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In Search Of Local Sense

Media narrative in Maharashtra has its own scanning of scripts before it reaches the patronising “national” media houses.

“All politics is local.’’

-Tip O’ Neill, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, (1977-87)

In this country, “local” isn’t such a good word in the political imagination of the national media (Delhi-based media houses. To be more precise, Delhi-based English media). For state politics, the word “local” takes the form of that clichéd monolith – “regional”. Both these words run counter to a mythical narrative engaging Delhi newsrooms and editorial desks – “national” politics and “national” issues. The power of distance is not lost in the information age. Distance has “central” tricks to play on the national media, no less than the centralising tendencies of India’s quasi-federal polity.

In Maharashtra, the idea of the regional media (read Marathi media here), has been double-filtered. As a site of metropolitan delusions (and cosmopolitan myths), its capital Mumbai has its own scanning of scripts before Maharashtra reaches the patronising “national” prism of Delhi’s media houses. That’s double-trouble.

Marathi Press and the Idea of a “local”- Legacy, Fragmented Ground and the Turf Wars

It’s not that the Marathi media lacks a well-defined identity, legacy and vibrancy. It has all the three in ample measure. Similar to their Bengali counterparts, Marathi journalists don’t tire of reminding you of the glories of Marathi press, and fondly recalling the role of publications like Darpan, Kaal, Kesari, Prabhakar, Subodh Patrika and Sakal in the pre-independence era. And of course, along with Tilak’s name, they would rattle off names of the stalwarts – Shivram Paranjape, Balshastri Jambhekar, Narhar Kurunkar, Govind Talwalkar, N B Parulekar (founder of Pune-based Sakal) and also those of some contemporaries.

In the last few decades, there have been attempts by media watchers as well as media scholars to locate the Marathi media market within the demographic profiles of urban and rural Maharashtra. Particularly interesting is Robin Jeffrey’s study of Marathi newspapers in the 1990s for his seminal work India’s Newspaper Revolution (2000). He sought to understand, among other things, the nerve centres and distinct nature of the Marathi press (Mumbai-Pune divide), nature and demography of readership, the commercial turf wars, editorial orientations and the skewed urban-rural equations that he observed in the 1990s. You can have a peep into his observations in an article which he wrote in the late-1990s for The Economic and Political Weekly (Marathi Big Newspapers Are Elephants, EPW, February 22, 1997).

But, this is 2012. How has the Marathi media market in general, and the Marathi newspaper market in specific shaped up since then? Some clues were to be found last year (2011), when the Dainik Bhaskar group launched its multi-edition Marathi daily Dainik Divya Marathi (with Kumar Ketkar as its editor). Media analysts sought to view the new entrant against the backdrop of these key indicators:

THE MAHARASHTRA MARKET SNAPSHOT
Population (mn)

112

Per capita income (apprx Rs )

54,000

Literacy rate (%)

76.9

Newspaper penetration (%)

>50

Newspaper advertising (Rs cr)

1,000

(Source: Business Standard, Marathi Newspaper Market Set to See Big Battle, April 23, 2011)

Interestingly, how the idea of “local” has held ground in the Marathi-reading political “region” of Maharashtra is reflected in media analyst Vanita Kohli Khandekar’s observation. According to her, despite a number of influential Marathi newspapers, Dainik Divya Marathi is seeking to position itself as the first pan-Maharashtrian newspaper. She observes that except the market leader, Lokmat (with 11 editions), other Marathi dailies have a defined area of influence; for instance, Sakal (strong in Pune and western/southern Maharashtra) The Maharashtra Times and Loksatta (more popular in Mumbai).

Having straddled the worlds of English and Marathi journalism in the state with equal distinction, Kumar Ketkar has sought to put this phenomenon in perspective. He also makes a case for his paper’s foray into the pan-Maharashtra readership, as he says: “These (six) regions of Maharashtra have different historical references, totally diverse agricultural economies, a variety in political evolution and culture and are environmentally far apart from each other. So much so that hardly anyone in Marathwada is interested in parts of Konkan or no one is bothered in Western Maharashtra about what is happening in Vidarbha. It is a politically ‘manufactured’ and ‘culturally’ fractured state. Dainik Divya Marathi has an opportunity as it does not have a specific geographical identity.”

Lost in translation – The Mumbai Red-Herring and Bombay Smokescreen

But in travelling to Delhi, the state has a metropolis to negotiate. The “local” can get fancy treatment in this city because a section of Bombay, and an imagined Bombay, is too eager to not be Mumbai. But, Mumbai is equally keen on asserting itself on Bombay. Hang on, it’s also the capital of a state – Maharashtra is somehow lost in the media narrative of this Bombay-Mumbai translation. Being prisoner to its image of the financial hub of the country, the city has long deluded itself and distanced itself from a fact – it’s the site of Maharashtra’s political headquarters. The political commentary in a large section of Mumbai media has suffered for this reason – the deeply flawed project of isolating Mumbai from the idea of local, the narrative of Maharashtra’s politics.

It’s easy for you to mistake the “local” for a cocooned Bombay and insular Mumbai. Attempts made by television talking heads, columnists and the regulars of the Mumbai media to portray the unfolding of Maharashtra’s political saga or the xenophobic rants of Raj Thackeray or farmer suicides as “UnMumbailike” is the undoing of a state capital. It’s deluding a city to be smug in its capitalist slumber and cosmopolitan myth. What’s more dangerous is that despite shying from being seen as the capital of Maharashtra, this city may be the arbiter of what goes out as “Maharashtra’s local” for the consumption of Delhi’s “national” press. For instance, Maharashtran journalists’ assessment of Anna Hazare and their first-hand experiences of his “political heavyweights appear – juice materialises – agitation a hit” enterprise never made it to national media. Mumbai media narrative failed to deliver Maharashtra’s sense of “local” to Delhi’s sense of “national”.

No Usual Suspects – Faultlines Not Necessarily on English-Marathi Divide

In a piece for this site (in context of  Hindi media), I had written: “Merely speaking and writing in the language of the soil is not reason enough for the current crop of Hindi journalists to claim bigger noses for the soil and bigger ears to the ground. Being at home in the language is a great asset, but not an instrument for negotiating and monopolising reality”. Replace Hindi with Marathi, and the same rings true for Marathi media too. So the regional media has to earn its sense of the local. And there are no barriers for its English counterpart to earn that too. To its credit, some of the most profound stories coming from Maharashtra and (some about its media as well) have been published in a newspaper which doesn’t have even one edition from anywhere in Maharashtra. It’s an English daily. P Sainath’s reports on farmer suicides in Vidarbha, the menace of paid news in Maharashtra elections and recently, Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech’s Bt Cotton-TOI collusion story in The Hindu could serve as a healthy reminder.

The engagement with “local” is an important idea for any form of journalism. It’s an entity in itself, not a monolith. It may be a fragment, entitled to an autonomy of its own narrative. It doesn’t need the patronage of “prisms”, and even less, the arbitration of metropolitan delusions. Maharashtra’s search for seeing such identifiable fragments in its media narratives has been elusive. Its press needs to rediscover its sense of the “local”.

 

 Image Source – [http://www.flickr.com/photos/runa-sankarshan/4822856131/]

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  • Prat.Delhi

    Very good analysis, and the article says very relevant and insightful things about Maharashtra media, Mumbai media and national media in Delhi also. Thank you Newslaundry and the author.