Ranjona Banerji: Mainstream misses add to misinformation & biases

12 Jan,2021

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The tricks that the mainstream media play on its consumers add to misinformation and biases. Are these deliberate or just mistakes that appear sinister? It depends on the severity of the times.

I’m just using Times of India as an example here.

Given the confusion over India’s Covid-19 vaccine protocols and later revelations that several Bhopal Gas victims have been used in Bharat Biotech’s clinical trials without being properly informed or monitored, a simple expectation would be more responsibility from journalists, not less.

For instance, the Times of India carried this interview of noted clinical scientist Dr Gagandeep Kang by senior health correspondent Rema Nagarajan. Dr Kang lays out clearly her questions about both Astra Zeneca’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin vaccines, okayed for use in India.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/i-have-no-clue-i-have-never-seen-anything-like-it/articleshow/80087336.cms

Since the excellent and clear interview, the grim picture from Bhopal has become more detailed.

And yet, please do look at the two accompanying screenshots are from my local edition of TOI, dated, January 11, 2021. The news item headlined “CoWin will form foundation of Covid inoculation drive” is from news agency PTI. It outlines the government’s plans. The last paragraph reads: “India had recently granted emergency use authorisation to two vaccines, Oxford’s Covishield being manufactured by Serum Institute in India and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin. Both vaccines have established safety and immunogenicity.”

The same page carries this headline: “No consent, no follow up, claim Bhopal Gas victims in vax trial” in an article carried from Page 1 over the controversy over Covaxin’s clinical trials.

So what’s wrong?

For one, this is a highly important and sensitive issue. It concerns lives in a dangerous pandemic. Therefore, what we need is more diligence, not less. Since TOI has covered the questions over permission given to Bharat Biotech’s Covid-19 vaccine, and staff have spoken to all the experts who have raised those questions, one cannot conclude that the newspaper is unaware of the issue.

But the last para of the PTI story clearly states that Bharat Biotech’s vaccine is “safe”, which goes against the paper’s own articles and thus raises several red flags. Not just of bad subbing but also of staff unawareness and/or desk laxity on a vital subject. The exact same page, centimetres away, carries an article on serious lapses in Bharat Biotech’s clinical trials in Bhopal.

Whatever the reason, in light of the importance of all vaccination articles even carrying the PTI story without editing it, since it was clearly a government press release, reeks of irresponsibility.

As I said, I only use TOI as an example. Reports in other papers say 89 lakh people have registered on the government’s CoWin app for the vaccine. But news reports also tell us that the app has not been released to the public yet. Which is true?

**

After Covid-19, there is no place where we grapple with truth more than the farmers protests. Most of the mainstream media is still unable to free itself from the government’s stranglehold. The temptation to call farmers “vandals” and to present them as disruptors and anti-national elements remain. The government’s inability to engage is presented as a form of strength.

The Supreme Court has thrown its own spanner in the works and the farmers unions have blocked back. How the media bends and crawls around that to try and favour the Modi government will be this week’s fun and games.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal

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