They are journalists without qualifications, without training, without identification and without ethics. These journalists are with lots of perceived power but perhaps without responsibility. Most of them have their own business, or some other source of income other than journalism. They don’t get a regular salary or stipend from their employers. They are primarily local language newspaper journalists. They are also video journalists for several local, regional and national TV channels. On an average, they report 5-10 stories a month. They are also responsible for bringing advertisements to their respective newspapers.
However, none of them are given appointment letters or any letter for that matter from the newspaper they claim they write for. This means the members of National Union of Journalists of India East Champaran (NUJI-EC) in Bihar work with two contradictory tasks, that of journalism and as an advertising agent. There are more than 200 members and all of them are male. For the past one year, NUJI-EC has been requesting Digital Empowerment Foundation to hold a workshop on how new media could be helpful to the journalists and teach them how to use various tools of information and communication technologies. About 85 journalists attended the workshop. I asked how many of them do not have an email ID, expecting that nobody would raise hand. To my surprise, more than a third did. When I asked what was their expectation from the workshop, the unanimous demand was that they all wanted to have a Facebook page and if they could be trained to create an email account.
All the journalists I talked with individually confessed that they cannot write anything against any officer or business house or government department once they have got any form of favour including advertisements. The journalists also said there is immense corruption in each of the government departments, but since they have to get advertisements, they usually end up not writing against several such corruption cases, which happen openly.
So, how does the system work? We all know that all major regional language newspapers have editions that go easily down to the district level and have city pages of district headquarters. Ever since the local newspapers started growing and mushrooming to the district, tehsil and panchayat levels, they started playing on unemployed youth and the perceived power of journalism. Getting a byline for their reports further proves their power. However, they are also given the opportunity to earn money by bringing in advertisements from the local government departments and businesses.
What I could not understand was why all these journalists wanted to pursue journalism, although their livelihood comes from their individual businesses or some other jobs. Most appeared to me as capable and smart. But all of them were unanimously of the opinion that they are constantly exploited by their newspapers. But when I asked why do they have to subject themselves to such exploitation, they have no answer. Which is a clear indication that at the local levels, everybody wants to be in a position of power.
Since journalism is called the fourth estate, it is imperative for the newspapers to clean up their act. Even if they want to dive deep at the village level in terms of getting more and more subscribers and readers, they have to find ethical ways to create a network of journalists and not mix advertising and revenues with journalism. Otherwise, they have no right to say who is right and wrong, considering their own act is questionable.
If this is the situation in East Champaran, imagine the number of such journalists in the entire country. There would be about 120,000 such people who claim they are journalists but have no identity and they play the role of advertising agents in the mask of being a journalist. Would online journalism or citizen journalism be the final frontier for such journalists?
Osama Manzar is founder-director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and curator of The mBillionth Awards. He is member of the working group for Internet proliferation and governance, ministry of communication and information technology.
Follow him on twitter @osamamanzar
Follow him on twitter @osamamanzar