PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Six minutes and 20 seconds into his vote of thanks at the culmination of Anna Hazare‘s fast-unto-death last Sunday, the RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal heaped plaudits on the media for the support it had lent to the Jan Lok Pal bill agitation by “articulating the outrage of the nation”.
Pointing at the jungle of anchors, reporters, cameramen and crane operators in the media pen in front of the stage at the Ramlila maidan, Kejriwal said the “media weren’t just doing their job… they are now part of the movement”.
“Hum in saari media ke shukr guzaar hain. Yeh aap dekhiye, abhi bhi camera lekar, tadapti dhoop mein khade hain, yeh log. Yeh zaroori nahin, kewal inki naukri nahin thi. Yeh log ab andolan ka hissa hain. Raat-raat bhar, chaubis-chaubis ghante, bina soye in logon ne hamari andolan mein hissa liya, hum media ke saathiyon ko naman karte hain.”
Kejriwal’s general gratitude was for television whose frenetic and fawning coverage instantly took the message to parts of the country print wouldn’t dream of reaching in the next half a century. (A TV critic wrote last week that a survey of TV coverage of Hazare’s Jantar Mantar fast in April found 5592 pro-Anna segments versus just 62 that were anti-Anna.)
But if Kejriwal had to choose one English language publication in particular for rounding up “Middle India” in round two of the fight for a strong anti-corruption ombudsman, the honour should surely go to The Times of India.
From the day after Anna Hazare was prematurely arrested on August 16 to August 29, the day he ended his fast, the New Delhi edition of The Times of India took ownership of the story and played a stellar role in mobilising public opinion and exerting pressure on the political class.
# Over 13 days, the main section of the Delhi edition of The Times of India, covered the Anna Hazare saga over 123 broadsheet pages branded “August Kranti” (August Revolution), with 401 news stories, 34 opinion pieces, 556 photographs, and 29 cartoons and strips.
# On seven of the 13 days of the fast, the front page of Delhi ToI had eight-column banner headlines. The coverage, which included vox-pops and special pages, even spilled over to the business and sports pages, with the Bofors scam-accused industrialist S.P. Hinduja offering his wisdom.
# In launching a toll-free number for readers to give a “missed call” if they wanted a strong Lokpal bill, ToI was almost indistinguishable from the India Against Corruption movement behind Hazare. ToI claims that over 46 lakh people have registered their vote.
In short, backed by an online campaign titled “ACT—Against Corruption Together” plus the Arnab Goswami show on Times Now, the Times group provided substantial multi-media heft to the Jan Lok Pal campaign.
In its almost completely uncritical coverage of Round II, The Times of India provided a sharp contrast to the almost completely cynical coverage of Round I by The Indian Express four months ago, the former batting out of his crease for for the wider constituency of the reader, consumer, voter and citizen.
Remarkably, also, for a publication of its size and girth, ToI took an unhesitatingly anti-establishment stand in its headlines and choice of stories, showing where it stood on corruption—an issue agitating readers in its core demographic—in a manner in which most large newspapers are loathe to do.
There were only token negative pieces like the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid calling the protest “anti-Islam”; Dalits wanting a Bahujan Lokpal bill; or Arundhati Roy calling Hazare’s stand “undemocratic”. On the whole, though, ToI coverage was gung-ho as gung-ho goes, especially judging from some of the mythological, militaristic headlines.
Just what was behind the ToI‘s proactive stand still remains to be deciphered.
Was it merely reflecting the angst and anger of its middle-class readership? Was it taking the scams, many of which it broke and which brought the Lok Pal issue to the head, to its logical conclusion? Or, does the involvement of its in-house godman in the proceedings, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living, lend a clue?
Was it willy-nilly taking part in the dark rumours of “regime-change” swirling around Delhi? Or, was it just doing what a good newspaper is supposed to do: taking a stand, making sense of an increasingly complicated world to a time and attention strapped reader, and speaking truth to power?
Whatever be the truth, the fact that ToI took such a popular-with-readers, unpopular-with-government stand when it is involved in a no-holds-barred campaign to stall the implementation of the Majithia wage board recommendations for newspaper employees, speaks volumes of its conviction on the Lok Pal issue.
August 17: Coverage on 14 pages, 34 news stories, 2 opinion pieces, 41 photographs, 1 cartoon
Lead headline: Govt can’t stop August Kranti—Morning arrest turns into nightmare for Centre as Anna refuses to leave Tihar unless allowed to protest
Other headlines: 1) A million mutinies erupt across India; 2) Congress’s big blunders; 3) Emergency is the word for Gen Y; 4) Anna held, people hurt; 5) Intellectuals draw parallels with Emergency, JP movement; 6) Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Govt is being arrogant; 7) The Indian protester rediscovers Gandhigiri; 8) Emergency makes a comeback to political lexicon; 9) Annacalypse Now! Angry India on the streets; 10) Emergency redux, say legal experts
Editorial: Wrongful arrest—government action against Anna Hazare leaves it isolated and sans goodwill
Opinion: State vs Anna—Hazare’s arrest serious questions about India’s ‘democratic’ claims
Opinion poll: 92% say govt’s handling of Anna is undemocratic
August 18: Coverage on 10 pages, 36 news stories, 3 opinion pieces, 56 photographs, 4 cartoons
Lead headline: People march, govt crawls—sledgehammered by nationwide outrage, UPA withdraws almost all its earlier curbs on Anna protest
Other headlines: 1) Global bank VP on ‘fasting leave’ from Hong Kong; 2) India Inc backs Anna; 3) Dabbawallas, NGOs building ‘Anna Army'; 4) This way or no way, says Anna; 5) Govt fails to move Mount Anna; 6) In Hazare and Baba Ramdev, govt has two powerful adversaries; 7) ‘9 months to arrest Suresh Kalmadi, 3 mins for Anna'; 8)
Editorial: Anna wins the day—With public anger swelling, government must take a stand on corruption
Opinion headlines: 1) Have a referendum on sticking points; 2) Let an independent arbiter decide; 3) Are you an Anna dater, a Jokepalwalla or, worst, a piggyback passionista? 4) Civil society frustrated at lack of government action
August 19: Coverage on 9 pages, 26 news stories, 4 opinion pieces, 27 photographs, 3 cartoons
Lead headline: Judiciary out of Lokpal? Team Anna softens stand
Other headlines: 1) Brand Anna is a rage: youth wear him on T-shirts; 2) Protesters rename Chhatrasal stadium after Anna; 3) Sensing hour of reckoning, Tihar protesters give war cry; 4) ‘Gandhi’ takes world media by storm; 5) Indian editorials slam govt handling; 6) Fight to go on for generations, says Aung San Syu Ki; 7) Expatriates in south east Asia rally round Anna;
Editorial: Seize the day—reform is a powerful anti-corruption tool
Opinion headlines: 1) It’s the middle class, stupid; 2) 10 measures to reduce corruption
August 20: Coverage on 8 pages, 30 news stories, 3 opinion pieces, 46 photographs, 2 cartoons
Lead headline: Anna rides wrath yatra, ups ante
Other headlines: 1) On fourth day of fast, 74-year-old outsprints cops; 2) He gives supporters a run for their money; 3) ‘I am Anna’s Krishna in the Mahabharata against graft'; 4) Cap fits: no weakening satyagraha—gives call for ‘second freedom movement’, will fight till last breath; 5) Amma Hazares join the cause; 6) Protest tourism: why Anna catches their (foreigners’) fancy; 7) ‘Parliament isn’t supreme, public is’
Editorial: When khaki met khadi—a confused cop learns about being civil, through agitation
Opinion headlines: 1) Which democracy do we want? 2) Reclaiming moral authority
August 21: Coverage on 8 pages, 25 news stories, 2 opinion pieces, 36 photographs, 1 cartoon
Lead headline: Angry tide forces Manmohan’s hand
Other headlines: 1) 35% drop in crime during Hazare’s fast; 2) Parents bring kids to Anna ki pathshala; 3) Painter plans to capture ‘Anna legacy’ till passage of bill; 2) Parents want kids to see history being made; 5) Over one million join ToI anti-graft drive;
Opinion headlines: 1) Arrest corruption, not those who protest against it; 2) Why I’d hate to be in Hazare’s chappals
August 22: Coverage on 7 pages, 23 news items, 1 opinion piece, 28 photographs, 3 cartoons
Lead headline: All roads lead to Annapolis
Other headlines: 1) Crowding glory—over one lakh throng Ramlila ground; 2) Protestors take metro, ridership at New Delhi jumps by 50%; 3) Religious lines blur for Anna’s cause; 4) Anna gives call for revolution to surging masses; 5) Lockedpal: earn our trust, team Anna tells govt; 6) Anna’s army pickets netas’ homes
Opinion headline: Re-negotiating democracy
August 23: Coverage on 10 pages, 30 news stories, 2 opinion pieces, 46 photographs, 1 cartoon
Lead headline: Govt may relent, put PM under Lokpal
Other headlines: 1) Gen Y rocks to Anna’s beat; 2) At maidan, 80,000 celebrate carnival against corruption; 3) Behind the public face, a very private man; 4) Aam admi thinks bill is cure-all; 5) Anna proves the power of the big idea: management gurus
Editorial: Start talking—dialogue and flexibility can break the Lokpal logjam
August 24: Coverage on 9 pages, 35 news items, 1 opinion piece, 38 photographs, 3 cartoons
Lead headline: Govt bends 70%, Anna seeks 90%
Other headlines: 1) 22 newborns in MP named after Anna; 2) ‘Don’t let them take me'; 3) Unsung soldiers: they sacrifice daily bread for Anna; 4) Maidan doesn’t sleep, volunteers up at dawn; 5) Anna critic Aruna Roy briefs Rahul on grievance bill, calls on Jairam Ramesh; 6) Anger against plutocracy legitimate, says Prakash Karat
Opinion headline: Beyond Anna’s India—is anger against corruption blinding us to other evils?
August 25: Coverage on 8 pages, 30 news items, 4 opinion pieces, 38 photographs, 2 cartoons
Lead headline: From breakthrough to breakdown
Other headlines: 1) Braveheart Hazare baffles doctors; 2) Judge follows his conscience, speaks out for Jan Lokpal bill; 3) Destination Ramlila maidan: get a free auto ride; 4) Critic Aruna Roy comes calling; 5) Aamir Khan is brain behind picketing MPs; 6) ‘542 VIPs are making a fool of 120 crore people’
Editorial: The Lokpal moment—it’s a good time for Anna to end his fast and join the discussions
Opinion headlines: 1) Fasting as democracy decays; 2) Celebrities endorse Anna movement in large numbers—they are citizens too
Online toll: 22.7 lakh join ToI online campaign against graft
August 26: Coverage on 8 pages, 32 news items, 3 opinion pieces, 38 photographs, 3 cartoons
Lead headline: PM walks extra mile, Anna unmoved
Other headlines: 1) 5,000 cops to fortify PM, but Anna army sneaks past posts; 2) Witnessing power of people, says Army chief; 3) Hardliners holding up Lokpal resolution; 4) Angry Anna: UPA ministers take the hit in virtual world; 5) ‘Sonia Gandhi would have handled situation better’
Editorial: Seize this opportunity—Anna Hazare shows flexibility, the govt must do so too
Opinion headline: Finding the middle ground
Online toll: 25,30,251 votes
August 27: Coverage on 11 pages, 34 news items, 3 opinion pieces, 50 photographs, 3 cartoons
Lead headline: House hopes to send Anna home
Other headlines: 1) Downcast but steadfast; 2) Fast hits country’s financial health—reforms put off because of Anna stir, may take a toll on growth; 3) Sports icons one with Team Anna
Editorial headline: A carnival called India—from Gandhigiri to Annagiri, it’s dhak-dhak go
Opinion headline: Saintliness in politics cuts both ways
Online toll: 32,09,129 votes
August 28: Coverage on 9 pages, 35 news items, 2 opinion pieces, 64 photographs, 1 cartoon
Lead headline: Anna wins it for the people—To break fast at 10 am today as Parliament bows to Hazare’s khwahish and PM sends letter
Other headlines: 1) Anna’s next: India tour for clean leaders; 2) Anna superfast arrives; 3) Anna sets House in order
Opinion headlines: 1) Don’t mess with the middle-class; 2) How to reverse the trust deficit
Online toll: 39,74, 515 votes
August 29: Coverage on 12 pages, 31 news items, 4 opinion pieces, 48 photographs, 2 cartoons
Lead headline: Only deferred fast, fight goes on: Anna
Other headlines: 1) Can’t trust govt, have to keep watch: Prashant Bhushan; 2) ‘Battle is won, war has just begun'; 3) ‘This victory is our second freedom'; 4) Anna among top brands online
Editorial: Dance of democracy
Opinion headlines: 1) Has Anna really won? 2) Ways to fit the bill—accommodating Anna’s three key demands will require imaginative lawmaking