Coverage Of The Indian Newspaper Media

Essay add: 16-06-2017, 13:36   /   Views: 14

This dissertation undertakes the task of making sense of all the coverage that the Indian newspapers have afforded to various religious bans and fatwas issued in the post-liberalization era. The basic intention is to understand what are the various stands taken by print media, what were its motivations for the same and what was the impact of them having taken this stand on the readers in particular and the masses in general.

The reason for taking religious sanctions as the area of interest is that in India religion is not a private affair. It touches every aspect of our day-to-day public life. The practice of a certain religion by a person, or conversely the lack of it, intrudes on or tramples upon the right of another person to do the same. It is thus a much debated, widely quarreled and hugely ambiguous issue in our country. The hegemony of a certain dominant religion over the other minorities also leads to a climate where both the parties have something to complain about. Divisive politics by the leaders only adds fuel to this simmering fire. It is thus a matter of great interest how media looks at the various gimmicks and initiatives taken by religious institutions either to relieve or fuel communal tension.

The choice of print media (especially newspapers) for the study is also deliberate and pertinent. The mechanization of print during the Industrial Revolution is considered a landmark event not only in the history of print media but also in the history of knowledge. In many ways, our present society isn't a slave of the written word today, unlike a few decades ago. Nevertheless, our society has yet to completely buy into the digital revolution where the written word becomes completely redundant and we can officially hand ourselves over to the maze of cables and batteries. We don't even understand the enormity or ramifications of such a world. The world of communication we currently inhabit remains one very much shaped by industrialized print. In fact it was this phenomenon alone which drove the revolution to transform knowledge and information into a mass-oriented commodity from a premium offering.

Unlike the rest of the world, in India the newspaper industry doesn't seem to be on its way down. Contrary to global trends, the print medium is alive and kicking in our country. It continues to play a pivotal role in shaping public opinion and driving initiative from the common man.

At this stage it is crucial that the newspapers be divided into vernacular, Hindi and English as my readings tell me that not only are their histories very different but also their affiliations, motivations and opinions are based on different grounds.

In order to get a proper understanding of the subject matter, I intend to deal with the definitions, history, context and relevance of various terms in the topic.

Newspapers in India

Robin Jeffrey in his book India's Newspaper Revolution - Capitalism, Politics and Press has given a considerably modified Indian version of Jurgen Habermas' work on three stages of Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere through mass media.

Stage 1 - The leaders control people, ideas and information. Everything goes out only with the censure of the leaders - much like the city in V for Vendetta

Stage 2 - A communication network of rationally debating private citizens coming into existence which brings the domination by politically powerful people in front of the public

Stage 3 - The readers become opinionated and politically active to accept or reject the content in media as per their logic and experiences

India's Newspaper Revolution is a significant contribution to mass communication history for which Australian author Robin Jeffrey deserves academic applause. At a macro level, this book symbolizes a pioneering effort to make cohesive an area of journalism history that enables us to move one "book-step" forward in understanding the nature of local language newspaper journalism in a postcolonial context.

Following are a few issues which Robin Jeffrey covers in his book -

Concept of Print Capitalism

Coverage of the Ayodhya issue by the Hindi press

How newspapers provide the foundation for secessionism

Impact of technological improvement, literacy rates, liberalization, economic prosperity, language, etc on how newspapers are consumed and the influence they wield

Link between the nationalism of Newspapers and advertising revenues

The Eenadu story - Ramoji Rao, NT Rama Rao and Telugu Desam Party being the principle cast

The attack on Punjab Kesari during the Punjab Question for taking an anti-Khalistan stand

How in the pursuit for better advertising revenues, newspapers like Ganashakti and Deshabhimani were forced to compromise their communist position

The phenomenon of how a newspaper supporting the party in opposition generally has a higher readership compared to when the party thus supported is in power. Dinakaran and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam being a case in point

The perception of feminists as petty rabble-rousers, dogmatic, un-Indian among members of the press. As Bagdikian puts it, "I don't help them a lot"

The Mahanagar story of journalistic activism when Wagle had to stand up to Shiv Sena hooliganism

Headlines From the Heartland: Reinventing the Hindi Public Sphere is the first in-depth study of the ongoing newspaper revolution in the Hindi-speaking states of India. With improved literacy levels, communications and purchasing power, the circulation of Hindi newspapers has grown rapidly in small towns and rural areas. By focusing their content to serve a local readership, some multi-edition Hindi newspapers have risen to the top of the national readership charts. Against the backdrop of the relationship between press and society, author Sevanti Ninan describes the emergence of a local public sphere; reinvention of the public sphere by the new non-elite readership; the effect on politics, administration, and social activism; the consequences of making newspapers reader rather than editor-led; the democratization of the Hindi press with the advent of village-level citizen journalists; and the impact of caste and communalism on the Hindi press.

A key issue that also arises is that of censorship and the way the state has tried to stifle the freedom of press over the years. Practising Journalism by Nalini Rajan discusses a range of themes, from media laws (including the often-neglected in India right to privacy

against media intrusion) to the social role of journalists; gender, caste and communal issues in journalism; journalistic practice in war and peace; censorship and repression by the state; the role of media technology and future trends; sports journalism; urban reporting; and alternative media.

In the book, The Battle for Freedom of Press in India by K.S. Padhy among other things, the author discusses the role and importance of the Press and restrictions on its freedom in India in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, covering the following landmark Acts:

Regulations of 1799;

Ordinance of 1823; Metcalf Act of 1835;

Act of 1857;

Indian Penal Code, 1860;

The Press & Registration of Books Act, 1867;

Vernacular Press Act, 1878;

Criminal Procedure Code, 1898;

Acts of 1908 and 1910;

Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1913 & the Defence of India Regulations, 1914;

Official Secrets Act, 1923;

The Indian Press (Emergence Powers) Act, 1931;

The Press (Objectionable Matter) Act, 1951;

The Press (Objectionable Matter ) Repealing Act, 1957;

The Prevention of publication of Objectionable Matter Act, 1976;

The prevention of publication of Objectionable Matter (Repeal) Act, 1977;

The Defamation Bill, 1988 and its aftermath.

The Law of Crimes of Defamation; and The Jammu & Kashmir Press Bill.

Another major area of interest is how various leading newspaper groups of India have gained prominence over the decades. The championing of causes, taking strong stands has always added and enhanced the reputations of these newspaper groups.

For eg. - Eenadu gained state-wide prominence in Andhra Pradesh when the anti-arrack movement by the women of Benigunta village was covered by the newspaper and then was taken to such a fever pitch that the then government had to declare Andhra Pradesh as a dry state.

Religion in India

Any discussion on the nexus between Politics, Religion and Media can't begin without first studying the story of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. A devout catholic, he has collaborated with the political and religious leaders of the world to weave a web of influence which spans across the globe and makes him the most influential person on Earth.

The book The Murdoch Archipelago by Bruce Page is a landmark piece on the success that is Rupert Murdoch. Page, knowing our likely opinion of today's press in general, urges us to recall that in many places and times, newspapers have spearheaded moves for social improvement and higher public or corporate ethics.

Page doesn't offer a straight chronology of the Murdoch rise and rise to world influence. There are at least five full biographies about Rupert Murdoch in existence, most having been largely informed by "The Boss" himself. This book is clearly an independent survey, and moves beyond life story, into a fine study of the whole domain of the modern print media. It is an old industry in which the Murdochs have actually played a small part until recently.

Page is certainly on target when dealing with Murdoch deceptions, chicanery and arrogance, but rather than making a vitriolic attack, he displays consistent objectivity and balance. He allows for complexities of motive in behaviour or tactics, and he acknowledges those News Corp editors who acted from honesty and courage against executive opposition.

Murdoch is essentially a devout catholic and has a certain leanings in matters of ideology, politics and culture. The entire empire stands for these values and opinions of Murdoch and the cumulative effect is that with the kind of reach he possesses, he becomes the most influential person on the planet. His coverage of wars, cinema, coups, Vatican controversies, etc. are all consistent with his leanings across media.

Ahmed, Hilal's paper 'Muslim Homogeneity' versus 'Muslim Secularism': Understanding Muslim Politics in Postcolonial India critically discusses two dominant perspectives on Muslim politics: the Muslim homogeneity perspective and the secularist perspective. Highlighting the contributions, strengths, problems and weaknesses of these 'positions' in detail, the paper argues that the Muslim homogeneity perspectives as well as the different versions of secularist perspective do not look at the internal complexities of Muslim political discourses and, as a result, are unable to convincingly explain various forms of Muslim politics in India.

Lawrence Babb and Susan Wadley's collection of essays, Media and the Transformation of Religion in South Asia, examines how various "new media" affect religion in India. Considering everything from religious posters and comic books to television and video, they and their contributors argue that the "new communications media have profoundly altered the circulation of symbols, including religious symbols, in South Asian societies"

A fatwa is issued by a recognized religious authority in Islam. But since there is no hierarchical priesthood or anything of the sort in Islam, a fatwa is not necessarily "binding" on the faithful. The people who pronounce these rulings are supposed to be knowledgable, and base their rulings in knowledge and wisdom. They need to supply the evidence from Islamic sources for their opinions, and it is not uncommon for scholars to come to different conclusions regarding the same issue.

As Muslims, we look at the opinion, the reputation of the person giving it, the evidence given to support it, and then decide whether to follow it or not. When there are conflicting opinions issued by different scholars, we compare the evidence and then choose the opinion to which our God-given conscience guides us.

Arun Shourie's The World of Fatwas - Shariah in Action is a very important piece of literature on the very anatomy of a Fatwa, the parties involved, the Indian context, the implications and the politics behind a fatwa.

It's a decree or a ruling issued by a recognized authority in the religion. It could be an individual or an institution like the Deoband of Dar Al Ulum, which has a department dedicated to handle fatwas. These fatwas are like the high literature of the community. Every devout Muslim turns to the local Maulwi when in doubt about some aspect of conduct in daily life. The Maulwi in turn refers to this list of fatwas to decide what should be the solution. It is like a list of rulings passed by the Supreme Court with the difference being that instead of the Court the Muslim clergy is the ruling authority. The Mufti, the one who issues these rulings, is expected to have encyclopedic knowledge about a huge number of issues right from personal hygiene to marital relations, from geography to history.

In the Indian context, the fatwas are a massive impediment to the very idealistic dream of a uniform civil code. This is not to say there will not be enough reasons given by the Hindu, Sikh and other counterparts to avoid the uniform civil code. But the fatwas are very important to the Muslim power brokers as it is a huge tool of influence. Fatwas have been anointed as Shariah Law in action. And in Islam, Shariah is perhaps one of the most sacred of things. Not abiding by it is tantamount to blasphemy. Arun Shourie's contention is that this being the case, one would expect there would be volumes and volumes of studies carried out on fatwas.

We now come to the concept of the Ulema, which is not essentially the Islamic clergy but it exercises decisive influence on the community. They work on the theory of setting an example and the community will fall in line. Public Muslim figures like Maulana Azad and Zakir Hussain were made to fall in line and retract their statements when ruled by the Ulema to be un-Islamic or blasphemous. The fact that they were willing to bend over backwards for the Ulema creates an example for the ordinary Muslim to gauge the power of the Ulema. They thus fall in line and conduct their daily life following Shariah to the letter. The fact that Ulema is also the authority for a Muslim to complain about a Muslim further enhances its power in the community. The Ulema is thus a monster the Muslims have been feeding to their own peril as is the case with a lot of other religious communities as well.

The most pertinent point comes in the end where Shourie talks about how important it is in intellectual circles that a Hindu while writing about Islam always sings Hosannas whereas he can critique his own religion. This has a direct learning for the media where your leanings make you liable to be defensive and diplomatic about certain issues; but by doing so you hurt the concept of impartial reporting.

An important case which Robin Jeffrey alludes to needs to be mentioned at this point. He thinks that eventually media is a business of ideology. Every person who has ever gotten into it, has come here because he wants to stand for something, promote a thought process. It is thus quite true that impartial reporting is a myth. Capitalism, Politics and the Press have nexus which has different allies for different movements.

Need Gap Analysis

As may be apparent by now, the discourse on print media, its role in society and culture and its history is incisive and detailed. There is also a lot of debate and discussion on the question of religion in our country. However, the objective of this dissertation is where the two concepts collide. There is a clear knowledge gap on how the fatwas, bans, rulings, etc issued by religious entities in our country are covered by the members of the press. I therefore intend to take some of the landmark fatwas, bans, etc. in India and study the press coverage around it. Typically every issue has 3 media characters - the aggressor - who pushes the envelope and takes the role of the activist, the silent watcher - who wants to steer away from controversy and report the event as it pans out and the defender - who defends the issue either by being vocal or being silent about certain aspects so as to brush things under the carpet. They all may not exist together in every case, but atleast a couple of these characters will definitely emerge in every case. The reasons for taking the post-liberalization era specifically are that the country has seen an explosion of technology in this era and hence the consumption of press has changed in many ways. To account for this change and hence distinguish the post-liberalization role of press from its pre-liberalization self is also crucial. As per Vanita Kohli's book The Indian Media Business the blast of FDI and mergers and acquisitions also had an impact on how press conducted itself post-liberalisation. At the end of the dissertation, I want to be able to create a model which explains the communication tools a newspaper has at its disposal to support, rebel or ignore an issue which has social and cultural implications for the country.

Research Objectives

To understand the ban on Parzania by politico-religious organizations in Gujarat as well as the fatwa against Vande Mataram across India

To collect and collate the coverage of these bans across newspapers based on location and language and purported leanings

To identify trends and patterns in the kind of coverage being afforded to various bans

To track reactions of readers as well as the aforementioned political/religious entities to the coverage

Research Design

The research will mainly consist of qualitative research.

The main component will be secondary research which shall include -

Content analysis of newspapers across various editions, weeks, issues and languages

Online research on religious insititutions, political affiliations, etc

Content analysis of fatwas and religious proclamations

Article name: Coverage Of The Indian Newspaper Media essay, research paper, dissertation