This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Youth Ki Awaaz. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Why Did The Media Obsess So Much Over JNU When Other Important Issues Needed Attention?

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

By Akanksha Narain:

Image Credit: V. Arun Kumar/M.Phil. JNU.

The controversy-ridden Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) protests have captured our imagination for the past couple of days now. Whether you’re in India or an Indian abroad, much like me, there is no way that you can avoid reading, listening to or opinionating about it. Not unless you actively decide to shut all forms of communication and surround yourself in a cocoon. In fact, the controversy has even courted global attention with international news organisations focusing attention on the chaos that has arisen, with academic doyens like Noam Chomsky and others from universities like Yale, Cambridge etc. lending their support to the student protests.

At the root of the controversy, stripped to its bare minimum, is the right to free speech coupled with fiery student politics. However, some sections of the media played an active role in blowing this issue out of proportion and inflaming the tension. In fact, the mainstream media played an important role in letting us down.

It is not worthwhile to comment on how a few media houses unfairly tilted the balance against the JNU students by lambasting them on national television without giving them a chance to defend or even explain themselves. It is also not useful to dwell on how sordid is the state of the media in India as it has, again and again, failed to uphold the principles of accurate, unbiased reporting and allegedly knowingly circulated unverified videos and photos which are claimed to be doctored. This point has been vehemently articulated by a number of sane voices before. What I seek to do is to draw your attention to the failure of media to set the agenda right and focus on the larger picture.

First of all, it seems that the media has forgotten its originally envisaged role. The Fourth Estate, as it is often referred to, serves as the fourth pillar of democracy and seeks to connect the government to its people. On one hand it informs the people of government policies and initiatives, among other things, and, on the other hand, it seeks to voice the opinions and desires of the public. It plays the role of an educator, an informer, and an entertainer and at the same time functions as a watchdog for society. However, despite this, the media failed to zoom out of the ruckus that was being captured through their lens on campus, by the students and authorities, and to not get carried away by seating politicians and soldiers on their panels who prescribed what nationalism is!

Is it too difficult for the media to understand that there are larger forces at work here? That though the events and the consequent discussions have raised a question about what really is nationalism and patriotism, the events that ensued reflect a particular political churning that has been taking place in our society. That those in power are trying to reinvent the national discourse by undermining academicians and activists. No, this is not about ‘saffronisation’ of the academia but the use (read ‘abuse’) of power by political actors to change the discourse in their favour. I repeat that it is not about ‘saffronisation’ because it is not just the elements currently in power who are indulging in such activities and it surely is not being done for the first time. Any and every political party and, in fact, every powerful social, economic, cultural, political entity has attempted to do so.

Many governments have attempted to subvert academic impartiality by appointing persons near and dear to it including the State governments of various regional parties. Strong economic forces have also attempted to alter academic enquiry in order to ensure that its vested interests are protected, may it be tobacco companies funding research on the effect of smoking or producers of certain edible oils backing research on the ‘health benefits’ of the same. The ‘saffron flag’ happens to be just one such force in play. Thus, the focus on ‘saffronisation’ in this case takes our eyes away from the ‘prize’.

Why is it that the media has failed to discuss this? The changes in the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and reportedly in the University of Delhi, the crackdown in JNU and the cutting down of fellowships are not independent issues. They are deeply connected as they reflect a well-strategised mechanism meant to shake the educational institutions that have the capacity to hold powerful actors accountable. While I agree that a few of our top-notch universities do have a ‘leftward’ bias, it was highly reprehensible of the media outlets to brand them as anti-nationalists.

The inability of the fourth estate to set the right agenda suggests one of the two things. Either the media simply does not have the intellectual capacity to connect the dots or else it does not want to. Let us cross our fingers and hope that the former is not true thereby suggesting it is the latter reason which explains the problematic state of affairs. The question which then inevitably arises is – “Why not?”

The answer is threefold. Firstly, the focus is on TRPs and profits instead of hardcore factual, objective news. As the Jain brothers of Times of India succinctly put it, “we are not in the newspaper business…[we] are in the advertising business.” It is sad enough that the proprietors of the Bennett and Coleman group call it the newspaper ‘business’ but what makes it worse is that they align more with advertising and revenue generation than with news. Given this irony, news organisations are more concerned about securing their advertising and revenue interests than going out on a limb and reporting hard-hitting news for it may hamper their business interests.

Furthermore, the resulting TRP-game and race for higher profits ensures that news organisations fall into the rut of sensationalism – be it through showing doctored videos or by screaming at the top of their lungs. Surely such a competition for eyeballs can leave no space for intelligent and serious journalism. In fact, even when a few media channels tried to change the discussion concerning JNU and the idea of nationalism, they could not resist taking pot shots at other channels. Moreover, the focus on higher profits, among other things, has resulted in news organisations cutting down on the number of specialised desks like Science, Environment, Rural reporting, Economics (not Business), and the staff manning them thereby reducing the scope for a nuanced debate.

Secondly, media organisations have become incredibly close with various political parties and businesses. The issue of proximity stems from various reasons – desire for favours, political clout, financial gains and even Rajya Sabha seats! The Radia tapes are still fresh in our minds and the comments on media websites left by aware citizens constantly scream about how an anchor and/or a channel are on the payrolls of a particular party. Though I must clarify here that many of those comments are just hate speech!

Finally, comes the problem of the ever-growing media conglomerates and cross-media ownerships that have taken the independent media hostage. For example, Reliance Industries took over the Network 18 group in 2014, which owned CNN-IBN, CNBC TV18,, Colours, etc., making RIL the biggest media group in the country. These conglomerates exude a lot of power and proximity to the political brass which makes matters worse. Such media houses have the power to exclude ‘unwanted’ voices and issues across all media. For instance, will the Times of India cover stories pertaining to the coal mine industry if it were to hamper Bennett and Coleman’s interests? Will Network 18 group be able to do an unbiased story on the KG gas deal?

The monopolisation and corporatisation of media has restricted the adversarial role of the media wherein it would take on the task of holding those in power accountable. Alas, it has gagged the media and stripped it of its ability to set the right agenda for the benefit of the people!

You must be to comment.

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

Similar Posts

By Khanjan Ravani

By Denzel Joyson

By Tania Mitra

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below