How representative are front pages of Indian newspapers?



Ankita Pandey

By Ankita Pandey

Posted on: 21September 2016

Different sections of a newspaper are read by different people, but the front page includes a wider variety of news items and attracts a broader readership. I examine regional diversity on the front pages (including half pages added to them) of the Delhi editions of six national newspapers - The Hindu (TH), Hindustan Times (HT), The Times of India (TOI), The Indian Express (TIE), Dainik Jagran (DJ), and Dainik Bhaskar (DB) - during March 2016. The analysis excludes budget news published on front pages on March 01, but regular news on the front pages on that day were included.

The front page news can be divided into main news (news items that contain at least one sentence and/or photograph in addition to the headline) and news pointers (news items with a headline and the number of the page where details are provided). Front page occurrences of states/UTs include direct state news (news items specifically about states), indirect state news (news items containing references to states), and state news pointers.

Distribution of news

In March this year, the six newspapers published 3004 news items including 915 pointers. On an average day, the front pages contained 17 news items (including five pointers). There was wide variation across newspapers on the use of pointers (Figure 1). 52 per cent of the front page news were related to states. 32 states/UTs were referred to 1966 times in these 1557 news items, including 665 direct state news, 550 indirect state news (states mentioned in other contexts, e.g., Punjab in news on Pathankot investigations), and 342 state news pointers. If a news mentioned a state or a place/event in the state more than once it was counted as one occurrence for that state.

Dainik Jagran covered only 23 states compared to 31 states covered by Dainik Bhaskar (Figure 2). There was no news on Tripura, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Lakshadweep and there was no direct news on Sikkim, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, and Meghalaya. The Times of India published more state news on its front pages than others (Figure 3). The Indian Express provided maximum space (58 per centof all front page headlines) to states on its front pages, whereas Dainik Bhaskar provided the least (44 per cent) (Figure 4).

The number of occurrences of a state on front pages divided by 1966 (i.e., the total occurrences of all states/UTs) is a measure of the coverage. Delhi (647 news items, i.e., 33 per cent of all news) received far more coverage than its population share (1.39 per cent) and its coverage exceeded the combined coverage of 28 states/UTs. 21 states/UTs received lesser coverage than their population share (Map 5). More than the half of the states/UTs received similar coverage across newspapers. Delhi was the most over-represented state in all newspapers, while Bihar and UP were the most under-represented across newspapers.

Nature of state news

JNU dominated news from Delhi (Figure 6). Only on three days there was no news on JNU on the front pages. If JNU (129 news items) was a state, it would have ranked fourth in terms of coverage. But, Delhi will remain highly overrepresented even without JNU.

Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and UP received about 26 per cent coverage compared to population share of 28 per cent. Rajasthan and UP received much lesser coverage than their population shares. The remaining four states received more coverage. However, 59 per cent of Punjab’s coverage was related to Pathankot investigations and cricket. 82 per cent of coverage of Uttarakhand was related to political instability. 55 per cent of Himachal Pradesh’s coverage was related to cricket.

Among the rest of the “mainland” states, only Goa’s coverage exceeded its population share. However, Goa mostly figures in indirect news. The limited coverage of the other states is driven by one or two issues. 34 per cent of Gujarat’s coverage was related to Ishrat Jehan. 14 out of the 27 news items about Telangana were related to the Hyderabad University. Cricket dominated the coverage of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Karnataka. Chhattisgarh did not receive sufficient coverage despite assault on media, ecological problems, and tribal unrest.

J&K received about four per cent coverage compared to its population share of 1.04 per cent. Half of its coverage was focused upon the BJP-PDP negotiations and 17 per cent dealt with terrorism and the armed forces. Jammu region received lesser coverage than Kashmir. The northeastern states received lesser coverage (3 per cent) than their population share (3.76 per cent). Assam accounted for two-thirds of the 58 occurrences of northeastern states. 70 per cent of Assam’s coverage was related to elections. Tripura, the second most populous northeastern state, received no coverage in any newspaper. Mizoram (1), Sikkim (1), and Nagaland (3) were covered only by Dainik Bhaskar. More than half of the coverage of six UTs (excluding Delhi) was related to Puducherry elections.

On March 04, the Election Commission declared elections in five states/UTs (Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry). These states/UT received 13 per cent coverage compared to their population share of 19 per cent. Only Puducherry’s coverage exceeded its population share.

Conclusion

The concern of editorials and op-eds regarding the lack of informed debate about under-developed and politically-disturbed states has not resulted in fair coverage on front pages. The coverage of a number of smaller states/UTs, some of which are ecological hotspots and affected by insurgencies, is driven by incidental developments, e.g., news about P.A. Sangma’s death accounts for three-fourths of Meghalaya’s front page appearances. On the other hand, JNU received coverage equivalent to seventeen states/UTs put together, while the Art of Living event received more coverage than Haryana. The uneven pattern of representation of states highlighted here will not change if we replace the Delhi edition with other metro editions. A similar analysis using other lenses will reveal that issues related to rural areas, women, Dalits, tribal, health, and education are underrepresented on front pages.

Ankita Pandey is an independent researcher based in Bengaluru. 

 

 

 

 




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