Channelling the citizen: Role of YouTubers, bloggers in anti-CAA protests

The Facebook and YouTube page of Jamia World is a collection of videos, majority of which are played without any commentary

As the clarion call for harmony and solidarity issued from Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh resonates in households across small-town India, behind the message lies the medium. A band of intrepid online warriors has ensured that the metropolitan ferment percolates into the hinterland. These YouTubers, bloggers and youth activists, devoid of the easy labels one can stick such as “sickular” or “compromised”, have leveraged the reach and speed of social media to exert influence independent of any mainstream media groups.

One such face of “new-age journalism” is Mohammed Tasleem, a Jamia Millia Islamia student, whose YouTube channel — Jamia World — relays every important event in the university, which has become the epicentre of protests against the amended citizenship Act.

Armed with a mobile phone, selfie stick and a microphone, Mr. Tasleem, a graduate in television journalism who is pursuing master’s in international relations from JMI, goes around the campus and nearby areas covering every aspect of the anti-CAA protests. “I have been covering the Jamia protests 24X7 since it started on December 13. I am always here, so obviously I reach much before the other media channels do,” he said. On a daily basis, Mr. Tasleem uploads close to half-a-dozen videos, popular among which are speeches delivered at the protest site, graphic details of police lathi-charge, live telecast of Delhi Police intrusion into the Jamia library and so on. For now, likes, shares, and followers are the only “profit” that Mr. Tasleem earns. “My motto is to ensure that the news that most mainstream media outlets do not want to show for whatever reasons reaches the people. This is what I do using the social media,” he said.

The Facebook and YouTube page of Jamia World is a collection of videos, majority of which are played without any commentary.

Professional YouTubers

There are others such as former journalist Akash Banerjee who have used the social media effectively for political satire and comment. His YouTube channel has over one million subscribers, a mark that he crossed recently. Mr. Banerjee said YouTube channels such as his have an advantage over the mainstream media as they do not have to deal with the usual pressures of generating revenue and TRPs. “I don’t have to worry about serving the lowest common denominator,” Mr. Banerjee said. Many online platforms like his are publicly funded, which helps them to stay out of government control.

“It’s not that digital platforms are showing anything dramatically different from the mainstream media. It’s just that sometimes, we highlight news stories that are often buried in the inside pages of a newspaper,” Mr. Banerjee added. One of his most popular videos, he said, was on data fudging by the government. “The biggest scam of the government is systematically slaughtering data. I have highlighted it in different episodes,” he said.

A similar online sensation is 25-year-old Dhruv Rathee, who has been doing video blogs on YouTube since 2016. For him, it all started with the story of IAS officer Ashok Khemka who was transferred repeatedly in Haryana. Mr. Rathee is a mechanical engineer by training and is now pursuing a bachelor’s in economics and political science. “My primary goal is to break down complex topics in simple words and summarise a whole lot of information on specific topics in 10 minutes so that someone who doesn’t know anything about it is able to understand easily,” Mr. Rathee said.

He said that raising the issue of electoral bonds, which were introduced through the Finance Bill, 2017, was one of his achievements. The mainstream media had ignored the issue for a long time. “I feel like the media took up the story much later. It was buried and the implications of the Finance Bill, 2017 were not explained properly,” Mr. Rathee said.

On mainstream media, he said it can’t be replaced by any other medium as it remains the primary source of information. “We neither have the manpower nor the resources to gather news the way they do,” he added.

Another youth icon, Communist Party of India leader Kanhaiya Kumar, has notched up 1.98 lakh subscribers for his YouTube channel. The former JNU Students’ Union president has earned a fan following for his incisive demagogy; the channel is a repository of the speeches and TV shows he has participated in.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 9:05:35 PM |

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