Indian Media And Unity 2004
01 September, 2004
one were to term the Indian media as "an extended campus of Nathdwara
temple", it may be dismissed as "usual Dalit bitterness, a
substitute to reason". Here in lies yet another example that mirrors
the conscience of this institution.
This August, Washington
DC hosted the world's largest media convention called "Unity 2004",
attracting as many as 8,100 American journalists. So important was the
event that both the US President George Bush and the Democratic Presidential
nominee John Kerry addressed those assembled.
has almost become a American journalists' olympiad, held regularly every
five years. It was first organised in Atlanta (1994), with 6,000 journalists
attending. The figure went up to 7,000 at the following conference in
Can one cite any
other occasion, anywhere in the world, when such a large convention,
lasting five days (August 4 to 8 in this case), has been hosted? Needless
to add, this particular journalism olympiad was a major subject of discussion
in the American media.
India churns out
43,828 publications, including 4,890 dailies, in 18 principal and 81
lesser spoken languages and dialects. How come none of the publications
covered Unity 2004?
Most major Indian
newspapers and news channels subscribe to American news agencies. Most
even have their own representatives in the US. Many editors are known
to read American newspapers off the internet. News channel have special
foreign desks to "copy" foreign news channel programmes. Didn't
this great convention merit coverage worth even a single column? Or
a 10 seconslot on news channels? That, if not a thorough coverage, particularly
when most newspapers carry at least one page on international news.
Even news channels
regularly telecast an international segment. If this was a case of sheer
lack of information, then most Indian journalists are incompetent. However,
it stands "politically incorrect" to describe them so. Anyway
it will be utterly foolish to allege that the Indian media did not know
of Unity 2004.
What could be the
other possible reason for censoring the event? Are Indian newspaper
editors and news channel heads casteist? Well, to characterise them
so will also be "politically incorrect". Yet was Chandan Mitra's
decision to begin the country's first Dalit weekly column a "politically
incorrect" step? The first such column should have been begun by
Indian Express or The Hindu, the "politically more correct"
media establishments. Isn't editor of Telugu daily Vaartha, who reproduces
this column each week, under intense pressure from the "politically
correct" quarters to drop Dalit Diary? Why was the Indian media
so scared of covering Unity 2004?
Journalists of Color, Inc.", describes itself as "a powerful
alliance. A force for change". Four prominent journalist bodies
- National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), Native American
Journalists Association (NAJA), National Association of Hispanic Journalists
(NAHJ) and Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) - came to form
Unity in 1994. The Washington DC convention was the third. To make a
comparison, Unity is like a coalition of the Indian journalist associations
of "scheduled castes and scheduled tribes", which held its
convention in New Delhi recently.
Unity aims at advocacy
in journalism and education, with a stated focus on fairness and accuracy
in news coverage. In other words, Unity seeks rights for the historically
disadvantaged social groups. Most American newspapers, TV channels and
journalism institutes had set up "recruitment booths" at the
convention centre. The event was largely sponsored by mainstream American
media and the corporate world.
Had the Indian
media covered Unity 2004 adequately, it would have faced some implications.
The coverage could have unleashed a new debate. The Indian media would
then have come under pressure: Either to introduce a similar diversity
policy for Dalits or to surrender its high moral ground and face embarrassing
questions. As often argued in this column, when the question is of Dalit
rights, India's Left, liberal, secular, Right-wing or socialist journalists,
writers and columnists react similarly - like genetically produced potatoes,
similar in size, colour and taste.
India, like the
US, has a terrible past in terms of its social setup and exclusion.
The US is now trying to correct its Race relations. Today, the NABJ
boasts of a membership strength of 4,695. Indian newsrooms may not have
even five Dalits. According to the NABJ website, there are 12 Blacks
as top ranking editors, 16 as managing editors and 19 as opinion page
editors. Richard Parsons, a Black, is the CEO of Time Warner, one of
the largest media conglomerate in the US.
Wouldn't it be
in India's interest to have similar media diversity for Dalits? Wouldn't
it be in India's interest to have dozens of Dalits as editors, news
channel heads, columnists, anchors and another thousand in the newsrooms?
Nathdwara can't allow Dalits to enter because there is a priest, and
God. Is it in India's interest that its media continues to be an extension
of Nathd twara?