Anil Thakraney: Reportage must be free of bias

17 Jul,2013

By Anil Thakraney


For the benefit of young journalists reading this post, I want to discuss the importance of the play of a story, and I shall illustrate this with a report that the TOI fronted a few days back. This is not to fault the newspaper, undoubtedly they carried the said story with noble intentions, but it’s an interesting example to highlight how the story gets played out is often as important as the story itself. It’s about this lady executive who wears an artificial limb, and the torturous time she had passing through airport security. Here’s the link:


Now, we have to feel sorry for Suranjana, indeed, our heart goes out to the lady. You suffer from a serious disability, and then you are made to undergo high stress at the airport. Clearly this is not on. However, the problem is this: Because it’s a news report, you expect the story to be objective in nature, after all, this is not an opinion column. The play by the journalist is biased in this case, and the report doesn’t bother to give us an adequate version from the airport security staff. As a result, the reader is left with the impression that the security personnel at airports are heartless, insensitive souls, and this could be far from the truth.


For example, even as I feel sorry for differently abled passengers, and understand their plight and want them to travel in comfort, I have to say this story actually reassures me. Because this means our airport security personnel are going about their work as per the book and minus any emotion. In short, they are doing their job. We live in terrible times, and canny terrorist can and will look for innovative methods to create trouble. And therefore we need kickass security. When you look at the situation from this angle, your view gets changed. And this particular play of the story would also be incorrect, because this too is a subjective opinion, and has no place in a news report.


The other concern is, such a biased story in a powerful newspaper would put unnecessary pressure on the security staffers, compelling them to be lenient with those who are differently abled. Is that such a good thing? You know the answer to that one. I know that the Indian media is getting increasingly subjective in its reportage, and television anchors do it every single evening, but I do hope the TOI, a paper that I have read and respected from childhood, doesn’t fall prey to this practice.


So then what should ideally have happened? In my opinion, report neutrally. And then run a campaign on how the government can help evolve sensitive security procedures for the differently abled, but without compromising safety.


PS: Brilliant commercial from Land Rover. This is the magic that happens when a talented filmmaker, cinematographer and the agency art director work together to create a sparkling ad. You can watch this one again and again and not get bored.

[vimeo width=”400″ height=”220″][/vimeo]


Anil Thakraney is a senior journalist and commentator. He is also Editor-at-Large, MxMIndia. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached via Twitter at @anilthakraney


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