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ನೂರೆಂಟು ಸುಳ್ಳು (nUreMTu suLLu)

You may not be a "Dhrutharashtra", but we want to be the Sanjaya for you!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Our Reader Is Right; (Almost) Everyone Gets It Wrong!

Commenting on one of our earlier posts, a reader opined that English newspapers too get the facts wrong. We of course agree with that. To prove that our reader is right, we will provide you an example.

Here is Saubhik Chakrabarti's column from the Indian Express dated September 18th. It is about the recently concluded IMF meeting in Singapore. Mr.Chakrabarty is not too happy about the current power structure of IMF. (We agree with his sentiments, by the way.)

This structure -- based on a quota system -- was established in 1940s when the economies of US and Western European nations were much bigger than most Asian and African economies. Now, of course, things have changed. The Chinese, South Korean, Indian economies have grown tremendously overtaking the economies of many Western countries. Yet, the IMF quotas do not reflect this changed reality.

Commenting about this, Mr.Chakrabarty writes (emphasis is ours):

The original, horrendously complicated formula for fixing quotas was drawn up on the basis of three things: the size of a member-country’s economy, the quantum of its foreign exchange reserves and the economy’s propensity to volatility. It made sense in 1944 that China’s quota was less than that of the Netherlands or Belgium. But does it make sense in 2006? China’s economy is now twice the size of the Belgian and Dutch economies combined. But both Belgium and the Netherlands still have larger IMF quotas than China. What about us? India’s economy is now twice the size of Belgium’s. Belgium has a larger quota.

The question is, Is Mr.Chakrabarty Right? when he writes "But both Belgium and the Netherlands still have larger IMF quotas than China.". If you are a regular reader of our blog, you know the answer: NO!

Here are the numbers from IMF's website:

(Note: Mr.Chakrabarty's article was written before the quotas got revised. China's number increased from 2.98% to 3.72%. The numbers cited above are also from that time.)

Now that we know Mr.Chakrabarty has problems with elementary mathematics or has not bothered to check the numbers before he wrote what he wrote, if you are like us, you would be wondering why in the whole world (or, rather Europe), did he pick Belgium and Netherlands to compare with China? Why not, say Germany and Italy, which really have higher IMF quota numbers but lower GDPs than China?

Then you start noticing that the same comparison and similar error is made by many news sources including the venerable BBC and CNN (citing Reuters).

This from BBC:
China currently has fewer votes than either Belgium or the Netherlands, even though its economy is twice the size of the two combined.

This is from CNN:
The overhaul aims to correct the under-representation of countries such as China, which has fewer votes than Belgium or the Netherlands even though its economy, the world's fourth-largest, is twice their combined size.
However, the much despised (in US) Aljazeera gets it right when it says:
Despite its growing economy, China has less voting power than Belgium and the Netherlands combined.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Flight from Boredom: The Quest for Facts

There comes a time when one has to explain the why behind what he or she is doing. This may be that time for me.

I am not a journalist. I have no training in that area. I am not a writer either. Barring a couple of articles in an online publication and the posts in my blogs, I have not written much else.

But, I am a news junkie; have been one since my early childhood. I love newspapers. Even the ones that are published in languages that I can’t read; many times I have bought French, German, Portuguese, Spanish newspapers just to look at them.

Living in US for a long time, I did not have regular access to the Indian newspapers. Once the Internet arrived and the Indian newspapers started publishing over the ‘Net, things got changed. Eventually Kannada papers also started appearing online. Mean while, having lived in the New York area, I started reading the New York Times every day and other newspapers whenever I could.

It was not too long before I realized the difference in quality of the Indian newspapers and the New York Times; not just in the depth or the breadth of the news coverage, but in the efforts to ensure that readers are presented only facts. Of course that did not mean that NYT did not get things wrong. It did. Wen Ho Lee, Jason Blair, Judith Miller/WMD episodes being the more infamous ones.

But, I still haven’t lost trust in NYT. Why?! Because, each time it got things wrong, it has admitted the mistake and has taken corrective actions. Not just major blunders but even minor factual errors; factual errors that had no impact on the rest of the article. For an example, read this correction from September 19th:

A front-page article on Sept. 8 about the background of Ralph J. Phillips, the escaped inmate known as Bucky who was the target of a manhunt in western New York for five months, misspelled the surname of his lawyer. He is John Keavey, not Keaney.

Do most readers of NYT care whether the surname of the lawyer of an escaped convict is “Keavey” not “Keaney”? Probably not. Yet, for the NYT it is quite important to make sure that its readers get that fact right.

The Origins

I am not sure when I started reading Thats Kannada. Probably as soon as it made its appearance over the Net. One column that I regularly read there was Mr.Bhat’s “Noorentu Maatu”. When I started reading it I did not know who he was. When I realized that he was the editor of the number one Kannada daily, I was appalled. I found many factual errors in his articles. Some of them were “Keaney/Keavey” kind but others had an impact on the story being told. It appeared as though these other errors were introduced either to make the story more melodramatic or steer the readers into a particular viewpoint. (I write “it appeared” because, I cannot say that was the intention or not.)

Credibility is an important value, especially so for the newspapers. I believe even minor factual errors – if they keep repeating and are left uncorrected – could raise doubts in the readers’ minds; at least it does in my mind. When I read in a news report that Mr.Bhat talked about “Credibility”, I could not help but note the irony. I wrote an article about “Media and Credibility”. In hindsight, I cannot say it’s any good, but, it got published in That’s Kannada. (Thank you Sham!)

My article received many responses. Many of them were quite positive. I became friends with some of the readers. While exchanging emails with these friends and some of my family members, I came up with the idea of starting a blog to make a note of the minor/major factual errors, falsehoods and any other things that I cared to note. To make it a bit interesting to read, I decided to be sarcastic in my writing style. Since Mr.Bhat’s “Noorentu Maatu” , in a way was the inspiration, I decided to name it “Noorentu Sullu”.

Mr.Bhat and Me

I have nothing personally against Mr.Bhat. I have met him twice. Once in a public function where he was one of the chief guests. Another time in his Vijaya Karnataka office. Both the times I was struck by his humility and decency. He is the editor of a major newspaper in India and I write a blog mostly read by a few of my friends and family members. Yet, he treated me with respect and even friendliness. Considering the sarcasm I have frequently employed in my writing style, it’s even more striking.

I also must mention that, even before we met, Mr.Bhat wrote about me in Vijaya Karnataka in one of his editorial columns. That was quite a pleasant surprise.

Newspapers and Me

I love newspapers. I respect journalists a lot. In spite of my frequent complaints, I believe that most newspapers and journalists try to provide only the facts to their readers; may not be all the time but most of the time. I think Vijaya Karnataka, Prajavani and Kannada Prabha are all very good newspapers. They have served and are still serving their readers quite well.

But, I expect them to be even better. I do not believe striving to get even minor facts right should be dismissed as “editing Panchanga”. I also do not subscribe to the thought that today’s suddi is tomorrow’s raddi. While the newspaper copy itself may end up inside the tummy of an ass, the contents in that are matters of public record and should be treated as such.

Why Not In Kannada?

For more than 18 years I have lived away from Karnataka, 16 of them away from India. Even though Kannada is my mother-tongue, due to lack of practice I find it much easier to write in English.

Is This Serious Media Watch?

Most definitely not. I neither have the talent nor the temperament for being a serious media watch dog. In spite of all the serious stuff about media, journalism, credibility, etc, my quest for facts are just a way to flee from boredom. My blog entries are just the rants of an individual who derives some joy by pointing a finger or two at the mighty and famous.

Why This Explanation?

As I mentioned earlier, when I started this blog the few readers who read were all kind of aware of the back-story. It remained like that till a few months back. At least that’s what I was thinking. I certainly had no inkling that my blog would be noticed by Ravi Belagere, let alone that he would write about it.

Mr.Belagere’s article, links from other blogs and websites – including those written by eminent writers like U.B.Pavanaja and M.S.Sriram who mentioned my blog in Sudha –- have brought in many readers.

I hope this explanation provides some context to the readers of my blog.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

How Recent Is "Recent"?

Yesterday's (September 16th, 2006) Vijaya Karnataka has an article titled " ಸಂಪಾದಕನ ವಿರುದ್ಧ ಇಡೀ ದೇಶವೇ ತಿರುಗಿ ಬಿದ್ದರೆ?" in the "ಸುದ್ದಿಮನೆ ಕತೆ".

It is about Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times and his decision to publish an article about the existance of a secret warrantless eavesdropping program.

As per this article:

ಇತ್ತೀಚೆಗೆ ಅಮೆರಿಕ ಅಧ್ಯಕ್ಷ ಜಾರ್ಜ್ ಬುಷ್ ತನ್ನ ವೈಟ್‌ಹೌಸ್‌ನ ಓವಲ್ ಕಚೇರಿಗೆ ಬಿಲ್ ಕೆಲ್ಲರ್ ಹಾಗೂ ಪತ್ರಿಕೆಯ ಪ್ರಕಾಶಕ ಆರ್ಥರ್ ಕುಲ್ಜಬರ್ಗರ್ (sic) ಜೂನಿಯರ್ ಅವರನ್ನು ಕರೆಸಿದ್ದರು.
The question is how recent ("ಇತ್ತೀಚೆಗೆ") is this "recently"?

The New York Times article was published on December 16th 2005***. Keller and Sulzberger visited 11 days before that article got published.

We know "recently" is relative. But, is 9 months+ "recently"? Especially for a daily newspaper? We are just asking.

The article starts with a reference to the recent coverstory in the New York magazine:

ಇತ್ತೀಚಿನ 'ನ್ಯೂಯಾರ್ಕ್' ಪತ್ರಿಕೆಯ ಮುಖಪುಟ ಲೇಖನದ ಶೀರ್ಷಿಕೆ- The United States of America Vs Bill Keller
If you are intrigued by the VK article and want to read the New York Magazine article, you can find it here. BTW, if you read the Vijaya Karnataka article and the New York Magazine coverstory, you may find that it is not just the "ಶೀರ್ಷಿಕೆ" that caught the eye of "ಸುದ್ದೀಶ".

Towards the end of the VK article it is mentioned, rather abruptly without any explanation:
ಅದೇನೇ ಇರಲಿ ಟೈಮ್ಸ್ ಪತ್ರಿಕೆಯ ಪಬ್ಲಿಕ್ ಎಡಿಟರ್ ಬೈರಾನ್ ಕೆಲವು ಪ್ರಶ್ನೆಗಳಿಗೆ ಕೆಲ್ಲರ್ ಉತ್ತರಿಸಲು ನಿರಾಕರಿಸಬಾರದಿತ್ತು ಎಂಬ ಮಾತು ಸಹ ಕೇಳಿ ಬರುತ್ತಿದೆ.
If you are like us, you would be curious to know about those questions of Byron Calame (ಸುದ್ದೀಶ seems to be in first-name basis with him!) that Bill Keller stonewalled.

We feel that they are interesting --if not important -- questions and hence need a bit of an explanation.

The questions are about the timing of the publication of the NYT story.

The NYT knew about the existance of the (possibly illegal) warrantless eavesdropping program for more than year before it evetually published it in December of 2005. According to some critics of the Bush administration and the NYT, the delay in publishing it might have helped Bush in 2004 elections.

Initially the NYT claimed that it delayed the publication "for a year", seeming to imply that it did not know about the existance of the program before the elections in November of 2004. But, later it was learnt that the NYT delayed the story by 14 months and that it could have clearly published it before the November 2004 elections had it chosen to do that.

Many feel that this may have damaged the reputation and the public trust of The Times in general and Bill Keller in particular.

People get upset with the NYT and Keller when they term 14 months as "for a year". And we rant about VK terming 9 months+ as "ಇತ್ತೀಚೆಗೆ". Notice any irony?!

*** Our post read "2006" instead of "2005". My thanks to the reader --"noora ombattu sullu" -- for alerting us about this.)

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Truth About Dilbert

September 9th Vijaya Karnataka “ಸುದ್ದಿಮನೆ ಕತೆ” column has an article titled “ಅಮೆರಿಕಕ್ಕೆ ಬೆಳಗಾಗುವುದು ಆತನೊಂದಿಗೆ...!”. It is about the hugely popular cartoon strip “Dilbert”.

As per that article, “ಫಾರ್ಚುನ್, ವಾಲ್‌ಸ್ಟ್ರೀಟ್ ಜರ್ನಲ್, ವಾಷಿಂಗ್‌ಟನ್ ಪೋಸ್ಟ್, ನ್ಯೂಯಾರ್ಕ್ ಟೈಮ್ಸ್‌ನಂಥ ಪತ್ರಿಕೆಗಳು ದಿಲ್‌ಬರ್ಟ್ ಕಾರ್ಟೂನುಗಳನ್ನು ಪ್ರಕಟಿಸುವುದಷ್ಟೇ ಅಲ್ಲ, ದಿಲ್‌ಬರ್ಟ್ ಯಶಸ್ಸಿನ ಗುಟ್ಟಿನ ಹಿಂದಿರುವ ಮರ್ಮದ ಕುರಿತು ವಿಶೇಷ ಲೇಖನಗಳನ್ನು ಪ್ರಕಟಿಸಿವೆ"”

The truth, however, is a bit different

Neither the New York Times nor the Wall Street Journal publishes the Dilbert cartoons. The Times doesn’t publish any cartoon strips at all in its daily editions. Only recently it started publishing cartoon strip in its weekend magazine. This cartoon most definitely isn’t Dilbert.

The Wall Street Journal seems to have published Dilbert – as a paid advertisement! We haven’t read WSJ in recent times on a regular basis, so, we do not know whether it is still carrying this advertisement or not. Our guess: Not.

Does this make any difference to the rest of the article? Probably not.

Does that mean that facts are unimportant as long as one gets the central theme right? We just ask...

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