Our media only bothers about elite, middle-class

28 May 2011


SHAH ALAM KHAN writes from New Delhi: In April this year the media went into a loud and vulgar rapture as Anna Hazare continued his four-day fast against corruption at Jantar Mantar in the capital.

Hyperventilating TV newscasters repeatedly declared that the issue of corruption has “touched a cord” with the middle class.

The circus at Jantar Mantar ended on a happy note with an amazing display of rhapsody for millions of urban, educated, elite Indians as they saw the government kneel to the demands of Anna in re-formulating the Lok Pal bill.  But this was more than a month back.

In Indian politics, one month is a long period. With a short public memory and an equally uncaring public attitude, it is easy to comprehend why another fast in another corner of the country has evoked minimal response.

Social activist and Gandhian, Medha Patkar has been on an indefinite fast for seven days at Mumbai in protest against the land grab at the Golibar slum, next to the Mumbai airport.

The contrast is striking.

No high profile players, no well known public figures, no lavish tents, no Bharatmata cut outs, no mineral water bottles for the attendees and,of course, minimal media glare. All the goodies of Anna Hazare’s protest are missing from Medha Patkar’s remonstration.

What is most conspicuous is the “wretched” clientele for whom Medha is fasting.  Medha’s indefinite fast is for the basic rights of 26,000 families, which dwell the Golibar slum.

Slum dwellers!

People who are a road block in the conversion of Mumbai to Shanghai.

Medha is protesting the blatant callousness of the Maharashtra government and its nefarious slum rehabilitation authority (SRA). SRA is the by-product of the political-land mafia nexus aimed at usurping those living in the slums of Mumbai. This futuristic Shanghai has more than 60 percent of its population living in slums with Golibar being the second largest slum of the city.

The SRA aims to authorize private builders to redevelop slum land. The result can be anyone’s guess. Private builders take up the slum land by force, forgery or on cheap rates. The resale value of these prime locations brings phenomenal wealth in the general property market. Even more despicable is the Clause 3K of the SRA, which gives a single builder right to redevelop a slum without inviting any tenders.

What is most deafening in this protest is the silence of the media (electronic, paper and alternative) which stood with Anna Hazare in his high profile fight against corruption. No Facebook pages, no Twitter messages, no hourly news updates.

Surely something is amiss “now” as compared to “then”.

Was it the personal charisma of Anna Hazare, who was largely unknown to elite Indians till April this year, which drew the masses and the media? Or was it a will of the media to suddenly awaken to the reality of corruption in this country?  It baffles me.

Surely, Anna Hazare’s well-orchestrated (and hence well funded) fight against corruption was more appealing to the urban middle class Indian then a fight for the slum dwellers of a small locality of Mumbai. Although to evaluate the efficacy of a protest on the basis of number of people benefited by it is not only dangerous but purely foolhardiness par excellence!

Protests represent the core values for which a society stands, not the number of people affected by its success. May be it is for this very reason that our very conscientious media fails to represent decisively the issues raised by Irom Sharmila, who has been on fast for the last ten years against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

Having said this, it may be noted that media has played a significant role in “individualistic protests” like those demanding justice for Jessica Lall or Priyadarshani Mattoo.

Although it is easy to find instances of media manufactured struggles in India if the victims are elite, educated or middle class but to say the same for this very media taking up the causes of the underprivileged, oppressed or rural masses is difficult. No wonder there is hardly any coverage of Vidharba farmer suicides or of atrocities on dalits across the length and breadth of the country.

In India the amalgam of forces that drive a protest are also an important determinant for its adoption by the media.

In Anna’s case high caste, elitist composition with a cosmetic supplementation by commoner Indians and fuelled by well-funded corporate driven NGOs, formed an ideal diet for high TRPs.  A ready meal for media digestion!

Unfortunately these ingredients of manufactured protest are lacking when it comes to core issues of human survival as in Medha Patkar’s demonstration in Mumbai.

The role of media in a democratic set-up cannot be over emphasized. But with more corporate control it is not difficult to discern what this integral pillar of democracy will support or rather avoid to support. With economic liberalization the media has become an important tool to formulate, channelize and direct popular protest; and there lies the danger for an unequal and unjust society like ours.

Highlighting the correct story is a morally responsible task that has to be done without fear or favour.

Medha Patkar and Irom Sharmila need an equal share of bytes & columns as Anna Hazare or Jessica Lall’s sister. Injustices cannot be compared, weighed and then sold to the general public wrapped in a piquant newspaper or an exciting television show.

Discriminations cannot have different colors.

Biases cannot be silent or loud.

Inequality can never be less or more.

(Dr Shah Alam Khan is an orthopaedic surgeon at the nation’s premier medical college and hospital, the all India institute of medical sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi. Visit his blog: India and Bharat)

Also read: Why Ram Pyari couldn’t take her daughter home

IPL’s thugs are no better than Maoists and Naxals

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8 Responses to “Our media only bothers about elite, middle-class”

  1. voyeur Says:

    Sir, I read somewhere that there was also a counter hunger strike. True?

    • moonchasing Says:

      You want media bias?
      I’ve been a part of reporting this movement for the past few months.
      Just like this counter-hunger strike was funded by the builder and their touts, in February this year, the builder and their people had a small ‘funded’ rally of 400-500 people that TOI and others very happily reported as ‘Slum dwellers protest against Medha Patkar’. But when Medha managed to pull a crowd of over 4500 people (which you can see in this photo album here – http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1745593953558.2097358.1050059109) – No one reported a thing. Hindustan Times had a little box.

  2. Indian Sherlock Holmes Says:

    Dr.Alam Khan is arrogating to himself the right to determine what is the “correct story” to be “highlighted” by the media. He is using the pseudo-marxist idiom of Jamaat-E-Islami.

    Anna Hazare was fasting on a national issue. Medha Patkar is fasting on a local issue.

    It the poor and not the elite class which suffers most due to the rampant corruption in India.

    People like Medha Patkar and Irom Sharmila were made world famous icons by the same media which Dr.Khan loves to hate.

    • Sam Says:

      No, I don’t think this is a ‘local’ issue. A similar kind of issue was recently in the news – protests in UP by farmers against ‘land grab’ by states. And considering that the Government of India is about to introduce a bill on this very issue of taking over lands for ‘development’, I’d say this is very much a national issue that should concern us all.

      Remember in India, right to property is not a fundamental right. Injustices always starts with poor and the weak and unless we start to protest against it early on, we will end up victims too.

      • harkol Says:

        A national struggle for Property rights of farmers and other small land holders will be well supported by a good section of the society too. National media covered the recent Farmer agitation in Noida (a non-middle class, non-urban issue).

        Any cause that draws mass support attaining a critical mass, will be reported by the media. Not paid crowds, but voluntary large crowds.

        If Medha Patkar hasn’t commanded equally large crowds it is perhaps because the cause is either not troubling large enough popuplation.

        For that you can’t blame the media.


  3. Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption is an issue that is relevant to the people of the whole country while Medha Patkar ‘s was a local issue. Hence the difference in interest. If Medha Patkar started the movement against corruption she would have got the same attention as Hazare. Media is driven by the commercial value of news particularly when it is owned by business corporations. Jessica Lal’s case though concerns a single person it has news value due to people’s peculiar interest in gossips. Further it is a situation that may affect any person anywhere in the country.

    • E.S.Shridhar Says:

      Media only plays to the gallery. Print media and electronic media worry only about readership and viewer-ship and only they know how they arrive at these figures. Probably they are guided by the revenue they are able to command and get. Most likely the sponsors or the advertisers as the case may be, and the babus, netas and the concerned government who dictate on the coverage. Further, the anchors, reporters and the editors have a shallow knowledge on the goings-on and they are also not willing to update their knowledge or guage the mood of the people. Sometimes they come out with stupid baseless opinion polls which invariably predict false figures. The recent electoral opinion poll of AIADMK should be an eye opener for the media as well as the viewers/readers of such trash programmes/articles.
      Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption is not a very difficult thing to follow as compared to thet of Medha Patkar which has a far reaching effect not merely locally but a global effect. One has to be a true Gandhian to try and understand such issues, lest we end up the Nigerian way, converting Bharat from agricultural country to a barren waste land. I hope Jairam Ramesh has time to ponder over this instead of breaking his head over issues such as faculties of IITs/IIMs.

  4. Rahi Says:

    I agree that the media time and again “campaigns”, if you please, or takes up issues of the middle classes. The cases cited by Shah Alam Khan are indeed apt examples. However, I beg to disagree with him about Medha Patkar’s fast not being covered in the media.

    First, comparisons to the agitation led by Anna Hazare are unfair. That was a country-wide agitation on the issue of corruption. In the light of the raft of multi-crore scams, corruption was the talk of the nation. Also, Anna’s protest saw a groundswell of support. Given these circumstances, media coverage was that much more, although I don’t deny that there could have been instances of sensationalism.

    On the other hand, Ms. Patkar’s immediate context of agitation was the demolitions in a slum colony in Mumbai. While her fast was about the 3K clause of the slum policy in Maharashtra; and other fraudulent practices of builders. This issue was limited to a city and State. The print media in Mumbai and presumably in other parts of Maharashtra carried reports regularly. So did the Marathi channels. The Hindu, which does not have an edition in Mumbai, carried regular updates.

    You could perhaps say that the coverage was below the mark and cite reasons why the scale of coverage deserved to match the one for Anna’s fast for the issue at hand. However, I don’t think merely comparing the two, without taking into account the other factors, amounts to constructive criticism.


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