When the board of directors of Kasturi & Sons, publishers of this newspaper, adopted “Living our Values: Code of Editorial Values” in 2011, a journalist friend of mine from Delhi was not convinced about its workability. He felt that having a code of editorial values was akin to the election manifestoes of political parties — lofty ideals rarely implemented. His reservations were based on some ground realities — savage competitive pressure, deep inroads made by corporate houses in controlling the advertisement purse, reluctance of the media houses to have the cover prices adjusted for inflation. He felt that this code was an interesting academic exercise.
At that time, I had no clue that one day I would be the ombudsman of this newspaper. But, now, I am in a vantage position to ascertain whether the exercise was fruitful or not. I got my first hint that the Code was working from readers’ letters. For most of them, the Code was the touchstone they used to raise questions about the editorial content.
In the ensuing couple of years, between the adoption of the Code and now, the ground reality spelled out by my colleague became more pronounced. The competition spread to more cities; advertisers have become more demanding; players such as FM radio stations, digital platforms and the fast growing regional media have successfully staked their share on the limited advertisement pie. There is a not substantial difference in the cover pricing policy, and subsidising the price through advertisement continues to be the rule of the game. But, “Living our Values” is truly alive, guiding the newspaper to remain a trusted vehicle of being a publication of record.
I would like to present two instances. Jewellers are significant advertisers during festival days, and they use specific auspicious days like Akshaya Tritiya to do target marketing. Last year, The Hindu carried a jacket endorsing Akshaya Tritiya. But, the Editor went on record with a signed note rejecting the endorsement mentioned in the advertisement.
His note read: “We carried a ‘jacket’ on Monday in our Tamil Nadu editions that featured a message — laid out in the form of an in-house advertisement — to readers on the occasion of Akshaya Tritiya on behalf of ‘The Hindu’. Neither I, as Editor of The Hindu, nor anyone from the editorial side, was involved in the drafting of this message. Nor did we know of, let alone approve, its contents. For the record, it is not The Hindu’s editorial position that Akshaya Tritiya, an occasion that has risen to prominence only relatively recently, is one of ‘the most auspicious days in the Hindu religion.’ Nor can we possibly endorse this statement — ‘The belief that buying gold on this day would make you prosperous throughout the year is shared by one and all’ — or others contained in that message.
“We have now taken internal steps to ensure that advertising messages put out in the name of The Hindu are consistent with its editorial policy and that our Code of Editorial Values, which says there is ‘a firm line between the business operations of the Company and editorial operations and content’, is strictly adhered to by all.”
This was a very significant development. I cannot imagine many media houses that have the courage to transparently, in a signed article, draw the delineating line between what constitutes the paper’s voice and what represents the advertisers’ view.
The second instance happened with another high profile advertiser. When the IIPM released advertisements claiming that The Hindu had termed it as a B-school with a human face, the paper was quick to react and drew the attention of its readers to the illegal and unethical practice of that high-spending organisation. In a very prominent manner, the Editor wrote: “The Hindu hereby would like to make it clear to current and prospective students of IIPM that it has not made any such editorial endorsement of the institution. We have now formally written to IIPM asking it to refrain from repeating the claim, and putting it on notice of our intent to proceed suitably against it if it persists in doing so.”
The Hindu refused to carry that advertisement and demanded the deletion of the sentence attributing to The Hindu. The Editor’s remark came as a major reiteration to many readers, including my Delhi colleague, of the newspaper’s clear and unambiguous commitment to maintain its editorial integrity. When words and deeds coalesce, cynicism gives way to enduring trust.