Even the scant coverage of Greenpeace India report’s release of August 11 is lopsided, if you read between the lines. Just an innocuous word here and another there can deflate the enormity of a situation.

Features Thursday, August 14, 2014 - 05:30
By Subir Ghosh The News Minute| August 14, 2014| 1.00 pm IST In 2006, the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) published a damning report on the presence of banned pesticides in colas. The Indian media, by and large, went easy on the two cola brands – Pepsi and Coca-Cola. The allegation was serious and the implications far and wide. Yet, the cola companies, the opulent advertisers that they are, tided over the crisis with consummate ease. One of the many reasons for this was that news media establishments steadfastly refused to push, leave alone shove, the cola companies on to the hot seat. In some newspapers, the unwritten standing instructions were clear as crystal: go easy on those companies, we don’t want to antagonise them. Public interest be damned. The parliamentary committee, which looked into the issue subsequently, too submitted a report that virtually vindicated the CSE findings. This should have nailed the cola companies to their respective coffins, but the Indian media stood as a mute bystander. Incompetent, inert, impotent. Eight years later comes another damning report, this time by Greenpeace India, on the presence of pesticides in tea that is retailed. Newspapers ought to have been painting the town red by now, and the television channels should have been screaming their heads off. But if you were to Google up the coverage that the study’s findings have received, and compare it with what appears in the Press section of the Greenpeace site, you will realise that the news media is probably doing another 2006, this time on Greenpeace. In fact, most of the news items that have appeared are truncated, watered-down versions of the press release issued by Greenpeace. Read- Tea pesticide cocktail? Greenpeace finds residue of pesticides in many popular tea brands in the country Either our journalists have not got the import of the issue at hand, or they don't want to rub the tea companies the wrong way. We can only hazard a guess, for two of the tea companies named in the report are Hindustan Uniliver Limited and Tata Global Beverages Limited. Big companies, heavy advertisers, both of them. Like their exalted and exonerated cola cousins. One can vouchsafe believe that Greenpeace would have diligently mailed their meticulously footnoted press release to all media outlets. Yet, for some obscure reason, most media outlets opted to carry the straight-jacket creeds issued by news agencies. It was a big story, and given that the press release was sent out sometime in the early afternoon, news establishments would have had enough time to work on their own stories. Few did. You and I, both, will wonder why. Even the scant coverage of the report’s release of August 11 is lopsided, if you read between the lines. Just an innocuous word here and another there can deflate the enormity of a situation. That’s again, to repeat, because the allegation was serious and the implications far and wide. Take for instance this Press Trust of India (PTI) intro from a story that was faithfully reproduced by innumerable news establishments:“A study undertaken by environmental NGO Greenpeace over a year has allegedly found the presence of harmful pesticide residues including toxic dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane (DDT) in tea sold by leading brands across India.” These days reporters and desk hands don’t seem to know the difference between an “allegation” and a “claim”. Even the adverb, otherwise, has been wrongly used. Elsewhere later in the same story: “Meanwhile, the Tea Board of India has trashed the report of Greenpeace and said that tea leaves are "totally safe" and are sold only after going through stringent quality tests.” Trashed? Did PTI say trashed? No PTI, the Tea Board did not “trash the report;” it only “denied the allegations.” The board that same day had only issued a rhetorical statement of abject denial. The Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) story, which was also published all around, in fact said that the Tea Board of India had “refuted” the allegation, pretty much in the intro itself. But the Tea Board had hardly refuted anything; it had only denied that the accusations were true. Refuting means to factually disprove an allegation; it is not a synonym for denying. Carrying “balanced” reports and incorporating versions of the “other side” is fine in terms of journalistic ethics. But, dismissing the charges on their own and thereby trashing the allegations is journalism of questionable standards. Dubious, if you please. The Tea Board of India had only said, "... having reviewed the findings of the Greenpeace study, (we) can confirm that all the samples tested comply with the Indian laws and regulations, designed to protect consumers. Indian teas are well regarded the world over and are totally safe following stringent standards." The board could “confirm” that the samples “comply” with Indian laws and regulations by merely “reviewing” the findings, is it? And IANS fell for it? The Crop Care Federation of India (CCFI), an organisation that represents the Indian agrochemical industry, too released a statement that has been published in the media. The federation has said that “Greenpeace's report is part of a bigger conspiracy on part of foreign-funded environmental activists to discredit Indian tea brands.” There you go. Greenpeace can be accused of many things (like playing to the gallery), but not of malcontent. The organisation has tested certain samples that it had procured from the open market and found traces of banned, toxic substances in them. The allegations are compelling, and the truth certainly concerns us all. The punctiliously referenced report, Trouble Brewing, is there for all to see.  The country is not yet rid of toxic substances, and various industries keep issuing statements of bravado from time to time telling us that all allegations by activists are sheer figments of the latter’s imagination. And the gullible, pliant, and virtually complicit media sits in denial. There’s certainly a bigger story out there, and the media wants us to remain in the dark. [The writer is a Bangalore-based independent journalist and researcher. He can be reached at www.write2kill.in] Disclaimer: 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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