Media, masses, government, all ignore rural issues

BY Aman Namra| IN Books | 07/03/2005
A study on media coverage of developmental issues in the three new states reveals public as well as media apathy towards the plight of people living in rural areas.

Aman Namra

The power of media has never been in question. It can influence the key policy makers by swaying the public opinion on various national and international issues. It also has the ability to play a significant role in spreading awareness about various developmental issues.

In a country like India, where a host of developmental issues need to be addressed, media can highlight the problems and the challenges faced by the people working at the grass root level. However, does the media really make any significant contribution towards these issues? Does it use this power to influence people in a manner which would lead to social welfare? What is media¿s contribution towards the uplift of poor and rural people?

In an attempt to answer these questions, Charkha Feature Service, national development communication network, conducted a joint study with Manthan Yuwa Sansthan, wherein it scanned the regional newspapers in three newly formed states - Chattisgarh, Uttaranchal and Jharkhand - for three months. Unfortunately, the scan revealed that the mainstream media does not really deal with these issues at all. 

The study was an attempt to understand the coverage provided to ten such issues - poverty, health, women, education, Panchayat, agriculture, livelihood, corruption, environment and crime. To gauge the level of importance given to the issues, the study looked at the page on which the article is published, whether the coverage is urban or rural, the source of the news - organizations, government, reporter or news agencies and the leaning of these news items, etc.

Media Scanning: Jharkhand

Thirty to thirty-two different tribes live in Jharkhand along with people of other caste and community. The people of this state speak a variety of languages such as Hindi, Urdu, Oriya, Bengali, Maghi, Maithili, Bhojpuri, Khortha, Napuri, Mundari, Uraw and Khadia among others. This is an extremely backward state in terms of economic development.

However, the media in Jharkhand raises minimum questions regarding their role and responsibility towards social welfare. While there is a need for developmental communication in Jharkhand, issues concerning these people and their problems hardly get any space in the local newspapers or other media.

Five newspapers published from
Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, were selected for this study. For this purpose, three Hindi newspapers - Hindustan
, Prabhat khabar, and Ranchi Express and two English dailies - The Telegraph and the Hindustan Times, were analysed. The study focused on issues such as food, security, health, women, education, panchayat, agriculture, migration, unsettlement, mining and land.

The study revealed that after Jharkhand became a state, the distribution of paper in the villages and small towns increased. In this process of localization, more than half of the pages include news of capital and near by places with minimum or no space available to the news from other rural areas and poor districts. Out of 59,675 local news items (total of news of all papers) only 1671 were related to social issues. More or less every newspaper gives 150-200 cm column space to the sermons of a religious guru or to some religious/spiritual news. A trend of separate beat for the religion-spirituality has started.

Out of these 1671 news items, those on education (289) and health (223) were comparatively more but most of the news items on education comprised the activities of English medium schools. The agitation of college teachers definitely gets more space, but primary education and the level of education in the rural areas does not get covered. The same is true of health related news. Most of the news is based on camps organized by different organisations. Health policy is covered but the implementation of this policy is not discussed. In a state where more than 20 thousand children die of malaria every year, the government priority is spending millions on publicity and Aids awareness. Media, which could have played a role by discussing issues of hunger, displacement, migration and pressurizing the government into being more sensitive towards these problems, is indifferent to the whole affair.

Out of the total news on people issues, Prabhat Khabar published 39%,
Hindustan 27% Ranchi Express 23%, Hindustan
times 8% and Telegraph only 3%. It is clear that the National English dailies have not been able to cover the ground level issues of Jharkhand and are not sensitive towards these problems.

What is the focus of newspapers covering people¿s issues? We found that the newspapers focus on the middle class. There are suitable reasons for it. As the middle class buys and reads the newspapers and increases the sources of revenue, it is natural that the concern of the newspapers is the middle class.
 

Uttaranchal

After scanning the leading newspapers such as Amar Ujala, Dainik Jagaran, Shah Times, Hindustan Times and Himachal Times, published from Dehradun, we found that only 5% coverage is given to the ten issues stated above. While Amar Ujala and Himachal Times provided a 5% coverage, Dainik Jagaran and Shah Times have given a 4% coverage and Hindustan Times a mere 3%. The dismal state can be gauged by the fact that in Hindustan Times, out of 5085 news items, only 13 were on poverty issue.  Similarly, Shah Times has covered only 16 news items on poverty out of 9145 news items. As far as poverty issue is concerned, almost all newspapers have a similar extent of coverage.

Of the total news items, poverty issue has claimed a mere 8% space, whereas issues of crime have a 15% coverage space. Out of the total coverage given to the issue of poverty, 53% of the news items have been sourced from reporters while only 7% of the news is from these organizations. One can find a similar situation in issues of health (11%), livelihood (9%), environment (13%), education (14%), and gender issues (14%).

About 92% news coverage is focused on the urban area rather than the rural. Ironically, though these issues have more relevance in the rural area, an increasing importance is given to these issues in the urban area. While most organizations working in the rural area focus on issues of health, poverty, women welfare, education, and Panchayat, the urban publications do not seem to consider issues from the rural area as relevant and important. Even when 5% of grassroots news do get published in these newspapers, 92% of the news items are published in the inside pages.

Further, it was found that out of the 5% of the total coverage given to these issues, a mere 9% was from the six poorest of districts in Uttaranchal. A remote district like Chamolii is allocated merely 1% of space, whereas Champavat and Bageshwar have been allocated 6% and 3% space respectively. As far as the issues highlighted in these 6 districts are concerned, crime has bagged 15% of the news space. Being a hilly area, environment has been given the maximum coverage of 30%, whereas issues of health, Panchayat and livelihood mere 6%, women 7% and poverty 3%.

If one focuses upon the news items on women issues, then one can find that the "backbone" of the hills -the women community- are given coverage of only 14% in Dehradun-based publications. As far as respective newspapers are concerned, Amar Ujjala has published about 51 news items out of 7759 whereas Hindustan Times has published nine items out of 5085 on issues related to women. Similarly, Dainik Jagaran has published 54 items on women out of 9325 news items and Himachal Times has published 52 out of 9145 news items.

It is evident that people-related issues do not get much space in Uttaranchal newspaper publications. One important reason for the same is the fact that organizations working for the grassroot-level issues often do not have good relations with the media. It is important that the organizations working on such issues are sensitized about the role and responsibilities of the media and the media is made aware of the important role these organizations play.

Chattisgarh

In Chattisgarh, with the support of Asha Shukla, a noted journalist from Navbharat, Charkha scanned Navbharat, Dainik Bhaskar, Deshbandhu and Hitvaad. The situation is quite dismal in this region as well.
An appalling 2% space is given to the ten issues stated above. Out of this 2%, 4% space is given to poverty, whereas 24% space is attributed to crime-related issues. The least percentage of space is given to the news related to Panchayat; out of the total of 22,495 news items published in the four leading newspapers in the state, only 18 news items were on Panchayat issues. This appalling figure is quite similar to the figures in the other two states. Media has not focused on the challenges and the achievements of the local governance. One can only conclude that either the issue is not important for the media or the latter is unable to reach out to the media. It is important to note that while there are many NGOs working towards the development of PRIs, this work is not being given any coverage by the media.

Similarly, health related issues are given a 23% space, but over 65% of the news items are from the urban area, and that too related to strikes by doctors and bad administration in hospitals. Coverage given to the rural area on health related issues is very less. As far as the source of the news is concerned, in Chattisgarh, reporters cover 82% of the overall news whereas organizations cover a mere 10% of the news items.

Similarly, the poorest districts of Chattisgarh, namely, Bastar, Koriya, Kanker, Raigarh, Jashpur and Devtada, have received a total coverage of mere 4%. Out of this, crime related news have been given a coverage of 62% while poverty a mere 4%, health 4%, education 13%, Panchayat 4% and corruption 13%. Unfortunately, issues related to women, environment, agriculture and livelihood have received no coverage from these 6 districts.

Reasons for media apathy…

The condition of the editorials is even worse. Only 11 editorials were on these issues and even then, they were published in local papers. According to a senior editor of Deshbandhu (Chattisgarh), the challenge of staying in the market is like digging a well daily. If the issues of the most deprived community are not covered by the newspapers, it is because the news does not ¿sell¿.

Even readers do not seem to be sensitive towards these issues. In Jharkhand, only 17 letters from the readers clearly give out this message. And when these issues are not in the agenda of the society, how can a paper be blamed? If we see the media and these issues in this context, the reason behind lack of coverage when it comes to developmental problems becomes clear. Newspapers reflect the system and the social structure.

A large section of the population of our country is illiterate and deprived of basic necessities. Some people do not even get two meals a day. The basic reason behind this is that our democracy is by the people, but not for the people. Peoples¿ issues are raised in the Parliament and the Legislative Assembly but ultimately the discussion does not yield any results. At times, our politicians constantly seem to try to do away with these issues. Bihar¿s Legislative Assembly and now Jharkhand¿s Legislative assembly shows us how the sessions are continuously cut short.

The three newly formed states mentioned in the study have completed four years and an attempt was made to understand if the newspapers in these states could reflect the ground realities and document the changes which have taken place during these years. While the newspapers do not seem to have done a good job of covering the developmental issues, the question we need to ask ourselves is this: Is the attitude of newspapers towards the problems of the common people any different from the deteriorating face of power and administration?

(The author, Aman Namra, is the resident editor of Charkha. Charkha has for the past ten years attempted to highlight the issues of development in mainstream media. In this respect, Charkha has been conducting workshops with the grassroot workers in various states, the objective of which is to develop and enhance their ability to write and sensitize the media on grassroot level issues.)

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