'Rural newspapers crucial for development :Panel

New Delhi: Rural newspapers are tough to run, but they can help in chalking out development plans and can expose corruption at the grassroot level, mediapersons and experts said at a panel discussion here Monday.

“It’s not easy running a newspaper in a rural place, and especially if you are a woman, the problems are plenty,” Kavita, co-editor of rural newspaper Khabar Lahariya, said at a seminar on ‘Rural Media, Rural voices: can Grassroots Journalism Survive in India?’.

“It’s a very challenging job. People threaten us and some even challenge to buy our newspaper. But it is a way through which awareness and development can come. People can fight for their rights,” she added.

“The idea is certainly possible and empowers people but great help is required for running it,” Kavita said at the event held at the India Habitat Centre.

Khabar Lahariya is a weekly rural newspaper written, edited, illustrated, produced and marketed by a group of around 20 women – most of them from marginalised Dalit, Kol and Muslim communities – in Chitrakoot and Banda districts of Uttar Pradesh.

It began in May 2002 in Chitrakoot and a second edition was launched in the adjoining Banda district in October 2006. Presently, between both editions, Khabar Lahariya has a print run of almost 5,000 copies, and a readership of over 25,000 in over 400 villages in both districts.

Earlier this year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (Unesco) King Sejong Literacy Prize was given to the paper, started by Nirantar — a centre for gender and education based in New Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.

The panel discussion was organised on the occasion of the launch of the book “Waves in the Hinterland” written by Farah Naqvi.

Said Planning Commision member Syeda Hameed, who was one of the panelists: “There are areas and pockets in our country where development programmes have not reached. The concept and idea of a rural newspaper like Khabar Lahariya is very strong and if we want to bring awareness and go towards development – it is the only way.”

“From now on, I will see the schemes we plan through the prism of Khabar Lahariya,” she said.

Senior journalist and author Mark Tully stressed rural nespapers could go a long way in exposing corruption.

“One of the ways corruption can be exposed is through media. The media ignores real problems at the grassroot level. Therefore, a paper like Khabar Lahariya, which exposes whatever is happening at the grassroots, is crucial for the government which makes policies for them,” he said.

“There could be people who can say there is no need for such a paper. But I do think there is demand and need for these kind of papers. Newspapers are not going to die,” Tully said, hoping the example of Khabar Lahariya would be replicated by others.

On whether a paper like Khabar Lahariya can be replicated, Siddharth Varadarajan of The Hindu newspaper said: “It can be replicated even though there are a lot of practical problems.”

He added: “There should be some provision of a grant to these kind of local papers under schemes like NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). It will be a boost to local papers and would also benefit government schemes.”

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