A transformative engagement


Readers’ participation in editorial meetings showed that a discussion among people with different views is possible

We are witnessing more opacity and less accountability in various walks of public life. Amendments to the Right to Information Act have virtually compromised the autonomy of Information Commissioners. Legal scholar Gautam Bhatia has termed the Supreme Court’s evolving jurisprudence of the sealed cover as “a petty autocracy”. On November 9, in its judgment in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute, the apex court did not reveal the name of the judge who authored it, though the established practice is to specify the name of the judge who wrote the judgment on behalf of the Bench. A couple of readers felt that it is in this context that this newspaper’s decision to invite readers to take part in its editorial meetings is seen as setting new standards of transparency and accountability.

Differing views

We managed to accommodate 15 readers in the two sessions on November 5: nine for the noon session and six for the evening session. The group was not only diverse in terms of demography but also in terms of interests and viewpoints. A retired banker, Tharcius S. Fernando, felt that the session gave him a clear understanding of the process undertaken by senior editors in selecting stories to be published in print and in choosing stories that required editorials. A journalism student, Simran Kathuria, referred to a photograph celebrating interfaith harmony and questioned the choice of words in the caption. She felt the newspaper should take a clear stand on identifying communities.

The participants interacted with the editorial team after the conference. The team, led by the Editor, answered their queries. No question was taboo. For instance, S.V. Venugopalan took exception to the editorial, “Big bank theory” (August 31), on public sector bank mergers, which asserted that nationalised banks are overstaffed. Paras Chaudhary felt that the newspaper should have carried the story on the Global Hunger Index on the front page rather than carrying it in the inside pages. According to the Global Hunger Index 2019, India has slipped from 83 in 2000 to 102 now, faring worse than Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Radesh Rangarajan was generous in his appreciation of the initiative. He wrote: “The process was professional and illuminating. We observed that while choosing stories for the front page, nearly 10 bureaus offered two or three stories each. About six stories made it past the Editor’s benchmark. The process followed by the Editor, Suresh Nambath, was transparent, merit-based, aligned with the newspaper’s policy of newsworthiness, and with due regard to popular interest.”

Space for alternate opinions

But Mr. Rangarajan was critical of the editorial pages of the paper. He said: “While news presentation remains pristine and conservative, there is an attempt to thrust Left, secular views on readers through editorials and opinion pieces. There is a need to have a balancing mechanism where readers are given an opportunity for the opposite side to be heard.” Ravikanth Devarajan made a similar observation. He said, “I request The Hindu to consider publishing about 30 to 40% of opinion pieces that reflect alternate views while retaining about 60% of opinion pieces for views that are aligned with The Hindu’s. This will enable the readers to read alternate views regularly. This would attract readers with varied shades of opinion.” Sharada Lakshmanan felt that the newsroom should use technology to filter toxic content as well as identify instances of plagiarism.

When the readers interacted with the editorial team after the meeting, the discussion moved to problems posed by social media posts. Mr. Rangarajan felt that the space for the anarchy of social media exists because mainstream media is ideologically driven and tends to become preachy. The Editor pointed out that views from the establishment are given due space. Even on the question of the dilution of Article 370, The Hindu published an opinion piece by the Vice-President, so it would not be fair to say that there is no space for differing views in the newspaper, he said.

Both readers and the editorial team realised that an uninhibited interaction is possible because of shared values and commitment to a democratic public sphere that is not vitiated by vitriol and venom.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 7:46:21 AM |

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