Congress President Sonia Gandhi is not the only “non-Indian” who Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy is trying to get ousted from her post. He now wants the appointment of – to quote him – an “anti-nation Naxalite” declared null and void as the editor of an esteemed newspaper. And no, the person concerned doesn’t live in Jangalmahal or Gadchiroli district. His official address is Kasturi Building, Anna Salai, Chennai. If you still haven’t got it, the canker in Swamy’s eyes is the editor of The Hindu, Siddharth Varadarajan.
So, what’s Swamy’s bone of contention? It’s Varadarajan’s US citizenship. Subramanian Swamy has filed a plea in the Delhi High Court saying editors of news organisations in India “must be Indian citizens and residents of India” and not foreign citizens. The court in turn, on May 8, 2013, issued a notice to the Centre asking whether the citizenship of editors of publications in India should be a criteria for their appointment. The court has decided to hear the matter on July 24, 2013.
What does the rule book say? The Press And Registration of Books Act (PRB Act) 1867, which is a pre-Independence legislation for publications, states that a person who does not ordinarily reside in India would not be permitted to edit a newspaper. However, the Act doesn’t comment on the matter of citizenship. In 2011, the Cabinet approved the Press & Registration of Books and Publication Bill, which would replace the antiquated 1867 Act. According to Section 2(C) of the Bill, “an editor is a person, whether called editor, chief-editor, sub-editor or by whatever name called, who is a citizen of India and ordinarily resides in India, who controls the selection of the matter that is brought out in a publication”. The Bill, though, is pending in Parliament.
Why has Subramanian Swamy filed this petition? Speaking to Newslaundry, Subramanian Swamy said, “The Cable Act says that the editor of a news channel has to be an Indian citizen. The 2002 Cabinet decision on FDI in print media said that the editor of any print organisation receiving foreign funds should be an Indian. So, why should an Indian print organisation funded by Indians have an editor without an Indian citizenship?”
What is The Hindu’s stand? Former Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu and Director of Kasturi & Sons Limited, publishers of The Hindu, N Ram over a long email commented, “The PRB Act does NOT stipulate that only Indian citizens can be the editor of a newspaper. The requirement is that the editor be ordinarily resident in India. Siddharth Varadarajan has been continuously resident in India since September 1995. We were fully aware of the requirements of the PRB Act and that in appointing Siddharth as the Editor of The Hindu we were in full compliance with the provisions of the Act”.
Should citizenship be seen as one of the credentials of an editor before appointment? According to Ram, “No, there is no need to take the citizenship of someone into account before appointing him or her as Editor. What is important is the editor’s commitment to the philosophy, values and ethos of the newspaper and his or her willingness and ability to uphold those values”.
Swamy disagreed and emphasised that newspapers play a vital role in forming public opinion and, therefore, citizenship of the editor should be taken into consideration. In a letter to the Press registrar dated June 6,2012 Swamy wrote, “An editor of a newspaper as part of the Fourth Estate is in a particularly important position to influence the democratic processes including elections in India. It will adversely impact national security and go against public interest if a foreigner is allowed to become editor of a newspaper like The Hindu”.
Is Swamy targeting Varadarajan in particular? According to N Ram, there have been other, well-known instances where publications have had editors with foreign citizenship – although he did not name any. He wrote, “I have no comment on why Dr Swamy raised this particular objection. We do what we think and know to be the right and legal thing”. Swamy on his part says that he has known Varadarajan for long and he is not targeting him in particular. He said that he is seeking more clarity in the press laws and the criteria to appoint editors. He also added that it is Varadarajan who is spreading rumours about Swamy seeking vendetta as Swamy is perceived to be “anti-Communist”.
Swamy’s repeated insistence and mentions of Varadarajan and his own perceived political leanings makes us wonder what Swamy has taken umbrage to in regard to Varadarajan’s eligibility as editor of an Indian newspaper. Is it his citizenship or his political ideology?