If you’re lucky, you’ve been able to blog about it. If not, you’ve been fuming in offline silence over the Indian government/ISPs’ inept blocking of blogsites over the past couple of days. But in the midst of all this cyberspace critique, a news item in early June seems to have passed under the radar of many bloggers. Or was there a blackout there too? And this time, by the mainstream media?
On June 5th 2006, The Hindu carried a story on the first ever statistical analysis of its kind: a survey of the social profile of more than 300 senior journalists in 37 Hindi and English newspapers and television channels in Delhi. As Newswatch India commented, if sex, religion and caste are to be taken together, more than two-thirds of the top media professionals in the India come from less than 10 per cent of its population. Shocker (or is it really?): there is not a single Dalit or Adivasi amongst these top 315 media decision-makers. Hindu upper caste men hold 71% of these jobs, and Muslims, only 3%. Interestingly, a gender analysis gives the most positive spin, but there too, mainly in the English electronic media: women account for 32 per cent of the top jobs. In the English print media, women form 6 per cent of top editorial positions and 14 per cent and 11 per cent in the Hindi print and electronic media. But there is no woman amongst the few OBC (Other Backward Classes) decision-makers: groups that suffer ‘double disadvantage’ are almost entirely absent from those surveyed.
The survey was designed and executed by Anil Chamaria, freelance journalist, and Jitendra Kumar, independent researcher, from Media Study Group, and Yogendra Yadav, senior fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). Yogendra Yadav points out that this skewed representation does not necessarily mean that the media is always biased. You can be a Brahmin and write sensitively about Dalit issues. Some of the most courageous stories of violence against Muslims have been written by Hindus. But as Siddharth Varadarajan - Deputy Editor, The Hindu - explains, it’s not an easy task. He compares the time, effort - and mutilated results - of his trying to write a story about Dalit medical students in 1999, with the indulgence of the mainstream media over the reservations issue last month. He asks:
…[W]ould the media’s coverage have been more balanced had there been a greater degree of caste diversity in the newsroom and editorial boards of our newspapers and channels? Put another way, in egging the forward caste students on to oppose any extension of reservation, were forward caste editors and reporters reflecting their own personal impatience with the idea of affirmative action? Was the media coverage, then, a display of trade unionism by the privileged?
Now let’s talk even tougher. Of the mainstream media covered by the survey, only The Hindu and CNN-IBN of the English media, seem to have profiled the analysis. I checked all the other mainstream publications that have an online presence - including The Times of India, The Hindustan Times and The Indian Express - and found no mention, whatsoever, of this survey (either my search techniques are crappy, or, guess what: BLACKOUT!). And the one other mainstream newspaper that found it worthwhile to mention, was the Dawn, Pakistan’s daily newspaper, commenting on the survey in full and then asking itself: ‘what is the Pakistani equivalent’?
It’s a shameful, uninspiring set of events. First, that we continue to be - in all our socio-political institutions - ‘trade unions of the privileged’. This might not come as a surprise, but the extent of the privilege (fifty-nine years after independence) should. Secondly, and this is even more troubling, that when a mirror is held up to us, we are unable to accept the reflection. The media - particularly by virtue of its profession - needs to be at least as accountable as its demands of others. And considering that some of the most inspiring challenges to the status quo in India do come from mainstream media, this silence on the inequities within, is damning. And considering that some of the most self-righteous indignation against the status quo recently has also been by some representatives of mainstream media, the silence is damnably hypocritical.
It’s worth asking ourselves, repeatedly (while reading the front page and listening to the headlines): whose news is it anyway? And perhaps it might be worth taking that blogging debate a step further to ask ourselves, whose blog is it anyway? The answers may not shock us, but let them - at the very least - shame and embarrass us.