Rural reporting can be engaging :Arindam Sengupta

New Delhi: Dismissing notions that readers are not interested in development issues or rural reportage, editors and activists Monday stressed that the media perspective on the issue needed a change as “society is no longer passive”.

‘Can rural reporting be sexy?’– this was the topic of discussion at an event organised by the Foundation for Media Professionals, an independent organisation by a group of Indian journalists, here Monday.

“The time has come for rural reporting. The clientle for such news, especially in regional electronic media is growing. In the coming decades, there will be more interest in rural reports. Of course, the content will have to change where urban reporting cannot be a yardstick,” said C.P. Joshi, legislator from Bhilwara in Rajasthan and a panelist for the discussion.

He also stressed on the significance of “social audits” along with fellow panelist and Right to Information (RTI) activist Aruna Roy.

“Social audit has become a bogey. But programmes like RTI and NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) have come into public discourse. These are continuous canvasses for articulation of different voices presenting good and bad aspects…Society is not passive any longer. Not interested in beauty creams, they want to see what polices are being framed for them,” Roy said.

She emphasized though that the rural-urban divide “was just a a mindset”.

“We need to change vocabulary…and break stereotypes. There is enormous scope for social reporting. Like for instance, I know this Dalit woman Naurati who is going to become the panchayat head in Harwada village. Now she is just about literate but she learned to work on a computer and teaches high school girls basic computer applications,” Roy said.

Describing the media as being “business-driven”, renowned economist Jean Dreze said there was a major disconnect.

“I would not like to speak on if rural reporting can be sexy, since that term doesn’t fit. Despite that there is still space for rural reports in mainstream media…NREGA was criticised but as the purchasing power of the labourers benefiting by the scheme increased, the corporates saw their interest…so did the media,” Dreze said.

Arindam Sengupta, executive editor of the Times of India, said he agreed with Dreze.

“I think what we want to say is that rural reporting can be engaging, aimed at grabbing eyeballs, of interest of general viewers. The challenge is establishing a connect with the readers…One way can be using a topical issue like farmer suicides to draw attention to the plight of the farmers and circumstances. However in a newspaper, having a dedicated quota or affirmative action can make the reporting uninteresting,” Sengupta said.

Sunita Narain, editor of environmental magazine Down to Earth and director of the Centre of Science and Environment, held that a lot needed to be done to promote good reporting in rural areas.

“Indian media is following the trend of US media. We are at the beginning of the end. But India is still different. News here even in rural areas is in-your-face. A problem that arises is of a reporter travelling and seeing which requires funding. The few media fellowships are drops in the ocean…There is financing of elections, but no public financing of media…this needs to be looked at,” Narain said.

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