Reporting on the Naxal movement

BY AQSA ZAIDI| IN Research Studies | 06/01/2016
How well do India’s multiple language dailies provide essential political knowledge to citizens of this electoral democracy?
AQSA ZAIDI reports on a five newspaper study published by BELLA MODY

A Maoist  memorial in Badrimahu village, Bastar, and the mastheads of five newspapers (top to bottom): Eenadu, Anandabazar Patrika, The Times of India, The Munsif Daily, Danik Jagran


An August 2015  study published in the bimonthly journal ‘Journalism Studies’ and conducted by Bella Mody (Professor Emerita and former de Castro chair in Global Media at the University of Colorado), revealed interesting insights on  the comparative performance of  newspapers in providing citizen education.

The premise of this study was that voters across linguistic groups have equal rights to well-informedcitizenship. Mody hoped that daily newspapers would provide an “equitable distribution of disinterested political knowledge across electoral constituencies to potentially effect a major change in the money–muscle–politics nexus that shapes national election outcomes”.

This large quantitative study of political knowledge supply by newspapers chose one topic – the Naxal issue - for comparative analysis of newspaper reporting across five language groups because it has been considered the country’s greatest internal security threat by both the previous Manmohan Singh government as well as the current Narendra Modi government.

Advocating armed revolution as an alternative to parliamentary democracy, the Naxal movement began in 1967 with the protests of landless peasants in Naxalbari village in northern West Bengal. The Maoist Party that was later formed, as a merger between Andhra Pradesh and Bihar’s Marxist factions, focused on the displacement of tribals from their ancestral homelands due to mining, infrastructure development, special economic zones, and wildlife conservation activities. The Naxalites control territory throughout Bihar, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh states and claim to be supported by the poorest of the rural population, especially Adivasis and dalits. The Naxalites have frequently targeted police and government workers in their fight for improved land rights and more jobs for neglected agricultural labourers and the poor.

Given India’s 22 official languages, 29 states, regionally concentrated ethnic differences and the fact that 85 per cent of dailies are printed in regional languages, this study of the supply of political knowledge made it a point to include the highest circulation daily in Bengali, Telegu and Urdu in addition to the highest circulation daily in English and Hindi. 

The dailies studied include Eenadu published in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, Anandabazar Patrika published in Kolkata, West Bengal, Munsif published in Urdu from Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, the Delhi city edition of Dainik Jagran, and the Times of India’s main edition published from Mumbai. 

July 2011 to June 2012 was selected for analysis because of the availability of  coverage for analysis in all five newspapers.  All articles referring to the Maoist uprising were included, featuring major events such as the Supreme Court abolishing the Chhatisgarh state government-created anti-Maoist militia Salwa Judum, the killing of Maoist leader Kishanji, the Maoist kidnapping of a tribal state legislator in Odisha, the release of a kidnapped Italian tourist, and the kidnapping and negotiated release of a district administrator, Alex Menon.

Focusing on the differences in the amount of coverage, topics mentioned in the news reports and their framing, and how the reports performed on a specially-prepared “news comprehensiveness index”, Mody was able to uncover significant differences in the quality and quantity of information provided by these dailies to their readers.


Which newspaper provided the best citizens’ education on the country’s greatest internal security threat? 

Mody had hypothesized that the revenue of newspaper companies would influence the amount and depth of coverage, given the need for staff, time, and library resources.  She expected that the Times of India, the highest revenue newspaper, would perform best and that Dainik Jagran would be second. Both these news organization could afford to pay for coverage in remote areas. They would be followed by Anandabazar Patrika, Eenadu and possibly Munsif.

When comparing the number of articles mentioning the terms “Naxal” or “Mao,”Anandabazar Patrika, published in the state that was home to the Naxalbari movement, featured the highest number of articles followed by the Times of India and Dainik Jagran. Eenadu and Munsif provided the smallest number of articles.

In terms of educating readers about the causes of the uprising, two lower-revenue regional papers, Anandabazar Patrika and Eenadu, had the highest percentage of articles. The higher-revenue Dainik Jagran and the Times of India trailed behind with a relatively smaller percentage of articles that mentioned causes. In fact, Munsif, had the lowest percentage of articles with causal analyses.


How often were citizen readers told about who was responsible for addressing the grievances highlighted by the uprising?

The daily with the highest percentage of articles on who was responsible for remedies was again the regional Bengali-language daily Anandabazar Patrika. Lagging behind was the Hindu-language daily Dainik Jagran, the English-language newspaper The Times of India and the regional Telugu daily Eenadu and the Urdu-language paper Munsif.


How did these news organizations set the public’s agenda on how to think about the Maoist uprising, technically called theagenda-setting power’ of the press

All five news organizations represented the uprising in terms of what the government was actively doing to address the crisis through its police interventions and pro-social work, not on what it should have done in a timely manner earlier.

Mody’s measurement of the comprehensiveness of news reports showed that the lower-revenue Anandabazar Patrika Bengali regional daily had more articles with photos or graphics than the other four dailies, more articles that listed causes than the other four, and more articles that listed remedies than three of the others.

This newspaper’s performance on article comprehensiveness indicates that factors other than revenue size affected coverage of issues. The study shows that the average Anandabazar Patrika article on the Maoist uprising was more comprehensive in its reportage than the average article written for Hindi readers by Dainik Jagran, the average article written for English readers by The Times of India, the average article written by Eenadu for its Telugu readers and the average article written by Munsif for its Urdu readers.

Concluding, Mody writes that “more than 90 percent of the articles on the Maoist movement in all five dailies were framed as individual episodes or events with no explanation addressing causes, remedies, or context. Description of the event was the common frame: who, what, when, where - no why.” The causes of the conflict were mentioned in passing in up to 23 per cent of articles in Anandabazar Patrika but were predominant in only 0–2 per cent of the others.  

The study was designed to investigate the adequacy of the quantity and quality of disinterested political knowledge supplied by the daily press to distinct linguistic electoratesto keep India’s democracy whole and alive. The topic chosen for comparison was armed revolution as an alternative to parliamentary democracy. The findings show a low supply of knowledge to their reader-electorates by the highest circulation dailies per language and significant differences between them that compound other neglects (e.g. economic).

Since the foremost function of newspapers is to provide quality information to citizens, newspapers need to provide contextual information to readers repeatedly, especially in these times of sparse-attention spans, to help them make sense of the chaos of big data. No news organization did follow-ups or tracked government progress in addressing the causes of the neglect of marginalized groups.

The study focused only on one issue but it illustrates nonetheless how even the most widely-read profitable dailies did not provide comprehensive information to their readers over a twelve-month period. The Maoist uprising affects one-third of the country and has taken over 10,000 lives over ten years. Neglect of who is responsible in crisis reporting by a daily press that can potentially be read by 70 per cent of the country’s reader-electorate, indicates a media space not exercising its  fundamental democratic muscle, allowing the attitudes of the powerful to remain uncontested.

Given this state of affairs - newspapers possibly providing the same news-agency bulletin-type of information and covering those issues that are in the interests of their advertisers/owners – the outlook for Indian public discourse and consequently the democratic system, looks bleak.

Mody’s paper closes by asking: can for-profit news organizations be relied on as the only pillar of public citizenship education conducive to reflection on political issues? What are the alternative funding models that need to be explored now before internet penetration and market fragmentation reach Indian shores?




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