Responsible journalism and development

I was asked by a friend yesterday if I would like to accompany her for a book launch at Euston by a friend’s friend. Then she added, “you should meet her, she has written about the microfinance situation in AP”. That really piqued my interest and I had to find out who this person was and what she had written about the sector. I was also mildly intrigued. Anyone who had written any sense about the sector is someone that I would have met in the past five years. After a session of googling and trawling all articles written by this person, I came across the microfinance article. There was one, written in the same style as other issues, which I feel contributes to irresponsible journalism.

In the specific context of Andhra Pradesh and microfinance, there were a number of issues that went awry. I do not defend the investors and the incentives that caused promoters to possibly lend aggressively and lead to over-indebtedness. However, media played a significant role in creating mass hysteria and resulting in knee jerk reactions from policy makers. Yes, there are some good things that came out of the microfinance crisis like the use of credit bureaus. But there are many things that we still do not know. For instance, what are households doing for access to finance today, besides possibly borrowing from moneylenders at high rates of interest? What is happening to poverty levels in the state? And my question to all journalists who somehow managed to correlate suicides to microfinance loans is: is there a drop in these rates now? Are people less indebted?

There are several journalists who continued reporting on the issue until it was impossible to get any data from the state on what was actually happening at the household level. That is responsible journalism, because it means people are engaging with the issue and following the impact of various decisions. Unfortunately, the more popular and prevalent journalism seems to be the kind that creates a stir and washes it’s hands off the repercussions of their ‘story’. The more dangerous trend that one notices with this kind of journalism is also the mixing of qualitative data and passing that off as rigorous scientific data. I think journalists need to realise that media is a powerful tool and everyone becomes a stakeholder in the stories they are reporting.



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