New Delhi, October 23: The ethnic clashes between indigenous Bodos and Bangladeshi migrants which broke out in Assam in the first week of October 2008 gave unnecessary importance and prominence to the “Muslim” aspect of the latter.
The finding is from a study by Newswatch, an independent online entity which monitors, collates and documents news and information pertaining to the news media and journalism. The Newswatch (http://www.newswatch.in/) probe was conducted over an eight-day period starting the day the clashes broke out (October 3). The study —Identities and descriptors: How the news media described the Assam clashes — was meant to be a qualitative analysis, and not a quantitative one. The idea was to look at the way the news media covered the issue, and not quantify the exact number of publications or news outlets that did a story, or did not. “Sectarian violence in Northeast does not always make it to the front page of newspapers. But this one did — coming as it was in the backdrop of the attacks on Christians by Hindu rightwing elements in Karnataka and Orissa, and a palpable sense of Islamophobia that seemed to be all-pervading in the aftermath of the serial blasts in Ahmedabad, Bangalore and New Delhi. The prime objective of this study was to look at how the media uses descriptors and modifiers in ethnic conflict situations,” explained Newswatch editor, Subir Ghosh.
Altogether, 597 stories published during the period were tracked down by the researchers. After leaving out duplicates (mainly because of news agency creeds), the number was brought down to 187. The next round of elimination was done to exclude non-English stories and ones that ran into 100 words or less. In the end, 138 stories were selected for the content analysis.Very few stories, it was found, desisted from naming the two communities involved in the clashes. It would be wrong to say very few “publications” did so, since different news items emanating from the same outlet used varied descriptors for the two groups of people. In other words, there seemed to be a dearth of policy when it came to naming communities or ethnic groups involved in clashes. The study found 26 sets of descriptors and modifiers which were used to describe the Bodo tribals which ranged from “local Hindus called Bodos” to “non-Muslims.” In case of Bangladeshi migrants, the number was 27, with the descriptors and modifiers varying from “Bangladeshi Muslim migrants” to “Muslim migrant settlers”. Many terms, both correctly and wrongly, were used as synonyms.
The study also looked at the use of the term “Muslim” both in the headlines as well as in the body of the copies. Seven news items (of six outlets) played up the Muslim card in the headlines. As many as 66 stories used “Muslim” to denote Bangladeshi migrants either in the first two paragraphs, or later in the copy (if this community was first introduced only in a latter part of the story concerned). Though the Bangladeshi migrants, by and large, are Muslims, the over-emphasis on the “Muslim” aspect of this particular community went a large way in adding a communal colour to a clash that was not essentially communal in nature. It was rather surprising that the coverage of a clash which left over 50 dead and rendered about 100,000 homeless, saw only 21 Bodos/Assamese/Bengalis and 8 Bangladeshi migrants being quoted in 138 stories. This filtering of voices becomes all the more lopsided given that most of the stories analysed directly or through insinuation projected Bangladeshi migrants (even mostly mentioned just as Muslims) as being the victims of orchestrated violence against them. The lopsidedness in the count of both sources and voices of the people may be gauged from the fact that almost half the stories (65) originated from Guwahati.
The report can be downloaded from here: http://www.newswatch.in/research/1754
Details of the report:
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For more information contact: Subir Ghosh, Editor-Publisher, NewswatchTel: 0-9811316305Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: http://www.newswatch.in/