Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How not to report the news

Here is the front page news report in today's The Times of India(italics are mine)

New Delhi: In a bizarre directive, vulnerable to be misused by the authorities,Election Commission on Tuesday said the electronic media cannot telecast anything which can influence voters in areas where elections are to take place, in the 48 hours preceding voting.

In a separate order, EC has also banned dissemination of results of opinion and exit polls by the media.

The gag on electronic media, issued under section 126 of the Representation of People’s Act that prohibits displaying any election matter on television or any related medium 48 hours before poll, is seen as unsuitable for multi-phase elections as well as innocent of the ways the media functions. With their satellite uplink, the channels beam programmes of all-India relevance completely uncircumscribed by the geographical division that the commission wants to enforce.
It also carries the danger of harassment of the media by local authorities.
Take the case of a national news channel which may show a programme on starvation deaths in Andhra Pradesh or impact of Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh which, like most of others, have multi-phase polls. Both starvation deaths and Salva Judum are issues that can have impact throughout the state, and any functionary can easily argue that their telecast was violative of the EC order and, therefore, liable to be punished. How will EC check the misuse?

In another instance of its naive understanding of working of media, EC has said programmes like debate/panel discussions may be telecast provided they are not in the nature of election campaign or promoting/prejudicing the prospects of any particular party or candidates.

But since most of the news channels call representatives of key parties for panel discussion, will it be possible for EC to make the fine distinction between harmless debate and promoting/prejudicing prospects of any party? It may all boil down to the subjective assessment of the local official
.

Given the legion of cases of harassment of the media in districts on various excuses, EC clearly seemed to have erred big time by not factoring in the risk of arbitrary enforcement of its directive.

As part of the order, EC has also said the programmes involving the candidates from the constituencies that are going to polls including interviewing or projecting the candidates should not be telecast/ broadcast during the prohibited period of 48 hours


Now here is the same article without the italics. Request to read independent of the news report above.

(The) Election Commission on Tuesday said the electronic media cannot telecast anything which can influence voters in areas where elections are to take place, in the 48 hours preceding voting. In a separate order, EC has also banned dissemination of results of opinion and exit polls by the media.

The gag on electronic media, (was) issued under section 126 of the Representation of People’s Act that prohibits displaying any election matter on television or any related medium 48 hours before (the) poll

As part of the order, (the) EC has also said the programmes involving the candidates from the constituencies that are going to polls including interviewing or projecting the candidates should not be telecast/ broadcast during the prohibited period of 48 hours


Notice any difference there?

All I did was remove the opinion pieces from the news report. Nobody wants to know what some news reporter thinks. He is just like you and me. Not an expert on anything worthwhile. Hence he has a job to report the news. If he wants the world to know what he thinks about this order of the Election Commission, he write a blog. But not on the front page of (supposedly) India's leading newspaper.

Unfortunately, the Times of India today, is a newspaper which has sold it's journalistic soul to the corporate devil, who demands that newspapers sold count more than it's own integrity. Why it disappoints me is because the Times more than any other thing has a special place in my memories. It is the disappointment that comes when someone close to you breaks your trust. You get bitter towards that special someone.

When I was a kid, my grandpa would read me the Times of India. From front page to last (or rather in reverse) we would go through the previous days news. With no TV, and definitely no internet, the Times would serve as our eyes and ears to the world. My world views were definitely formed in a large part by the newspaper, which in it's own words was "The Leader (who) guards the Reader". It would be neutral and almost sage-like. News reports would be on the front pages and the opinion pieces would be in the middle pages. The news reports would not be judgemental, just report the facts. The middle pages would use these reports and pass their analysis. Life was quite simple. You want to know what someone said, you read the front page and if you want to know what he/she meant, you read the op-eds.

One more noble profession bites the dust.
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