I had promised in my earlier columns, “Queries, complaints and allegations'' (November 2) and “Universal values and partisan interests” (November 16) that I will write about the advertising policy of this newspaper. A section of social media carried out a vicious campaign against this newspaper for the publication of a full-page advertisement on behalf of the People’s Republic of China, celebrating its National Day on October 1. Another section hauled the newspaper over the coals for carrying an advertisement on December 13 in the Delhi edition, from a trust seeking donations for building a temple at Ayodhya. Samina Yasmin, an academic from Jaipur, felt that the advertisement shook the secular foundations of the country. She objected to the title of the advertisement that read, “Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir: Reestablishment of national self-respect”.
Her question was, “Is it in accordance with the editorial policy of The Hindu to carry an advertisement which states that building a temple at the site in Ayodhya, where Babri Masjid stood, will re-establish national self-respect?” Guiding principles Though my remit is to address editorial refractions if they happen, I decided to ask the management about this particular issue because there was an attempt to conflate the editorial policy of the newspaper with its business policy. Readers are familiar with the editorial policy of the newspaper, ‘Living our values’. But there is a similar value system that governs the business arm of the newspaper as well.
The code of business values is also titled ‘Living our values’ and it has eight governing principles: honesty and integrity, respect, humility, excellence, consumer focus, transparency and fairness, neither favor nor discrimination, and finally, commitment to social good. If journalism is about maintaining a fair balance between what is in the public interest and what the public is interested in, the ethical business practice for a news organization in its pursuit of a sustainable revenue model is to refrain from interfering with editorial practices. The code of editorial values has an additional directive that clarifies the scope for each of the participating arms in the business of news. It reads, “There is no wall but there is a firm line between the business operations of the company and editorial operations and content.
Pursuant to the abovementioned values and objectives, it is necessary to create professionalism in the editorial functioning independent of shareholder interference so as to maintain impartiality, fairness, and objectivity in editorial and journalistic functioning.” A rational view The advertising team is guided by a triad: the laws governing the sector, the code adopted by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), and the inhouse code of ‘Living our values’. It is important to understand the context for evaluating the two advertisements that have become contentious. First, let us examine the advertisement regarding the National Day celebrations of the People’s Republic of China on October 1. It was clearly marked as an advertisement. It was from a neighboring nation-state, with whom India has excellent diplomatic relations. Both countries are represented by full-fledged ambassadors. There have been a number of summit-level interactions between the heads of the two governments over the last seven years.
Can we use the Galwan Valley exchanges, where the Prime Minister himself is yet to name the aggressor, to deny advertising space to an embassy to celebrate its foundation day? China accounted for over 5% of India’s total exports in the financial year 201920 and more than 14% of imports. According to Invest India, an agency under the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry, India’s imports from China jumped 45 times since 2000 to reach over $70 billion in 2018 19. Is it ethical to be oblivious to these factors? I would have felt violated if the newspaper had carried an advertisement from apartheidera South Africa.
In the case of the advertisement for the Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra seeking donations for its proposed temple construction, we have to keep in mind that this trust was created by the Government of India based on a ruling by the Supreme Court. The newspaper’s views on the Babri MasjidRam Janmabhoomi controversy as well as its reservation about the Supreme Court’s ruling have been well documented in the editorial pages. In its deep commitment to the plural traditions of India, can a newspaper deny advertising space to a trust that came into being because of an apex court ruling?
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