EPW magazine staff write to trustees over ‘editorial functioning’, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta’s stint as editor

The staff of Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) have reportedly written to the trust that manages the magazine, enquiring why an article had been deleted from their website and raising questions about the behaviour of their former editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta.

In the letter to Sameeksha Trust, dated 25 July, published in Meghalaya-based webzine Raiot, the EPW employees demanded to know why an article titled Modi Government’s ₹500 Crore Bonanza to Adani Group Company had been deleted from the EPW website. They also accused Thakurta, a veteran journalist, of “undermining the review process for publications of essays”, “promising higher payments to certain authors (his old associates) and alleged that Thakurta had made “inappropriate, sexual and sexist comments.”

They wrote: “We wish to understand the circumstances under which the article Modi Government’s ₹500 Crore Bonanza to Adani Group Company (EPW , 19 June 2017) was asked to be deleted from our website (only one article was taken down, not two as has been widely misreported).The deletion of the article from our website is tantamount to the retraction of a published article. This is a serious matter, and editorially, to our knowledge, EPW has not had to resort to such a drastic step in recent times (except in one case of substantial plagiarism). Mr Paranjoy Guha Thakurta instructed us via a phone call, during a Trustee meeting on the afternoon of 18 July 2017, to delete the article from our website. We followed the then editor’s instructions, as is expected of us, even as we were apprehensive. He also cancelled a “Corporate Investigations” special issue of 39 pages (which included the said article, among four other investigations) scheduled for the 22 July 2017 issue. The week’s issue was planned afresh immediately by the staff. We are disturbed by these decisions all the more because the Sameeksha Trust is not known to interfere with EPW’s day-to-day editorial functioning.”

File image of Paranjoy Guha Thakurta. Getty Images

In the letter, the staff conveyed to the trustees that they looked forward to better understanding why the article was retracted and the trustees’ decision.

They also stated that while the statement issued on 20 July — which they had not received — explained the trustees’ grievance with Thakurta, it did not speak to the removal of the article.

They stated that this led to a situation where speculation by readers and contributors was rampant and the staff had no answers for them.

The staff also raised questions about Thakurta’s behaviour during his stint as editor.

Over the past 15 months, the editorial team of EPW has had to face several challenges. The biggest of these challenges was to safeguard the review process that was painstakingly built over many years. This has been under pressure from various quarters. Mr Guha Thakurta would repeatedly undermine the review process for reasons best known to himself, despite our repeated advice against such actions. He has done this for his associates, persons of influence, and has entertained partisan endorsements to research papers without following the review process and evaluating the merit of the article, which was completely unbecoming of the editor. Even Trustees should have no say in the review process, and should respect the editorial autonomy of EPW. Mr Guha Thakurta also promised higher payments to certain authors (usually his old associates), which would have been 20 times higher than the token amounts paid to our  contributors. These higher payments were resisted by EPW’s manager. These payments would probably have been made if Mr Guha Thakurta had continued as editor. This is yet another instance of unequal treatment of authors, and favouring of associates; all serious ethical concerns. There has been a grave assault on the work culture in the EPW office, with many of us on staff being made to feel uncomfortable by inappropriate, sexual and sexist comments made by Mr Guha Thakurta. In all, the egalitarian culture of the office had been compromised.

The staff also mentioned that during Thakurta’s stint, they faced a “great” challenge and an “odd” situation regarding ensuring editorial oversight since the editor of the publication was himself an author, a situation they called “unprecedented for EPW”.

They gave the example of Thakurta’s first day in office, alleging that he unilaterally published his own work, which was titled: How Over-Invoicing of Imported Coal has Increased Power Tariffs.

We tried to ensure that all authors are treated equally (with due consideration for marginalised causes and voices) and subjected to editorial oversight. Unfortunately, given the powers vested in the editor and his obstinacy, our views did not always prevail. Our failure on this count did put the reputation of EPW in jeopardy. This marked change in EPW’s work culture left many of us in the uncomfortable position of challenging the editor time and again.

They stated that they had been discussing issues of due diligence and prejudice-free processes amongst themselves and had been taking steps to check misuse of such power. They added that their experience had strengthened their resolve to uphold editorial oversight for all authors and do so “without fear or favour.”

The EPW employees ended the letter by hoping that the trustees would address their concerns and take the utmost care in choosing the next editor.

Read full text of letter here

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