Sunday, December 28, 2008

Indian Express story on SPACE

Recently, the Indian Express published a report where allegations were thrown at Kerala State IT Mission and SPACE and also at Arun, who currently works for KSITM. SPACE prepared a response to the report and it was published by the newspaper in the Letter to the Editor column. I personally believe that what the newspaper did was unethical since the response should have been published as prominently as the original report since most readers would not really take notice of the response in the Letters to the Editor column and would believe the blatantly false allegations made in the original report. The callousness with which the report was written is evident from the fact that one of the allegations was that the laptop used by Arun had the expensive Mac software installed in it. The reporter could have verified this simply by asking Arun to show him the screen (if he could make out the difference, that is). I give below the response given by SPACE in its entirety. I don't know whether Indian Express published it in full since I have not seen the newspaper. Here is the response from SPACE:

This is with reference to the feature "All the Party's Men" published in your newspaper of 19 December. We are sorry to see that the story contains a number of misleading statements and half- truths, and we would like to clarify facts pertaining to SPACE.

SPACE is an interdisciplinary society founded in 2003 with participation of the Kerala State IT Mission, as a follow-up to the "Freedom First!" conference held in 2001. Among SPACE members are several PhDs, alumni of IITs, and other eminent professionals working in sectors such as IT, Development and media. SPACE has no relationship to any political party.

The primary mandate of SPACE is to increase the use of Free Software, of which Kerala was one of the earliest adopters in the country and the world. SPACE works with communities, schools & colleges, NGOs and the Government of Kerala. As one of its networking activities, SPACE was instrumental in organizing the "Free Software, Free Society" conference in 2005. Both the 2001 and 2005 conferences were fully supported by the State IT Administration.

The report says, "... SPACE, a non-governmental institution, is being given projects that run into crores of rupees. More alarmingly, the projects are given away to the SPACE directly without going through the required tender process." The actual amount given by Kerala State IT Mission (KSITM) to SPACE during the last three years is Rs. 23 lakhs only, and not "crores". The author acknowledges that the project Insight was submitted by SPACE and the funding was given by KSITM based on the proposal. But he makes it sound as though this is a crime. He should know that some departments fund specific projects based on proposals submitted by agencies like SPACE. This is standard practice, not something new.

The report continues: "Hardly any amount has been set apart for Malayalam computing, he said. But it is reliably learnt that Rs 94 lakh was set apart for Malayalam Computing, of which Rs 43 lakh has been spent so far." The funding alloted to SPACE is less than Rs. 10 lakhs for this purpose, of which less than Rs.1.5 lakhs has been received by SPACE so far. The efforts of SPACE in the Malayalam Computing campaign together with SPACE's web4all project has given a push to the development of several websites in Malayalam.

The report says, "The 'Asset Management' costing Rs 25 lakh and 'ICT for Underprivileged Sectors' for Rs 50 lakh are the other major projects allotted to the SPACE." The fact is that the amount allotted to SPACE for the former is less than 2 lakhs, while no proposal for the latter has been submitted by SPACE to KSITM.

The author alleges: "And here's a blatant proof on misuse of public money: The Insight project office for which the state government pays the rent, is as well used by the SPACE, a private enterprise." This looks like a deliberate attempt to misrepresent reality, as SPACE has had its own office in a separate building even prior to the launch of the Insight project.

It is unfortunate that a newspaper such as yours publishes such baseless allegations without even bothering to verify the facts. At a time when Kerala stands out as a leader in the advocacy and use of Free Software - not just in the country but also the whole world - such sloppy journalism can only be seen as an attempt to diminish this accomplishment.

We request you to kindly publish this in keeping with the tradition of journalistic objectivity.

It is sad to see journalism sink to such depths.