Friday, September 25, 2009

Why I dislike the BBC's reporting

Nearly every article that the BBC has written about Chandrayaan I that I have seen so far ends with these lines:

But the Indian government's space efforts have not been welcomed by all.
Some critics regard the space programme as a waste of resources in a country where millions still lack basic services.

For example: this article today, and this one, this one and this one earlier.

It is not just that they are repeating the same sentiment again and again: it is precisely the same text, inserted as boilerplate at the end of everything they have ever written about Chandrayaan -- going back to at least October 2008 (when the mission was launched), and perhaps earlier!

And precisely what is the point of such text? Of course "some critics" regard it as a waste of money. "Some critics" think the Apollo landings were faked. "Some critics" believe the earth is flat. In a country of a billion people, and a world of eight billion people, you will always find "some critics" to say anything. Who are those critics? Why not name them, just to let the reader judge their credibility?

Even that should not be too hard: I am sure there are some very respectable people who think Chandrayaan is a waste of money, and will be willing to be quoted as saying so. But the BBC cannot be bothered to go out and look for them. Much easier to just stick this boilerplate at the end of every damn article they write on the subject.

No doubt they think it makes them look "balanced".


Sunil D'Monte said...

Good catch. You should send this to "The Hoot".

Anonymous said...

Interesting. You are have a good memory indeed and recognise patterns very well.

I guess I agree about the balanced part. A good news article must give a glimpse all perspectives.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Sunil - I'll think about it.

Anonymous - I think this boilerplate "balance" is worse than no balance at all. If the BBC people really think they must point out that millions are in poverty in India, they can say so themselves rather than use the weaselly "Some critics say..." Or if they don't want to sound opinionated in a news article, they can find someone to say it for them. As I said, there are plenty of people who could give a quite persuasive argument for why India needn't be spending money on moon missions. But this sort of journalism is inexcusable laziness, tinged with colonial condescension.

km said...

Anonymous: As Rahul pointed out, "Some critics say" is not reporting. It is a lazy Op-Ed, in the guise of reporting.

harini calamur said...

could it be their biases are showing - but then can the BBC - the holy cow of reportage - have biases ?

Sunil Mukhi said...

I find it unethical that the BBC would "cut and paste" a certain observation into every article on this subject over a period of more than a year. Don't journalists have a code of conduct that each article must be freshly written even if it's allowed to contain some amount of background material?

This is over and above the fact that the observation in question is content-free as well as "weasely", as you've already pointed out.

Rahul Basu said...

I don't think Chandrayan or our space program is a waste of money. However the contortions that ISRO has been going through to call the Chandrayan mission a success after the orbiter died shows serious lack of professionalism and an inability to accept failure which is normal in most space programs. The ISRO Director said it was a 110 % success (up from 95%) -- a classic example of bluster and bling.

As one commentator said -- there is more to a trajectory than spin!

Rahul Siddharthan said...

RB - even more atrocious was this article. They found water in November 2008, but "protocol did not allow ISRO to declare the discovery"! According to one J S Goswami, "Without international examination and cross-examination and confirmation of the evidence, it would not have been right on our part to go public about it...." so why didn't they go public after peer review of the evidence, like everyone else did? The findings in Science came from the M3, Cassini (reanalysed), and Deep Impact. Why weren't ISRO's moon impact probe findings included? Or could this be yet more "spin"?

(I was sufficiently annoyed that day to make a blog post about this, if I'd been online long enough.)