Friday, November 18, 2005

Wanted: A Better Press Corp

Some colleagues and I were talking about how cheap the news in the media can be. DeLong's frustration -- see his "Why Oh Why Can't We Have Better Press Corp"-series would as well apply in Indonesia. Worse yet, not only the press fail to deliver objective news, they also do bad journalism. We remembered one case when a newspaper bombastically reported an "expert opinion" using this kind of headline. It didn't even bother to present it as a quotation in the title. (One of the colleagues in fact happened to meet with the expert and the latter told him it was a "grumble out of frustration". He was surprised that the press used it as a headline title).

Another thing. It seems that the press really likes to report in populist tone. So don't expect too much of reading articles about "trade is welfare-enhancing". Instead, you can find easily stuff like "we need more and more protection for the good of the country". I know, people buy the latter, no matter how false it is.

There are more, and there are worse. Pick any newspaper and count the economic fallacies it carries. I bet it is more than five a day, at best (you know why I'm not giving you links for this -- they're ubiquotous). Problem is, many readers don't think they are reading fallacies. In fact, the more populist-leaning a newspaper is, the better sell it seems to make. Maybe second only to gossip papers. It is pervasive, for example, to find statement like "Store A is charging too high a price for its product". So far so good. But then the reporter suddenly changes to be doing op-ed --not merely reporting, and goes on "... and that is evil". Hey, if the seller's selling at high price is evil, what about you asking for too low a price when you are consumer? Does that mean you are evil? (I find it amazing: a person who likes to curse stores that charge high prices turns out to be the fierciest bargainer when he/she is about to buy something).


  1. have you ever noticed that those nation-wide newspapers always dedicate one or two coloumn on front pages for the how-life's-getting-harder-for-the-poor-since-the-fuel-subsidy-removal stories? what should be the message? we should put the fuel subsidy back? i mean come on...
    PENTING??? situ oke??? hehehe...

  2. There was an article in Republika about a group of Japanese researchers who had just completed a proof of a 120 year old theorem announced by a French matematician Camille Jordan in 1887. I knew nothing about Mr. Jordan or his theorem, but I knew something was amiss when I read:
    "...Dalil itu ialah cekungan tertutup pada pesawat udara membagi pesawat tersebut menjadi bagian dalam dan bagian luar cekungan itu. Jika anda menggambar cekungan pada selembar kertas, anda akan mengetahuinya secara intuisi..."

    Say what? A quick search with Google:
    "..any closed curve that does not cross itself divides the plane into exactly two regions, one inside the curve and one outside..."

    Ah, of course. Granted, this is more of an evidence of the unfortunate gap between scientific and everyday/common language than anything else. It's still bad journalism but not irresponsible-bad or malevolent-bad, just incompetent-bad.

    Btw, I still don't understand the theorem, but at least I won't blame my intuition.