When Indian media blamed the Portuguese for a bridge collapse in Goa

THE CYNICMay 19, 2017 | 17:48

When Indian media blamed the Portuguese for a bridge collapse in Goa

Conspiracy theories are easy to build, especially when the atmosphere is so conducive that it seems to be almost begging for it. It is like when humidity is at its peak someone reporting rain is believed unquestioningly. But what is ignored is that the high level of humidity can be indicative of diametrically-opposing pieces of information.

High humidity makes it plausible for it to rain - so reports of rain must be true



High humidity makes it plausible for it to rain - so untrue reports of rain can easily be passed of as being true.

So the lacuna in the logic, that when humidity is high - rain is expected, would be that the news of rain could be equally as true as untrue. Likewise conspiracy theories flourish when the atmosphere is conducive, meaning a theory has a 50 per cent chance of being baseless as half a chance of being justified.

A bridge collapsed in Goa at around 6.30pm on Thursday, May 18, 2017... the news began to hit newsrooms by 7.30pm or 8pm. The initial report coming in sounded like this:

Goa: Around 50 people fall into river after footbridge collapses in South Goa's Curchorem, rescue operations underway, more details awaited... According to sources people had gathered near the river when one person was attempting suicide. As people of area came to know about the suicide attempt more people started gathering. However the bridge could not hold and the bridge collapsed. Sources said that bridge is over decade old. The rescue operation is underway. Several managed to swim out. The water level was not very high. The incident took place around 6.30 in the evening.


With in a couple of hours, the narrative had changed: it was no longer about a bridge that collapsed in Goa but about a Portuguese-era bridge that had collapsed in Goa. Every report and every follow-up on the story began with the words Portuguese-era bridge. The difference, to the uninitiated, is so subtle that it goes unnoticed.

Mind games are at play because by the morning after the collapse, the idea has been firmly but subtly planted in people's minds that the bridge was from the Portuguese times - meaning - it was not built by India; it was old; it is not the fault of the present administration and that it was destined to fall.

The matter and blame has been beautifully deflected because ignored is the fact that Goa ceased to be part of Portugal in 1960. 57 years the bridge has been Indian, but when it collapsed it was the fault of its Portuguese pedigree.

It is totally understandable, though certainly not justifiable, on the part of the administration to try and get absolved of the mishap. The administration, in this case in the form of Assistant Information Officer Siddhesh Samant of the Goa government, said: "A person had attempted suicide in the river. The local fire brigade reached the spot and rescue operation was going on. Locals came in numbers to watch the rescue operation... however they climbed the foot bridge which is Portuguese era old. It had been declared dilapidated and not in use for several years. At around 6.30 the foot bridge collapsed when the rescue operation was going on and all the people fell in the river."


It is the journalist's job to sift through the material and report events objectively. Most of the reports in print and almost all reports on TV began with the line that a Portuguese-era bridge has collapsed. The real news, in this instance, was that a bridge in Goa had collapsed killing one and injuring several others.

The age and pedigree of the bridge comes as a secondary point to be taken up after the main thrust of the news and towards the end of the report questions needed to be asked as to why so unstable an old bridge, which, as per the administration's own admission, was declared dilapidated, was still left standing?

The real news, in this instance, was that a bridge in Goa had collapsed killing one and injuring several others. Photo: AP

Many people, if many people do read this, would wonder why such a big deal is being made out of such a small innocuous event? The event may certainly be innocuous because with a population of a billion and a quarter, in a country that records more than 22,500 deaths every day, one additional death and one old collapsed bridge is hardly of any consequence, but like in any murder investigation the emphasis has to be on intent.

The intent in this case is to mislead and to deflect, the intent is to fudge understanding — to keep the public from trying to or wanting to look beyond the obvious. The ploy on the part of the dispensation is working because the journalists and the editors of news organisations have stopped thinking.

Like any good data entry operator, the journalist is typing out whatever is being fed by the administration. No questions are being asked as the media willingly bends over to become an extension of the system; it speaks in the language of the administration; it defines as truth that which is put out by the government and it refuses to challenge the ruling dispensation.

It is the intent of a mind bending, automation seeking all pervasive government that is being feared here. It is the intent, of those who wear the tag of journalists that is in question here. The headline that a Portuguese-era bridge has collapsed in Goa is symptomatic of the rot that eats away at the fourth estate in India.

This innocuous news of little consequence is a sad indicator of the abdication of journalistic ethics by mainstream and in particular by television media in India.

And this is where the theory of conspiracy comes into play because, as was established right in the beginning of this piece, conspiracy theories flourish when the atmosphere itself is conducive. This means that there is a 50 per cent chance that, that which has been written above is baseless as there is half a chance of it being justified.

Take your pick as per your conscience.

Last updated: May 19, 2017 | 17:48
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