Sucheta Dalal :Giddy journalism without any check posts
Sucheta Dalal

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Giddy journalism without any check posts  

Sep 27, 2007

How Madhukar’s madness is being senselessly glorified

By Sucheta Dalal

A dizzy bull market where the Sensex registers the fastest 1000 point rise ever (in just five sessions) to touch 17000, induces more than a touch of delusion among traders – but this time around it appears to have gripped the media as well.

In the last couple of months, several newspapers have chosen to rediscover Mr.Madhukar, a former Whole Time Member (WTM) of the Securities and Exchange Board of India whose sole claim to fame was an embarrassing foot-in-the mouth prediction. On 19 August 2005, when the Sensex was 7780, Madhukar got so carried away while making a speech at the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) that he loftily predicted that the Sensex would touch 16000 in the next few months – in fact within the calendar year.

Exactly two years later, in a dramatically altered economic scenario, when the Sensex finally crossed 16000, we have breathless young reporters, dubbing Madhukar the ‘desi Nostradamus’ and hailing his ridiculous hyperbole and colossal indiscretion as a prescient prediction.

The market is all about timing and circumstances and even if a cub reporter does not understand these basics, one would expect some editorial supervision to weed out or tone down such reports. Especially when the report itself mentions that Madhukar’s statement had embarrassed the regulator and led to a call for his removal. He was allowed a quiet exit only because his term was nearing an end and the post itself has turned into a sinecure for retired government officials.

Madhukar, still ignorant of his folly also seems determined to remind people of his so-called prediction. More importantly, he seems to have a public relations (PR) system that would be the envy of any mid-sized corporate. How else would you explain that fact that reports glorifying Madhukar (which first appeared in Indian Express on 19th July, followed by PTI, The Hindu and The Economic Times) do not seem to stop.  

The Economic Times on 21 September 2007 (it is a Times New Network report), describes him as “the man who saw tomorrow” and laments that the media has not cared to remember this visionary or his “famous statement” on the day the sensex topped 16000. As if Madhukar were Galileo, who was disbelieved when he said the earth is round, the writer is full of angst about how he was “pilloried with calls for his scalp emerging from some quarters” and is all admiration that Madhukar himself is “loath to take any credit” for his “visionary” prediction.

And how does the modest Madhukar explain his comment? He tells the admiring reporter “it was not a pre-medicated (sic!) one. It came to me on the spur of the moment”.

Obviously, this ridiculous piece of reporting was not halted at any of the editorial check-posts that ought to exist in media organizations. The venerable Hindu, the staid and conservative newspaper from the south, picks a PTI report on the same nonsensical theme. Two years later, the paper’s editorial is so caught up in the bull frenzy that it seems not to understand the implication of a regulator predicting that the Sensex would soar vertically from 7790 to 16000 in four months. The paper’s sub-editors had merely to check their own archives and they would have come across the sobering comments of their own columnist. One 29 August 2005, C.R.L.Narasimhan wrote, “There has been a rather bizarre report of a whole time member of the SEBI, Madhukar, predicting a (more than) doubling of the Sensex to 16,000 by 2006… There is something inherently wrong in a regulator taking on the role of a cheerleader for the market at any time, more so at these high levels.

If editorial gatekeepers permit such drivel to be published, then the Sensex may record new highs every week, but media credibility is certainly diving towards the nadir.

Email: [email protected]

-- Sucheta Dalal