Land struggles: does the media care?

BY Sudeep K S| IN Media Practice | 27/04/2008
Native resistance to big projects and resulting displacement does not have news value any more, unless it happens in a state where a communist party rules.
SUDEEP K S cites the example of protests against POSCO

Earlier this month, a journalist friend of mine visited the POSCO site in Orissa to report what was happening there for a Malayalam daily. She was accompanied by five other women, human rights activists from non- governmental organisations in Delhi. They  went there on the eve of a mass rally against  the project.


 The next day, a local Oriya newspaper reported that six   Maoist women -- some of them pretending to be media people -- came the  previous night and camped at the rally site to give arms training to   the tribals.  While the local newspaper report is an example of one kind of media distortion, the coverage of the   rally (or its non-coverage) in the English media is equally worrying.


  News about the rally came in the "Non-Event" section of a regional edition of  The Times  of India. Its Delhi edition, carried a brief on April 2: "Massive rally  at proposed Posco site".  It read, "Anti-Posco protesters held a massive rally at  the proposed Posco site near Paradeep even as police detained around   300 of their supporters on Tuesday. The district administration had   imposed prohibitory orders in Balitutha where an estimated 3,000  villagers gathered on Utkal Divas and pledged not to give away their   land for the proposed Posco project. The police blocked entry of   protestors at several places."  


The Indian Express, Delhi did a black-out of the event. The only news  that have come about the POSCO land struggle has been that of the  local people turning "violent". ("Posco officials taken hostage by  villagers": Indian Express, May 12, 2007.; "Armed procession  against Posco": Indian Express, December 3, 2007.


 It was only The Hindu that did a decent reporting of the event.  "Rally against Orissa steel project staged; government criticised": The Hindu, April 2, 2008.  

 Then  there was an eye-witness account in Tehelka that does not quite

  qualify as mainstream English media. "State of Siege: Angered by

government support for the POSCO steel plant, hundreds of protestors

stormed police barricades in Orissa¿s Dhinkia. An eye-witness account



Native resistance to big projects and the resulting displacement  does not have news value any more, unless it happens  in a state where a communist party rules.  In the rush to globalize  and to get things done at low cost (which most often means without  compensating adequately  for the resources), such struggles have become commonplace.  And  there are many Nandigram-like situations in many states in India. The  POSCO project is just one of them. It is sad that other than on The  Hindu and Tehelka, one can find details of such struggles only with  some agressive googling (For instance, "Nandigram-like Situation in  Orissa?" The South Asian, December 2, 2007. ; "Democracy at gunpoint": a report, a case study, a map and other  links at ) 


Talking of displacements and people¿s resistances, it is not new to  Orissa either. The local resistance to a big mining project in  Kashipur is over 15 years old and a brutal police crackdown on tribals  there happened only about three years back.   


We know how Nandigram has been used by the media against CPM. The likes of The Indian Express initially took a line similar to the stand  they took on POSCO -- explaining why we need industrialization at any  cost, and how the armed locals and "naxalites" stood in the way of a  bold Buddha. But later it became difficult to stick to that stand  after the situation got much worse. In a clever manner, they mixed it  well with the criticism on CPM and the Left for becoming a hindrance  on the liberal economy expressway. The larger question of whether our  future really lies in such big projects continues to remain unexplored by and undebated in most of the mainstream press.




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