First, there was a price war. Then came the advertising blitz. Now, comes the editorial battle.
An opinion piece in The Hindu today is a no-holds-barred attack on the coverage of Bt Cotton in ‘The Times of India’. Tracing the latter’s coverage (or cover-up) of the misery wrought by the use of the genetically modified cotton from 2008 and then again in 2011, the Hindu reporter followed a Parliamentary Standing committee on Agriculture that visited village Bhambraja in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district in March. Refuting claims made in the 2008 article that Bhambraja and Antargaon were free of farmers’ suicides ever since they switched to Bt Cotton, the legislators were told that there were in fact, 14 suicides here!
The report goes on to critique the ‘consumer connect’ feature of the Times of India on the same issue and refers to claims of debt-free farmers who are no longer under the stranglehold of the money-lender (but now owe money to banks and insurance agencies.
The Hoot readers will remember that much of the Hindu report has already featured in this mediawatch website. Manu Moudgil had alreadywritten about Monsanto’s advertising blitz in September 2011.
So why would the Hindu go out on a limb now? Is it something to do with the price war currently on in Chennai? This kind of no-holds-barred expose of another newspaper’s coverage is not something the Indian press has taken up with such vigour in the past. Of course, we do have the recent Indian Express front page report of the coup that wasn’t did elicit guarded and fairly polite refutations from other media houses (barring a blunt column questioning editorial judgement that came from the DNA editor Aditya Sinha).
In the west, the example of the exposé on the New Republic’s star reporter Stephen Glass who fabricated story after story before being caught out by a journalist from Forbes magazine who was miffed at having missed a story on a hacker’s conference that Glass wrote about only to found out there was none! The exposé became the subject of that excellent film, ‘Shattered Glass’, though it was quite sympathetic to Glass and really didn’t delve deeply enough into the reasons why Glass did what he did, the beasts he had to feed and why editorial filters simply didn’t work!
It would be good if the Hindu exposé would also do the same. Its report does refer to the massive advertising Bt Cotton producer Mahyco-Monsanto unleashed as well as the consumer initiative that ‘reaped gold’ for the media house in obvious ways.
But are advertising, public relations initiatives and marketing the only fuel for this piece of editorial engineering? Or were there other business interests involved?
Our news media really need to dig deeper…