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