An eventful week for the media and media-watchers. Let us get into our weekly wrap-up right away.
INTEGRITY VS FREEDOM
With the CBI raids on the promoters of NDTV right at the beginning of the week, much of the agenda-setting for the week was done. There was much noise and consternation. Most mainstream media houses carried emotionally charged opinions or editorials decrying the ‘crackdown on freedom of expression’ and ‘stifling of dissent’.
There were also the rare few who tried to ask loaded questions about the need for a raid or the details of the case at hand, so as to try and prove the raids had no merit and were vindictive in nature.
We have already explained why this may not be a ‘witch hunt’.
Explanations apart, hysterical reactions to these developments does concern us all, especially because the integrity of the press is crucial to a healthy democracy.
The matter here seems to be a wilful and emotional conflation of media freedom with the investigations of financial irregularities of the promoters of a media house. The offices of NDTV or its studios were not subjected to any raids. Since subjecting the promoters of a media house to lawful investigative scrutiny elicits alarmist hyper-ventilation, can one conclude the media fears questions on its transparency?
Realistically speaking, investigative agencies seem to have come to this party late. That NDTV’s finances were suspect had been reported even by other publications much earlier. And if reports by these publications are anything to go by, NDTV’s promoters have indulged in routing monies through a web of shell companies, multiple loan and repayment cycles, and possible SEBI violations. These activities, even if not proven illegal by an investigation, certainly do not do much to elevate the integrity of NDTV’s promoters.
There have been questions on timing. If there is a rule that an act from 2010 or earlier cannot be investigated now, the CBI seems unaware of it. Clearly the earlier government did not see possibly murky finances of NDTV as reason enough to act upon, but this one did. But nobody is questioning the former for its inaction but only questioning the latter for its action.
Most people have called this a defining moment for the media. We agree with it too. It is certainly a defining moment when the media chooses to brandish the weapon of media freedom to deflect all questions of financial transparency. Integrity is as important as freedom, and this is one idea that the media must digest.
Moving ahead, there was an analysis on the lack of jobs. This one that was published in Mint and we have tried to provide an alternate view that all is not doom and gloom. Essentially, it is time economists and analysts moved out of a cliched view of jobs as only formal sector based ones. Especially in a nation with a huge informal economy, nobody can do a comprehensive analysis on the job situation with just formal sector data. With no reliable data on the job creation in the informal sector available, claims that there are no jobs are no more credible than claims that there are.
But the direction of the wind can be gauged. As our piece notes, crores of entrepreneurs have received collateral-free bank loans, which suggests considerable activity in the informal sector. With no large-scale unrest that typically accompanies joblessness – even the temporary inconvenience of demonetisation did not ignite unrest – there are no indications that the situation is not normal.
THE GDP GROWTH RATE QUESTION
Another news that saw wide coverage and analysis was that of the GDP growth rate dropping to 6.1%. Mainstream opinion was centered around the big D and most were happy to peg this drop as a result of demonetisation. Our piece on this speaks of why there’s no conclusive evidence to claim so and also covers some other available economic data around the economic health currently.
Analysis around the GDP growth rate seems to coalesce around the demonetisation question owing to mainly 2 broad reasons.
One, where some analysts had already made up their mind. In the immediate aftermath of demonetisation, many media outlets took a strident view against the move, left the media space and ventured into the political by carrying out a focussed campaign in a bid to manufacture opposition to the move. They have now found the drop in GDP growth rate as a new stick to beat demonetisation with.
Two, where some analysts have fallen for the classic “correlation is not causation” fallacy. While it is possible that demonetisation did hit GDP growth there’s no clear data to establish causation. But this lack of data does not seem to be an impediment for some analysts.
However, there seem to be other factors adding up to the slowdown. First of all, growth was slowing down even before demonetisation. Some analysts suggest – from bad bank debts and clean auction of natural resources to the government’s sustained tough measures against black money, a systemic shakeup could be restricting big private players, thus affecting growth. If this is correct, this may just be a much-needed clean-up that will, perhaps, lay a foundation for the long run.
All in all, with little data available, analyses can be many but causation is yet to be proved.