Reporting Ayodhya- I

BY HOOT survey| IN Regional Media | 16/10/2010
Gujarati newspapers used treatment, rather content, to indicate their pro- verdict stance. Did TOI’s well-meaning communal harmony efforts reaffirm stereotypes? Our series on Comparative Coverage begins with the Ayodhya coverage in Gujarat.
A HOOT survey. Pix: The Sandesh front page on Oct 1
Comparative Coverage 
How do different parts of the country cover the news? How do English and regional language newspapers cover the same story? Over the next two months the Hoot will report the outcome of a two month qualitative and quantitative newspaper survey in five states.
                                A Hivos-Panos study on the Hoot
Is there is a difference in the pitch given to the way a story is reported in the English press and in the regional language press? In Gujarat of the two leading papers in the state, one is an edition of the Times of India, so the reader in Gujarat not only got the local coverage but also the articles, surveys and opinion pieces done by the multi-edition paper as a whole.
The TOI Ahmedabad edition took care to have ``balanced'' coverage – carrying many news reports of communal harmony – while special reports focused on explaining the pros and cons. On October 1 page one was full of the Ayodhya issue – with its headline ``2 part to Hindus, 1 part to Muslims''. While boxes, graphics and reactions dominated the day, headlines indicated the mood, while the legal aspects were yet to be analysed in full. ``Verdict surprises government, surpasses saffron hope'' said one news report, while another said, ``More questions than answers in Ayodhya.'' The day after, it carried the dismay of Muslims, with an interesting term for them – Friday worshippers-- used in the headline.
Among Gujarati newspapers, we monitored Gujarat Samachar for content but also looked at the judgement day display of the others, because all of them used treatment, rather content, to indicate their pro- verdict stance. On judgment day this is how the papers looked: 
•Gujarat Samachar lowered the masthead and carried a saffron strap above it. The headlines said, ‘Ram Lalla idol not to be shifted’; in a saffron strap line the paper said, ‘Hindus' right over the sanctum sanctorium’.
•Sandesh had on the top half of page one, a photo of Lord Ram towering over a temple.
•Divya Bhaskar preferred to carry a jacket cover, while the first one was a sketch of the judges delivering the verdict, the entire second page one was devoted to the issue with related images and a dash of saffron.
•Loksatta Jansatta turned the upper half of its front page saffron with pictures of the judges, a mosque and a temple.
As the day of the verdict drew closer, there were many instances of news reports from across the country on ``secular – living together harmoniously'' gestures – like a Hindu selling attar in Ajmer, Hindus helping to rebuild a mosque from Hubli (page one) titled as Rebuilding Faith, Muslim trust restores damaged church from Punjab, In Ayodhya, Muslim artisans weave garlands for Hindu devotees. A lesson from historical past – with instance of Ganga- Jamuni tehzeeb(TOI words) and Nawab of Oudh Wajid Ali Shah's example.
In the run up to the verdict TOI began to have pages titled as Times National/Judgement Day, putting together all related news on that page, except for important court developments on page one with pointers.
–The September 30 issue – on the day of verdict had an unusual assortment of news on this page. Though well meaning, perhaps to promote communal amity, the news reports remained unrelated to Ayodhya verdict . A report from Allahabad --Muslim artisans adds colour to Ram Leela. From Varanasi – Young Muslim scholar translates Ramayana into Urdu(pray what has Urdu to do with Muslims per se - a common misconception), From Kolkata – First Islamic fashion store in Kolkata – perhaps selling designer burqas?
They all were undated features pieces put together and termed ``acts of communal togetherness''. Also, most of these news had gestures from the Muslim community, barring the church building and mosque building reports – of Muslims doing ``something perceived as un Muslim-like, or perhaps perceived progressive - like selling flowers for temple, translating Ramayana or even having a fashion store for burqas.   One can’t help asking, do we look at the other side in similar fashion? How often do we report a Hindu translating the Quran? Or a Hindu selling items perceived to be used by Muslims such as attar? Does this well-meaning effort only reaffirm stereotypes?
The TOI city supplement which is dominated by film, fashion and gossip also carried a piece in same vein on the day of verdict, with predictable Bollywood names like Mahesh Bhatt, and Shahrukh Khan appealing for peace and harmony.
The Gujarat specific coverage in TOI was limited to security arrangements and the reaction of chief minister Narendra Modi. The photographs were also security centric.
The only exception in local coverage were two news reports. The first was carried in the September 25 issue on page 10 with Advani visiting Somnath. The second was carried in the September 30 issue, the day of the verdict on page 3- – sounding somewhat out of place. It carried responses of youngsters on the verdict – -a what- did- they know- about- the-controversy, or what did they think would happen kind of a survey. Most did not know the details or even when the Babri Masjid demolition took place, according to the report.
Related news began appearing from September 17 onwards, largely on the inside pages initially pertaining to court developments. With Gujarat going to civic polls, barring page one, the initial pages were dominated by local news, with very little of Ayodhya coverage on page 1 except when the judgment was deferred. On September 1, it had an Ahmedabad dateline news on how Naroda Patiya 2002 riot victims had moved, scared of the outcome. And a newsbrief on Morari Bapu – the famous religious leader cum storyteller from Gujarat, welcoming the verdict that paves way for temple construction and calling for peace.
As for pictures, the use of the Babri mosque as a file photo was used sparingly – mostly with court copy, as on Sept 18 with news report of Allahabad HC turning down plea to defer Ayodhya verdict. Photographs of religious leaders taking part in an inter faith prayer meet were used. In the case of peace-related pictures, most depicted Muslims – typical with their white skull caps either with placards or releasing doves – which was not the case with ``typical Hindu'' photos.
Special reports carried photographs from present day Ayodhya as well as black and white images (a line drawing or sketch perhaps) of Babri Mosque as it once stood.
The Gujarat Samachar did not carry any feature reports suggestive of acts of communal harmony. If the paper has a national bureau of its own, there was no evidence of it. All national news related to Ayodhya including the verdict details were from PTI. The only exception was on the day of verdict, an article explaining what it meant. So much so that on October 2 it was not the lead news. When the Sensex surges by 376 points it is going to be the first lead in a Gujarati paper. Samachar gave this news its characteristic 8 column headline. Ayodhya was a second lead, with a report on the legal details. Unlike TOI there were no feature reports suggestive of acts of communal harmony. 
The news reports though from PTI had headlines which specified what RSS leaders, the sadhu samaj or the Muslim clergy had to say during the court developments. On October 1, it carried opinions from legal experts based in Ahmedabad who all opined that the judges gave a bold impartial decision. The VHP distributed sweets, and a news report which appeared exclusively in Samachar saying that all major decisions regarding the temple were taken during periods of Congress rule.
Overall the paper was sparing with details as compared to the TOI as it depended wholly on the agency news, but the local coverage, columns, special reports and its editorial made its stand clear as to why the Ram Temple needs to be build at the spot.
What did the column Delhi ni Vaat (Delhi ki Baat – the Talk in Delhi) say? Gujarat Samachar carries every day a page one column – Talk in Delhi – signed by Inder Sawhney.
–On September 19 - Will attempts to provoke will succeed?   Analysing the radical fringe on both sides.
–September 20 – Testing time for PC - With Kashmir, CWG corruption charges, it argued that UPA would like to defer the verdict.
–September 24 – it analysed what deferring the verdict meant.
–September25 – did the government try to defer the verdict as UPA has its hands full due to CWG and floods in Delhi?
–September 30- Babri Masjid belongs to Shias and they are willing to compromise and give it to the Hindus (this was not mentioned in other dailies at all, bit of a surprise)
On September 22 in News Focus – columnist Suparshva Mehta argued that Indian courts usually tend to give wishy washy verdict – it was a speculative piece stating the verdict could say that there existed no temple, neither any proof of its demolition a nd therefore will not allow temple construction. It also mentioned that with such a verdict, Muslism are sure to burst crackers. And if a pro Hindu verdict, BJP will take moral benefit of it.
Though unrelated, on same day the News Network detailed how history books by Macaulay, Max Mueller, H G Wells and others misrepresented ``our history''.
On September 30, a day before the verdict, it carried a full page colour package with a saffron and black strap Ayodhya Judgement Today. There were photos of the mosque being demolished. A timeline, historical details and legal details formed the backgrounder. On page one the paper carried the photo of makeshift idol at Ayodhya, with a caption detailing how the Mogul emperor Babar demolished temple to make a mosque.
On October 1 – the Column News Focus explained - ``Instead of saying 66% verdict favours Hindus, say 100% judicious''. Both side should accept it judiciously. It goes on to analyse....``The problem with Indian Muslims is that they carry around the burden of ill deeds of not only present day Muslims but also those in the past”, citing instances of Aurangzeb and Nadir Shah, and stressing that Hindus are more tolerant.

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