Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Rising intolerance: Onus on media to play a responsible role

Tolerance and intolerance. Two words we are getting to read often nowadays in newspapers in India. So what really has happened to sobriety? Filmmakers, artistes, writers and scientists have returned their national awards to protest “growing intolerance in the country”. Their contention: the government is stifling freedom of expression. The return of the awards and all the talk about intolerance comes at the head of a series of occurrences – Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi being killed, Perumal Muragan having to quit writing altogether, a fatwa issued by a Mumbai-based outfit against A.R. Rahman for scoring music for an Iranian film, a warning issued to actor Rajnikanth for accepting the role of Tipu Sultan, and a bomb attack on the office of Tamil TV channel Puthiya Thalaimurai.

The happenings prompted Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi to say that intolerance is on the rise and there is a "dialogue deficit" between the government and its people. They have also prompted Moody’s (one of the world’s Big Three credit rating agencies) to state that the Indian Government needs to rein in elements that are out to intimidate media and society. And none other than President Pranab Mukherjee appealed to people to preserve India's multiplicity and pluralistic character. Overall, there seems to be a sense of fear, for all those who wish to voice opinion, as journalists, bloggers, tweeters, and those who are active on Facebook or on WhatsApp.

As I was writing this, I received a long, forwarded message on WhatsApp with the opening sentence reading: “this is a very important message if you care about the unity, peace and progress of India”. I was asked to forward it in turn to “every Indian so that the evil face of media is exposed”. “Our media is wolf in sheep's clothes”, the framer of the message seemed convinced. While listing out some of the connections and relationships journalists had with politicians as well as the presence of some cozy clubs, the thrust of the message was: why is the media 'manufacturing' these stories of so-called intolerance. The English language press and English TV channels were continuously “harping about things like 'rising intolerance' and making a big issue of some isolated incidents...”, mainly to scare away potential foreign investors when on the ground common people were leading normal lives, the message read.

Today, the onus is on publishers, editors and journalists, perhaps more than ever before, to adhere to the principles of honesty and truth-telling, to be accurate and fair and balanced and, most importantly, to be sensitive to the pressures of the times. It’s a time also for reflection and to make an honest judgment. 
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Well, it’s a tough time for journalists everywhere. UNESCO convened events in Paris, London, New York and elsewhere on 2nd November to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. In the past decade, 700 journalists have been killed for reporting the news: one death every five days. In nine out of ten cases, the killers go unpunished. Less than one in ten cases involving the killing of journalists is ever resolved. It is almost as if there is near complete impunity for the perpetrators of crimes against journalists. Governments, civil society, the media and everyone concerned to uphold the rule of law are being asked by UNESCO to join in the global efforts to end such impunity.


Yet, as we all know, the challenge remains steep. In India, four journalists were killed this year in separate incidents. In 2013, eleven journalists were killed, putting India then at third position (after Syria, Philippines / Iraq) in the International Press Institute’s list, worse than Pakistan which was once billed as the most dangerous country for journalists. According to Reporters  Without Borders, India today ranks  138 out of 180 countries when it comes to freedom of media and the safety of journalists. What is it that makes journalists so vulnerable? Obviously, the courage to speak out against the corrupt in the establishment. Of course, journalists must continue to be brave and tell the truth no matter what it takes. That’s the hallmark of good journalism, of credibility, its raison d'ĂȘtre. There also needs to be greater unity among journalists. Sadly, the profession has lost some of the respect it had years ago. It is now time to work hard and recover what we have lost. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Newspapers still the most reliable, continue to attract younger audiences

The findings of the 15th edition of a data-heavy Newspaper of Association of America report (Circulation Facts and Figures) released recently may be interesting to publishers and editors in India. Rick Edmonds, writing for poynter.org (The Poynter Institute), says that among 175 papers responding to a Newspaper Association of America (NAA) Survey, the median ‘bottom-line contribution’ of circulation had risen from 42.6 per cent in 2011 to 56.1 per cent in 2014. He quotes John Murray, NAA’s vice-president of audience development and author of the report saying that the significance of that improvement should not be underestimated. “I think we haven’t told the story very well of how the industry has managed to stay profitable after five to seven years of declining ad revenue,” Murray told Edmonds.

Typically, Murray found the median rate for a one-week seven-day subscription rose from $3.66 in 2008 to $4.50 in 2011 to $5.74 in 2014. That is a 64 per cent increase over the six years. Edmonds mentions that three quarters of the papers now also charge non-subscribers for digital access and that typically the higher-priced print subscription is bundled with digital access. Nearly 60 per cent of ‘paid starts’ in 2014 were for this combination, he writes.

If that’s about the commercial side of running a newspaper, I found encouraging news relating to the editorial side from an article written by Brian Tierney for philly.com (The Inquirer/ Daily News). The skyrocketing audience of newspaper content on all platforms, he writes, is evidence that journalism still touches an important chord in society today. In reality, more Americans read newspaper content today than ever before, he adds. Some 88 per cent of adults - that's 176 million Americans - consume newspaper media on digital platforms, according to recent comScore research. “And despite popular myths (must be indeed heart-warming for publishers and editors of newspapers), comScore shows that newspapers continue to attract younger and younger audiences: 92 per cent of women and 87 per cent of men ages 25 to 34 read newspaper content, with similar numbers in the 18 to 24 age group.”

It's easy to see why, Tierney points out. “In a world of information overload, newspaper content remains the reliable shortcut to news that is actually accurate and interesting. Some 59 per cent of Americans trust newspaper content, compared with the 37 per cent who trust information on social media. This trust allows journalists to shine the spotlight on matters that require our attention, wherever they find them. It allows newspapers to carefully cover issues of local importance, from government to sports to the newest restaurant. And it is that trust, earned over years of shining the spotlight on such issues, which allows investigative reporters to be taken seriously and gives newspapers the power to confront corruption - even in law enforcement.” So, clearly, newspapers have quite a bit going for them.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Nothing quite matches the ‘spellbinding’ power of a newspaper

Have you ever heard of an alphabet being the focus on the front page of a newspaper? Well, if you haven’t, here’s a story that might interest you – it’s all about how The Alphabet Project transformed a newspaper’s front page. Catherine Payne’s article on the Newspaper Association of North America website caught my attention. She writes about how one letter dominated the front page of the Sentinel & Enterprise, a community newspaper in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, Monday to Saturday, July 13 to August 11 this year. The project, supported by a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town Grant and commissioned by the Fitchburg Art Museum, was led by New Orleans-based artist Anna Schuleit Haber. Payne says Haber invited 26 typographers from different countries to contribute an original letter to the project. Each letter inspired not only a day's front-page design but also content – amounting to 103 written pieces. Haber worked with contributors and interns, says Payne. The interns, including high school and college students, helped with writing, editing, research, communications and logistics. Sentinel & Enterprise editor Charles St Amand summed it up well when he said the project had brought energy to the newsroom. But what a wonderful achievement – getting the young interested in contributing to a newspaper. In Payne’s words, the project showed how spellbinding print media can be. If you are interested in ordering for a collector’s set of 26 issues (each for one alphabet), you can log on to fitchburgalphabet.wordpress.com where the details will be up soon.

Another interesting piece I read – by Aralynn McMane, executive director, Youth Engagement and New Literacy, WAN-IFRA – mentions a former prisoner, Chandra Bozelko, writing in an essay (that appeared in Quartz, the online news outlet of Atlantic Media) how she found newspapers better than books for herself as well as for women with low reading skills. McMane quotes Bozelko: "Better than any book, newspapers were lifesavers that pulled me closer to shore because each new edition marked a new day, an invitation to rejoin a world that kept moving while I was inside." Well, such is the power of the newspaper. So, how can newspapers ever die?


It is perhaps just a coincidence, but a pointer nevertheless, that at the World Printers Forum Conference in October, in Hamburg, keynote speaker Hermann Petz, CEO of the Austrian newspaper Tiroler Tageszeitung, will be making a strong case for the power of print. Petz, according to a WAN-IFRA release, is on a bold mission to put an end to today’s endless bashing of newspapers. ‘The newspaper is dead? Long live the newspaper!’ is the title of Petz’s recently published book, written on the occasion of the Tiroler Tageszeitung’s 70th anniversary. The title pretty much sums up the sentiment and I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually all talk about the death of the newspaper will cease.

Too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing

In India, the recent horrific deaths of Jogendra Singh (in Uttar Pradesh), and Sandeep Kothari and Akshay Singh (Madhya Pradesh) are only reflective of how unsafe the country has become for journalists who dare. Jogendra Singh, in a declaration made before a judicial officer shortly before he died, identified his assailants and charged they had carried out the attack on behalf of a local government minister. Clearly, investigative journalism is a risky venture these days and if your work antagonises people (those in power) within and outside government, then you are in dangerous territory. Yes, too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing for journalists.

Trends in Newsrooms 2015, the annual report published by the World Editors Forum, lists ‘source protection erosion’ as the rising threat to investigative journalism. It used to be possible to promise confidentiality to sources – guaranteeing the protection of their identities, even on pain of jail – in countries where legal source protection frameworks were robust. But these protections are being undercut by government    surveillance and data retention policies, and it may no longer be ethically possible to promise confidentiality. These developments have an enormous impact on investigative journalism and are giving rise to increasing attention to risk assessment, self-protection and source education, says the report. 

It was quite by coincidence that I chanced upon a report in the PressGazette, UK, stating that parents in the UK would rather their daughter marry a banker, marketer or teacher than a journalist. The article by William Turvill refers to a Yougov Survey which found that 3 per cent of 1756 UK adults would like their prospective son-in-law to be a journalist. Women journalists (as prospective daughters-in-law) fared slightly better, with a 4 per cent score. However, the rankings fell way short of other professions. The most popular son-in-law profession was doctor (38 per cent), followed by lawyer (24 per cent) and architect (23 per cent). Even teacher (15 per cent), entrepreneur (11 per cent), banker, musician (both 6 per cent), and nurse, soldier, athlete (all 5 per cent) ranked higher. Doctor was also the most popular choice of profession for daughters-in-law (35 per cent), followed by teacher (26 per cent), lawyer (24 per cent), nurse (16 per cent) and architect (14 per cent). So, is there a story here? Is it because journalists are losing jobs and are considered rolling stones, because journalism has become dangerous, or because people are slowly losing trust in the media? Perhaps it’s a combination of all this and more. 

Trust. Which brings me to the BBC’s annual review. The report shows that BBC News has “yet to fully recover from the scandals of 2012 in terms of perceptions of trust from the public… Audiences continued to rate BBC News much more highly than other news providers, although perceptions of trust in BBC News have not returned to the record levels of 2012.” BBC still scored with 53 per cent for “impartiality of news”. 

Overall, the situation is rather grim. It’s a trying time for journalists worldwide. Apart from the daily pressures of the job, you now have to contend with danger at every corner. And when your job is to expose, without bias, the misdeeds of those in power, the harsh realities on the ground are making it well-nigh impossible.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Concerns relating to the media surface in Copenhagen

Senior journalist Shastri Ramachandaran has worked with leading newspapers in India and abroad, his last major innings was as senior editor and writer with Global Times and China Daily in Beijing. He, of course, prefers to be known as just an independent political and foreign affairs commentator based in New Delhi.

Shastri was invited to the Global Media Freedoms Conference 2015 in Copenhagen in April. Hosted by 
Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in partnership with the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), the two-day discussion was on key issues such as: threats to and the future of independent journalism; securing a future for news in the face of technological, commercial and security challenges; the critical role of media in the development of societies; and, how to deal with risks to independent journalism and journalists. The growing worldwide concern over increased threats to the functioning of a free and independent press found expression at the conference. The role of the media is obviously a point of discussion in several countries.

Shastri refers to Eric Chinje, chief executive of the Nairobi-based African Media Initiative, talking about the African Experience, but with “lessons that are universal and relevant to all societies that look to media to help make sense (of) and master the changing realities of daily existence”. Chinje, he adds, touched on the strategies, initiatives and collective actions taken to ensure respect for ethics, strengthen technological adaptation, put media at the centre of national and regional development and agree on media’s role in governance. The last two, Chinje said, had “sparked a defining debate on the role of media in Africa today”.
Shastri also mentions a seven-point agenda spelled out by Chinje on what should be done to engage and implicate the media to make Africa’s economic emergence sustainable and achieve lasting peace and social cohesion. The agenda identifies the greatest, self-induced, challenges to media freedom as: putting out content that has little regard for what audiences and readers want; disregarding the ethics of the profession; not maintaining high professional standards; and, not paying adequate attention to the business dimension of the news business.

Shastri then branches off to another insightful presentation (and of greater relevance to South Asia) by Shirazuddin Siddiqi, BBC Media Action country director for Afghanistan. In his paper on the role of media (in the development of society) in developing and fragile states, Siddiqi points out that Afghanistan is not only a fragile state but also has a fractured society. His focus is on how investment in media in fragile states falls short of ensuring plurality in social dialogue, promoting tolerance, enabling dialogue across fracture lines for people to negotiate differences and agree on principles towards building a shared culture and identity. What is missing, Shastri points out, is the institutional resolve and resources to bring people together and create conditions to make them accommodate differences within a shared national identity.

Despite all the criticisms we level at the media here in India, there is no doubt that we have a fairly vibrant Fourth Estate; journalists by and large have a lot of freedom and we are a fairly tolerant society. It’s at conferences such as this that you tend to see the good side of Indian journalism. Am sure this thought crossed Shastri’s mind too at some point while he was in Copenhagen.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

It’s all happening: Welcome to the exciting world of Digital

Catherine Payne, content producer for the Newspaper Association of North America (NAA), describes how The Charlotte Observer is finding success with its digital offering called CharlotteFive, focused on the Millennial Generation (also referred to as Generation Y, those born after 1980). She quotes Jen Rothacker, the Observer's innovations editor, as saying "It has a mix of news and lifestyle stories, but it is written in a voice that will appeal to millennials." According to Payne, CahrlotteFive does stories with style (easy-to-digest news, local news, news that matters), it has a “handcrafted email newsletter, it uses social media to connect, and is now looking at “deepening audience engagement in various ways”.

So, what do mobile and social media trends mean for newspapers? Payne addresses the question in another piece for NAA. Mobile and social media trends make journalism and technology strange bedfellows, she says, adding, “But news organisations can figure out how to define their relationships with social media platforms.” She refers to trends (expanding mobile audience, Facebook launching Instant Articles, etc) pointing to the growing impact of mobile and social media platforms on news circulation and consumption. She also refers to the “liminal press” which occupies the space between journalism and
technology.

Writing for NiemanLab, Joseph Lichterman refers to the State of the News Media 2015 Report produced by the Pew Research Center to stress the “ongoing march of mobile”. He says a remarkable 39 of the 50 most popular news sites had more mobile than desktop visitors. And as users migrate to mobile, advertisers are following them – $19 billion was spent on mobile advertising in 2014, a 78 per cent increase from the $10.7 billion spent in 2013, Lichterman quotes Pew as having reported. The outlook for newspapers is still gloomy, with newspaper print ad revenue dropping (according to the report) by 4 per
cent in 2014.

An article by Dominic Ponsford for the Press-Gazette also attracted my attention. Calling it a “digital breakthrough”, he reports that The Times’ advertisers are to begin paying the same rate for display advertising in the title's tablet edition as they do in print. The agreement, reached with a number of key ad agencies, is being seen by insiders as a major breakthrough in terms of making money from digital journalism, he adds. Ponsford says the move to increase the price charged for tablet ads follows neuroscience research by News UK last year (tracking eye-ball movement and brain activity), which the company said proved tablet edition ads are at least as effective as the print equivalent. This, he adds, has now been backed up by a further piece of research called Project Footprint which closely tracked the online and offline activities of 70 digital subscribers to The Times and Sunday Times. Quite remarkable indeed, considering that advertising online costs only a fraction of a print ad. It was on the NAA website that I read a forecast: One billion people will use a tablet at least monthly. This should augur well for news publishing houses that adapt well to the digital wave.

For readers who are still stuck to newspaper websites, here’s advice. There are some wonderful online sites (such as Vice.com, Vox.com, Mic.com and our own Scroll.in, Citizen.in, Thewire.in) out there that can keep you hooked for hours. It’s the Millennial Generation many of them are focused on. But that doesn’t really matter. Take the example of Mic, founded by Chris Altchek and Jake Horowitz who wanted to build a news company for young people. What’s the Mic approach? “Young people deserve a news destination that offers quality coverage tailored to them. Our generation will define the future. We are hungry for news that keeps us informed and helps us make sense of the world.” Well, that should tell us something.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Glass ceiling smashed again. Gender irrelevant when it comes to work

Katherine Viner taking over from Alan Rusbridger as the first editor-in-chief of The Guardian was news. After all, there are few women behind editors' desks. Viner has said she would pursue “ambitious journalism, ideas and events, setting the agenda and reaching out to readers all around the world” and that two of the essentials that would guide her priorities would include the two basics of modern-day journalism The Guardian has followed with considerable success: “Be instinctively digital,” and “Cherish print, but don't let it hold us back.” In her words, “it’s an enormous privilege and responsibility, leading a first-class team of journalists revered around the world…”

As Peter Preston, writing for The Guardian says, Viner is a new editor but an old hand. She was after all Rusbridger’s longstanding deputy. It appears that there was considerable head-hunting and advertising for the top post but, eventually, the choice came from within. According to Dame Liz Forgan, outgoing chair of the Scott Trust (Rusbridger will take up this role now), “it was a thorough, transparent and, for the first time, international process. We considered a very broad range of candidates across geographies, disciplines and backgrounds”. Which only goes to show what an outstanding journalist Viner is. Her selection is an inspiration for all young women working in news publishing houses across the world.

Katherine Viner studied English in Oxford. She won a competition organised by The Guardian’s woman’s page and was then advised to pursue a career in Journalism. Whoever advised her had the gift of spotting talent. For all her experience and backing from her staff (she won their majority support in a ballot), 44-year-old Viner has her task cut out. In Preston’s words: There’s a popular will to make this new page of history work. And The Guardian she inherits, like the one Rusbridger inherited, is hugely changed and hugely challenging…”

Viner joins a club populated by not many. Ariana Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, is a name that instantly comes to mind. Also, senior journalists like Pamela Philipose, Bachi Karkaria and Rasheeda Bhagat (am sticking to print). An article in Scroll.in says some of India’s top book publishers/ editors are women – Urvashi Butalia of Zubaan, Ritu Menon of Women Unlimited, Chiki Sarkar of Penguin Random House India, Diya Kar Hazra of Bloomsbury India, Karthika VK of HarperCollins India, Sayoni Basu of Duckbill Books, and Poulomi Chatterjee of Hachette India. Any particular reason? Kar Hazra sums it up pretty well in the article, saying, “Publishing involves a lot of nurturing. Women make good midwives.”

For all the bouquets for women, there have also been unhappy moments. Arthur Sulzberger Jr, the publisher of The New York Times, decided to fire the newspaper's executive editor, Jill Abramson. There was some controversy over accusations by Abramson's supporters that gender played a role in her dismissal. Then there was Tina Brown, editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, who announced her departure from the Daily Beast, a website she founded.


However, overall, women are doing quite well. In Chennai, where RIND has its office, Malini Parthasarathy has the rare distinction of becoming the first woman editor of The Hindu. Lakshmi Natarajan is managing director at Bharathan Publications, publishers of Kalki, Mangayar Malar and Gokulam. I remember Ranjini Manian, co-founder of Global Adjustments, once telling me she had always wanted to write for a newspaper. She is the editor of Culturama, a popular magazine that “gives voice to expatriates and Indians alike”. So, if you have the passion and desire, and can bring quality and commitment to work, there’s no stopping you. Gender really doesn’t matter.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

It’s people and training that finally make the difference

I have often wondered how a large newspaper publishing and printing company with multiple printing plants at different locations manages to achieve printing results that are not only of good quality but also comparable between all its different printing sites. Not once or twice in a year, but every single day, except perhaps for that odd holiday. How do the Systems and IT departments manage production and how they communicate with each other to ensure that there are no glitches? Are there key persons behind concepts and solutions, or is it a team effort? What was the goal and how was it achieved? How long did it take?

I could go on and on. The fact is that success is all about performing as a team. Today, in most well-run organisations, employees are encouraged to innovate and take risks. They are adequately trained to handle contingencies and become effective managers. They are also urged to take pride in the work they do. It’s the human element that is the key. Aspects such as what installations are necessary or which suppliers are involved are secondary. In a printing plant, the challenge for managers is to constantly drive home the sense of a positive attitude. Changes in organisation and workflow may well be required. But training is a definite yes. At most of the printing sites I have visited in recent years, if the production department has set a high standard of performance with quality benchmarks, employees are given ample opportunities to improve skills and knowledge.

If some of India’s top news publishing houses manage printing plants at several sites, ensuring that large operations with hundreds of staff and products adhere to the same rigorous quality everywhere, one of the important things is that they have processes set up in such a way that people know exactly what is to be done. There is responsibility, and accountability. A great deal of accent is given on training, such that every employee in the production department attends performance review meetings. Key responsibility areas are discussed threadbare – what was achieved, what was not and areas that need strengthening. It is during such exercises where there is openness and transparency and when constructive feedback is given and accepted, that employees begin to really see their value and what they are contributing to the newspaper.

Training is a huge responsibility. It’s people that finally make the difference, not the machines. For many years, the Research Institute for Newspaper Development, better known as RIND, has been conducting training programmes for the benefit of newspaper technical staff, equipping them with knowledge relating to developments in the field. RIND will now conduct a series of seminars each year. The first one, scheduled on April 22nd, will focus on running a web-offset press. You will find more details on the Press Institute of India website. Later in the year, there will be programmes on press maintenance, press consumables and picture editing and colour correction. Am hoping that newspaper technical and production heads will depute staff to such seminars. And also contribute with ideas so that the sessions can be made more meaningful.


Friday, January 30, 2015

A need, perhaps, for considerable restraint and dignity

It was horrendous. The attack against French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo that has left many dead, in France and elsewhere. The killing of innocent schoolchildren in Peshawar was barbaric and the world was yet to come to terms with that episode when the chilling attack took place in the heart of Paris, in the heart of the free world. 

If the bloody massacre in Peshawar was randomly executed out, the one in France’s capital was methodically carried out. The two heavily armed men apparently called out the names of the journalists to make sure they were the ones they wanted before shooting them. 

Millions walked through the streets of Paris a few days after the incident, in a show of unity against the attack. It was not just freedom of expression that had been violated; it was an attempt to instill fear, to destroy the human spirit. Despite the courageous show of strength, and Charlie Hebdo coming up with a special ‘survivors’ issue’ that flew off the shelves and sold millions of copies, journalism may never be the same again, at least for a long while. 

Indeed, as a statement issued by WAN-IFRA says, “It is not just an attack against the press, but also an attack on the fabric of our society and the values for which we all stand. This should be a wake up call for all of us to counter the rising climate of hatred that threatens to fracture our understanding of democracy.” It must be noted, however, that the incident was not the first on Charlie Hebdo. In 2011, an arson attack had destroyed the publication’s then headquarters, also in Paris. Threats notwithstanding, editors of the magazine have remained defiant in continuing its critical satirical line.

In some ways, the Charlie Hebdo incident in Paris and that which played out in Tiruchendur in Tamil Nadu a week later have similar echoes – it is freedom of expression that’s facing the guillotine. Tamil writer Perumal Murugan, the author of Madhorubhagan, after receiving threats and under duress, decided to issue a statement offering an “unconditional” apology for having hurt the sentiments of a certain section of people and withdrawing all his books, asking publishers not to sell copies anymore. The writer in him was dead, he said. 

Murugan’s book, incidentally, was published in 2010 and all was quiet then. Resentment against written material has surfaced in the past, too. For example, Ulysses (by James Joyce) was declared by government officials in the UK in the 1920s to be “unreadable, unquotable and unreviewable”, according to The Economist. Thanks mainly to the final chapter in the book which none other than D.H. Lawrence felt was “the dirtiest, most indecent, obscene thing ever written”. Copies of the book were burnt on both sides of the Atlantic. Now, of course, Ulysses is considered one of the best of modernist fiction of the 20th Century.

When I was a student of Journalism more than two decades ago, one of the lecturers encapsulated good writing by these words: simplicity, clarity, brevity and dignity. My lecturer’s words found echo in what Pope Francis said a few days ago while on his way from Sri Lanka to the Philippines. He said there were limits to freedom of expression and that following the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris “one cannot make fun of faith”. He added that freedom of speech was a fundamental human right but “every religion has its dignity”, and “man had slapped nature in the face”. 

It’s the discretion we use – to write, to publish. For example, Sky News took an editorial decision not to feature the cover of the ‘survivors’ Charlie Hebdo issue. So did the Daily Mail, The Telegraph, Sun, Mirror, ITN and Press Gazette. However, the Guardian (online only), Times, Financial Times, the Independent and BBC decided otherwise. Websites Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and Yahoo News published the Charlie Hebdo front page. 

Has Charlie Hebdo been crossing limits over the years? The question can be debated and there will be no clear-cut answer. But what appears clearer at the end of the day is that journalists will have to exercise restraint and bring some amount of dignity to their work, else they will have to be prepared to fight their own battles. Even as other battles are played out in the public space.