The crucial letter that started the nuclear arms race
I wish to draw your attention to the development which has taken place since the conference that was arranged through your good offices in October last year between scientists engaged in this work and governmental representatives.
Last year, when I realized that results of national importance might arise out of research on uranium, I thought it my duty to inform the administration of this possibility. You will perhaps remember that in the letter which I addressed to the President I also mentioned the fact that C. F. von Weizsäcker, son of the German Undersecretary of State, was collaborating with a group of chemists working upon uranium at one of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes - namely, the
Since the outbreak of the war, interest in uranium has intensified in
Should you think it advisable to relay this information to the President, please consider yourself free to do so. Will you be kind enough to let me know if you are taking action in this direction?
Dr. Szilard has shown me the manuscript which he is sending to the Physics Review in which he describes in detail a method of setting up a chain reaction in uranium. The papers will appear in print unless they are held up, and the question arises whether something ought to be done to withhold publication.
I have discussed with professor Wigner of Princeton University the situation in the light of the information available. Dr. Szilard will let you have a memorandum informing you of the progress made since October last year so that you will be able to take such action as you think in the circumstances advisable. You will see that the line he has pursued is different and apparently more promising than the line pursued by M. Joliot in
Ronald W. Clark. Einstein: The Life and Times.
The private media has become phenomenally influential over the past two
decades but it has often struggled to adequately reflect Nepali reality
THE impact of the country’s free
media on its democratic discourse
has steadily grown over the past two
decades. Until briefly after the
restoration of democracy in 1990,
most Nepalis still relied on the state-owned
to get their news. Since then, the reach and
influence of private media has grown to such
phenomenal proportions that the state-owned
media has been all but eclipsed.
In the early 1990s, the new private sector
newspapers were perceived as direct successors
to the weeklies that existed under the
Panchayat as mouthpieces of the then-banned
political parties. (These papers still exist,
though their comparative stature has been in
steady decline.) But very soon, the new
broadsheets came to occupy a position much
more influential and more encompassing than
the old partisan press.
An interesting parallel can be drawn to the
emergence of the penny press in the
mid 19th century when the big-circulation
broadsheets (The New York Times was one)
came into existence. These newspapers quickly
moved beyond and displaced the deeply
partisan, often vituperative political propaganda
that was until then the main source of news.
Advertisements were at the heart of the penny
press. This made newspapers extraordinarily
cheap (hence the penny press), which in turn
made huge circulations possible.
Clearly, in order to appeal to the growing
masses in the rapidly growing cities in the
industrialised world, the papers had to shed
overt political leanings and offer diverse
information and ideas. Similarly, in
when press freedom was guaranteed by the
democratic constitution, the stifling shackle of
officialdom was broken; newspapers were
finally able to take up complex stories that were
often irreverent of authority.
Kantipur and The Kathmandu Post were
launched this day 19 years ago. Being without
precedent, there was deep trepidation
regarding their survival. It was a world still
burdened by Panchayat-era journalistic values
(don’t ever question official positions in public
and never talk about the banned political
parties; make no mention of the grievances of
the country’s ethnic groups and never speak of
To many, it wasn’t even clear why the
country needed these new private newspapers.
A puzzled commentator claimed that there was
“a foreign hand” behind Kantipur. He also
regretted that some young journalists (this
editor among them) had been misled into
joining these new publications; a move that he
thought would irrevocably damage their
Being a journalist at that time entailed
constant negotiation between the old and
aspirations for the new. The official rank of
figures mentioned in news stories often
determined the prominence with which the
stories were displayed on the pages. Senior desk
hands had to constantly battle with the
protocol-conscious editor Yogesh Upadhyaya,
who at that time headed both Kantipur and the
Post and had worked at the Department of
Information during the Panchayat.
A deeper problem was that of
self-censorship among the staff themselves.
The ghost of 30 years of authoritarianism
continued to haunt society, and the news room
was hardly insular to it. The Panchayat system
taught everyone, not least the journalists, to
fear offending those in positions of authority.
Then, there were confusions about what
precisely constituted news. At a training session
run by a visiting American professor at the
Nepal Press Institute, a Radio Nepal veteran
raised an objection over a Post news report. The
report in question—backed by quotes from
unnamed official sources and background
notes—was a scoop on a new environmental
protection bill that was still in the works. The
news anchor from Radio
new private sector papers were compromising
on age-old ethics set by the government media
by writing “premature” stories. News about the
proposed legislation, he declared, should have
been published only after the government
made it public.
With the media in such a difficult state of
transition, it would have been all but natural for
the government to seek to manipulate it. But to
the credit of the first elected Prime Minister
after 1990, Girija Prasad Koirala, and his
Communications Minister Bijaya Gachhedar,
they seldom meddled with the news coverage,
even as they began to be vehemently criticised:
in 1994, for example, when the factional fights
between the pro-Koirala and pro-Bhattarai
camps in the Nepali Congress came to a head.
By this time, the media had totally
transformed the way in which the public
viewed politicians, bureaucrats, the police and,
to some extent, the Army. If the past 20 years of
and noisy, these adjectives apply to the media
as well. And, as with our politics, major
weaknesses became evident in the practice of
the new media.
I was a practitioner very much immersed in
the journalism of the 1990s. I joined The
Kathmandu Post when it opened in 1992;
Kantipur and the Post hit the newsstands in
February 1993. The lessons that I have tried to
outline below were not evident to me at the
time; they came to me only in hindsight. And it’s
still a learning process.
Take the example of the Tanakpur
Indo-Nepal accord, which marked a watershed
in pluralistic discourse. During his visit to New
Girija Prasad Koirala signed an agreement that
to affix the Tanakpur barrage. On his return to
whether he had the constitutional
authority to sign a bilateral agreement on sharing
of water resources.
Much of the discourse on Tanakpur was
vicious and ugly. While the newspapers did
push hard in demanding transparency from
public offices, they were not always able to
uphold journalistic objectivity. They
often resorted to the same partisan
polemic that the political parties were using to
attack the prime minister.
Because many reporters in the new
private media themselves had previously
worked for the party papers, they found themselves
quickly agreeing with political leaders
of their liking.
Young reporters usually addressed political
leaders as ‘Dai’ (older brother). Using this term,
which connotes both respect and intimacy,
made politicians feel that these reporters were
harmless youngsters who were sympathetic to
their party and made them more willing to
share information. But the use of this term of
address established a subtle hierarchy in the
relationship, where the young reporter was
expected to uncritically accept the story on
offer. This was one cause for lapses of judgment,
the inability to set aside one’s faculties for that
core journalistic value of skepticism, among
Such weaknesses were evident even after
Tanakpur. It got worse, in fact, during the
coalition era of the mid-1990s, when the
media had a field day bashing Prime Minister
Deuba’s Pajerotantra, the horse-trading in parliament
and the political class’ involvement in
such infamous corruption scandals as Lauda
Air and Dhamija.
Tremendous societal changes were
simultaneously afoot and these too brought
about transformations in the media. Civil
society, for one, emerged as a powerful
actor. The Ninth National Plan recognised nongovernmental
organisations as partners in
national development. Civil society helped
journalists gain subject expertise and a sense of
activist responsibility, and the media-NGO
partnership blossomed, never as much as
during the anti-Arun III campaign.
Officials insisted that the Sankhuwasabhabased
project would mean a great boost to
sector. But civil society and the media revealed
that the project would pose a serious threat to
virgin forests and displace indigenous
populations. In addition, they demanded
alternatives to the top-heavy, centrally directed
plans. In November 1996, as a result of this
unrelenting criticism, the World Bank withdrew
its support for the 201-MW Arun III project after
having supported it for 10 long years.
In other areas, the media was unable to
acquit itself as successfully. 1996 marked the
beginning of the ‘People’s War’. For a long time,
the media treated the Maoists as shadowy
creatures who only existed in remote corners of
the country. The coverage of the Maoist
rebellion was in its early stages marked by a lack
of understanding of the larger context. The
press was overwhelmingly urban-centric.
Reporting of the conflict was limited to brief
news stories about particular attacks on police
stations or clashes between Maoist guerillas
and the police. There was hardly any awareness
of who the Maoists were, what they wanted and
how they were implementing a carefully
Kathmandu-based editors and senior
reporters were wary of travelling to the conflictaffected
areas. Those on the ground were
confined by the physical boundaries of their
home districts and this limited their
perspectives. As a result, stories regarding the
Maoists seemed like exotica from far-off places.
It was also to the discredit of the media that
it failed to recognise that the important values
of civilian supremacy were compromised when
the Army refused to follow the orders of the
democratically elected government. Further,
the media also failed to unambiguously criticise
former King Gyanendra when he used the
excuse of the Maoist revolt to gradually
consolidate power in his own hands and
That was a period when the Maoists
seemed like a great threat and the political parties
seemed corrupt and ineffectual. There
was confusion all around and the media
too fell victim to it. As a result, it was unable
to take a firm stand on the direction the
country should take.
Gyanendra’s absolute takeover in February
2005 changed this dynamic. Public opinion
swung strongly against the king and his army.
Once the Seven-Party
signed the 12-point agreement, the media
became an instrument of activism. Kantipur
media house, not without reason, was regarded
as the Ninth Party—alongside the Seven-Party
This was a new role for the media. The free
press and the Federation of Nepali Journalists
did not even exist during the 1990 Jana Andolan
and consequently the media then played no
role in the movement. In 2006, however, the
media fulfilled its new role with great energy. It
worked to stoke mass protests against the
autocratic king. Some of its actions would have
appeared contrary to journalistic ethics if those
had been normal times. A TV channel, for
example, displayed footage from the 1990 mass
movement to inspire people to come out onto
the streets and to keep the rank and file of the
political parties motivated.
Since the 2008 elections,
faced new and difficult dilemmas. And because
the ground is so deeply fragmented, the choices
are much more difficult than during the time
when the entire nation was united against an
absolutist king. In a deeply polarised political
landscape, the media too has become
polarised. Journalists are accused of being
biased in favour of one party or another, even as
they may try to judge issues on their inherent
merits and understand nuances.
The media failed to understand the mood
on the ground before the 2008 elections. As a
result, there was great shock when the Maoists
performed so well in them. The media also
failed to understand the depth of Madhesi
grievances and to realise that a potent
new political force was coming into existence.
While the media (like all political parties)
robustly supported the need for inclusion of the
marginalised communities and accepted the
Maoists as a political force after the CA elections,
there are now signs of strong resistance
against progressive values in the media.
The ongoing debate on inclusion, form of
governance and state restructuring will test the
media further. Journalists will need to
keep their heads above murky partisan politics
and instead focus on rigorous empirical
investigation. [The article was first published on
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