What’s wrong with Goa’s media?
[I attended this workshop and found it fascinating. This is the summary I wrote up for them. – UR]
A summary of the “Workshop for Rural Journalism” organized by Media Information and Communication Centre of India (MICCI), Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) and The International Centre, Goa December 9 – 11, 2008. By Ulrike Rodrigues
It’s not a coincidence that an intensive “Workshop for Rural Journalists” on December 9 to 11, 2008 preceded the national Right To Information convention at the International Centre, Goa in Dona Paula. Both events shared the same organizers: Media Information and Communication Centre of India (MICCI), Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) and The International Centre, Goa (ICG); and the workshop neatly foreshadowed the RTI convention’s theme: The Road Ahead.
In the case of the three-day workshop, Goan journalists, visiting writers, professionals and students participated in eight sessions to learn how their reportage could improve the road ahead for Goa (and India’s) under-served village communities.
The workshop drew on speakers from media, activist, political, and NGO circles for a variety of viewpoints, but it also included the voices of villagers themselves – one session took participants to a nearby fishing village to meet its residents, hear their stories, and write a story.
1. “Media and Rural Reporting”
After introductory remarks by Collin Curry (Trustee, MICCI) and Arjun Jalarukar (Programme Manager, ICG), Gomantak Times former editor Pramod Khandeparker kicked off the workshop by sharing his forty years’ experience in the press. “Media,” he said, “Is information, education and entertainment.” He offered general advice on filing stories on rural issues and stressed that it would be the next generation of journalists – the students in the audience – who could vitalize rural reporting. This prompted some lively discussion on why current reporters are not adequately covering this area, as well as introducing what would become a popular topic throughout the workshop: the English versus “vernacular” (non-English) press.
2. “Consumer and Civic Rights and the Role of the Media”
Activist and convener Roland Martins of GoaCan dynamically spoke on how – especially for India’s rural population – “Information is power.” With the help of several demonstrations (including tearing a standard motorcycle helmet apart with his bare hands), brochures, and frequent reference to RTI, Martins emphasized that journalists play a key role in “Unshackling the information that is available”. He spoke, with colourful examples, on the importance of communicating consumers’ Six Rights and he stressed that not only do rural struggles and successes make good newspaper stories, but that the smaller issues of a village can eventually become the bigger issues of a country.
3. “Media and Communal Harmony”
The Hindu correspondent Prakash Kamat was quick to point out in his session that communal harmony is very sensitive to journalistic coverage, and that that coverage should therefore being very sensitive to communal harmony. He described how – when media describe communal issues – they become an active part of it, like a villager, and can seriously affect the outcome depending on their tone, perspective, and thoroughness. He cautions that biased and incendiary writing can escalate confrontations. “Question authority,” Kamat said of police involvement, but “Don’t undermine law and order agencies”. He encouraged writers to “Remember the heart” and “Be a peace-maker, not a mischief-maker.” “Freedom of expression is the peoples’” he emphasized, “Not yours [the journalist’s]”.
4. “Panchayat, Gram Sabhas and Media”
Soter D’Souza, director of Centre For Panchayati Raj – Peaceful Society (goapanchayat.org, peacefulsociety.org), continued the theme of village universality. “Now that panchayats are in the news, what affects one village affects others.” He suggested that – where villagers don’t have the professional knowledge to understand importance legal or engineering documents that will affect them – rural journalism can help. D’Souza thoroughly described communidads, panchayats, gram sabhas and committees’ origins, and emphasized the current lack of communication, documentation, comprehension and integrity in some groups’ dealings. “There will be conflict,” warned D’Souza, “The media can expose this.”
5. “Writing Skills for Rural Journalists”
Sociologist, writer and PhD scholar Jason Keith Fernandes opened Day Two with a fresh take on reporting’s Who, What, Where, When, and How mandate. Think about the audience, he suggested – who are they, what do they want to know about, etc.? Whose voice is first-person? Write prosaically, intelligently and analytically, and respect the reader’s knowledge of the subject. Provide context, explain the significance, and encourage debate. Like a number of previous speakers, he criticized current reporters’ tendencies to accept press releases rather than investigate fresh stories themselves. Fernandes also touched on the difference between English newspapers (which discuss policies, corporate issues and regional politics) and vernacular newspapers (which discuss class, caste, and local politics).
After this session participants who were willing, were given an assignment: visit the nearby fishing village of Oxdel for an hour and submit a story before the end of the day. Three teams submitted stories for critique before the workshop’s end.
6. “Rural Development and Media”
Sagar Jawdekar is chief reporter for the Marathi-language Tarun Bharat. In his Day Three session he succinctly pointed out that while there are only four cities in the state of Goa, there are 165 villages and 190 panchayates who – if it weren’t for the vernacular press – would not be served. “Vernacular language newspapers play a major role in India,” said Jawdekar, who also pointed out that circulation has gone up for papers like his. “What is of interest to rural areas?” he prompted, “Water, electricity, and roads.” If newspapers are a mirror, he argued, they are a flawed mirror that don’t show these basic rural development issues. “We know our rights,” said Jawdekar of journalists, “But we forget our duties”. That duty, he believes, is to be the eyes of the people – including the ones who don’t live in cities.
7. “Development Journalism”
MICCI director and former Grassroots editor Nandini Sahai opened her session with a critique of the participants’ submitted stories that also acted as a practical guide. “Provoke the reader to become more active,” she urged of development journalism’s role. It should create empathy, provoke action, and be part of a process. Sahai offered up her “S.H.I.N.E.” approach to the genre: show sensitivity, be honest, innovate, be newsworthy, and show empathy. Paraphrasing Mahatma Gandhi, the Director suggested developmental journalism is more than a job, “it’s a mission”. “It’s how you become an activist.” In that light, Sahai concluded by describing the origins and importance of India’s Right to Information Act (www.righttoinformation.org) to citizens; and how journalists can encourage its use.
8. “Media and Information”
Independent freelance writer Frederick Noronha took up Ms. Sahai’s call by providing a how-to slideshow and session on using the Right To Information Act to generate, supplement or verify a story. “Be skeptical of government information,” he said, then quoted American journalist I.F. Stone: “Governments lie.” Noronha provided tips on how to most effectively obtain data under the RTI, and provided other useful sources: mailing lists, NGO’s, documentation (clippings), Gram Panchayates; and NGO and journalist directories.
A number of dignitaries and newsmakers spoke in the Valedictory Session of the Workshop for Rural Journalists, including Ms. Aruna Roy, recipient of Magsaysay award and activist with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathana (MKSS) and RTI movements. Director of MICCI Nandini Sahai awarded workshop participants Ulrike Rodrigues and Audrey Colaco a prize for their winning Rural Journalism assignment, “Daughters of the Net” and wished them luck on the road ahead.