Indian school of bad journalism

Why has outright plagiarism and shoddy sourcing become standard practice among our nation's leading publications?

Nayantara Kilachand June 20, 2011 16:03:02 IST
Indian school of bad journalism

A few days ago an Indian newspaper ran pictures from the GQ Best Dressed Men Awards. They wrote a small blurb, listed out all the big name celebs and socialites who attended. The only thing they neglected to mention was GQ. Instead the event was referred to opaquely as a "men's magazine award".

Which speaks to a golden unspoken rule of the Indian media world. Much like Voldemort, who Harry Potter fans will know “must not be named" other Indian media sources cannot at any time ever be acknowledged in a newspaper. As a result we get stories like this: "Katrina Kaif was voted the 'sexiest women in the world' for the third time by an international magazine." It’s only when you reach the last paragraph that you get Kaif herself referring to the magazine, FHM, directly.

Indian school of bad journalism

Why is there reluctance to give credit where credit’s due? Indranil Mukherjee/AFP

Tabloids tend to do this the most often, but you'll find mainstream “reputed” dailies aggregating significant breaking news stories from other media sources, both national and international, without ever crediting the original source. This is possibly not surprising given the frequency with which the media here plagiarise and lift stories, but still, it raises the question: do these media outlets actually believe this to be good journalistic practice?

A few years ago there was a rumour floating around— possibly untrue of course — that one of the country's biggest national dailies had forbidden any mention of Yahoo! and other tech companies that had their own email portal. The reason? Because the Indian media company was about to enter the space themselves and didn't want to give undue publicity to the competition. Even if the story was spurious, it wasn't entirely incredulous. In short, if something like that did happen here, you'd more likely believe it than not. Act like it doesn't exist, and then well, it won't.

Which comes back to the point, why the reluctance to give credit where credit’s due? Perhaps acknowledging that other media sources exist is tantamount to admitting they have, gasp, competition? Does it make them lesser journalists to admit they’re covering stories from other media sources? Is it that they think their readers won’t possibly notice that quietly slipped in “a US magazine” or a “British news channel” and mistakenly assume it for original content? Or is it because like plagiarism, which is rampant and unchecked, bad journalistic practices are so firmly embedded in big media houses here that newbies who enter the newsroom right out of college actually think it’s the right thing to do?

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