The Ken’s recent article on IFF

My co-founder at Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), Apar Gupta, recently joined the organization full-time as its first executive director. He put on hold his law practice — he’s an attorney in the Supreme Court — to focus on building IFF up as an effective advocacy organization.

Two other co-founders, Kiran Jonnalagadda and Nikhil Pahwa, believe in an alternate, volunteer-led model to digital rights advocacy. They left their part-time roles at IFF to focus on projects in this model, Speak For Me (SFM) and Kaarana. While we have disagreements on how best to organize, we all share a common vision for digital rights and the same respect and trust for each other that brought us together two years ago. In fact I and another co-founder remain active in both IFF and SFM without issue.

The Ken recently published a story about the changes at IFF, where they largely ignored the news of Apar joining to focus on the departures. This is, of course, their call. The story also misunderstands the IFF founders agreeing to disagree about organization structure as some sort of deep-seated animosity; while disappointing, it seems to be an honest mistake.

What defies my understanding is The Ken’s choice to run gossipy, anonymous name-calling that doesn’t even pretend to add to the story. Apparently, “some say” that one of our ex-colleagues “has a saviour complex” and wished to “turn IFF into a personality-led organization”. The unstated implication is that an IFF member provided these quotes anonymously.

This is completely false. These quotes are far removed from the reality of how I and my colleagues at IFF feel about Kiran and Nikhil — they were instrumental in founding and building up our organization, and we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them. We all have a deep respect for their contributions and passion for the cause.

The article gives us a reasonable guess as to who the source might be. One of the people interviewed for this story was unmasked by Kiran using fake identities to tweet eerily similar insults (including various made-up “complexes”) at digital rights activists. It isn’t really clear to me why that person was interviewed for this article, given they have no relationship with IFF. Nevertheless, this person’s grudge against several of my co-founders is well-known.

Even though The Ken’s characterization of the disagreements between IFF founders is incorrect, I respect that their right to their own interpretation of the facts. However what’s unfortunate is that they have allowed themselves to be hijacked into providing a platform for one disgruntled individual to indulge in fact-free name-calling.

I’m excited about the potential for online publications like The Ken to advance the cause of serious, fact-based journalism in India, at a time when large swathes of the main stream media seem to be abdicating their responsibility. However, they will need to exercise better judgement about the motivations of their sources, especially those that wish to remain anonymous.

 
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