Me­dia fails the mon­soon test

Me­dia's re­portage on the mon­soon shows a to­tal lack of un­der­stand­ing of rain­fall pat­terns in In­dia

Down to Earth - - LAST WORD -

Cmon­soon sea­son is an oc­cu­pa­tional OVERING THE haz­ard for the me­dia.In a largely agrar­ian coun­try, it is such an im­por­tant sea­son that no­body can avoid re­port­ing on it. But cov­er­ing the mon­soon de­mands un­der­stand­ing and depth in re­port­ing,which are of­ten lack­ing.Mostly,re­porters end up just re­peat­ing the of­fi­cial fore­casts. In­dia has the world’s old­est mon­soon­track­ing in­fra­struc­ture and yet the na­tional me­dia has mis­er­ably failed in tack­ling this oc­cu­pa­tional haz­ard.

In a nor­mal mon­soon year, the me­dia spends a quar­ter of its time chas­ing the phe­nom­e­non, and in case of a deficit mon­soon the chase con­tin­ues for a full year, till the next mon­soon ar­rives. Drought­like sit­u­a­tions and floods too get ex­tra at­ten­tion. Look at this year’s cov­er­age,for in­stance.With the first In­dia Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Depart­ment (imd) forecast of a deficit mon­soon in May, the me­dia has been proac­tive in re­port­ing the event on the front pages. The mon­soon this year is ar­guably one of the most keenly fol­lowed ones in re­cent past. It has been widely re­ported that this is the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive drought and farm­ers in 11 states are star­ing at the sixth con­sec­u­tive crop loss due to rain deficit.

But, what does this ex­ten­sive re­port­ing mean to us? Just rewind all the re­portage that the cur­rent mon­soon has gen­er­ated and it be­comes ev­i­dent that most news pieces are sim­plis­tic and largely driven by imd’s reg­u­lar bulletins on the quan­tum and trend of rain­fall for the com­ing week. And the few “an­a­lyt­i­cal” pieces just dial a quote from a fi­nan­cial an­a­lyst (or from an agri­cul­ture sci­en­tist) to weave in head­lines that have been in­creas­ingly look­ing pos­i­tive, fo­cussing on how quickly the rain­fall deficit range was closed. No head­line till now has in­formed that there are some 270 dis­tricts—most of In­dia’s poor­est dis­tricts— that have rain­fall deficit in the range of 30-90 per cent.

The trend is clear: the me­dia some­how wants to ar­gue that the In­dian econ­omy is no more crit­i­cally linked to the mon­soon.At a time when sen­ti­ment makes or breaks the econ­omy which, by the way, is sin­gu­larly judged from the per­for­mance of stock mar­kets, this uni­for­mity in me­dia’s mon­soon out­look smells of se­ri­ous lack of un­der­stand­ing. The fo­cus on the rain­fall fig­ures that the imd re­ports ev­ery week is the first sign that the me­dia doesn’t understand In­dia’s com­plex so­cio-eco­nomic in­ter­ac­tion with the mon­soon. It has not even both­ered to look at the dis­tri­bu­tion of rain vis-à-vis our crop­ping pat­tern.This, and not the net quan­tity, de­cides how a mon­soon will im­pact peo­ple, farm­ers in par­tic­u­lar. So, while the head­lines cel­e­brated that de­spite deficit rain­fall the sow­ing this year has sur­passed that of the pre­vi­ous year, the fact that dis­tri­bu­tion breaks in mon­soon will im­pact the crop­ping cy­cle was left un­ex­plored. It is small won­der that the na­tional me­dia has failed to no­tice that gov­ern­ments in seven states have asked farm­ers not to grow wa­ter­in­ten­sive crops, like sug­ar­cane and paddy,due to the im­pend­ing wa­ter short­age.

It has also been ut­terly il­lit­er­ate about the state of re­search on mon­soon.In­dia has ded­i­cated in­sti­tu­tions that have been re­search­ing the mon­soon and the changes it is un­der­go­ing.But re­porters rarely reach out to such bod­ies to ask fun­da­men­tal ques­tions about the phe­nom­e­non.The me­dia has even failed to sense or probe a clear trend— ex­treme rain spells have been more pro­nounced in the last decade than they were be­fore.Im­pacts of ex­treme rain­fall, such as flash floods, are be­ing re­ported but only as part of the an­nual mon­soon re­port­ing pack­age.The re­portage is de­void of anal­y­sis.For that to hap­pen,the re­port­ing would need sub­stan­tial ed­i­to­rial in­vest­ment. More than that, it would re­quire the abil­ity to look be­yond the head­lines.

TARIQUE AZIZ / CSE

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