The Hindu responds to Churumuri. We do too.

The readers' editor of The Hindu, K. Narayanan, has responded to the Churumuri piece Under N. Ram, the Hindu becomes a 'sorry' paper in his weekly column 'Online and Off Line' today. Titled Whys and wherefores of an apology, the column seeks to offer a point-by-point rebuttal of the points made and questions asked.

Below is the full text of the column, reproduced here without the permission of the paper, the publisher, the editor or the author.

At the bottom is Arvind Swaminathan's 10-point riposte to Narayanan's response.

***

By K. NARAYANAN

Should the apology not have been in your corrections column, or on Open Page, asks a reader. The reference was to what was published in The Hindu on May 30, relating to an article that appeared on Open Page on May 21.

This is a point that needs clarification. So far there has been no occasion to include an apology in the corrections list. This was the first such instance since the Readers' Editor started functioning on March 1.

Two factors determined the placement of the apology. One was a letter on the same article from the Engineering Export Promotion Council (EEPC). The second was the request from the company whose product was adversely commented upon—that was the basis for the apology—for early rectification. It was decided to take them together.

The reader's query was a legitimate one and called for an answer. On a different plane were the insinuations and assumptions in a commentary by Arvind Swaminathan on churumuri.wordpress.com, the website run out of Mysore "by a bunch of talented, if somewhat obsessed Mysoreans," as Ramachandra Guha put it. For this was another opportunity to decry N. Ram, The Hindu's Editor-in-Chief. "Staffers in The Hindu," according to this commentary, were aghast at this surrender to corporate forces, represented by an automotive firm (factually inaccurate), with advertising clout. With glee, it pointed out that the Editor had not included any reference to the date of publication of the article in question, missing the fact that the date was in the preceding item to which the apology was tagged.

Even more amusing was the query whether before publishing the apology, Mr. Ram had consulted K. Narayanan, the Readers' Editor, "whom he touts as the panacea of [sic] all journalistic ills in the country." Why his "sources" in The Hindu, whom he cites again and again, did not give this information to him is a matter for conjecture. The barb aimed at me shows lack of understanding.

The question of apology was indeed discussed. Whether the remark in the article was defamatory was arguable. It was written by an Indian student in Germany: he presented a view of the Indian presence at the Hannover fair, which was totally at variance with the glowing accounts that one normally reads, presented by visiting journalists, sometimes sponsored by corporates or industry bodies. It should have been seen in that light and wrong impressions created by this writer could have been set right by a proper presentation. EEPC did well to do so, pointing out the factual inaccuracies in the article.

In the Editor-in-Chief's judgment, the Open Page article, already marred by a gross factual inaccuracy about the number of Indian stalls at the Hannover fair, made sweeping and baseless assertions about the Indian products on display. In fact, Ram had been there at the inauguration of the fair, as part of the media delegation accompanying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The legal challenge thrown by the corporate could have been faced but neither the article nor the issue was worth a fight. Contesting a charge of defamation takes a certain amount of time and effort; indeed, as one Indian legal scholar has observed, "the process is the punishment." It would have meant a diversion for the newspaper, and the Editor-in-Chief who is also the publisher has to face the music finally. My arguments were academic; his, practical. So it was accepted that it was wrong and misleading to have mentioned the company's name in this context.

This is perhaps the first time an article on Open Page led to the publication of an editorial apology. This forum for readers had its origin more than two decades ago. The then Editor, G. Kasturi, seeing the large number of good unsolicited articles that went unused—the only opening available then was the "junior" article slot on the editorial page—decided to allocate one full page a week to readers' contributions. In more recent times, with an increase in competing features and items, the space allotted was reduced by half and an 800-word limit for articles imposed.

The Open Page has proved immensely popular, judging from the regular flow of contributions from all over the country. A variety of topics is touched upon. The background of the writers is equally varied, as is the style of writing—scintillating, pedantic, provocative, plaintive, original thinking, academic, you have them all. (Interestingly, one of the senior correspondents in The Hindu owes his post to the Open Page. His writing on a constitutional issue so impressed Kasturi that he asked me to locate the author. I did, and he landed a job at The Hindu, as reporter, to rise high later.)

Readers complain to me about the choice and rejection of articles. That is the jurisdiction of the editorial wing of a publication. When a selection from many competing offerings takes place, complaints and some criticism are unavoidable. Especially from those whose submissions are turned down. What weighs is the style of presentation, the originality of ideas (not an academic paper) and the ability to provoke thinking or register thoughtful dissent. Political contention, of which there is plenty in the paper, is kept to a minimum on the Open Page.

Not only complaints, also good suggestions have come from readers. One was to include the e-mail ID of writers when they desired it. Another was to intimate acceptance or rejection of articles. These have been implemented. (An angry reader's objection to the curt wording of the pro forma response was also attended to!)

Some articles have produced lively debates, which the Open Page accommodates to the extent possible. Such reactions serve the purpose for which this readers' forum was created. To think of shutting it down, on account of one legal issue will be, as the Malayalam saw goes, to burn down the house to kill a rat.

***

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN replies from Madras: We must be thankful to the readers' editor for taking notice and taking the trouble of responding. It shows, if nothing else, that The Hindu as an institution is concerned of issues like these.

That said, though, the clarification does little to suggest that an apology of this nature is the "done" thing for a newspaper of the size, reach, influence and, above all, claims to independence from political and commercial interests as The Hindu.

In fact, the lengths to which the readers' editor goes to defend Ram and Kasturi, while thumping his own back, only lends credence to the question whether it was such a good thing to have an insider as readers' editor.

Be that as it may, if the readers' editor was consulted before the trajectory of the apology was decided, we stand corrected.  Still…

1) There is still no explanation as to what was so sweeping or baseless about the offending paragraph on Kirloskar to merit an apology from the editor-in-chief, no less. Did Kirloskar say that only the editor-in-chief's apology would do? If so, is there a hierarchy for apologies?

2) If the editor-in-chief could take on the might of Jayalalithaa, just what was so damaging in the piece by R.S. Anand to merit such a grovelling apology? Are we to assume that the State is easy meat when compared to corporates?

3) The "offending" quote was made by a visitor to the Hannover fair, who was a fellow-German student of the writer's. Are we to conclude from the apology that free individuals in some other part of the world are not entitled to hold a view or express an opinion that might damage corporate interests back home? And should a writer excise such views/opinions because they might be damaging?

4) Astonishingly, the readers' editor says the student-writer's reflections were "totally at variance with the glowing accounts that one normally reads, presented by visiting journalists, sometimes sponsored by corporates or industry bodies. It should have been seen in that light".

What are we to make of this? That it would have been all-correct if the piece had been glowing? In that case, wouldn't that be advertising? Or are all business pieces meant to be glowing?

5) There is still no explanation as to why the whole piece had to be removed from the Hindu website if there was only one paragraph about Kirloskar.

6) The readers' editor would do well to see all editions of the paper to see what chronology the apology and the EEPC letter appeared. In the edition I received, the apology was above that of the EEPC letter.

7) There is still no rational explanation as to why the editor-in-chief should apologise for such a minor indiscretion, if it was an indiscretion, and why it could not appear in the corrections and clarifications column.

8) There is no factual inaccuracy about Kirloskars being in the automotive business. A different wing of the company may have displayed the engine in Hannover, but the Kirloskars are still in the automotive business.

9) OK, so the apology was published because the writer's version of events was at variance with the editor-in-chief's own eye-witness view. What if the editor-in-chief had not been present there to see for himself?

10) There is still no explanation from the readers' editor as why the editor-in-chief had to apologise for C. Manmohan Reddy's piece (which was part of the Churumuri piece).

Also read: The column 'Hindu' didn't have the guts to carry

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17 Responses to “The Hindu responds to Churumuri. We do too.”

  1. Vijay Says:

    Hey Churumuri getting noticed !!! This is good stuff. You guys have are making a difference.

  2. sateesh Says:

    Isn’t it the norm for any apologies (for a newspaper or magazine) to be printed in the name of Editor ? May be some one can enlighten me.

    And how can a Reader’s Editor give opinion about an apology that was published an year ago or so, during when no such position as Reader’s editor existed. Does that mean just because there is a Reader’s Editor now we can rake up all the errors that have happened in the past at ‘The Hindu’ and ask the Reader’s Editor to provide an explanation for them.

  3. Ananth Shenoy Says:

    Hindu was first to bring to the world bout churumuri.wordpress.com on its getting largest hits during Rajkumar’s demise and following riots. Anything went wrong between KP and the ‘Hindu’ correspondant in Mysore?

    and why should we take pains to ‘correct’ a newspaper. if you dont like a column just dont read it and if you don’t like a newspaper just dont subscribe. Agreed press is one of the ‘pillars’ of democracy. But individual newspapers are not Public Properties. Read vijay times instead.

    (I’m not a Hindu employee…thankfully)

  4. Krishna Prasad Says:

    Churumuri is grateful to The Hindu (and indeed to other media vehicles) which have taken note of Churumuri. But surely that cannot prevent us from taking up issues which we deem worthy of notice and comment, even if it concerns those organisations? And vice-versa. Surely, no media organisation should consider any other media organisation (including us) immune from scrutiny merely because it has given space to it?

    Churumuri has carried pieces on CNN-IBN, Vijaya Karnataka-Times of India, NDTV. Why should we wonder if there is a personal motive only while writing about The Hindu, when the only motive is a quest for higher professional conduct from a newspaper we have all grown up on? And why draw in the Hindu correspondent/s into the picture when they have nothing to do with the case/s on hand?

    Broadly speaking, we should ask questions of our media (paper, TV, radio or internet) because it is “our” media. We depend on them for our news, we depend on them to formulate our views. It is not as simple a thing as if-you-don’t-like-it-don’t-buy-it. You can do that with your soap or toothpaste, not your newspaper or magazine. We should ask questions because in our growingly stunted media atmosphere, media accountability has very nearly vanished. Somebody’s gotta ask the questions.

    We may pay just two or three rupees for our newspaper, but it is as much ours as the proprietor’s. We, as readers, are entitled to get a paper which we know hasn’t sold its soul to some political, bureaucratic, commercial or other vested interests. We, as readers, are entitled to get paper which doesn’t have an axe to grind. We, as readers, are entitled to get a paper that is not running with the hares and hunting with the hounds.

    That’s why we must do everything we can to keep our media in good shape. We must praise, criticise, subscribe, scrutinise all at the same time. In the US, there are full-fledged media websites which focus on, say, the New York Times on issues like these. That’s why the NYT is what it is, because somebody is keeping tabs. Here, on the other hand, a curious conspiracy of silence exists when it comes to media affairs.

    Good journalism cannot not be decided by such factors as friendships, party affiliations, advertiser interest. It cannot be a you-scratch-my-back, I-will-scratch-yours scenario. The media represents something higher. We must demand to be better served. It’s our right as readers. The moment advertisers start calling the shots, the moment advertisers start dictating content, you know what we will get. Or do you?

  5. Subject Says:

    I agree with KP. But as an average reader would not be surprised to see an apology column in Churmuri on the mud slinging Murthy Angadi. Isn’t it uncalled for. December stud would agree.

    DECEMBER STUD says:

    I had tried to avoid reading “Murthy Angadi” all these days. I tried reading all the ‘episodes’ today and I have to say that I am quite disgusted. This is really unwarranted. Is there a personal grudge somewhere ? Or is it just a gimmick to get more people into ‘churumuri’

    Guys, ‘churumuri’ has been an excellent blog. This one series is good enough to diminsh the stature of ‘churumuri’. Please, let’s not do this. It’s my ‘kaLakaLiya vinaMati’.

  6. adi Says:

    I continue to be surprised by all the negative comments about “Murthy Angadi”. Do we take ourselves _so_ seriously that we lose our sense of humor and become unable to laugh at ourselves? Instead of having a good laugh and moving on, we tend to pass judgement and attach conspiracy theories. “Murthy Angadi” is meant to be satirical and funny, nothing more nothing less. Remember “Yes Prime Minister”? There will never be a show like that in India because our politicians are too insecure and humorless. I do hope that Churumuri retains its lightheartedness and doesn’t become stiff, boring and politically correct.

  7. Ashtadhyayi Says:

    The Hindu’s “public editor” is a joke. The only thing he does is talk about grammatical content in the Newspaper!! Every time any issues about editorial bias are raised, he skirts the issue by reffering to letters department or gives silly half ass excuses about how this ( public editor) is new territory, hence still evolving on jurisdiction issues!!

    The letters section in the Hindu publishes cheer leading material from all those old senile tambrahms who probably have never heard of a thing called critical reading ( okay huge generalization, but , true for most part).

    The offical organ of the communist part of India is not the people’s daily: it is N.Ram’s The Hindu. Pretensions of public editor and all not withstanding !!

  8. Ashtadhyayi Says:

    Krishna Prasad writes :
    “The moment advertisers start calling the shots, the moment advertisers start dictating content, you know what we will get. Or do you?”

    Yes , it is an ass wipe paper called “The Times of India”!!

  9. Subject Says:

    Over and out. lets move on further….

    note: please start one column (section) on King Malya’s fisher. You will have more to write.

    Adi can roll and get sprain laughing :-)

  10. Matt Says:

    The reader’s editor’s reply does not clear the issue – but I think we can see the answer pretty clearly.

    N Ram was there as part of the delegation. He formed an impression of the situation.

    The reader’s editor does not have anything to say about the factual accuracy of the piece. About how it is incorrect, how a visitor’s comment, reported by a writer is libel, what was the actual truth of the matter.

    The fact is that Kirloskar did not like what was written (even though I am sure that after a drink, they would all agree that its true!) and wanted to do something. They picked on N Ram who being part of the PM’s delegation and generally expected to play along.

    Now like the reader’s editor explains – the process is the punishment. The paper and its editor, and even the reader’s editor, does not feel any ownership of what was published in the piece – they themselves didn’t believe it to be right, and therefore do not see the need to defend something that got in by accident and offended someone unexpectedly. So they want to wash their hands off it. Why do they want to do so? Because while it is unlikely that the paper will lose in court, libel cases last for years (I have heard some cases last for decades) and they do not feel it worth their while to defend against something they don’t care about.

    Now, whether that is right or not, you decide.

    There is a reason why Hindu takes on the State often – the State can make your life miserable instantly, and if you don’t battle it out, your existence is under threat. Not so in this case. You gain nothing (why defend some student) and lose peace of mind for years.

    Take your pick. :)

  11. adi Says:

    Subject: Great idea on Mallya and Kingfisher. Rich material for some bellyaching laughs!

  12. Bruno Says:

    //if you dont like a column just dont read it and if you don’t like a newspaper just dont subscribe. //

    Good thoughts. !!!

  13. JV Says:

    I am new here, got a faint idea but dont know what is going on , do not understand the issue. But happy to know that bloggers of India now able take shots at newspapers and magazines and keep them awake. Now, what print media or TV media say is not always gospel’s truth.

  14. Bhanu Says:

    To me the whole issue looks more like sham, isnt it enought that Hindu at least responds to each and every strata of socieity with unparalleled Journalism Ethics rather than others who are bluntly unconcerned.
    i think Hindu rather deserves an applous!!

  15. Raviraj Says:

    Read the issue concerning The Hindu Reader’s Editor and the apology on Churmuri. The Hindu should first make up its mind as to whether it wants to go commercial or keep up high journalistic standards. Though it claims to be a serious paper, one is at a loss to know why it has supplements like Metro Plus which focus on glamour.

  16. daasappa Says:

    “by a bunch of talented, if somewhat obsessed Mysoreans,” as Ramachandra Guha put it.

    i think Narayanan might have googled the word “churumuri” on his hindu site and got the article of Ram Guha in Sunday Magazine! ;)

  17. rfactor Says:

    Interesting
    good job guys !!!

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