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

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.

In contrast, the Hindi newspapers fared marginally better. Seven Hindi newspapers were chosen for this study—Dainik Bhaskar, Amar Ujala, Navbharat Times, Rajasthan Patrika, Prabhat Khabar, Punjab Kesari, and Hindustan. Upper-caste individuals held nearly eighty-eight percent of leadership positions, and again, there was no representation of Dalit, Adivasi or OBC journalists. As compared to the English dailies, Dalit and Adivasi authors wrote a higher percentage of articles in the Hindi newspapers—nearly ten percent—whereas around sixty percent of the articles were written by upper-caste authors. Members of the Scheduled Castes wrote around twelve percent of articles published in the Rajasthan Patrika and the Punjab Kesari. In addition, Amar Ujala stood out as an exception, with 100 percent of its authors writing on caste issues hailing from the Scheduled Castes. However, in total, the study concluded that over half of those writing on issues related to caste in Hindi and English newspapers are from upper-caste communities.

The study looked at seven English TV news channels—CNN-News 18, India Today, Mirror Now, NDTV 24x7, Rajya Sabha TV, Republic TV and Times Now. Nearly eighty-nine percent of the leadership positions across these channels were held by upper-caste journalists and none by members of the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, or OBCs.

The survey examined 1,965 shows of flagship debates telecast on the seven channels between October 2018 and March 2019. Of the 47 anchors of these shows, 33 are upper caste. The study could not identify a single Dalit, Adivasi or OBC anchor.

Courtesy Oxfam India report

A total of 1,883 panellists took part in the shows. The report also examined the caste composition of these panellists participating in the shows. It found that Rajya Sabha TV had the least diversity, with upper caste-majority panels for over eighty percent of its shows. NDTV 24x7 was next with 71.4 percent, followed by CNN News18 at 68.6 percent. Overall, around thirty percent of the panellists who participated in the flagship debates were either members of religious minorities or their castes could not be identified. Of the rest, 79 percent were from upper castes and 12 percent from OBCs. The fields of business and defense contributed among the highest percentages of upper-caste panellists.

In addition, around seventy percent of the panellists invited to debate political issues on these TV channels were from the upper castes or religious minorities. “By the number of appearances, the proportion of such panellists rose to 80 percent, showing that they were invited much more frequently than people from other groups,” the report said.

Members of marginalised caste groups did not feature prominently on debates around caste issues either. Over eighty percent of panelists debating caste issues on Rajya Sabha TV were from upper-caste communities. For NDTV 24X7, the figure stood at 78.3 percent, while less than eleven percent of panellists debating caste were from the Scheduled Castes, and less than one percent were from the Scheduled Tribes. On India Today, 53.3 percent of the panelists on caste-related debates were from upper castes, and 12.6 percent from the Scheduled Castes.

Hindi TV channels fared similarly. All leaderships positions across the Hindi news channels chosen for this study—Aaj Tak, News 18 India, India TV, NDTV India, Rajya Sabha TV, Republic Bharat2 and Zee News—were occupied by upper-caste journalists. Eight out of every ten anchors of the flagship shows across the seven channels were from upper castes, and not one hailed from the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, or OBCs.

Overall, of the 1,248 panellists surveyed across the seven Hindi news channels, the castes of around a fourth could not be determined or they belonged to religious minorities. Of the rest, 80 percent were upper caste.

Courtesy Oxfam India report

Eleven news websites were also chosen for this study, nine in English—Firstpost, Newslaundry, Scroll, Swarajya, The Ken, the News Minute, The Print, The Quint and The Wire, and two in Hindi— Newslaundry and Satyagrah. Upper-caste individuals made up more than eighty-four percent of leadership positions in these organisations, and members of OBCs comprised just over five percent. Meanwhile, the report said that 72 percent of articles with bylines on the news websites are written by upper-caste authors. Less than four percent of the articles surveyed were written by members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Further, over fifty-five percent of the writers writing on caste issues were from upper castes, and less than six percent from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Courtesy Oxfam India report

Finally, the study examined 12 magazines, ten in English—Business Today, The Caravan, Femina, Frontline, India Today, Organsier, Outlook, Sarita, Sportstar and Tehelka, and two in Hindi—India Today and Outlook. Compared to the rest of the media, the OBC communities were better represented in leadership positions. Upper-caste individuals accounted for nearly seventy-three percent of the leadership positions, and the OBC composition stood at 13.6 percent. However, representation from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes remained absent among magazines as well. Further, the report noted that only ten of the 972 articles featured on the cover pages of the 12 magazines under study were about issues related to caste.

The report concluded that the study “provides substantial evidence that vast sections of India’s marginalised caste groups lack access to the media platforms and discourses that shape public opinion, leading to their invisibilisation.”

Courtesy Oxfam India report