Editorial & political correctness

BY B.P. Sanjay| IN Media Practice | 23/06/2007
By any yardstick, editors in the past have not used the open letter option to interfere in a democratic process.

B.P. Sanjay

Readers of the Hindu are now used to recognizing that the newspaper¿s so called objective editorial values and practices are slipping. Readers generally understand the political color of their newspapers. Yet, we all grew up by our elders¿ and teachers¿ dictum and assessment that perhaps The Hindu was a newspaper that defied explicit political alliance. The writings of Harish Khare in the newspaper are respected by many and it is common for the reader to have salient appreciation or criticism for his views and political stance.

However, his open letter to the Vice President last week  defies our understanding of how the newspaper could push its editorial stance to the logical extreme by publishing what apparently is a personal view of an individual (no attribution is given in the  signature) that requires commensurate space and consideration that any other ordinary citizen would have unless the journalist argues that it is an objective analysis couched as a letter to drive home a point to the honorable Vice President. Perhaps a new form of journalism can be added to the already changing definitions of what newspapers ought to be?

The contents of the letter are not necessarily the subject matter for debate as the Journalist has chosen to advise the VP as to how he should see through the "cussedness" etc of his so called supporters and invokes values of consensus and the right of the ruling coalition to have its own person etc. "A ruling party or combine has a right to get its "man" elevated to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. This is not a perverse restatement of the "might is right" axiom, but the proposition is central to the very architecture of power envisaged in the Constitution."  Although the Ombudsman of the newspaper is constantly advising us as to how editorial decisions are beyond his purview a simple question a reader would ask (since we cannot reach the editor in chief) is whether the Hindu would publish an adequate response[1] about editorial propriety etc of a senior journalist choosing his newspaper to air his personal view (in the form of a letter) on the right of an individual to seek office in the spirit of democracy that all of us continuously talk about. It is also possible for the respected journalist to integrate his views in one of the numerous columns as an analysis. The alternative as to what he could do to use the newspaper for subjective views is already there but in the instant case could have been exercised given the agenda of the elections already set in. As a senior journalist a column by him on the propriety of the Vice President seeking the highest office would perhaps have been a better choice. Political correctness, the journalist might argue, is more important than the rights of an individual or a political combination that also exists in the Parliament to seek the office of their choice.  More than the advice the method adopted by him to convey the message is under review.  

Now that the Third Front is contemplating its own stand and strategy we will perhaps have another open letter to its candidate for upholding consensus etc. Delhi is agog as to how media persons could effectively be used by political parties of all hues. But the open letter clearly indicates that the nexus between political establishment and the media is not merely a subject matter of press club gossip. This  trend unfortunately started by a revered newspaper in the country is bound to have repercussions where journalists apart from using the privileged access they or their proprietors already   have to set the agenda on national and business  issues can take the next step to use the op ed columns to render their invaluable advice. By any yardstick, editors in the past have not used the open letter option to interfere in a democratic process.  

When editors pontificate on issues pertaining to other institutions and persons it may be appropriate to remember that there is something called Media Ethics despite its relegation to class room notes and a lecturer eligibility test  stock question?  




[1]Since the publication of this open letter a few readers have expressed both supportive and critical letters to Khare¿s open letter. However, what is perhaps objectionable is the editorial sanctity accorded to the letter. The contents could have easily been factored into the columns that the senior journalist has access to in the paper. In fact this was conveyed to the journalist (the write up was also sent) through his email id as listed in the PIB directory. As on date no response has been received from Shri Harish Khare.

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