In Hyderabad both Eenadu and Deccan Chronicle bent over backwards to maintain balance. One defining feature of Eenadu was the effort it took to present both the sides for almost all stories. PADMAJA SHAW and NAGAMALLIKA G examine Ayodhya coverage in the leading English and Telugu dailies. Padmaja Shaw and Nagamallika G
Posted Saturday, Oct 23 00:03:21, 2010 on the website THE HOOT
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.
In states and cities with substantial Muslim populations, handling coverage of the Ayodhya judgement before and after it was delivered was something the media paid special attention to. This series began with Gujarat, when the English newspaper studied chose to be proactive in defusing potentially communal responses, but the Gujarati newspaper monitored presented the outcome of the verdict as a triumph for the majority religion simply through presentation, and the use of the colour saffron.
In Hyderabad both Eenadu and Deccan Chronicle bent over backwards to maintain balance. Both have traditionally been the leading Telugu and English newspapers in the state, though lately Sakshi has been showing a circulation surge, overtaking Eenadu. Both are broadsheets of 18 pages or thereabouts, on an average.
The coverage in Eenadu was meticulously impartial, matching story per story and within stories taking care to balance. One defining feature of the paper was the effort it took to give both the sides for almost all stories. In every story there were side heads with the Hindu view and the Muslim view. For eg., in one of the stories pre-judgement, the views of Manmohan Singh, RSS, VHP as well as the head of the Darul Uloom, Deoband, asking for peace, were all covered equally.
Even in the special stories where there was a story on the archeological evidence about Ram Mandir there were two versions reported. One given by BB Lal and the other by D. Mandal with proof of Ram Mandir before Masjid, and as an Islamic structure respectively. Another special report gave a straight forward chronological history of the issue from the British time. Yet another story gave the Hindu Muslim debate in a table format. An edit page article also gave a detailed historical chronology of the Mandir-Masjid issue. One feature that caught the attention was that while the reports generally spoke of peace and calm, there were coloured box items with political leaders’ aggressive statements. For example, Advani, Digvijay Singh, a few RSS leaders and Owaisi gave some biting comments after the judgement. The box made it more prominent.
There were three articles on the media in Eenadu, all negative, stating that media should not broadcast provocative programs and another stating that media might be kept away from court. The third spoke of the chaos and confusion with around 600 journalists at the HC venue, with no one getting a clear picture of the verdict. Not a very flattering image of the media.
One interesting story on 2nd October declared that the paper would like to clarify the data on the actual land which is to be divided, as against the projection by the media channels and papers which were misleading by stating that the entire land was to be divided into three (2.77 acres) while the fact was that only 1500 sq yards were to be divided.
Though Deccan Chronicle did not go in for mechanical matching of stories giving the Hindu and Muslim points of view, the paper took a specifically secular stand by having more pieces critical of religious extremism, including editorials.
Both the papers in general have presented Ayodhya news in a neutral manner. Though Eenadu, with its preoccupation with local political agenda, gave less prominence to the story by way of fewer front page items and fewer editorials, Deccan Chronicle gave more prominence to the issue by giving several more front page stories and editorials. The rule of thumb is that regional language papers have more stories, and shorter ones. The Hyderabad papers conformed to the rule. On Ayodhya, Eenadu carried 103 stories a third of which (33) were briefs. DC carried 73 stories none of which were briefs. ( Note: Quantitative sampling in this study was for every alternate day. Results are indicative.)
English newspapers editorialise more than their regional language counterparts. Eenadu carried just one editorial on the issue and two special reports, two analyses, and two edit page articles. The Deccan Chronicle carried 5 editorials and 9 special stories that included a couple of edit page articles. On any given day, except the day of judgement, Eenadu had other stories on its front page, equally or sometimes more prominently. Eenadu is actively pursuing several local stories such as the Emaar-APIIC scandal, Jagan yatra and the internal dissentions in Congress party. The display and the prominence given to other stories is not matched in the case of Ayodhya issue. There were just 6 front page stories.
Though DC also did the same, there was more emphasis through display and size of news stories on the front page. There were 14 front page stories in DC.
The run up to the event had the paper emphasising the need for restraint and security issues. On 23 Sept, the originally expected dated prior to judgement, the paper gave a special full-page curtain-raiser. The page carried stories from Ayodhya with the perspectives of the local people, both Hindus and Muslims; a story critical of Hindutva politics, accompanied by a brief summary of the legal history of the issue; an interview with Kalyan Singh (“Does any one have the guts to remove the idols from there?); six boxes, one each for Uma Bharathi, LK Advani, MM Joshi, Ritambara, Vinay Katiyar, A Singhal, describing their participation in the Babri demolition and enumerating the IPC cases they are still facing.
The editorial on 19 Sept also emphasises the need for tight security measures, as the assurances give by the Sangh Parivar cannot be trusted. The editorial cites the earlier written assurance given by the Parivar before the demolition of Babri Masjid, and how they violated it.
On 28 Sept, the editorial comes up with an interesting take on the relief from bulk SMS ‘freeze’ because of Ayodhya and why it should continue. SMSes quoted: ‘get Rs 1,00,00,000 after 21 years. No risk. Pay Rs 545 daily for 11 years.’
The headlines of the news stories tried to accurately reflect the substance of the stories. For instance: Hyderabad Hypersensitive: IB (18, Sept); Advani assures BJP restraint (19 Sept); Twin towns live in uncertainty (23 Sept).
On the day of the judgement itself, the banner headline read: Judges divide land to unite India (1 Oct). Other headlines on the day followed similar vein: Uneasy queries answered; Centre wary, wants no let up in security.
On the day of the judgement there were 24 stories and one editorial. The coverage was given five full pages. There were no stories critical of either side, there were two stories with the Hindu perspective and one story with Muslim perspective. Much of the coverage on 1 Oct and 2 Oct came out of the extensive extracts from the judgement itself. However, the extracts were divided up thematically/ issue-wise into readable bits.
In the editorials on 1 and 2 October, the paper praised the judgement as the best under the circumstances and that Hindus and Muslims must share and protect their common heritage. In the editorial on 2 Oct, it praises the government for handling the issue well and has much praise for the ‘aam admi’, who it says cooperated with the administration. Citing the photograph published on page 1 on 1 October, which shows a Hindu and a Muslim sharing a happy moment in Ayodhya, it said it was the snapshot of the way Indian citizenry reacted to the verdict.
On October 2, the story titled: Congress wary of buoyant BJP, speculates about Congress party’s anxiety about BJP vote bank consolidation ahead of Bihar elections. It quotes Gadkari as saying that the masjid will be built on the banks of Sarayu. And also underlines Congress’ refusal to react to Mulayam’s statement on the judgement.
On 3 October, in a full-page coverage and display, two extensive stories were carried, one says: Ayodhya tempts politicians again; another says: Celebrations in Karsevakpuram is premature. The first story is severely critical of the BJP and also the motives of the various political players involved in the issue/ attempting to profit from it. The second story, despite its headlines, merely reports and quotes the activities at Karsevakpuram. One of the quotes is someone saying: bring on the bricks, as soon as they listen to the judgement.
On both 1 and 2 October, edit page and special stories raise interesting issues. Antara Dev Sen’s piece, Ram Lalla, a resident of UP, presents an incisive review of history and the ironies of Indian law and life in the context of Ayodhya judgement. On the edit page, Insaniyat over insanity on 3 October recounts historical instances of sharing disputed religious places all over the world and hails the Ayodhya judgement in that context. In Ayodhya that unites us all, Muzaffar Ali spoke of the need for architectural celebration of the common heritage in Ayodhya.
Over all when one looks at the coverage of Deccan Chronicle, one gets the impression that the argument in Ayodhya judgement was not really between the Hindus and the Muslims but between secularism and fundamentalism. The fact that more attention was paid to the Hindu point of view reveals a sense that the Hindu groups have shown themselves to be aggressive enough to physically demolish a monument and continue to posture aggressively. The coverage had few stories of Muslim point of view. The stories are mainly from the ‘oldest litigant’ and leaders. Statistically, there were four stories critical of the Hindu viewpoint on the issue, but none that were critical of the Muslim viewpoint.
The paper has taken an unequivocal stand against extremist politics on religion and has played its role as market leader in providing balanced, non-provocative coverage through out the period of analysis.
To return to Eenadu, a good featurewas that it tried to give positive stories in its coverage. There was a human interest story of the conditions in Ayodhya and the common man citing a tailor, a cyber café owner and some householder all talking of being left alone and asking for peace. A clear indication of not wanting strife comes up in the story. Another story gives a rare case of a Muslim in UP who wants to read the Ramayan at the time of the verdict. Of course, all these also indicate the insecurities of the Muslims, who want to avoid trouble.
Another front page article is on the great change one has witnessed in the last two decades. A picture of school children in a tree formation accompanies the story. A positive story which talks of the change in the attitude from last time and how all political parties too are happy with the verdict of sharing the space. Then there was an article is on an atmosphere of bonhomie in AP state.