From the readers’ editor Readers' Editor

Universal values and partisan interests

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There are queries, sarcastic comments and angry rebuttals, both for and against the way The Hindu handled the developments relating to the arrest of the chief of Republic TV, Arnab Goswami. The reactions included a cartoon by Satwik Gade published on November 13, which commented on the fast-track hearing of Mr. Goswami’s case by the Supreme Court, while many were forced to wait, and an editorial, “For one and all”. The editorial pointed out the court’s “recent record of evading and postponing hearing on many matters concerning fundamental rights and constitutional questions that affect the rights of large sections of society is a veritable story of judicial abdication”. I wanted to write about the advertising policy of this newspaper, and the areas where the editor vetoes an advertisement that may infringe upon the editorial policy. Though queries from readers directed me to this issue, I have decided to keep that column for the year-end as it has many generic features.

The volume of mails relating to the intervention of the apex court changed the theme of this week’s column. One reader, J. Seetharaman, came up with two questions about the cartoon. He asked: “Where were you when he [Mr. Goswami] was illegally arrested or when his staff after staff were harassed by Mumbai Government through Police? Why this cynicism against a co-journalist?” I do not indulge in whataboutery. Another reader, Dharmalingam Chandran, from Lovedale, asked counter questions. His questions were: How often did his channel cross the Lakshman Rekha to harm not only communal and social harmony but also individual privacy? Can one categorise Mr. Goswami’s prime time programmes as journalism, when he has no compunction or regrets in hurling murder charges on individuals in a case involving death by suicide? My firm position is that the questionable nature of Mr. Goswami’s journalism cannot be used as an excuse to deny him his individual rights.

Journalism has its core values and cardinal principles, and many news organisations have their own code of ethics and values that guide their vocation. If any reader is interested in knowing the different codes that guide journalists and journalism, they can visit the Accountable Journalism database (https://accountablejournalism.org) where over 400 codes are listed. These vary from the ones that are drafted by individual news organisations to the ones that are adopted by professional associations of journalists. The fundamental principle is ‘journalistic expression is not a free for all, but rather speech which is constrained by ethical values’. These codes are an indication of ethical deficiency among some media players, and a reminder not to clump all forms of journalism under a single rubric of news media.

Journalistic ethics

I not only follow some of the printed codes that govern good and accountable journalism, but also dig into the vast literature that governs our lives. From Hans Christian Andersen to A.K. Ramanujan, many storytellers have collected innumerable folk tales that have distilled the collective wisdom of the human race over three millennia. The enchanting, yet cautionary tale of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ has been a constant source of inspiration for fair evaluation of complaints without any blinkers. I see a parallel between those who adorned the court of the emperor, and who, out of sheer pride, refused to see the obvious and misled the sovereignty, and the institutions that do not maintain the critical distance with the ruling regime. I am of the firm opinion that both journalism and the Readers’ Editor (RE) should be like the child, who, without malice, calls out the fact, and should not behave like the members of a Royal Court. I do not see any reason to change this perspective.

As an RE, my tools are universal and they refrain from exceptionalism to the privileged and those in power. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address to the UNGA in 2019, invoked the 192nd entry from the Tamil anthology Purananuru, “Yaadhum Oore; Yaavarum Kelir” (To us all towns are one, all humans our kin). There is another brilliant line in the same poem, which roughly translates to read: “It is despicable to genuflect before those who are above us; and it is worse to look down on those who are below us.” I expect this equanimity not only in journalism but in all our institutional arrangements.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

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Printable version | Nov 24, 2020 10:08:26 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/Readers-Editor/universal-values-and-partisan-interests/article33104113.ece

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