Feb 06, 2015 Editorial
This publication has in the past stated its commitment to the widening and deepening of what a renowned German political philosopher once termed “the public sphere”. This is the space of free and open debate that emerged in the eighteenth 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. We wish at this time to reaffirm that commitment in the strongest possible language.
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.
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 accomplish this in several ways: by insisting that our reporters solicit the widest possible set of views of persons affected by the news item under consideration; by offering space to a wide assortment of columnists from across ideological and party lines and finally by 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 declared ourselves a “Republic” almost forty-five years ago: the word comes from the Latin phrase ‘res publica”, meaning a public thing – and this is what the affairs of a republic is – a public thing. On being an “intellectual”, there has been an unfortunate cloistering of this since the colonial era – confining it to those who attended state-sanctioned elite schools or those who regurgitated the canonical dogmas. We reject this position.
An intellectual is someone who can deal with ideas and abstractions with some facility and by this criterion, we take the view of the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, who broke through the reductionism of Marxism and declared that all men and women can be public intellectuals – he called them organic intellectuals.
All who can use their skills, intelligence, memories, hands, eyes, touch, senses, feelings, experiences, histories, oral traditions, craft, learning, unlearning — they are all intellectuals. The cane cutter, businessman, trader, carpenter, plumber, farmer, those who till the soil, understand its soul, the seasons, the craftsmen, the woman who cooks and preserves, the man who digs your grave: they too are intellectuals. They can manipulate ideas generated from their experiences, and we are encouraging all of them to transmit those ideas to our newspaper as they affect the public sphere.
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 organic intellectuals. 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. Similarly, 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.
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