No focus on development issues

BY Indira Akoijam| IN Books | 08/08/2012
COVERING THE STATES- PART IV: Prioritizing politics, crime and sports, major English dailies have shown little concern for other big areas.
INDIRA AKOIJAM finds in a study that agriculture is yet to get its due from the media.
Sample and methodology
The Hoot did a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the coverage of the Indian States among five English news dailies: The Times of India, The Indian Express, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, and The Economic Times. The Delhi editions of these papers were taken into account for the study. The period covered was April and May, 2012. The news coverage was tracked for 50 issues in 28 States.
1.   All pages were analysed except Delhi/ City, Editorial, Columns and Op- Ed pages.
2.   Noida, Gurgaon, Faridabad, and Ghaziabad that are under the National Capital Region have been classified under the States to which they belong.
3.   The business and sports pages were included except in the case of Hindustan Times in which the business section is a separate supplement.
4.   Following subjects have been classified under development news:
·         Urban/ rural infrastructure
·         Government welfare/ schemes
·         Announcement of new schemes
·         Public works development
·         Transportation/ roadways
·         Governance
5.   In tracking issues such as politics, business, and economy only stories that were specific to the State were considered, as against national-level news originating from that State.
6.   For sports coverage, any sporting event taking place in a particular State was counted as a State story.
7.   Sport categories such as football, basketball, athletics, chess, motor racing, etc., were classified as “other sports”. Cricket stories, other than the IPL, were also classified under “other sports”.
Apart from sports, politics, crime, legal news and naxalism also emerged as top issues in the study. Legal issues were covered to an extent of 6 per cent of the total number of stories, while stories on naxalism garnered 5.3 per cent of the coverage. These (coverage of naxalism alone; no legal stories) formed 72 per cent of the coverage on Chhattisgarh, and 52.15 per cent (naxalism) and 0.9 per cent (legal stories) of the total coverage of Odisha.
All matters of dispute before the High Court or the Supreme Court, pronouncements of judgments by courts, etc., formed the basis of legal stories in the dailies. Next to crime were legal stories (315) in those dailies. The Indian Express (107 stories) followed by The Hindu (82), and Hindustan Times (80) gave highest coverage to legal stories compared to The Times of India (68) and The Economic Times (8). Most of the legal stories revolved around the alleged crimes of politicians (Jagan Mohan Reddy in the disproportionate assets case) and professionals such as Nupur Talwar, a dentist, under trial for her daughter’s murder. The High Court decision on the Ode massacre in Gujarat, the court notice to an airline company for deplaning a woman, and the Andhra Pradesh High Court quashing the 4.5 per cent sub-quota for minorities carved by the Centre out of the 27 per cent reservation for OBCs, were among the other legal stories.
Coverage on naxalism primarily came from areas affected by naxal violence. The dailies also reported the government’s attempt to tackle the naxal problem in those States. Going by the emphasis that was given to this issue, it was evident that the problem of naxal violence is becoming a prime issue of media coverage. The top newspapers that reported naxal issues prominently were The Indian Express (96), Hindustan Times (72), The Hindu (57), The Times of India (39), and The Economic Times (15).
The percentages of each newspaper’s coverage on this issue show a different picture. The Economic Times had the widest percentage of coverage to naxalism with 8.2 per cent. Given the small quantum of stories concerning States in this newspaper, the absolute number of stories in the paper is small and hence the percentage of issues shows a higher value. Though, The Hindu gave the least percentage of coverage to the issue of naxalism with only 3.5 per cent, it had more in-depth coverage. The Indian Express had a substantial coverage of 7.1 per cent, some of which comprised in-depth reporting or analysis. The Hindustan Times followed closely with 6.9 per cent.  
The coverage of naxalism peaked throughout April and the first week of May with the kidnapping of two Italian tourists and a BJD MLA from Odisha, and the abduction of Sukma collector Alex Paul Menon from Chhattisgarh. During this period, even the front pages of the national dailies featured stories and any development related to the abductions. Special features and articles giving accounts of the ground assault by the armed forces against the naxals from States such as Chhattisgarh also resulted in the increase in its coverage. In all the newspapers, it was only naxalism that primarily made news from this State. In all, 72.7 per cent of the coverage from Chhattisgarsh was on naxal issues alone. Odisha had 52.15 per cent of its total coverage on the issue owing to the abduction of the Italian tourists and the MLA. Even with a State such as Assam where naxal activities had not been reported earlier, 7 per cent of its total coverage was on the issue.
During the period when the Italian tourist was in captivity, The Indian Express carried special features on foreigners who have made Odisha their hometown despite the looming danger from the naxals. The Indian Express on April 17 carried a special feature under the headline, “The ‘Naxal’ urban culture”, on the growth of naxal activities in cities where six member of a cultural group were booked by the Anti-Terrorist Squad in suspicion of spreading Maoist ideology. Another report on the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh, the Maoist frontal organisation, stated the history of violence that has seen the killing of 44 civilians since 2008 and some 5,500 people losing their homes till 2010 as they were simply evicted because they would not join the outfit. No other newspapers carried stories or features that reflected the situation in the naxal-affected areas.
The Indian Express also published a three-part story on the Abujhmard operation by the CRPF under the title, Inside the Red Citadel. Part 1 of the series (April 8) was about Abujhmard, a 6000 square kilometre area straddling Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra that is off administrative limit and is spread across 237 villages. The movement of the CRPF was planned based on Google maps, old ASI surveys and other software. Part 2 of Inside the Red Citadel was on recovery of preparatory books on making rocket launchers, books on Marxist movement and Communist Guerilla warfare, and the third part of the series dealt with the difficulty in the administration of Abujhmard as 5000 square kilometre area lies in Chhattisgarh, and the rest in Maharashtra.
The Hindu, on the other hand, carried an editorial that contradicted how some section of the media amplified the Abujhmard operation- “Operation Haka” by the CRPF men. “In the aftermath of “Operation Haka”…sections of the media have amplified stories to reflect an official narrative of storming a ‘red citadel.’” The editorial also stated: “The nature of the recoveries--one 303 rifle, a 12-bore revolver, five country-made shotguns, Maoist literature, samples of plastic explosive, and a portable printer--belie the existence of a so-called ‘Red Citadel' that can be stormed by military action.”
Unlike the above two newspapers, The Times of India placed all naxal-related stories on a single page and did not carry any feature or special stories. For instance, on April 27 the newspaper carried stories from three States on a single page: the expansion of naxal base in Chhattisgarh, killing of two former naxal cadres in Maharashtra, Odisha MLA Hikaka’s release, and Sukma collector Menon, who was kidnapped in Chhattisgarh, being administered medicine.
Unless it was a special feature on welfare schemes for rural development or news on urban infrastructure, construction of roadways, etc., development issues, barely made it to the pages of the national newspapers. Merely 3 per cent of the total coverage was devoted to the issue of agriculture while development news formed twice the coverage of agriculture with 6.13 per cent of the total coverage
The following subjects have been classified under development news:
·         Urban/ rural infrastructure
·         Government welfare/ schemes
·         Announcement of new schemes
·         Public works development
·         Transportation/ roadways
·         Governance
Urban development and construction of roadways were two most-covered development stories with The Hindu and The Indian Express laying emphasis on them. The Hindu carried two feature stories on urban development on the delay of completion of work on national highways that linked New Delhi to Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. It even mentioned about the Golden Quadrilateral, dream project of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, connecting Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata that did not take off. 
A half page feature on India’s longest road-tunnel under construction in Jammu & Kashmir, the Chenani-Nashri tunnel was carried in The Hindu on April 3. The Indian Express on April 8 carried a feature on the same story. Part of this urban development coverage is on account of a sponsored trip by National Highways Authority of India which both The Indian Express and The Hindu wrote about. The Indian Express said that it was a sponsored story as it clearly wrote below the article: The writer and photographer were guests of NHAI.
Though the coverage had the same context on the project’s progress, roadblocks, and benefits of the tunnel after completion, the treatment of the two stories by these newspapers was different. The Indian Express focused essentially on labour issues where the developers hesitate to hire local people as the project requires specialized skills. However, it was also pointed out that labourers were not paid tunnel and medical allowances. Acquiring of land for widening the road-tunnel was another aspect that was dealt with in the feature. It said land in Jammu and Kashmir is acquired by the State under its Land Acquisition Act.
The newspapers under study rarely carried rural development news unless it was an announcement. For instance, The Indian Express on April 16 carried a story that said guidelines for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act MNREGA- 2 will be ready by the end of May.
The drought situations in Indian villages, particularly in Maharashtra, were not reported in detail by the newspapers except for The Indian Express. It brought out the plight of the villagers owing to scanty rainfall and said that they had mortgaged their land for money as there was no yield of crops. On May 11, it carried a report on a project under Maharashtra Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MREGS) in which farm ponds help in water irrigation.
The Hindu was the only newspaper that carried a special section which highlighted issues that other newspapers ignored and had the highest percentage of development coverage at 2.9. A section called Periscope dealt with different subjects pertaining to health, environment, media, IT, gender, education, work, and development. How many newspapers would carry a piece on World Autism Day? The Hindu, in Periscope, carried two articles on the occasion dealing with IGNOU’s community college that train people with development disabilities to join mainstream organisations. The Times of India had the least number of development stories accounting for only 0.68 per cent.
Except for The Hindu and The Indian Express, there were no special features on agriculture or development in other newspapers. They, the others, only carried news stories that pertained to yield of crops in States, its impact on economy, and the drought-like situation in Maharashtra. The Hindu carried important aspects on agriculture and is the only newspaper with a section on the issue. It carried a story that dealt with the problem of unavailability of gunny sacks to store wheat in Madhya Pradesh, a groundnut variety that does not need much water, among others. The Indian Express carried special features on organic farming in Assam.
Some 0.78 per cent of the total number of stories on agriculture was covered by The Times of India. Hindustan Times covered only 0.29 per cent of agriculture news during the two months. The Economic Times’ percentage of the coverage of agriculture shows a bigger value owing to the lesser number of stories being reported.
Environmental and wildlife issues also received poor coverage in the newspapers. In reporting these issues, why don’t the media present a wider perspective? The coverage is limited to barely 2 per cent in the overall comparison.
Unless the news stories had to do with an event on environmental camps, these issues barely made it to the news pages. For instance, Hindustan Times reported only one environmental news story: a feature on felling of trees in reserved forests in Arunachal Pradesh, during the two months under study.  However, The Hindu had the highest coverage of environmental issues with 17 stories ranging from water conservation efforts by small communities in Indian States, development of a husk power plant that generates renewable energy to electrify rural Bihar, a turbine for water irrigation that uses the technology of low-flowing water, to use of solar panels to generate electricity in Gujarat, among others. However, none of the newspapers reported on climate change or the public concern on climate and the related decisions and activities.
Wildlife received thrice the coverage of environmental issues. And almost all the newspapers’ coverage of wildlife issues was limited to statistics released by the wildlife departments, etc. The Hindu and The Indian Express had twice as many stories as The Times of India and Hindustan Times had. The Economic Times did not carry any environmental and wildlife stories. And The Hindu reported the largest number (23) of wildlife stories. Most stories on wildlife originated from Rajasthan, mainly on the number of tigers in Ranthambore National Park, and this was in The Hindu.
Environment or wildlife stories such as best practices for a sustainable environment and wildlife, efforts of communities, local movements/campaigns etc., were rarely highlighted in these dailies. Hindustan Times carried only news that dealt with animal statistics in national parks across the country.
The study witnessed a sustained trend of news reporting filled with crime, legal disputes, politics, etc. with economic, social and development news taking a backseat. The newspapers’ approach towards development issues shows a sad reality that today the media focus rather on discussing every political issue, cover every sports tournament, and trivialize important issue such as development and agriculture. 
Newspapers were focused on news items that were more interesting and attention- grabbing stories. States with such news were subsequently prioritized on the pages. It, therefore, came as no surprise that Maharashtra received the highest coverage for having been a major venue for IPL matches and also for being the hub of political, business and legal activities, among others.  
The study of five leading English newspapers reveals that the national newspapers tend to focus on bigger States with politics, crime, and sports being the most reported issues. It’s not for the lack of news that some States were not covered, but it’s the prioritization of the newspapers that led to the poor representation of States such as Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, and seven of the eight north-eastern States which accounted for less than 100 news stories over the two months. 
While States such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, etc., received overall coverage on almost all issues, States like Chhattisgarh received coverage substantially on account of naxalism alone. Similarly, Odisha accounted for more than 50 per cent of its total coverage to naxalal issues.
Coverage of sports, particular IPL, was skewed in all the newspapers.
During the study period, the larger issue affecting the States such as Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Odisha was also in prime focus. Naxalism was the fourth most reported issue covered. Thereby, the States affect by naxal activity were brought to public notice with the issue of internal security becoming a national interest for the government as well as for the Indian media.
In-depth reporting on rural development and agriculture news rarely appeared unless it was carried in dedicated sections. And only The Indian Express and The Hindu did substantial reporting on rural development and agriculture.

Overall, all the newspapers showed a trend of prioritizing politics, crime, and sports  followed by other issues. Though the focus on the top issues of all the newspapers remained fairly the same, the distribution of news items and depth of reporting on each State varied. The Times of India and Hindustan Times had news that were urban centric. “Nation” pages (section dedicated to all States) in these newspapers were dominated by news reports from New Delhi. The Hindu and The Indian Express, on the other hand, carried a substantial number of pages dedicated to Indian States besides political stories and sections or features on special issues such as agriculture, wildlife, environment, development, etc.

Also read:

Part I: IPL, politics and crime dominate

Part II: Skewed sports coverage

Part III: Personalities drive political coverage

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