R Jagannathan on why he removed his article on Arun Jaitley and his new innings with Swarajya

Noted journalist and former Editor-in-Chief of all Network18 publications Raghavan Jagannathan, popularly known as Jaggi, has joined as Editorial Director of Swarajya magazine – the modern reboot of a magazine started by same name under the patronage of Chakravarti Rajagoplachari or Rajaji.

Swarajya magazine aims to be a ‘big tent’ of right liberal ideas and Jaggi’s association is being seen as an important step towards realizing that goal. He joined the independent media start-up on 1st December and some of his articles are already live on Swarajya magazine’s website.

Even as he settles in his new role, Jaggi took some time out to talk to OpIndia.com about his new innings at Swarajya magazine as well as about his past stint at Firstpost.com, where one of his articles critical of the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had mysteriously disappeared from the website.

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In his exclusive interview with OpIndia.com, Jaggi explained how and why it happened. The interview questions (in bold) and Jaggi’s answers follow:

First of all Congratulations for this new innings at Swarajya magazine and we wish you all the best. Doing a mainstream media, let’s begin by asking,“aapko kaisa lag raha hai?”

First, let me correct you. Today, digital is the mainstream, not print or TV, though they admittedly occupy a lot of mindspace and provide greater access to power.

And yes, to answer your question, mujhe bahut achcha lagta hai. I have always believed that digital is the best game in town, and getting an opportunity to play a role in Swarajya digital rejuvenates me. It is a different space from news media. I will be contributing to Swarajya Magazine, but my main focus is the digital space.

You have an impressive record as Editor of various big publications that includes names like Business Standard, Forbes, Moneycontrol, etc. You could have started another innings with another big media house, but you chose a start-up. What were your motivations?

Having been there done that, it is the size of the challenge that excites me, not the size of my organisation. Starting Firstpost was a challenge and my colleagues, especially Durga Raghunath and several of our lead writers, helped us create one of India’s first digital media brands in the news-cum-views space.

This might be too early to ask, but what will be your focus areas in Swarajya magazine? What do you think are the current strong and weak areas of Swarajya? If you could share a short SWOT analysis of the magazine?

As I said, my focus in on the digital space, which will be key to widening the reach of the print Swarajya brand and growth of its overall franchise. The general idea is to create an alternate voice for truly liberal views that draws from some of our core civilizational values without being hidebound.

Unlike the Lutyens media, we see no reason to be inimical to Indic (especially Hindu) values. In the area of economics, we want to champion market-oriented ideas. We want to provide a counter-point to the so-called Left-liberal consensus, which is essentially about cronyism in the name of the poor. Left is not left, and liberal is not liberal in India.

Many media analysts believe that magazine, in its physical form, is a dying business model. Swarajya has a print magazine offering, and it is a digital product as well. Do you see any need to rationalize this or both the products can co-exist?

Print can come back into its own provided it serves readers. Print appeals to a certain kind of reader, while digital appeals to another – though there are overlaps. We want to build an audience for our ideas, where we need both print and digital. The former will have greater acceptability with readers who are willing to buy subscriptions, as digital will be free in the foreseeable future.

Also, digital publications are still not seen as fully credible. But digital is where you get huge influence and wide reach in the smartphone age.

Your last stint as Firstpost’s Editor-in-Chief had some colorful share of controversies. First let’s talk about the not so controversial one, which is about the quality of some articles that were published. We at OpIndia.com too have attacked Firstpost on occasions for publishing articles without proper fact check or research, and we must admit that on couple of occasions when we brought them to your notice, those were corrected. But why and how did those get published in first place?

It may not be right for me to comment on this when I am not editor anymore, but I will say this: we did make mistakes, and we did try and correct most of them. When you are trying to do news and views in real time, decision-making often happens lower down in the newsroom and not at the top. In print, there is greater top-down control. The top level editors sometimes intervene to correct after something is published. I believe more training and more forceful corrections will improve the sense of responsibility with which web producers hit the publish button.

Do you think digital journalism has made journalists more particular about sticking to facts and figures, or those can still take backseat if one can come up with flowery language that is peppered with personal opinions and garnished with figures of speech?

Unlike print, which disappears from view quickly, and unlike TV, which is viewed and forgotten, digitally published stories have a near-permanent footprint and those who make mistakes or do deliberate distortions can easily be called out. Even if an editor has missed something, the social media and digital citizens can point out errors. This helps keep journalism closer to the truth, but there is also the other side of the coin: if you keep reacting to abusive comments on twitter, you cannot do justice to the truth. So digital has both pluses and minuses.

Firstpost published many articles that we can colloquially describe as typical “Adarsh Liberal” rants. Did you ever feel like putting a veto on those? How comfortable you were in allowing those to be published on a publication you were heading, when we assume that you must not be personally agreeing with the content or arguments, if they can be called so?

Firstpost was conceived as a platform for a variety of views. We broke the print media mould of all views being aligned with that of the editor or publisher. We ended the tyranny of monocultural views. By giving all kinds of contrarian views equal space, we have helped give real space to dissent.

Editors do not have to agree with all the views they print. The editor should not become a censor board.

Let’s now come to the major controversy at Firstpost. There have been charges of editorial interference by the management, which were leveled by the then Executive Editor Lakshmi Chaudhry who quit in July. Reports said that the management didn’t want Firstpost to publish negative news or opinions against BJP’s big three leaders. One of your articles critical of Jaitely was reportedly pulled down. Although we had undertaken a short analysis of this charge (no negative news about BJP’s big three) and we found that those can’t be confirmed, can we now hear from the horse’s mouth?

This is what happened: At one point, two senior representatives of the shareholders met me and said that some of my views were being interpreted as part of the shareholders’ agenda. The Jaitley article in particular, since it went under my byline, was being seen by the powers-that-be as instigated by the shareholder in order to pressure the government on some issues.

Since this was manifestly not the case, and the shareholder was being wrongly blamed for something they did not do, I thought I would compromise and pull my article down and instead put it on my personal blog.

This was something I had to discuss with the executive editor, and she did what she thought was right. However, not all journos I talked to felt I did right in removing my own article. I respect those views, but journalistic freedom is not all black and white. There are areas of grey.

Regarding freedom and interference, the fact is no editor in the country is totally free to write what he wants all the time. We do have to make judgment calls on when to compromise and when not to, especially in an era where politicians and businessmen own large chunks of media, and additionally also deliver lots of ad revenues. The only issue is whether the compromise is of a magnitude where it impacts your credibility.

Any comments on Arun Jaitley and his media relations?

I hear the Delhi media is favourably disposed towards him and I have no quarrel with that. But I do not believe he is the best finance minister currently available to the BJP.

To be fair, I must say he does articulate his views rather well. The problem is Jaitley does not have a capable bureaucratic team assisting him in finance – and this is a pity.

But I may be wrong. Who knows, he may yet produce a truly revolutionary budget in 2016. My regret is he wasted two budgets of the five he can potentially present.

People say that Network18 was bought by Ambani to control narrative and to influence politics. But why would Reliance need to do that as they were already supposed to be controlling media and politics (people claiming the former have been insisting on the latter too)? Do you think the takeover by Reliance was purely a business decision or it had some other aspect too?

I don’t believe ownership of Network18 is in Reliance’s interests at all for the simple reason that Reliance is too big to be invisible and it will be blamed for anything that the network does badly.

For example, if you do a business story on a Reliance competitor, some people will say that the shareholders put you up to it. On the other hand, if you want to actually take Reliance’s side on an issue – like gas pricing, for example – you will be seen as batting for your shareholder’s interests. So Reliance does not benefit either way.

Coming back to Swarajya, its motto says “Read India Right”. In a way, it has declared its ideological position, which is described as right liberal. Do you think other publications should also declare their ideological positions, or you think that some publications can indeed afford to be “neutral”? Having worked in various media organizations, do you think genuine “neutrality” on ideology exists in media; is it a practical thought?

Genuine neutrality does not exist, but collective neutrality exists.

This means while we all have biases, collectively we cancel out each other’s biases. If you read many sources of news and views, you will get a better picture of the truth than by reading only one publication.

Even news based on “facts” can be subtly biased, for the journalist can choose what to highlight. In TV we see this happening regularly. If your editor’s position is, say, anti-BJP, you can call the most inarticulate or incoherent voices from the BJP and make the party look bad.

So neutrality is not about balancing one voice with another, but trying to genuinely trying to get answers to questions.

I think it is a good idea for publications to declare their core ideological principles upfront instead of hiding behind the cloak of neutrality.

Do you believe in O’Sullivan’s law? The law argues that unless a media organization is avowedly right-leaning, it will start leaning on the left side over the time. This is because the left-leaning editors are more intolerant of differing views and slowly they take over the organization, silencing and booting out the right-leaning voices. Did you ever feel this law in action in Indian media? And could it be one reason that now you’ve joined an organization that can be argued as avowedly right-leaning?

Many editors boot out right-leaning views for the simple reason that they are part of the same crony system where politicians and businessmen dole out favours to crony journalists. The eco-system currently helps the corrupt by using the poor as frontman for its mindless statism and excess government role in economic activities.

We keep on hearing about building a “Right Ecosystem”. How would you define it? Do you think publications like Swarajya play in role in building such ecosystem? What else is needed to be done?

The reason why leftism dominates is because there is always a soft corner for the powerless, the poor. Also, it is easy for the left to paint the right as pro-rich, and in electoral democracies, the poor vote in larger numbers than the non-poor. The rich know this, which is why they too prefer leftist politicians, who can get the vote and then offer crony deals to the rich in the name of the poor.

Crony socialism is a problem, and part of the reason for large government spends and wastage. The right is unable to explain how the poor will benefit from a fairer capitalism and less state intervention in economic activity. This is one of the areas we can focus on in Swarajya.

Thanks a lot for taking time out for us, and best of luck again.

Welcome!

Editorial team of OpIndia.com

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