The South Asian community from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and also from other countries living in Atlanta participated in an interactive discussion with journalists about the coverage of South Asian community in the media. The town hall meeting was organized by the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA) in association with The South Asian Studies program of Emory University. The objective of the meeting, which was held on Saturday, February 17, 2007 at Carlos Museum of Emory University, was to connect the Atlanta South Asian community with the media.
A large contingent of journalists hailing from South Asian countries and working with different media here in USA were present at the meeting along with community leaders and community activists of Georgia. The discussions in the meeting were very inspiring. The topics included the current state of ethnic and mainstream press, coverage of South Asians in Atlanta today locally and nationally, the role of the community to help the journalists to tell better stories and the ways to get the community news in the news.
The speakers included Rena Golden, Senior Vice president of CNN International, Hameed Khan, Bureau Chief, Pakistan News, Moni Basu, staff reporter, Atlanta Constitution, Parthiv Parekh, editor, Khabar Magazine, Ram Ramgopal, anchor for CNN-IBN, CNN's India partner and Sheila Tefft, director of Emory's Journalism Program. Sree Sreenivasan, Dean of Students at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and co-founder of the South Asian Journalists Association moderated the proceedings.
Sree, the moderator set the motion of the day’s proceedings by giving an overview of SAJA. While introducing the first speaker Rena Golden of CNN, the moderator said CNN international has a lady born in Bihar. She is the Senior Vice president of CNN international. It’s a top position in American journalism. A spectacular achievement not only to some one from India to head such a large and vast newsgathering organization but for anyone in the journalism field. Anchors, reporters and guest bookers of South Asian origin working in CNN attended the meeting in good number.
The first speaker in the panel Rena Golden presented an overview of the working of CNN worldwide. She informed the gathering that CNN has very intelligent people of South Asian origin who are making a difference. There are so many South Asians making decisions on the coverage, on the kind of people to assign to an area. That is the kind of diversity that CNN celebrates and cherishes, she added. She elucidated not just on South Asian coverage but on international news as well.
To a question on the scope of the coverage of Indian food, Ayurveda and Indian dresses Rena said every media has its target audience. People ask why the media always talk about bad things. Why not good things? Why not the contributions of Indian-Americans, Chinese-Americans, the contributions of women etc? She said, the news business is about watching conflicts and controversy. It’s what news often focuses on. But if you pitch the ideas, which you are talking about, the right place is food network where you can see the influence of Indian food on American mainstream. CNN does not necessarily do these stories. But we do have this type of stories. The national mainstream press is necessarily the place where you can get South Asian contributions to our society, she said.
With regard to the coverage of good and bad news, Rena said it is not about giving the audience what they want. It is about making important issues interesting to that audience. It is the responsibility of the media to make the stories interesting, she added.
With regard to the coverage of South Asian community, she said if we can find right business model we will make that work. In case of right issues it is not just giving them what they want. But also monetizing them. If it is good for our business. CNN is a privately owned media business. It has able to continue on advertisements and subscription revenue, as there are no government funds. So if we can find right business model and if there is a demand we are able to carry those. If the people in this room tell the local media organizations that there is a demand and supported by business people and advertisements then we can make efforts.
Rena in her final remarks exhorted the audience to participate and involve in the media to get coverage of their cause. South Asians must stop putting career pressure on the youth,
allow them to enter professions other than medicine, engineering, and law let them know that it is important and good to be involved in politics, journalism and other new avenues, she said
The second speaker in the panel, Hameed Khan, Bureau Chief, Pakistan News said he was literally pushed into journalism due to the problems that the Pakistani community faced after 9/11. “We are only one on the map all the time,” he said. The Pakistani youth is in great depression. The media is not giving the right information to other people and it is giving rise to a lot frustration in the youth. Finally, he ended up in starting Pakistani news in Georgia, he said.
He said his publication started giving positive information about the Pakistani community, especially about Muslims, “because when you talk about Pakistan and Islam all will go in the wrong direction.” We are giving positive news so that people can join each other and the community knows what’s happening in the neighborhood. He felt that Pakistani youth are very depressed and frustrated, as their news is not taking on a positive direction.
In his final comments, Hameed said readers and viewers are very important in the media to present the happenings around them in the way that has to be.
The third speaker, Moni Basu of AJC is a well-known bye line in Atlanta as well as nation wide. She is interested in international affairs and involved in covering the Middle East. Moni has covered the Iraq war and she has already visited Iraq five times. She said the print media is shrinking and the whole industry is in a financial crises for the last few years. The people in the print business should know how to invent themselves. Moni Basu said coverage of international news is global media. Coverage of south Asian diaspora, that is where the local media can be used to the advantage of the community here to tell stories of South Asians living here in Atlanta locally and regionally.
We cannot expect the paper like AJC to pick up and go to India to cover the stories. What we can do is to tell a story of the subcontinent through the people living here in Atlanta. She said she was not going to Iraq to cover the war. “I have really been going to Iraq to cover the story of Georgia solders who are at the war in Iraq. A story about the people who live here in Atlanta area who happen to be fighting the war in Iraq. South Asian communities have to learn how to think about stories and the way to tell good stories about the folks here and particularly international aspect of a global story through local people,” she said.
Basu spoke about a story that she filed in the AJC through a student of Emory who is closely working with the World Bank on developmental issues globally. “I have filed a story on poverty, HIV etc., in South Asia through a local boy. A story with out him on global poverty, would not make it in the paper,” she said. She urged the community to think about how we can tell stories from South Asia and think how to reinvent our brains, a newspaper, how we can tell stories in a very local fashion, she pointed.
In her concluding remarks, Moni Basu said the community needs to support the media by reading and engaging in interaction with the media. The media in Atlanta is making a lot of effort to cover the South Asian community. Please don’t abandon it, she urged the audience.
One of the biggest growth areas of American journalism has been the ethnic press. The next speaker, Parthiv Parekh represents Khabar, a vibrant and well-received publication in the South Asian community. Parekh said south Asians are movers and shakers in almost all fields in education, medicine, law, media etc. We can effect change, he added. With regard to the question on how to get into the news, he said, stories depend on the scope of the magazine. “We are in the print media and cater to the South Asian American publication in Georgia. So we talk about what’s happening in India,” he said. “Of course our popular culture and so on are important to us. While dealing with the mainstream publications, if we can package a story to suit the interests of the readership that they are targeting that would be better, he added.
To a question on covering good news and bad news, he said, “We are having our challenges. We try to strike a balance to carry realities. PR is not the business of a publication. We invite various views and respect different views in all matters.” He said, his publication was proud of its content, and felt that they can make a difference.
Ram Ramgopal the US editor and correspondent of CNN-IBN, said he had transformed from print to the television media. “What we see in India is an explosion of TV channels and newspapers,” he said. “India is filled with a new generation of journalists. Journalists are migrating to India from US like software professionals and others. Hindustan Times and Rediff are hiring a bunch of journalists from US. This is a remarkable atmosphere in India. There are 42 24-hour news channels. India is the biggest market in south Asia and has a very vibrant press, he said.
Talking about coverage of good news and bad news, Ramgopal said it is a big responsibility for all journalists, because when we read news and go on the media it is for the world and at the same time it has to be balanced and well documented so that every body is represented independently plus in a balanced way. We around people and people are our stories he added.
The next speaker, Sheila Tefft, director of Emory's Journalism Program has more than 20 years’ association with South Asia. She has lived in India, where she represented the Christian Science Monitor. She opined that British journalism influenced Indian journalism and the stories are colonial stories. After Rajiv Gandhi came into power Americans view that he was more capitalist, an air pilot, so more like a Westerner, so American journalists took interest in India. A tremendous media revolution has taken place in India after 1985. She noticed as she did a story on Texas instruments of Bangalore in 1985 that more and more American firms were coming to India to take advantage of highly educated, technically trained work force like soft ware professionals. Now India has become not only a major player in the world economy but also in other fields. Another point media revolution in India has brought a political change in the subcontinent and developed a complex view of the world. We have developed a much more complex view of South Asia as well, she said.
“My interest in the Indian Diaspora is an extension of my interest in the subcontinent,” she said. “It seems hours become slow between subcontinent and places like America. They are not really two separate worlds. You see this in terms of Indians who have been here in US, but have decided to return to India for various reasons. You see it in terms of the growing visibility of South Asians in the areas of journalism. We are seeing an increasing number of South Asian students who are interested in journalism. They are making a mark in American journalism in US,” she said
The audience came up with several questions, eliciting detailed explanations from the panelists. Sree Sreenivasan, moderator of this town hall meeting, in his concluding remarks urged the audience to respond when mainstream journalists talk to them for information. He also asked the community to talk and write to the editors, newspapers and TV stations. “It is not simply reading and viewing. You have to do some thing,” he said. “Send thank you note to them when you see a story on south Asia or for having a South Asian on their media. It makes certainly a difference. We are good at complaining. We never give credit,” he said
Earlier, Deepika Bahri, Director, Emory Asian Studies Program welcomed the distinguished speakers, journalists and audience to the university. In the beginning of the proceedings Sree Sreenivasan, explained the purpose of the meeting and informed the audience that SAJA has 1000 members across the USA and Canada. In the thirteen years we have learned a lot about media and how it changed. We are having very good reporters of South Asian origin in US media. They are visible in the media in every city. It is very important to us as a South Asian community in this country. We encourage folks let their children become journalists. SAJA has scholarships program. Lot of opportunities to them to become journalists and they meant for them.
The South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA) is a non-profit organization that provides a networking and resource forum for journalists of South Asian origin and journalists interested in South Asia or the South Asian Diaspora. SAJA's mission also includes acting as a resource to facilitate and promote accurate coverage of South Asia and South Asians in North America.