If I had relied on newspapers and TV news for information about 'Not in my name' protests, I would have assumed it was pretty much a non-event.

Not on our watch This is how major newspapers covered the not in my name protests
Voices Opinion Thursday, June 29, 2017 - 16:53

If I had not been at the #Not In My Name protest at the Town Hall in Bengaluru yesterday, and had relied on newspapers and television news for information about it, I would have assumed that it was pretty much a non-event.

Yet, by all non-media accounts (including mine), the event was quite extraordinary. Despite the fact that it was a spontaneous citizens’ initiative which began with a Facebook post just three days earlier, and was not associated with any organisation, let alone any political party, it drew an unprecedented number of citizens – variously estimated at 500-1000, if not more – representing a cross-section of the city’s population across divisions of class, caste, religion, gender, age, political persuasion, and much else.  

A journalist who is a regular at many such events said it was the best turn-out he had seen in the five and a half years he has been back in town. The crowd was so large that many friends did not even spot each other there. And, incidentally, many luminaries from several different professions were present, even though the media zeroed in on just two.

When I briefly surfed English news channels at prime time last night, only one (Times Now) was focusing on this topic. And, despite the fact that thousands of Indians had participated in #NotInMyName protests simultaneously held in 15 places across the country (according to the headline of its own online report), it had chosen to focus on a protest under the same name in Karachi, in an obvious attempt to discredit the independent, citizens’ initiative by trying to establish a Pakistani link (if not plot). Similar parallel events in London, Toronto and Boston – and possibly elsewhere – were evidently not as newsworthy.

According to a journalist who was invited to participate in an India Today TV discussion last night (and eventually walked out), the anchor began the “debate” by referring to “a scantily attended protest across the country by Modi baiters.” The capital city, where the channel is based, alone witnessed a gathering of several thousands. So much for factual reporting.

For some reason (old habit and allegiance of a print journalist, I suppose) I expected more from the press. But only one of the six English dailies with Bengaluru editions had a report – datelined Delhi, with a photograph of the event here – on the front page (Deccan Chronicle). DC also had a by-lined report on the local event, with another photograph, on page 4.

The front page of Deccan Chronicle, Bengaluru edition.

The New Indian Express had a photograph of the Bengaluru event on the front page, with a reference to a related report in the City Express supplement, which quoted several participants and included another photograph. NIE also published a comprehensive report on the countrywide protest on page 9 under the headline, “Anti-lynching protests echo across India.”

The New Indian Express front page.

Times of India decided to carry a small photograph on the front page.

The Times of India featured a small photograph of the huge protest in Delhi on the front page, placed within a report on the arrest of four men, including two Delhi government staffers, for the murder of 16-year-old Junaid Khan in a train last week. The Bengaluru event was covered in a report with a photograph in the bottom half of page 2 (with a strange slug: Religious Harmony), which quoted several participants.

Deccan Herald’s small report, with one photograph and no direct quotes, was placed close to the bottom of page 3B, next to a large government advertisement about migration to GST (Goods and Services Tax). I would probably have missed it if I had not been looking for it. In contrast, the prominent report at the top of the page was based on reactions to the likely closure of bars in two originally residential neighbourhoods in the city thanks to a Supreme Court order on the sale of liquor near highways (“Indiranagar, Koramangala say cheers to closure of bars”).

The front page of Deccan Herald did not mention the protest at all.

Prajavani front page.

Prajavani, the Kannada daily of the same newspaper group, had its report on the Bangalore event on the top half of page 3C, along with a photograph.

The Hindu’s coverage of the protest was confined to an assemblage of three photographs titled “Show of solidarity…” and a two-line caption. A by-lined report – with a photograph – on the Delhi event was placed at the bottom of page 11. The op-ed page included a brief comment headlined “Quantifying outrage”, which argued that “book-keeping cannot be the response to gratuitous mob violence”.

The Hindu, too, skipped the protest on its front page.

That, together with a column on the edit page of Deccan Chronicle, headlined “Douse the flames of hate so that India gets saved,” were the only two serious opinion pieces on the issue the day after the widespread protest, although the third edit in the TOI, headlined “India Rocks,” did include oblique references to lynching.

Bangalore Mirror dismissed the protest with a photograph on page 3 accompanied by a caption, placed in a single column list of brief news items collectively titled Mirrorlights.  

The front page of Bangalore Mirror did not mention the protest either.

There was no major breaking news the day after the #NotInMyName protests across the country and in some parts of the world. The top stories featured on the front pages of the Bangalore editions of English dailies ranged from the Air India disinvestment plan, Bhutan’s demarche to China and GST, to the ban on liquor sales near highways, the increase in medical and dental college fees and Meira Kumar’s filing of her nomination for the post of President.  

The remaining page 1 stories comprised an eclectic mix, including “One in 10 Bengalureans diabetic: study,” “HC:  Woman is family’s CA, finance mantri too,” “Plea for help from across the border” (concerning the ancestral property of former Bangladesh President Hussain Muhammad Ershad), “Former lover hires men to stab woman in Banaswadi,” and “Farmer charges Rs. 20 for selfie with sunflowers.”

Clearly these were considered more newsworthy than the first, major, nationwide public protest against the targeted, brutal, fatal lynchings of ordinary people, most of them Muslim, going about their daily lives that have been taking place with alarming and unacceptable regularity in too many parts of the country over the past year.

Note: I gather that several news outlets, including television news channels, provided live coverage of the #NotInMyName events in several cities. That is indeed encouraging but, unfortunately, most people try to catch up on the day's news later in the evening. 

Views expressed are the author's own.

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