In 2019, there were zero journalists from SC or ST backgrounds in leadership positions in India’s mainstream media newsrooms, spanning print, broadcast and digital.
Four years later, that number still stands at zero.
This is one of the findings of . A joint effort by Newslaundry and Oxfam India, this annual report since 2019 has scrutinised caste representation in Indian newsrooms. The research was conducted between April 2021 and March 2022.
The data for 2022 spells out how little things have changed since the first instalment of this report. In 2019, nearly 88 percent of journalists in the India media were from the general category – that now stands at 86 percent.
The report analysed seven English and seven Hindi newspapers. Less than five percent of reports analysed in both English and Hindi were written by people from SC or ST backgrounds, and only 10 percent by those from OBC backgrounds.
While there’s reportage on caste and tribal issues, 50 percent of these reports were written by journalists from dominant castes. “No newspaper had a journalist from SC or ST categories writing on caste and tribal issues.”
Of leadership positions in the top English newspapers in the country, dominant castes occupied almost 100 percent in almost all of them. Only one newspaper, the Times of India, has 20 percent of its leadership positions occupied by OBCs.
Bylines in these newspapers reflected the leadership.
“Almost all English newspapers had over 60% representation of general category journalists except the Hindu and the Indian Express,” the report said. “The Indian Express fared better in comparison to other newspapers in terms of composition of journalists belonging to different categories.” Journalists from the OBC category constituted 12 percent of bylines across newspapers; SC journalists less than four percent.
Similar trends were observed in Hindi newspapers. Dainik Bhaskar had the highest (7.7 percent) of SC journalists in the top decile of writers based on the number of articles published. Dainik Jagran, Prabhat Khabar and Punjab Kesari had none, though Jagran had the highest OBC representation (25 percent) in the top decile of writers.
For English news channels, the report examined 1,094 primetime debates hosted by 36 anchors featuring 1,992 panellists. In Hindi, it considered 981 debates hosted by 40 anchors featuring 1,326 panellists.
In the world of television news, around 56 percent of English anchors of primetime shows and 67 percent of their Hindi counterparts belonged to dominant caste groups. Special mention to Sansad TV, which had 67 percent of its anchors from OBC backgrounds. There are no anchors from SC or ST backgrounds at the channels surveyed.
This dominance was intact among panellists invited to participate in debates. General category panellists were preferred for other discussions on business, economy and international affairs. Panellists from OBC categories were invited predominantly to discuss issues related to religious identity, communal politics, and caste and tribal issues.
Even then, only five percent of panellists discussing caste and tribal issues were from marginalised communities.
What about the number of discussions on caste issues?
NDTV had the highest number of Hindi debates on caste and tribal issues, but it was still a woefully low 3.6 percent of its total debates. English debates on caste issues fared equally poorly, with India Today having the most at 2.6 percent. In contrast, 13 percent of India Today’s debates in English were on religious and communal issues.
Digital news portals, seen as the new, shiny alternative to legacy media, also contain bylines dominated by journalists from the general category. Nine websites were surveyed: EastMojo, Firstpost, Newslaundry, Scroll, the Wire, the News Minute, Swarajya, the Mooknayak, and the Quint.
Importantly, alternative digital media outlets like EastMojo and Mooknayak fared better in terms of reports written by people from marginalised caste groups.
Nearly 69 percent of English bylines in Newslaundry were by journalists from the general category, followed by Firstpost (61.9 percent) and Scroll (54.7 percent). Mooknayak was an exception, with only 33.3 percent of bylines from the general category. Fifty percent of the portal’s leadership positions are from the SC community, followed by News Minute with 25 percent.
Overall, over 55 percent of writers in digital media were from the general category, and less than five percent from SC or ST communities.
If the situation hasn’t changed in four years, how can it change four years in the future?
Based on interviews with marginalised communities, the report said a “mere change in leadership position will not address the issue. Representation should be ensured at all levels to bring about a democratic transformation.” It also suggested organisations bring out annual diversity reports to make media houses “more accountable” and conduct “uniform and transparent” recruitment processes.
On a larger level, it suggested introducing “affirmative policies in the news industry for marginalised groups as done by the Indian government” and constituting a body to oversee diversity in newsrooms.
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