Careless media, puzzled reader

IN Media Practice | 19/06/2008
Was the victim a farmer or not? Was he killed or did he become victim of a stray bullet?
Ashokan Nambiar C complains that even reports and editorials within the same newspaper were not consistent in their facts.

The `violent` protest by the farmers due to shortage of fertilizer in the northern districts of Karnataka in the second week of June had enough drama for the media to feast on.. There was stone pelting, a couple of buses were torched, fertilizer shops were attacked, police resorted to lathicharge, tear gas shells were used, and above all one person was killed in police firing.


The incident was widely covered and most of the news papers carried the news as a lead item on their front page. This article looks at how some of the English newspapers covered the incident in order to point out some of the inconsistencies in the coverage.


The incident hit the headlines on June 11, when on June 10, farmers resorted to violent agitation against the shortage of fertilizers. The protests began in the districts of Hubli and Dharward and spread to the district of Haveri where one person was killed in the police firing.


The reports made it clear that it was the shortage of fertilizer supply that triggered the violence and there is reason to assume that the person who was killed could be part of the agitation but if you rely on the reports for clarification you only end u quiate puzzled.


The Deccan Herald in its lead story identifies the person as Siddalingappa Churi, president VSS Bank and its editorial says that he is a farmer! Both The New Indian Express and The Hindu carried a photo of the same person, lying on the road with blood stains on his body, on their front page. And there is a striking difference in the way each newspaper informs the reader about the photo through their respective caption. The Hindu caption reads: "To His Rescue: A man rushes to help an injured person during farmers’ protest in Haveri on Tuesday", Where as the New Indian Express identifies the person and informs us through its caption that he is the "victim, Siddalingappa Choori, who was killed in police firing". 


On June 12th, there appeared to be relative consistency across the newspapers regarding the identity of the person who was killed but the confusion persisted within the individual newspaper. In the New Indian Express, in one report it is "one person" in another it is "a farmer". The Times of India identifies the person in its two reports as "a farmer" but the editorial has it as a mere "one person".   The Hindu had it as "a farmer" in most of its reports, except one, including its editorial. But the same news paper, probably the only one, carried a profile story of the victim Siddalingappa Choori. Quite interestingly nowhere in the report he is identified as a farmer. The report informs us that his family owned 30 acres of land, he was the president of Agriculture Cooperative society,  tell us his political affiliation,. and also carries contradictory quotes from his "relatives" on why he went to Haveri town on the day of farmers’ agitation and police firing. But none of these bits of information would make us think that he was a farmer. In the Deccan Herald, one report says that victim is a "farmer" but the editorial makes it clear by contradicting its own report that "…a person unconnected with the agitation became the victim of a stray bullet."


Such inconsistency regarding a crucial information tend to make us feel that there is a "taken for granted" attitude among newspapers towards information. May be gone are the days when information was considered as "sacred" by the media.


Probably when the watchdog barks, it is equally important to watch the watchdog itself along with what it is barking at.  


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