Freedom of the press is important. So is its social responsibility, which must begin with interaction with and accountability to readers. For a daily newspaper, this must happen on a daily basis. The Hindu has announced its appointment of the first Readers' Editor in its 127 year old history. These terms of reference for the independent, full-time ombudsman of the newspaper should be of interest to our 3.75 million-plus readers, and to all streams of the Indian news media.
- N. Ram
The Hindu believes it is the first newspaper in the history of Indian journalism to appoint a Readers' Editor. The Readers' Editor will be the independent, full-time internal ombudsman of The Hindu .
The key objectives of this appointment are to institutionalise the practice of self-regulation, accountability, and transparency; to create a new visible framework to improve accuracy, verification, and standards in the newspaper; and to strengthen bonds between the newspaper and its millions of print platform and online readers.
The Hindu wishes to acknowledge that it has been inspired to do this by the exemplary practice and experience of The Guardian, U.K., over the past decade in a crucial area of newspaper performance. It hereby adopts, with minor modifications, the terms of reference worked out for The Guardian's Readers' Editor:
Terms of Reference
To collect, consider, investigate, respond to, and where appropriate come to a conclusion about readers' comments, concerns, and complaints in a prompt and timely manner, from a position of independence within the paper.
To seek to ensure the maintenance of high standards of accuracy, fairness, and balance in our reporting and writing.
To create new channels of communication with and greater responsiveness to readers, whether by email, telephone, the Internet, surface mail, or through the columns of the paper.
To seek the views and, where appropriate, the written comments, of journalists whose work is the focus of readers' concerns: to take these views into account when responding to readers, and to make critical appraisals, if judged necessary, on an objective and fully-informed basis.
To look for ways of improving the paper's work and performance, in the broadest sense, by collating and analysing readers' concerns, ideas, and suggestions and identifying possible new or alternative courses of action and ways to develop the paper for the benefit of its readers and the paper itself.
To write a regular column addressing one or several aspects of readers' concerns, suggestions, and complaints, the content to be determined independently and not subject to prior approval by the Editor-in-Chief or others on the staff, other than in respect of matters of fact and style.
To use this column as a platform and forum for readers' views.
To require of the Editor-in-Chief that he or she take steps to ensure that his or her staff co-operate fully and promptly with the Readers' Editor should they be requested to provide assistance in responding to readers' concerns and complaints. Similarly, the management and marketing departments of the newspaper insofar as their activities relate to readers' concerns about editorial content.
In consultation with the Editor-in-Chief and/or his or her nominee, to decide whether and when a correction should be published and/or apologies tendered, when deemed necessary, insofar as any correction/apology is not the subject of, or may be prejudicial to, a current complaint to the Press Council of India, our defence of an actual or possible legal action against the paper, or actual or possible legal or other action by the affected journalist(s).
In order to keep fully in touch with the workings of the paper, the Readers' Editor shall have an established right of access to the Editor-in-Chief, to heads of department meetings, to planning and review meetings, to daily editorial and news conferences, and to other relevant forums. The Readers' Editor should be available to report, on an ad hoc basis, to the Editor-in-Chief and to these other groupings. The existence of the Readers' Editor, and how to contact him or her, should be advertised fairly prominently on a daily basis in the paper.
The Readers' Editor can refer to the external ombudsman, should the newspaper decide to appoint one, any substantial grievances or matters whereby The Hindu's journalistic integrity has been called into question.
The Readers' Editor will initially be appointed for two years, a term that can be renewed. He or she can be removed from the post within two years only by the Board of Directors of Kasturi & Sons Ltd., the public limited company that publishes The Hindu.