The Hindu is one of the most respected newspapers in India. For papers can stand comparison with it in terms of credibility; it is admittedly conservative and makes no bones about it. It does not sell editorial space, nor does it cater to sex as some dailies do. Yet it has its staunch readership.
If The Times of India has a ?readership? (which is different from circulation) of 7.4 million ?the largest in India, The Hindu emerges second among English dailies with 4.05 million readers, followed by Hindustan Times with 3.85 million readers.
But The Hindu is not without its critics, a point raised by the paper'sReaders? Editor, K.Narayanan (September 4, 2006) in his very revelatory column. In the first place The Hindu does not publish astrological forecasts as some dailies do. The Hindu had never done that. But astrological forecasts have their votaries, just as stock market prices have their. Narayanan writes a regular daily column in one of which he explained why the paper did not carry a column on astrological forecasts. He also carried the views on the subject of the editor-in-chief. But obviously their points of view were not acceptable to a certain section of readers.
And they wrote back in anger. Narayanan writes (September 4): ?I did not deride them (those who love astrological forecasts) nor question astrology or its practice. That these words could arouse passions and emotions and produce an avalanche of mail?some of them personal abuse?was a revelation.? It is difficult to believe that there are, among The Hindu'sreaders, many who would go to the extent of abusing the paper'sReaders? Editor, a person of high journalistic standing.
According to Narayanan, many of the letters he has been receiving are defamatory, ?not fit to print?. Newspapers ombudsmen are familiar with what is called ?campaign? or ?hate mail??as even as editor can tell. Editors take that in their stride. But Narayanan had other things to deal with, that he has been frank enough to admit. He writes: ?(Of the) large number of mails I get from different parts of the country, many of them (are) from old, long-time readers. The common thread in many of these messages is that The Hindu is partisan and prejudiced. Some of the points they make are: The paper has turned into an ideological document; there is disproportionate coverage to CPI(M) Politburo members wherever they speak; a mindset prejudiced against all right-wing people; obsession for Muslims and their welfare; an anti-American bias. The demand is made that the paper should represent ?both sides of the ideological coin so that the readers would decide the merits and demerits of the issue!?
While conceding the paper's?entitlement to have its own ideology, prejudices, biases? etc, it cannot have ?pretensions of adherence to core values?. Some readers had other grouses even more serious. One charge was that the space devoted to national news is inadequate. Another charge was that there was a preponderance of stories from The Guardian and The New York Times, in the Op-Ed pages, which could do with more writings on national issues. One reader who claimed to have been a Hindu reader for 55 years had this to say: ?More than two pages on Iraq, Lebanon etc, and nothing for Maharashtra, Orissa floods. You are averse to report on Kashmir, Nagaland etc. You readers will have no knowledge about matters happening in other parts of the country.? Many readers felt that except when there is a disaster or a political upheaval, states, especially those in the North-East, do not get attention in The Hindu. That, according to Narayanan is ?overstating a partly valid case?. As he put it: ?Regular newsletters from states on the Op-Ed page is one suggestion they (readers) make: they feel this can help avoid lopsidedness such as three articles on Lebanon on the Op-Ed page on one day. Or the attention that the Pathak Report on the Oil-for-Food scam and Jaswant Singh'sbook received when crores of people were reeling under floods in three major states which also had a devastating effect on the economy?.
Then there was another reader who wrote to say that The Hindu highlighted ?meaningless statements? of politicians like Natwar Singh and Jaswant Singh and published their large-size pictures on front page even while claiming that the paper was short of space. Another reader demanded, ?balanced reporting?, and how did he describe it? To him ?balanced reporting? meant (1) giving equal prominence to different viewpoints on the same page and the same day (2) publishing counterviews and rejoinders and (3) publishing what is newsworthy on a given day and not worrying too much about balance.
Narayanan met this criticism in his own style: He wrote: ?An article on the editorial or Op-Ed Page takes a particular view, or voices a strong opinion that is generally in tune with the paper'spolicy. Counter-views are accommodated in the ?Letters to the Editor? column. Where warranted, a rejoinder also gets space. ?Balance in reporting? cannot be in the literal sense; space is given to opposing views, but it need not be equal; nor need it be given the same prominence, ?same page, same day? (which) is neither feasible nor practical. Care is taken to see that generally both sides are presented and overall there is fair presentation. Accuracy, fairness, balance?readers set high standards. Fulfilling their expectations is the target for all the journalists in The Hindu. But with decisions being made every minute, every hour, every day, the achievement varies. It is impossible to be totally objective in this decision-making?…?
This is as straightforward and honest reply that can be expected from any Readers? Editor or Ombudsman. Newspapers have their own stands. Nobody forces a reader to buy any one newspaper. India is a democracy and one has access to a dozen newspapers that often give different points of view on the same subject. No newspaper can be completely ?objective? certainly not in the sense that some readers define objectivity. Credit should be given to The Hindu even for appointing an Ombudsman who openly presents readers? views in his regular daily column on Op-Ed page.
There is no such thing as an ?Ideal? paper. Sometimes a particular news-item does get more coverage than it deserves and one may call it ?hype?. But often it is not done deliberately.
Admittedly, more space was given to Jaswant Singh and his unfortunate reference to a ?mole??a word that he didn'tuse. How one wishes that every important national paper?and one can identify half a dozens of them?hired an Ombudsman to receive comments, assess them and give transparency to all editorial work! Congrats to The Hindu.