Through a mapping of the TV coverage of Dantewada attacks, Devi Leena Bose in this essay tries to understand: How Indian electronic media responds to the drumbeats of civil war that affects citizens of the Republic of India and the thirty percent of its territory. An alumnus of Centre for Culture, Media & Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi between 2009-2011, Bose works with a Faridabad-based advocacy group Ideosync and can be contacted at email@example.com
One day over a coffee table discussion with two friends I happened to share the insights of a book that I was reading about the Maoist conflict and other armed conflicts. Both of my friends were decently educated: one had recently completed medical studies while the other had secured admission in the renowned IIM after successful completion of his MBBS. As soon as I mentioned Maoism, their first reaction was: ‘Maoists are terrorists’. The discussion soon turned into a debate where one party spoke the language of the news channels while the other spoke the language of the book that one was reading. This incidentally happened to be the time when the Dantewada attacks had taken place.
The discussion forced me to reflect on: How mainstream media helps build a discourse around the Maoist conflict? It is this question that I take up in this write-up. I shall make an attempt to study the coverage of Dantewada attacks that took place on 6th April 2010 and is one of the biggest Maoist attacks till date, which claimed 84 lives. Dantewada incident reflects a vicious face of the armed conflict that has spread across the mineral rich regions of India. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, has described Maoism as our greatest internal security threat, rejecting the fact that the armed rebellion mirrors our failure as a nation which has forced its poorest of the poor to take arms into their hands. In other words, I shall try to understand: How Indian electronic media responds to the drumbeats of civil war that affects life of citizens who live in the heart of the country spread over the thirty percent of its territory.
On the Sample & Methodology
For the purpose of the study an in-depth analysis of the coverage of Dantewada massacre that led to loss of 84 lives (76 Central Reserve Police Force jawans and 8 naxals), was conducted using various quantitative and qualitative tools. As a sample prime time news bulletin (9:00 pm – 9:30 pm) of two prime Hindi News Channels, NDTV India and Zee News was studied from 6th April, 2010 to 18th April, 2010.Following parameters were used to analyse the sample:
- Time – Total time given to each story in the bulletin
- Position of the story on the news roll– It reflected the importance given to the news item by the channel.
- Voices–A mapping of the ‘Sound bytes’ was done to understand:whose voice was given space?
- Sources– Various news sources were anaylsed.
Further a qualitative analysis of the sample was conducted based on the visual and oral description used in the Dantewada reportage. This exercise helps us understand: How media defines the problem and what it offers as conciliation?
The Study and its Statistics
Both the news channels seem to have followed a well-documented ‘Conflict Reporting Formula’. According to the formula, conflict strikes are usually covered in four stages. The first stage is ‘disaster strikes’ which focuses on news coverage of scale of destruction and suffering using the spectacle of fire and explosions. In the Second stage the focus is on ‘rescue efforts’ and heroism of the rescuers.In the third stage attention is given to ‘mobilization of aid efforts’ which include stories on compensation for the bereaved families.While in the fourth stage attention is paid mostly to news related to the ‘secondary effects’ of the attack like disruption of economic activity, suffering of victims etc.
An analysis of the pattern of the coverage highlighted similar formula being followed. On the first day (6th April, 2010) most of the stories covered on both the channels were based on the description of the attack. The very next day stories of heroism and compensation dominated the bulletin followed by stories on secondary effects like mourning families of the soldiers, tightening of security for the officials and attempts of the naxals to get back local support, etc. Table 1 and 2 above shows the graphical representation of this pattern of coverage for both the channels for the first five days i.e. from 6th April- 10th April.
News sources, channels or the path by which information reaches often define the news frame. For the purpose of the study these sources were divided into two categories:
1. Routine or formal sources (press releases, press conferences, briefings by ‘official spokesperson’, etc.) and
2. Informal sources(interviews conducted at reporter’s initiative, events which a reporter witnesses first hand, reporter’s own conclusion or analysis and research involving statistical data).
Interestingly, a study based on this categorization reveals that both the channels (NDTV India and Zee News) preferred routine sources over informal sources. In the case oftelevision news, it is difficult to identify whether a story is borrowed/bought from a news agency or an in –house production (bureau based).The initial footage of the Dantewada massacre shown by both the channels was borrowed from local regional channels. This might be explained in terms of lack of local bureaus of the national channels which could be sent to the spot to cover the incident as soon as the news broke out in local channels. It may be considered as an indicator of the lack of diversity of news content in the mainstream media due to the almost zero-investment on the part of these two leading channels in developing a news network in the tribal India. It, in turn, also alludes to urban-centric approach of the national Hindi language channels.
The tone of the discourse often becomes clear by analyzing voices that are given space by the mainstream media. Media can be a potential tool for mediation between two conflicting parties (in this case state and its own people). By the very definition of mediation it would mean providing voice to those involved in conflict. The reason for analyzing the voices was to understand the role mainstream media plays in conflict resolution vis-à-vis left wing extremism. Voice tabulation for the purpose was done under following heads:
- State which included ruling party and allies both in the centre and the state), governmentofficials, administration,
- Opposition at the centre and state,
- Forces which included chiefs of the three forces, jawans, police officers, etc.,
- Locals which included the local population, villagers,
- Others included relatives of the slain CRPF jawans, and
- Civil society
The data that emerged from this mapping showed that voices of the administration were the ones that were resonated mostly on both NDTV India and Zee News, respectively more than 5% and 15%. Civil society had no voice while voices of the locals were barely given space and that too by only NDTV India.
Mediating Maoist Conflicts
A study of the adjectives TV news channels use to describe an eventprovides a glimpse of the way they construct and privilege a ‘particular’ understanding of a problem while trying to de/contextualize the event in their reporting. An in-depth qualitative analysis of the adjectives these two channels used to describe the Dantewada attack was conducted. The following table (Table 3) contains some of such adjectives employed by the two channels while reporting and commenting on the Dantewada massacre.
Table 3: Adjectives used by NDTV India and Zee News
Both the channels chose not to explain thesocio-cultural and political context of the conflict.It is evident from the mapping of voices theygave space to in their coverage, sources of their news and the kind of adjectives they used to describe the Dantewada attack. The channels rather defined the problem as ‘insane brutality’ of Naxals and the failure of ‘ill-trained’ CRPF jawans to curb the violent strides. Moreover, theymade policy suggestions and pressed upon the ‘need’ for better trained forces (air force and army) to be sent to deal with the situation.
There were instances of wrong information being provided. For example, Zee News reported, 83 naxals had been killed and 100 were missing. Both the channels suggested that landmines were used for the blast. On contrary, P. Chidambram, then Minister of Home Affairs while addressing the parliament, said, “It is sad that …… The initial reports that appeared in the media are not entirely accurate. There were no landmines; there were no pressure bombs.”
Based on the above mentioned data one can safely argue that mainstream media followed more of a ‘war journalism’. Media created a discourse which portrayed Maoists as brutal killers by pouring in selected information and denying the dissenting voices representation in the televisual medium.
As viewed on 22nd October, 2012 http://www.indianexpress.com/news/naxalism-gravest-internal-security-threat-to-nation-pm/609303,Indian Express, Agencies, ‘Naxalism gravest internal security threat to nation: PM’
Giffin, Michael, 2004, “Picturing America’s War on Terrorism”, Journalism, vol. 5(4): 381-402. Citation is from p 388.