Sunday, October 22, 2006

Needed: An Election Commission for Media

You’re watching a show on any of the news channels that we have access to at the depression of a remote control button. There’s a burning issue being debated, and the channel seeks to get a finger on the pulse of the country by conducting an SMS and/or e-mail poll.
So far, so good.
Within minutes of the programme starting, out pops a graphic showing the current status of the poll.
Let’s say it shows 87% for and 13% against the motion being discussed. The anchor draws attention to the graphic, and the panel discussion is now sidetracked by the “finding”.
How many people have actually seen the programme? No one knows. Hindsight and the Peoplemeter and aMap will prove it to register 1 or 2 TRPs.
How many people have voted at all? No one tells us.
How many people watched the programme and chose not to vote at all? No one tells us.
It wouldn’t matter too much if the question being asked was along the lines of “What’s your preferred colour… black or white?”
It does matter if the question being asked is “Should Afzal hang?” or “Is the Prime Minister soft on terrorists?” and such like.
It’s not TV alone that conducts these polls; newspapers, magazines and internet sites use similar polls, with a similar lack of transparency.
Maybe I don’t want Afzal to hang. But when I watch TV and discover that an astonishing 87% want him to go to the gallows, I stop and think: am I in such a minority?
I’m not. Because only a few hundred, perhaps a few thousand, would have bothered to send an SMS registering their “opinion”. And in a country as large as India, with one billion people as Pepsi and Standard Chartered Bank remind us, a few thousand is but a droplet in a an oceanling.
And since we’re so good at aping the West and at remixes, perhaps Indian media houses could take a leaf out of what western media houses do when conducting such polls.

They add a caveat that the poll reflects the opinion of only those who chose to poll and they clearly tell you the number of people who voted. Take a look at what CNN does on cnn.com.

3 comments:

JP said...

Anant, you may not have seen this in today's Times. Worth a quick look.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,6-2416848,00.html

Anant Rangaswami said...

Thanks JP
So I guess that this is a disease that strikes everywhere!

Anonymous said...

Gallows for Afzal - Collective Conscience or Ignorance:

In the sensational 13 Dec 2001, Parliament of India attack case, the issue of death sentence for Mohammed Afzal Guru should be analyzed within the boundaries of the existing law and not on the basis of so called collective conscience.

The evidence of conspiracy against Afzal stands on his own testimony- he confessed that he brought one of the 5 men involved in the attack from Srinagar to Delhi and helped him buy a used car and on the recovery of explosives from his house, and most crucially, on records of cellphone calls to the five. But the evidence is open to doubt. The explosives recovery record is not watertight. The police couldn't explain why they broke into his house during his absence while he was in jail - when the landlord had the key.

The cellphone record traced several calls from the five men to number 98114-89429. The police allegedly impounded the instrument from Afzal while arresting him in Srinagar. The instrument had no SIM card. So the only identity mark was its IMEI number, unique to each instrument.

There are only two ways to find this tell-tale number: open the instrument, or dial a code and have the number displayed. But the officer who wrote the recovery memo said on oath that he neither opened nor operated the instrument. Besides, the testimonies regarding the date of purchase of the phone with a new SIM card ( December 4, 2001 ) and its first recorded operation ( November 6, 2001 ) don't match. The benefit of doubt heavily weighs in favor of Afzal.

Afzal's conviction and sentencing violates cardinal principles of natural justice on the following 3 grounds:

Firstly, the charge-sheet was against 12 persons. The masterminds were Azhar, Tariq Ahmed and Ghazi Baba. It is significant to note that they are Pakistanis. They have neither been arrested nor have they been tried. If Pakistan extradites them, then they shall escape the gallows. The Parliament was attacked de facto by 5 Pakistanis. They were responsible for the death of 9 members of the security forces. Afzal did not cause anyone's death, he did not injure anyone. He did not mastermind the attack. The Apex court of India has observed that there is no direct evidence of his involvement.

Secondly, all the courts, including the Apex Court have acquitted him of the charges under Prevention of Terrorism Act ( POTA ) of belonging to any terrorist organisation.

Thirdly, Afzal was denied a fair trial. The investigation was illegal. The courts noted that evidence was fabricated and he never had a lawyer who represented him. The Judge passed an order giving Afzal the right to cross-examine witnesses but it is a herculean task, even for a person with legal training but devoid of knowledge of criminal law. The provisions of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights ( ICCPR ) have been grossly disregarded.

The Apex Court has held that, "the incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender."

Collective conscience of a society whose members are probably unaware of the fact that Afzal a former Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front ( JKLF ) man had surrendered and convinced others also to surrender.

Collective conscience of a society, some of whose members allegedly attacked Senior Advocate Ram Jethmalani's office when he offered to defend Afzal. Its a pity that Afzal did not have the benefit of ace defence counsel Ram Jethmalani who would have torn the prosecution case apart and made the difference between life and death for Afzal.

Collective conscience of a society, more than half of whose members, still do not know that Afzal is acquitted of all charges under the POTA.

Collective conscience of a society which is still unaware of the fact that the dependents of victims of the attack have not yet been rehabilitated properly.

Which ever way you look at it, its not collective conscience but collective ignorance.