Cauvery: pretty good coverage

BY BHARAT DOGRA| IN Media Practice | 18/09/2016
Despite the complexity of the issue and the high emotions, the print and digital media did a pretty thorough and fair job of covering the Cauvery water dispute.
BHARAT DOGRA evaluates the coverage

Credits for Pix used in collage: Deccan Herald, Mint, The Hindu, and Maps of India

 

The coverage of inter-state or inter-region disputes poses several problems and dilemmas for the media. This is all the more true in the context of an issue like water sharing which directly impacts a large number of people and is also emotive. The feelings of people are much stronger in a year of water scarcity and the situation becomes further complicated when court hearings are underway and people are getting agitated.

All these factors combined to make the coverage of the recent Cauvery river water  dispute a rather ticklish issue.  However, despite some initial problems, the media appears to have covered the issue reasonably well, although the possibilities for improved coverage should also be pointed out.

The initial problems also arose mainly in the electronic media as their repeated highlighting of some violent incidents raised the possibility that it could further contribute to the escalating violence in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. One entirely avoidable lapse related to the repeated telecast of a Tamil youth’s beating in Karnataka, in some cases without even providing the background of this youth being involved in provocative criticism of some popular Karnataka actors. Mixing up such issues should be avoided, particularly in times of tension.

This - and some other telecasts of violent incidents - prompted the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to issue an advisory on September 13. This was a particularly sensitive day in view of the preceding day’s widespread violence. The  advisory   pointed out, “Some TV channels have been airing footage of violent incidents, rioting etc. repeatedly. These could further ignite tensions and reactions and could cause a law and order situation in both the affected states to deteriorate.’’

The advisory recommended, “ News, views or comments relating to the Cauvery dispute should be telecast only after proper verification of facts and presented with due caution and  restraint in a manner which is in the public interest for maintaining harmony.”

This may have been relevant in the context of some TV channels at the peak of the tensions but as far as the main print media and particularly the major English newspapers were concerned, they practised restraint even before the advisory came out. For example the editorial in the Hindu dated September 7  titled Return of the Cauvery Crisis was a very balanced one.

The Deccan Herald dated September 13 was particularly notable for its admirable restraint as violence had escalated just the previous day and there were some genuine grievances and complaints in Karnataka, particularly among farmers. As a leading daily newspaper of Karnataka, the newspaper showed restraint when it was most needed.

Various sections of the media opened up interesting aspects of the debate. The Scroll linked this debate to drinking water shortages in Chennai and Bengaluru and their neglect of local water management.

The Wire related the debate to historical factors in one article, and in another article (http://thewire.in/65836/cauvery-dispute-supreme-court/) questioned some aspects of the judicial process. 

The Week was quick to come out with a cover story on this subject which included a series of reports and opinions on various aspects of the debate, supported by maps and facts. This included a report on various water dispute tribunals. 

India Today published a story titled Price of Neglect which was tightly packed with relevant facts and comments.

The Indian Express (Cauvery - a dispute of the poor monsoon year , September 8) tried to provide a lot of information in a question and answer format.

The Hindustan  Times highlighted the problems of Tamilians living in Karnataka  (We are Tamil-speaking, but  Karnataka is like our mother, September 16 ). Kuldip Nayar expressed his concern about the impact on relationships among people of the two states (When neighbours become enemies, the Statesman, September 15, also published elsewhere.

Outlook (September 26) focused mainly on the linguistic and ethnic faultlines.

A report in Mint dated September 13 on the Cauvery dispute described the violence but also taking care to give the perceptions of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu leaders. Inexplicably, it carries a graphic of rainfall deficit data in the Cauvery delta area,  though the article does not expand on the issue  at all. Elsewhere though the paper carried an article from Legally India  tracing the trajectory of the 150 year old dispute.

While several aspects of debate were opened up in various media, one  aspect which received relatively less attention was the protection of the Cauvery river and its tributaries. One exception was the article When the River Weeps by Harini Nagendra in the Hindu on September 16. This article examined various aspects of the protection of the river including the destruction of forests in the catchment areas, the destruction caused by large scale sand mining, as well as the dangers of making excessive and unsustainable demands.

Perhaps I can also mention an article I wrote in the Statesman on September 16 titled More to saving a river than sharing waters. This article tried to show that in Cauvery, Narmada and elsewhere, the overwhelming involvement with sharing water while neglecting the protection of rivers has proved very costly.

Giving more attention to protection of rivers and sustainable water use, which is really the key issue, will help to further enrich the media coverage of this important issue.

While researching this coverage on the internet, it was somewhat irritating to see that quite often the coverage was provided under the heading: All you need to know about the Cauvery dispute. Yet what followed was quite inadequate. Such titles insult the intelligence of the reader and should be avoided.

To end on an optimistic note, it is also good to see that readers and newspapers in states far removed from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu were concerned and Hindi newspapers covered the issue widely.  The Lucknow edition of The Pioneer made Cauvery the top news on one day and on another day its top editorial  (http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/edit/old-water-war-revived.html) was on Cauvery. Such priority coverage of distant states is good for India and its media.

(Note: The various publications are covered till September 17).

 

Bharat Doga is a freelance journalist involved with several social movements and initiatives. 

 

 

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