Lately the topic of black money is being discussed all over the place. The Opposition parties, the Government and of course, the media are full of revelations. The UPA PM, Manmohan Singh, had assured action on black money within the first hundred days of the government. You can forgive him, he was busy with those who were bent on making black money rather than exposing those who were hoarding it. And where such money is concerned can Swiss banks be far behind? Everyone seems to have an idea how much amount Indians have stocked up in Swiss banks. They even quote reports from the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA) to cite the amount of black money held in their banks. That’s the funny part! I never knew banks kept a separate account for White and Black money to enable them to make such disclosures in their report.
Well, not according to the Economic Times. Stating clearly that the black money reports of Swiss Bankers Association was a myth ET ran an article (In Sept. 2009): “No black money statistics exist: Swiss banks” The article further goes on to add, as also quote an SBA official:
“Various political parties and other groups have been claiming that the black money stashed away in Swiss banks by Indians exceed one trillion dollars.” Seeking to demolish the "myth" over these figures being "circulated as gospel truth", a top official at the Swiss Bankers' Association told media from Basel that there were no truth at all in such statistics. "Anyone claiming to have such figures should be forced to identify their source and explain the methodology used to produce them," said the SBA's Head of International Communications, James Nason. "We take all our statistics from Swiss National Bank and statistics about 'black money' simply do not exist."
Coming from an established journal like ET that can be relied upon, right? And the article says “various political parties and other groups have been claiming.....” ! Really? Well, who was among the first to start the crap? Here’s the ET article from October 2008 excitingly titled: “Money lying in Swiss banks may hit markets via P-notes”. If one were to ask ET how much money actually came into India through P-notes I wonder what answer they would have. But wait, that’s not all!
The reason for various political parties and groups talking big figures of black money is the ET itself. This is what the October 2008 article under reference said:
“According to the Swiss Banking Association report of 2006-- India topped the world with $1.45 trillion deposits in Swiss banks. Other countries were Russia $470 billion, UK $390 billion, Ukraine $100 billion and China $96 billion”.
Now you can turn the world upside down, search in all your drawers and cupboards, even raid all the A. Rajas and the Radias of the world or try googling it – but you won’t find any such report with the above statistics. So where in the world did ET come up with the statistics and what is their source? That India topped the black-money list of the SBA 2006 report with $1.45 trillion? That’s mainstream journalism for you! And then ET will tell you that various groups and political parties have been claiming that black money is stashed away in Switzerland. Pray, who is their source of information? If the Times can report Aishwarya Rai appearing in a wrestling event on the Jerry Springer show (a report based on a spoof) as a true story, what’s wrong in fake statistics from spurious websites. Right?
Mind you, this disinformation crap may not have been actually started by ET itself, but for a newspaper to use unverified statistics from spurious websites is sensationalism at its best. And because they did, there are even more websites, blogs and politicians quoting these figures with ET as their source.
That doesn’t in anyway diminish the seriousness of the black money issue. The recent query of the Supreme Court asking the government why it wasn’t disclosing names is a welcome step. One hopes the government will act. And when it does, don’t be surprised to find quite a few media outlets and media moghuls in that list of black money hoarders.