted in later years) somehow or other entered the elite profession and by dint of merit became special representative of news agency- Reuters, and later Associated Press of India (API). These two great journalists practically started the API, which later merged with Reuters and owned by Englishmen. Roy and Sen became chief of API and Reuters in India in later years.
After getting Swarajya in 1947, the API was nationalized and Indian newspaper owner purchased it from the British owners as it was felt that the country must keep their special correspondent in Delhi in order to get the political news from the capital city.
These spl correspondents do rub shoulders with the high and mighty in Delhi from PM down to other bureaucrats. The prestige and the unique privilege are there and they enjoy it immensely. One renowned Spl. correspondent of an English newspaper, Sir Phillip Armand Hamilton Gibbs once said rather sarcastically that “the most amusing career in journalism is that of the spl. correspondents, because he sees a great deal of life at other people’s expense and it is very much worthwhile”.
This is really true. Spl. correspondents really enjoy great number of privileges. They intermingle with powerful people in the country, travel abroad at the cost of government of his own country. Thus they see a great deal of the world, its people and the development activities of various countries. This is not possible for ordinary men or women.
But one fact must be remembered by all journalists, specially the reporters that these tribes of special correspondents do not reach the prominence in profession in a day or month or year. He comes up the hard way from reporting the police case in thanas or reporting the proceedings of Nagar Nigam meetings or does his daily bit of hard work. Of course these days, some big newspapers recruit exceptionally brilliant and bright young men from colleges and universities. Such young Indians with the brilliant record in foreign schools are also directly recruited as spl. correspondents. After recruitment they are put on probation for about a year or so to pick up the technicalities of day-to-day newspaper work and also the work of a political correspondents.
The role of a special correspondent is to procure good news, which is his job. He does not run after ordinary news, but only after good and exclusive news. Although that is not enough for a special correspondent. The news that he has collected should be cached in such a way as to be meaningful to the reader. News based on facts is sacrosanct, i.e. inviolable, and self-explanatory. Mere citation of facts will not satisfy the readers, as they want explanation. It is the responsibility of special correspondent to inform his readers of meaningful explanations. These are the places where he can show his erudition, his excellence in home-work and depth studies on the subject. Here he can establish his superiority in the eye of his readers and also to his editor. In framing the news, he has to be subjective at places, but that subjective opinion must be supported by exact information. That will make the reader to understand the whole story. He must be careful to advance his subjective opinion without all the relevant data. If he does so, that will not carry much weight to those enlightened section of the readers of his newspaper, who are erudite scholars on the subject.
Another important fact to remember is that when one is functioning as special correspondent, he cannot afford to be vague or lacking in precision. A columnist need not be so precise or accurate; he can cover his deficiency by indulging in superfluity of words or by purposeless repetition. A special correspondent will never do such things as that will destroy his reputation.
The special correspondent when given the freedom to move about and meet important personalities, they have to remember that the administrators of today are our own men-whether ministers or MLAs. Even the bureaucrats are no longer the foreigners but our own men. In Nehru’s time ministers and legislators or bureaucrats used to wear sherwani and tight pyjama as used by Nehru. But after Nehru’s death no minister, except some Muslim ministers, wear sherwani and pyjama. That dress was replaced by Dhoti-Kurta or Kurta-Pyjama-Bandi, and few wearing even price coats and pants. Thus the atmosphere in the official world has completely changed compared to the olden days. Therefore, the special correspondents feel more at ease these days with their own men in administration to talk freely with them.
But then there are bureaucrats, even these days, who feel they are more important than the ill-educated or half-educated legislators or even some ministers, whom they guide about administration and its various complexities. These are the men whom the special correspondents are required to meet. Unless they are thoroughly prepared to meet the intellectual arrogance of these bureaucrats, they will cut a sorry figure at the time of interview with these arrogant, intellectual bureaucrats.
For this purpose, a thorough home-work and constant endeavor to read and grasp the socio-political economic developments in the country and in the wider world is necessary. To meet such people, highly developed self-confidence will help them much more than anything else. Moreover, they should always bear in mind that they represent an important paper and the entire knight of the paper is behind them. That is suffice to demoralize any pretensions high-brow bureaucrats.
In Delhi, an accredited Special Correspondent gets many facilities. They get entry pass to the Sachivalaya, housing facilities and the unique right to attend Press conferences of the Prime Minister and to put questions at the Press conference. He is also invited to all the Press conferences of all the ministers, and also all the foreign dignitaries. They are the men who can move about anywhere in the capital’s sachivalaya to get the news. In the process of his work, he becomes intimately known to minister and bureaucrats also. They will occasionally invite you to lunch, dinner or tea, where we get ample opportunity to get news provided we have prepared a good home-work to put questions not directly but clearly to know the answer. It is not wise to put questions on such occasions but while engaged in conversation and talks, we just put one or two feelers indirectly without letting the other side understand our intention. These ministers are always helpful because they understand very well that their existence depended very much on good press record.
Special Correspondents should get friendly and familiar with ministers, but should always be careful not to be wholly aligned with any minister. They should cultivate the habit of being friendly, but also keeping aloof as well. This is necessary because some high-ups may plant stories on gullible and unwary reporters.They may sometimes give sensational clues (may look like a deliberate leak) ostensibly to damage someone’s reputation. In this process, the special correspondent will put his paper in a very compromising position (if the story is published). This may lead to litigation, defamation or libel. Therefore, all precautions must be taken before special correspondent would swallow the story.
In such a situation the special correspondent, before writing his news story, must ask these questions himself: why the minister was so anxious to confide him? Was he eager to grind his own axe against somebody? They have to find the answers within themselves after analyzing the entire story so planted. They should be their own guide in such cases. One famous special correspondent once said: “A SpecialCorrespondent should be half detective and half diplomat.”
(The author works as Additional State Programme Officer, Bihar Education Project Council, Patna)