By Towfeeq Wani:
We have many sources of information like mainstream newspapers and TV channels, alternative media, academia and think tanks, and yet public opinion is largely influenced by the mainstream sources. These mainstream outlets, owned by corporate entities, manufacture and broadcast news that’s forwarding their agenda. In light of this, there’s a dire need for independent, honest and unbiased information sources and voices.
Strengthening the alternative and independent media so that the arbitrary popular opinions are effectively challenged, and the unpopular voices of dissent do not go unheard has become crucial to maintaining freedom of expression and active debate and dissent alive in the country.
Most of the information we are fed today is filtered through a membrane which guards the interests of the corporate and the different state owned agencies, making sure that what we get to know is in harmony with what the Big Brother wants us to know. This is mostly done by creating a popular discourse in the media that suits their interests and furthers their cause while manufacturing the consent of the masses. To counter the popular discourses, alternative media tries to introduce differing narratives, which although do not have wide reach, yet often effectively challenge the former.
Universities, as microcosms of larger societies, also follow the same norm. Mostly, the authorities try to become invincible and keep the students away from the administrative matters (which may be okay). Furthermore, many times, students are denied any say in the issues that concern them and are forced to accept and follow archaic rules and regulations (which is not okay).
Keeping in view the above stated arguments, educational institutions in general and universities, in particular, need to have effective student-run journals and newspapers that not only keep the students informed but also provide them a platform to raise and discuss their issues.
The story of Jamia Journal is one such effort by the students of Jamia Millia Islamia to communicate with the administration and debate different ideas among themselves.
The initial aim of the website was to publish detailed reports of all the events taking place on campus so that a student having missed the actual event could still read about it in detail on the website. Also, Jamia Journal used to remind the students of upcoming events through regular updates.
Two years after they had started the work, the team of Jamia Journal approached the administration and offered them to take possession of the website, keeping in view the unavailability of funds, content generators and staff writers for the journal. Jamia administration, already utilising its resources in publishing a quarterly magazine named Jauhar, showed no interest in adopting Jamia Journal. However, fortunately for the students, Jamia Journal remains as an independent student-run news website till today that has enabled it to raise many sensitive issues that otherwise would not have been possible.
Recently the hue and cry in the mainstream media over the sexist hostel policies of different colleges in Delhi and elsewhere, started after Jamia girls’ hostel residents approached Jamia Journal to voice their concern on the implementation of a new hostel policy, barring girls hostel residents from taking any late-night outings; a rule that did not apply to boys hostel residents. Jamia Journal ran the story and thus exposed the gender-based discrimination girls are subjected to at the University, which happens to be the case in most universities in India.
Similarly, a few months earlier, it was Jamia Journal had contributed in bringing #PadsAgainstSexism campaign into attention that later spread to several university campuses all across India. The student campaign was not only covered by the Indian media, but also by the international media such as Canal+ in France and DW in Germany. Later the website had highlighted that the four Jamia students, who began the campaign, were served a show-cause notice by the university administration for it. If it had not been for the attention Jamia Journal brought to the show-cause notice, the four students would have probably been expelled.
However, keeping student-run newspapers have never been easy. Jamia Journal, for example, doesn’t generate enough revenue from advertising, as hardly anyone approaches it for advertising, as it’s only popular among the Jamia students. This makes it more difficult to keep the team of reporters intact who volunteer their time. “Due to such challenges, we have come close to shutting down the website several times in the past few years,” explains the current Jamia Journal editorial team. “In this matter the alumni should come forward to help the Journal by supporting it financially. Otherwise, Jamia Journal will be forced to shut down sooner or later.”
It is an indisputable fact that if Jamia Journal shuts down its website, the students of Jamia will lose their only source of credible news and its only mouthpiece, and as such, the student community might be forced into conformity.
Similarly, India needs to reinforce its efforts to keep newspapers run by students alive, across the country. Protests across campuses on crucial issues have been cropping up, and muzzling voices of students, who are today, at the forefront, spear heading movements, and bringing political dissent and social awareness into attention, would be a clamp down on conversations that keep the democracy alive.
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