It is an open secret that the best-sellers’ lists, despite being based on sales figures, are often manipulated.
The sheer amount of received wisdom available to modern-day newspaper readers and television viewers (or “media consumers” as they are known in marketing lingo) is simply staggering. Thanks to a daily dose of opinion polls, market surveys, best-sellers’ lists and a variety of “power” lists we all know which is the “best” book without having read it; which party is going to win the next election even before a single vote has been cast; who’s who’s in the popularity stakes down to the last spot; who wields how much power in exactly what order; and who are the “best” or “worst” dressed people in the world .
But how credible is this information?
It is an open secret, for example, that the best-sellers’ lists, despite being based on sales figures, are often manipulated. Opinion polls are said to be even more vulnerable to manipulation, the cynical view being that you can get the answer you want by framing the questions in such a way as to yield the “desired” result. But the least reliable are the so-called “power” lists based, as they are, mostly on the compilers’ own subjective opinion.
The result is, often, strange — such as a list of the world’s most influential people which doesn’t include someone like the Chinese President while bristling with TV celebrities and pop idols. One such list appears in the latest issue of New Statesman as a cover story, “The 50 people who matter.”
It features four Indians, including the Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. So far, so good. No surprises there. But then on the same list there’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, surprisingly ranked higher than his boss — something that might even embarrass him. Hailed as the “green giant” and credited with getting the scale of the climate change crisis right, he is listed as the world’s 27th most important person, four places ahead of Mrs. Gandhi.
This is not the only eye-popping inconsistency in a list that, according to the magazine’s own admission, is not based on any objective criterion.
There is, for example, Shah Rukh Khan rightly chosen for his huge popularity but there is no Sachin Tendulkar who, if anything, is a much bigger international figure in terms of his global fame and influence on world cricket. Similarly, the “Murdochs” (Rupert and family) are ranked as the world’s second most important family after the Obamas which, for all the influence wielded by the media magnate, is clearly stretching it a bit.
Then there is Afghanistan’s human rights campaigner Malalai Joya ahead of the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the Pope, and the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, among others.
So, how were these rankings decided? The New Statesman team which compiled the list acknowledges that the decision was “subjective” arguing in an introductory note that getting such a list right is a “impossible.”
“You might call it a mission impossible — to set out to discover, determine and decide the 50 people who matter most across the world, and to rank them in order of power, influence and impact on the planet. But how to compare cultural influence with military strength or financial clout? Does an American gossip columnist matter more than an Iranian ayatollah? Is a Russian arms dealer more powerful than the British Prime Minister?”
Exactly. But then why do something like this? What’s the legitimacy of such a list? And does it serve any purpose except as a marketing gimmick?
Meanwhile, the Financial Times Weekend Magazine produced its own power list — devoted to “Top 50 women in world business” and claimed to be the “definitive ranking” of the world’s most powerful and successful chief executives. Unlike the NS list, however, this one is based on hard data and a range of other factors that are explained at length in a panel published alongside the list. It even names those who missed out and explains why.
Indians will find something to cheer about in the fact that the list is headed by Indra Nooyi, chairman and chief executive of Pepsico, though it is America that she credits for her success.
“Where I am has a lot to do with the United States. I think the United States represents the greatest meritocracy in the world,” she says.
There are three other Indian businesswomen on the list, Vinita Bali, head of India’s Britannia Industries; Kiran Mazumdar Shaw of Biocon; and Shobhana Bhartia of HT Media. Among those who missed out are Chanda Kochhar (ICICI Bank) and Preetha Reddy (Apollo Hospitals).
And, finally, a list naming and shaming “50 People Who Fouled Up Football” compiled by British sports writer Michael Henderson but, happily, there is no Indian on this list!