Indian media is an upper-caste fortress, suggests report on caste representation
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Indian media is an upper-caste fortress, suggests report on caste representation

Out of 121 leadership positions surveyed in newsrooms, none are held by those belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

By Ayush Tiwari

Published on :

Three out of every four anchors of flagship debates are upper caste. Not one is Dalit, Adivasi, or OBC. Only 10 of the 972 articles featuring on the cover pages of the 12 magazines are about issues related to caste. No more than 5 per cent of all articles in English newspapers are written by Dalits and Adivasis.

These are a few findings in a recent report that set out to study the representation of caste groups in the Indian media. Titled Who Tells Our Stories Matters: Representation of Marginalised Caste Groups in Indian Newsrooms, the report is an initiative by The Media Rumble in partnership with Oxfam India. It was unveiled on Friday, August 2 at The Media Rumble—an annual two-day media forum in New Delhi.

Spanning TV News (Hindi and English), newspapers (Hindi and English), digital media and magazines, the report brings forth startling data that demonstrates the severe underrepresentation of marginalised caste groups in the Indian media.

The most striking one is this: “Of the 121 newsroom leadership positions—editor-in-chief, managing editor, executive editor, bureau chief, input/output editor—across the newspapers, TV news channels, news websites, and magazines under study, 106 are occupied by journalists from the upper castes, and none by those belonging to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.”

TV News

The researchers chose seven English and Hindi TV news channels each. For English, they selected CNN-News18, India Today, Mirror Now, NDTV 24×7, Rajya Sabha TV, Republic TV, and Times Now. For Hindi, they chose Aaj Tak, News 18 India, India TV, NDTV India, Rajya Sabha TV, Republic Bharat and Zee News.

The report states that 89 per cent of leadership positions in English TV news channels belong to the general category, and 76 per cent of anchors on the flagship shows belong to the same category.

The dominance was intact among panellists who participated in these shows. A mere 5.6 per cent of panellists across the surveyed channels belonged to Scheduled Castes. This number did not even cross 1 per cent for those from Scheduled Tribes. 

On channels like Rajya Sabha TV and NDTV, 80 per cent and 72 per cent of debates had an upper caste majority, respectively. For Republic TV, this number hovered just above 50 per cent. For Times Now this was 54 per cent.

Interestingly, during discussions on caste issues, 62 per cent of the panellists across the news channels were from the general category. It peaked at 80 per cent for Rajya Sabha TV and ebbed to 53 per cent for India Today. 

“Regardless of the topic being discussed,” says the report, “the Scheduled Tribes were barely represented. Members of marginalised caste groups, in fact, were shut out of debates on caste issues.”

The representation of marginalised castes was more skewed in Hindi news channels. Here, 100 per cent of the leadership positions belonged to the general category and so did 80 per cent of anchors on the primetime shows.

Among the participating panellists on all seven channels, 5.9 per cent of panellists belonged to Scheduled Castes. The representation of Scheduled Tribes remained minuscule. Once again, Rajya Sabha TV had the highest percentage of debate panels with an upper caste majority: 89 per cent. The lowest this dropped to was 64 per cent for News18 India. In discussions on caste issues, 69 per cent of the panellists across news channels were from the general category. It jumped to 89 per cent for Rajya Sabha TV and came down to 59 per cent for NDTV India

“Almost all panellists categorised under Bar and Bench who appeared on News18 India, India TV and Republic Bharat belonged to minority communities,” states the report. “While Rajya Sabha TV never invited a lawyer or jurist from a minority group during the six months under consideration.”

Newspapers

The study chose six English and seven Hindi newspapers. For English, the researchers selected The Economic Times, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Indian Express, The Telegraph and The Times of India. For Hindi, they chose Dainik Bhaskar, Amar Ujala, Navbharat Times, Rajasthan Patrika, Prabhat Khabar, Punjab Kesari, and Hindustan.

According to the report, media professionals from marginalised caste groups do not occupy any leadership position in the six English newspapers and seven Hindi ones surveyed for the study.

After perusing over 16,000 articles carried by the English newspapers between October 2018 and March 2019, the study found that with the exception of The Hindu, over 60 per cent of the articles were penned by upper caste writers. But there’s a caveat: “The Hindu seems to be bucking the trend because we were unable to determine the castes of nearly 26 per cent of its writers.”

The researchers classified these 16,000 articles into 11 categories including politics, public life, sport, state and economy. They found that across all these categories, 55-65 per cent of the articles were written by upper caste writers. 

The Indian Express paid the most attention to caste issues, accounting for 60 per cent of all articles on the topic,” the report states.

In the Hindi newspapers, nearly 56 per cent of writers belonged to the general category, with 8.1 per cent to Scheduled Castes and 1.1 per cent to Scheduled Tribes.

On the brighter side, 100 per cent of the articles on caste issues published in Amar Ujala were written by contributors belonging to the marginalised caste groups. Dainik Bhaskar was a far second with 10.2 per cent.

According to the report, “around 58 per cent of the writers whose bylines appeared on the sports pages were upper caste, and they wrote 80 per cent of the articles. Not a single writer from a religious minority found space on the sports pages of any of the [Hindi] newspapers. The business pages too were dominated by upper caste writers.”

Digital media

The study selected eleven digital media outlets: Firstpost, Newslaundry, Scroll.in, Swarajya, The Ken, The News Minute, The Print, The Quint, The Wire, Newslaundry (Hindi) and Satyagrah (Hindi).

Here, 84 per cent of all leadership positions in digital media outlets are occupied by those belonging to the general category. Like newspapers and TV news channels, there is no representation from Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes in this domain.

When it comes to articles on caste issues on these platforms, the study found that 56 per cent of writers belonged to the general category. At one end, this number rose to 74 per cent for Satyagraha and dipped to 45 per cent for The News Minute.

At Newslaundry, 49 per cent of the organisation fell into the general category. This number stood at 60 per cent for Newslaundry Hindi. Again, 49 per cent and 53 per cent of writers writing on caste issues at Newslaundry and Newslaundry Hindi respectively were upper caste.

“All writers in the top decile by the number of articles published in The Ken, Newslaundry, Newslaundry (Hindi), and Satyagrah were upper caste,” the report states. 

Magazines

The researchers chose 12 magazines covering a range of interests, from politics and business to culture and sports: Business Today, Femina, Frontline, India Today, India Today (Hindi), Organiser, Outlook, Outlook (Hindi), Sarita, Sportstar, Tehelka and The Caravan.

The study said: “Compared to newspapers, TV news channels, and news websites, the OBCs were better represented in the leadership positions of magazines. But, again, there was no place for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.”

Among the magazines, 56 per cent of the total output came from writers of the general category and only 6.5 per cent from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes combined. Seventeen per cent came from writers who belonged to the Other Backward Classes.

Only four of these magazines gave space to caste issues on their cover—India Today, India Today (Hindi), The Caravan and Sarita. Thirty-six per cent of caste stories in the pages of these magazines were penned by general category writers. At India Today (Hindi), this percentage stood at 99.5 per cent.

“Though The Caravan appeared to be an exception to this pattern of upper caste dominance,” says the report, “the fact that we could not assign a caste to over a quarter of its writers meant it was difficult to say this with certainty.”

Methodology

The researchers selected Hindi and English newspapers based on their 2018 Indian Readership Survey rankings and availability of online archives. The data was collected after a perusal of the front page as well as the opinion, economy and sports sections published between October 2018 and March 2019.

For TV news channels, the researchers analysed flagship primetime debates. The “demographic details” of the anchors and panellists were entered manually. 

The report admits that digital outlets presented a “unique problem”: “So, we used MediaCloud, an open-source software tool for media analysis, to collect relevant data, and restricted our analysis to writers who contributed at least five articles during the period under consideration.”

In the case of magazines, analysis was limited to the cover story and others highlighted on the cover page.

Besides the number of journalists from marginalised caste groups in newsrooms, two other parameters were employed to calculate representation: the volume of their work and their presence in leadership positions (limited to the following designations: editor-in-chief, managing editor, executive editor, bureau chief, or input/output editor).

The caste details were obtained in three stages: questionnaire, “credible sources” in the media and examination results of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) and Delhi University. Regarding the last stage, the report states the following: “Our assumption was by mapping surnames to castes in these datasets, we would be able to determine the castes of the majority of journalists, writers, and panellists who shared those surnames in our database.”

The study assigned “not available” category to Christian, Muslim and Parsi journalists, writers, and panellists. The rationale was that their last names could not be easily matched with castes.

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