Where are the professional dalits in the media?
by Dinesh Aminmattu
[This is the text of the speech ‘Inclusivity of professional dalits in the media”(ಪತ್ರಿಕೋದ್ಯಮದಲ್ಲಿ ವೃತ್ತಿಪರ ದಲಿತರ ಒಳ್ಳಗೊಳ್ಳುವಿಕೆ’) delivered in Kannada by Dinesh Aminmattu at an event, organised by the Karnataka SC/ST editors association to celebrate 125th birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar, on 18th July 2016]
If I am asked who my role model is in the media, my answer is Babasaheb Ambedkar.
I have said this on many occasions and will say it again today. Babasaheb Ambedkar is described as the architect of the constitution, dalit leader and a lot more. However, we have forgotten that along with all of this he was also a journalist. In 1920 he started the newspaper, Mooknayak. Ganesh Kadam has translated a book from English to Kannada which contains the Mooknayak editorials that was released in Dharwad. In the Mooknayak editorial there is a slogan that says: ‘Why should I have any inhibition. I will speak without hesitation. No one can understand the feelings of a person who doesn’t speak. If you hesitate to speak progress is not possible’. In 1873 Jotiba Phule launched Satyshodhak Samaj and following that in 1877, ‘Deen Bandhu’. I recall this, as it was the beginning of the history of dalit journalism. Later Shivaram Janaab Kamble started the newspaper, ‘Somavamsha Kshatriya’.
When Dr Ambedkar returned in 1916, after studying in Columbia University and London School of Economics, he started the Mooknayak newspaper. Newspapers started by Dr Ambedkar have names reflecting different stages of the dalit movement. The first one was Mooknayak, the second, Bahishkrut Bharat and the third one, Janta, which later became Prabuddha Bharat. As a journalist Dr Ambedkar has written thousands of pages and was probably a very good competitor to Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi was also a journalist. You are aware that he edited Harijan and Young India papers but there has not been a discussion on newspapers started by Babasaheb Ambedkar like that of Harijan or Young India. To my knowledge, anthologies of editorials of Mooknayak have been published in Hindi and Marathi but not much in Kannada. I did not see any mention of these newspapers in the recently published 25 volumes by the Government. If we read the editorials of Mooknayak we get to view the political, social and historical climate of that time.
In 1916 when Dr Ambedkar finished studying at Columbia University, a leaving dinner was arranged and his batch-mates said to him, ‘you should become like Booker T Washington who had striven for the betterment of black people.’ Maybe Dr Ambedkar had the same thoughts…I don’t know. He already knew that newspapers were a tool for social change. That’s why he gave so much importance to freedom of expression.
When Prajavani newspaper brought out a dalit edition there was excitement not only in the state but across the nation. I am proud to have had some involvement in that. There was a curious reason for that inspirational attempt. In Robin Jeffrey’s book, ‘India’s Newspaper Revolution: Capitalism, Technology and the Indian Language Press, 1977-1999’ published in 2000, he had reported that the Indian media had an almost non-existent representation from within the dalit community. Prior to that in 1996 Kenneth J. Cooper, a Washington Post reporter, had done some research trying to find dalit reporters in the Indian media. The Prajavani editor had heard Robin Jeffrey’s speech in Delhi and had decided to bring out a dalit edition with a dalit editor, at least for a day.
Around that time further surveys were carried out. It was found out with these surveys that Indian mainstream media didn’t have editors or decision making people from the dalit community. When mentioned that dalits need to be given opportunity in the media, ‘Oh… dalits need reservations in the media too,’ has been the response to me. An introspection needed to happen and Robin Jeffrey, Kenneth Cooper and others did this. Today the way the media is behaving toward Siddaramaiah’s Government is the same way the media behaved towards BSP Government in Uttar Pradesh at another time.
Even today dalits do not have necessary representation in the Kannada media. We only ever had two senior journalists, Shivaji Ganeshan and D Umapathy. Shivaji Ganeshan retired as an assistant editor. We all wish that when Umapathy retires, it will be as an editor. We don’t know if it will ever happen but why is it not happening? If you list 100 prominent poets in India the majority of them will be dalits. If you list 100 important Kannada poets, again, the majority will be dalits. If you list 100 prominent journalists, there will not be enough dalits to count on your fingers. Journalists mainly require writing skills. It is not rocket science. Then why are there no dalits? Dalit journalists can be found only with small newspapers. Our Ravikumar (N Ravikumar, Editor, Shimoga Telex Newspaper) is qualified to work in any mainstream media outlets. He is my friend and I know his writing and style. He hasn’t found an opportunity to write for the mainstream media. I know 50 other journalists from the dalit community. Why is it that they are unable to find jobs writing for mainstream newspapers?
If you wish to find out ‘why?’ you need to look at the 1970’s situation in America. In 1978 the American Society of News Editors had carried out a census to check the representation of Black and ethnic minorities (BME) in the media. Even though black and ethnic minorities were 36% of the population, the media had only 4% representation. After analysing the reasons for the under-representation, they started a project to address this. They decided to make the representation of black and ethnic minorities 20% by the year 2000. In order to achieve this, training workshops were organised for black and ethnic minorities students, steps were taken to address the discrimination policy and special recruitments were made.
During the 2010 census, BME had 14% representation. Now they have a target for 2020. This is a good model for dalit’s inclusivity in the Indian media. A census needs to be carried out with this objective – of finding out the representation of dalits. The survey also needs to happen in Karnataka. What kind of positions do dalits have in the media (Electronic, radio and print)? If not, why not? What is the solution? A census has to be carried out on this.
I am not asking for representation to secure jobs for dalits. We need to clearly understand this. It is not that dalits will secure a few jobs once the representation is in place. If a media outlet is to be complete it needs to express the views and experience of every community. Otherwise, in my opinion, that media outlet will not be complete. If the stories and experiences from around the world are to be published, the media needs to have representation from diverse communities who have the relevant experience of that world. If not, we will not understand.
In this country, every 16 minutes, atrocities on dalits occur. Every day, four dalit women are raped, every week, 16 dalits are brutally killed. You will notice this if you take a look at the National Crime Bureau statistics… 1,270 dalit women were raped during the year Nirbhaya was raped. Why wasn’t that news in this country? During the same week as Nirbhaya, rape two dalit women were raped in Haryana. Where was that reported? When atrocities were happening in huge numbers why were they not reported? Especially for this reason dalits, minorities and lower castes should enter the media – they have the experience of this world. For example, an incident like Kambalapalli is just a news story for an ordinary reporter. Journalists will visit the place, glorify the incident and the report will say there was a blood-bath, heads were chopped off, people were crying their hearts out and similar descriptions.
A dalit reporting will include behind the scenes reasons for the incident. Kambalapalli is not an incident which happens overnight. It has a history and because of this history Kambalapalli has happened. In this country there is a history of this kind of atrocities. We can see the difference when a Muslim journalist reports on a communal violence. These incidents are reported without glorifying and sensationalising.
Babasaheb Ambedkar had to start ‘Mooknayak’ as he couldn’t find dalit voices in other papers. When everyone was involved in the freedom movement, Dr Ambedkar presented his rebellious ideas and said in his confident voice that social freedom needs to come before political freedom. No one listened then and we are facing the consequences now. Political freedom has become a farce now. As a visionary, Dr Ambedkar had warned even in those days about the state of political freedom without economic and social freedom. At that time no one heard that voice. Even ‘One vote one value’ was also not understood by anyone but now we are understanding. Adani and Ambani votes can’t be compared to poor Boregowda’s. Today the issue is more serious as corporates have entered into the media. This country has 82,000 newspapers, approximately 120 television news channels and 1,200 radio stations. Ownership of all of these are with only a 100 people.
Today the media do not want readers, viewers or listeners. They want potential buyers. They need buyers for the televisions, fridges, clothes and other products which are advertised in their newspapers and channels. This means they are in search of potential buyers and have no concern for the ordinary reader. The reason being media outlets cannot be run without advertising. Markandeya Katju, former press council chairman, a straight speaking person, had said, ‘if Aishwarya Rai marries, has disputes with her husband, leaves her in-laws house it is a front page news. On your TV channel it’s breaking news. However, if a child born to a poor mother dies of malnourishment you will just bury that news in the inside pages. Why is that?’
He is not a journalist but a judge. He knows how to give judgements. I am a journalist and can answer this question. If Aishwarya Rai’s crying, laughing, disputes or related news are reported it helps the 25-30 products that she is modelling or acts as an Ambassador. Similarly, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli and Dhoni have to make their appearances on the media. If they are seen the readers will be reminded of the products they model. This is the trick. If the death of a child of a poor mother because of malnutrition is reported on the front page, what will people think? Do we need to read this early in the morning? We have become so insensitive. This is reality. I say it very clearly and won’t complain against the owners. Owners of the newspapers have fallen into this trap unknowingly.
The problem is in the current media’s business model. After investing a 100 crores, a news channel cannot be run without advertising. How can you write pro-people news if you are dependent on advertising? How can a voice be raised for dalits, minorities and the oppressed? I do not know the solution. Reliance’s Anil Ambani group has invested 5 -10,000 crores in their channels. Now they have purchased Etv, CNN, IBN, 50 other channels and different publications. Birla group has bought India Today. Green Tech has invested in NDTV and corporates have positions on the media boards. A similar situation exists with all of the big newspapers. This has also happened at the Hindu newspaper. A long time ago, Prajavani had made the journalist Kuldip Nayyar a board member – how quickly things are changing.
Corporatisation of media outlets has reached such a state that shares in the companies are being taken instead of taking money for advertising and money is being made by promoting and selling those shares. Discussions are happening about this cross ownership, other industry owners being owners of the media and people in the media having other business interests. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has submitted a long report on this which is being reviewed by the central government. In a society like India, with a view to keeping plurality and diversity, one should not just focus on business interests. TRAI report has pointed out that the inherent wish of the media has been breached.
But today the situation is different. Corporates have already made an entry. As the profession has become a business we are seeing the brutal ways of it. Media owners are in such a trap that even if they consciously try to be pro-people they are unable to.
Today a person starts a channel with a good intention by investing 25-30 crores. Within a couple of months, the owner brings in an astrologer to present the channel to cover the losses. This is today’s situation.
Media outlets which require less investment might be the solution. Today many remember Lankesh, however, it wouldn’t have been possible to run a newspaper with that large circulation in the present time. When Lankesh Patrike sold for Rs 1, Prajavani was Rs 1.50.
The current price of Lankesh Patrike is Rs 15 and Prajavani, Rs 4.50. Gauri Lankesh is managing the losses from the revenue of other publications. Gauri’s Lankesh paper is still undergoing losses. It’s impossible to run a newspaper without advertising. This is the predicament of all small newspapers. In this country, a product which has a selling price less than the manufacturing cost is the newspaper and its losses have to be covered by advertising. When this is the situation, loyalty has to be to the advertisers or to be pro-dalits?
I have more experience to explain this further. Raghuram Shetty had thought about this in those days and to make a change started ‘Mungaru’ newspaper. We went to the street with the slogan, ‘Let us harvest the power of the people by the rainfall of thinking.’ In those times it was started with a magnanimous intention. What happened later? Within a couple of months, circulation decreased. Unhealthy competition couldn’t be stopped. That was Kannada’s first public limited company. It started with the imagination that readers are the shareholders. If that had been successful, today Dakshin Kannada would not have become a school for experimenting with Hindutva. Mungaru couldn’t be saved.
It is not impossible to start a newspaper like Mungaru – times are different today. Now, a few in the dalit and minority communities have money. Sociologists talk about social capital and it has to be made possible. K N Guruswamy was a liquor contractor. If he had continued in the same industry he would have made a lot of money. Those days shudras didn’t have a newspaper and he started one (Prajavani). It made losses for 10 years. It is not that today there are no people with money. The Ahinda (Dalit, Bahujan and Minorities) community has people who have 100 to 500 crores and 1,000 acres of land. Anyone interested in investing in the media? Even if they do, the person in-charge won’t be from the Ahinda community. If you ask, the answer will be they are very much needed to run (the newspaper).
Today we need to think about why there is severe opposition for Anna Bhagya (subsidised rice to poor) and Ksheera Bhagya (free milk to students) pro-people programmes. Attempts have been made to silence the voices of people who are supporting these classes. This had happened against Devaraj Urs. As soon as V P Singh implemented the Mandal commission report, he became the enemy of the media. V P Singh was not from Ahinda community but from a ruling class. To speak in support of the Ahinda community, one doesn’t need to be from the same community but when they do, the work of silencing their voice begins. Babu Jagjivan Ram, pioneer of green revolution is not remembered today. He was the defence minister during the first Indo-Pak war. No one is remembering him. For these reasons, dalit-owned channels need to be started. Today small newspapers and monthly magazines exist. However, people with investment enter, a mainstream newspaper can be started as per the wishes of Dr Ambedkar.
In America, ‘Ebony’, ‘Chicago Defender’ and similar papers are run by blacks. The difference between blacks in America and dalits in India is there are no internal division within black community and USA has only one language. Similar to blacks, we have dalits who have progressed and have buying power. Today this community has the capability to buy consumer goods. Dalits also use tooth paste. Tomorrow, if dalits start a paper, toothpaste makers have to take advertising.
The Government needs to interfere so that the media doesn’t entirely become corporatized. To develop the private sector in this country, governments have been giving subsidies and support. Gujarat Govt has given a loan at 0.1 percent interest to the Nano car factory. Punjab Govt has given 1,250 crore to Lakshmi Mittal at 0.1 % to start a refinery. There is a big list like this. If we ask P Sainath he will let us have a bigger list. We think 2.5 lakh crores subsidy given to farmers is huge. The corporate sector receives 36 lakh crore tax benefits. Annual revenue of Reliance is 2.5 lakh crores whilst the Karnataka Government has a revenue of 1 lakh 20,000 crores. We all know what Vijay Mallya has done. Farmers who borrowed Rs 5-10,000 from the same bank are committing suicide. Mallya is enjoying living in a foreign country after drowning 1,000s of crores. This is India’s situation.
If the media is a necessity for this society, if freedom of expression has to have its true meaning rescued, all communities’ experiences have to be expressed, then low interest loans have to be given to people in the media sector. Why not give a subsidy? If the media is compared with other sectors it can’t compete. If Nano car factory can be given a loan at an interest rate of 0.1%, why not start a newspaper?
Industrialists directly taking control of the media is very dangerous. Noam Chomsky calls this as ‘manufacturing consent’. Today channels portray that 98% of the people are against and 2% are for the government, Is this true? If these kind of consents are not to be manufactured in India then the Government needs to help start-ups in the media. Dalit entrepreneurs should think in this direction. Let there be a thinking in this direction during the 125th birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar. If possible let all the editorial of Dr Ambedkar’s newspaper be translated into Kannada. If the Government does this, it will be a pleasure.
Translated from Kannada by Sridhara Aghalaya.