The Express Tribune is the only newspaper in this country today, or perhaps in the whole of South Asia, to have its own Ombudsman. Conceived long ago in the developed world, the office of the media ombudsman serves as a sort of a court where members of the general public and the government are encouraged to take their complaints against cases of violation of good media practice. The media is obliged to redress the grievances of the complainants if so ruled by the ombudsman by publishing a retraction along with regrets or an apology.
When we decided to have an ombudsman’s office of our own, soon after launching the newspaper in April 2010, we looked around for a person of unblemished character, impeccable integrity and high level of credibility to hand over to him this unique responsibility. Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, one of our national icons, was therefore the automatic choice of our editorial board. When we approached him with the idea, he very graciously and readily honoured us with his consent. His only precondition was that it would be a totally voluntary arrangement without any financial obligations on our part. This suited our mutual objectives, because this meant the ombudsman would not be beholden to the newspaper in any manner whatsoever.
To our great relief and satisfaction, during the two years since he became our ombudsman, not a single complaint (neither from any member of the public or from the government) has reached Fakhruddin sahab against The Express Tribune. Well, there was one case, but that too had been taken care of by the newspaper on its own even before his query reached us.
The reason: Perhaps a large majority of The Express Tribune’s readers are not yet aware of the existence of the ombudsman’s office, though the newspaper carries an announcement to the effect every day underneath its Letters’ section (page 7). Of course, most editorial decision makers at The Express Tribune would like to believe that we ourselves also deserve a little credit for the fact that people don’t complain to the ombudsman. This may be due to the extra care we take in avoiding breaching good journalistic practices, our fail-safe SOPs in promptly handling the occasional complaints sent directly to us and also perhaps our blogs and comments sections which allow readers to express their feelings in full and without any let or hindrance. They disagree, differ, criticise, analyse, evaluate, and argue to their hearts’ content (monitored closely by us for expletives and/or hate speech), and sometimes even point out errors that we ourselves have made. This facility alone may have stayed the hands of many who otherwise would have gone to the ombudsman with a complaint.
We decided to appoint an ombudsman because we believe that social and technological changes have rendered obsolete the age-old gatekeepers that obliged the media to follow a universally accepted code of ethics—strict adherence to accuracy, fairness, consideration for the right of privacy, protection of sources and genuine independence. So, we thought it advisable to put in place a self-regulating mechanism to enable us to avoid being overwhelmed by irresponsible practices and at the same time also protect our credibility and reliability. This does not mean that we have not committed any mistakes or even blunders over the last two years, but that we are constantly trying to minimise their occurrence and that we aren’t averse to criticism, so long as it can help us bring you a better newspaper.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2012.
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