Pollution coverage: good but sporadic

BY BHARAT DOGRA| IN Media Practice | 03/12/2016
The Hindi press’ writing on pollution has been good but if it were more sustained and went deeper into the causes, the result would be terrific.
BHARAT DOGRA reviews some of the coverage

Rashtriya Sahara, November 8, 2016 

                                   

Hindi newspapers have given special importance to covering pollution, with a special emphasis on Delhi and nearby areas. A well researched article in Hindustan (November 19) by Bahar Dutt made the point that, as soon as the situation improves a little with better weather and sunshine, the sense of urgency wears off and suggestions mooted at the time of escalation are not necessarily followed.

Secondly she said that the seriousness of the pollution is not being captured by existing measurement devices and methods, beyond certain limits.

When the pollution crisis peaked around Diwali, leading Hindi newspapers rose to the occasion and provided adequate space and detailed coverage to this issue. In fact, on November 7, it became the number one news on the front page of the national edition of Dainik Jagran. The main headline screamed, ”Don’t say New Delhi, say New Deadly.” While the main report described the situation in and around Delhi, an accompanying story reported on the hazards of air pollution in terms of the reports of the WHO and other international organizations.

On November 6, Hindustan reporters interviewed patients in hospital being treated for pollution-related ailments as well as some doctors. Sumitra, who had come to Ganga Ram Hospital for the treatment of her 10-year-old-son, said that his condition suddenly deteriorated after Diwali and now he falls unconscious occasionally after complaining of chest pain. Kusum had come from NOIDA to the LNJP hospital for the treatment of her two-year-old daughter who faced acute breathing difficulties post-Diwali.

Such coverage can play an important role in understanding the health impacts of air pollution. A  photograph of distressed patients waiting their turn in an overcrowded hospital was very effective.

Navbharat Times had extensive coverage of the health impacts of pollution on November 4, accompanied by a chart that can be used by schools and anti-pollution campaigners.

On November 1, the national edition of Dainik Jagran gave almost an entire page to reports from different cities on air pollution. More specifically, these reports mentioned a decline in air and noise pollution levels in Patna and some other parts of Bihar following a reduction in the use of firecrackers.

Amar Ujala made a similar point, backed up by charts and data, on the link between crackers and pollution levels in some leading cities and also in smaller ones.

The coverage was not limited to news reports. The Hindi papers ran several editorials and columns such as the one by Abhishek Kumar in Jansatta on November 9 trying to understand the multiplicity of causes and by Pankaj Chaturvedi  in Rashtriya Sahara dated November 8 (page 10) calling for a longer-term plan to control pollution.

 

What the coverage missed

Bahar Dutt’s point was well-founded. While stories were plentiful during the post-Diwali crisis, in ‘’normal’ times when pollution is still severe but perhaps not hazardous, stories on the factors that contribute towards pollution on a daily basis are not given adequate attention. If newspapers can draw attention to these factors that gradually build up to a pollution crisis, then their contribution would be more valuable.

For example, the pollution caused by the burning of crop residues is generally discussed only around the time it is causing pollution whereas the problem needs to be discussed in a sustained fashion.  The burning of crop residue has its roots in the switch-over to mechanized harvesting which, apart from creating pollution, led to wastage of fodder  as well as the denial of employment to landless farm workers, including women workers.

Yet initially, when this big change was taking place, if it was noted at all by the media, it was generally taken as a symbol of the progress of agriculture, ignoring all the important side-effects.

By the time that pollution emerged as a big issue, the mechanization of harvesting had spread to a very wide area.  Therefore, a closer understanding by the media of changing realities and their likely repercussions would have allowed journalists to play a more effective role in checking the causes of pollution earlier on.

To give another example, firecrackers are generally taken up only around Diwali. For a significant reduction in firecrackers, this issue needs to be taken up much earlier  so that the manufacture and imports of firecrackers can be curbed at the proper time. Moreover, the media needs to report on occupational health and safety issues of workers employed in the manufacture, storage and transport of firecrackers.

Equally, other crucial subjects such as the  poor state of public transport, the need for proper waste management, and the inter-departmental wrangling between New Delhi and the central government, need attention. It’s not that they haven’t been covered – they have - but more can be done.  

 

Focus on the  poor

Hindi newspapers are expected to be closer to the weaker sections of society because more of their readers (and those of other vernacular papers) come from this stratum. They are expected to better capture the impact of pollution on this group but this expectation is not quite matched by reality.

Take cycle rickshaw pullers. Recently, they have faced very difficult times, resulting in a loss of livelihood or much reduced earnings, due to the unfair competition from newly introduced motorized transport but their problems have received very little attention in newspapers.

Or take the homeless who are exposed to polluted air constantly, particularly those who sleep out in the open and not in night shelters. Or slums where pollution is at its worst because the dirty air is compounded by several slum-specific factors. There is not much reporting of pollution in the specific context of the poorest urban people, particularly women.

In fact, reporting on the poorest urban sections by most of the Hindi press is weak. Official efforts to curb water and air pollution have often been implemented in distorted ways, resulting in dislocation and loss of livelihood for the poor but this aspect has been seldom captured adequately by the papers.

If these gaps in the pollution coverage by Hindi newspapers can be rectified, the overall effort will be much more powerful. 

 

 

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