Proper coverage of “deprivation”: Ethical considerations for students of Indian journalism

Asian College of Journalism: Covering Deprivation

During the first semester, all students take a required course— the only one of its kind taught by a journalism school anywhere in the world — Covering Deprivation.

Deprivation” refers to the inability of individuals in a society to achieve basic human functioning. Among these are the ability to live a long and healthy life free from avoidable disease and hunger, and the opportunity to be educated and to have access to resources needed for a socially acceptable standard of living. Some forms of deprivation may apply to all, or to the majority of, the members of specific social groups (such as Dalits) or classes (such as landless agricultural labourers).

Although deprivation so defined is a huge part of contemporary Indian reality both in the countryside and in cities, the mainstream media do not generally give it informed, sustained coverage. The course gives equal importance to (a) understanding deprivation and (b) covering it. Through lectures, discussions and field trips, students are taught to discern and report the facts and many facets of deprivation — in context and steering clear of exotic filters. They learn to analyse the socio-economic, political, environmental and other factors that produce deprivation and to present their observations accurately, sensitively and in a way that will engage the attention of the public.

The course culminates – in the beginning of the second semester – in an extended field trip, following which students present their findings in a platform of their choice: a special broadsheet, as video feature, or as multimedia reports.

ACJ [Asian College of Journalism] students, in collaboration with UNICEF, cover issues of deprivation affecting children. These stories are archived in an online portal.

Source: Covering Deprivation – ACJ
Date Visited: 24 May 2022

Mass indoctrination

First, let us recognise that there is a manic irrationality that is being carefully seeded in Indian society today and that hate-filled words have an impact on the rights and well-being of all. This process involves consistent and repetitive hate speech and fear speech against minority groups by Hindutva ideologues, which is resulting in a mass cult-like indoctrination aimed at making Hindus believe that they are under immediate threat by those that are not exactly like them. In doing so, a non-existent and unverified threat is manufactured and presented. […]

In India we do not make a distinction between hate speech and fear speech. Hate speech (speech that expresses threats, abuse, violence and prejudice) against any community works most effectively when the public sphere has first been saturated with fear speech. Fear speech expresses unknown and unverifiable threats that create a sense of anxiety and panic in individuals. It is purposefully vague. […]

What is becoming clear is that the current Indian state seeks to turn common Hindu citizens into enforcers of its majoritarian vision at the neighbourhood level. […]

This is most certainly a dangerous path for India because mass political and social radicalisation does not come with power-steering. Those in power would be well advised to start making the moves to check this growing radicalisation as effectively as they seem to move to check the fictitious anti-national activities of their fictitious domestic enemies.

Vasundhara Sirnate Drennan is a political scientist and journalist. She is also the creator of the India Violence Archive, a citizen’s data initiative aimed at recording collective public violence in India.

Source: Editorial by Va­sund­hara Sir­nate Dren­nan, The Hindu, 30 December 2021
Date Visited: 30 December 2021

Read the full text Indian Judiciary Has Become an Instrument of the Executive >>

India is experiencing what is known as ‘competitive authoritarianism’ or ‘electoral authoritarianism’ today [as] we need to look at what is politics in India between elections. Because democracy is under attack for more serious reasons when you look at the way checks and balances are not working anymore. Most of the institutions have become instruments of the executive. Many developments in present-day India – critics and dissenters being silenced, independent institutions being compromised and a pliable media – last occurred during the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975.

Source: “Indian Judiciary Has Become an Instrument of the Executive”, interview by Sidharth Bhatia, The Wire, 7 July 2022
Date Visited: 11 July 2022

“Tribals are subject to oppression and cruelty even after independence and still picked up by the investigating officers to cover up shoddy investigations.” – D.Y. Chandrachud (Chief Justice of India since 9 November 2022) quoted in “Members of De-Notified Tribes Picked Up to Cover Up Shoddy Investigations” | Learn more >>


With an average of three or four journalists killed in connection with their work every year, India is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media. Journalists who are critical of the government are routinely subjected to online harassment, intimidation, threats and physical attacks, as well as criminal prosecutions and arbitrary arrests. They can be victims of violence, from police officers and political activists, as well as criminal groups and corrupt local officials. Proponents of Hindutva, the ideology of the Hindu far right, call for popular revenge against critics branded as “traitors” and “anti-national”. Terrifying coordinated campaigns of hatred and calls for murder are conducted on social media, campaigns especially violent when they target women journalists, whose personal data is divulged. The situation is also remains very worrisome in Kashmir, where reporters are often harassed by police and paramilitaries, with some being subjected to so-called “provisional” detention for several years.

“India Index” (2023 & 2024) by Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Date Visited: 3 May 2024

“While occasionally some changes to my text were made without my consent, there was no attempt to get me to rewrite my column or change its arguments. Until …” – Historian Ramachandra Guha whose books include India After Gandhi and Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World (Column for The Wire, “Government”, 19 April 2020)

The brutal second wave of COVID-19 that battered India over the spring pushed into the background another global concern about the country: Just how democratic is the world’s largest democracy? […]

Over the past six years, India fell 26 places—from 27 to 53—on the Democracy Index, published by the Economist Intelligence Unit. In March, Freedom House downgraded India from “free” to “partly free. […]

India ranks seventh on a V-Dem [Varieties of Democracy] list of ten countries that have lost the most democratic ground over the past decade. […]

Source: “How Democratic Is the World’s Largest Democracy?” by Sadanand Dhume (Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute), Foreign Affairs, 24 August 2021
Date visited: 19 June 2022

Five ethical problems that plague Indian journalism

A global study warns that India’s media boom will be worthless unless these issues are fixed soon.

India’s gargantuan news market has 82,222 newspapers; Delhi alone has 16 English dailies in circulation. It has close to 800 television news channels, an industry that has almost trebled between 2006 and 2014. Added to that are 124 million broadband Internet connections and 1,500 state-owned, privately-owned and community radio stations. […]

If the five debilitating problems in the Indian media are not fixed then India’s media boom will be worthless to journalism, writes Panneerselvan. “Even worse, it will of no value to India’s more than 1.2 billion people who may have more infotainment, sensationalism and political spin at their disposal but who will remain ignorant of the facts and analysis of events around them. When that happens the world’s largest democracy will be seriously weakened.”

1) Paid news
Paneerselvan, who is also readers’ editor of The Hindu, traces the origins of the unethical practice of paid news back to the liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991. With market forces at play and public investment in private companies, journalists found it sometimes lucrative to write only partially true stories of companies waiting to list on the stock exchanges. […]

2) Opaque private treaties
[…] P Sainath was one journalist who exposed the nexus of political and corporate entities in the news media through such schemes. […]

3) Blatant blackmail […]

4) Widening legal regulatory gap
The Press Council of India has dragged its feet on addressing paid news and other unethical practices, according to the EJN report. […]

5) Flawed measurements of audience reach and readership
The yardsticks to measure the reach and impact of the Indian media are dubious at best, the report says. […]

Source: “Five ethical problems that plague Indian journalism”,, 19 March 2015
Date visited: 17 December 2021

Video speech by Ananya Roy, co-author of Encountering Poverty: Thinking and Acting in an Unequal World >>

[…] We live in an era of stark social and economic inequality. Across the world, the hoarding of wealth by the rich and powerful rests on the exploitation and impoverishment of marginalized communities.

It is no stretch to argue that the problem of the 21st century is the enduring problem of the color line. We live in an era of resurgent right-wing nationalism. From India to Brazil, Europe to the United States, xenophobia is a structuring logic of state power and statecraft. The color line is evident in violent embodiments: Black killings by police, Muslim lynchings, human caging, and most of all at the militarized borders of desert and sea that are ghostly and ghastly deathscapes. These deadly places, crossings that have been deliberately turned into places of death, today guard Fortress Europe and the American homeland. The color line then is not just a map of segregation and exclusion; it is a site of death, a negation of personhood, or what Lisa Marie Cacho (2012) has called “racialized rightlessness.”

But my theorization of radical democracy also rests on two related points. First, the freedom dreams that animate today’s reconstruction of democracy are not advanced by elite institutions or state power. Instead, they emerge from grassroots organizing and poor people’s movements. They emerge from collective action forged in the shared condition of precarity. […]

The radical democracy of which I dream, and which I see in the making all around me, is driven by rigorous intellectual visions and global theorizations. And these often come from forgotten places. Today, sophisticated understandings of property and rent, of debt and speculation, of assets and welfare, of income and profit, come from social movements. Today, rich frameworks of citizenship and belonging, of rights and refuge, come from hip-hop musicians, incarcerated artists, and border activists. […]

Source: Video speech by Ananya Roy (“55 Voices for Democracy” (14 December 2019)
Date visited: 17 December 2021

What rank should a country where ministers speak of “neutralising” journalists who ask questions and where press persons are regularly attacked and charged with crimes for doing their jobs earn on an index measuring freedom of the press?

Higher than the 142 out of 180 India received on the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, according to a government-appointed panel that blames “western bias” for the country’s poor performance. The panel’s report, in fact, reveals that the Indian ambassador to France held a meeting with representatives of Reporters Without Borders complaining about the ranking and insisting that “Indian culture has a tradition of acceptance and tolerance of differences, that are beyond the scale present in any other part of the world.” […]

The panel’s report appears to channel the same sentiments, focusing on trying to change India’s ranking on the index rather than actually attempting to improve conditions on the ground for journalists, according to reputed journalist P Sainath, who was one of the members of the Index Monitoring Cell set up by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting to examine India’s low ranking.

Our job is to improve press freedom in India, not to carry out publication relations exercises,” Sainath wrote in a note responding to the Index Monitoring Cell’s report. “Improved rankings have a meaning only if they are a beneficial fallout of actual improvement in journalistic freedom.” […]

Sainath’s note brings up a number of key issues that he says have not been adequately addressed by the panel report: false arrests and fake charges on journalists […]

My entire note is focused on changing the reality that breeds that image,” Sainath wrote.

“The first thing the report needs to clearly state: that we recognise the existence of a serious crisis in freedom of expression in the country (without which there would have been no need for this committee) – and which has reached the proportions of an undeclared emergency for the media, particularly for independent-minded journalists. We came together as a committee to study freedom of the press. Our report, dedicated to improving that freedom can hardly remain silent on the stifling of it, on the throttling of dissent, the undermining of democracy.” […]

“The idea of the report, as stated in its objectives section, is to analyse the Press Freedom Index (of Reporters sans frontiers), and India’s performance in it with a view to identify areas of strengths and concern related to press freedom in India. This deeper understanding was to eventually lead to a better ranking for India by way of an enhanced freedom of press.

It does not actually do any of this.”

Source: “India complains about low press freedom rank – even as ministers talk of ‘neutralising’ journalists” by Rohan Venkataramakrishnan (, 28 March 2021), dismissing the claim that the “relationship between the government and the media in New Delhi as well as state capitals is vibrant and regular” according to a government-appointed panel that blames “western bias” for the country’s poor performance (Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index)
Date Visited: 24 May 2022

How ‘Stolen Words’ Harm Democracy by Emmy-nominated journalist Melissa Chan >>

Democracy is personal to me.[…]

Sure — democracy, first articulated, is Greek in origin. Europe provided the lexicon for it and its components. But just because it did, does not mean the desire for democracy, the desire for human rights, does not exist in every single one of us. […]

Let’s explain to people it’s not just about voting — it’s about that opportunity to right the wrongs. And it isn’t only about the high stakes social justice battles that might seem abstract for those it doesn’t touch, for those more focused on their day-to-day. A democratic system is also about terribly mundane things. A business dispute, where you can sue some person or entity, and know that you’ll have a fair day in court. It’s about parents who have a voice in what the state’s education system teaches their children. It’s about understanding that bad things happen to good people everywhere, but in an open society, you are empowered to fight back if need be. […]

[When] I think about the long arc of human history, our timeline mostly and vastly a default of monarchies, empires, and despots, and I despair. Democracy is a blip on this timeline, and if we want it to persist, there can be no complacency. Every generation needs to fight for it.

Source: “How ‘Stolen Words’ Harm Democracy” by Melissa Chan (55 Voices for Democracy, 23 July 2021)
Date visited: 17 December 2021

Tip: video of talks by Ananya Roy, Melissa Chan and other contributors to “55 Voices for Democracy” can be viewed here >>

More about 55 Voices for Democracy

“55 Voices for Democracy” is inspired by the 55 BBC radio addresses Thomas Mann delivered from his home in California to thousands of listeners in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and the occupied Netherlands and Czechoslovakia between October 1940 and November 1945. In his monthly addresses Mann spoke out strongly against fascism, becoming the most significant German defender of democracy in exile. Building on that legacy, “55 Voices” brings together internationally esteemed intellectuals, scientists, and artists to present ideas for the renewal of democracy in our own troubled times. The series is presented by the Thomas Mann House in partnership with the Los Angeles Review of Books, Süddeutsche Zeitung, and Deutschlandfunk.

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

See also


Economy and development

Education and literacy | Right to education

Freedom of the press | World Press Freedom Index

Gandhian social movement


Journalism | Find press reports on India’s tribal heritage and democracy: Journalism without Fear or Favour, The Committee to Protect Journalists & United Nations



People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI)

Proper coverage of “deprivation”: Ethical considerations for students of Indian journalism

Rural poverty

United Nations International Days and Weeks

Up-to-date reports by Indian journalists and commentators

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