Transgressing The Ethical Boundary: Misleading Media Reports

Posted on December 3, 2012 in Media

By Mohnish Sinha:

It is axiomatic that media is a platform that voices opinions of all quarters across the wide spectrum of people in the world. It is here that myriad voices find their place but no final conclusion is drawn by the media itself. Media leaves this task for its audience. Depending upon the merit of the case, by taking cognisance of logic behind different opinions, the audience is supposed to decide for themselves what is wrong and what is right.

But what if a news-report that is expected to report opinions of all stakeholders in a controversy, comes out to be a piece of write-up where only a particular section in a controversy finds its voice expressed whereas the section standing on the diametrically opposite side has only a minimal representation or gets completely blocked in the worst possible scenario? It is a big IF?

The aforementioned situation is synonymous to presenting a half truth before the audience. As the adage says, “Half knowledge is even more dangerous than knowing nothing”, so if a journalist while writing a news-report does not follow the aforementioned axiom, serious questions rise on the manner in which the news-report presents different facts and opinion. If it is partial and distorted, the audience is bound to drawn a conclusion without taking all factors into consideration.

It is in this kind of scenario that a journalist transgresses his/her ethical boundary from ‘reporter of opinions’ to an ‘expresser of personal opinions’. Incidents of this kind bring disrespect and disregard to the whole journalistic fraternity and lower their value among the minds of our countrymen.

It is specifically because of this reason that the media practises the cardinal principle that for every news-report to get published, at least one quote from each counter-section should be present.

The recent controversy about the University of Delhi’s official website notifying misleading media reports about the new evaluation system implemented by the University is a pertinent example of how a news-report has transgressed its ethical boundary.

The update on University of Delhi’s website displays letters from Prof. Sumanyu Satpathy, Head of the Department, Department of English and Dr. M. Aslam Parvaiz, Principal, Zakir Husain College. The letter by former is in regard to The Times of India’s New Delhi edition’s report dated 29 November titled “Students wary of results amid Delhi University’s evaluation chaos”. On the other hand, the letter by later is with reference to the same newspaper’s report dated 28 November titled “Delhi University evaluators face test of patience, grit”.

The letter gives explanation about Dr. Parvaiz being attributed to words that he did not say. Interestingly, in the letter he also explains that the correspondent has herself ascribed him to even an absurd notion about the ‘system of secrecy’ that he does not hold and has nowhere mentioned the same to her during the course of telephonic interview.

It is a classical case of practising yellow journalism where a quote was planted in a news-story so as to increase sensationalism about the event. The use of words ‘death blow to the system of secrecy’ is an attempt to increase sensationalism surrounding the issue.

One more interesting point to note is that in the 29 November report of the said paper, out of all the quoted sources, only one source has been attributed with name and the rest are anonymous. Besides, in the whole report there is not even a single quote that gives the opinion of the administration or the examination branch of the University of Delhi.

One important trend that has been witnessed in the media in the race for higher readership and TRP is that journalists have now started to see virtues in negativism. The impression is that negative stories would draw the attention of the people by creating disproportionate sensationalism. There is no second thought that this is an unethical practice in journalism.

When not even a single Indian university finds a place in the top 200 universities of the world, we make such a large hue and cry. It is that time when the universities face the ire of common man, students, teaching community and finds its place in some of the heated debates in media.

But, it is indeed lamentable that when our universities like the University of Delhi makes ardent efforts to introduce new reforms, it has to face stiff resistance from both outside the university and inside the university as well.

It is extremely unfortunate that few teachers of this prestigious university rather than being active partners in the whole reform exercise have chosen to resort to mindless opposition, citing grounds that clearly show that they are resistant to new changes.

It is of pivotal importance to understand that if we want our universities to occupy a place in the coveted list of top educational varsities of the world, then, examination, classroom teaching and curriculum reforms are badly needed. This would enable our universities to adopt the best educational practises in place all over the world and hence realise its actual potential to compete with the best universities in the world.

Furthermore, no heuristic vision is required to understand that one of the main reasons behind opposition of this new examination reform is that few sections of the teachers are averse to accountability measure being put in place in the university so that they could continue with their practice of stress-free life as an academician with no accountability being put on their shoulders.

It has become a trend among few sections of teachers in the University of Delhi that they would oppose each and every measure adopted by the university. Whether it is implementation of semester system or introduction of new examination reforms, every new step taken by the university administration encounters vehement opposition.

Rather than contributing in enhancing the quality of education in the university, few teachers are channelizing their energy in slogan shouting and strikes. Due to this many classes in the university are not held and hence students are left with no other option but to study on their own. It leaves the future of many young minds at stake.

This is also one of the main reasons behind decrease in the number of classes held during an academic year. When the quantity is falling, forget about quality as there are no actual measures in place to check the quality of lecture delivered by a professor in the class! What goes in record to the university is the number of academic classes held and pathetically that too is falling.

As a former student of journalism in the University of Delhi, I have my personal experiences of how naive young minds who come to this prestigious university with high hopes of learning the art of journalism and being objective in their work as a journalist, regrettably, they are misguided and mislead in the ‘ideological whirlpool’.

The skills learnt during the college days stay with an individual throughout his life. It is this tender age when the attitude of an individual towards the different aspects of the world starts building-up and gets reinforced. It is the apt time when students should be subjected to balance academic teaching by exposing them to myriad dimensions of seeing an issue. This kind of practise broadens the horizon of a student and enhances his analytical skills to logically analyse an issue.

But, unfortunately, the opposite happens in the university. Students are expected to always toe the line of the teacher and see an issue in only the manner in which the teacher desires him to see. Exploration of any other dimension or angle to view that issue is taken as an act of disobedience. Any deviation from the laid out path is punished in the form of very low marking in the internal assessment. This way, internal assessment that is actually designed to evaluate the regular progress of a student serves as a potent tool in the hands of teachers to have full control over the students.

In the university, teachers did not engage properly in teaching. Many classes went without a teacher present in the class. Barring few exceptionally good teachers, in case of other teachers even when they were teaching in the class, the quality of teaching was pathetic.