Media and Responsibility

It was reported in the last couple of weeks that India successfully launched a new satellite into orbit.
The accompanying news report mentioned that the satellite, named the GSAT-12, would aid television broadcasting, tele-education and tele-medicine programs and village resources. It went on to list mundane details like the satellite's apogee and perigee and it's exact weight. This is where the report ended. A routine report of a routine satellite launch. I'd seen dozens of nearly identical reports before and didn't give it much thought.

And yet, somewhere in the back of my mind, the monotony of the report and it's unchanging content bothered me. Yes, we are in the 21st century and satellite launches are routine. Yes, we are approaching the dawn of private space exploration and tourism. However, space is still the sole preserve of a handful of nations and a satellite launch is still an extremely expensive endeavor. Each individual launch is planned for a specific objective in a process that typically takes years and costs in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Looking back at the report, I was somewhat befuddled by the reported purpose of the satellite: "Television broadcasting, tele-education and tele-medicine programs and village resources". The television broadcasting bit did seem plausible. India probably has one of the most extensive channel line ups anywhere in the world. Need for additional bandwidth makes sense, even though we already have god knows how many communication satellites up there. It's the other bit that's more interesting. I have no knowledge of the expansive tele-medicine, tele-education and village resource programs that this satellite reportedly caters to. I recall reading similar language on previous launches, so I know the programs are extensive enough and important enough to warrant multiple satellites. Unfortunately, I have never known anything about these programs or seen them in action. I haven't heard anyone talk about their experience with these programs. They could be real and cost beneficial, but I certainly see a bunch of questions worth asking.

What are the details of these programs? What was their original goal? Who are they helping? How much have they cost so far? How many people have benefited from them? What is the total return on the investment so far?
To me, these are obvious questions after giving this report a casual glance and a couple of minutes of thought. I am flabbergasted that none of these questions have been asked in the media. I haven't seen a single report following up the story.

Forget good investigative journalism, even the sensationalistic media of today could put their imaginations to work and really extracted months of headlines from it. They already operate without the need for fact-checking and the government is their favorite punching bag. The questions I came up with could have been a rich source of mudslinging for months.  Even if the government had a case, the news media wouldn't have found it difficult to add some imagination to facts and go to town. Who knows, someone might have stumbled upon an actual fact and a true story might also have emerged.

As I see it, three outcomes seem plausible for a reporter investigating this further: 

1. MOST LIKELY: The reporter finds that the programs are legitimate but horribly inefficient. The government is cast as irresponsible. Media has a field day.

2. SOMEWHAT LIKELY: The reporter hits pay dirt and finds that the programs are a sham and there is evidence of illegitimate activity by the government and a new scandal breaks out. Media has a field day.

3. LEAST LIKELY: The reporter finds that the program is well run, it actually helps the right people and is a good investment. The reporter turns his report into a commendatory piece and wins awards for a feel good documentary along with government recognition and felicitation. Media has a field day

I don't see a downside for the media in any of these scenarios. Then why didn't this get picked up? 

The sad truth seems to be that even mudslinging needs some mental exertion. The current crop is so brain dead, lazy and inept that they can't find a story if it sits in their lap. The morons who reported the story and simply filed the original ISRO release were probably too bored and pre-occupied with idle banter to give it a second thought. Thinking, as we all know, made an exit from the media a while back.

This is but an example of the extent of their ineptness. One could pick up any of the rags posing as respectable newspapers or flip though all of the multitude of news channels and not find one good piece of journalism.

This isn't an idle rant. In a modern democracy, with the ever increasing amount of information flow,the media has a key role to play. The media largely controls what information the public sees, what information the public focuses on and what opinion the public forms. States that don't keep their power brokers honest are states headed to disaster. Irresponsible media behavior allows the politicians to go Scot free.

Now, look around you and see if your politicians have gotten away with murder. What was the media doing? Is this responsible journalism? Or is the media in bed with the corrupt, playing kingmaker and demanding it's share?

The silver lining: In the current climate of extreme corruption, disregard for the rule of law and a blind, compromised media, there is a huge need for quality journalism. The opportunity for bright people to apply some brains and make a name for themselves could not be bigger.


Tarun Khanna said…
It really is a sad state of the profession...I wonder if you have access to news channels (read entertainment channels) like 'India TV'...They literally rape the world journalism :(
Author: Furor said…

I was in India briefly and had a run-in with these channels. That experience and the joke that calls itself 'Times of India' show the state of the profession clearly.

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