Hafta letters: Sex education, why news outlets should be centrist, anonymising data
NL Dhulai

Hafta letters: Sex education, why news outlets should be centrist, anonymising data

NL subscribers get back with bouquets and brickbats!

By NL Team

Published on :

It was interesting to hear observations from Manisha (specifically, but others too) about having laws in place to curb fake news.

While I empathise with that, is it not limiting the idea of free speech? (In effect, creating another "sedition law", also considering our country's history of not trashing outdated laws which are stupid.)

Fake news is a terrible thing and more so when it is communal and medical in nature. That said, Arnab, in spite of being the greatest propagandist seen on TV, has the right to say whatever he said. Even if we think it is lie or communal in nature, unless proved a crime.

That's because if censoring happens, depending on whether something has to be said or not, depending on whether it is acceptable truth to us, inciting violence, and so on, the questions are:

1. Who decides what is "inciting content"? Today, if I say Modi is liar, there will be violence (not fake news) . If I say Ramayana is a story and not history, there is violence (no absolute truth or proof here). It's my truth. And if I have channel, I want to say it, even if 90 percent of India says it's fake propaganda to hurt Hinduism.

2. Are we ready to a phase where a journalist is forced to give up sources? Because it is very much possible to force any of you to do that, just by saying you don't have any proof or your proof is invalid.


Krishna Teja Surapaneni


Hi guys,

Just a couple of technical points with respect to app-based contact tracing.

There can be ways to anonymise data that the app uploads. Once someone shows up as covid-positive that person could be asked to explicitly deanonymise their data.

But then a government official can "claim" that's what they are doing. In my opinion, the only way to ensure that bit of trust is by open-sourcing the app code and publishing app releases with signatures. There are enough people around to check the claims and verify if the app on the app store matches with a publicly published app as built from a given version of source code.

(Snark: you guys didn't open-source your app while it sucked, despite your subscribers saying that they'd be happy to fix crashes here and there — including me in a couple of Facebook complaint posts. Can we expect the government to be so good then :-/ ?)

All that for tech side of things, but there is also the point that Mehraj almost said: During lockdown, fomites — contact surfaces — are a bigger risk vector. Nearness detection with covid-positive doesn't help much for that. Also, do we keep our phones while going for groceries? I do to make online payments, and only when x-baskets fail me. Not sure of general behaviour though.

Vikas Saurabh


Dear NL team,

I am Aditya Chauhan from Jamshedpur. I have been a long time admirer of Newslaundry and have successfully convinced three of my friends to subscribe to you guys. Thank you for the fantastic work you guys do at NL.

I wanted to ask about your opinion on centrism in journalism. This whole idea of neutrality and unbiasedness. Personally, I think centrists are really dumb and annoying because they resort to acts of monkey-balancing and draw false equivalences, especially when that happens in journalism (for example, Shekhar Gupta, sometimes Rajdeep, etc).

What is your take on this? And what would you say to those who speak of anyone who criticises or questions the government as being negative? Yeh "itna negative kyun" wala kya scene hai in the context of journalism?

Take care, stay safe, really, really love you guys!

Aditya Chauhan


Hi Abhinandan,

I subscribed to NL just days ago, and I have watched almost 50 NL Hafta episodes in the last week. It's just so good. Manisha is perfect!! Perhaps too centrist for my Left-leaning mentalities, but she's a goddess.

With that out of the way, I want to talk about the abysmal reportage and outrage over #BoysLockerRoom. I, like anyone with a rational mind, was disgusted by the texts and the screenshots, but I could not understand why the outrageous Twitterati believes that they can change the mentality of these guys by shaming them. We are the country of "Ulti Buddhi", and you cannot change people overnight. Such groups exist in all high schools and colleges, and I do not see how the outrage would help in addressing the core issue.

Sex education, which was thrown around a lot, is clearly no solution, as millions of children are out of reach of formal education, or survive in government-run schools with teachers who are unwilling to even take up languages. Also, what kind of sex education would you provide to a Class 7 child sitting in Kota, grinding away for JEE-NEET? Would you make it incumbent on coaching classes to take up sex ed? Finally, what went wrong in their case? Perhaps nothing to do with sex ed, but basic morality.

The whole problem with the debate is the inability to identify the correct issue, which in my opinion, is the idea of the PRIVACY OF THE GROUP, a.k.a online mobs. Earlier (in pre-social media days), privacy was accorded to an individual or a couple. Nowadays, groups of people with similar, often disgusting, mentalities demand and get privacy out of these apps, and can conglomerate around an idea which might be despicable and ruinous.

The misogynistic, rape-normalising and objectification-centric mindset has been there forever; it is the advent of "private groups" that has added to the problems. And what is true for Facebook and Instagram is also true for WhatsApp groups, which are the origins of mobs and rumours.

But nobody would talk about this. If the Twitterati wishes to confront private groups like "boys locker room" and demand privacy at the same time, they cannot expect to achieve anything. In a world of private groups, the only way to combat hate-mongering is if you let Zucc-a-buck indulge in censorship or the government read your texts. The only solution to this problem that does not compromise on privacy is to do away with private groups and group chat features on social media platforms. This will dramatically decrease the pace of spreading information/misinformation or mass bigotry of any kind. I have attached the screenshot of some posts from one of these groups, just to show their vile nature (read them at your discretion).

I know it sounds like a Luddite treatise, but I would like to hear whether there are better solutions to the myriad problems of a more connected world.


Vastav Ratra


So I have been a long-time subscriber but always through dad's credit card or elder brother's account. I recently got my first salary working as a clinician, and the first thing I did was get a Newslaundry subscription (even before buying a gift for mum). We don't have a lot of outlets or platforms left where news is neutral. Newslaundry might very well turn out to be the shining North Star. *fingers crossed*

My question is: How do people like me stop people like Arnab and the rest of the anchors, who have forgotten the ethics taught in journalism universities? Maybe it's my training speaking, but this one-sided, no-facts based journalism is cancer. It's growing and slowly compromising the functions of the surrounding organs.

How do I convince people to not tune in into him every evening? How do I tell them that his articulation is just a facade to hide the shallowness of his ideas?

I had a balcony view to the whole Shaheen Bagh protest... It was a pleasure to see "godi" media being escorted away.

Also, don't you have a responsibility? A responsibility to create a collective against the slaughter of your profession. I mean, you do realise that sooner or later, the general population is going to club all journalists under the same umbrella.

Regardless, please don't stop.



Hello NL team,

I am Siddhesh, a subscriber for a few years now. I have been a big fan of your work and have been trying to persuade many of my friends and relatives to start supporting smaller/independent media houses as i am very much onboard with the model.

I have a few suggestions though.

First of all, NL vs NL. If we are to say this is to reclaim the debate from usual shouting, then it should be made free or at least a "freemium" category podcast, so we can share those out to more people to persuade them to pay and subscribe if they like the format.

I am someone whom an AAPtard calls a bhakt or sanghi, and whom a bhakt would call a liberandu, as I always give them a counter-argument. But for any news organisation, I do not agree with Abhinandan's "monkey-balancing should not be done" position in general. An individual can voice out extreme opinions in public or private debates but especially for a news outlet, it is important to sound centrist, especially if they want to be considered a reasonable and reliable source of info/opinion and increase their support base. If they do not even try to do that, then people end up ignoring the important issues these institutions are highlighting.

For any bhakt, it is easy to ridicule the Wire, Scroll, or even Newslaundry at times, as they have been too liberal in their opinions. On the other hand, a Swarajya is equally easy to be ridiculed by many of my so-called liberal friends, just because it is other side of spectrum.

The same feedback is for Hafta. At times, it is too single-sided and since Anand Ranga left, Anand Vardhan is the only one left to fill the vacant space. For me, you still miss a regular Right lunatic in Anand Ranga to counter the too-Left lunatic in Mehraj on many issues. Manisha P is my favourite but surely she is too centrist to counter too Left voices in general. Big fan though :-)

Regarding the Covid-19 coverage, I really do not understand the conviction with which I heard claims in Hafta that extreme testing is the only solution for Covid-19, and the ease at which people like Mehraj brushed aside the need for apps. The problem is that we are too busy discussing too many privileged issues like data security, when a less than common man in India would any day trade his/her private data or consumption patterns for the certainty of food, shelter, healthcare and social security.

Cities like Singapore, which were first to react since China declared the closure of Wuhan, are still grappling with huge numbers in the community, despite carrying out a good amount of tests daily and having their own tracing app (which is not mandatory, by the way). That is where I see that there is no one silver bullet to solve these problems, and I very much agree with Madhu that we need such apps in place for few years till we figure out the vaccine. And then, people are free to uninstall it.

It need not even be one app, but each state or municipality can have separate versions which just are able to communicate with each other to decentralise things. The more solutions there are, the better it would be to push further, given the size of our country.

These are the times for smaller communities to take control of issues around them. Empower municipalities to work on these tech solutions so they take care of their citizens better. A central minister is not going to solve these problems of rationing in Tier-2 cities. This must be the line of thought while carrying out many news reports, to highlight solutions implemented locally.

Any government need not even make app mandatory but just provide quicker access to those with apps, so people can quickly move out and get things done. If one has the app on them and is not a suspected individual, make his life easy to move around. It is all about ease of use with these apps and if people find it easy to trace and help to flatten the curve, that's all world needs right now, in addition to testing suspects only.

By the way, I have not seen any of those proponents of massive testing (just because Korea/the US/Taiwan did it...duhh...they had infra to support, we can't build that overnight) analyse how many we will need for extensive testing they desire. That is just a blind opposition in my opinion. I am sure we do not even have enough kits to keep on going, so we have to go around till those issues are solved. That is a given!

Anyway, I hope this Covid-19 gives you more subscribers, and may you have a more efficient model with lower working space to pay rent but improved quality of content. Keep up the good work! Cheers!

Siddhesh Hirlekar


Hi guys,

As always, stellar work, and keep it up. I have no buyer's remorse.

I am forced to watch TV these days so I have newfound respect for you. It’s just so difficult to sit through these shit-shows.

One thing that really stood out to me is the fact that everyone treats migrants as outsiders. If the guy has come in from Bihar , he is a Bihari first and then an Indian. This is deplorable in my view and we should be treating them as Indian first and the state shouldn’t matter.

The way I look at it is if I had an account in the Mumbai branch of a bank, am I expected to go back to the same bank to withdraw? And I see everyone seeing this as an issue that is insurmountable to fix. I see it pure and simple: that we are finding excuses not to help fellow Indian citizens in their time of need, and using frivolous excuses like state borders to mask the bigotry. And this in the days of hyper nationalism, how ironic.

If I am being a bit namby-pamby and overreacting, ignore, but I thought we are overlooking something and should be called out.

Yuri Roy


Hi Abhinandan,

I have been a freeloader for a while and a subscriber for past few months. Kudos to the team for maintaining the quantity and quality of journalism in the current situation.

I listened to Hafta 274 last night and liked the discussion you had on the Aarogya Setu app. All the questions and concerns you all raised are valid and we should definitely scrutinise the government decision of making the app mandatory. Unfortunately, I feel that government has not done a good job at communicating how the app works, what data it collects and stores, and what are the security measures taken to keep the data safe. Also, what privacy rights the users have over their data. It would have been better if the government had simplified and communicated these aspects, rather than creating the Bodyguard ad/informercial you discussed in the Awful and Awesome Entertainment Wrap Ep 159.

To solve this issue, I have put together a small deck (see here) which tries to represent a typical use case and how the app will help in early detection and containment of Covid-19. The document is based on the privacy policy of the app which is actually quite concise and easy to understand. I had been sceptical about using the app for a while, but installed it after going through the privacy policy and this Scroll article which has a transcript of the interview with a person who worked on the app as well as a privacy advocate.

It is unfortunate that the government's past (and current) actions have significantly eroded the public's trust in them to handle their data in a secure manner and not breach people's privacy to turn it into a surveillance tool. However, I feel people assume bad intent at the get-go without actually diving into data/facts to understand how the app works and then raise concerns, if any. Otherwise, it just comes across as speculations and dissing for the sake of it, instead of having factual points to debate on.

The speculations and fear-mongering will also reduce the adoption of the app which will ultimately sabotage the effectiveness of it in targeted testing, early detection, and containment. This is same as communities not being able to trust healthcare workers to cooperate in testing and isolation.

I also understand that this solution is limited to the population which owns smartphones but nonetheless, it will be useful in cities which have higher smartphone proliferation and are more prone to outbreaks due to population density. Where I live currently, Chennai, we have municipal workers visiting us everyday to check if we are doing well. These efforts can help in early detection for people who do not have access to smartphones. It has to be a multi-pronged approach. We cannot discard a tech solution just because it is not accessible to everyone.

I hope your team (which is far more competent than me at this) does a deeper analysis of the app to create a report explaining the security and privacy aspects of the app along with raising pointed concerns with potential solutions.

Manas Karambelkar


Hi NL team,

I'm a long-time subscriber, over three years now. I also recently contributed to the NL Sena project on the Central Vista project. You guys do a great job and my latest favourite is Mehraj.

I have two questions:

1) Why does business reporting in India mostly revolve around the billions invested and not on the jobs created? How many jobs has Jio created? By reducing competition, it can be argued that Jio actually destroyed jobs and wealth. Maybe this is a question that can be answered by merely reading Jio's regulatory filings?

2) Can someone please do a review of the books in Mukesh bhai's study. Some of the books about art and self-help would help us understand the man better. That is, of course, assuming he's actually read them. *evil smile*

My two cents: I'm a big fan of differential pricing for NL podcasts alone. I would gladly gift the Awful and Awesome subscription to my friends and allow them to discover NL.

Sree Harsha