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Of checks and balances

india Updated: Aug 28, 2009 15:24 IST
Sumana Ramanan
Sumana Ramanan
Hindustan Times
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Sumana Ramanan
Senior Editor

Over the past two weeks, many readers have written letters or told individual reporters and editors that HT was giving far too much space to Raj Thackeray and his politics of violence. At the other end of the spectrum are readers — far fewer in number but equally passionate—who accuse us of bias against Raj Thackeray. One reader went as far as to say we were “targeting” him.

Which is true? Is HT soft on Thackeray, is it harsh or has our coverage been fair?

To those who say we are falling for Thackeray’s trap by giving him publicity, I can only say that we cannot ignore what he does just because we know that some of his actions are publicity stunts. His actions have a concrete short-termeffect on people and a profound long-term effect on the ethos and fate of this city, and we need to document them.

As for us ‘targeting’ Raj Thackeray, we may have condemned his violent tactics and parochial ideology in our editorial columns, but I personally believe we have been evenhanded in our news reports.

At the deeper level, the question of objectivity is one of the most important but complex issues in journalistic practice.

Reams have been written on the topic — in books, Phd theses and magazine articles— so I won’t pretend I can even begin to unravel the debate here.

What I would like to do here is clarify where I think HT stands on the issue of objectivity. No two journalists will probably fully agree on what this means. There is a range of answers.

Beyond this, at the extremities, most would agree that one is entering the realm of opinion and most would recognise instances of overt bias. Here I will mention two principles that HT tries to uphold to ensure that our news does not tip over into bias.

Accuracy. Mistakes have a way of creeping in however much one tries, but HT has a rigorous policy of corrections, which we publish each day. Moreover, we attempt to get not just our facts and quotes absolutely right but also try to ensure we use these in the correct contexts, so that their meaning is not slanted. We welcome readers to keep writing in to alert us about errors.

Balance. This is often very hard to achieve, but that doesn’t mean one abandons the goal. In a head-on conflict, the more powerful party always has the capacity to get its point across more effectively.

So a good journalist usually takes more trouble to get viewpoints of those who do not have the power or money to present their side of a story as forcefully or as often as others.

In any case, one rule is sacrosanct: if X says anything about Y, then Y must be given a chance to respond. Again, if readers feel we have not represented a particular side of an issue with enough vigour, please do right in with concrete instances.