Dec 09

You think you have problems

Unreflective editors in Europe and the US sometimes speak as if the newspaper crisis gave them the worst problems in the world. As a corrective, two snatches from two South Asian editors this morning to the World Editors Forum and WAN-IFRA congress.

I met Najaam Sethi, the editor of the Daily Times in Pakistan, briefly on the evening before he accepted the conference’s annual press freedom award. He seemed an avuncular, smiling and modest man. This has been his life as an editor. He has been imprisoned by three different Pakistani prime ministers: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (father of the late Benazir), General Zia and Nawaz Sharif. Sethi regularly gets letters from Islamist organisations threatening him with dire consequences if he does not stop promoting secular, democratic values and return to the guidance of the true faith. These letters are often accompanied by photos of beheaded American “spies”. He is one of four editors listed as special enemies by a Taleban-inspired magazine; the other three have left Pakistan. Sethi lives guarded by eight policemen.

At an editor’s breakfast, the editor-in-chief of India Today Aroon Purie was analysing the decline in the standards of journalism in India. “You can buy editorial,” he said baldly. There is almost a published rate card for buying political coverage. One (presumably satisfied) politician declared what he had spent on “editorial” coverage in his election expenses return.