In a Lok Sabha discussion on India’s economic slowdown on 18 December, Ananth Kumar, a four-term member of Lok Sabha representing India’s main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), from the Bangalore South constituency, quoted a Mint Views page article, titled An open letter to the PM, which ran on our editorial pages on 10 December.
Also Read An open letter to the PM
The article, which ran under the “Their Views” folio, a page where outside, non-Mint contributors write, ran under the byline of Athreya, who was then identified at the end of the article as: “The author is an IAS officer. The views expressed here are personal.”
In his parliamentary response to Kumar’s statements, P. Chidambaram, the former Indian finance minister and now minister of home affairs, had this to say about the article published in Mint:
Ananth Kumar‘s speech in Lok Sabha (PDF)
P. Chidambaram’s speech in Lok Sabha (PDF)
“He (Kumar) cited an article allegedly written by an IAS officer. I have read the article. I do not know whether the name of that author given in that article is a true name or a pseudo name. I do not know whether he is an IAS officer. All I know is either he is a disloyal officer or a coward or both. If he had the courage, he should write the letter, sign in his own name and send it to the Prime Minister. But I hope they (BJP) do not encourage such officers; they did not encourage them when they were in power. So what is the point of citing a pseudonymous or anonymous author’s article taking shelter under it and running away when the reply is to be delivered?”
(Source: Parliament’s official reporters’ draft transcript)
Since, on the floor of India’s Parliament, Chidambaram has raised questions about an article published in Mint and since his comments will remain a matter of public record forever, we would like to clarify some facts for our readers as well as the minister.
Mint does not lie to its readers or knowingly mislead them. Period.
Athreya is the pen name, or a literary pseudonym, that the author of that article requested. And, as unambiguously stated at the end of the article by Mint’s editors, he is indeed an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer and the views expressed in that article were the officer’s personal views.
Mint’s journalism is governed by a clearly spelt out Code of Journalistic Conduct that all news employees are required to adhere to. While most of it applies to our “news” coverage and not the paper’s opinion pages, we would still like to reiterate a key tenet from its preamble on What We Stand For:
“In our society, the press enjoys a remarkable degree of freedom. With that freedom comes the responsibility to practise our craft in accordance with the highest standards, to be accountable for what we publish, and to avoid conflicts of interest. We will strive to fulfil these responsibilities... It means we will always strive to identify all the sources of our information, shielding them with anonymity only when they insist upon it and when they provide vital information—not opinion or speculation; when there is no other way to obtain that information; and when we know the source is knowledgeable and reliable.”
Indeed, in our news coverage, Mint’s code doesn’t even allow the use of “pseudonyms, composite characters or fictional names...”
While these guidelines apply to our news coverage, the specific opinion page article in question was internally discussed between Mint’s editorial pages editor and the editor of Mint. Because the author’s proposed article raised significant and valid questions to spur a national debate, and precisely because the author is from the IAS, a group of Indians charged with managing the affairs of our country, a decision was made by the editor to run the article but let our readers know that it was by an IAS officer so they can appreciate the context.
We encourage our readers—and Chidambaram—to review our code, which is available on Mint’s Internet home page under “Mint code” at www.livemint.com.
We understand it is the prerogative of those who follow media ethics and standards to potentially debate our editorial decision-making. And Mint is happy to measure itself against any prevailing practices or standards that exist in India’s print media today, and our journalistic track record so far, especially our policy of promptly correcting any errors we make. We would encourage such a healthy debate because our decision is based on bedrock principles that Mint strives to “serve as an unbiased and clear-minded chronicler of the Indian Dream”.
We hope this explanation helps our readers get complete clarity on this issue. And, since this debate, spurred by the publication of the open letter, is an opinion on matters of national importance, we would now like to join the debate.
It is Chidambaram’s prerogative to not address the issues raised in the open letter or the reasons why the BJP’s Kumar cited it in the first place, and focus on whether the author should have been more loyal in not writing it at all or had more courage in signing it and sending it directly to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Here, Mint would like to remind Chidambaram of the long tradition of anonymous articles, starting with this particular example.
In November 1937, the Modern Review, then India’s most well-regarded journal of opinion, published an article on Jawaharlal Nehru written by Chanakya, an obvious pseudonym. The author hit out at Nehru’s latent dictatorial tendencies and his “intolerance for others and a certain contempt for the weak and inefficient”. Its author warned: “Jawaharlal might fancy himself as a Caesar.” There were howls of protest from loyalists until it was revealed much later that Nehru himself was the author of this piece.
Today, many members of Parliament, including cabinet colleagues of Chidambaram, as well as IAS officers in both the finance ministry as well as the home ministry, often insist on speaking to the news media only anonymously on many issues, including key issues that the author of the open letter raised. Whether all of those conversations are disloyal or cowardly is up to the minister to judge.
But if Chidambaram wants to help change the pervasive culture of anonymous comment that is so prevalent among politicians and bureaucrats alike, he might be better off publicly encouraging opinions and debate, rather than label those who try to speak up, even if anonymously, as “disloyal” or “cowards” and thus add to the culture of a fear of reprisals and, thus, more anonymity.
Mint, for one, believes being critical about India isn’t the same as being negative, as the government would like us to believe, and the only way our nation would progress is if there is honest debate about issues confronting all of us.
So what we would have hoped for is that, if the Indian government wanted to engage the nation on the basis of issues, including those raised in the open letter, it would have responded to the issues and not diverted attention to the act of writing the article. But that too is the prerogative of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Meanwhile, because of the now extensive debate this opinion article has raised—visit www.livemint.com/lettertopm.htm for reader comments on the article—we are also republishing the entire piece below and welcome comments from our readers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Raju Narisetti, Editor