Director-General of Police, Andhra Pradesh, V. Dinesh Reddy, writes:
The display of an item on the “DGP visiting Old City godman” across six columns on Page 1 of your newspaper on September 13, 2013 (Andhra Pradesh editions), showed ulterior designs. In a national newspaper like The Hindu that has high standards, such a slot is normally reserved for items of importance — not an insignificant item that scandalises, and that is full of falsehood and half-truths, involving a bureaucrat, based on a telecast by a vernacular channel. Publishing it without verification and without cross-checking with the DGP was against journalistic ethics. The action damaged the reputation of the police and its chief. It damaged the reputation of a respected religious head of a sect of Islam. It heralded communal tension in the communally sensitive city of Hyderabad. It ruffled the religious sentiments of a large following the godman has.
You have stated white lies in the issue of Sept. 18 also. For example, you say other papers had written about it. No other paper mentioned the falsehoods and half-truths you did. They mentioned only in an insignificant manner and somewhere inside, simply that the DGP met so and so, and nothing else.
The question is whether by indulging in motivated, scandalous and scurrilous writings with criminal intent against the police force and its head, Resident Editor S. Nagesh Kumar, is pursuing his personal agenda. Such writings demoralise the rank and file of the police and reduce their moral authority, and do not give due regard to the public’s need for safety and security. His actions are against public justice. The police is an important organisation serving the public. They will be impaired if projected in bad light.
In my 36 years of public service, I am not new to false reporting and wrong versions being published in newspapers unintentionally. In such instances, rejoinders and clarifications do work. But this is persistent, motivated writing. Some of it figures in an FIR launched by the Police Association and will perhaps figure in a suit for damages that I am likely to file in due course. In the past, some of the rejoinders we sent were not published, or published in an insignificant manner.
You have used terms such as “freedom of the press,” “muzzling the media,” and “intimidating The Hindu.” This reminds me of Goebbels’ propaganda. Perhaps this can gel well in a totalitarian and dictatorial dispensation. Civil society, bureaucracy and every right-thinking person is perplexed and confused to note that if this is the fate of the police whose image is at a high ebb and whose performance at this juncture is receiving kudos from one and all, and whose chief, that is, the present DGP, is known for his impeccable integrity, track record and reputation, then what is the fate of others in the hands of The Hindu.
Any person committing a crime and trying to escape from the clutches of law by blackmailing and browbeating the law-enforcement agency under the cover of media or freedom of the press would only cause dangerous repercussions and consequences for society and the nation.
Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor, The Hindu, replies:
While merely questioning this newspaper's decision to run the story on a visit by the Andhra Pradesh Director General of Police to a ‘godman’, and to display it in the manner in which it was done on September 13, Mr. Reddy is unable to provide any facts to challenge the veracity of our report. All he does is use terms such as “white lies”, “falsehood” and “half-truths”, in an unspecified manner.
As Editor of The Hindu, I believe the display of the story was based on sound news judgment on the part of the team led by Resident Editor (Andhra Pradesh) S. Nagesh Kumar, that is in charge of the Andhra Pradesh editions. It would, of course, herald the end to the freedom of the press in India if we were to allow police officers to dictate which page a story should run on.
We have in this case the head of the State police force who is facing a CBI investigation, on the orders of the Supreme Court, into certain serious allegations, and who is seeking to postpone his imminent retirement from the post — and who is thus very much in the news — making a special visit to a godman. We believe this was news that warranted appropriate display, in the public interest. The intent certainly was not to cast aspersions on the police force in general, and by no stretch of the imagination was it a bid to stoke communal passions, as the DGP imagines.
The DGP claims that The Hindu published the story “without verification and without cross-checking” with him. This is untrue. Our reporters telephoned him twice on September 12th and even sent the following text message to his mobile phone: “Sir some channels are showing that you visited a baba in old city. Your comments?” Our message went unanswered. Our first call was answered, but the DGP cut it short, saying he was in a meeting and that he would talk later. The second time, he disconnected the call.
The DGP can rest assured that The Hindu is not in the business of “blackmailing and browbeating” anyone. On the contrary, this newspaper, which completes 135 years on September 20, stands for a certain value system that does not allow it to be cowed down by threats against independent and credible journalism — however intimidating these might sound.