Practitioners and advocates from the community media sector made a conscious effort to forge linkages with a popular social movement when a workshop was organized on “People’s Right to Information and Community Media,” at the National Convention on People’s Right to Information held in Hyderabad on February 17, 2013.  The session, coordinated by the UNESCO Chair on Community Media, University of Hyderabad, made the case for the role media, especially community media, could play in enhancing local governance and transparency.

Co-facilitated by Vipul Mudgal, Project Manager, Inclusive Media for Change, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and Sukumar Muralidharan, Independent Journalist and Programme Manager, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), key presenters at the workshop included Vinod Pavarala, UNESCO Chair on Community Media, Chinna Narsamma and Algole Narsamma of the Community Media Trust of Deccan Development Society, Ramnath Bhat of Maraa and Vice-President, Community Radio Forum (CRF), Sultan Ahmed of Drishti, Kanchan K. Malik and Vasuki Belavadi of University of Hyderabad.  About 35 participants signed up for the interactive session, on understanding how media in the country functions, and how community media could be a potent tool in addressing issues of accountability and transparency.

Vipul Mudgal and Sukumar Muralidharan drew the attention of the participants to the functioning of the mainstream media, sketching out the political economy of the media and how advertising revenues, more often than not, dictate the ways the media function. “The media is most non-transparent, and advertising growth, which in turn propels media growth, does not implicate disclosure,” said Muralidharan, also highlighting growing public skepticism about the media in the light of the Paid News and Cash for Coverage scams. It is in this context that people’s media can play an important role in facilitating not just horizontal flow of information, but bottom-up as well, said Prof. Vinod Pavarala. He underlined the urgent need for synergizing the right to information with the right to communicate as enshrined in Art.19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Ramnath Bhat then argued for people’s right to access the airwaves, invoking not only the Supreme Court judgement of 1995, but also the more recent SC observations in the 2G spectrum case that emphasize ‘public good’ and ‘public interest’ as key criteria for spectrum allocation. One of his suggestions was to allocate unused free-to-air analog television spectrum for use by communities.

Besides the seven printed case studies circulated to participants, the session presented three case studies, one each on community radio, participatory video, and mobile telephony. Chinna Narsamma and Algole Narsamma of the Deccan Development Society shared their experiences of being part of the rural women’s video collective in Medak district and of working at India’s first rural community radio station, respectively. They emphasized their work in contributing to revival of locally-relevant agricultural practices, and in sharing their media-making capacities with similarly placed communities in different parts of the world. Sultan Ahmed of Drishti then presented a case study, showcasing how the local community used participatory video to inquire into the distribution of school uniforms at a local government school in Gujarat. This was followed by the screening of a multimedia presentation by a communication student of University of Hyderabad on CGNetSwara, the mobile telephony experiment in rural Chattisgarh that enables local communities to share information with each other as well as draw the attention of authorities to a host of local issues.

An interactive session followed the presentations, in which participants and the presenters raised important concerns about allocation of airwaves for citizens, operationalizing freedom of expression in the context of social media, and more. The workshop session concluded with the drawing up of a list of recommendations. These recommendations were then presented at a plenary session of the NCPRI convention.

Recommendations from the ‘Media and the RTI ‘ session at NCPRI