Despite a large media sector, India is ranked a low 140 in the World Press Freedom Index 2019; with a drop of two points from 138 in 2018. Against this less than satisfactory backdrop, the pace of community media’s growth has also been very slow. News continues to be banned on community radio.
In a country with 22 officially recognized languages and a total of 1652 dialects spread over an area of 3.2 million square kilometers, there are only 251 operational community radio stations. Many districts, towns, cities, tribal belts, and underprivileged sections of the community remain unrepresented by any media; additionally, there has been an unprecedented growth of Fake news misinformation and disinformation.
It is critical that as standards for journalism fall across media sectors, Community Radio reporters take on the mantle of reporting on critical issues from the ground and amplify the voices of the most marginalized with Fact checked reporting.
In India, Community radio training programs have not included media literacy, Fact checking or similar journalistic tenets. The need for such training has arisen due to the current media situation and the proliferation of what’s app channel-based disinformation.
Skilling and capacity building to help CR reporters cater to the public interest matters in their community is much needed in this changing media landscape.
In this context, the work done by Ideosync Media Combine in partnership with UNESCO’S IPDC program in 2019 assumes significance. It strengthens grassroots journalism by training the community radio stations in addressing critical public interest matters of their communities and is a critical step in strengthening the Community Radio (CR) sector for responding to current media needs.
As part of the Public Interest & CR Initiative, 25 CR stations came together for a series of trainings on:
a) understanding the role of media in democracy with an emphasis of where community media stands in the spectrum,
b) need for doing public interest investigative stories embedded with factual information,
c) and the significance of research and verification required for such stories.
The CR stations were selected based on their applications and their interest to take the learning forward in their communities. The initiative was not just limited to a series of training sessions but a ‘call to action’ component was the most important aspect. Radio reporters who participated in the trainings developed radio reports on the most relevant issues of their communities following a structured, ground based, and investigative procedure of developing a story starting from research to fact finding, interview and verification.
Another important element of the initiative was bringing mainstream media and community media on one platform in order to initiate a dialogue between the two around collaboration and building a support system for each other in doing the stories that address the public concerns. The collaboration was to further strengthen the role that the media plays in a citizen’s life. Given the overall slide in media ethics in India, it is critical for both mainstream and community media to collaborate on broadcasting stories that reflect facts from the ground , provide visibility to the unheard and neglected voices and initiate a dialogue on an inclusive, independent and citizen-centric media.
From public distribution system to caste discrimination, from RTE to the worrisome situation of manual scavenging, the Community Radio reporters developed a total of 35 investigative stories in their local dialects on the issues that they felt were critical and relevant for their communities.
In addition to these high-quality radio reports which were produced and broadcast over a period of six month; the reporters became a part of the commune for facilitation support in doing such public interest stories. After the workshops, the reporters felt more confident in taking up such stories. Today, they are far more conscious in what and how they report, because of the ethical reporting charter every reporter developed for their station.
A formal manual on How to produce Public Interest radio stories has been developed and will be placed in the public domain in 2020.
Such an initiative towards informing the community media channels is a step closer to ensuring voice equity by empowering the community voices and enabling the local content and knowledge to be at the forefront. The reporters also shared their safety concerns when conducting such investigative reporting and the lack of support and institutions available for them to reach out.
One of the most important findings from this initiative was that the community media needs to be empowered in doing research-based participative reporting in order to inform the people with the right facts and facilitate community-level debate for matters that require public decision making and bring national attention to local issues.
1-World Press Freedom Index 2019. Reporters Without Borders. https://rsf.org/en/india
Amarpreet Kaur Chawla
Ideosync Media Combine