Chronicling Orissa's protests

BY Priyanka Borpujari| IN Regional Media | 25/08/2010
"We are forever on the road, talking to people about all their movements and little mutinies."
Against the backdrop of the current battles against the Posco and Vedanta projects in Orissa,PRIYANKA BORPUJARI talks to SUDHIR PATTNAIK, editor of Samadrusti.

Orissa is currently in the throes of a tug of war between a robust tribal population, mineral industries, political parties and the media. The indigenous populace is lifting its bows and arrows to counter the state's police force, which attacks them on behalf of mining companies. This eastern state has been mineral-rich, yet the government shies away from fulfilling its basic duties of providence. No wonder then that these companies have worn the mask of the Samaritan to step in where the government has stepped out, in lieu of vast acres of land to be passed to them for their industrial purposes. While the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) happily welcomes newer MoUs, the opposition parties have only worn a bad mask of defiance. The media, on the other hand, is ethical in a certain way--it wouldn't write anything about the atrocities on the poor by the companies, which pay them the rent for their facny offices as well as the salaries.


Yet, that Orissa is burning is not like the forest fire which is unseen after a significant distance, and not ventured into even by the most well-equipped firefighters. News about the violence in Orissa has been pouring out in occasional streams, thanks to Samadrusti (which means Equal Vision). A fortnightly Oriya magazine which was born five years ago, the journal hasn't shied away from being the true fourth estate. Enthused by its success, Samadrusti TV was launched, which produces magazine-format shows. Prior to Samadrusti, Sudhir Pattnaik had started the online Independent Media News Network, which disseminated news about Orissa. In this brief interview with PRIYANKA BORPUJARI, Pattnaik talks about why Samadrusti is popular among the grassroots activists, and about its sustenance.


What was the rationale behind starting Samadrusti magazine, and then Samadrusti TV?


Thanks to significant ad revenues from corporates, newspapers today reflect an extreme form of consumerism. And the effects of this can be seen best among children who are being brought up under much duress and are satiated by everything that is typical to a consumerist behaviour.


This also explains that we as the educated class have begun to accept every development paradigm dished out to us by the government. We have stopped questioning the government; rather, we choose to be silent viewers in this game of development for the rich few at the cost of millions of poor and deprived.


It was this gap that needed to be filled. There sure have been newspapers which have tried to project the thought processes and the realities of the working class and rural mass. Publications like 'Pragatibadi' and 'Prajatantra'--started by men who had a firm conviction of what embodies true journalism--lost their popular appeal, thanks to the marginalised views and politics of the successors of both the publications. But consider this: there have been about 50-60 MoUs signed by the Orissa government with various mineral companies. What does this imply? Various struggles in various parts within the state, which are plainly ignored by the media, which earns its revenues from the same corporates responsible for the violation of human rights of the poor.


These disturbing facts led to the birth of Samadrusti, along with some like-minded friends. Today, Samadrusti is a fortnightly magazine, in print since five years. We then launched Samadrusti TV, which produces magazine-format shows. Under the title 'Madhyantar' five short films on the nature of development have been produced. In all, Samadrusti TV has produced 21 short films through four volumes, on various issues. These films are sent across to the remotest villages in Orissa for the villagers and tribals to view, since most of them are illiterate to read the magazine. Besides, the moving pictures format is much more appealing and arresting.



What would you say are the points of differentiation between Samadrusti and the mainstream media?


The crux of our reporting is that we do not sensationalise any news. We present only facts, the way we see it. In fact, we do have people contributing to our magazine all the time, and we discourage them from writing any article that is based purely on emotion. Every article has to be corroborated with evidence and facts.


Our work is mainly about the relentless movement of the people, rather than the medium through which we are conveying what we want to say. At the same time, our small working group ensures that we stick to our mission. When an organisation begins with an already huge structure in place, the progress is slow due to utter chaos, thanks to the pressures of delivering the best in the shortest period of time. It is necessary to let organisations--like most things in the --shape up in its own speed.


There hasn't been one single issue which we haven't covered. And each time we take up an issue, we ensure to give the reader as exhaustive perspectives as possible,  be it through our reportage or opinions of people who have an authority to say about that particular issue or crisis.


So this means it is subaltern...


I don't accept the view that Samadrusti is subaltern. I call it mainstream media. The majority of our people today are denied their basic needs, they are deprived of their fundamental rights. And if I am talking about this majority, then why is my work called subaltern? My work is more mainstream than anybody else's.


A significant issue with what the media talks about has much to do with where its funds come from. Where does Samadrusti's funds come from?


Our business model is purely subscription-based. That's how we can keep a tab of the actual number of our readers, which is currently at 2,500. but it wasn't an easy journey. When we started out, we asked our friends to buy most of the subscriptions, for themselves as well as others. The initial outpour of funds through friends willing to buy subscriptions for others managed to get us past our first three tough months, and help us stay afloat financially. By then, we had also managed to mobilise subscribers outside the state who were interested to read in Oriya abut all that was happening here. In principle, we do feel encouraged to have a significance prominence in the urban stores, as we want to avoid the agency route.


I don't get a single penny from this venture; I only contribute. Money is not a deciding factor for any of the people working with us; we are doing the work simply because we know that the work has to be done, since nobody else will do it.


Again, the production of these newsmagazines are done with the help of our magazine subscriptions. At times, we also do collect money in advance from the prospective buyers of these videos. Since we do not want to be a media organisation that runs on external funding, we have to ensure that we have a robust model for subscritpion. Again, we are not making profits but we are earning just comfortably enough to be able to bring out the next magazine issue, or the video format newsmagazine.


Surely there have been several challenges to handling one's own magazine...


Yes, there have been challenges. But in my entire career as a journalist, I have been working on a freelance basis. I have never worked for anyone. Such a working style has helped me make my own rules about what I would accept to do, and what I wouldn't. Today, even though I am the editor of Samadrusti, I would say that what has helped us in our steady growth is our informal group of seven, all of whom are extremely dedicated to the work. We all know that our work is very significant,  we are not in a rat race, yet we know we are different and so we do not let petty work issues, as well as those about finances, bog us down.


On another level, I do get occasional calls that I should not venture with my work, but I bother no more. Immediately after the Kandhamal massacre, when we began to write about the ground realities of the men, women and children being tortured to death and villages being doused, I received a three-page letter from the Sangh Parivar, threatening me to halt my work. But I knew that there are some things that are best ignored.


How has your own people--those about whom Samadrusti is -- responded to the magazine and the video format? Presumably, since most of the media goes against them, they must be cynical towards any new reporter who introduces himself as wanting to write about their movement or plight.


The fact that we have not restricted ourselves to writing about just, say, displacement or mining, is advantageous to us as reporters. We are forever on the road, talking to people about all their movements and little mutinies. People today are more than eager to tell that about a particular region's certain movement. At the same time, our magazine has also slowly become the haven for activists who want to share their opinions. Similarly, there are many journalists here whose stories would not be carried by the newspaper or channel that they are affiliated to. We then provide them the space to write in our magazine. The issue is not about the people writing and their affiliations. Our concerns are strictly about the people whom we are writing about.



Link to Samadrusti videos


Samadrusti subscription details:
One year (24 issues) @ Rs 480/-

To subscribe, write to:
HIG 78, Phase 7,
Sailashree Vihar,
Bhubaneshwar - 751021
Phone: 0674-6529485




Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More