Blacks in US media and blackouts in India

Chandrabhan Prasad

Suddenly, I realised that in all the 30 years I had worked as a journalist, I had never met a colleague who was a Dalit. No, not one," wrote BN Uniyal in his path breaking article, In search of a Dalit journalist. For his article, Uniyal had scanned all available resources, including the Accreditation Index of the Press Information Bureau, but he couldn't locate a single Dalit journalist in Delhi.

However, his work was ignored by the Delhi Press. No editor/columnist "wondered" why, from a population of over twenty crore, there wasn't a single Dalit journalist to be found in Delhi. When we, inspired by Uniyal's article, began arguing our case before the Delhi Press, we were often mocked: "Look at these ultra-Ambedkarites, they now want a reservation in the media, too."

We have always thought the exclusion of Dalits from the (Varna) media is an extreme form of untouchability. While we wandered through the "intellectual corridors" of the capital, looking for well-wishers, a broad-eyed Delhi based Tamil girl, working for a popular American daily, stunned us by revealing that there is a reservation-like policy in the American media for Blacks and other ethnic groups.

Every word the tall Tamil genius said about the American media, we believed and every word we wrote, another short genius, a woman with deep feeling for our mission, typed and edited. Thus, came into being: End apartheid in the Indian media, Democratise the nation's opinion - a memorandum submitted to the Editors' Guild of India and the Press Council.

On the second anniversary of Dalit Diary, I reproduce the highlights, with updates. Readers can for themselves judge the intellectual integrity of Indian editors and anchors.

The American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), founded in 1922, is the largest organisation of editors. In 1975, ASNE found that Blacks/Ethnics comprised only 3.95 per cent of the journalistic work force in America. At its annual conference in 1978, race based discrimination and exclusion was intensely talked about. The conference unanimously decided upon "Year 2000 Goal" - that is, by 2000, Blacks/Ethnics must have their proportionate representation in all American newspapers.

To accomplish this, it was decided that newspapers must open a diversity department, offer special scholarships to train Black/Ethnic candidates in journalism, organise job fairs to recruit them and participate in the Annual Newsroom Racial/Ethnic Census.

The result was stunning: out of 1,446 newspapers, 950 decided to abide by ASNE's resolution, including all papers with a daily circulation of more than one lakh. Today, journalists of Black/Ethnic origin comprise 11.64 per cent of the total. And between 1978-1998, the number of these journalists grew by 270 per cent. Better still, larger publications have shown greater commitment to implementing diversity than the smaller ones. Consider the 2001 survey report of ASNE:

Name Circulation Blacks/Ethnics

Wall Street Journal: 17.52 lakhs 17.1%

USA Today: 17.58 18.7

New York Times: 11.32 16.2

Los Angeles Times: 10.80 18.7

Washington Post: 07.75 19.5

The ASNE documents the minutest detail about Black and Ethnic professional positioning. Consider the following:

Designation Total Blacks/Ethnics %

Supervisors: 13,728 (9.10%)

Copy/Layout Editors: 10,901 (10.20)

Reporters: 25,593 (12.70)

Photographers: 6,171 (15.40)

Grand Total: 56,393 (11.63)

ASNE, in this year's mission statement, asserts "to cover communities fully, to carry out their role in a democracy and that to succeed in the market place, the nation's news rooms must reflect the racial diversity of American society." Keeping in mind that the Black/Ethnic population will reach 38 per cent by 2025, ASNE has set itself a goal, of enhancing their recruitment by 229% by the year 2025.

On the other hand, what is the situation in India? Blacks/Ethnics make up over 11 per cent of the American media. Do we know of even 11 Dalit journalists in the Varna-media? Did the Editors' Guild of India ever try to carry out an ASNE like exercise?

In comparison to America's best circulated dailies, Varna papers would at best look like, in terms of credibility, content, aesthetics and revenue, the morning insertions which tell us of the newly opened tent houses or grocery shops. And most Varna editors would probably find it difficult to work for American papers even as interns.

And yet these editors, of questionable intellectual calibre and doubtful integrity, talk of "merit" and "blacking out" the Dalits' entry into the media! I wonder not why these editors are against the entry of foreign newspapers into India and dedicate this column to two women of substance - Ramalakshmi and Meenakshi Nath.

Referred by:Sashi Kanth
Published on: May 1, 2001
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