Are Media Believable?
Do They Cause Crime?
B Someswar Rao
As one who had chosen as a minor to live by writing for the print medium, (the only one available theñ) I am always asked two questions: 1.. Why do figures of casualties in like accidents vary widely from one medium to another? 2. After reports of oné type of crime, moré such cases occur. Are Media the cause?
Take for example the recent train accident in Odisha (called Orissa by the colonial rulers) the eastern state, One newspaper said 30 killed, another 50, one more 100. Which of these is correct? Why do the figures vary so much? One daily did not even lead with the news. Do journalists put chits with different figures on them in a box or cup, shake it well and pick up one of them to blindly put one in the news? The figure rose to 280 and may be much more. Whom to believe?
To understand the variation one has to know the way newspapers are brought out. Every newspaper has a different circulation and printing process, So if the circulation is high the newspaper is ‘put bed’ (the day’s edition closed) at a different time depending on the printing machine speed. To print 1000 copies one machine may take one hour and another more time or less.
The newspaper may depend on a news agency, especially if the accident took place at a remote place, as they often do. The national news agency is Press Trust of India (PTI) and its competitor United News of India (UNI) now in bad shape. Both agencies put the news as it developed. Their reporters rarely visit the scene of accident but depend on police, railway, State or Central spokes person as all of the have PROs in all cities. If they issue ‘Accident’ they then put out ‘lead Accident’ series followed by ‘Second lead’ and so on. The final one may be ‘Intro Accident’ which may be reopened. If casualty figures rise the agency may put out a ‘lead or a new story or a ‘second lead’ and so on.
So the casualty figures in the newspaper are not cooked up or imaginary but depends on the night shift chief sub’s efficiency or when he closes the edition (or puts it to bed) Sometimes figures are changed even after the first page is about to be released, involving (in my days of hot metal composting. Now that all newspapers are offset printed it has become easier.
To the second the answer is NO. The media do not cause the crime but only report it. The only difference is that because news like a woman’s body being cut to pieces had caught readers’ eyes more such incidents get reported which were earlier ignored or differently worded.
Both are genuine questions which the common people unaware of newspaper printing system may ask. The Odisha train accident was the biggest ever, The cutting to pieces of a live-in woman friend (Sadhana?) by Aftab Khan was also not common.