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>Assam clashes: The communal angle came from the news media

>My journalist-writer friend Subir Ghosh has taken out an exciting and deeply investigative study. Those of you who are political animals and in general are interested in the North East of India, do read the news release below. Clicking on the title of this post will take you to the detailed report, downloadable and free.

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 ( 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:

Details of the report:

Pages: 10
Format: PDF
Colour: All-colour
Price: Free
Size: 640 KB

For more information contact: Subir Ghosh, Editor-Publisher, NewswatchTel: 0-9811316305Email: Website:

One comment on “>Assam clashes: The communal angle came from the news media

  1. fleuve-souterrain
    October 25, 2008

    >A representative sample of the comments on Subir’s news release posted on FB:”i’m happy that newswatch did the study; just goes on to prove how news can be and is manipulated to serve political interests. awful! we need more people like newswatch. more power to you!”(Gulnaz Sheikh)”not only Muslim, the media said these were ‘illegal Muslim immigrants’ about a community that has been living there for three generations or even more, pretty much legal in all ways…I’m not saying illegal border infiltration doesn’t happen but to categorize an entire people this way was absolutely unethical.” (Nabina Das)”yea true nabina and that breeds resentment against muslims at large and a sense of hurt, insult and injury amongst muslims…crazy!” (Gulnaz Sheikh)”that is quite the trend now in Indian media unfortunately… Muslim infiltrators, marauders, bombers, terrorists or whatever, the media keeps adding to the list, as if in collusion with vested powers… forgetting that we have several unabted crises related to hunger-health-education-envirnment. I could go on with that alternative list…” (Nabina Das)”you guys should visit see the extent of the illegal alien(read mulim bangladeshi ) problem..evey maid/rikshaw puller here talks sillhetti/or chatagon is a huge issue..dont just bunk that.” (Rana Chatterjee)”rana – 1. the rickshawallahs and maids in gurgaon speak the same language my forefathers did 2. they’ve come to delhi for the same reasons we go to the u.s., economic (largely). so it’s not an issue for me, i don’t care if they’re illegal immigrants (so are most nepali drivers/guards). i am concerned about the terror angle, but we needn’t jump and yell terrorist every time we see an impoverished maidservant in gurgaon.” (Shubho Sengupta)”I feel The Independent stand adopted by News Watch is to be Applauded and you have got yourself a staunch supporter in me. NewsMedia nowadays need to color even the Mundane of matters Communal to sell the subject to the Public, what they dont realise is the long term Implication of such kind of Reckless reporting. It Saddens me that each and every news channel I watch has a leaning, Political or Otherwise. I would love to see a Channel/News Paper which reports news for what it truly is and not what News Potential it has. I think such an Idea of mine is lofty and such a Channel/News Paper wont get the coverage of the existing Biased media. Kudos to you guys, You deserve it. Subir, I hope to Equate you with Fisk one day, I really do and wish the day is not far. God Speed to you and your Endeavors” (Ahmed Sidhique)

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This entry was posted on October 25, 2008 by in Assam, Assamese, Bangladesh, bengalis, bodos, communal, india, journalism, lashes, muslim, news, newswatch, northeast, study, subir ghosh, Uncategorized.
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