More than 30,000 farmers and tribals marched for six days across Maharashtra before entering Mumbai to protest against the state government and demand that the it implement the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission, provide fixed remunerative prices for agricultural produce and implement the Forest Rights Act, among other things. The city of Mumbai became a sea of red as thousands who had gathered under the aegis of the All India Kisan Sabha, an affiliate of the CPI(M) organised the march to the financial capital.
Alt News decided to take a look at how mainstream media covered the news of this march, and how much prominence or the lack of it was accorded to it. We looked at the Delhi editions of the newspapers of 12 March 2018 for both English and Hindi. We also looked at the coverage by television news channels.
The Times of India
The Times of India, which is a leading English news daily in the country, had a tiny column covering the news on the front page, with only one sentence. The lead story for the newspaper was an accident in New Delhi involving a law student, that killed two people, and the launch of the International Solar Alliance.
The news was covered in detail in the inner pages of the newspaper. On page 10, the newspaper carried a report on the march.
Hindustan Times, another popular English language newspaper, carried the photograph of the protest on the front page. The detailed report was in the inner pages.
The Hindu, which is known to cover socio-economic issues prominently, surprisingly did not give space to this news on its front page. The lead story instead was the International Solar Alliance meet. The report was published on page 9 of the newspaper.
The Indian Express
The Indian Express gave the most importance to this news among all the newspapers we surveyed. The front page of the newspaper carried the story with the title ‘Sea of farmers in Mumbai’. This was followed by a continuation of the report on page 2.
Dainik Jagran is among the leading Hindi language dailies in India. On 12 March, the newspaper published the report of the protest by farmers and tribals in Maharashtra on the sixth page. There was no mention of the news on the front page.
Amar Ujala, another popular Hindi language newspaper also avoided reporting the story on the front page. In fact, the newspaper found space only on the 14th page in a small column to mention the news. The front page news was about RSS leader Bhaiyyaji Joshi’s statement that only a Ram temple would be built in Ayodhya and not anything else.
Dainik Bhaskar, which has a huge circulation among Hindi language readers also made no reference to the report on the front page. Instead, the news was tucked away in the left corner of the last page of the newspaper.
Navbharat Times is owned by the Times of India group and like its English counterpart, the Hindi daily too avoided giving too much importance to the news. Not only was it missing from the front page, the report was carried on the last page in a tiny space. In fact, cricketer Mohammad Shami’s personal troubles found more space than the march of thousands. The front page carried news of a women’s bike rally in the capital, and an accident involving a lawyer student.
English Television Channels
NDTV’s coverage of the protest by farmers in Maharashtra was detailed and comprehensive. The channel consistently covered the protest march and kept focus on the issue in its routine coverage.
Around 50,000 farmers walked all the way from Nashik in the scorching sun to reach Mumbai for their #KisanLongMarch— NDTV (@ndtv) March 12, 2018
Read more here: https://t.co/wtfmTwHMxV#FarmersMarchToMumbai pic.twitter.com/hbKrXrOCFI
India Today, which is among the most prominent news channels also covered the issue of the farmers’ protest in fair detail.
The channel gave prominence to the issue of farmers’ distress, and also conducted a debate on the BJP government’s policy with regard to agrarian distress and its possible electoral implications. On prime time, the channel’s top story on 12 March was the farmers’ agitation and agrarian distress.
While the channel expectedly covered the rally by farmers in Maharashtra, the fact that a poster of Vladimir Lenin was seen during the march was a talking point for Times Now. ‘Left farmers’ union politicises protest; posters of Lenin crop up’, reported the channel. It may be reiterated here that the march was organised by the All India Kisan Sabha which is the farmers’ wing of the CPI(M).
On the evening of 12 March, the channel on its prime time show The Newshour targeted former Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Agarwal’s sexist comments on Jaya Bachchan. For its 10 pm show, the topic was the abuse of power by a Congress MLA.
Coverage of the farmers’ protest by CNN News18 was not only comprehensive but also compassionate. Using the hashtag #ProtectOurFarmers, the news was at the top of the priority list for the channel. Prime time broadcast on the channel also focused on the plight of farmers.
Nirav Modi runs away with Rs 12,700 crore, but, no help for debt-ridden farmers. Who will protect our farmers? Watch #Viewpoint with @bhupendrachaube at 9pm; tweet us your views using #ProtectOurFarmers pic.twitter.com/s0druChaeh— News18 (@CNNnews18) March 9, 2018
Republic TV too covered the farmers’ march like other channels, and reported on how the march had thrown traffic out of gear in the outskirts of Mumbai. On the evening of 12 March, however, the channel was back to its diversionary tactics, targeting Shashi Tharoor.
Hindi Television Channels
Rajat Sharma-owned India TV reported the news, and one of its reports talked about the traffic jams that were likely to be caused in Mumbai due to the march.
Zee News chose interesting words to report the news. It stated ‘Thousands of farmers lay siege to Maharashtra Assembly in Mumbai today; students, office goers to be spared’. In another tweet, it reported that 30,000 farmers held an anti-BJP rally in Maharashtra.
Thousands of farmers lay siege to Maharashtra assembly in Mumbai today; students, office goers to be sparedhttps://t.co/EmJSwYMys9— Zee News (@ZeeNews) March 11, 2018
Aaj Tak, one of the most watched Hindi news channels, reported the news of the farmers’ march prominently. It also broadcast a ‘special report’ on the story by senior anchor Anjana Om Kashyap.
Alt News observed that most prominent newspapers relegated the news of the farmers’ march to the inner pages, hardly giving it minor importance. As far as TV news channels are concerned, requisite importance was given to the event by some news channels, whereas others chose to focus on other issues.
It has generally been observed that issues of social and economic importance that concern the masses are not the top priority for mainstream media houses, which are increasingly driven by the need for advertising revenue. There has also usually been a tendency to gloss over such ‘inconvenient’ truths by downplaying them through minimal coverage in an attempt to shape public opinion in the desired direction. The farmers and tribals marching through the scorching heat for days to make their voices heard are clearly not as important as the ‘issues’ which supposedly stimulate those who subscribe to mainstream media in general.
(This story was originally published on Alt News and has been republished here with permission.)
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