Where is Belarus?

If so many educated people one talked to could not have any geographic conception of the place of Belarus in Asia, shouldn?t our newspapers have given their readers a clue as to where in Central Asia it is situated by publishing a map? for :

Belarus President Alyaksandr Inkashenka recently visited India and was warmly received. But just for the heck of it, this columnist asked over a dozen friends whether they could place Belarus on the world map. None could. They had not even heard of it.

Belarus is a friend of India and in an interview to The Hindu (16 April) given in the country?s capital Minsk, President Lukashenka said that ?it is not fair that India, a nuclear power like China, with a billion-odd population and advanced economy, does not sit on the Security Council?. He also said that India ?is a top priority for us, along with Russia and China? and asked: ?What isolation of Belarus are they talking about in the West when we have such excellent relations with these three major nuclear powers??

If so many educated people one talked to could not have any geographic conception of the place of Belarus in Asia, shouldn?t our newspapers have given their readers a clue as to where in Central Asia it is situated by publishing a map?

Why should our newspapers presume that readers are as familiar with Belarus as they are with, say, Sri Lanka or Singapore? The Hindu interview is an exclusive and credit should go to it. But even The Hindu failed to identify Belarus? place in a map.

New insights

The Hindu, like The Indian Express, goes out of its way to give readers new insights into what is going on in the world.

Praveen Swami?s article (17 March) is very revelatory. According to him ? and one can be sure that he has got his facts checked ? the United States is now funding an al-Qaeda linked terror group to attack Iran.

Praveen Swami quotes the US agency ABC News as saying that the US is funding an Islamist terror group Jundullah ? or Allah?s Brigade to carry out strikes against Iran. For reasons that remain unclear Jundallah is apparently turning its energies towards the Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchistan and has kidnapped a team of Iranian security and intelligence officers.

On April 13, Iran had announced the arrest of 90 Jundullah cadre which went unreported in the Indian press.

Praveen Swami writes: ?The odds are the ABC News expose will do little to deter the Sunni Islamist?US joint venture war against Iran?. How unprincipled can a state be?

The Times of India, meanwhile, has something to be proud of. It announced on 13 April that the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) has awarded it with the World Young Reader Newspaper of the Year prize for developing the most outstanding newspaper for the Youth.

WAN awards the World Young reader Prizes annually to newspapers that devise the most innovative projects to develop young readership and effectively connect to the young.

Writes The Times of India: ?The felicitation honours Times NIE programme for its comprehensive approach built around a range of activities, including events which are informative, educative and entertainment-based, an array of workshops, student of the year awards, privileges programmes, school reporter and star correspondent programmes?.

Are the days of Congress hegemony over? Forget the mental retardness shown by Rahul Gandhi ? he has brought disgrace by his childish behaviour on his own family, not to speak of the Congress itself. What is surprising is that The Times of India (16 April) is waking up to the danger signals the party is facing, which is a new development. Many newspapers have been hesitant to tell the truth about the Congress which seems to be on the decline.

The Times of India now has chosen to speak out. Others may follow. According to the paper the Congress-led UPA government ?has alienated the common man on several grounds?. First, it said, the rise in prices, particularly of essentials, has hit it hard. Second, Congress hasn?t done enough to address the core concerns of the aam aadmi. Third, Congress has been hamstrung by its Left partners, considering that it has done its best to stymie any pro-reform measures without coming up with any alternative and finally Congress has paid for poor governance on basic issues such as bijli, sadak and paani. But above all, according to the TOI ?Congress seems clueless on the way forward (and) to add to the confusion, the single point agenda of grooming Rahul Gandhi to take over the reins of Congress has ensured that the party lacks credible leaders and administrators?. And a more damning editorial condemning Congress would be hard to come across.

But that is politics. What should come as a shock is that the print media has been declining in circulation and there has been a fall in readership of most English newspapers, which has so far been kept a closely guarded secret but which Sunil Saxena revealed in his column in The Indian Express (1 April).

The fact became evident following a survey made by a reputed agency. The agency known as the IRS (Indian Readership Survey) did not identify factors responsible for the decline, but it is obvious that the print media is not able to meet the challenge posed by TV news channels which are specialising in investigative reporting. According to Saxena ?there are more reports being investigated and broken on television than in newspapers?.

Meeting the challenge

The print media has been meeting the challenge posed by TV channels by expanding their market base. Thus, Dainik Jagran which commands the highest newspaper readership in India has reportedly set up editions in over 200 towns and cities which is a fantastic record. And all that in just the last five years.

But will that help in the long run? The average reader is comfortable just with knowing what has happened; but the more intelligent reader would like to know the background to what happened ? and this is where our English newspapers are sadly lagging. Many want to know not just what has happened but why it happened and what is he story behind the story. This is where most of our English papers fail.

TV channels don?t have time to analyse news; they just ?break? news. What the listener gets is information, not knowledge. This is where the daily newspaper can score over TV channels. The approach to news has to be totally different. Old style reporting is on its way out ? a fact that is hopefully dawning in editorial offices of the print media.

And there is no time to waste. Changes have to be made in editorial outlook. It is going to be a painful exercise but the alternative is a slow demise which surely is not what our newspaper proprietors would want to witness. The Survey is a timely warning that times are changing and that newspapers have to change with the times.