While the THE HINDU newspaper gave 2 full pages for Dr. Abdul Kalam’s justification of the Koodankulam project, it maintained a complete silence on the revelation about vulnerability of equipments in Koodankulam and the corruption of the Russian supplier, despite the issue being flagged by the former chief of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board Dr. A Gopalakrishnan himself.Below is an email conversation between Shri M G Devasahayam, the former IAS and Convener of the independent expert committee on Koodankulam and A S Paneerselvam, the Readers’ Editor of THE HINDU. This conversation happened in the context of a recent column by Mr. Paneerselvam titled From Cynicism to Trust.
The response by the Readers’ Editor reveals the self-righteousness of this prominent media house and the newspaper’s bias. Here is the full correspondence:
Mr. Devasahayam’s Letter to Mr. Paneerselvam: April 12, 2013
The Readers’ Editor
I have been a regular and avid Reader of THE HINDU for several decades and therefore has a right and duty to write this letter that has specific reference to what you wrote in your column ‘From cynicism to trust’ on 08 April 2013.
Suggesting that the Newspaper is ‘Living its Values’ just because it did not endorse statements by some advertisers is indeed far fetched after carrying the advertisements itself on full front-page, which is a commercial practise in violation of editorial ‘values and codes’.
Furthermore, giving huge news and edit-page space almost every day to one individual just because he is in a position of power is certainly not maintaining high editorial standards, particularly so because most of these appear to be egotistic, highly opinionated and loaded with hypocrisy. For instance yesterday’s (09 April) edit-page promotional article on a borrowed idea from US for setting up ‘Court of the Last Resort’ is harebrained to say the least written by an elite arm-chair critic who has no relationship with ground realities and has always sat on a pedestal having no concern for the pathetic victims of the heartless justice system till this worthy was upbraided for suo motto pleading for the pardon of highly-connected, super-rich Sanjay Dutt who actually was given a mild punishment compared to the offences he had committed.
While on the subject I would like to state that in the run up to the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections in 2011 some of us including two former Chief Election Commissioners, Chief Electoral Officers, senior civil servants, advocates and activists had initiated and pursued a movement for Electoral Integrity with the purpose of reining in money-muscle power in elections and went to grass-root levels addressing hall meetings and large groups of students in colleges. We also worked closely with Election Commission of India. Your Newspaper hardly took notice of it except for some odd reports that too emanating from the mofussil towns. We want to revive it now for the forthcoming Parliament elections, but are not sure of any media support for this initiative that can combat the ‘mother of all corruption’. I don’t think THE HINDU will even consider publishing an edit-page article on this subject if I write it!
Much more than publishing self-conceited opinions, what is important for the Readers is fair and unbiased understanding of burning current issues. In this I am afraid THE HINDU is wanting. There are severe flaws in the impartial / unbiased / objective reporting of current issues as well as selecting and publishing edit-page and op-ed articles. The Newspaper is also exhibiting reluctance in reporting mal-governance in Tamil Nadu while writing about these from other parts of the country. THE HINDU has also not observed the core values of fairness and impartiality in reporting on issues that vitally affect the sentiment, honour, life and livelihood of vast sections of the Tamil People who have been nurturing and sustaining the Newspaper for over a century. Though there are many I will confine myself to just three instances:
1. Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant: Coverage by the Newspaper of the long people’s struggle against KKNPP, which is being suppressed and oppressed through draconian measures like sedition/treason laws, Goondas Act, curfew, lathi-charge and tear-gas has been perfunctory and heavily loaded in favour of the state despite the fact that all environmental and safety norms and rules have been blatantly violated in the setting up of the plant and presently there are huge safety issues involved in the desperate attempts by the nuclear establishment to commission the plant through bluff and bluster.
Hearing a Special Leave Petition on this issue, Supreme Court in October/November 2012 had made a pointed observation: “We are concerned more about people’s safety than the money spent on the project.” As if to reinforce this concern Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan, doyen of India’s nuclear establishment and former Chairman, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) has categorically stated that the plant is not safe because sub-standard material has been used in the construction of the nuclear reactor itself and many critical types of equipment are suspect. He strongly demanded an immediate investigation by an independent experts group into the safety of KKNPP as it was Podolsk, the Russian company whose CEO was arrested for corruption, that had supplied the components for the reactor. He also said that China, where similar equipments have been supplied has already started inspecting the quality of its nuclear reactors and India too should do so without delay. This and many other things he said at a press interaction in this very city on 06 April 2013.
From what Dr. Gopalakrishnan said, as a corruption and non-transparency scandal nuclear-power in general and KKNPP in particular are far bigger and more serious than that of CWG, 2G Spectrum, Coalgate or Augusta Westland because it has direct and serious bearing on the life, safety and livelihood of millions of people. Yet THE HINDU completely blacked out this very important news event that happened right in Chennai and instead gave space to irrelevant and banal issues. This has deprived the public of getting to know an expert view on this vital matter that could have helped them to arrive at an informed opinion. This has violated the basic editorial code of the ‘right of the readers to know differing views’!
On the other hand the insincere assurances given by the Prime Minister to the President of a foreign country, vague and empty words repeatedly spoken by Mr. Narayanaswamy, and evasive statements made by NPCIL/AEC/AERB officials are given huge importance. Recently the sales-pitch made by a Russian engineer Y N Dudkin that ‘Kudankulam reactors are safest in the world’ was given fulsome and prominent coverage as if it was ‘Gospel truth’. So were all the earlier articles written (one more than half-page) and statements issued by the nuclear-illiterate APJ Abdul Kalam. Is this the kind of ‘independence’ the Newspaper boasts of?
On this burning issue that has been suppressed by your Newspaper you may read these Links:
2. Sri Lankan Tamils Issue: The anti-Sri Lankan Tamil stance taken by THE HINDU is so well known and talked about with revulsion that nothing more need to be said. But one bitter truth is that on this issue, that has huge bearing on the honour and dignity of Tamils as a race, the prejudiced and single-tracked position taken by your Newspaper without giving space to any counter-view is an insult to the institution’s hoary 134-year-old history with the legacy – liberty, justice and human rights – of its distinguished founders.
3. Coverage of the Tamil Nadu power crisis: Despite the fact that the crisis has been going on for years, basically due to gross mismanagement and rent-seeking, not once did the Newspaper highlight these maladies and offered viable and workable solutions available if only they were sought for. Instead the Newspaper has been content with some odd crisis-reporting and publishing long-winded handouts containing wrong diagnosis and false information thereby misleading the gullible public.
As I understand, the function of Reader’s Editor is to collect, consider, investigate, respond to, and where appropriate come to a conclusion about readers’ comments, concerns and complaints in a prompt and timely manner, from a position of independence within the paper.
According to the terms of reference the Readers’ Editor of The Hindu is a Board of Directors appointment. “He is independent of the Editor, the editorial personnel, and the editorial process. The key objectives of the appointment are to instititionalise the practise of self-regulation, accountability, and transparency; to create a new visible framework to improve accuracy, verification, and standards in the newspaper; and to strengthen bonds between the newspaper and its millions of print platform and online readers.”
Accepting the appointment as Readers’ Editor, you had said: “The efficacy and credibility of self-regulation depends on a robust autonomous system of redress. The Readers’ Editor’s Terms of Reference provide a clear mechanism to ensure accountability of the editorial team to its readers; and to retain and enhance readers’ trust in the newspaper. I will strive to do my best to be an effective interface between The Hindu’s readers and the 134-year-old institution.”
The credibility of this century-plus institution is at stake and it is time for you to do your duty as per your calling. Mine may be a small and insignificant voice. But if it is not heeded promptly it may not take long for this to resonate far and wide.
Awaiting appropriate action and early response.
Mr. Paneerselvam’s Letter to Mr. Devasahayam: April 10, 2013
Dear Mr. Devasahayam,
I appreciate your efforts to express your opinion of the paper in general and my role in particular. There seems to be conflation of few issues in your mail, and this response is to disaggregate these and address each one of them based on their own merits.
1) Carrying jacket advertisements is not a violation of the values and codes. In fact, the article 6 of Living our Values says this very clearly: The Company recognises that good journalism cannot survive, develop, and flourish unless it is viable and commercially successful. Fair business practices are vital. What I said in my column was the paper’s commitment to resist the power of advertisers in resorting to unfair practices. Can you honestly point out another media outlet which has maintained such high standards? Of course, you have every right to differ from the stand taken by the paper on some crucial issues.
2) Your opinion on Justice Katju’s piece need not necessarily reflect the opinion of others. And, the opinion articles need not necessarily reflect the opinion of the paper.Your opinion is valid as much as Katju’s opinion. After all the newspaper is site for democratic debate.
3) On Nuclear power and Sri Lankan Tamil issues, I do see both change and continuity in the paper’s position over the time. The areas of continuity are: 1)Nuclear power remains an option for addressing the energy needs of the country, 2) Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity shall not be disturbed. The areas where the change has taken place are: 1)report on the protest against the nuclear power, give space to critical voices. (See M V Ramana’s book review yesterday and the space given for it). 2) constantly flag the failings of the Sri Lankan state both on the political front as well as the post war reconciliation front. It will be unfair on my part not to acknowledge these changes though these may not satisfy some who have a strong opinion on these matters. My personal opinion on nuclear establishment is well known but I do not expect that to be the opinion of the paper.
My personal working credo as the readers’ editor is to recognise that there are many points of convergence as much as points of divergence between the newspaper and its myriad readers and not to be torpedoed by ideological prism.
I do share the readers opinion to the editorial and the editorial’s stand point to readers on a regular basis so that one can know exactly where the paper stands on various issues. I do get much more strident criticisms from the Hindutva brigade. I do not expect the paper to soften its stand on secularism. The same principle extends to other issues too.
Hope I have explained my role rather clearly.
[A S Paneerselvam, Readers’ Editor, THE HINDU]
Mr. Devasahayam’s Letter to Mr. Paneerselvam: April 12, 2013
Dear Mr. Panneerselvam,
I have pondered over your rapid-fire response and was wondering whether it would be of any use to waste time on these interchanges when the mind-set of the Newspaper management in general and Reader’s Editor in particular appear to have been hermetically sealed with a preset agenda on most burning public issues. Hence the delay. Nevertheless I thought I should write because as they say ‘silence is consent’.
First to the jet-speed reply: Email containing my letter was sent at 10.34 AM on 10 April 2013 and your reply was received by me in exactly 52 minutes at 11.26 AM. Conceding that you received and read my mail instantly, in all of 52 minutes you had collected information on the major issues raised by me, considered them carefully, investigated into the factual veracity of the issues raised, came to a conclusion about my comments, concerns and complaints and responded to me ‘from a position of independence within the paper’ trashing all the points I had raised. Indeed, a fabulously efficient way of treating your Readers as interlopers and riff-raffs.
Your instant reply to my detailed well-deliberated letter, indicates that you have not given even scant attention to its contents. As the Readers’ Editor of The Hindu, you were expected to institutionalise the practise of self-regulation, accountability and transparency; and to ‘strengthen the bonds between the newspaper and its millions of Readers’.
Your vague response does not indicate that you are in a position of independence within the paper to strengthen the bonds between the readers and the paper. On the contrary, yours is an attempt to rationalise the one-sided coverage and blacking out of news relevant to the readers but may not be in the interest of the ruling regimes in the centre, the state and in some other country!
For instance Dr. Gopalakrishnan’s expert view was not on the desirability or undesirability of nuclear energy. Though he is a pro-nuclear man he had clearly highlighted the fact that Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant is unsafe in its present form because sub-standard material has been used in the reactor and quality of many key equipments are suspect. He was of the considered view that commissioning the plant under these circumstances could in all likelihood lead to accidents if not immediately, at least in the near future resulting in major disaster for the life and livelihoods of millions. Is it not the duty and responsibility of THE HINDU to report this view of one of the top most nuclear experts in the country so that your Readers know of the truth and the project proponents also can respond appropriately to clear the air of all doubt and suspicion.
Heaven forbid, if something untoward happens after the subservient nuclear establishment, which is under immense Russian and PMO pressure to commission the plant goes ahead at any cost, will not THE HINDU and other media that deliberately blacked-out this news be not accused of suppressing the truth? In the event it is inappropriate to equate this to giving space to M V Ramana’s book review which is a scholarly work whereas what Dr. Gopalakrishnan did was to warn of clear danger.
On accepting the onerous responsibility of Readers’ Editor, you yourself wrote: “The efficacy and credibility of self-regulation depends on a robust, autonomous system of redress.” What happened to those brave words?
Your own position on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue is well known. Did not your conscience prick when the Editor gave such prominence to Kusal Perera’s article on the op-ed page and denied space for my well-reasoned counter? My response did not challenge Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity because that was not the issue here. Yes indeed, there is real good continuity in what your Newspaper has been doing on the SL Tamil issue. Perhaps despite your good intentions and inside knowledge you are unable to break this continuity!
In passing all I would request is that after being captive to several interests please do not preach us about ‘Living our Values’, which your 134-year-old institution with a hoary past is certainly not adhering to.
Mr. Paneerselvam’s Letter to Mr. Devasahayam: April 12, 2013
Dear Mr. Devasahayam,
I feel really sad that you have drawn a different set of conclusions from my sincere effort to promptly address your concerns. If someone is familiar about the subject, does it really warrant a long duration to ponder and respond to queries? I beg to differ. The two issues you had touched–Nuclear and Sri Lankan Tamil– have a very strong emotive elements.
My role as the readers’ editor is not that of a pre-censor, but a post-publication evaluator. As a former IAS officer, I believe that you will appreciate that to make my role to be effective it not just enough to be truly independent and bold but also not to overreach. Some of your complaints are about the editorial policy, which is defined by the editor and his editorial team, really fall under the category of overreach for a readers’ editor. I can explain their policy but cannot interfere with it. I believe it is vital to support the independence of the editorial. The acid test for this is how I conduct myself when the paper’s opinion is different from my own. Can I exhibit the same level of tolerance when articles that are opposed to my views appear in print? Can I expect from our political leadership and the corporate houses to be tolerant if I do not posses the same?
I do not expect the paper to share my world view on all issues but that does not mean I can work for any publication in the country. The shared positions between the Hindu and myself outweighs my differences with the publication. The shared areas are: steadfast commitment to secularism, democratic values, to take the difficulties faced by poor and marginalised and finally a fine balance between public interest and what public is interested in.
I generally refrain from expounding on my personal political understanding as I believe they are evident in my writings as a journalist. I am also very, very clear that my views, ideology and politics, will not colour my role as the Readers’ Editor. This explanatory note is primarily because I value your work on JP and the Emergency, your personal contribution to his well-being during his days of arrest under your charge in Chandigarh. I think my strength lies in not conflating issues, but in my ability to disaggregate and see each one of them in their own light.
We can agree to disagree.
A S Panneerselvan
Mr. Mr. Devasahayam’ Letter to Paneerselvam’s: April 14, 2013
Dear Mr. Pannerselvam,
Thanks for your prompt response. You have really been candid and I appreciate that. Under the circumstances there is nothing more to write except reproducing a letter received from PMANE, Struggle Committee, a short while ego which is self explanatory. The inference in the letter (in bold/large letters) is foreboding and ominous and clearly reflect the kind of coverage by THE HINDU in this extremely sensitive matter that has bearing on the lives and livelihoods of millions.
I have said what has to be said and if it is not heeded it is the Newspaper’s burden.