Years ago, when the then Harvard President lost his job for suggesting that the under-representation of women in science and engineering could be due to innate differences, the psychologist Steven Pinker said, “Good grief, shouldn’t everything be within the pale of legitimate academic discourse, as long as it is presented with some degree of rigor? That’s the difference between a university and a madrassa.” Any rigorously defended statement should be within the pale of acceptable discourse. It does not matter whether the university is private or public. This should be true of newspapers and magazines too, because it is reasonable to expect that the difference between a media house and a madrassa is not merely a matter of appearance.
On Twitter, many are arguing that Sanjeev Goenka was within his rights to terminate the service of Hartosh Singh Bal—that there is nothing wrong in a proprietor sacking an editor. Fair enough. An employer is not violating the rights of an employee when he fires him. But, that does not mean that firing someone in the intellectual professions for telling the truth is ethically defensible. People are idiots. They are missing many important truths.
1) When a proprietor fires a journalist for morally indefensible reasons, it is an ethical compromise, even if it is true that he is within his rights to do so. We look down on the people who are ruled by their egos and insecurities. We look down on people who are more interested in money, power and positions than the truth, rightly so. Even if it is true that the proprietor has the right to do whatever he likes to do with his resources, people are fully within their rights to condemn such behavior.
2) Politicians do not have the right to use the stick-and-carrot to control private businesses. Face it. Politicians do not produce anything. At best, they annoy people. They have no moral right to exert pressure on private businessmen. I am not an admirer of democracy, and think of it as a barbaric system. But, how does someone who does not even produce, someone who has nothing to trade have a right to stop the people who do? Whenever this sort of a thing happens, journalists are eager to damn the “corporate media”. They are not thinking enough. Of course, there is a lot of blame to go around, but the primary blame should be placed squarely on the politicians and bureaucrats who pressurize businessmen, and the voters who allow them to get away with it. If a proprietor has done everything to make the transition easy, he deserves understanding and not condemnation.
3) The journalist who lost his job has the right to pressurize and humiliate the employer in every non-violent manner possible. The employee has the right to air the truth, and spread the information as widely as possible. If people genuinely care for the truth, what they should do is to facilitate this process. Tweet. Retweet. Blog about this. Many things could be done to ensure that the stigma attached to such acts is tremendous, so that the temptation of money, power and positions pale in comparison. Instead of hiding behind the contemptible, cowardly excuse that someone is airing dirty laundry, make public heroes out of the people who do this. The truth is that no one likes being made a laughing stock. Khushwant Singh once said, “When you make somebody a laughing stock, you kill him.” If they fully know the consequences, they would think thrice before taking such a decision.
I will draw an analogy. According to her parents, when Aarushi Talwar was murdered, journalists used to threaten them saying that they will write against them if they do not co-operate. I believe this. I will be very surprised if they do not do that sort of a thing. I will agree that journalists are within their rights to write whatever they wish to write. Her parents are within their rights to talk, or not to talk. Do you think that this make it morally defensible? Manu Joseph once wrote in his column that “Delhi is full of large mysterious houses where someone is murdered in one room as others sleep through it.” Is such passive aggression morally defensible? The reason, I suspect is that the journalists wanted to fuel class warfare. Her parents are probably right in saying that they did not murder their daughter. When confronted with this awkward fact, to save their agenda, what journalists could do was to claim that they were lying. Little people.
PS: I do not find all this surprising. This is the norm. I used to freelance for Manu Joseph’s pauperized Magazine when I was working with a career Magazine owned by Outlook’s ex-publisher Maheshwer Peri. This gentleman leaked my draft, cut my favorite passages, drove me out of my job, and prodded his friends to tempt me with unethical job offers. When I left the job, the publisher’s wife took my tax money. One day, I saw Manu Joseph saying in an interview with Madhu Trehan, with a violence inappropriate for the dialogue that he is not really impressed by the people who rant about the writers they admire, the economists they follow, and the ideologies they believe in. When I later joined the Business Standard, the HR person said that they “do not need my Income tax details”, without looking at my face. 😛