Ctrl C+ ctrl V News Story: Height of callousness

By M. Reyaz,

This is not the first time that I have been tempted to write on the ‘callousness’ of reporters and Media Houses in cross checking small – often trivial- facts before putting them in words. When Bhopal gas verdict came in June this year, I found some such varying dates in different newspapers and channels, concerning arrest of Anderson, release, CBI taking over the case, etc.

Support TwoCircles

Some papers keep space reserved for such errors, but often that does not cover all. However, the peg for my write-up today is the reportage in leading papers about the appointment of interlocutors for peace talks in Jammu and Kashmir. What is ironical is that for this particular mistake these papers are not the culprits of the original sin.

The ‘Press Release’ by the Ministry of Home Affairs besides declaring the names of the three interlocutors – Dilip Padgaonkar, M.M. Ansari and Prof. Radha Kumar – also briefs about the three. About Prof. Kumar the PR (http://www.pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx) reads: “Prof. (Ms) Radha Kumar is Director of the Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution at Jamia Millia Islamia University and trustee of the Delhi Policy Group….”

However, to keep fact straight Prof Radha Kumar is no more serving in Jamia University and has resigned from the post few months back. Some newspapers had also reported this (http://www.asianage.com/delhi/another-jamia-professor-quits-727) in August. My colleague Pallavi called the Media Coordinator of Jamia Millia Islamia, Dr Simi Malhotra on 14 October (as I was writing this article) and she confirmed that Prof Kumar has ‘resigned’ and her resignation has been ‘officially accepted’.

As I read the Indian Express on October 14, I was surprised to see this fallacy and was thinking of writing to the Editor or calling the Desk. But then I realised that the mistake has been repeated by Vinay Kumar (The Hindu) as well as by leading wire services PTI, IANS, besides other reputed dailies like Economic Times, Times of India, etc.

Hindustan Times, however, while acknowledging her as the ‘Trustee of the Delhi Policy Group’ clearly mentions that she “was till recently at Jamia….” Some other papers have safely been brief in only mentioning that she is an academician.

I then checked the Press Information Bureau website and found that actually our babus, as usual, are not update. I would not go too far in calling it the lack of preparedness of the Home Ministry’s Public Information officials. It’s a simple case of callousness in updating their data base as no one has any doubt on the credibility of Prof. Kumar, who still remains a ‘specialist on ethnic conflicts and peace processes’.

But this clearly is a kind of ‘crime’ that no media house can be absolved of. In a way this is a very small and frivolous error and hardly affects the ‘peace talks’ in Kashmir; but it certainly mars the ‘credibility’ of those papers. I was personally shocked to see the PTI, Economic Times, Indian Express and The Hindu in the same league. It’s usual practice that a PR is reproduced as news by paraphrasing portions of it, but the Desk needs to at least cross check facts and not always ‘ctrl C and ctrl V’ to produce news.

P.S.: I wrote the article on October 14 itself and send it to City/Resident Editors of at least three leading newspapers, including Indian Express. Still on October 15, IE has not used the past form or prefix like former, etc. and called Prof Radha Kumar, “an academic at Jamia Millia Islamia…”

(The writer is a Research Assistant at Karan Thapar’s ITV India Pvt. Ltd.)