By Charu Sharma:
Journalism is a medium to communicate every possible societal activity with the masses. Due to the paucity of time and space, it is not possible for media, newspapers and radio channels to keep up with every form of news at the community or local level. Journalism can be understood on the basis of its contribution and its nature. Let us understand the concept of Citizen Journalism. According to Jay Rosen, citizen journalists are “the people formerly known as the audience, who were on the receiving end of a media system that ran one way, in a broadcasting pattern, with high entry fees and a few firms competing to speak very loudly while the rest of the population listened in isolation from one another– and who today are not in a situation like that at all. The people formerly known as the audience are simply the public made realer, less fictional, more able, and less predictable.”
Citizen journalism is an active involvement of the public or citizens in communicating information at the grassroot level. It is different from the concept of professional journalism. Citizen journalism in India plays a very critical role in imparting information. India is a diverse nation, surrounded by complex issues and these issues can be about anything- infrastructure problems, crime, water and electricity availability etc. and most of these issues exist at a local level.
Due to the fragmented status of India, the media has lost its fundamental duty of informing and educating people and has become a source of entertainment more than anything else. And I do believe that it has neglected the people of India. Mainstream media houses are bogged down by cost pressures and are busy making big bucks. Real journalism gets diverted due to its association with different alliances and political parties. It is quite evident that the grassroot level happenings are conveniently ignored by the mainstream journalists, who are busy broadcasting reports which can get them higher earnings.
In India , citizen journalism in comparison to traditional journalism can be seen in the form of RTI activists, freelance journalists and even the common man who is aware of his/her social responsibility. The most recent movement, known to us as ‘India Against Corruption’ validates its presence in the society. The drastic increase in social networking and advancement in technology has made citizen journalism platforms more active and reachable. Citizen reporting is more focused and issued-based in nature.
Over the years, tribal India has benefited because of citizen journalism in several ways. This is one part of India which desperately seeks a hand for help and needs to voice itself. Hence, citizen journalism finds its way as an alternative outlet to help tribals raise their voice against the local problems and disparities that they find hard to talk about otherwise.
There are numerous initiatives taken up by citizen journalists in their communities. The story of Shubhranshu Choudhary and the ‘Voice of Chhattisgarh’ is an example. Choudhary is a former BBC journalist and founder of CGnet Swara – a democratic tool of India. It is a system developed with the help of Microsoft Research India to allow people to use mobile phones to send and listen to audio reports in their local language. Choudhary has created a boom in the tribal land of Chhattisgarh by creating a technology to help and increase global reach by virtue of its websites and training professional journalists at the same time. CGnet Swara is transforming the shape of India in terms of communicating, sharing and receiving news.
The percentage of tribals living in impoverished conditions is as many as 100 million across India. Despite being the central point of discussion when it comes to improvement and development, tribals have been losing their voice and stand in many different ways.
In a couple of interviews, it is quite fascinating to understand Choudhary’s thoughts on tribal conditions in terms of their problems. He says, “There’s not a single tribal journalist. There’s a complete disconnect: reader, writer, (media) owners all on one side, this 100 million population on the other. The journalism is completely one-sided. Not only were the tribal people absent as voices in the media — they had no access as consumers either.” For Choudhary, becoming a citizen journalist was an avenue to address the issues which were not being highlighted or were kept hidden for some reason or the other.
According to Choudhary, “Just like other social media platforms, CGNet Swara enables local people, otherwise cut off due to distance, terrain and language, to form a direct link with mainstream media and also the government authorities. The objective is to give a voice to the voiceless, all those people who are left out in India’s growth story.”
He further adds, “Swara uses an innovative mobile phone system to help isolated communities for the first time have access to local news. And it provides an outlet that allows the people in these communities to be heard hold governments accountable and create transparency. It’s the voice of the tribals in an area where issues related to them are hardly mentioned in the mainstream media.”
A few other examples from small towns would highlight the existence of citizen journalism which has helped to enlighten us about various incidences of the injustice meted out to people.
In Bhagalpur, a small town in the state of Bihar, visuals were captured by a citizen journalist in his camera of a man accused of snatching a chain who was later brutally beaten and dragged by the mob and then by the police. This caught the attention of the nation and built media pressure on the open abuse of human rights which forced the Bihar government to act against the policemen involved.
Another story by a citizen journalist became the headline of all news networks. The incident of the stripping of over 1000 men in the village of Boraj, near Ajmer, shook the whole nation. It was the village Panchayat that had asked the men to strip in order to establish whether any of them were involved in the rape of 35-year-old woman from the village. A weekly supplement called Muktapeeth which entirely written by readers and is initiated by the Sakal newspaper, is one of the regional dailies in Pune. This is an initiative by citizen journalists and it has been raising issues, discussions and providing solutions to the same since 2006.
It is true that mainstream journalism vests in the handful of people situated at the top who decide what goes up. Communication needs to become democratic in nature, something which is highly lacking in our country. There have been mixed responses from all ends toward the whole concept of citizen journalism. Some may believe that it is just a big thing in small towns and probably a form of unsuccessful professional journalism. India being one of the largest democracies in the world, citizen or participatory journalism would benefit the country in every possible way. It is for the common people, and will redefine the structure of mainstream journalism. If implemented with full support and planned properly, it can become one of the most powerful tools, especially in the tribal society. Every Indian would know the source to report news that touches their lives and such a concept will be a revolution more than anything else. It will influence how news is reported in the traditional mainstream media.
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