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Has Journalism In India Become A Propaganda Tool For The Govt?

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Every morning while making my coffee, I wait for the bundle of the newspapers to reach my balcony. For a journalist, drinking morning coffee and reading the newspaper is one of the best times of the day. Like every day, some days back, I was making my coffee and then the newspaper vendor dropped the bundle at my balcony, with his usual smile and greeting “Ram Ram Bhaiya”.

I opened the bundle and saw that the two leading newspapers had the same glossy full-page advertisement on the front page. The front-page ads are nothing new and it’s a usual practice nowadays. The ad was a poster featuring Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bear Grylls the host of the Discovery Channel show “Man Vs Wild”. It was not shocking, neither surprising, but it reminded me of a few issues with regard to journalism today.

I am not here to criticise the advertisement by the Government or the private entities, because that is a continuous debate. Also, I am not in that stage of my profession where I can comment on the business model of media, but I will write about journalism.

The very first learning of journalism was to question the power, and as a 90’s kid, it was very natural to read stories questioning the power. I remember the times of Commonwealth Game scam, Adarsh Scam, 2G scam and others. Every newspaper covered those stories. Back in Kolkata, we read the stories every day and watched the news on the television about these scams. That was the UPA regime and the media slammed the government every day, thereafter, the government responded to the allegations in its own way.

But times changed with the Narendra Modi-led BJP coming to power. The paradigm shift of media took place in front of all of us. From asking questions and breaking the scams, the media became propaganda machinery for the ruling party. The conflict of power between media and political parties is not new and it is present in every country, but the paradigm shift that we are witnessing today is mostly the effect of an authoritarian regime.

When cub reporters start their work today, they are taught not to do “negative stories”. This instruction breaks their principles and dream of fighting the system on the very first day. The reporters are taught that “special” stories are mostly positive and they are not in the level of doing “negative”. But every editor knows that to question a government, you don’t always need a scam, because, in our political system, negative stories are everywhere.

The reporters mostly go to the field, maintain a good relationship between the government and the organisation and file stories based on the press releases. This systemic paradigm shift of the media is not only dangerous, but it is also holding back journalists from exploring the news; it seems the profession is becoming more of public relations work than journalism.

This was mostly the story of print media; the story of television news is worse. The paradigm shift of the media has finished the work of a reporter on television. There is hardly any focus on doing special stories by the reporters. The hiring of reporters is also going down every day. The television media has become mostly Delhi centric and it covers only the routine stories of the day. The rest of the time, the television focuses on debates. The debates are held within the studio, some people come to the studio and others get connected through video conference. The topics or debates are broader and not connected to the ground reality. To be precise, the topics are mostly based on propaganda rather than actual news. This model of new media is cost-effective and saves a lot of money because the less you hire reporters the cost comes down naturally but due to to the TRP the business grows.

On the other hand, like many other countries, online media is flourishing in India too. But mainstream online media in India is mostly run by the leading newspaper groups or the television groups.

In online media, which is run by the newspaper groups, the stories are mostly extensions of print where the huge focus stays on republishing the print stories. Online media mostly follow the breaking news trends and look for more traffic. The traffic generally means how many people are reading the headline, clicking on the story link and reading it or sharing the story. The regular stories are not very original but mostly filed based on routine developments as featured on the television on that particular day. Online news is mostly dependent on agency or tweets by newsmakers or breaking news alerts and these stories do not bring much originality.

On one hand, it feels like journalism today is stuck, but on the other hand, India is also witnessing some online initiatives like the Quint, Wire, Scroll, Caravan, Alt News and the Print where real online journalism is building. More original stories are coming out from these organisations and ground reporting is expanding. These media organisations are also focusing on ground reporting, investigative reporting and fact-checking work.

In recent years, a huge number of journalists have lost their jobs for questioning the government or as the organisations just shut down. Also, in some cases, just to curtail the costs, the journalists are pushed out without notice or payments. The situation is alarming but here I have some hope.

I am hopeful that this fall of the media has reached the bottom, and when you reach the bottom, there is always a great chance to fight back. The media will fight back soon and I believe this new paradigm will change through online media, as I mentioned, some online groups are doing real journalism. I also hope that journalism will not remain a mere propaganda tool for much longer in India and a new wave of media will come soon.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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