Tagged: Media

Balanced Media Reporting and the Fake News Phenomenon


Just 20 months – that’s all it takes to badly damage the fabric of society and the news media. Today in the U.S. we have very polarized and ugly societal wars between the Left and the Right. That has in turn spawned very ugly and damaging wars between news media which continue to report in their long-established, traditional manner, and the media which has gone berserk towards the extreme right end of the political spectrum. The neutral media was always considered to be, ever so slightly, tilting to the left, and we all know that there is nothing that is absolutely neutral in this world. Everyone has an opinion, whether he or she voices it or not. We also know that when the silent majority does not voice its dissent on any matter, the country or the world is “in” for a major battle. When they do express their dissent, we can expect transformative change.

I have consistently followed both the “left” and the “right” media, to derive a real sense of where the world is heading. While many a time the neutral or “left-tilting” media is right, I have also seen instances when the “rightist” media gets it right for a change.

Achieving a balanced reporting stance is a hard thing to accomplish in today’s heavily polarized world. Couple of examples come to my mind: one is “BBC News” and the other is “CNN”. There are other excellent examples which I do follow such as “The NewYork Times” and “The Washington Post”, but sometimes they do take a harsh view of the right. I continue to enjoy their incisive analyses and opinion pieces, however. I also occasionally look at the “HuffPost” and “MSN News” – they are great alternatives, though clearly on the left.

On the right, my favourite is “Fox News” – there are rather interesting pieces of journalism that I read almost everyday, pretty captivating episodes, and well-intentioned, yet clearly manipulated headlines. There are many media channels on the right, of course, but I find more time for Fox News everyday.

I also follow two rather unconventional media diligently every day. These are “Aljazeera English” edition and “Russia Today (RT) News”. While Aljazeera is relatively new for me, RT News has been a staple for at least couple of years. I believe that both these “alternative media” provide a dose of reality as seen from their respective perches. I have seen wonderful and balanced coverage and analyses in both, and I am now of the firm opinion that the day is not complete without reading the headlines of both media.

I recently eliminated “The Hindu” and “The Guardian” apps from my iPhone – “The Hindu” being the oldest, yet running English language newspaper from South India and “The Guardian” from the U.K. I occasionally see their full web versions, and sometimes my research takes me to their archives. Nothing wrong with either one of their apps, however I felt they were a bit slow on news coverage and their analyses, and sometimes unnecessarily critical of the establishment.

From all of the above, you may come to the quick conclusion that I spend most of my morning hours reading these apps, looking for angles to write about in my blog! That is not true, my intent is to keep myself constantly updated on what is going on around the world, while uncovering some learning from the actions or inactions of global leaders.

With all this stuff, it unnerved me when I heard that some of what we read from global news media could be “fake” – what U.S. President Donald Trump has termed as “Fake News”. It has always been a possibility that some of what we hear could be wrong, or incorrect, but then responsible broadcast media make amends and apologize for any inadvertent errors on their part. That is pretty normal, because people do make mistakes.

But “Fake” news? Is that not a deliberate attempt to replace the correct news with deception to suit the political orientation of the media owners or editors? Yes, it is. But then who practices it? If you go by what Mr Trump says, almost all major news media – CNN, MSN, CBS, ABC, AP, and others who report on what he says, and what he does, are reporting “fake news” every day. Not that Americans are running away from these long-established broadcast media – most of them have grown up with these media, and they control the airwaves for the most part. It would be interesting to see the results of a survey which measures Americans’ responses to Trump’s fake news allegations.

Whatever it is, in my opinion the “fake news” phenomenon does not exist in the way it has been described. There is only one news, and most of us get it right every morning. Some of these could be incorrect, but that inaccuracy lasts only for a few hours before it is replaced with the correct content we should have seen.

There is a lot of satire by the U.S. late night shows on Trump, his tweets and his fake news. If the news as reported in the major news media is not as per his expectations, then that becomes fake news, and this “expectation” of Trump has smeared his presidential reputation to no end.

In a nutshell, we have to see both sides of the same coin. Balance is eventually achieved in our head because we are trained to see the right from the wrong. Our brains are hard-wired, and so sometimes we tend to fall on the side of the news that we really like to see. But then brain realizes its mistake and brings itself back to neutrality.

Enjoy your news via newspapers if you still get one. I get most of mine via the news apps, while still subscribing to The Straits Times which I never finish reading.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

2nd December 2017

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The Big Bang Theory


I started seeing this CBS TV Serial some 3 months ago only.

Now I am kind of addicted for those 30 minutes.

This is easily the best TV sitcom that I have ever seen (that’s not to say much though !), which sees me asking for more. The cast of the serial is just amazing, there is a lot to be said about the extremely careful selection process. All the main characters – Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, Raj, Penny, Bernadette and Amy – keep delivering outstanding performances.

The best things that I like about The Big Bang Theory are its scientific, mathematical and physics orientation (which is a rarity in TV serials), combined with amazing interpolation of quick-hitting catch-phrases and sentences from the main characters (with a hint of mischievous humour on most occasions). One has to be really fast to follow the dialogues as sometimes these dialogues are tainted with some heavy physics or mathematical analogies. Not that one is going to learn anything about physics or advanced mathematics, but the feel of the show is that the four guys are real nerds working for one of the most advanced institutes in the world (Caltech, I guess).

I keep laughing continuously especially with the quick repartees from Sheldon, and the quaint, surprised look which comes often in the face of Leonard.

The female participation has been well leveraged, but I regret the exit of the character Leslie (who is almost a better physicist than Sheldon and often challenges him) from the series. Amy, while a good nerdy match to Sheldon, is not able to compete with Sheldon on actual physics theories !

All in all, The Big Bang Theory is easily the best TV sitcom out there that is continuously entertaining and thought-provoking in a silly manner. The cast is probably the best one can assemble for such a serial, and they seem to be keeping the flame burning bright as the serial proceeds through the current season (which is Season 5 in India). I think that this is eminently relaxing and entertaining, though sometimes I feel a bit awkward having my son watching it along with me !

Try seeing this serial and you will see what I mean apart from the scientific impact !!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
4th August 2012
Mumbai

The Court of Media


I have once written about media’s unfettered freedom in India.

Now, I do not think that unfettered freedom is that good. Media is not comprised of folks who are all super-intelligent, super-educated, super- analytical and simply outstanding human beings. Not at all. On the contrary, most of them are sensationalists and the rest are mere reporters.

While I am not denigrating the importance of a free press in any society, it is critical to rethink the role of the media when they choose to “execute” accused or inflame passions, before the truth is discovered and reported. While it is all good to know what happened in a particular case or scandal, it is also important not to pass any judgements at the “Court of the Media”. The media is not qualified to pass any judgements. Neither can they claim to know everything about every case or every person in every situation. Mostly their information is incomplete. Given that the influence of the media is overblown in our society, it is very important to reassess the role of the media.

The current arguments in the Supreme Court of India about the critical importance of the press bear testimony to the strength of democracy and the independence of the judiciary in India. The very thought of formulating a set of reference guidelines for the media is obviously anathema to the media world, and they are understandably resisting any such thought, notwithstanding any logical arguments in favour of the same. The futility of winning a case against the media is well established, at least in India. The lawyers for powerful media houses and publications will argue till the end of this world how critical it is that the media maintains its independence and neutrality – everyone knows that no media is absolutely independent or neutral.

The question of sullying the reputation of any individual – whether he has public standing or not – is an important consideration before the Court. Why should the media make the conclusion on the integrity of an individual – what right they do have in asserting their position which may not be justified at all – and what recourse the individual has against the concerned media ?

The other important situation is the safety of a victim. The more information is revealed about the situation of the victim, the higher the probability that the victim will be disturbed trying to influence the outcome of the case. The media mostly plays a destructive role in such situations.

While I am not providing any evidence in this post, one is free to make his own judgement by just following the news media. It is evident that media needs to operate within a set of guidelines, and if they cross the boundaries, the Court should have the liberty of passing strictures and exercising their power based on a suitable legislation.

Well, these are my thoughts, and I could easily be challenged, of course. Let us think carefully before hailing the “Court of the Media”, which is not conducted by qualified individuals who can pass judgements on any one and anybody in the society.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
14th April 2012
Mumbai

Press Freedom in India


I have written about the raucous media in India, which is even more vociferous than what one encounters in the Philippines, for example. The Indian Press is probably the freest in the world, even freer that what one gets in the U.S.

However, what you see on Indian TV is mostly sensational news, sometimes not thoroughly vindicated as the different channels are in a constant race to grab your eyeballs. The Indian media in general, TV or print, is not research-based, focusing more on spot news gathering and indifferent analyses of news developments. Serious matters do not get the same attention as news involving movie stars and entertainment.

The recent commotion in the Indian media about remarks attributed to Justice Katju, Chairman of the Press Council of India, only proves that media folks have very thin skin. Let us look at what Justice Katju said in a recent interview: he responded to a question on how he estimated the Indian press by saying, “Yes, the general rut is very low and I have a poor opinion of most media people. Frankly, I don’t think they have much knowledge of economic theory or political science or literature or philosophy. I don’t think they have studied all this.”

The above is in fact, a mostly true statement, while the manner in which it has been stated may not appear to be correct to the readers. It is not possible for media persons to be experts in various knowledge areas, they are basically collecting news and reporting on the same. There is distinction between ordinary news gatherers and the senior editors who run shows analyzing latest news and developments. However, instead of explaining the differences and nuances in news reporting and analysis, the media responded vitriolically against Justice Katju’s comments and he chose to ignore their reactions.

Both sides appear to have issues. While I tend to agree with Justice Katju that news reporters need to be more intelligent on the matters that they are reporting and that the news channels should focus more on development news rather than on entertainment, it is also his responsibility to engage with the critical Fourth Estate functionaries in the most diligent manner.

Both hands are needed to clap, otherwise we would end up in a potentially tight spot. Taking actions against the media could be construed as exercise of arbitrary powers to control its voice against the government. Media has hit back vigourously against Justice Katju and what can one do about it ? India is a noisy democracy, and it will continue to be so. Maturity and responsibility are in short supply in the country anyway and that fact is reflected in media behaviour as well.

It is time to reconcile and arrive at an amicable code of conduct. The Press Council plays an important role and that should be recognized by the media. India needs Media to ensure that necessary checks and balances are enforced in society and in government, its role cannot be replaced.

India could be the freest place on earth for journalists but they would do well to support the cause of development by educating themselves on the ground realities with suitable knowledge and diplomatic behaviour.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
5th November 2011
Mumbai

Jack and Jill on HEADLINES TODAY TV News Channel


Courtesy: Shyam, my IIM-B Classmate

Note: I have just written a blog piece about Indian TV News Channels yesterday. I could not resist publishing this one ! Hilarious !!

Here is how the Indian TV news channel HEADLINES TODAY would report the Jack
and Jill nursery rhyme. All names (except those of Jack and Jill), are
fictitious.

Prashant – TV Anchor
Two persons have been injured in a freak climbing accident. Jack and
his companion Jill had gone up a hill to fetch a pail of water when
Jack fell down and broke his crown. Jill came tumbling after. Live
from the hill, our reporter, Amrita Shah, takes up the story.

Amrita Shah
Thank you Prashant. Well, as you say, two persons – Jack and Jill –
had gone up a hill to fetch a pail of water. Suddenly, Jack fell down
and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after. Prashant.

Prashant
Thank you Amrita. What do we know about the hill?

Amrita
Not too much. Jack was going up the hill to fetch a pail of water when
he fell down and broke his crown. Jill came tumbling after
[Headline appears at the foot of the TV screen: “hill breaks crown of
pail-boy Jack”]

Prashant
What news of Jack and Jill?

Amrita
Prashant, it seems that Jack had gone up the hill to fetch a pail of
water. We know nothing about the pail, or how heavy it was but it
seems that Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling
after. I have here with me, an eyewitness to the accident, Mr Shahid
Trivedi. Mr Shahid, tell us what you saw.

Shahid Trivedi
Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell
down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.
[Headline appears at the foot of the TV screen: “Boy and girl tumble
down hill. Water spilled”]

Amrita
Jack and Jill. What do we know about them? Are they brother and
sister? Are they married? Just what were they doing on the hill
together?

Shahid Trivedi
Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.

Amrita
And what happened next?

Shahid Trivedi
Jack fell down and broke his crown

Amrita
Go on.

Shahid Trivedi
And Jill came tumbling after.

Amrita
Prashant, there you have it. Two people innocently going about their
business to fetch a pail of water when one of them falls down, breaks
his crown, and the other comes tumbling after. Back to you in the
studio Prashant.
[Headline appears at the foot of the TV screen: “Water errand ends in tragedy”]

Prashant
I have with me in the studio now, Professor Chandrashekar Belagare
from the Indian Institute of Applied Hill Sciences. Professor: a hill;
Jack; Jill; a pail of water. A tragedy waiting to happen?

Professor
Well that depends on the hill, the two persons, the object they were
carrying and the conditions underfoot. Let us look at the evidence so
far.
Jack and Jill
Went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down
And broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after.
Clearly, one would suspect that if Jack’s fall was severe enough to
break his crown then the surface of the hill must have been slippery
or unstable. But I think we’re overlooking something quite fundamental
here. Who was carrying the pail? Jack fell down and broke his crown
and – this is the key – Jill came tumbling after. If Jack and Jill had
been carrying the pail together, would they not have fallen at the
same time? The fact that Jill came tumbling after suggests that Jack
lost his footing first and perhaps knocked Jill over as he slipped.

Prashant
Professor thank you very much. So there we have it, two persons – Jack
and Jill – went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down
and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after. Later in the
programme, Osama bin Laden killed in Abbotabad, Kanimozhi and Raja
sent to Tihar jail, Shayad Halwa reveals names of ministers, and
Pakistan launches nuclear warheads against key Indian cities. But next
up, join us after the break for a studio discussion about hills, boys
and girls and whether water-fetching trips should be supervised. We’ll
be right back…

Courtesy: Shyam, my IIM-B Classmate

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
7th August 2011
Mumbai

Indian TV News Channels


I spend around 10 to 15 minutes at the most in front of TV, and almost always skim through the news channels, apart from peeking into what is going on in the movie channels.

While the overall coverage of news has surely improved over the past decade, there are a few things that bother me about the news channels in India. These are:

1. Mostly aggressive tone, overstating the news aspect and over-emphasizing the sensational aspects of happenings;
2. Trying to be judgemental about the characters in the news;
3. Throwing open questions that no one has answers for, including probably the person accused in the news;
4. Constantly challenging the wisdom of the newsmakers;
5. Positioning the newsreaders and interviewers and anchor newsman/newswoman as “news makers or news creators, or in plain words destroyers of human beings, or as celebrities par excellence”

Of course, these are my own views, and this is what I feel about news channels. The derivation is that there is no calm and collected analyses of news and happenings, only shrill voices questioning everything around and creating non-stop doubts in the minds of the viewers. Why should I see the news when I can get a more balanced coverage in the news media online ? If the only important agenda is finding fault with everyone, then the mission statement of these channels should be changed accordingly. What a viewer needs is not judgement, he needs bland news reported in a calm voice without a sense of agitation and righteousness that the current crop of news reporters carry with themselves ? Who are they trying to impress ? Are they the only folks concerned about what is going on in this country ?

The assumption of pseudo powers by the Fourth Estate is to be scared about, it is to be worried about. See what is happening to the famous News Corporation. It is the intrusion into the private lives of people which actually creates unpalatable news and sensational news. The only thing to be happy about the Indian TV news channels is that they have not yet started doing what the News of the World did in the U.K., but that is not far off in my opinion. May be that is coming as Gen 2 of the Indian TV channel coverage soon.

While it is all right to question public office holders, the right place for that is the Court of Law. Attempts to malign public servants with whatever information available can only be done with dignity and without threats and challenges. They are not constrained to respond to a TV news channel, which does not have any legal, moral or any other kind of authority. TV channels cannot usurp authority and drag people into mud without having a complete picture, and that too, it is not necessary for anyone to respond.

If I am asked to rank the TV news channels, it would read something like –

A) CNN IBN

B) HEADLINES TODAY

C) TIMES TV

D) NEWS X

E) NDTV

However, not withstanding what I said above, there is some aspects which I do like on these channels. One such thing is the public panel discussion and forum discussion involving politicians (who obviously willingly participate in such sessions, despite the challenges of aggressive and hostile questioning by the anchor person). These discussions are sometimes refreshing and very illuminating on the public policy issues that are plaguing India.

In a nutshell, read your own news online or in newspapers. See TV news channels for some gimmicks and hostility display, and to push yourself to do such questioning yourself – may be one can train oneself to become a news reporter or news anchor ! But nothing much else !!

Enjoy the rest of the weekend without news channels !!!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
6th August 2011
Mumbai

Media and Morality


There appears to be no relationship between the Fourth Estate and Morality.

Till now, most people would have thought there is absolutely no connection between Politics and Morality. While that continues to be true around the world, the growing power of Media has thrown the spotlight on people who shine the spotlight on others.

I am referring here to the exposure of the phone hacking scandal involving famous media group in the U.K., which does not believe in ethics or morality. Sensational news is worth anything, they will pay thousands of dollars and more to penetrate the lives of even dead victims, like what happened in the U.K. What is amazing is that even the previous prime minister’s phone records were hacked into. And, the current prime minister appears to be close to this same media group, going by various reports.

So, there you go. If Politics and Politicians have no morality (in general), so does the Media and Media Barons. It is OK to violate country’s laws because Media has assumed the “real” powers of the Fourth Estate, which probably in their opinion should be as powerful, if not more powerful than the other branches of the government – the executive, the parliament – and the judiciary. The Media wishes to have the power of blackmailing over the commoner as well.

Does the government and the police have to kowtow to the Media ?

Is this the way to achieve the balance of power in the society ?

Surely not. We have time and again seen the corruption of the Media in India. We have seen some aggressive Media actions in the U.S. as well, denigrating even the President of the U.S. So, it is more than clear that Media has asserted its superiority over the rest of us in an absolute manner, and in somewhat a threatening manner. The Media can bring down any individual or class of people, and there is really no check and balance on Media. They can expose anyone in society at the flick of a switch, it appears.

As we have seen in the recent past, Media is not incorruptible. The NDTV media personality who bankrupted her reputation is still too fresh in memory. There are many such cases. Media is no God. They cannot and should not be allowed to play God. They have no scruples, no morals, no good sense. They want news, any kind of news which can sensationalize the society. They will intrude into anyone’s privacy.

So, let us be careful with the Media. Also, let us not give too much credence to what we see and hear on the Media. The truth is somewhere in between the various media reports. Sometimes the truth is far away from the Media reports. And character assassination has become a habit in the newsmedia in India, so watch out for personal attacks on newsmakers.

In essence, Media and Morality do not see eye to eye. All over the world. And, especially in the U.K. and its old colony, India.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
17th July 2011
Mumbai