Indian media has always been rightly vocal in criticising the lack of transparency in the functioning of Government departments, instances of nepotism, favouritism and wrong-doing in the Government and attempts of senior Government functionaries to hang on to office, by hook or by crook, long after they have reached the age of superannuation.
2. While they have every right to do so, many of the Indian media houses and journalists are themselves not role models of probity, intellectual integrity, transparency and selfless service in the cause of journalism. There are many instances of wrong-doings by media houses and journalists, but the public does not become aware of them because of the reluctance of our newspapers and journalists to report on each other, however grave their failings may be and even if knowledge of such failings be in public interest. Their reluctance to report on each other and their tendency to cover up failings inside their profession have been creating cynicism in growing sections of the public about the ethical standards---or the lack of them---in the media world.
3. In this context, many who take interest in the goings-on in the media world, would be watching with interest the evolution of the controversy relating to the reported publication by the "Indian Express" and the "Financial Express" of a report regarding alleged differences in the "Hindu" family about the state of affairs in the "Hindu" media house, owned by the members of a single family with little public knowledge of the ownership and of the details of the extent to which the members of the family occupy leading positions in the editorial staff in the headquarters as well as in the reporting staff in the field. The lack of knowledge of such details results in the reading public patronising the "Hindu" not being aware of the fact that a small group of members of the same family decide what should be reported to the public and what views and opinions should be disseminated through the columns of the paper. The reading public has difficulty in knowing who is a relative and who is an independent member of the staff capable of providing an objective point of view uninfluenced by the interests of the family.
4. Shri N.Ram, the Editor-in-chief of the group, who will be becoming a senior citizen later this year by reaching the age of 65, has given notice of a defamation suit against the "Indian Express" and the "Financial Express" for publishing what, according to him, was an inaccurate report relating to some staff changes , which did not involve outsiders and alleged differences among the family members over the propriety and advisability of Shri Ram continuing to be the head of the group even after reaching the age of superannuation.
5. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the merits of the threatened action for defamation. It is for "The Indian Express" and the "Financial Express" to defend themselves by establishing the accuracy of their report and for the court to ultimately decide the maintainability of the defamation suit if it is ultimately filed by Shri Ram.
6. The purpose in writing this piece is merely to pose the following questions: (a). Has the time not come for greater transparency in “The Hindu” group? (b).Has the time not come for the Government to introduce, in consultation with the media houses, a right to information act relating to media houses? (c). Is it not in public interest for the rest of the media to have a debate through their columns on the issues raised by the controversy between “The Hindu” and “The Indian Express”? (d).Are the media houses and journalists holy cows beyond criticism or spotlight?
7. To point out these things is not to defame Shri Ram or his newspaper, but to enhance their reputation further by encouraging habits of humility, openness, accountability and self-criticism. (28-3-10)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi )