Armed with a Master's degree in sociology, Lakshmi Krupa Ge has worked as a journalist for the last six years in Chennai. She has written for the features section of several publications including The Times of India and New Indian Express. Her interests include Tamil literature, Kathak, arts, culture and a big love for post-colonial feminist literature. The perfect skill set for working at the TOI.
Of Bias And Accountability
The “About Firstpost” section on the website www.firstpost.com reads, “Firstpost.com will serve as a trusted guide to the crush of news and ideas around you. With thoughtful analysis and fearless views our team of editors and writers will track news in India and the world and provide a perspective that is reflective of a changing dynamic”.
I am not exactly a fan of this model of reporting because in effect, what Firstpost does is not inform, but influence. It seeks to tell me what to make of news instead of presenting an objective account. The problem with this premise of “fearless views” is that every item on the website then has been filtered through someone else’s biases. We are unaware of the kind of checks it uses (if at all it uses any) to prevent its writers and editors from adding personal and often unsubstantiated bias and baggage to these viewpoints. Having said that, it is hardly possible to ignore the website since it is part of Network 18 and is almost immediate when it comes to “reporting” events as they take place.
If you are from a city outside Delhi or Mumbai, (I am from Chennai), looking for credible sources of “immediate” news about your state or even city is sometimes as exhausting and elaborate an exercise as journalism is. If for instance, we feel tremors, we earlier used to first turn to Google, hoping someone caught it. These days Twitter has come in handy, thanks to the large number of Chennaivasis on the site. But before the era of broadband and smart phones we would have to, depending on which party is in power, head to Sun News, and later Kalaignar News or Jaya News. Now two new channels that claim to be nonpartisan -Pudhiya Thalaimurai (which will also soon start a 24-hour English news channel, one hears) and Sathyam TV have been added to this list giving us hope. There are others like Win, Mega, Captain, Z Tamil, Polimer etc that we go to in case we aren’t satisfied with what the big channels show, and then turn to The Hindu the next day for a real account of what happened.
We have, however, long given up on the notion that national media will get out of Delhi and Mumbai and report on issues that matter to the people of Tamil Nadu or other states in an intelligent and informed manner. So when a website like Firstpost came along, our initial reaction was, “Well at least these guys may not have the pressures of studio and make up, it’s just a matter of finding credible writers”. But, over time, Firstpost, especially for the people of Chennai, has proved to be a source of disappointment, exactly because of what it says it offers – views.
The realisation that Firstpost has lost the plot really started with this irresponsible, baseless, piece that apparently no one wanted to take credit for. It was titled “If you are rich and gay, shun Chennai”.
http://www.firstpost.com/india/if-you-are-rich-and-gay-shun-chennai-317277.html And this is a perfect example of what is wrong with Firstpost. (One is surprised that they haven’t taken it down still!) It is at best a judgmental ramble that manages to get only one quote from a transgender person (not “gay”) and even her quote goes against what the entire piece stands for. Rose says, “Chennai indeed has an enabling environment for sexual diversity and we feel emboldened within our community; but when it comes to families, there is no difference with other cities and between classes”. She does not say that the city is the worst place to live in if you are gay.
This culture of writing up source-less, quote-less and byline-less articles, is going to be worse than what mainstream media is doing – ignoring non-Delhi regions, largely. One understands that headline writers, sub-editors, are under pressure to come up with hooks that will grab eyeballs. But this is at best a flawed viewpoint that is not provable, and at worst, it betrays an inherent bias that the website seems to hold about the city.
Earlier, in April, Firstpost’s Pramod Kumar wrote “Conservative Chennai ejects eminent dancer Leela Samson” http://www.firstpost.com/living/conservative-chennai-ejects-eminent-dancer-leela-samson-293141.html. As one person on the comments section of the piece, “testy”, wrote, “Er… Chennai didn’t eject Leela Samson. She resigned…” and another, Rakesh, asks, “Why do you guys have to add ‘Conservative’ when you write only about Chennai? BTW, What do you mean by ‘Conservative’?” The piece says: “Samson’s exit was more or less predictable and is an example of the power-play of the city’s conservative and influential lobby of the cultural elite that has often been criticised for its patent exclusion of diversity…Probably Samson was prepared for such an exit and knew that she would always be an outsider in the traditional bastion of classical art in Chennai. The cultural elite of the city has a closely held monopoly over the traditional art scene, without whose patronage it is impossible to make even an entry”. These are all unsubstantiated statements and simply play to the populist opinion of “Chennai is conservative”, and does not promote diversity. Who are the cultural elite? Why hasn’t Mr Kumar expanded on that? If Samson’s exit was predictable why was everyone including the “Board of Kalakshetra, and others in the city” shocked when she resigned? This inconsistency between one sentence and another in a matter of a few 100 words is a result of flawed viewpoints.
These happened a few months ago. What about recent events? On October 10, Kumar writes, “Tamil Nadu’s land grab stories revived by Vadra allegations”
http://www.firstpost.com/india/tamil-nadus-land-grab-stories-revived-by-vadra-allegations-485880.html. The choice of title for this article is at best naïve, and in keeping with what one assumes is FP’s editorial policies, contradicting what the writer says later in the piece. While the title suggests that because of the allegations on Vadra land-grab stories have assumed importance once again in Tamil Nadu (something the report never justifies), the story says, “Since the Jayalalithaa government came to power in mid-2011, a large number of former ministers and MLAs, including the former deputy chief minister and DMK chief’s son MK Stalin, have been charged with land-grab cases”. While one welcomes the attempt at bringing in a “newsy” piece, one can’t ignore the fact that it is hardly objective and is almost entirely told from the point of view of the establishment. In fact, it doesn’t even delve deeper into the politics of land in the state. And that it needed a Vadra angle to make it a legitimate newsworthy piece is sad. Land, the transfers and reforms around it are deeply entrenched in socio-political and caste issues, especially in Tamil Nadu, and these are also tied to vote-bank politics. These points go entirely unnoticed in this piece. It’s also surprising that the piece does not talk about how the DMK regime went after Jayalalithaa with a similar case of land acquisition earlier.
One could argue that these may be stray instances, but that these were written by a largely-read website and presented by a website that claims to offer ”a perspective that is reflective of a changing dynamic” is still a question of concern.
Views are great. We all have them. But how they are arrived at, and the ability of the presenters of views to prove that they arrived at a certain point based on irrefutable logic and in the pursuit of truth, objectively, is what sets good views apart from bad ones. It’s time the website asked itself, if it does this.
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