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The idea of engagement journalism is neither a marketing tool nor a creation of a source pool for reporters to dip into

In a reflective article, former editor of The Guardian and Chair of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, Alan Rusbridger, says political managers around the world would have learned some lessons from the outcome of the recent U.K. election — “how we struggled to negotiate the increasingly blurred lines between truth and falsehood; facts and propaganda; openness and stealth; accountability and impunity; clarity and confusion; news and opinion.” Some of these issues trouble India too. His observations about pressures on public broadcasters apply to Prasar Bharati channels and Lok Sabha TV and Rajya Sabha TV. “Old-fashioned press conferences should be kept to the minimum. A manifesto should say almost nothing,” he wrote as if he is talking about what is happening in New Delhi.

There is a growing demand for false balance at the cost of truth and a desire for false equivalence at the cost of fact. I am acutely aware of the multiple forces that are undermining independent journalism. The idea of ‘engagement journalism’ is neither a marketing tool nor a creation of a source pool for reporters to dip into. It is a “virtuous circle of learning,” a term coined by Tom Rosenstiel of the American Press Institute, to combat the vicious cycle of disinformation that is rupturing our social fabric.

Considering requests

The Hindu has implemented two of the readers’ requests that were articulated in the Open House meetings as well as in the editorial meetings. The editor has not only asked for additional letters in the web edition but has also created a QR Code in the print edition to help readers reach the section effortlessly. In the last month, the quantum of letters has nearly doubled, and the readers reaching out to the letters section alone in the web edition has gone up to 63,000.

Many readers wanted an expansion of the explainer section. Earlier the explainer section titled FAQ was a full page in the Sunday edition. Following the request from the readers, a new section called ‘Factwise’ has been introduced in the oped section of the paper. “Congress and Partition” (December 11) explained how the idea of a religious basis for nations came from the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League. “A law not based on religion” (December 12) debunked the claims of senior BJP leader Ram Madhav by pointing out that the 1950 immigrants expulsion law did not mention religion as the criterion while exempting refugees fleeing civil violence in Pakistan.

Autonomy of the Readers’ Editor

There were some questions about the autonomy and independence of the Office of the Readers’ Editor (RE). One of the regular writers to our office, S. Narayanan from Tambaram, felt that The Hindu was censoring the RE’s contribution and has violated its own terms of reference. I am truly at a loss to understand from where he got such an idea. This is my eighth year as the RE and I have worked with five different editors in this period. None tried to even remotely influence the tone of my column, let alone censor it.

No one can accuse Devraj Sambasivan of Alleppey for being inconsistent in his views about this column. He relentlessly expresses his contrarian views. How I wish he attends one of our Open House meetings or editorial meetings rather than posing questions based on wrong assumptions. He wrote: “The RE talks of 15 guests, but only a couple of readers’ views are out. What were the others up to? No dates for the future? Is it curtains for the idea?”

The column aims to give a glimpse into the interaction between the readers and the editorial team and not become a comprehensive minutes of proceedings. It was mentioned not once but thrice that the editorial meetings are open to readers every first Tuesday of the month. Mr. Sambasivan also asked if the RE can be independent, detached and assess complaints in a dispassionate and impartial manner if he uses the term “we” in his columns. The RE is an internal ombudsman whose work is protected not only from editorial interference but who is also committed “to strengthen bonds between the newspaper and its millions of print platform and online readers.”

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