July 20, 2008

Hindustan Times On Gore's Speech: "It Didn't Happen"

The leading national daily keeps the Indian public in the dark about Gore's historic energy challenge by refusing to make any mention of it.

Despite Al Gore's Rock Star status, certain media organisations seem to have a thing or two against him. In the U.S. they have Fox News and in India it looks like Hindustan Times is keen to take on that role.

When Gore spoke in Washington on Thursday on the challenge to abandon fossil fuels, New York Times reported that the plan goes beyond even the most audacious ones. Bill McKibbon, journalist and climate activist went a step further when he said Gore deserved "the prize you get once you've won the Nobel." Nasa's leading climate scientist James Hansen called it "the turning point that is needed."

So how did Fox News report the challenge? Fox's reporting focused not on Gore's call but his personal emissions. Its reporter stood outside the Gore event and counted the number of minutes Gore's driver left the car on idle with the AC on to keep it cool when Gore and wife Tipper returned (it ran on idle for an earth destroying 20 minutes! The horror!).

Editors at Hindustan Times went a step further by pretending that Gore never spoke.

What Does HT Have Against Informed Public Opinion On Climate Change in India?

This isn't the first time Hindustan Times has negatively influenced the Indian public on climate change front. I consider deliberate omission of an important global event from its reporting as a negative influence. There are many many examples of omission on this front in the past. But there are also examples of deliberate negative influence. In early April, HT ran two ridiculous stories challenging man made global warming and discrediting the IPCC.

I exposed those stories on my blog and am currently suing the paper in the Press Council of India for publishing them. Its editor and correspondent have been served notices and I can't wait for the proceedings to begin. Have collected a wealth of evidence to share.

But let's give them some benefit of doubt and see if this omission was really intentional or caused by some other reason. Maybe it was too late for Friday's paper. Maybe they didn't have enough space. Maybe it wasn't relevant for Indian readers. Let's look at each of these reasoning.

"It was too late for Friday's paper"

Gore's speech began at 9.30 pm Indian time on Thursday and ended just before 10.00 pm. Okay that could have been a little close to their cut off time. But earlier in the day, around 5.30 pm Associated Press (AP) had released an interview with Gore previewing the speech. So there was plenty of time for the paper to run a story on Friday.

I was lucky enough to get hands on the AP story just as it was out and wrote about it around 6.00 pm. I found my hands on the actual transcript of the speech around 10, before Gore had finished delivering it in Washington. But by 9.00 pm itself, there were lots of media reports on Google News referencing the AP release. In fact, rival Times of India even published the AP story on Friday and mentioned it on the front page header too. So why did the Hindustan Times ignore it altogether?

Even if one accepts it was too late for Friday's paper, there can't be a reasonable explanation of its omission on Saturday as well, apart from it being intentional. TOI ran an editorial on it on Saturday. A full day after the speech was out when papers around the world were writing about it (1000+ mentions on Google News by now), India's leading newspaper pretends it didn't happen.

"They didn't have enough space"

A story as important as this deserves to create its own space pushing aside other less important ones. But perhaps there were other reports even more important that needed to be mentioned. Alright, lets see what else HT ran in the World section that day.
    World section, page 19 | Hindustan Times, New Delhi, Saturday, July 19, 2008

    Main page

    Happy Birthday, Mandela
    India, China drive up Christie's sales
    Osama's driver to be tried for war crimes
    European terrorists trying to enter US
    Ahead of Games, sex shops shut down
    Pak terror groups getting bolder: US
    Progress on Saarc varsity to be reviewed
    Young's self-published 'The Shack' a hit


    Nature's fury: typhoon kills 7 in Taiwan
    Obama raises $52m in a month for campaign
    Iran expects positive US presence at N-talks
    Sex trade up in Oz during Pope's visit
    Female suicide bomber held in Afganistan
    Libyan sent to jail for lying about Afgan visit


    Emmy nominations
    Python spins out of washing machine

    World section, page 20

    Desperate Housewives to end in three years
    Want free gas? Name baby after radio station
I can't see any of these stories being more important than Gore's challenge which, if pursued, could fix the US economy, end their national security threat and most importantly lead the world into addressing the climate crisis

"It wasn't relevant for Indian readers"

Looking at above stories, it's clear that wasn't the case. Climate change is a problem that will hit India severely. U.S and India share similar challenges in terms of moving from fossil fuels to clean energy sources.

The same is true for China and other Asian countries as well. So I looked up Chinese and Pakistani news publications to see whether they covered this issue. Turns out they did.

Clearly, there are some vested interests at work to ensure that public opinion in India remains uninformed or misinformed about climate change. The effort seems to be working. For example, most people in urban India, even those who consider themselves "environment friendly" do not grasp climate change mitigation potential of their actions or how far their actions go to address climate change, in other words.

Today's (Sunday's) paper, for example, contains a full-page feature titled "Green brigade: Even five-year-olds are doing their bit to counter the dangers of global warming." The stories in this feature are commendable and probably inspiring to some but are largely uninformed about what causes global warming and what kind of actions can address this issue.

Only one of the several examples mentioned in the three stories have something directly to do with lowering energy consumption. Others are about minimising waste generation, saving water, tree plantation, ozone depletion, air pollution, unemployment, recycling and cultural education.

All of these are most welcome and do lower CO2 emissions but only indirectly. They certainly cannot be clubbed together under the title of "examples that counter the dangers of global warming." Even if every kid in India did all of that (and they should!), we'd still be nowhere close to addressing global warming as long as we kept burning fossil fuels. Apparently, even seasoned reporters can't differentiate between good environmental practices and those that mitigate climate change.

I'd rather see real climate change news in the papers. Al Gore's energy challenge is likely to be a historic event in the fight against this issue as I wrote previously. I'd like some answers as to why Hindustan Times kept its readers in dark about it.


This entry was also made on Whats With The Climate blog, emailed to IYCN & Green-India discussion lists and copied to the following:
    Vir Sanghvi, Editorial Director Hindustan Times
    HT correspondents: Kinjal Dagli, Shalini Singh and Chetan Chauhan
    Barkha Dutt, Group Editor, English News, NDTV
    Dr. Rajendra K Pachauri, Director-General TERI
    Sunita Narain, Director, Centre for Science and Environment
    Bittu Sehgal, Editor, Sanctuary Magazine
    Malini Mehra, Founder & Chief Executive, Centre for Social Markets

3 Comments so far      

Blogger Thaddeus:

This is blogging at its best. Exposing bias with by expressing a clear point of view backed by real facts! Very nice work.

21 July 2008 at 18:00:00 GMT+5:30 link  
Blogger Manu Sharma:

Thanks, Thaddeus!

21 July 2008 at 18:37:00 GMT+5:30 link  
Blogger SweetPrincess:

Blogging makes good reading :)

Meghna Sonkar

27 May 2010 at 13:18:00 GMT+5:30 link  

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