"Brides are not for burning": a content analysis of newspaper coverage of dowry in India, 1999-2004

Borah, Porismita
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In India, the number of dowry-related deaths has been increasing exponentially. Though there have been recent advancements in the status of Indian women in various fields, this commercialization of marriage and the violence against women it breeds continues to be a major concern. To understand the extent to which dowry has been the subject of national discourse, this study explores national and regional newspaper coverage of dowry over a period of five years and the factors that led to this coverage. Using the hoopla hypothesis, the study employs a content analysis of 3,358 newspaper articles and interviews with a convenience sample of editors from the same newspapers. Across all four newspapers studied, there were discernable pre-hoopla, hoopla, and post-hoopla stages. The hoopla period, characterized by the most number of stories about dowry, was ushered in by identifiable triggering events. A comparison of the national and regional newspapers' coverage showed that the regional paper the Tribune published the highest number of dowry-related articles. The coverage was more intense in the national newspapers that produced longer articles about the topic. The national coverage was more investigative and in-depth while the regional papers consisted more of short and event-related reports. Both national and regional papers had a similar attitude toward dowry and women-they are anti-dowry and demonstrated a pro-women slant. This attitude of the papers is reflected in the interviews with the editors who perceived that their newspaper tends to portray dowry as a social evil. The results also show that regardless of the scope of coverage (national vs. regional), coverage intensity is related to the prevalence of dowry within a sub-national region and the "newsworthiness" of dowry cases.

Journalism and mass communication