I am fighting Open Magazine legally at the labour court under The Working Journalist Act : Hartosh Singh Bal5 min read
Currently part of ‘The Caravan’, Hartosh Singh Bal fits right into the stereotype of what it means to be a political editor: eloquent, serious and well-read. However, all this does not mask the under bellying jovialness that he radiates.
Formerly holding the same title of a political editor at Open Magazine, from which he was fired, TMJ got an opportunity to pry deeper into this situation and hear how Bal chooses to stick by his right of freedom of expression, even if it means receiving flak for not being Modi’s number one fan.
Freedom is a very subjective term and can mean different things personally and in the context of journalism. What does freedom mean to you in the perspective of journalism?
When I say “absolute” freedom in the context of the press, then I am not talking in subjective terms. Theoretically there should be no bars on what a journalist can write about. Whatever restrictions exist in terms of subject or language should be voluntarily done by the organisation or an individual journalist and not legally imposed by a Government or any other external body.
In your interview with News Laundry you had mentioned the “openness of the Open magazine.” Can you elaborate on this?
The idea of the Open magazine was to accept contradicting opinions and that’s why what happened at the end came off as a surprise as it went against the basic mandate of how we had worked with the organisation.
“I have nothing to fear as long as I am doing the right thing journalistically I will challenge it legally” this is something you had said to the Wall Street Journal. What in your opinion is “journalistically right”?
Open magazine would have had the right to fire me if I made journalistic mistakes, cut journalistic corners or written something that was not journalistically defendable in terms on integrity or sourcing, but they made no such charge against me. As a journalist I had done nothing wrong. If my opinion or views are against the owner’s commercial interest that does not make me journalistically wrong.
I am fighting them legally at the labour court under the working journalist act.
You mentioned that Sanjiv Goenka had offered you a generous severance pay to leave open Magazine quietly and you did not accept that. Is that why the whole situation blew out of proportion?
A settlement of 20 lakhs was offered to me by the organisation. There was a lot of interaction between me and them. I had told them that I had got a full time at DNA and I would be paid a certain amount of money for a three year contract. I asked them to begin discussion with me only if they were ready to give me the money that would make sense to compensate the loss they would be causing me. I knew they would not raise the pay. This engagement with them lasted for almost a month and that was the only way I got to know what their intention was. Otherwise none of this would have been news today it would have just been another journalist leaving a job. They also wanted me to sign a non disclosure agreement which I refused.
You are a very opinionated writer, so how do you think your readers accept your writing?
I recently wrote reportage on the 1984 scenario that hardly had any of my opinions in them. But I do write opinionated pieces and they are argued through and backed with what I think are the facts that uphold those opinions. The reason people read what I write is obviously because my pieces are taken seriously. That credibility is built as a compact between the writer and the reader over a period of time.
You have seen the peak of print journalism as well as the current new media or the online journalism. What are your thoughts on print vs. online journalism?
We are in the transition stage at the moment. There are similarities between the two, like writing is at the heart of both print and online journalism unlike television. Writing lies at the base on online journalism despite the audio or video.
The problem I see with online journalism is that people think that anybody can walk in and write whatever they want; unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. Initially they might get readers and followers but if they continue writing baseless opinions they will understand the fall in the readership. Eventually almost the same protocol goes for both print and online, in terms of credibility, plausibility of the opinion and backed by solid evidence. There are certain tests to be passed even for online journalism.
Through your various articles I have figured that you are not a Modi supporter. The India Facts website once said that some journalist write against Modi just to keep their offices open. What is your standpoint to this statement?
I personally have a loathing position towards the ideology Modi holds. The pieces I wrote on the Congress government gives the Congress hardly any reason to like what I wrote and the same goes with Modi.
To me journalism is primarily the interrogation of the exercise of power. The concept of questioning power holds true for me whether it is Aam Aadmi party, the Congress or the BJP. If it means keeping yourself relevant by criticising the power and in turn if people are reading your pieces it shows that there must be a readership out there which are responding to some of the issues that have been raised. If there are problems with the Government it should be examined and if there are ideological issues they should be questioned.
Edited by Nadia Lewis