Designer news

How media designs and packages water...

Published: Monday 15 September 2003

-- An analysis of news clippings* on water published between February 2002 and February 2003 shows a definite pattern. Media emerges as a matchmaker which plans, creates and packages news to catch the middle-class imagination

The two most popular subjects of reportage on water are scarcity of water, and the annual ritual of drought reporting

Regional media starts reporting on drought much before national media takes up the cudgels. But after the month of June, national reports on drought skyrocket, whereas regional reports plummet

Issues are clearly demarcated between national media and regional media. Whereas water pollution, irrigation, and protests are favourites of the regional media, the national media concentrates on dams, interlinking of rivers, and privatisation

The national media prefers reporting on 'new' issues of water, which have policy level implications. Regional media is content with the 'old' issues

Media beats also follow a pattern. 'Energy' and 'irrigation' beats are pro-dam; 'environment' and 'tribal development' are anti-dam. Therefore, the publication is 'balanced' and 'neutral'

In a nutshell, water provides a perfect possibility of crisis reporting. But media finds it difficult to report on complex issues. Hence, the same pattern is followed year after year.

*Analysis based on 15 national and 40 regional newspapers.

Source: Pradip Saha 2003, Water reportage, Paper presented during a symposium on middle classes environmental values in India, King's College, London, August, mimeo

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