Monday, July 09, 2007

I didn't vote for Taj and I am proud of it

The Indian Express front page dated 07/07/2007 carried a box asking us not to feel guilty if we did not vote for Taj to be included in the new 7 wonders list. It informs us that the poll is carried out by a private Zurich based firm called New7wonders “with no sanction from any international body.”

It suggests that the firm would want us to believe that the poll is about “awareness and monument appreciation” It further goes on to inform that the firm takes home one-fifth of the revenue earned from SMS voting and phone calls of which 50% is pledged for conservation marked with the tag “spin-off”.

Also, Times Now does a volte face and asks its viewers whether the Taj Mahal need be endorsed via SMS polls to be considered one of the wonders of the world. Ironically, it asks us to SMS our views whether an SMS poll is required to endorse Taj. One is tempted to ask if any of the SMS polls on news channels are relevant altogether.

The intentions behind these news stories seem noble but once the surface is scratched the warts are exposed. It is the final day and the results will be announced in the evening. It was common knowledge, as to who the promoters of the event were, namely a private firm. It just was not given enough prominence.

So, why did it take so long to uncover the murky underbelly? Because then the SMS polls could not be validated otherwise which would lead to a loss of revenue for these prolific media outlets. After about a week of promotion the Taj fever reached its crescendo due to constant campaigning and “in national interest” messages from mobile and internet companies. Not once did they bother to emphasize the fact that it would not matter.

UNESCO was asked by the firm for its backing, but it genially refused. So the fervor with which the media promoted this ‘hoax’ is an alarming reading of the market dominated mainstream Indian media. Some may argue that it isn’t a lie, the polling is real and New 7 wonders will be announced (and they may have been by the time this is written).

But it wasn’t the complete truth either. A lie of omission is nevertheless a lie. How many people would have voted for Taj if they knew the complete facts? The polls do not have an international standing, neither are they democratic nor scientific in methodology. Taj may not receive any funds per se for its upkeep nor assistance in planning the urban sprawl surrounding it. As for the awareness bit, most of the people are not even aware of the other contenders in the run up to the last seven.

By tomorrow the verdict will be out and we will have our “SMS wonders”. Taj may or may not be one of them. The media will be either jubilant in its inclusion or defiant and defensive questioning the necessity of third party endorsement to acknowledge the beauty of the monument.

Once again the media, across the spectrum, chose to toe the line when it could have put forth the complete facts. Think WMD and US media and the future suddenly seems bleak. Now, in its efforts to score perceived brownie points the media will leave their viewers/ readers dumfounded as to why they voted in the first place. And once again, the media won’t have any answers.

Indian Express: Don’t feel guilty if you did not vote for Taj. It does not matter.

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