This paper focuses on the emergence of Citizen Journalism in a country like India where media is considered as the fourth pillar of democracy. It also explores how citizen journalism has contributed largely to the collection and dissemination of news by the mainstream media. Not only from urban areas, but even people from rural India have come forward to participate in this ongoing media revolution, in spite of facing issues like low or no internet connectivity, language barrier and many more.
The concept of journalism began comparatively late in India. Since the oral tradition of passing information was prevalent in India, nobody felt the need to document any incidents. It was only after the advent of Portuguese the printing press came to India. And the practice of journalism gained momentum during the British rule in India. Print media became the chief instrument in the dissemination of information and the propagation of the nationalist ideologies, to mobilize masses for the freedom struggle. Gradually, the electronic media also involved side by side.But a few years after the independence it was felt that the media often divides the people and promotes superstition. Hence, there emerged an alternative media, which is basically non-commercial in nature and advocates the interests of those excluded from the mainstream media.
When we talk of alternative media, something which can’t be ignored is social media. With the advent of the social media emerged various new processes of storytelling. Be it entertainment or hardcore news, people started engaging themselves more into the matter. Gone were the days when the newsrooms of the media could only work on the news stories. Thus, emerged the concept of Citizen Journalism(CJ). Now, an individual irrespective of their background can play the role of a journalist and help the journalist of the mainstream media houses to report incidents.10
Though the practice of CJ began at a very personal level, where an individual just used social media platforms to report an incident, soon it became an integral contributor to mainstream media as well. Today, many big media houses have a section/programme completely run by the citizen journalists.
Cable News Network’s (CNN) iReport feature, Al-Jazeera’s Sharek and many more to name a few are some of the notable citizen journalism platforms.
When the world-class media houses are leaning gradually towards this newly emerged concept, how can India stay behind? But to engage more and more people into the practice of Citizen Journalism, it’s important to promote media literacy too and provide guidance to the Citizen Journalists. But this new phenomenon imposed several questions too.
Factors Influencing Citizen Journalism
As per the words of Kolodzy (2006), in the 1990s, the Web changed the news audiences from passive consumers to interactive consumers. Then, Briggs (2007) highlighted the concept, as readers are no longer passive receivers of messages. They create, share and comment.1
Both Kolodzy (2006) and Lasica (2003) defined citizen journalism as a mode of journalism where a citizen play an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information”.
This active participation of citizens in collection and dissemination of news modified the definition of news consumers into the ‘participatory or citizen journalism’ and according to Gillmor (2003), “enormous new power is devolving into the hands of what has been a mostly passive audience.”
Thus the internet is the backbone of the citizen journalism. The knowledge to utilize technology and put the correct information at the correct point of time by any individual can create havoc in the media industry. The urge to know more and explore more gives the birth of CJ. In the Indian context, we could claim that the internet influence the practice of this kind of journalism both actively and passively. This will be discussed later.
Practice of Citizen Journalism in India
Though citizen journalism has been recognized as a powerful force in India, not many studies have been conducted on the subject in the country. Today in India, the mainstream media is mostly controlled either by corporate or political parties. Thus they are forced to divert from its objective and focusing more on profit-making motive resulting in many social, important issues and stories relating to the masses are either neglected or rejected by the media which has led to a huge gap between issues reported and neglected. With an aim to bridge this gap a new concept and trend of participatory journalism has slowly but steadily emerged across the globe popularly known as participatory journalism or “Citizen Journalism”.
Majorly two factors contributed to the rise of citizen journalism in India and made it a powerful tool. These are:
The Right to Information Act 2005 that proved to be a Source for information
The technology empowered every citizen to be informed and updated through Social Media, internet, and mobile technology.
Meri news is one of such initiatives in the country. It is India’s first citizen journalism news portal of the people, by the people, for the people, providing power to the people and empowering democracy.
But the practice of CJ in urban India varies from that of rural India. It’s majorly because of the extent of internet penetration and the technological know-how.
Though the concept of citizen journalism took a major step ahead post Nirbhaya case in Delhi but the practice of citizen journalism dated back much before that at a very regional level.
Mumbai attack of 26/11 was first reported by a citizen journalist named Arun Shanbhag. He was residing at a place near to the Hotel Taj Palace and heard the sound of bullets. Before the journalists of mainstream media houses could reach there, he captured photos and footages of the attack from his terrace and uploaded on social media platforms.
But for the first time in the history of India the power of citizens through social media was seen and the impact was tremendous after the Delhi Gang Rape (Nirbhaya Case) – that involved a rape and murder of young 23-year-old female physiotherapy intern who was beaten and gang-raped in a bus in which she was travelling with her male companion on December 16, 2012, in New Delhi.
An innumerable number of citizens came forward to report the protest events after the incident. As Citizen Journalists they were actively posting photographs and videos online and the mainstream media was taking user-generated content. The young technology savvy Indians spread its national outrage across the country. Netizens across the country united together to voice their opinions against the weak law and flaws in our legal system within days it became a place for social change in India.
Some other local stories of Citizen Journalism involves Brajesh Kumar Chauhan who fought the water mafia is an example of how citizen journalists often risk their lives to gather evidence and report stories that have long been ignored by the mainstream media. His story is a complex one of development, migration, urbanization, and corruption. But for him, it is simply a fight to get a glass of drinking water for himself and his community. Inspired by this, Brajesh Kumar decided to collect evidence and report the problems in his area.
CNN-IBN even runs a programme called CNN-IBN CJ, where the citizens in and around Delhi collect information and broadcast it through this platform. This programme is completely based on consumer-generated content.
The way the massive agitation of 2008 in Kashmir Valley was covered by the local people in the backdrop of Shri Amarnath land transfer row on the social media set an exemplary of citizen journalism in India at a very regional level. For the first time a large number of civilians recorded the violation of human rights in Kashmir on their mobile phone cameras to expose alleged atrocities by paramilitary forces. They recorded the firing, stone pelting, tear gas shelling and killings of several people on their mobile phone cameras and uploaded them on various social media platforms to expose the reality to the rest of the world (Noor, 2009).
But the evolution of CJ in rural India is incomplete without the mention of CGNet. It targets the Indian state of Chhattisgarh. In the words of its founder, Subhranshu Choudhury, “CGNet is the people’s website of Chhattisgarh, where everybody is a journalist. It is a citizens’ journalism forum whose mission is the democratization of journalism, where journalism is not restricted only to journalists” (Choudhary, 2009).
Due to the lack of trained journalists and established news sources and regional media organizations, the penetration of media is comparatively less in Chattisgarh. While newspapers and television stations have a presence in the state, only rarely do they cater to the needs or broadcast the voices of the Adivasi (tribal) population.
Since 2004, the CGNet website and mailing list have provided a platform for discussion of issues related to the development of Chattisgarh. While the site and mailing list are active, with more than 230 messages per month, but dependence on the Internet made it difficult for rural communities—those most impacted by the issues at hand—to access or contribute to the dialogue.
Internet penetration in Chhattisgarh is only 0.5%as per India Ministry of Communications & Information Technology, 2010. Out of this ecosystem emerged CGNet Swara, a portal to CGNet that uses mobile phones to extend participation beyond the Internet’s reach. Now, even if someone does not have access to the internet, still he/she can act as CJ. They just need to call the server and give the details.
In the first 34 months of its deployment, CGNet Swara featured 2,100 reports and logged more than 137,000 calls into the system. As detailed in the coming sections, some reports have led to the redress of important grievances that benefitted several communities.
A CGNet Swara contributor used the service to help a man named Pitbasu Bhoi receive the wages. Pitbasu desperately was in a dire need of money for the treatment of his son. Pitbasu’s case was presented in a series of calls to CGNet Swara. The first call highlighted his struggle to receive payment; the next recording informed listeners of Pitbasu’s son’s death as he awaited payment for his labour. The incident which was preliminary brought to limelight by CGNet Swara, later got detailed coverage in various newspapers in India.
Review of Literature
Bowman and Willis (2003) are of the opinion that the venerable profession of journalism is at a rare moment in history, where, for the first time, its hegemony as gatekeeper of the news is threatened by not just new technology and competitors but, potentially, by its audience. However, Bentley (2008) assures that citizen journalism can never be a substitute for professional journalism. He even argues that citizen journalists take up the responsibility on their shoulder at times because professional journalists are busy at times with the big stories that they hardly get time to see the little items that mean so much to people.
Dugan (2008) adds further. He claims that citizen journalism may be a compliment to professional journalism, but it would not be a replacement for it. Dugan, however, insisted that journalists must be careful to ensure that the ethical standards were followed by both professional and citizen journalists.
Capitalism is affecting Indian media in ethically troubling ways from a utilitarian perspective. Thus journalists are failing to report various incidents in an unbiased way. Standing at such a point of time, great responsibility lies on the shoulder of the citizen journalists.
Earlier, it was the mainstream media that could perform the media trial. But if we look at the coverage of Nirbhaya case by the citizen journalists from a little different perspective, we will surely be able to figure out that it was basically them who actually conducted the media trail. The Indian Government, which is disgracefully slow when it comes to passing significant legislative action, expedited action because social media garnered “international attention to India’s problem of violence against women” (Niemanlab)15. Finally, on February 3, 2013, President Pranab Mukherjee passed the Criminal Law Ordinance, which provides for the death penalty in case of any rape in India.
Such incidents influenced people from every stratum of the society to come out of their comfort zone and report various social and political issues. Thus we could witness the case of Brajesh Kumar.
As mentioned above, it is becoming almost impossible for the mainstream journalists to report any story from an unbiased perspective. And if it’s a burning issue like Kashmir issue, the coverage of the story will never be politically neutral. So in such cases, it is the citizen journalists who take up the role of providing authentic unbiased news story to other citizens of the country. Moreover, people through citizen journalism could share firsthand experience and that adds a human angle to the story also.
The country also proved that even barriers like low or poor connectivity of the internet, lack of knowhow to reach out to the big media houses as CJs can’t kill the journalistic spirit of the citizens. Thus, a citizen needs to be a netizen to be a CJ in India. In spite of that, an individual can contribute to the media industry. The initiative of CGNet Swara left no stone unturned in this respect.
Often the media scholars question the authenticity of the news shared through CJ. Many even argue that the practice of CJ is posing a threat to the mainstream media. But in both the cases Of CNN-IBN CJ and CGNet Swara, we could figure out that the distinct partnership between citizens and professional media houses is the nucleus of the change. In fact, platforms like these are the only alternative media that link the isolated communities with the outer world.
It’s due to the impact of citizen journalism that various social campaigns and movements like #MeToo, #IndianAntiCorruption movement and many more gained momentum and involved mass participation.
Moreover, being a part of the news industry gives people a sense of representation and pride, they share sometimes valuable and distinct contents. The involvement of citizen in the news process helps to shatter the sense of media hegemony. Further it strengthens the fact that the beauty of journalism lies in the versatility and freedom of voices, as the basic features of democracy.