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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Here we go again...

It's that time of the year again. Union budget is just under two months away and the pink papers have already started their 'crystal gazing'. I have observed over the last 4-5 years that leading into the budget the media (and pink papers in particular) go into a crystal gazing spree and try and predict the contents of the budget proposals.

Things go to such an extent that at times one finds two different newspapers carrying two opposing stories of what the finance minister is likely to announce. Almost all of the times these stories are carried prominently by them on the cover page and almost all of the times, they get it wrong.

The mad craze amongst the newspapers to publish these stories is really ludicrous. At times their stories contain proposals which I am sure the finance ministry would not even consider in their wildest dreams. A similar story appeared yesterday in one of the newspapers regarding exemption for interest on bank deposits etc. So the season has begun.

I have two possible explanations for this mad craze. Firstly, I don't believe that these stories are what they claim to be. The information I am pretty sure does not come from 'genuine' sources within the finance ministry. My first possible explanation is that the source is actually interested groups lobbying indirectly for/against a particular proposal under the garb of a news item and getting it published as such. The second possible explanation is that, the news stories appear based on incomplete information and are then exaggerated purely to make it attractive and make the publication/program sell. The logic would be that if they don't do this, other newspapers/media would and thus the newspapers/media are locked in this zero sum game in which every party publishes rubbish stories just because if they don't someone else might (by the way, this logic is not restricted to budget alone).

On my part, I do enjoy reading these stories; they are a good source of having a nice laugh early morning and start your day!

On a serious note, my advice to the newspapers is to just apply their mind (simple commonsense would do) before they carry such stories. In their haste to be first to inform the reader, they run the risk of losing credibility in the market place. And if that happens (it will not happen overnight, but it will over the long term), regaining credibility would be a very costly (both in terms of money and time) affair.

Remember that if you are reporting on non-frivolous matters (certainly matters pertaining to business, finance, government policy etc can reasonably be assumed to fall under this category), then credibility is everything and you will first lose it amongst your most profitable customers. Now, if you are a tabloid publication and not a serious media (nothing wrong in that, I am not at all implying one is better – both have their own places) even then, I am sure consumers in the long run would not want to read a magazine or paper which gets some of its most important stories wrong.

That's it for now...

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