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The Indian Media And Unity 2004

By Chandrabhan Prasad

01 September, 2004
The Pioneer

If 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.

The conference 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 Seattle (1999).

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?

The "Unity: 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?






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