09 June, 2008

Of Alien videos and news channels

Warning: This post combines the gobbledygook and corniness of Hindi news channels with stuff about UFOs and whatnot. Not safe if you have an allergy to nonsense.

In the past few years, there has been a virtual explosion of news channels on the Indian TV. While the new English channels that have surfaced have been by-and-large respectable (eg. CNN-IBN and NDTV), the Hindi news channels have been largely sensationalist and devoted only to ratings and not to journalism. I suppose this may be because hindi viewers are generally less sophisticated than their english counterparts, or maybe because the channels believe it to be so.

Over the past few days, lethargic and bored (holidays are on), I had no other options except the TV and the PC. So, surfing through the channels, and, unavoidably, the aforementioned sense-offenders, I have had occasion to witness some truly earth-shaking, but very shaky, 'breaking news'.

One of those is the "Denver Alien" news story, which the channel (IndiaTV in this case) devoted half an hour to. I'm going to only mention the other act of mis-journalism which I paid attention to: the Saibaba animation. First IndiaTV claimed it was really Saibaba speaking, then Star News got an animator to admit he made it, other channels (including IndiaTV), picked it up and devoted the entire day to a non-story.

Here's the former story, which I'll cover in detail: (first, the real story, and then what IndiaTV's show said)

The Denver alien video

Come on, google it.

Ok, Ok, I'll give some history. Rather, I'll quote. From Denver Post.

the video was taken on July 17, 2003, in Nebraska by Stan Tiger Romanek, who set up the camera because he thought peeping Toms had been looking into his house at his two teenage daughters. Romanek did not appear at the news conference

The creature would slowly pop its head up and peer through the window then drop suddenly down, apparently trying to avoid detection. It raised its head up about a half dozen times. The alien's other body parts were not visible.

"Experts" and others went gaga over the tape because, they said, it would have cost a lot to fake it. Sure, Sure. Only one photo capture of the video was released, and it's here. The video wasn't allowed to be filmed by the reporters who were allowed to see it, and the guy who filmed it, Stan Romanek, is reserving it for some documentary. Many who've seen the video have been converted, if news reports are to be believed. Doesn't look like much, but, heck, who could fake that?

Well, some people from the Rocky Mountain Paranormal society did just that. They sound credulous, to us non-paranormal believers, but from what I gather, the people there have much common sense and know what comprises scientific evidence. Well, these people went ahead and made a very realistic-looking (and grainy enough too) video of an alien for just 90$. Look at that product here and tell me if that doesn't convert you.

The RMPS page here about their video is very informative. Scroll down and you see screen captures of the various news reports of the issue in the media. The RMPS guys have seen the original video. It did not impress them (these people are experts in ghost and paranormal photography). They point out clearly that such a video does not comprise a proof, because it can be easily faked. Nothing was added in post-production, but the alien itself may have been bogus.

And, my common sense revolts against the idea of the alien shown in the photo capture: It's too humanoid. Two eyes, a round head, a nose? Come ON. If alien life exists, it's probably weirder than us, even assuming that life on that other planet also underwent evolution. And why peek through a window? To quote Charlie Sheen from Scary Movie 3, "they traveled hundreds of light years but can't get through a window door?"

Personal Belief note: I know that the faking of the video does not prove that the original video was a sham. Personally, I believe aliens are like fairies: cool if they exist, but heck, no evidence. Similarly for ghosts. Except the 'cool' part.

The IndiaTV take

Similar to many other takes on the Denver video, I believe (the US has a lot more crackpot news sources than India), but stunningly stupid.

Firstly (like many other sources), they showed that faked video, and not the real one. Well, no real one is available, but heck, showing a faked video claiming it is the real one? They could've googled a bit. Personally, I think they did, and they knew it was the fake one, but ran it anyway. Maybe you'll disagree, and following Occam, go for the simplest explanation: They were Idiots.

Secondly, there was also a mishmash of nonsense:
Staccato music. Sensational tone of voice. Single-phrased sentences. All playing over the same 20-second video shown again and again and again. The (translated) sentences, with my comments:

"This is the real video of an alien. This is not a forgery."
IndiaTV had goofed up the previous day with the Saibaba animation fiasco. So, they either goofed up again, or, if they knew it was a fake, lied again.

"It is 4 foot tall."
How do you get the height of an alien from a video which only shows it's head?

"It has a big head. It has a nose."
Um, the people watching the programme are not blind, dude, only stupid!

"If it is peeping through your window, be wary."
Show me one person who'd go, hey, there's an alien peeping through my window, I should invite it for beer.

"They come from far away to kidnap you. One abduction has already happened."
ONE? You're making all this fuss about ONE instance of alien kidnapping? (Also, Idiots, if you'd googled enough, you'd have come up with, say, 10000 more.)

"It first comes to your window, then at 2 in the night, it knocks on your door to kidnap you."
The 2 o'clock at night reminded me of a rumour going around when I was little. It was that a witch was in the neighbourhood, and she would knock on a person's door thrice, at 2 in the night, and then kill them. I was, um, 6 at that time, and didn't sleep the whole night, wary of knocks on the door. The next day, I was wondering if anyone was missing/dead in the neighbourhood. (Also, Note the 'you's here. Standard way to get the viewer involved.)

So, in the end, IndiaTV showed a story with no credible evidence at the back of it. It sensationalised the available video, said things which had no backing and made no sense. It devoted half an hour to a video which was fake. Moreover, it was faked to debunk the original video. And then, IndiaTV shamelessly moved on to it's next half hour special on Sunil Shetty's use of profanity.

What is happening to journalism? Why are our standards falling? It's currently visible only in the Hindi media, but it may not be long before this sickness spreads to the English channels.

Note: I have been saying, 'bad journalism', etc. Who am I to say what is bad and good in journalism? Well, one rule I know is that you must validate your sources/evidence. In other words, if you don't have credible sources for the bullshit you spew, it certainly is bullshit you spew.

P.S. I didn't even mention the Aarushi Talwar case (here, right of page). It's a case of this sloppy journalism spreading to something that really matters: a murder case. Views on the media's role here. In general, everyone (media and police) has been sloppy about this case, making unfounded remarks about the victims character, the murderer's motives, and even his identity.


  1. Journalism just exists to sell itself. It has its benefits in society, but it's more profit oriented than people oriented. One should start to think if , at all, it should be people oriented (may sound a bit obvious that it should) than profit oriented, and if it can be agreed upon by a majority we should think of how it would be possible to make it ppl oriented.


  2. Hehe! Hilarious. Is there anyway you could notify India TV of this post?

  3. I really chuckled at the translations. They come to kidnap you, at 2 pm!! and it knocks! how nice of them! And so insightful to know they ought to knock a door and such. Great comments!

  4. As I was telling Anonick yesterday, these are all ways to gather eyeballs of primetime TV audience. There is so much competition for ad views these days on TV channels. This India TV has a prime time programme at 9 pm that is called 'Breaking News'(?) Apparently they have many news stories to break at that time, yesterday they broke the story that it was full moon night yesterday. The story was, how some research in England has 'proved' that more crimes take place on a full moon night than any other. But instead of dissecting the report, what they did was accused our neighbour of being murderous and a bane to humanity. We were also subjected to some 'ghastly' images of the moon, with wolves howling for the background score prop. The other 'news channels', Aaj Tak and Star News, are an equally big waste. Many here in Bombay do not remember when was the last time they saw a news story on Star News.

  5. LOL! The 9 pm Breaking News is hilarious! Omg, I'm so losing faith in the human intellect.