The Hindu's Editor-in-Chief, N. Ram, on Friday categorically rejected allegations published in a section of the media suggesting that an advertisement placed in the newspaper last May from the Telecommunications Ministry was a “quid pro quo” for the publication of an interview with A. Raja, who was the Telecom Minister at the time.
“The Chaaya advertising agency released the Telecom Ministry's full page advertisement to 15 newspapers on 22 May, 2010, including The Hindu,” Mr. Ram said at a press conference here. He was responding to allegations published in some sections of the media and on social media sites like Twitter that the advertisement was a form of “paid news.” He provided printouts of the advertisement taken from The Times of India and a Tamil daily and a list of the newspapers, including several Tamil newspapers, in which the ad was placed.
Terming such news reports and comments “egregiously defamatory,” “false” and “absurd,” Mr. Ram emphasised that there was “no question of any quid pro quo coming to the coverage of the 2G spectrum allocation issue” by the newspaper.
“We don't exploit reporters to solicit ads”
As the Editor-in-Chief, Mr. Ram said he does not decide on advertisements and was not even aware of the May 22, 2010 Telecommunications Ministry advertisement. “Our editorial people do not solicit advertisements. It is not the practice of Kasturi & Sons Limited to exploit reporters, journalists to go and solicit ads using their contacts,” he said.
He said the 2G issue itself was a most complex corruption scandal and that the newspaper had been one of the few to editorially criticise the Telecom Ministry's policy of the so-called First Come, First Served, demanding that spectrum be auctioned.
The newspaper, he said, carried four interviews, in Q & A form, with the then Telecom Minister, A. Raja, between 2008 and 2010, adding that The Hindu had scooped other media since many newspapers too had sought interviews with the Minister. Reading excerpts from some of the interviews, he said: “We asked all the relevant questions, hard questions” relating to the allegations, adding that these were not a “fixed match” and that the correspondent concerned elicited detailed answers from Mr. Raja.
Mr. Ram said that if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cited the answers in one of the 2010 interviews in mounting his own defence in Parliament of Mr. Raja, that was “his problem, not ours… Those who find fault with the interview are blaming the messenger.”
The Editor-in-Chief said he had chosen publicly to refute these allegations because the reputation of the newspaper was the topmost priority. He said The Hindu was one of India's most respected newspapers that was trusted by millions of its readers and that the organisation was proud of its 870-strong team of journalists. Mr. Ram made it clear that the press conference was not meant to carry forward boardroom battles but to comment on a “reputational matter” of vital importance to the newspaper, to himself as its Editor-in-Chief, and to its dedicated journalists.
Asked by a correspondent about the allegation that the newspaper did not demand the resignation of Mr. Raja in the wake of “mounting evidence” of his wrongdoing, Mr. Ram said these were matters of editorial judgment and that the newspaper made up its mind based on the evidence in hand after the CAG report laid bare the scam. He observed that those who commented on the coverage should go through the actual coverage over an extended period when the 2G spectrum allocation turned into an issue and the issue became a controversy and the controversy became India's most complex and biggest corruption scandal. He noted that even though Dr. Manmohan Singh had backed Mr. Raja every step of the way, The Hindu has not sought the resignation of the Prime Minister on the 2G scam or even the cash-for-votes issue though some political parties had.