Print media coverage of the amendments to Juvenile Justice Act, 2015
UNICEF and the Media Development Foundation commenced a media-mapping research to study the print media coverage of the amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. The purpose of the research was two-fold: (1) to study the editorial discretion of the paper with respect to the juvenile justice legislation (2) to study the print media coverage of the amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act.
For this study, two leading English dailies, The Hindu (Chennai edition) and The Times of India(Chennai edition), and two leading Tamil dailies, Dinathanthi and Dinamalar, were studied for a period of 19 months from 15th June, 2014 to 15th January, 2016. The study used a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods to study the print media coverage.
The trajectory of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 in the Parliament was as follows: The bill was tabled in the budget session on 12th August, 2014 by Maneka Gandhi, Minister for Women and Child Development, in the Lok Sabha. However, the bill was passed only in the winter session of the parliament on 22nd December, 2015. Between the budget session of 2014 and the winter session of 2015, Indian Parliament was convened for three times, and the Juvenile Justice bill was listed for consideration and passage during this period.
Between 15th June, 2014 and 15th January, 2016, the four identified newspapers published 267 news items on the subject of the juvenile justice legislation.
Featuring 228 news items, the two English newspapers comprised 85 percent of the total coverage. They provided detailed and extensive coverage of the issue. The English national dailies found it necessary to cover the day-to-day developments with respect to this theme – whether it was the amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act or the Nirbhaya case.
With 39 news items, coverage by the two leading Tamil newspapers amounted only to 15 percent. They reported only the major developments with respect to the Juvenile Justice Act or the Nirbhaya case. The limited coverage has to be seen in the context of the nature of the regional language newspapers, their editorial policies, and practices which are said to be dictated by the reader demographic.
Placement and Prominence of the story
Overall, 60 percent of the news items on the theme of the juvenile justice legislation were placed as ‘high prominence’ stories. 27 percent of the news items appeared as ‘medium prominence’ stories and the remaining 13 percent of the news items were situated as ‘low prominence’ stories. In total, 86 percent of the news items on the juvenile justice legislation appeared as ‘high and medium prominence’ stories.
The data shows that in the English dailies, more than half of the news items appeared as ‘high prominence’ stories. While in the Tamil dailies, more than half of the news items appeared as ‘medium or low prominence’ stories.
Print Media Coverage of the Amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act
In this research study, the amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act received 33 percent of the total coverage. Within this, 61 percent of the reportage discussed the amendments against the backdrop of the Nirbhaya gangrape incident. Rather than being a policy move backed by data and research, the legislative move for age reduction emerged in the aftermath of the unprecedented sensationalisation of the Nirbhaya episode. This was evident in the Nirbhaya case getting 44 percent of the overall coverage. Thus, coverage of the Nirbhaya episode had superseded the coverage and reportage on the amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act.
Given the complexity of the subject, one would expect the newspapers to provide a holistic and comprehensive picture through articles. Surprisingly, only four percent of the reportage on the amendments rendered a holistic and comprehensive picture of the new legislation. The Tamil newspapers failed to provide articles which gave a comprehensive account of the multidimensional and complex issue.