The newly launched Community Correspondents Network seeks to give a voice to the marginalised

It is by now well-known that what we call national media is not truly national in character. Its drivers — journalists, consumers and advertisers — are all urban. It is not surprising therefore, that news from rural areas counts for just two per cent of the coverage of the top three Hindi and English dailies, as a study by Inclusive Media For Change claims.

But efforts have been underway to combat this under-representation. If Khabar Lahariya and Gaon Connection represent the voice of rural India in print, Community Correspondents Network (CCN) seeks to project the same through video content.

Launched recently at India Habitat Centre, CCN comprises men and women from marginalised communities belonging to rural India. They are armed with flip cameras and encouraged to make videos that document injustice and bring about change locally. Over the next six months, it is expected that about 50 correspondents will generate and screen 400 videos at the community level. Additionally, the video content will be available for news distribution purposes and feed into larger development communication.

CCN is run jointly by Poorest Areas Civil Services (PACS) Programme, an initiative of DFID, and Video Volunteers, the organisation that runs India Unheard, a community news service on whose lines CCN is modelled.

“The correspondents are selected from various Civil Society Organisations we are associated with, where we find people who are good narrators and take them through a screening process. Then they are taken for a 15-day training period,” said Parvinder Singh of PACS.

The training is carried out by Video Volunteers. “It is largely divided into three major sections. One is the technical training, which includes aspects of narrative, sound, light, the second is about socio political issues – what is caste, what is gender, why displacement, why corruption, we break down each of these constructs into understandable things and talk about legal and constitutional provisions. And the third is training in critical thinking. For every three minute video that they are supposed to make there is a mentor network,” Stalin K. of Video Volunteers elaborated.

Distinguishing community correspondents from a citizen journalist, he added, “The conventional understanding of citizen journalism is a citizen’s report on a personal issue. In most cases, they are representing themselves. In the community media the person is representative of the community. Their allegiance is to a larger group of people and interests. That changes the dynamics of what is being produced, what the actions are, who they lobby with.”

In the panel discussion that followed the launch, the focus was on the systemic exclusion of certain voices from mainstream media. While Vipul Mudgal of Inclusive Media For Change emphasized the need for a policy framework to accommodate these voices, media analyst Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Pamela Philipose of Women’s Feature Service highlighted the possibilities that emanate from the explosion of new media technologies. Neelabh Mishra of Outlook Hindi said the mainstream media also marginalises certain urban phenomena – such as manual scavenging.

While acknowledging its unfairness, Vinod Mehta, Editorial Chairman, Outlook Group, noted that the media has been showing signs of change. “One of the great things TV channels have done is to highlight the random injustices of Indian society – a policeman slapping a woman, a child not getting admission in a hospital, these are being covered in the media, and it’s a good thing,” he said, and called on the correspondents to focus on crafting their stories as per the needs of mainstream media.

Some of the correspondents were also present at the launch, and reflected on their experiences as part of the programme. Ramsakhi, a 32-year-old correspondent, explained how the tables turn when the poor are able to articulate themselves. “Earlier no one heard the poor, the village administration could afford not to listen to them. But now I can broadcast our issues to the rest of the world. I was scared to talk to sarpanch and the collector, but now that fear has vanished.”