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Right Picture


Economists are divided, mostly along political lines, over whether India has seen large scale job losses despite high growth, or actually had substantial increases in employment levels. It is not as though the difference in the two possible states is marginal as in the case of a bouncer or wide ball in Cricket, requiring a third umpire’s call. The problem, of course, is that data is being interpreted to fit the preferred theory. Even for the impartial, though, it is a difficult task because the economy has expanded into areas that do not fit into the old models of interpretation, while it has withdrawn from those that ought to be obsolete. Even the data collection process is outmoded.

It is like trying to calculate how many people are reading the news by counting the number of newspaper copies published – the answer would be off for a number of reasons. There are today larger news-free zones than ever before, if the call is to be made in the traditional way by counting hard copies. It is not just the poor and illiterate who do not have access to newspapers; it is also the well-off youth in the corporatised world of India’s mega-cities. (Unfortunately, they are also the ones who do not have the time or inclination to vote!) In the case of the affluent ones, news is communicated over the internet and obtained as highly personalised content based on a number of calculations, such as purchasing preferences and targeting by marketers. This serves to enhance bias. Otherwise it is just passing references while viewing other content. There is certainly not an objective selection of content by professional editors based on not just information one is interested in, but also one ‘ought’ to be aware of.

In the case of the much less affluent, news has to compete with entertainment on television, because of which there is the tendency to ‘sensationalise’ and even ‘produce’ content for the sake of TRPs. This also imparts a bias that can only be corrected by consciously surfing the news channels for every dimension of a story. The average viewer is obviously not interested in doing so and prefers instead to settle for the favourite drama serial or comedy show.

As such, too many people do not have an idea of the larger picture and often judge politics from the direct benefits they receive in their professional or personal worlds. Political parties are forced to hand out a multiplicity of sops to catch the voters’ attention during election time, the price for which the economy has to pay. This remains the nature of democracy, at least till better means of communication are found.