Saturday, April 18, 2009

Financial media responsibility

Here is a good article on how the incestuous relationship between the financial institutions and financial media can be terminal on your financial health. We see this in India all the time and we need to keep our eyes open  to financial spin and soft marketing articles planted in the TV and news media every day.

Where's the accountability?

By Aravind Srinivasan 

A well publicized conversation between Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer last month opened a lot of eyes. Jon Stewart is the incredibly funny and intelligent host of Comedy Central's "Daily Show" and Jim Cramer is the loud-mouthed, hyperactive host of CNBC's "Mad Money". Stewart had Cramer on his show and conducted a serious interview especially by Daily Show standards. This three part interview is a must-see for everyone interested in the stock market. Its message is very relevant to Indians living in the US and in India since a lot of us are involved in stock markets to varying degrees and the dynamics behind these markets and media in both countries are very similar. This interview was all about accountability or the lack of it in the financial media. You could tell Stewart was disturbed by the whole financial crisis and what was going on in Wall Street for years. Stewart went after Kramer and CNBC and just stopped short of calling them liars. His basic
question to Kramer and CNBC was, "Who are you working for?" Are you on the side of the viewers or are you siding with big corporations and financial firms? These questions blind-sided Kramer who didn't have coherent answers. The reality is, in bull market, these questions don't matter as everybody makes money and it appears like the interests of all parties involved are aligned. But when things go south like it has over the past months, then somebody is losing money and somebody is taking their money. Now you wonder what role channels like CNBC play here? 

Stewart accused CNBC of hiding the truth and not exposing what they knew about these corporations to average investors so that the latter could make more informed decisions. After all, these guys call themselves the financial experts and know lot more about stock market than us. They spend all day researching these companies because it's a part of their job and this puts them in touch with numerous CEOs, federal regulators and economic experts. The question is, how they didn't know about or predict or understand the credit crisis, over-leveraging and toxic assets? Or did they know but preferred to hide it from you and me because it could harm their business? Stewart was spot-on with these insinuations and the average Joe is definitely happy with his line of questioning in this interview. The answer to me is obvious. 

These channels had access to a lot more interesting information than they revealed and should be held accountable. Financial media betrayed the average investor, not only did they not tell you what was going on in Lehman brothers or AIG they sometimes asked you to buy Lehman or AIG stocks. Channels like CNBC are guilty of omission and commission. They didn’t cause the meltdown, but failed in educating people about it. Experts on these channels understand economic theories, subtleties and market nuances but they don't look at their job as one of educating and protecting average investors. Their knowledge is used to produce quality programs, hold intelligent discussions and improve their ratings. The lesson the average viewer learnt is; you are on your own when it comes to your money. Don't look up to these guys on TV for help and direction. They have enough problems holding on to their jobs, dealing with competition and ratings, your welfare’s the
last thing on their mind. An investor with some money in the market is usually an interested viewer of these channels. Many stop watching these channels when they get their money out. So like any good business, these channels and newspapers try their best to hold on to their customer base meaning they want to keep you interested and invested in the markets. It’s important for us to understand this especially today when financial channels are doing good business in India as well. It's our job to learn how to handle this flood of information and noise drowning us from all sides. This discussion on media accountability can and should be extended beyond the financial media. For instance, do we really believe that mainstream news channels do a great job in telling us all they know about politics, executive, judiciary and legislature? Definitely not! They pick and choose what works for them and we need to make them accountable for what they say and what
they don't. While it's obvious to see the impact of bad financial media on our wallets, what happens in mainstream media affects our lives far more comprehensively including causing these financial meltdowns in the first place? Afamous football coach once said - "you think you know, but you don't and you never will". This is the predicament of the average citizen of this world and the media in democracies can help fix it. Let’s hope this Stewart-Cramer conversation nudges them in that direction. 

Aravind Srinivasan is a Software Engineer at Yahoo! Incorporated in the Silicon Valley. Born and raised in Chennai, India he has lived in the US for 14 years and is involved in socio-political work. He can be reached at his blog 


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

The morons in our financial channels have done no better with guys parroting that sensex will touch 25,000 by diwali last year and since India's fundamentals ae fine I ndia will be unaffected by global cues etc. these very guys now talk authoritatively that sensex will tank to under 6,000 in few months time.These guys(CNBC India, NDTV profit types) should be held accountable for their ommissions and commissions other than just being ridiculed and shunned by viewers.At the end of the day it is upto the average joe on the street to make informed decisions when it comes to his hard earned money than blindly following these guys.

Shriniwas K said...

I love The Daily Show and the Colbert Report .. I suggest all my fellow Indians in India should once watch these 2 shows and understand how critical American TV is (NBC-Comedy Central is semi-government like DD Metro used to be) and also see how much they value their freedom of speech. I doubt a similar show can ever be made in India where our freedom of speech is so constrained. The media is simply exploiting the fact that there is no need for creativity (see how India Today plagiarized a blog article last week), no criticism among peer channels/print media, no need for accountability (remember India TV's fake sting on a poor teacher) and the Government is muted to the wrongdoings of the media for its own filthy benefits (See Supreme court verdict on how Teesta Setalvaad concocted macabre details of the Godhra riots didn't even show up in print media).

Unless Indian Government steps in and allows inter channel slander and constructive criticism, this masquerade will never stop.

COLBERT module on the ISS !!!