Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The mainstream media’s malaise

Rhetoric continues to be the dominant theme in the mainstream media in India. Therefore I was not very surprised to read this – an eloquent diatribe on the nuke deal and the collateral damage it has caused-by Sagarika Ghose, who on prime-time TV, often cannot distinguish between a debate and a shouting match. Let’s take a closer look at a few ‘priceless’ excerpts from this ‘master’piece.

According to a shocking recent report, 836 million Indians live on a per capita income of less than Rs 20 per day”

Getting your facts right is the first step in building credibility. So to put the above stat in perspective- more than 80% of India earns less than half a dollar/day! Outrageous, isn’t it? Ok, don’t take my word for it. Look at this. About 34.7% of the population in Indian earns less than a dollar/day. It could be a typo- I grant you, but a typo that makes you look in a very poor light.

“The in-house elitist chatter about the Hyde Act, 123 Agreement at a time of floods, collapse of urban infrastructure, bomb blasts and a horrifying poverty report reveals a grim truth: that India's powerful are closet-monarchists whose contempt and scorn for the people is so deep seated that they prefer to live in fortresses from where the public can barely be seen”

I didn’t know that a job in journalism comes with perk that is normally reserved for the artistically inclined- a poetic license!

“The nuke deal controversy shows a chilling distance between politicians and people”

“But has any politician or leader bothered to explain what the deal means or does not mean to the people?”

Nope, you were wrong there. There is no distance…most of the politicians are equally ignorant. You (CNN-IBN) could have probably done the explaining, had you devoted a little less space/time to the adventures of Sanjay Dutt and Salman Bhai. Also it’s a bit hard to explain a complicated deal (that has remained incomprehensible to a majority of the august members of the Parliament) to the ‘aam aadmi’, considering that there are only 48.7 million graduates in India (under 5% of the population). I have a radical solution- make only simple policies, such as- if you are an OBC, you can be in the bottom percentile in CAT and still go to IIMA. Easy to understand and administer!

“21st century media like all technology is an amoral being; its avalanche of images is anarchic. Floods, parties, police brutality, fashion, riots, food, starvation, murder, justice, cocktails, nuclear debates, media provides the democratic noise of everything Indian, the media caters to all tastes. The media plays its role, politicians must play theirs”

Amoral, really!

After the Hyderabad bomb blasts, a prominent media channel reporter asked a young boy, “You have lost your father, how do you feel?”. Another reporter posed provocative questions to a youth who lost his sister on the eve of Raksha Bandhan; the youth started frothing with rage and vowed vendetta in a dramatic manner. Grief is a private affair, not a public spectacle for a reality-TV addicted voyeuristic audience. Journalistic ethics-anyone?

There are, however, very good reasons albeit commercial ones, that explain the way the media houses function. It’s time people understood the economic motivations and pull the media off the moral high horse. Valuation in media centers around a nebulous concept called ‘eyeballs’. Now ‘eyeballs’ is synonymous with ‘reach’ and is measured by INTAM (Indian Television Audience Measurement). 'People meters' are installed in sample homes and these electronic gadgets continuously record data about the channels watched by the family members and the agency prepares a national data on the basis of its sample homes readings. And it’s a no-brainer that channel revenues are inextricably linked to TRPs.

I have noticed, for instance, in a couple of households- on the day of Hyderabad blasts- the women folk seemed anxious to avoid looking at some of the gory scenes and catch with up their daily quota of soaps. Thankfully, there was no cricket match on that day. My larger point is this- India’s 200 million strong middle class, that forms the bulk of the viewer-ship, is largely apathetic to political reform and social realities. Read this, a very insightful peep into this issue. So Rajdeep Sardesai’s problem is this- he wants you to throw away the remote when you are watching CNN-IBN and reach for it when you are not- a scenario more likely if there is a ‘revealing’ interview with Ms Sherawat than a ‘relevant’ interview! Also the need to put together new stories at a short notice means less time for research and reflection and hence a generous use of sound-bytes, rhetoric & decibel levels. Very much like the CP done by ill-prepared students during our b-school days!

So till there is an appreciable rise in the political awareness levels that would warrant more ‘relevant’ coverage, I will probably have to stick to watching Karan Thapar and reading blogs.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

How better fed cows could cool the planet

Something for the environmentalists to chew!!!

Bettina Gartner in the Christian Science Monitor
It may be bad manners, but it's also necessary Every 40 seconds or so, a cow burps. Scientists are now scrambling to make them burp less – not to make more polite cows, but a cooler planet.
As cows digest their food (up to 150 pounds of grass, hay, and silage per day, along with 20 pounds of concentrated feed), myriad microorganisms – bacteria, protozoa, fungi, and archaea – busily break down the fibers and other nutrients in their rumens. In the process, hydrogen and carbon dioxide are released. The archaea (a kind of bacteria) transform the two gases into methane (CH4), up to 100 gallons of it per cow per day, and the cows get rid of it mainly by burping.
How could a burp matter? But it does.
Odorless, colorless methane – the primary of natural gas – is a powerful greenhouse agent. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, pound for pound methane is about 21 times more effective at warming Earth's atmosphere than carbon dioxide is. Globally, ruminant livestock – including cattle, goats, and buffaloes – produce about 80 million metric tons of methane a year, accounting for about 28 percent of man-made methane emissions annually.
Recently, researchers from the Japanese National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba calculated the environmental impact of a serving of beef and published the result in The New Scientist. According to them, the production of one kilogram of beef (2.2 pounds) results in the emission of greenhouse gases with a warming potential equivalent to 80 pounds of carbon dioxide. In other words: Serving steak to your family is the greenhouse-gas equivalent of driving 155 miles.
More here