Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The State of Citizen Journalism in India Part 2 – TV and Radio

This is part 2 of my 3-part series on Citizen Journalism in India. In Part 1, I wrote about Blogs and photos and in the last part, I will write about the phenomenon of Micro Blogging/Mobile Blogging that is sweeping across India.

India is unique in the sense that it has more national TV news channels than any country, including the United States. The bitter competition that has ensued means that the channels go to lengths to stand out, sometimes to sad lengths, it must be said. However, all TV channels encourage Citizen Journalists to send in their stories.

There are economic reasons working behind these 'noble' actions.

Every 24x7 channel needs content to stay in business. After all, how many times can you show clips borrowed from anyone between National Geographic and Video Zonkers?

As a result, TV News Citizen Journalists are having a good run in India. We saw their importance during the Train Bomb Blasts in Mumbai in 2006.

Two news channels which have adopted Citizen Journalism in an especially big way are CNN-IBN and IBN 7, two sister channels from the same parent company, IBN, CNN-IBN is in English and IBN7 is in Hindi.

In 2007, we also saw BBC launch an initiative to find citizen journalist editors for its bbcurdu.com, which offers news in Urdu language.

Another TV channel, Amrita TV in South India has launched a 90-episode reality show focused on nurturing Citizen Journalists.

So far, so good.
But, something is amiss.

As a country on its way up, boosted by a young population, with a growth rate of 9%, India needs better governance, the lack of which, many say, results in widespread corruption.

We have laws for everything but somehow, we haven’t figured to put our politicians and government servants accountable.

News Magazines and News Channels ‘indulge’ in the occasional sting operations, catching important (and obviously stupid) persons in the Act of accepting bribes and kickbacks.

I said ‘indulgent’ because often easy targets are picked up and done in way that later, you can’t justify in the courts (yes, you will be taken to the courts) that it was done for the cause of public benefit.

One finds it odd that these news TV channels do not encourage Citizen Journalists to undertake Sting Operations, capturing lawmakers and officials ‘in the Act’. Perhaps, a comprehensive program to ‘promote and protect’ Citizen Journalists is needed.

Thus, for aspiring Citizen Journalists, who have noble ideals in mind, Youtube.com is always there.

Meanwhile, TV news channels are happy plucking the low-hanging fruit and you are left wondering whether these channels only consider Citizen Journalism as branding cum source of low-cost content.

Citizen Journalism and Radio
I feel Radio and Citizen Journalism are made for each other – radio is more immediate and available on tap for free. Imagine yourself stuck in a traffic jam and someone is ranting about some way-off-the-chart political idea on the Car FM radio. Give me an example of a more captive audience.

But, since the Indian Government does not allow private FM Radio stations ( a list of FM Stations in India is here) to offer news-based programming, I shall have to remain content with the traffic reports from Citizen Journalists. Which is a pity, since in January 2008 alone 31 new private FM stations opened up with business.
We need a meaningful break from all that incessant and inane Radio Jockey chatter.

2002 was a good year for radio in India. First, the government allowed local communities to start Community Radio services. Then, Raghav Mahato, a poor and illiterate man, only 20 years old, conjured up his own Radio station , Radio Raghav from spare parts and some, running it successfully until the government ordered it shut down in 2006 because it had no license to operate.

Radio Raghav was so popular that on Diwali one year, more than 400 radio sets were bought by people in the catchment area of Radio Raghav, which was easily available in a 10-16 kilometers of radius around the Mansoorpur village, near Hajipur in Bihar and a couple of hours of drive from the state capital, Patna.

If you are interested, you can read more about Radio Raghav here.

The much-heralded Community Radio initiative has not extended much beyond some elite college campuses.

(Note: It does not help that I live in a metropolitan city. But, I can vouch that till December 2007, there was no sign of Community Radio in a 100 kilometer radius of my native place in bihar).

The fact remains that despite the advent of Cable TV, Radio is still the most potent tool of Social Change in India, covering a rich plethora of lauguages, dialects, communities and sub-cultures.

You see, in electricity-starved villages, not every one can afford lead batteries (or, have ample electricity to charge batteries) to power TV sets but poor people do have Radios.

Incidentally, it does not take much moolah to establish a working radio station.

Radiophony, which is lobbying for Community Radio in Rural India, claims that "villagers can set up a low-powered, do-it-yourself radio station—with a half-watt transmitter, a microphone, antenna and a cassette player—for approximately $25. " Such a Community Radio Station can easily reach about a third of a mile (1.6 km), easily covering a small village of 1000 people.

We sure can do with more Radio Raghavs in India.

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At 6:01 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was touched on reading about Radio Raghav.

Do you have Raghav's telephone number?

- Sidharth Mishra

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