The former Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu N. Ram has expressed concern about the miniscule number of Dalit journalists in mainstream Indian media.
Delivering the keynote address at the 11th anniversary celebrations of Kannada Daily Vartha Bharathi, Mr. Ram said, “I am ashamed to say that Indian newspapers and news media outlets have a very small percentage of Dalits to this day.”
Although there were many eligible and educated Dalits, they were not getting opportunities in the mainstream media, he said adding that the situation of Muslims was not very different. “The principle is that you need diversity.”
Mr. Ram cautioned that the growth of news media should not be confused with the state of journalism. Journalism ethics had declined with the growth of the media industry. Citing the paid news scandal as an example of sliding standards, he said there were other disturbing trends: “Too much superstition and obscurantism is being promoted in the media.”
Mr. Ram said the excitement about the growth of Indian news media was belied by the fact that this growth was a result of the country’s backwardness. Pointing to the fact that the decline of newspapers in the West coincided with the growth of online journalism, he said the situation was not the same in India because of low Internet penetration. “In the West, Internet penetration is between 75 and 80 per cent. In India it is less than 11 per cent. This backwardness is working to the advantage of print and television media,” he said.
Voice of the voiceless
Taking a cue from Mr. Ram, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said there are great social and economic inequalities in society. “Newspapers should give voice to the people who cannot even read them. That’s when they will be truly fulfilling their obligation.”
He lashed out at news outlets for trivialising news. “Today, many news outlets, particularly TV news channels, give disproportionate coverage to domestic conflicts as though a husband and wife quarrelling is a national crisis,” he said. Cautioning media outlets against giving space to communal politics, he commended Vartha Bharati for espousing the cause of all sections of society despite being a newspaper with a Muslim management.