- NL Sena
Rahul Pandita’s terse letter raises questions on the sort of editorial freedom journalists have.
The New Year seems to have begun on a sour note for The Hindu, with journalist Rahul Pandita’s terse resignation email doing the rounds on Twitter. Given its unflattering contents, the letter took no time in going viral on social media. While most people congratulated Pandita for his courage to stand up to editorial interference, others thought it a little unbecoming of journalists to leak letters that present only one side of the story.
Pandita had joined The Hindu in early March last year as Opinion and Special Stories Editor. In his resignation letter addressed to The Hindu Editor Malini Parthasarthy, he has alluded to her domineering style of functioning and attributed it as the prime reason for quitting the organisation: “Every article that comes to us or has to be commissioned has to go through your approval. And it really depends on what you think at that point,” he wrote.
Speaking to Newslaundry, Pandita elaborated that while he is okay with working under broad guidelines, he was fed-up of being told what to do on an hourly basis. “Of course, there are certain parameters under which one functions. Owners and editor-in-chiefs brief you on editorial policies and what they want the opinion pages to reflect. But once you are locked in on that, I should be allowed to do my work,” he said.
Pandita added that if he was hired keeping in mind certain capabilities and skills, he should be trusted to execute them – “editors are like wazirs hired by kings [proprietors] to expand their kingdoms. As far as I am concerned, I had no editorial autonomy at The Hindu.”
Complete text of Pandita’s email to Parthasarathy
I think I made my point quite clear in my email to the editor-in-chief. In the current situation what the Op-ed page really needs is a bunch of interns who can seek instructions from you on an hourly basis and then get in touch with the authors on your behalf. An Op-ed editor, the way I see it, has to be given some broad guidelines in the beginning and then left free to run the page. But there is absolutely no freedom for the current editors to do so. Every article that comes to us or has to be commissioned has to go through your approval. And it really depends on what you think at that point.
To tell you the truth, it is just a waste of talent, as far as I am concerned.
I came to The Hindu to steer some top-notch reportage and to strengthen the edit pages – by making it more accessible and more nuanced. But I am bogged down with this hourly need to consult you, and with the practice of selecting articles on the basis of whether you’ve been addressed as “Malini” or “Ma’am” in the covering letters.
I am also sick of this constant play of yours: to pitch one person against another for one week, and then reverse it in the next. One is also tired of your changing goalposts. The Sunday Anchor has to be reportage-driven, and then suddenly it becomes policy-driven, and then suddenly, depending on what you hear or get impressed with, it has to be made reportage-driven again.
I am a hardcore journalist and I came to journalism with a certain anger, with a certain cockiness. I have seen people dying in front of my eyes, their entrails in their hands. I have had guns pointed to my temple. Getting my blood pressure high in a conflict zone is a part of my life. But I do not like to get my blood pressure high while sitting in a cabin, waiting for a phone call from yours, of which I’ll not understand a word.
I have resigned with immediate effect. And that is what I have conveyed to the editor-in-chief.
This is not the first time though that editorial workings and decision-making at The Hindu have come under the scanner. Last year, the Chennai-based paper saw two high-profile exits, as journalists Praveen Swami and P Sainath quit. Swami had cited unpleasant working conditions as one of the reasons for leaving The Hindu for The Indian Express and said: “It began to feel like a little bit like working for Pol Pot…” Given the two rather public resignations at The Hindu, things don’t seem hunky dory at all.
We sent an email to Parthasarathy to get her version of the story but have not received a response as of yet. Our text message and repeated calls to her, too, went unanswered. The story will be updated as soon as we hear from her.
Meanwhile, Pandita’s gripe about the lack of editorial freedom raises some questions. First, what sort of freedom do opinion editors exercise, given that in the current scenario, almost all media organisations have “holy cows” that cannot be touched and lines that cannot be crossed?
Yamini Lohia, assistant editor, The Indian Express, who writes editorials and opinion pieces for the paper, said that most opinion page editors are expected to work under the broad parameters of news-worthiness and timeliness. “We have a meeting where we decide on what goes for the day but after that I am free to commission. There is not much interference really, only broad guidelines,” she says.
Lohia asserts that her experience on the opinion pages at The Mint, The Economic Times and, most recently, at The Indian Express, have been good with minimal interference, but many journalists would attest to the fact that they are expected to toe a certain line and some have faced serious consequences for not doing so. And, while, it may be too early to blame Parthasarathy for exits at The Hindu, her reluctance to set the record straight doesn’t help matters.