Opinion » Readers' Editor

Updated: September 4, 2011 22:34 IST

Print media do better than TV: coverage of Hazare fast

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S. Viswanathan
The Hindu
S. Viswanathan

The second fortnight of August 2011 saw one of the largest mobilisations of people in recent years against corruption in India. The struggle led by Anna Hazare dominated the media all through the fortnight.

A new feature was the participation of the social media, which helped mobilise people in different corners of the country in support of the Team Anna. Twitter, Facebook, other social media sites, and blogs played a significant part in bringing people together in peaceful demonstrations, candle protests and so on. Team Anna may have been the first major beneficiary of the technology.

As for the performance of news television channels, public opinion seems divided. Those who supported or sympathised with Team Anna were naturally happy with the round-the-clock saturation coverage, which was overwhelmingly favourable to the movement. However, veteran journalist B.G. Verghese was quoted as saying: “The media has magnified the event beyond its worth. It has not at all been objective in its coverage.” This only speaks to the low political stock of the government and its lack of credibility in the wake of a series of corruption cases and scams.

Print media coverage of this second phase of the Anna-led, fortnight-long agitation against corruption at various levels was clearly more balanced and insightful, reflecting various points of view, at least in the case of major mainstream newspapers with a long tradition. The editorial coverage critically addressed the core issues, including legal and constitutional issues and flawed notions such as the “supremacy of Parliament.” To engage the more discerning readers, a few newspapers published articles explaining the legal, political, and social aspects of corruption.

The Hindu, which gave extensive coverage to the Team Anna's crusade against corruption and its initiatives to get legislation for a strong and effective Lokpal authority expedited, wrote four insightful and hard-hitting editorials between August 17 and 28.

The first leader (“Corrupt, repressive and stupid,” August 17) was bold and strongly worded. It said: “A corrupt government devoid of moral authority is ill equipped to deal reasonably with legitimate public anger.” The scathing editorial commented that through the illegitimate detention of Anna Hazare even before he began his fast and the arrest of peaceful protesters in Delhi, the central government “revealed its ugly, repressive face.” It noted that the government missed several opportunities to arrive at a consensus with Team Anna on setting up an empowered Lokpal and instead attempted to push through a farce of a Lokpal Bill.

The next editorial (“Anna is not India nor India Anna”) was published three days later, when Mr. Hazare won the first round, with the government yielding to his demand that he be allowed to go on an indefinite fast in Delhi to achieve legislation for a strong and effective Lokpal. “The wise course for the government,” the newspaper advised, “is to withdraw the Bill, immediately, without standing on false prestige.” The editorial took issue with the Prime Minister's contention that it was the “sole prerogative” of Parliament to make a law. This was true only in the most literal, superficial, banal sense, the editorial pointed out. It affirmed that in India, unlike the United Kingdom, Parliament was not supreme; it was the Constitution that was supreme. But the editorial criticised a prominent member of Team Anna for getting carried away and proclaiming, in a way that recalled an authoritarian era, that “Anna is India and India is Anna.”

The third editorial, a single leader (“The way out,” August 22), analysed the relative merits of key sections of the two Bills, the Lokpal Bill of the Central Government now before the Standing Committee and Team Anna's Jan Lokpal Bill. The fourth editorial, a single leader analysing the specifics agreed upon and the issues that needed to be settled (“Significant victory,” August, 28), hailed Parliament's unanimous adoption of a resolution agreeing “in principle” with Team Anna's position on a few controversial points as a triumph for the anti-corruption moods in the country.

Besides these editorials, The Hindu carried four substantial editorial page articles during this period, when the fast by Mr. Hazare was entering a crucial stage. The articles, written by an acclaimed writer, two academics, and a political leader, were enlightening, each looking at the dramatic developments from different angles.

The essay “I'd rather not be Anna” (The Hindu, August 22, 2011) by Arundhati Roy was highly critical of the Anna Hazare phenomenon and what it represented. In the writer's view, corruption in the society could not be seen in isolation from many other factors in the country. The article, which was widely circulated and won national as well as international attention, received a huge number of responses, especially at the newspaper's website.

The second article (“Ambedkar's way and Anna Hazare's methods,” August 23) by Sukhadeo Thorat, economist and educationist, argued that Team Anna should use constitutional methods and enhance people's faith in them. “Otherwise,” Dr. Thorat noted, “it will convey the message that only coercive and unconstitutional methods work.” He recalled how coercive means forced Dr. B.R. Ambedkar to give up his demand for a separate electorate when Mahatma Gandhi was on a “fast-unto-death.”

The third article (“Messianism versus democracy,” August 24) by the economist Prabhat Patnaik contended that the substitution of one man for the people, and the reduction of the people's role merely to being supporters and cheerleaders for one man's actions, was antithetical to democracy. “Messianism substitutes the collective subject, the people by an individual subject, the messiah. The people may participate … in the activities of the people, as they are doing reportedly at Anna Hazare's fast… but they do so as spectators.”

The fourth of the articles (“For a strong and effective Lokpal,” The Hindu, August 25) by Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), observed that the attitude of the UPA Government and its failure to tackle corruption had fuelled public anger. He said that the government was seen as being complicit in corruption and this had been seen as the most corrupt government in the history of independent India. Since Hazare's first hunger strike in April, Mr. Karat noted, anti-corruption movement had gained momentum.

Together with the editorials, these assessments helped readers gain a critical perspective on the Anna Hazare phenomenon, the anti-corruption mood in the country, and the major issues at stake. On the whole, the coverage of the fortnight's drama not just by The Hindu but by several other dailies, including The Times of India, The New Indian Express, The Indian Express, and magazines, notably Outlook and India Today, reminded and reassured observers that for credible information, analysis, and diverse comment, it was the mainstream Indian press that still held the field.

Though the coverage by various national news channels gave instant updates to people around the globe, but next day, print media gave the pros and cones of affair. More significant was, what i watched from vernacular papers about Team Anna. I have least gone through English or Hindi papers those days, since Oriya papers were best suited to me to get informed about details and by watching various national channels i needed not to go the English papers. Even i have watched Oriya news channels could not cover as much as Oriya news paper did. I watched people on the early morning tea stall were curiously watching a paper one by one and discussed among themselves about the fortunes of bill and so on. I think print media plays bigger role than television in Indian society.

from:  Saroj kumar mishra Puri odisha
Posted on: Sep 17, 2011 at 21:27 IST

Dear Sir, Mr. Viswanathan deserves congratulations for writing this article which is enlightening. According to me, this movement launched by Anna Hazare has given birth a new fact. Now it is certain that even among the civil right activists there are two groups. One group belongs to Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi, Prasant Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal while on the other hand there are Harsh Manders, Arun Roys, Swami Agnivesh, Arundhati Roys .... who are always with the Government. In other words, we can say that there are two types of civil right activists - sarkari and non sarkari. Unfortunately, one of the sarkari social activists - namely Swami Agnivesh was exposed working against the Anna Hazare group. Now people call Swami Agnivesh as Swami Kaptivesh. However, the Central Government will have to be vigilant even while dealing with these sarkari social activists in future.

from:  SC Aggarwal
Posted on: Sep 12, 2011 at 14:19 IST

Thank you Mr Viswanathan for a fair summary. Thank you Hindu for continuing your noble role for the country. People are dependent on respectable national newspapers, magazines and TV channels to provide a truthful and balanced picture of what is happening in the country (and the world) and the implications. With many citizens being illiterate / barely literate or preferring to see/hear rather than read, the importance of TV cannot be overstated. TV also has the ability to provide "visual evidence", and it is crucial, therefore, that such reports are fair and balanced. Do media have a role in championing any cause? In my view, most definitely, as long as it is presented as such, and not as a news item. Several media experts have warned readers of bias in media reporting. Where these articles are not themselves biased, they have been welcome. Readers are not as naive as they are viewed by some!! My views are similar to those of Herr Oldenburg (but I can't comment on German papers.)

from:  D Mahapatra
Posted on: Sep 10, 2011 at 15:57 IST

T he print media played a meaningful role to project Anna hazare' s experience at the national level and Hindu's readers editor has summarized the editorials and the important lead articles objectively. However it seems to me that one aspect was not covered. The prime minister's speech also should have been covered in this review. He offered salutations to the anti corruption crusader in superlative terms in his loksabha speech and I am sure and confident that this suggestion will be taken in the proper perspective.

from:  C.p.Chandra das
Posted on: Sep 10, 2011 at 04:47 IST

S Vishwanathan's opinion piece in Hindu,"Print media do better than TV coverageof Hazare fast" has not only exposed hara-kari by electronic news channels in covering agitation of Anna &his Private Company Ltd,a self-styled representative body of civil societies in India but has impressed the readers and viewers that print media continue to be powerful and effective tools of news and views in proper and appropriate manner without any bias to anybody barring some deviations and differences among Hindi newspapers in giving undue support to Anna-type of agitation.Such things were not like that in english newspapers, particularly Hindu, which remained balanced over the issue in expressing its views and news.On the other hand electronic media , swayed by viewers, have given distorted news,views,theaterics over the government side as well as Anna's side. But more leaned towards Anna's agitation for cheap popularity and to increase their TRP rates! my blog

from:  krishna kumar singh
Posted on: Sep 8, 2011 at 17:27 IST

I am of the opinion this is the best article up to now written by The Hindu´s readerseditor Mr. S. Viswanathan. It was indeed the mainstream Indian press like The Times of India, The New Indian Express, The Indian Express and The Statesman and magazines like India Today and Outlook that published balanced and insightful, reflecting various points of view about Anna Hazare´s movement and his fast in Delhi. German newspapers like(Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Frankfurter Rundschau, Die Welt, Süddeutsche Zeitung) Der Spiegel reported regularly on Anna´s fast, his intention and determination to curb corruption in India. The coverage of Anna Hazare´s movement in German newspapers was balanced and insightful. The editorials and articles published in The Hindu shows that The Hindu as an national institution in India supports Anna in his legal and peaceful fight to curb and eradicate corruption.The Father of the Nation GANDHI is still alive in the hearts of Indians.

from:  Kurt Waschnig Oldenburg Germany
Posted on: Sep 6, 2011 at 20:44 IST

Clearly media played a big role in anti-corruption crusade. however the role of both print and electronic media have important just like two wheels of cycle. truly the electronic media have exaggerated facts but that was the main thing which people arises from their innersole for a common cause. Technophiles people on Facebook and other sites would mainly participated in on-line voting and opinion nothing more than that.

from:  jay prakash parmar
Posted on: Sep 5, 2011 at 20:27 IST

The article applauds print media coverage of the second phase of Hazare fast but sadly confines itself to summarising the editorials and articles in this very paper, which its devoted followers would have read anyway, certainly become better-informed and might have even felt grateful for it. Other papers or magazines are mentioned in passing without culling any significant point from any of them.

If the heading had been 'Coverage of Hazare fast by The Hindu", it
would have been nearer the truth.

Secondly, the coverage of any event by the print media cannot be compared with that of news channels, even if the latter overdid it.
They are two different arms of the fourth estate. What the print media does, the TV channels may not be able to do and vice versa.

from:  C. G. Rishikesh
Posted on: Sep 5, 2011 at 07:59 IST
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