Once again, this newspaper is being harassed for pursuing its stated commitment towards the widening and deepening of what has been termed “the public sphere”. This is the space of free and open debate that emerged in the 18th century, in which arguments must be made (and unmade) about any and all issues that affect the citizens of a polity, without respect to rank or privilege. It is obvious that this administration has no concept of such a sphere.
A newspaper, while it is only one element in the mosaic of a vibrant public sphere, by its very nature plays a dual role. There is first its reporting of the news, ensuring that the public has access to the information that is necessary for them to make informed arguments and decisions. The government appears to have a problem with news of its spending being placed in the public domain. This is ironic, since it is the people’s money, in the long run, that is being spent.
But in the oft cited standard of news coverage – “printing all the news that’s fit to print” – we recognise that there is the implicit possibility of bias in the decision of what news is “fit” and what is not. And this is where the second role, one that we believe even transcends the first, of a newspaper kicks in – providing a forum where the public discourse can take place.
We at KN accomplish this goal in several ways. First and foremost, we insist that our reporters solicit the widest possible set of views of persons affected by the news item under consideration. In the fulfilment of this task, reporters have to be persistent in their questioning of those that are governing on the public’s behalf.
Unfortunately, in our country, officials seem to be totally unwilling to submit themselves to follow-up questions. They assume that whatever they spout must be accepted as gospel. Secondly, we offer space to a wide assortment of columnists from across ideological and party lines – some with whom even the management of KN may differ. Finally, we exhibit an uninhibited willingness to publish the viewpoints of our readers in our “letters column”.
If we are to develop as a viable and prosperous nation, we believe that every citizen has to overcome the reflexive diffidence to authority inculcated from our colonial and authoritarian heritage and begin to speak out. We must see ourselves as “public intellectuals” with an obligation to comment on any and every matter within the public sphere.
We are a “Republic”: from the Latin ‘res publica” – a public thing. And this is what the affairs of a Republic is – a public thing – contrary to what a misguided few may believe. On being an “intellectual”, we do not submit to the cloistered notion that only those with degrees behind their names can pronounce on matters of national import. In fact, at our stage of development, the hands-on approach of the “working man” may be more germane to our country’s needs.
This does not mean that we are devaluing the opinions of the more traditionally defined intellectuals: in addition to our columnists, they too can impact the letters pages. These individuals poke, provoke, and evoke — the holy trinity of merits in “intellectual” history and criticism, and we will continue to facilitate them. We expect these persons to expand on the reality exposed by the grounded folk. They must be willing to speak out, engage and uncover new ways of seeing. In doing this, they must display rigour, knowledge, accuracy, and ideological consistency.
On the other hand, we do not expect public intellectuals – of whatever stripe – to use the public sphere offered by our medium to settle personal scores or fight private battles. Analogously, we do not expect that every utterance should be condemnatory with daily outpourings of bile: surely there will be instances where laudatory words of commendation may further the public good. There is, after all, the inducement of the carrot as well as the stick.
Dare we hope the administration may accept such a public sphere?
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Editor’s Note, If your sent letter was not published and you felt its contents were valid and devoid of libel or personal attacks, please contact us by phone or email.
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