Breaking Down News: No Sting in the Tale

What's bad news for journalism and why The Trump is all pumped-and-primed up

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Updated: June 24, 2017 12:05 am
Republic TV, Arnab Goswami, SP Udayakumar, Press Council of India SP Udayakumar, co-ordinator of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, has complained to the Press Council of Arnab Goswami’s channel’s “ongoing deceit and harassment”. (File Photo)

In a significant departure from the norm, Arnab Goswami will have to answer some questions. SP Udayakumar, co-ordinator of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, has complained to the Press Council of Goswami’s channel’s “ongoing deceit and harassment”. He may also petition the News Broadcasting Standards Authority.

Udayakumar complains that a Republic TV reporter had posed as a researcher from Cardiff University, sought help with her dissertation and suggested that her professor would like to donate to the movement. Upon which, Udayakumar had said that he would not receive foreign funds.

This was presented as a sting operation proving that the movement accepted foreign funds. Udayakumar was given a chance to speak but reports that Goswami was “abhorrent, abrasive and even abusive”– completely in character, in short. Udayakumar complains that a Republic TV reporter was repeatedly hounding his family, including his elderly parents, for responses to the ‘sting’. It appears that Goswami is really scraping the bottom of the barrel, resurrecting the corpses of long-dead stories to keep his new channel in the news. One of India’s leading broadcasters has graphically illustrated what precisely is wrong with sting operations, and why they are bad news for journalism.

Some hypernationalist at Times Now caused the channel an embarrassment by demanding to know why the Indian cricket team did not wear black armbands to the Champions Trophy finals, to protest Pakistan’s excesses. The hockey team did wear armbands at a match against Pakistan, and they won. The cricketers didn’t, and our side collapsed. You see the pattern?

All good so far, but Times Now’s tactical blunder was to enlarge upon the theme, suggesting other ways in which the cricketers could have worn their patriotism on their sleeve. Such as, donating a day’s match fees, “running into crores”, or observing a moment’s silence on the field. Since no one has noticed the channel’s staffers donating a minute’s wages, it didn’t take long for the general public to suggest that Times Now should observe a permanent silence by getting its anchors to wear black bands over their mouths.

In May, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams apologised for helping to put Donald Trump in the White House, Now, shall we see acts of contrition for unintended consequences by WhatsApp founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton, or its present owner Facebook? A story titled ‘WhatsApp, Crowds and Power in India’ in The New York Times traces the blossoming of social media as the preferred channel for wild rumours which trigger violent rage. While its peg is the lynchings in Jharkhand over rumours about gangs of child lifters, the focus is militant majoritarianism: “WhatsApp has been turned into the primary messenger of prejudice, delivering relentless virtual fuel to keep the embers of modern hatreds alive.” The weird Indian custom of attacking strangers who appear to represent whatever you fear or loathe is now an international story. What do you bet that WhatsApp is going to be badgered for the network keys that it has committed not to provide to governments?

In unreal times, one can depend on the niche media to tell it like it is. In Foreign Policy, Max Boot has articulated an opinion that’s been out there, but mainstream newspapers have naturally hesitated to put it bluntly: the US president “may not be capable of carrying out his duties as president.” He alludes to the “lack of intellectual horsepower” which has caused a string of petty embarrassments, apart from the bizarre executive order against immigration and the firing of the FBI chief (there, he publicly admitted to obstruction of justice). Most recently, the US President travelled to Israel from Saudi Arabia and said that he had come from the Middle East. Earlier, he mistook Presbyterians for Evangelicals and demanded to know if they were even Christian – though he should have known, being Presbyterian himself. And there was that unbelievable interview when he asked editors of the The Economist if they were familiar with the phrase, “pump-priming”. He claimed to have invented it this year, thought it was widely used as early as the Great Depression in the US. Indeed, when the evidence is stacked up like that, POTUS does seem to disqualify himself.

pratik.kanjilal@expressindia.com

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