Violence (un)reported

By Shafaque Alam,

I asked to some of my friends, including some media students, about what had happened in Rudrapur, Uttrakhand, on October 2, 2011. Most of them expressed ignorance, stretching their eyebrows. However, when asked about Ralegan Siddhi, prompt reply came referring to Anna Hazare. This is media effect.

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Rudrapur is a city in Udham Singh Nagar district in Uttarakhand. It comes under one of the most fertile areas of India. However, this time it hit the headlines for the wrong reasons – communal violence which killed 4 people and left dozens injured. The deaths were caused by police firing on youths who were protesting the desecration of the Quran. The whole incident managed little time and space in the mainstream media.

However, alternative media did report the incident and maintained the tempo. Later, the state government, under much criticism for the police firing, removed top officials of the district including DIG, DM, and SSP.

Most of the mainstream daily newspapers either overlooked the story completely or gave a few inches of space in their inner pages. Incidents of loot and arson went unreported in these publications. Electronic media was no different.

These mainstream media had also had similar kind of experience in covering the violence in Forbesganj of Bihar (June 03, 2011) and in Rajasthan’s Bharatpur district (September 14, 2011).

What are the reasons behind these incidents not finding time and space in mainstream media they deserve? The questions rise that the incident went unreported by chance or by choice? Is media insensitive to the marginalized and underprivileged? Was it because no big social activist raised the voice? No iconic figure was involved in this incident to attract the camera? The incident did not occur in the heart of capital? Was there no representative of these media houses there? Or was there security threat and danger of erupting violence in other parts of the country? Or due to government pressure to media houses of not fueling to the fire? Do not these questions raise doubts on the accountability of media?

Apart from the above mentioned issues, one strong reason of this biased reporting is the ownership of these media firms. Most of the media houses are owned by big businessmen and run solely for profit making purposes. They hardly take an issue which does not benefit them commercially. Noam Choamsky, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, MIT says “The NewYork Times, maybe the world’s greatest newspaper, they have the concept of news hole. What that means is that in the afternoon when they plan for the following day’s newspaper, the first thing they do is to layout where the advertising is going to be, because that’s an important part of a newspaper. You then put the news in the gaps between advertisements. In television there is a concept called content and fill. The content is the advertising, the fill is car chase, the sexy or whatever you put in to try to keep the viewer watching in between the ads.” (Outlook, Nov 01, 2010)

The gate-keepers in these media houses are from a particular elite section of society. There is little representation of minorities and Dalits in mainstream media houses. Hence, absence of such incidents from mainstream media now, do not seem weird.

Now there is nothing wrong in keeping up the tempo in mobilizing the people for a social cause by ensuring round the clock coverage which the media did in Anna Hazare movement, but it can’t turn a deaf ear to incidents which go unreported.

Media has a lot to be proud of but the increasing disenchantment due to biased reporting is really a matter of concern. There is much burden on media for functioning of a healthy democracy.

(The writer is post-graduate student of Media Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia)