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Updated: October 3, 2012 16:55 IST

Unbranding ourselves

A.S. Panneerselvan
Comment (11)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
The Hindu

I am energised by the quality and the quantity of responses this paper gets from its readers. The readers’ communications are not mere inputs to a feedback mechanism. They are key indicators of the dynamic relationship between high quality journalism and committed citizenship. In this context, it would be a misnomer to call a newspaper a brand. Brand does not encapsulate the organic nature of the relationship between a newspaper and its readers’ ability to make informed democratic choices on a range of issues. The compact between a newspaper and its readers is the notion of a shared conceptual universe where relevant information and erudite interpretations create a vibrant public sphere.

It would be pertinent here to recollect Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen’s attempt to locate a free and vibrant media within the larger notion of Justice. His 2009 book titled, The Idea of Justice, shows us a way to absorb divergent points of view in constructing a theory of justice. The Idea of Justice builds on the work by the American philosopher John Rawls but goes much beyond Rawls and has a few important pointers to understand the dynamics of media.

Freedom of expression vs. quality of life

Prof. Sen places media at the centre of public reasoning and separates out five distinct contributions an unrestrained, healthy media can make. First, of course, “is the direct relationship between free speech in general and of press freedom in particular to the quality of our lives”. In an emphatic manner he declares, “the absence of a free media and the suppression of people’s ability to communicate with each other have the effect of reducing the quality of human life, even if the authoritarian country that imposes such suppressions happens to be very rich in terms of gross national product.”

Informational, protective roles

The second and the third elements in Prof. Sen’s thesis concern the ‘informational role’ and the ‘protective function’ of an independent media. He celebrates investigative journalism and says it “unearths information that would have otherwise gone unnoticed or even unknown.” On the question of the protective function, he says that media give a voice to the neglected and the disadvantaged, thereby contributing to human security. He further elucidates this point: “The rulers of a country are often insulated, in their own lives, from the misery of common people. They can live through a national calamity, such as a famine or some other disaster, without sharing the fate of its victims. If, however, they have to face public criticism in the media and confront elections with an uncensored press, the rulers have to pay a price too, and this gives them a strong incentive to take timely action to avert such crises.”

Upholding democracy

While Prof. Sen’s first three postulates were widely shared by other media theorists also, his cutting edge insight comes from his fourth and fifth postulates about the role of media. He clearly establishes the role of media in upholding some of the finest principles of democracy, which are beyond the number count. For instance, the idea of protection of minority rights in a majority rule and the space for important affirmative actions. His fourth postulate, formation of values, recognises media as the fulcrum in creating the space for public discourse, public discussion, creation of new norms where all these contribute towards “mutually tolerant preferences and choice in making liberty and liberal rights consistent with the priority of majority rule and of being guided by the unanimity over particular choices.”

Pursuing justice

Prof. Sen’s fifth postulate is truly a path-breaking one. He places the media within the overall narrative of what constitutes justice. He says: “The evaluation needed for the assessment of justice is not just a solitary exercise but one that is inescapably discursive. It is not hard to see why a free, energetic and efficient media can facilitate the needed discursive process significantly. The media is important not only for democracy but for the pursuit of justice in general. ‘Discussionless justice’ can be an incarcerating idea.”

The Hindu and its team of journalists are constantly striving to fulfill the five roles set out by Prof. Sen, sometimes with success, sometimes with partial success and sometimes in vain. The readers’ response and engagement make this journey a worthwhile endeavour.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

The article has been corrected for a factual error. John Rawls, the American philosopher, had earlier been identified as British.

proud to have the hindu, please keep up the good work.
Free media n democracy will take our country way ahead.

from:  srivani
Posted on: Oct 4, 2012 at 01:13 IST

The ideals stated above are excellent. As a reader of The Hindu for almost 50 years, I have always found the news to be informative. In the last 10 years or so, the reporting appears to have a rather clear pro congress stance. I find the bias rather strange in a scam ridden atmosphere. I hope the feed back mechanism will stimulate a more pro India stance.

from:  Vidyadhar Akkaraju
Posted on: Oct 3, 2012 at 22:26 IST

" even if the authoritarian country that imposes such suppressions happens to be very rich in terms of gross national product.”
Couldn't get logical gist in this phrase :(, would be great if someone explains this points relevance to its preceding point.

from:  Raju
Posted on: Oct 3, 2012 at 12:25 IST

This is a step in the right direction. Brands are for consumers of a product. Readers of a good newspaper are not consumers. They are intelligent, discerning persons with interest in and concern for the affairs of the world around them. They have to be perceived and treated as such.

from:  Kishore Saint
Posted on: Oct 3, 2012 at 07:37 IST

Sorry to be tiresome, but Rawls was American.
Otherwise, a fine article--and a most worthy newspaper. Keep up the good work.

from:  R.Sparling
Posted on: Oct 3, 2012 at 07:36 IST

The observations of the Readers' Editor are quite relevant at a time when reporting in many newspapers is coloured with the commentaries of the correspondent reflecting his and his management's views. This is especially true of the banner headlines. Ideally they should be factual. Many do not read beyond the headlines with the exceptions of items in which they are interested and are likely to be misled by them, if the emphasis is on sensationalism. While commentaries are welcome to encourage a healthy discussion of controversial issues they shoud not be mixed up with reports but should be published separately after the latter. Incidentally is it possible for the Readers' Editor to be the Contributors' Editor also to find solutions to the problems that they may face?

from:  A. Seshan
Posted on: Oct 2, 2012 at 20:01 IST


I am a third generation South American of Indian descent who has been living in North America for some years. I was introduced to the Hindu by a friend who was from Chennai. I have now been reading the Hindu, every day, for about 15 years now. I enjoy the format very much and am very impressed by the quality of its articles. Sometimes I read news about issues affecting other continents that I do not find reading CNN or BBC; this is impressive.
I think the Hindu is an excellent newspaper. I hope it gets the national recognitions it richly deserves.
Jai Hind,

from:  Deva Anand Dwarka
Posted on: Oct 1, 2012 at 22:01 IST

During our school days, in the 60s, and also for many before and after,
The Hindu used to be a strict English Teacher outside of school. Our
English teachers used to encourage us to read The Hindu even by
borrowing from neighbours. One of my favourite item used to be Letters
to Editors. After so many years spent in rat race now i write comments
which, at times, gets published. One of my younger days' dreams is
fulfilled.

from:  mvrangaraajan
Posted on: Oct 1, 2012 at 21:41 IST

A brand is an embodiment of projected meanings of a consumer. A brand then has to be like a mirror, which can show the consumer his “wanted reality”, a reality which is shaped by interplay of his affect cognition and interpretation of his beaviour and perceived environment. Brand building is a process of earning commitment of the consumer to the brand. Brands which live, evolve and acquire stature knowingly or unknowingly have processes which nurture this dynamic nature of relationship. This includes newspapers too.

from:  Raashid Saiyed
Posted on: Oct 1, 2012 at 15:55 IST

A brand is an embodiment of projected meanings of a consumer. A brand then has to be like a mirror, which can show the consumer his “wanted reality”, a reality which is shaped by interplay of his affect cognition and interpretation of his beaviour and perceived environment. Brand building is a process of earning commitment of the consumer to the brand. Brands which live, evolve and acquire stature knowingly or unknowingly have processes which nurture this dynamic nature of relationship. This includes newspapers too.

from:  Raashid Saiyed
Posted on: Oct 1, 2012 at 11:10 IST

As a youth and not living in Tamil Nadu I used to view The Hindu as a Chennai focused newspaper a bit boring. While it still retains its Chennai roots to some extent it has transformed itself into a truly national newspaper(I wouldn't know if it was not so earlier as I rarely read it). Today however when almost all major newspapers have left credibility in their trashcans and have themselves become faint shadow of the ideals of journalism Hindu is truly asset to the nation. Surely sooner or later India will value the contribution of Hindu. At the same time Hindu needs to embrace the new technologies to reach out to a newer generation. While a print newspaper has a physical limitation in the content it can write for a particular story there is no such limitation in the web. Stories can be explored in depth and more information can be added and so can more pictures. It is going to be the future so better prepare for it now instead of doing it 5-10 years from now under economic pressure.

from:  Khan
Posted on: Oct 1, 2012 at 09:23 IST
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