An Open Letter to Markandey Katju: Non-Publication of a News Item - Workers March To Parliament

Catalyst Study Circle , Forum Against Manual Scavenging , TN Labour Blog January 7, 2014

Protest of mill workers in Mumbai. While many media reported on the blockade caused by these protests, as per Siddharthya Roy, "what does not find place anywhere in the reports is the core issue itself", the demand of the workers. (Image credits: rediff.com)


[This is an open letter written by some members of the Catalyst Study Circle, தொழிலாளர் கூடம் (Thozhilalar koodam) and the Forum Against Manual Scavenging(FAMS) to Markandey Katju, Chairperson, Press Council of India on non-publication of a news-item related to workers march to parliament. We encourage the readers to endorse it. Anyone who wishes to endorse this open letter can do so by posting their name and affiliation/institute/profession below in the comments section. The Press Council of India is a statutory body established by Press Council Act 1978, an act to establish a Press Council for the purpose of preserving the freedom of the Press and of maintaining and improving the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India. ]


It is with dismay that we, readers from Tamil Nadu of esteemed English daily newspapers (print version) like The Hindu, The Times of India, New Indian Express, Deccan Chronicle etc., want to bring to your notice the lack of coverage of a news, which we had come to know through social networking sites, about two lakh workers' "March to Parliament" organized by 11 central trade unions on 12th Dec 2013 (see video by Malavika Vyawahare and the post by Venkat) that has not been given any coverage on 13th Dec 2013 in Tamil Nadu at least in Chennai based print editions. This seems to be also true with all mainstream English TV media channels. The people's gathering in this march seems to be larger than any Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi rally which often gets best possible coverage by all mainstream print media and even live coverage by all mainstream TV channels. Though we have come to know about this through social networking sites, it has got some small coverage only in New Delhi city edition. Instead, on 13th Dec 2013, we have been fed by all these major dailies (mentioned above) with the news of a "royal" (Bhuvaneshwari-Sreesanth) wedding in Kerala with photographs! We have nothing against the couple and we wish them all the best! The news of this "royal" wedding in Kerala with photographs seems to have found place in these newspapers as far a place as Delhi too.

This is not an isolated incident and we give a few incidents of non-publication of similar events that have been well articulated in the alternative media.

Feb2011Protest Tens of thousands of trade unionists, including those from INTUC, marched through the streets of New Delhi to protest food prices on Feb 23,2011. (Image Credits: Reuters)
Sainath, senior journalist, writes on the non-coverage and non-publication by mainstream Indian media (see the post by Srinivasan Ramani also) about the massive workers rally in Feburary 2011: “February 2011 saw one of the largest rallies staged in Delhi in years. Lakhs of workers from nine central trade unions — including the Congress party’s INTUC — hit the streets to protest against rising food prices and unemployment. This was many times bigger than the very modest numbers at Anna Hazare’s fast and larger than Ramdev's rollicking ‘yoga camp’. These were workers and unions not linked to the state. Not market-driven. Not corporate-funded. And expressing clearly the interests and values of their members. In fact, fitting some classic definitions of ‘civil society’. The rally was covered by the BBC, Reuters and AFP but was mostly invisible in mainstream Indian media except when attacked for creating traffic jams.”

Siddharthya Roy says on the coverage of Mill Workers Protest in Mumbai: "But ironically what does not find place anywhere in the reports is the core issue itself – the workers' protest! What was the march about? How many people attended it? Who were the organisers? What were their specific demands? What’s the background of the issue? How has the State responded to it?”

P. Sainath while delivering the T G Narayan Memorial Lecture (see the video from atiltpd) at IIT Madras organized by Asian College of Journalism, Chennai narrated the conspicuous non-publication of news-items about "disciplined" assembly of more than 2 million (20 lakh) people for the 57th death anniversay of Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar on 6th December in (Chaityabhoomi) Mumbai, Maharashtra. (see the post in Round Table India). It seems that this was covered again only as local news in Mumbai print edition in few of the above mentioned newspapers. Or the only other related news was about the "nuisance" this caused to "general" public which according to Sainath is farthest from truth. In this context, it is pertinent to mention the case of non-publication of any news about the alleged involvement of Mukesh Ambani’s son in an accident in Mumbai on 8th December, 2013 that killed 2 people. (see the post from Kamayani Bali Mahabal)

Even when a news item about the common people - organized and unorganized workers, tribals, dalits, women, backwards, LGBT, differently-abled, religious minorities - is published, many times it is done without any regard and sensitivity towards "recognized ethical canons of journalistic propriety and taste", and in most cases even revealing the identity of survivor(s).   From the excerpts of Procedure for filing the complaint, we got to know that we can file an official complaint to Press council of India regarding this matter of non-publication of a news-item. We quote:

Complaints against the Press:  It is open to any person to lodge a complaint with the Press Council against a newspaper for a breach of the recognized ethical canons of journalistic propriety and taste.  The complainant need not necessarily be the person aggrieved or directly involved. The alleged breach may be in the publication or non-publication of a news-item or statement, or other material, like cartoons, pictures, photographs, strips or advertisement which are published in a newspaper.

The procedure for filing the complaint states that before doing so we should bring it to the notice of concerned editors of above mentioned newspapers:

Write to the editor first. It is a requirement of the Inquiry Regulations that the complainant should initially write to the editor of the newspaper drawing his attention to what the complainant considers to be a breach of journalistic ethics or an offence against public taste.[...] This rule is necessary because it acquaints the editor with the identity of his accuser and the details of the complaint.

Though we understand the necessity of initially writing "to the editor of the newspaper drawing his attention", we are unable to understand why it is necessary to acquaint "the editor with the identity of his accuser"? Couldn’t there be a better mechanism of filing the complaint by revealing the identity of his/her accuser to only those (say PCI only) to which it is utmost required? This issue becomes more pertinent in contemporary times with recent case of “snooping” of an adult (common) woman by the State of Gujarat under the aegis of Narendra Modi, that came to light again primarily through alternative social media networking sites.

Using social media as a potential site of alternative media, we bring this to your notice rather than pursuing the matter officially. This is primarily for two reasons.

  1. While we understand that Press Council has a procedure for filing a complaint on non-publication of news-item which requires that we also bring the said notice to the attention of concerned editors, we choose not to do so as this is not a reflection against a single newspaper and that it is not specific to a single news item.
  2. Some of us still trust some of the editors and sub-editors in these newspapers and believe that they shall take note of this matter through your intervention and take up these matters seriously and persuade their newspapers to carry news of, for and by common people who constitute more than 90% of India’s Population.

These biased reporting of news reflect a tendency on the part of the media to define only "sensational" content as newsworthy and filter out the struggles of common people. Though we are not suggesting anything specific here, we want you to take note of this matter seriously and do the needful. We, the undersigned, who have always stood for the freedom of press, resolve to carry forward this struggle against non-publication of people oriented news-items in future as well.


Following people, among many others, have endorsed the letter:  

  1. Sadanand Menon, Arts editor and Adjunct Faculty, Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), Chennai
  2. C Lakshmanan, Faculty, Madras Institute of Development Studies 
  3. Sujatha Mody, Penn Thozhillalar Sangam
  4. V Geetha, Writer, Translator, Social Historian, and Activist
  5. Vijay Bhaskar, Faculty, Madras Institute of Development Studies 
  6. Venketash Athreya, Adjunct Faculty, Asian College of Journalism, Chennai
  7. R Vaigai, Advocate,  Madras High Court 
  8. JBG Tilak, National University of Educational Planning and Administration
  9. Dhiman Chatterjee, Academic and Member, Sanhati
  10. Ajit Menon, Faculty, Madras Institute of Development Studies 
  11. Milind Brahme, Faculty, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras
  12. Solomon Benjamin, Academic 
  13. Chakravarty M, Faculty, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras
  14. Karkada Nagaraj, Faculty, Asian College of Journalism, Chennai 
  15. Kalapana Karunakaran, Faculty, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras
  16. Karuna D W, Researcher and Activist
  17. Karen Koelho, Faculty, Madras Institute of Development Studies
  18. Kripa Ananthpur, Faculty, Madras Institute of Development Studies
  19. Bhaskar, Member, Communist Propaganda Forum
  20. K Pazhani,  General Secretary, Makkal Sananayaka Kudiayarasu Katchi, Tamil Nadu
  21. Bala Subramanium, Faculty, MK University.  
  22. Prabakaran, Writer, Scholar and Activist
  23. Madhumita Dutta, Researcher and Activist  
  24. Kunal Shankar, Journalist
  25. Stalin Ranjagam,  Writer, Scholar and Activist 
  26. G Anand, General Secretary, GIEA, South Zone
  27. Sunmuga Sundaram, Editor, Ilaignar Muzhakkam 
  28. Vel Murugan, State Secretary, Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), Tamil Nadu 
  29. A. Kumaresan, Member, Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers' Association 
  30. V Parameswaran, Editor In-charge, Theekkathir  
  31. J Chidambaranathan, President , Democratic Trade Union Centre
  32. Meena Kandasamy, Poet, Fiction Writer, Translator and Activist
  33. Soundarajan, MLA and President, Centre of Indian Trade Unions, Tamil Nadu
  34. Amirtham Lenin, Faculty, Loyola College
  35. Sidhartha Sindhan Periyasamy
  36. Chandrika Radhakrisnan, Researcher and Activist 
  37. Safwan Amir, Research Scholar, MIDS
  38. Deepa, State Committee Member, DYFI and Research Scholar, MIDS, Chennai
  39. Saravana Kumar, Student,  Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS)
  40. Deepak Johnson, Student, Indian Institute of Technology – Madras (IIT- M)
  41. Venkat, Research Scholar, MIDS and Activist, Chennai
  42. Preetha, Research Scholar, MIDS, Chennai
  43. Jaganth, Researcher, MIDS
  44. Meenakshi, Research Scholar, MIDS and Activist
  45. Manoj, Engineer
  46. Rashmi MD, Student, Loyola and Activist
  47. Abhishek, Journalist
  48. Ganesh, Engineer
  49. Bethanavel , Student, IIT- Madras
  50. Gowtham, Student
  51. Aparajay, Research Scholar, MIDS
  52. Arun, Research Scholar, Loyola College, Chennai
  53. Hari Prasad, Public Sector Bank Employee
  54. Kiran, Student, JEDI University
  55. Suriya S, Research Scholar, MIDS
  56. Kathir, Member, Student Federation of India 
  57. Sruti MD, Member, Student Federation of India
  58. Kishore Kumar, Member, Student Federation of India
  59. Jerome Samraj C, Faculty, Department of Economics, Pondicherry University.
23 Feb 2011, Markandey Katju, Non Publication, Politics, Press Council of India, Price rise, protests, Workers march, India, Labour, Note, Struggles Share this Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported

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I endorse it

I endorse this letter. The non-publication of workers protest also reflects the class interest of media corporations.

Birenjith P.S., Ph. D. student, Indian Institute of Science.

Non Coverage Is Practise.

Hi

I am an Executive Member of Prathidhwani, a socio cultutal organisation of technopark employees.
We support this letter as it exposes class character of media bigwigs

Regards
AVK