Please increase diversity in your newsroom!

BY RAVIKIRAN SHINDE| IN Media Practice | 19/07/2016
An open letter to NDTV India's Ravish Kumar : Please look at the Brahmin domination in your own backyard,
says RAVIKIRAN SHINDE

 

Dear Ravish Kumarji,

Namaskar. Apologies for writing this in English and not Hindi. This is a season of open letters. Recently, you wrote an open letter to journalist-turned-minister M J Akbar and then your colleague in NDTV, Barkha Dutt, wrote one to former Human Resources Minister, SmritI Irani. Now, before you think this is going to be a defence of them, let me tell you I'm neither writing about them and nor do I belong to the abusive clan known as online trolls. Since you are not on social media anymore, a decision which I did not like, an open letter was the only way to reach you. I'm clearing this at the outset so that you feel comfortable reading the entire letter without having even the slightest anticipation that the platitudes and  choice expletives that made you abandon social media might be coming your way again.

The recent cabinet expansion is why I am writing this. I have been following you since Ravish ki Report and always considered your journalism ethics in high esteem. Your true depiction of the Gujarat model, and more importantly your daring decision to include delicate but important social issues like caste and quotas made me your ardent admirer.

In your prime time coverage of the 5th July cabinet expansion, you rightly pointed to the disproportional dominance of Brahmins in the Narendra Modi cabinet, ie Nitin Gadkari, Arun Jaitley, Prakash Javadekar, Sushma Swaraj, Ananth Kumar, J. P. Nadda,  Manohar Parrikar, etc. No other channel or anchor would have dared to do this clinical dissection. 

 

 Brahmins

 

Reacting to Ramdas Athawale being made Minister of State, you raised an important question about why dalit MPs almost always get the Social Justice Ministry. Barring Ram Vilas Paswan and Sushil Kumar Shinde, why have dalits been given social justice time and again and not important ministries such as finance or commerce? That was your question and it was an important question. I am happy that you touched upon this political enigma. 

The great paradox, however, was that while you were discussing this enigma, you had Abhay Dubey,  Vidya Subramaniam, Akhilesh Sharma and Sunita Aron on your panel. In short, a majority of Brahmins. I am not sure you realized the irony.  Just think about it – debating the lack of diversity in the cabinet in a television studio without diversity. Would you discuss women’s issues with an overwhelming male panel, headed by a man?

Until few years ago, you used to have eloquent dalit representation in the form of Professor Vivek Kumar or Chandra Bhan Prasad but these days, apart from the usual politicians – P. L. Punia of the Congress or Sanjay Paswan of the BJP, I do not see members of deprived sections represented.   You will agree that when dalit politicians are invited to debates, they simply represent their parties rather their own  communities and the discussion eventually turns into the usual political ping-pong.

Just as you have Abhay Dubey, why not also invite dalit commentators who are apolitical and can yet comment on politics while keeping an equi-distance from both the Congress and the BJP? I have nothing against the names I have mentioned but in your distinguished service of over 20 years with NDTV, didn't you find enough apolitical dalit commentators who could participate in your debate? Forget about diversifying the Editorial Board of NDTV – for which you criticized the Modi Cabinet – but have you ever thought of diversifying at least your discussion panel?

The Hindu reported in 2012 that the media's failure  to recruit dalits was a betrayal of the constitutional guarantees of equality and fraternity. The article quoted a Washington Post study by its correspondent Kenneth J. Cooper  in 2000. Cooper tried to find a dalit correspondent in India but couldn’t. B. N. Uniyal of the Pioneer published Cooper’s search in the newspaper and wrote himself that "in all the 30 years I had worked as a journalist I had never met a fellow journalist who was a dalit, no, not one”. The Cooper-Uniyal inquiry found not a single SC or ST among more than 300 media decision-makers in the country.  

I live in the US currently and I see a completely different picture on TV here.  I see many different faces of colour, race and ethnicity. I can see a Don Lemon, an African American on CNN prime time every day.  Even on the right wing Fox news, there are often African Americans on panels. The host of the Daily Show on the Comedy Central Channel is African American Trevor Noah who succeeded the famous Jon Stewart.  

This is because, as the Hindu report says, in 1978 the American Society of New Editors (ASNE) found that only 4 per cent of US newsrooms comprised people of colour - Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans and Asians. ANSE systematically aimed to increase the diversity in the newsroom to 30 per cent by 2000. The target of 30 per cent was missed but it soared to 20 per cent.

Compare that to the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) in India. The only time we see them in the news is when they feel that one of them or their office is being attacked by some fringe political party. I have very little hope of the NBA and the rate at which the Modi government is appointing Brahmins to head important government bodies, I have little h­­­­ope of the Information & Broadcasting Ministry that it will try to diversify the Indian media.

Considering this situation, it is left to individual decision makers like you to make amends. Let's start with small things.  Can NDTV India proactively look out and invite sane dalit voices onto its panels? Going back to your debate where you aptly asked why dalits are not made finance minister, did you ever realize that they are not only missing from important ministries but from newsrooms too?

Also, how many dalit reporters does NDTV India or NDTV have? The answer will be uncomfortable for you. Can NDTV, the oldest media house after Doordarshan, sponsor budding SC or ST journalists to graduate from top-notch mass communication institutes, give them intensive six months training after they have graduated and send them out into the field as reporters? This would be a wonderful idea and send a strong message to other media houses. Dalits form a quarter of India’s population and are TRP material too - if your sales team wants to view it from that angle.

This is a suggestion that should really go to the I&B Ministry but, as I said earlier, I have little hope of this government. That is why I am addressing this letter to a sensible journalist like you who, I think, cares for all social groups and is sensitive towards the marginalised. The episode in which you read Hyderabad PhD student Rohit Vemula's suicide letter is a perfect example of this. That is why I have chosen you. I’m sure you will not disappoint me.

If the electronic and print media continue to remain a Brahmin-Bania dominated den without any participation from the lower castes, I must quote from a famous poem by Waharu Sonawane, a dalit poet from Maharashtra, below. Sonawane explains  how they (the upper castes) tell his sorrow and his story from the 'Stage' while he - the victim - remains seated in the crowd, listening to his own story from their mouth while his story remains his own.

Stage

We didn’t go to the stage,

nor were we called.

With a wave of the hand

we were shown our place.

There we sat

and were congratulated,

and “they”, standing on the stage,

kept on telling us of our sorrows.

Our sorrows remained ours,

they never became theirs. 

When we whispered out doubts

they perked their ears to listen,

and sighing,

tweaking our ears,

told us to shut up,

apologize; or else...

(By Waharu Sonavane; translated by Bharat Patankar, Gail Omvedt, and Suhas Paranjape)

By the way, your coverage of Gujarat’s Una where four Dalits where stripped, tied to a vehicle and mercilessly beaten up by members of the Gau Rakshak Dal in broad daylight, was good.

Yours truly,

Ravikiran Shinde

 

Ravikiran Shinde is a freelance writer on socio-political subjects currently based in the US. Twitter: @scribe_it

 

 

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