English newspapers are worse than Hindi on representing Dalit, Adivasi writers: Oxfam India report

03 August 2019

The Indian media is “predominated by the upper castes”—that was the key conclusion of a study conducted by the non-profit Oxfam India and the media watchdog Newslaundry. The report titled, “Who Tells Our Stories Matters: Representation of Marginalised Caste Groups in Indian Newsrooms,” was released on 2 August. It studied the representation of people from different caste groups in the Indian media to document “who has a seat at the table and whose voice has a chance of being heard.” It found that the “Scheduled Tribes are almost entirely absent, whereas the Scheduled Castes are represented mostly by social activists and politicians rather than journalists.” It further noted that Other Backward Classes, or OBCs, “are similarly underrepresented even though they are estimated to constitute over half of India’s population.”

The study examined six English and seven Hindi newspapers, 11 digital news outlets, 12 magazines, and flagship debate shows on seven English and as many Hindi television channels to collect caste details of reporters, writers, anchors and debate panelists. To determine the caste of individuals, the report relied on past studies, questionnaires sent to individual journalists, “credible sources in the media fraternity,” and public statements from journalists themselves. For the remaining names, the study relied on the castes and surnames recorded in “the examination results of the Union Public Service Commission and the Delhi University for the past seven years.” The report noted that the caste of about ten percent of the people in the study's database could not be ascertained using these methods. They were listed under the category of “Can't Say.” Additionally, Christian, Muslim, and Parsi journalists, writers, and panellists were categorised as “Not Available.”

Courtesy Oxfam India report Courtesy Oxfam India report
Courtesy Oxfam India report

Of 121 newsroom leadership positions—such as editors-in-chief, managing editors and bureau chiefs—across the newspapers, TV channels, news websites, and magazines surveyed, the study found that 106 are occupied by journalists from the upper castes, and none by members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

The English newspapers considered for the study were the Economic Times, the Hindustan Times, The Hindu, the Indian Express, The Telegraph and the Times of India. Nearly ninety-two percent of the leadership positions across the English newspapers were held by upper-caste individuals, with no representation of the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, or OBCs.

The study examined over sixteen thousand articles from the six newspapers published between October 2018 and March 2019. It found that members of Dalit and Adivasi communities wrote less than five percent of the articles, whereas over sixty-two percent of the articles were written by upper-caste authors. Across the newspapers, the report was unable to determine the castes of nearly a fifth of the writers. The Economic Times and The Telegraph had among the highest percentages of articles written by upper-caste authors. The study also looked into the caste composition of authors writing on caste issues. In the surveyed articles published by the Times of India and the Economic Times, 100 percent of the authors writing on caste issues hailed from the upper castes.

Keywords: Scheduled Castes Scheduled Tribes Dalit Adivasi news media