If the north-east of India is but a blip on the radar of the “national” media, so it seems is the south-west. A few years ago a group of journalists from different parts of India who arrived in Imphal (Manipur) were startled to discover that a curfew had been in operation there for nearly three weeks, unbeknownst even to many media practitioners from the “mainland.” I was reminded of that experience last weekend, when I happened to be in Kozhikode (Calicut).
Kerala woke up on Saturday, May 5, to grisly news of the brutal murder of T.P. Chandrasekharan, a prominent leader of the Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP). The politician was reportedly attacked near Vadakara in Kozhikode district late on Friday night while travelling alone on a motorcycle to his home in Onchiyam.
According to the police, his assailants hurled country-made bombs at him before attacking him with sharp weapons in a manner clearly aimed at causing severe damage to his head and face. A journalist who covered the story said it had taken the doctors close to three hours to minimise visual evidence of the mutilation before handing over the body to his family.
While the RMP called for a dawn-to-dusk hartal in Kozhikode district on Saturday, the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) extended the shut-down across the State. The hartal apparently received only partial response in other parts of the State but it certainly affected normal life in northern Kerala, including Kozhikode. Tension and some violence were reported from areas in and around Vadakara even though the district administration had clamped prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the IPC in four panchayats in the Vadakara area.
Cutting short his visit to Delhi, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy flew to Kozhikode for the funeral. Several other ministers and political leaders, including former Chief Minister and current Leader of the Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan, were also present at the Town Hall in Kozhikode where hundreds of people had gathered to pay their respects to and get a last glimpse of the slain leader.
Chandrasekharan, earlier an active member of the Community Party of India (Marxist), had been expelled from the party a few years ago and was reportedly instrumental in strengthening the RMP as a rival to the CPI (M) in Onchiyam. In view of this background, the needle of suspicion immediately pointed towards the CPI (M), even though party leaders and spokespersons denied involvement in the crime.
Malayalam news channels had live coverage of the event and its aftermath throughout Saturday. Newspapers in Kerala – including the local editions of The Hindu, The Times of India, and Deccan Chronicle – had extensive coverage of different aspects of the story, including on their front pages, on Sunday.
But “national” news channels, preoccupied with the political tug-of-war over the National Counter Terrorism Centre, the “race” to Rashtrapati Bhavan, Mamata Bannerjee’s latest histrionics, the digitalisation of television, the demilitarisation of Siachen (at some point!), etc., had no time on Saturday for the developments in Kerala.
It is not as if they did not cover other State-centric news – stories about Sharad Pawar “taking on” the Maharashtra CM, Punjab agriculture minister Tota Singh’s conviction under the Prevention of Corruption Act, the crisis in the BJP in Rajasthan following Vasundhara Raje Scindia’s threat to resign over Gulab Singh Kataria’s proposed yatra, etc., did feature on prime time news programmes.
Other news, such as the appointment of Shantaram Naik(replacing Abhishek Singhvi) as chairperson of the Standing Committee on Law and Justice, the Intelligence Bureau’s “hints” about an “LeT threat,” the possible introduction of a quota for boys in Delhi’s St. Stephen’s College (later denied by the college authorities) and, of course, the Indian Premier League match between the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Pune Warriors, captained by Sourav Ganguly, at the Eden Garden stadium were also covered.
The only mention of the Chandrasekharan murder that I caught during prime time news on Saturday evening was on CNN-IBN, as part of their Speed News segment, although the event also turned up on the news tickers of a couple of other channels on Saturday night.
Of the Bangalore editions of six English dailies, only Deccan Chronicle had a story on the event on Sunday, headlined “CPM, Cong spar over murder”, accompanied by a boxed item about police investigations into the crime, headlined “Well-planned conspiracy”. DNA noted the murder in the “Briefly” column on the India page, and Deccan Herald published a photograph of a deserted road near Kozhikode on account of the hartal. None of the other papers featured the news or the developments related to the political murder even in their “Briefs” columns, despite the fact that several of them have Kerala editions.
Again, it’s not as if these newspapers did not carry news of goings-on in other States. For example, The Times of India had a two-column story on page 9 headlined, “600 teachers in M’rashtra go ‘deaf’ to skip transfers,” another two-column story headlined, “Driver asphyxiated inside car in TN”, on page 10, a single-column story about Lalu Prasad Yadav’s “frenetic” efforts over the past few months to get three of his daughters married, on page 11, and even a report on the proposed introduction of visa-on-arrival facilities for the residents of France, Germany and Russia, on page 9. A channel reported the furore over BJP leaders in Madhya Pradesh aiding, abetting, and participating in the illegal marriage of a minor girl to an already married man.
The websites of several news organisations, including NDTV, IBN Live, Business Standard, The New Indian Express (Expressbuzz), India Today and Firstpost did, however, carry the news soon after it broke.
The conclusion of the expert committee set up by the Supreme Court that the Mullaperiyar dam – a bone of contention between Kerala and Tamil Nadu – was safe, received coverage as national news in both broadcast and print media.
So, what are the criteria used to determine what’s news and what’s not in our “national” newspapers and news channels?