News in Gondi and Kuduk, dialects spoken by tribals of central India, may soon be only a phone call away, as citizen journalism and mobile phone technology are creating a new media outlet for the largely semi-literate and illiterate community.
Shubhranshu Choudhary, former BBC producer and administrator of the Chhattisgarh Network website www.cgnet.in, says a mobile technology developed by Microsoft India in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology allows citizen journalists to leave voice recordings that could be accessed by others wanting to hear the latest news.
“Though numbering 27 lakh according to the 2001 census, the Gonds living in five States, including Chhattisgarh, hardly have a voice of their own. The mainstream media, for various reasons, does not address the issues of tribals and most journalists do not understand the language anyway.” He cites the example of farmer suicides in the State.
“Most people did not consider Chhattisgarh in their analysis, but now they recognise it as among the ‘big five.’ We are using our small network to get some of this news out into the mainstream.”
Though the website has 1,668 members registered in discussion forums, the English language restriction excludes most stakeholders. So, when he got a fellowship from the Knight International Journalism Fellowship awarded by the International Center for Journalists in July last, he set to work bringing in the technology from Microsoft India.
“Now people can dial 080-66932500 and there are options to either record a news story or to listen to a news bulletin. In the first phase there are only Hindi news stories, but we are planning to expand it to include the Gondi and Kuduk dialects by the end of the one-year fellowship period.”
Director of the fellowship programme Elisa Tinsley says the aim is to make the project self-sustaining by possibly linking it to mainstream media organisations. “There have been talks with the editor of a Ranchi newspaper to take in feeds from the network over time.” The locals are taught the basics of journalism — the “5 W’s and the H” and avoiding single sources — and a senior journalist vets the inputs to check their veracity, she adds.
Another fellow under the programme K. Venkatesh is working on a project to create a web portal that will provide information on the data available to journalists and laypersons as part of the National e-Governance Plan.
Mr. Venkatesh says only 2 per cent of the data available under the plan to increase transparency and efficiency is used effectively and that his portal will provide resources to access the data.