Spins imparted by journalists, apart from being irritating, can be dangerous, misleading and shamelessly dishonest.

Features Friday, July 18, 2014 - 05:30
By Subir Ghosh There are many reasons why journalists are such a scantly-respected lot today, compared to even what we were when I joined the profession 23 winters back. One being that journalism, increasingly so, has ceased to be about people. The decline, steeply – if I may insist, started in the 1990s when most journalists lost the plot, when the ‘demos’ part of the democracy began disappearing from news pegs. What has been lost in the bargain has been vibrancy, truth. Spins imparted by journalists, apart from being irritating, can be dangerous, misleading and shamelessly dishonest. Especially when people are perforce left out of the compelling narrative. Let’s see this in context, through a randomly-selected story that appeared in the media in the past one week. The story in question was about the decision of the Indian Institute of Science to scrap its particle accelerator project in the Challakere taluk of Chitradurga district, Karnataka. The Deccan Herald reported: “In what could be termed as a setback for Chitradurga district and the State, the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has dropped plans to construct a huge particle accelerator (similar to a circular tunnel) in Chitradurga at a cost of Rs 2,000 crore.” The spin given to the story with the “setback” description, in fact, can be construed as grossly mischievous. It would seem as if someone is out to undermine Chitradurga and Karnataka’s pride. The huge project cost in the intro magnifies this assertion. Big money, that. The story then goes on to rub it in: “The elation with which the announcement of the synchrotron facility had been received a couple of years ago is now erased (sic).” In other words, dreams of the state lie devastated. You would wonder whether you were reading an obituary. It’s only into the seventh para does the story go close to the reason: “The locals say that the land taken away is grazing land, vital for sheep rearing.” That’s close, but not close enough. The Challakere story is something else altogether. The National Green Tribunal (Southern Zone Bench) had in February this year ordered a halt to all construction activity in the ecologically sensitive Amrut Mahal Kaval grassland ecosystems of Challakere. This order was issued in response to complaints that various agencies that had been allocated lands for projects in the kaval had commenced construction without securing permission from the state forest department and the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) for diversion of forest land to non-forest purpose based on ecological assessments. There were many organisations that had been surreptitiously granted land: Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO, for a weaponised drone testing and manufacturing project), Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC, nuclear fuel enrichment), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO, space applications), and IISc among others. The 10,000 acres that were clandestinely given away for the projects form the last contiguous stretch of grasslands left in Karnataka. This is vouched for by the Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES), which is part of the IISc setup. The CES, however, has remained silent on the scam. Petitioners had challenged this before the NGT arguing, “The entire exercise was illegal as no assessment of the ecological and social impacts was ever conducted, no proper assessment was carried out to assess the appropriateness of siting such dangerous and highly sensitive facilities all in one location, nor was there any compliance with environmental protection, pollution control and land use planning regulations. Besides, the entire exercise was undertaken with extraordinary secrecy, including by keeping elected bodies and representatives out of the decision making process.” A not very democratic way of doing things, one might assert. The pastoralists of the grasslands, therefore, protested. There were demonstrations in the area, but their voices practically went unheard in not-so-far-away Bangalore. In the end, the people did what non-violent folks in a democracy can do: they boycotted the last general elections. The Challakere issue was hardly about “development” per se; it was about flagrant violations of the laws of land. It was about people being hoodwinked. Journalism, at the end of the day, has to be about people. So should have been the Challakere story. The Deccan Herald report was contradicted a day later in another newspaper which said that the IISc was not abandoning the project; only that the Centre had not cleared it so far. Yet, the damage had already been done by the earlier story: that the state’s grand dreams were being shattered, probably by people who have no idea about “development”. But such intended sarcasm would be lost on journalists. They long lost the plot anyway, remember? [The writer is a Bangalore-based independent journalist and researcher. He can be reached at http://www.write2kill.in/ ] The opinions expressed in this articles are the personal opinions of the author. The News Minute is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information in this article. The information, facts or opinions appearing in this article do not reflect the views of The News Minute and The News Minute does not assume any liability on the same.
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