Tuesday, December 27, 2016

News channels are mixing up declarations with decisions, decisions with completed actions, and completed actions with outcomes.

In India one observes a disturbing trend in media coverage of the Great Event. A common thread here is that bits and pieces of opinions are mixed into the actual news to give the appearance of a complete story.

Declarations are being presented to the general public as government decisions: There are numerous examples of this but the vernacular media are particularly susceptible to such misrepresentation. Perhaps it is because their reporters are not sufficiently experienced or it is because their editors have misguided ideas of what actually improves their channel's ratings. Whenever this kind of misrepresentation creates the mistaken impression that a declaration of a lofty policy goal is somehow an actually complete government policy positions and that a decision has already been taken to implement it. This is often not the case. A high level official may announce a policy merely to drive public debate about it and gauge the peoples' response. This is called floating a trial balloon and it is sometimes the most efficient way to determine if a policy is viable. This is not the same as a completed government decision that has been through several layers of internal reviews.

Government decisions are being shown as completed actions: Again all channels are guilty of this at some level, and I understand why an editor might be tempted to do that. We are all susceptible to falling victim to fantasies, who wouldn't want to live in a corruption free world? - we are bad as the editors. But there is a major difference between a government decision to do something and actually doing it. For example, PM Modi might decide he wants his government to prosecute all people who have "black money". That is very different from the GoI actually prosecuting the several million people in actual court cases and securing convictions based on evidence that stands up to the court's scrutiny. Reality has a way of pushing back against this kind of thing - as things stand the current case load on the courts in India is so high that if the GoI suddenly drops 1 million new corruption cases on the system - it will push the resolution timescales for even the smallest disputes into a century. The typical wait now for a court case is a decade. If these proposed measures are actually implemented the entire judicial system will be jammed with an insurmountable amount of suits and counter-suits. I will be highly shocked if even a dozen of those seizures by the CBDT after Nov 8th are actually upheld by the courts. Yet somehow - news channels are presenting it as if all the corrupt people are somehow magically being arrested and prosecuted successfully already. Very few charge sheets have been filed - no one has been prosecuted yet.

Completed actions are being presented as obviously desirable outcomes: Again this is a case of wishful thinking getting the better of our common reasoning and rationality. Even if an action is completed - that doesn't mean a desirable outcome has been achieved. For example, let's say that all real estate transactions are somehow electronically accounted (such as might happen through the EPPB scheme). This is a big check mark that the Modi government can give itself. That does not however mean that all benami ownership is at an end! Any electronic record can be hacked or modified or corrupted. This will frustrate any effort to enforce the Benami Properties act. Without consistent enforcement the entire exercise will be completely defeated. What works in the context of an EPPB also applies in the context of gold ownership documents.

I understand there is such a thing as post-Truth but the fucking motto of the nation is supposed to be "Satyameva Jayate" - Truth Always Prevails - so can you at least pretend to give a fuck about it?


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