Thursday, April 24, 2008

Development Journalism vs. ‘Envelopment’ Journalism

Development Journalism vs. ‘Envelopment’ Journalism
It is some what ironical and unfortunate to talk about the need and the possibilities of development communication in an era that is being characterized as the era of communication revolution. And we are precisely doing that. During last several decades means of communication have really been revolutionized and the process still continues, but at the same time the gap between communication media and human aspects of information that relates to common people has also widened in a similar proportion.
It might pain us but the truth is that our communication media have never assumed the crucial responsibility of defining, reviewing and its role with regard to social concerns and people’s problems. It simply means that those who claim to assess and examine everyone and everything are oblivious to assessing and examining their own selves. And this is happening at a juncture when these media are in an extremely capable position for collecting and disseminating information in the society owing to technological and communication revolution. Despite their vast economic resources, the frequency of allegations on them of being insensitive to people’s feelings and needs are increasing considerably. The chasm between what is being told by the mainstream newspapers and what is being felt by people across the country, particularly by indigenous populations is increasingly widening everyday.
Power has been decentralized and has even reached to the Panchayats and yet democracy has weakened in the country. It is common knowledge that for a strong democracy, we must have a legislature, an executive and a judiciary that is sensitive and committed to the people. Unfortunately, our legislative bodies and executive have become rampantly corrupt and decayed. The legislature and the executive are in the grip of crime, nepotism, financial scams and there all kinds of allegations against them. Unfortunately, the Fourth Estate responsible for strengthening democracy has also not played its role adequately. Its main focus is on the legislature and the executive. Most of the space in the mainstream media is occupied by news related to the legislature, the executive, social failures, crimes, statements of political leaders and maligning propaganda. Media has no positive thinking and makes no efforts to give the society a new direction. Nor does it underline the successes of the society. If we cherish the dream of an India where there is social justice for all, there is amity and mutual trust among people, there is equal distribution of resources; we need to take the society in to a particular direction. Then, in place of statements that divide people, we’ll have to publish and highlight things that create sense of unity among them. We’ll have to identify and publish about efforts that promote small initiatives of the people. If media doesn’t define and perform its role and social responsibility, it’ll have to face people’s questions and ire in the future. It’ll loose its credibility as the Fourth Estate, the vigilant eye of society.
We must remember that when we talk about communication, we are not talking only about transfer of information; we also include in it the participation of the society, the community we are communicating about. In a society, social institutions can come into existence and survive only when people participating in them are interlinked through communication. Man is the only creature who needs communication the most for all aspects of his life; and it is for this reason that he is called “Homo Communicator”. What he is today and will be tomorrow is because of his ability to communicate with others. It is obvious that culture is communication and communication is culture.
Today, there are unceasing developments in the area of communication; newer kinds of communication medium are coming in to existence and that is really obliterating distinctions between mass and individual communication. It is evident that the trend of communicating the same information or material to diverse communities scattered over the globe is just a passing phase. The change is indicated by the current trend of local editions being brought out by newspapers in India. Hopefully, in the coming days communication on demand will become crucial.
We should also keep in mind that Information Society is evolving at a fast pace. In such a situation, it might be very difficult to demarcate precisely between mass communication and interpersonal communication. It can only happen if we delimit mass communication process only to publishing or broadcasting or telecasting a chosen material or information ignoring the receptors. But in developing countries like India, apart from interpersonal communication, mass communication is also of considerable interest. It is true not only about carrying health campaigns like the one against aids and disseminating information about new discoveries and inventions, but also for communicating information that is important for the civil society. We’ll have to accept the simple fact that a modern society characterized by democracy, social and economic justice, national integration, social discipline and economic progress can’t be possible without the active and oriented help of mass media; for in a country as vast as India only mass media can communicate information to the inhabitants of the rural regions. A communication system only can ensure that rural populations are consistently kept informed about latest and relevant information and can have a forum for articulating their views. Only it can ensure that the division of country into information rich and information poor regions is gradually eliminated.
Apart from technological progress and economic development, modernization of a society also includes development of democratic institutions by replacing pre-modern and feudal setups. It can only be done by making the poor, the marginalized sections of the society participate in the decision making processes. Development also includes the values of human dignity, equality, social justice and security. Any development that doesn’t bring these values in its orbit; that doesn’t provide all people equal opportunities is suspect. Mass media can play a very crucial role in it for any transitional period requires new attitudes, a new mind set and a value system in society. Media by its reach, scope and potential can do it very effectively.
For media to play its role as a watch dog, a vehicle of social change needs to be free of the control and interference of the state. It should also not be controlled by either powerful people or companies for that will make it the mouth piece of only these forces. Freedom of press means that it should not be obstructed it in its above mentioned roles. Flow of information shouldn’t be controlled. The roles of media enunciated above can be summarized in a succinct term called ‘Development Journalism’. It focuses on the needs of the poor, the deprived, the marginalized and emphasizes their effective participation in developmental planning. Or to say it slightly elaborately, this kind of journalism motivates the active participation of the affected people and advocating for their interests, in place of the views of the policy makers and the planners i.e. the government. For last 10 years Charkha has been functioning with this concept of journalism as its model. It has to extent succeeded in generating an interest among a section of media persons towards people’s issues. But on the whole, the scene still persists where the mainstream media is not sufficiently focusing grassroots people’s initiatives and movements. It is for this reason; activists of mass movements and organizations have initiated efforts for making an interface possible between mass media and such organizations. One illustrious example and fruit of such interface is the Narmada Bachao Andolan. This movement has assumed a nation wide interest not for the reason that it symbolizes people’s fight against mega dams, but because it could and is still using mass media in a better and effective way for highlighting itself in the public eye.
There was a time when media would reach to movements for reporting it. But unfortunately now, activists have to do two things simultaneously- carry on with their movements and write news reports about them and also take those reports to newspaper offices for favor of publication. The sorcerers of the mainstream media don’t make any efforts on their own to lend their ears to the stirrings and upsurges at the grassroots level. Consequently, in situations where activists are yet to learn to find a place for their issues, failures and successes in the mainstream media, these remain confined only to their immediate local surroundings and don’t reach to a wider audience or readership. In place of our journalism becoming development journalism in the sense defined above; it has become ‘envelopment’ journalism based on envelopes with press releases reaching newspaper offices. Charkha is a modest initiative in making an interface possible between action at the grassroots level and the mainstream media; an effort for ‘spinning action into words’.
We don’t make a case against media; we just try to making bridges between people’s issues and the media. If they are left with no time to reach down to the issues; we can take these to them. To put it more clearly, we want media’s centralized power to be decentralized. The word decentralization is in vogue now a day. Power has been decentralized to the Panchayat level; but the watch dog who keeps vigil on this power is increasing getting decentralized. Why has it not been decentralized? If power could be handed over to an illiterate rural woman; why can’t a literate Youngman or woman of a village be imparted media training? From the center to the panchayat level, power wants media with and around it and those who are in media want are with and around those who yield power and in this holy or unholy alliance it is finally people who suffer and are marginalized.
Charkha is precisely working for this kind of decentralization of media and is trying to do it at various levels. We start from the Panchayat level. In Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, U.P., Jharkhand, Uttranchal and Bihar, we conduct Writing Workshops at the tehsil and state levels in which social activists related to Panchayat Raj & Self- governance are given information about media. For evolving panchayat level media we train these activists in preparing wall newspapers and also in writing reports etc. for newspapers panchayat related issues. Local editors and journalists are also invited to these workshops so that they could familiarize themselves with the ground realities of a village and in future are willing to include these issues in their papers. We also conduct Media Workshops for journalists and free lancers in which the roles of media and people’s issues are the focal point of discussion. Social activists are given information about the internal constitution of the media, its way of functioning, pressures on it and its responsibilities; while media persons get an opportunity for developing a deeper understanding of people’s issues. In the light of the experiences we have gained in last ten years reveal that though successes on this path are very difficult to achieve, but not impossible.

Aman Namra