Transparency! It’s something that the news media demands from everyone; particularly public officials, businesses and other institutions. This particular news item, although not from India, makes fascinating reading. In response to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rulings that require TV stations to keep a log and publicly declare political ads received by them there have been strong objections. And guess who’s objecting? The TV channels and the media themselves! “Meet the Media Companies Lobbying Against Transparency” would not be very different if the article were to be written for the Indian media. It is the news media that of late has been guilty of sacrificing transparency, especially when it comes to reporting about Gujarat. Naturally, given that Narendra Modi is the CM, a good number of agenda-driven journalists try their best to drive a stake through the Gujarat story. On May 2 we had another such extraordinary deception, this time on the economics and the growth story of Gujarat.
It’s not even a month since the social media put an end to the career of Abhishek Singhvi when the MSM chose to hide behind legalese. This time it was the turn of journalists who were bent on twisting Gujarat’s economic growth story to be dealt a severe blow by keen observers on the net. So let me quickly run a summary of the story from Kartikeya Tanna who wrote this in Firstpost (Excerpts):
Yesterday the nation woke up to several articles belittling the Gujarat growth story. Relying primarily on the Business Standard op-ed by AK Bhattacharya placing Gujarat’s average growth rate between 2003-04 and 2011-12 at 6.3%, Rediff published a state-wide comparison by the same author quoting similar data, while Soutik Biswas in a BBC Asia cynical op-ed popped the question whether, in view of this revelation, the Gujarat story was a “myth” and Modi a “spinmeister”…. though the 6.3% rate “puzzled” Bhattacharya, he did not quite bother to double-check. Worse, both columnists ended up making several conclusions and raising severe doubts on how and why Gujarat lagged behind. This led many intellectuals and commentators to gloat over how Bhattacharya had “punctured” Gujarat’s growth claims. Modi was accused of “peddling” the Gujarat myth. Many independent online forums picked up these articles and continue to host them. And, all of that was based on a serious error of fact. Fact, not inference.
Then as has happened often in the recent past, all hell broke loose on Twitter. Vijay (@centerofright) busted this grossly incorrect assertion by pointing out the data available on the Planning Commission’s website. It so turns out that the 6.3% figure peddled around by many was, in fact, the growth rate of Jharkhand. Gujarat’s average growth rate over the past eight years has been 10.08%. Repeated efforts by Twitterati to point this out to Business Standard, Rediff and BBC Asia resulted in corrected versions of the articles being put up on the websites. Bhattacharya substantially modified the analysis from statements like “the performance of Gujarat in this period is a puzzle” and “how does one explain Gujarat” to “Gujarat’s story is well-known and shows what sustained growth-oriented policies can do to a state’s economic fortunes”. Biswas had a bigger problem. Having chosen a rather direct title in undermining Gujarat’s growth, he had to change the title from “Is Gujarat’s red-hot economy a myth?” to “Gujarat IS a red-hot economy” stating how he “had also wondered whether there was something amiss with the data on Gujarat in the Business Standard article”.
The screen shots and the original articles and the revised ones can be viewed here, detailed by @centerofright (Vijay). The idea that the Gujarat story is a myth or mystery because its growth is 6% (even if a false number) and that other states like Maharashtra, Harayana etc. had higher growth is first and foremost mere academics. Numbers never tell the whole story but economics writers do make sense out of them. In this case though, they made nonsense out of numbers. Tanna has been kind to the writers and probably treats the blunders as ‘honest mistakes’. I don’t see any honest mistake. When quoting numbers it is not only the job of the journalist but also that of the editor of a journal to double-check facts. The double-digit growth story of Gujarat has been around long enough to ring alarm bells for these journos when they came up with 6%. And to be deliberately peddling a story with wrong numbers can only be ‘motivated’. AK Bhattacharya didn’t write his piece in Filmfare or Cosmopolitan, he wrote his piece in a business journal. These guys are supposed to keep a watch on numbers even in their sleep. What about Soutik Biswas of the BBC? He comes out as an absolute dunderhead.
|Economic stories ARE often deceptive|
It’s a cardinal sin in statistics to use second-hand information as the foundation of your entire thesis. This is what Soutik Biswas is guilty of. But hey, this was probably second-hand information that was handy for him to rubbish Gujarat and Narendra Modi. He is the economics version of Teesta Setalvad or Shabnam Hashmi or even Sanjiv Bhatt. The fact that Biswas had no intention but to simply paint Modi as hiding behind fake numbers is evident from the title of his bullshit itself: “Is Gujarat’s red-hot economy a myth?”. Usually, titles with a question mark are used by journalists who don’t care about facts. The second-hand liar, on being pointed out facts, quickly goes on to change the title to the exact opposite of his original one: “Gujarat IS a red-hot economy”.
Regardless of these foolish articles and foolish journalists there’s another angle to the story which most of these willful deceivers miss. It’s called ‘Experience’. Be it a restaurant, a rail company or an airline, people’s association with these is not driven merely by numbers. It’s the experience they go through that decides their opinions and relationships. Any marketer would tell you that customers buy and involve in enduring relationships because of this ‘experience’. I guess neither Bhattacharya nor Biswas understand that ordinary people don’t form opinions based on numbers, not even accurate ones. Kiran Shaw, the renowned businesswoman from Bangalore recently tweeted (May 3): “After putting up with B'lore's awful roads, its a pleasure to drive on Ahmedabad's roads. Wish Ktka's BJP Govt cd learn from Modi's BJP Govt”. That’s an ‘experience’ which mere numbers won’t tell you.
Fact remains, except for motivated liars, most people who visit Gujarat go through a very different experience than in many other parts of India. The govt is not in your face every day in Gujarat. Tribals are not in turmoil. Average Gujarati families live in decent homes with decent incomes. Your newspapers don’t headline the daily murders and crimes as routine. The girl child has more programmes than the rest. Your daughter, your wife or sister or mother is not under constant threat from goons on the streets. Immigrants from other states are not treated as unwanted intruders. Farmers are not killing themselves leaving dying declarations blaming some govt. Can it get better? Sure, Gujarat has many faults and problems of its own but hatred spewed by the media, either by fake stories or hate by numbers, is of their own imagination.
The other fact also is that the lies on other fronts have failed. The NDTVs, the CNN-IBNs, the Teestas and Bhatts have failed with their game of untruths and hate. All the fictitious cases haven’t found any merit so far in courts. What’s left to puncture? Maybe the Gujarat growth story is the last resort of the scoundrels. Of course, these stories aren't the first. You've had social scientologists like Dipankar Gupta or eminent distortians like Ramchandra Guha peddling such in the past. It’s an election year in Gujarat. But unlike the 2002 riots period and after there is a watchdog over the MSM. Social media doesn’t allow peddling of lies anymore.
I started with a note on ‘transparency’ aversion of the media. On a different note here’s a report that further sounds a warning to MSM: “CNN Loses Half Its Viewers: Corporate Media Downhill Plunge Continues As Alternative Media Explodes”. India’s net users are set to grow from the current 10 million to 200 million by 2014. So if the Indian MSM doesn’t get its act right soon and stop spreading lies or suppressing truth they will end up the second choice for news and facts. We’ve had a taste of social lies in the past by the Modi and Gujarat haters and now we have economics of deception. These won’t pass anymore.