July this year, in a remote area of the central Indian state of Chattisgarh, a
local farmer called Naresh Bunkar did something every one of us does every day:
he made a phone call. But this was a call that had remarkable results.
is a citizen journalist for a voice-based, rural community news portal called
CGNet Swara. (Swara' means 'voice' in Hindi and Central
Gondwana is the area in which the portal works.)
was phoning the portal that day to record an audio message of how a forestry officer had extorted a bribe
of Rs 99000 (approximately £91) from the Advisasi tribal community. Under
Indian law, the Advisasi's rights to their land are protected; the officer had 'sold' them deeds to land which they were legally entitled.
story was no different to thousands of instances of corruption reported in the
local, regional and national press in India. But what followed is different.
after Naresh recorded his report on the site, not only did the officer himself
start receiving calls related to the charge, but an official enquiry was
instigated. Within a month, the officer was found guilty and the bribe money
How CGNet Swara reported the successful result of Naresh's report.
Journalism is a big story everywhere in the world. But my research as a BBC
Fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of
Journalism at Oxford University highlighted that citizen journalism is developing a different structure
in the West, where it has been primarily web based and technology driven, in India
it has its roots in the lack of an effective mechanism for redressing the
grievances of ordinary citizens.
The tools of the internet and
new media are still to reach the poor majority in India, who usually lack the
necessary resources to express their interests and seek accountability. In a country of 1.2 billion people, India has only 130 million internet users,
with even more limited internet penetration in rural India.
In such a context, therefore, it is not surprising that
the two most successful citizen journalism initiatives in India have evolved as
collaborations between citizen journalists with professional reporters and
Many organisations have laid claim to being the first
citizen journalism initiative in India, including merinews.com and the Indian chapter of the
global citizen media initiative, Global Voices online.
have managed to survive commercially and sustain editorial independence. A few
community radio, video and mobile reporting initiatives largely financed by
non-government organisations have managed to maintain a presence, but they lack
active involvement from citizens.
Swara, in contrast, has emerged as one of the most successful, provocative and
self-sustaining of them all.
from anywhere can dial in to a central server that not just records stories from
the ground but also plays back recorded, moderated and filtered content.
Contact information for the authorities or other people responsible for solving
the problem is also provided so that the site’s users can take direct action
and demand an answer.
service is supported by The United Nations Democracy Fund and International
Center for Journalists and was founded in 2010 by former BBC producer and
reporter Shubhranshu Choudhary. Since then, the portal has
published more than 1000 audio reports, many of which have been picked up by
the mainstream media which hasn’t ignored the potential of a new source of
with mass media
The Citizen Journalist Show (CJ
Show), for example,
is a half-hour TV programme broadcast on one of the national news channels
CNN-IBN. The show broadcasts stories from citizens who want an issue investigated
to bring about a positive change in their local community or wider society.
story featured Brajesh Kumar Chauhan who lives in Delhi and turned citizen
journalist for the CJ show to report the lack of water and illegal selling of
drinking water in his district, an unauthorised slum area in the sprawling
recorded interviews with his neighbours on a small camera and took pictures of
the contaminated water supply. With support from the channel, his story was
broadcast on CNN-IBN and he called for a response from the authorities.
Brajesh Kumar Chauhan reporting about the water issues in his area for CNN-IBN.
proved a long fight, but two years later Brajesh’s area now has a regular
supply of fresh drinking water and criminal proceedings have been initiated
against the local water mafia. The government officials involved in this case
have also been issued warnings and an inquiry is underway.
every story reported through such citizen journalism initiatives leads to such
direct positive change. And reports of corruption show no sign of
abating. But what’s encouraging is that neither does the determination of
people like Naresh and Brajesh to get their voices heard.
find out more about citizen journalism in India, read Parul’s complete
fellowship paper ‘Citizen Journalism: In pursuit of
accountability in India’ and a summary of her research
findings in India’s Media Boom: The Good News
and the Bad,
a Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism publication on the media
landscape of today’s India.