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Classy or class reporting?

india Updated: Aug 28, 2009 15:23 IST
Sumana Ramanan
Sumana Ramanan
Hindustan Times
Sumana Ramanan Senior Editor

Sumana Ramanan Senior Editor

People have accused English newspapers of betraying a class bias in their coverage of the terror attacks, a bias that showed up in two ways. The bias was evident, they argue, in the liberal space newspapers devoted to the tragedies at the two five-star hotels at the expense of the attacks at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and Cama Hospital. The bias also cropped up, they contend, in the attention newspapers gave to the deaths of senior police officers, while virtually ignoring other policemen.

I haven’t done a systematic study, so I will just share my thoughts on class bias and point to HT reports that showwe did seek out the voiceless and less glamorous. Some class bias is inevitable, not just during such tragedies.

One perfectly legitimate reason is that the powerful, whether in government or business, wield influence over many people’s lives. Precisely because of this, we must scrutinise their actions more vigorously and more often than those of others.

Second, readers of English newspapers largely belong to the middle class. They want to read about issues that directly concern them, so newspapers naturally emphasise these.

Perhaps the middle class should be concerned about issues other than home loans and designer jeans -- issues such as urban poverty, if for no other reason than that it leads to more crime. I think newspapers like HT must try to broaden the definition of what “concerns” the reader.

Third, many senior journalists in English newspapers belong to the middle class. No matter what they do, they can’t entirely wipe out biases that stem from their upbringing and education. One could, in fact, argue that your biases are what make you you.

But one can certainly become more aware of them.

That is what happened at HT, which is why I believe we exhibited far less of a class bias in our terror coverage than we tend to in our daily reporting.

On the day after the attacks, we consciously decided to track and write about the victims at CST and Cama, as well as the constables killed.

This was not easy. The class backgrounds of those at the five-star hotels made it easier for us to obtain their phone numbers. But we had reports that showed we tried to overcome our biases! Here are a few: “When terror walked into CST” (November 28, Page 2); “Amidst the death, a new life” (November 28, Page 4); “Khaki under attack: 3 tales of heroism” (November 29, page 6); “From Manipur to Jaipur, it’s an Indian tragedy” (December 1, page 2); “Patients, relatives ignored as JJ preps for President’s visit” (December 2, page 4); “A tribute to khaki” (December 3, page 4); “How heroes were born at CST” (December 3, page 4).

If any reader is willing to do a systematic survey, I would be happy. In any case, do write in with your (considered) opinions.