By Pankaj Yadav, New Delhi, 28 May, 2006, ANI
There is an intense caste bias against Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Backward Castes (OBCs) within the media, particularly in northern parts of the country, and it was being reflected by the selective reporting of the ongoing issue of OBC reservation in educational institutions. These are the views of some of the senior journalists who spoke at a seminar held last evening in the Capital under the banner "Journalists for Democracy". The theme of the seminar was "Role of Media and Reservation".
Mastaram Kapoor, a veteran journalist who was once associated with the Socialist Movement launched by Ram Manohar Lohia, went to the extent of saying that the present circumstances wherein the OBCs and SCs' voice was not being echoed through the media could lead to a situation where "a civil war will breakout in the country".
Among the journalists, academicians and political scientists who were present on the occasion, included Urmilesh of Hindi daily Hindustan, The Hindu's Sidhartha Vardharajan, psephologist Yogendra Yadav, JNU's Purushottam Aggarwal, and freelance journalist Anil Chamaria.
They said that while the anti-reservation protests by a handful of doctors were given a wide coverage by the media, particularly the electronic media, the pro-reservation demonstrations were totally blacked-out.
Urmilesh said it was an undesirable on the part of the media to indulge in selective reporting. He said, "when we talk of economic development and prosperity of the country, it also includes the development of the poor, the SCs and the OBCs who constitute a major chunk of our society. Reservation is the only way through which the backwards could be brought forward in the mainstream of the society."
He said that the media's bias against reservation existed because it was not well represented by the persons belonging to the lower castes and OBCs. "There are only seven OBC journalists accreditated with the Government of India's Press Information Bureau (PIB), and no one from the SC or OBC was at the helm at any newspaper or TV channel…….is this a mere coincidence or the result of a deliberate mindset of the forwards."
Speaking on the occasion, Sidhartha Vardharajan said that those media persons who were giving a wide coverage to the anti-reservation protests while arguing that reservation would affect merit in educational institutions, should first try to find out whether merit existed within the media. "Is there any merit within the media," he said.
Vardharajan added that the media was acting irresponsibly while not reporting both sides of the story. "This is happening because those at the helm have a bias against reservation," he added. Citing an example, he said earlier this month while the agitation by AIIMS doctors was being given a live coverage by all the TV channels, a big human-related story whereby 5000 jhuggis were being demolished near Okhla was totally blacked out by the media. "Except a few print journalists and one newly launched TV channel, there was no media person present to cover the inhuman way in which the jhuggis were being erased from there," he said.
Anil Chamaria, while recalling his days when he worked for a leading Hindi daily in 1990 when the Mandal agitation was at its peak, said, "I and one of my colleagues were singled out and told that we will not report on the Mandal agitation, simply because we belonged to the castes for whom the Mandal Commission report was implemented."
Yoegndra Yadav, a leading psephologist and political scientist, said that the prevailing situation was so pathetic that people belonging to SCs and OBCs were changing their castes so as to get a job in the media. Citing an example, he said, "recently, after I had ended addressing a press conference in Jabalpur, a journalist handed over a paper slip to me. In that he had written that actually he was a SC but was forced to change his sir name to 'Sharma' because there was no other way out for him to get a job in the media."
Purushottam Aggarwal, a professor of social science at JNU, posed several questions before the media persons present on the occasion. Acknowledging that the reservation issue was being covered partially, and only one side of the story was being shown, he said, "I wonder whether the regular feature of holding editorial meetings in media organisations have stopped, or those who believe in objective reporting, lack the courage to raise the issue within their offices."