A Case Study

Indian Media: From mis-information to ‘mis’sing the information

Anil Chamadia

Newspapers in Bihar has devised a novel way of barricading the flow of news in the state. The influx of migrants in the state, post nationwide lockdown, has created challenge for the state government. Apart from putting the incoming migrants in a quarantine centers, the government has to provide for them, the most basic facilities of food, sanitary needs, etc. and do these with utmost cleanliness.  Presently, there are a total of 6209 centers in the state and there is hardly any center where the quarantined migrant workers are satisfied about its condition. For the newspapers operating in the state, the quarantine centers and its abysmal condition are a focus of the news items.

If we take into account the cumulative number of total pages of the all the newspapers printed in the state, the story of the terrible conditions of the quarantine centers could run into more than 100 pages.

In the Hindi speaking state, Hindi dailies like Danik Jagran, Hindustan, Prabhat Khabar and Dainik Bhaskar each prints a total of 35 district editions.  The chief of one of the district bureaus of Hindustan mentioned that the number of news related to the quarantine centers fills up a whole page of the newspaper, daily. The amount of the news associated with the quarantine centers is almost similar in each premier newspaper of the state. But interestingly if we look at the main edition of these newspaper which are printed in the state capital, Patna, the condition of the quarantine centers is nothing less than a 3-star hotel. If a reader looks at the Patna edition of these newspapers, they will not find a single news of anarchy, abysmal conditions and corruption as a feature of these quarantine centers. Moreover, there is no news of the dissatisfaction and its manifestation by the quarantined migrant workers in these centers.

The media centers in Bihar has come up with a novel technique of feeding the news to the victims.  The media has completely washed its hands off the duty to let the news reach the policy makers.

There has been an ongoing trend-if there are cases of similar nature emerging from various parts of the state, the edition printed in the state capital gather these incidents and present it as bigger news item so as to pressurize the policy makers.

Sudhir Jain, who served as chief sub editor and page in-charge of the front page of Jansatta, mentioned that it is the duty of the editor to compilation the news which are similar in nature and put it in form of a ‘Big News’. During the time of Global lockdown, the localization of news items serves as a financial advantage to the owners of the media houses.

Parthiv Kumar, who worked at UNI mentioned that this trend has been going on for a long time but, there are two situations which breaks this trend.

The technological advancement has changed the situation for the newspapers, now instead of a single reporter being deputed in a district, there is a whole office that is operating in that district. While this has served as a disadvantage to the readers, it has financially benefitted the owners in a big way. A news item of a single district doesn’t go beyond the walls of that area and are unable to reach the ears of the policy makers. Moreover, readers in a district facing a problem is not able to connect themselves with readers facing similar problem in another district. The readers are bound to live in echo Chamber like situation.  

If we try to gather the new items of anarchy and terrible conditions of the Quarantine centers operating at district, block and panchayat level and the amount of anguish that has created among people quarantined at these places, it can formulate into a big news of the main edition published from capital of state on a daily basis. This can also serve as a pressure to those who formulate policies for these centers from historical city of state capital.

A BDO mentioning about mismanagement at a quarantine center being operated in his block, says that we can now measure the number of workers who move out of the state to earn their living. The state does not have place to setup quarantine centers except for the school premises.

During the summer, the state has to provide for water, electricity, 3 meals, proper sanitation for women, masks, sanitizers etc. for at least 1000 people. For this the total budget is of rupees 100 per person, out of which Rupees 60 is for arranging 3 meals a day.
The more problematic phenomenon is the availability of test kits for the quarantined workers is negligible. An officer in charge of one of these centers said that, usually, out of the 1000 quarantined workers, any 4 are picked up randomly and sent for testing.

The norm of physical distancing is being flouted at these centers. Each day 1000s of workers are reaching Bihar. In a center which has a total capacity of 1000 people, around 4000 people are being put together due to non-availability of space. The problems of toilets in these centers are the ground reality of Modi’s swachchhata Abhiyan which is claimed to be a grand success. 

The news of substandard food and unavailability of drinking water at these centers is being printed daily in the district edition. But the main edition which reaches the table of the policy makers as well as of those sitting in the opposition seems to completely miss such news.

An editor mentioned that while he wants to gather such news and present it in a form that can have some effect, the lockdown period has made it difficult for them to do so. Due to lack of private advertisement and an over dependence on government advertisement for survival, the hands of the editor are cuffed.

Senior journalist, Parthiv Kumar said that the trend of gathering news of similar incidents taking place across the state and presenting them in an effective manner is done on a selective basis. The news related to the socially and economically weak section of the society doesn’t find a place in the main edition of the newspapers.

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Jun 10, 2020

Anil Chamadia

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