|Image from here|
Earlier this year, on the 10 of May, 2010 one of India’ national newspapers, Hindu carried a first of its kind story alleging that its rival competitor and the largest selling English newspaper in the world, the Times of India was publishing advertisements for Monsanto’s Bt cotton crop as ‘news’ without informing its readers that the same was an advertisement – a phenomenon known as ‘paid news’ in India. I won’t get into the accuracy of Hindu’s reporting but you can read that report by P. Sainath over here.
I don't know whether this is worse or better but while writing the post on the PIL by the Environmental Support Group (ESG), which I just blogged about over here, I was amazed to notice that the entire news report in the Times of India, on ESG’s PIL, was a word for word reproduction of the press release put out by ESG, save for the last two and a half paragraphs of the press release which were not reproduced in the ToI report.
Reproducing press releases, in their entirety, as news reports, is bad journalism but what makes it worse is when the news report does not even state that it is quoting from a press release or in this case just reproducing the entire press release. Not once does the ToI news report state that the facts were being reproduced from a press release put out by the petitioner and the fact that the report ran with the byline of a ToI reporter – Saswati Mukherjee, makes the normal reader assume that the report was independently researched by the journalist in question. Why even run a byline on such a report which is a complete reproduction from a press release?
ESG’s press release gave only its version of the story and while ESG is completely entitled to do so, it is up to journalists like the ones at ToI to investigate and authenticate the story instead of borrowing each and every adjective and pejorative used by ESG in its press release. There is also the question of non-attribution of the source of the lifted text i.e. the press-release in this case. Non-attribution almost cost Fareed Zakaria his job and the poor chap had just lifted a few words here and there.
I’m surprised that the ToI has dealt with this story in this manner – I’ve seen them in action before when Shamnad had filed the PIL against the IPAB and in that instance the journalists from the ToI grilled him thoroughly before publishing a story on the PIL.
According to this Guardian story available over here - the practice of reproducing press releases as news is quite a rampant problem in the U.K. Be that as it may, stories like the present one involving Monsanto, ESG and the High Court of Karnataka should be researched thoroughly before being reported on. This is just too important an story to be treated in such a cavalier manner and certainly the Times of India can do better than this.