Rural India needs a democratic media

 

India is a rural country. 69% of India still lives in villages but there is very little of villages and their issues in media.

Agriculture is the mainstay of majority of Indians but hardly there is any agriculture correspondent around.

A research group recently did a survey for news from rural India in front pages of 6 national daily newspapers for 3 months. It was zero for 5 of them and 1.6% for one.

Politics was similar before.

People lived in villages and King lived in his palace. Policies were made based on discussions between King and his ministers who also lived in palaces.

News is what affects people but what is news is decided by few journalists sitting in media offices in big cities.

Can news be representative as politics has become?

Now we have tools to make media democratic. That effort needs to be made.

In places like Chhattisgarh where there is a bloody war going between Maoist communist guerrillas and state, people fighting for the Maoists say they are forced to fight because no one listens to them.

When no one listens, many of the problems never come out and they never get solved.

Today Maoists are giving leadership to that feeling of hopelessness, tomorrow it can be somebody else.

If everyone starts speaking it will be noise. But as we have created election commission for democratizing politics, can we use internet as news commission to make sense of what people are talking about. Politics, media, religion etc are tools for public good. We have learnt over the years that if these things are controlled by few they end up helping the few.

That is what is happening in media today. 30% people have more than 70% space and 70% people donít have any space. This creates wars.

Mobile phones have reached remotest corners of rural India and everyone can speak. May be they speak a language which many do not understand.

If we can keep a computer connected with internet in the middle we can make sense of what people are talking as election commission helps us when 1.3 billion people vote.

This way news can be representative.

If 80% people are talking about any issue then that should be our top story. If second on the list, 50% people are talking about some other problem that should be the second lead.

We can also do data journalism on the top of these peopleís voices which can tell real authentic stories about people.

In this system there will be more villages in news. There will be more issues of real people.

In any given day not more than 10 lakh people watch English TV news in entire India putting all the channels together but still Arnab Goswami is our national anchor.

This anamoly should change. Out of 100 TV houses only 7 watch news. Because in the name of news whatever we are presenting does not make any real impact in majority of peopleís lives which was the original definition of news. So people prefer to watch entertainment.

Can we make news more useful? When people themselves will report about them, will that be more useful news? Politics has democratized world over more or less, in last few centuries. As a human race we have found democracy a better institution than aristocracy.

The same needs to happen in journalism.

Internet gives us that option but majority in developing world do not have access to internet. But a combination of mobile phone, internet and radio can create a model of democratic media as examples like CGnet Swara ( www.cgnetswara.org) have shown.

By Shubhranshu Choudhary

Shubhranshu Choudhary, noted journalist and formerly of the Hindustan Times. He is currently associated with CGnet Swara, an experiment for democratization of media

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