I am grateful to all the readers who responded to my request to evaluate the institution of the Readers’ Editor and my own functioning over a period of sixteen months. Though an overwhelming number of letters found this institution to be of immense value, I am obliged to share first a couple of letters that were critical of my role. To my question, does the existence of the Readers’ Editor (RE) make you feel that the paper is responsive to your views and opinions, the reply from a reader from Chennai, M.D. Ravikanth, was: “a big no”. He felt that the office of the Readers’ Editor had not acknowledged any of his mails.
His pithy verdict was: “The strength of the institution is the institution itself. Like any other institution, this will also be only as good as the head of the institution. Weakness lies in the person heading the institution. Am not sure if RE has been given proper infrastructure and he really has independence in spirit to match the glorious letters that define the independence of RE. In my view, the weakness lies in not responding to the readers meticulously and as result, their points of views are not considered leading to the conclusion that the work of RE is publish “correction & clarification” section and a weekly column by RE. The purpose of interacting with readers, understand their views and align the paper to the readers views and expectations (as long as it does not impinge on the core values and beliefs of the paper) is solely given a go-by.”
Another trenchant statement from a reader from Hyderabad Sudhir Kumar: “You have confined the role to two things: Corrections and Clarifications; and praising the newspaper’s approach on a variety of issues. It is indeed sad that an ombudsman that needs to be a critique has reduced the office to merely agreeing with the newspaper’s stance even if allegations are false.” Mr. Kumar then cites examples from the opinion pieces written by Justice Katju and Harish Khare. For instance, he took a serious exception to Mr. Khare’s statement that “[h]e (Modi) has already scared sober and sensible middle-class Indians.” I beg to differ with Mr. Kumar’s position. Somewhere he misses the crucial difference between a news page and an opinion page. Opinion writers are free to express themselves and Mr. Khare is entitled to his opinion.
Mr. Ravikanth’s mails were always taken into consideration, and one of my columns — The adjective filter — was a product of his mails. While my office and I go through every letter, it is nearly impossible to respond to each letter, individually, every time. Initially, I contemplated an auto-response mailer to every mail that landed in our mailbox. But, when we did a close reading of the contents of the mails, there were questions relating to submission of articles, issues relating to circulation and advertisement and even copies of the letters to the editor. Then I gave up that idea because it was not possible to sift through this body of mails and have an auto-response only to the mails that are directly relating to the work of Readers’ Editor office. Whenever I see a generic issue in reader’s letters, they form the basis of my weekly column. If it is specific, we try to redress them in the Corrections and Clarifications section. And every criticism is passed on to the relevant desk and the reporter both for their response and for their information. Regarding his doubts about the infrastructure for the office of the Readers’ Editor, we are adequately staffed and resourced to do a credible job. As regards the independence, let me assure him as well as other readers that there had been no interference whatsoever from the board of Kasturi and Sons, the publishers of this newspaper. It is pertinent to record a crucial fact here. Siddharth Varadarajan till October 21, 2013, and N. Ravi since then read my column only after it was printed and never sought a pre-publication preview. When I needed a clarification from them, I got it without any delay or reservation. Despite this if there is failing on the part of the office of the Readers’ Editor, then I am solely responsible. The buck stops with me.
The oft-repeated criticism is that I am not giving credit in the Corrections and Clarifications section to the readers who point out the errors and mistakes. Kasi, a reader from Madipakkam, wrote: “If the correction is pointed out by a reader, why don’t you give credit to him? After all, a reader will be delighted to see his name in print. The Hindu cannot have the cake and eat it too.” How I wish I could do this. But how can I run a section that will take up more than a full page of the paper? Every slip-up is noticed by many an alert reader and we get more than hundred alerts sometimes, many over the phone. And, to be fair to the desk, they also notice the errors that slipped their scrutiny in the earlier editions and correct them for the later editions.
Next week, I shall look at the positive feedbacks. I should also be in a position to talk about the second Open house that should pave way for a direct interaction between the readers, Editors and the Readers' Editor. All I can assure you at this stage is that the second Open house will not be in Chennai.
Keywords: The Hindu Readers’ Editor,