Exhibit Sixteen

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Times plays up fake NASA news, sermonises media on not checking with NASA on another

Should you trust everything that's on the wires? Given that the news agencies have their own checks and balances and are extremely trustworthy, there’s a tendency to blindly take whatever comes on the ticker.
But with the advent of 24x7 television news, the business of wired services has changed dramatically. Bureaus are short-staffed – often a single reporter can be found working on two or three key beats, and the quality of talent in general has also dipped considerably over the years.

We’ll possibly discuss the state of our news agencies some other day (after we’ve studied the scene better), but what has got us to raise the issue is this news item that appeared in The Times of India last week on life on Mars. It was on top of Page 1, and the story was attributed to ‘Agencies’ and talks of two NASA scientists submitting their findings.

Now, we learn from the excellent blog of Bangalore-based journalist and restaurateur Madhu Menon that NASA has clarified that the claims are incorrect. Madhu has of course taken off on the Times for publishing the item, and I don’t subscribe to the shrill, but it’s important to note for a newspaper of the Times’s standing that it mustn’t take agency copy at face value.

1. It should’ve identified the agencies. If you are using the works of a contributor, and find it good enough for Page 1, give us their names.

2. You have a senior journo in Chidanand Rajghatta stationed in Washington who has written today about the Indian media being taken for a ride on another NASA-related issue. “India's media-on-steroids may well owe a mea culpa for falling all over a story without taking even the elementary step of e-mailing or phoning NASA or looking up its extensive website, to confirm its authenticity”. Well said, Chidu. This is what the Times should’ve done.

3. Apologise if you err. It’s best to say sorry and let readers know that you are willing to own up to a mistake. Entities like Mediaah! apologise even they’ve made no mistake just because they don’t want to take on the high and mighty. But imagine if a NASA were to sue you-know-who for affecting its credibility and business interests without checking on facts...

Wink, wink.
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