The Hindu, a Chennai based English and Tamil language daily newspaper, has asked its journalists, with immediate effect, to avoid sharing or commenting on the content of competing publications, and ensure “in our enthusiasm and urge to participate in an on-line discussion or debate, we do not end up doing a favour to the competition.”

This development was first reported by The News Minute. The email was sent out by Managing Editor P Jacob and Senior Managing Editor V Jayanth. The emailed circular also mentions that “highlighting material from The Hindu itself for wide dissemination and attention ought to be appreciated and encouraged,” and is applicable to people who identify themselves as a journalist with The Hindu, “or is known as a journalist of The Hindu”.

My Take

It’s a tricky situation for any publication, since its journalists, especially those who project themselves as journalists working with the publication, are its representatives. Personal opinions of journalists can have an impact on the public perception of a publication. As an example, Kanchan Gupta’s vitriolic comments on Twitter led to my having a fairly poor opinion of Niti Central, a publication he used to edit. People might have an adverse opinion of MediaNama if they have a low opinion of me, or disagree with what I say. This is natural and cannot be avoided. A comment from me criticizing another publication may be construed as a comment from MediaNama, even if that might not be the case. In that context, note that this is “My Take”, rather than “Our Take”. Separating the publication from the individual is difficult these days, and it’s something that we struggle with sometimes, but often don’t mind. But should this lead to a publication telling its journalists not to comment on other publications? For a publication to attempt to limit the freedom of speech of its journalists is ridiculous. Of course, it needs to be kept in mind that this is merely a “suggestion” (to avoid), rather than a diktat.

Over and above that, to ask them not to tweet links from other publications, so as not to do favors to others, is regressive. The Internet is built on sharing of information, and giving credit where it is due is core to Internet culture. What matters to readers is the content, and the trust they have in that content. You build trust by being open, and sharing and communicating. If the Hindu has to evolve, it has to imbibe this culture, and allow its journalists the freedom to do what they want. Linking out and giving credit to other publications, when it is due, is also the right step in that direction, but virtually every mainstream publication in India avoids doing that.

Else, there’s really very little stopping journalists from starting up, and what’s a publication without its journalists?