Orissa media shuns development coverage

BY elisa patnaik| IN Regional Media | 26/07/2004
Oriya and English dailies in the State had devoted less than 4% and 2% respectively of their total space to coverage of social issues.



Elisa Patnaik



Though there seems to be no dearth of development news in Orissa, when it comes to the press playing a role in reducing social disparities and accelerating social development, the situation is far from desirable. The exclusion of developmental journalism from the mainstream newspapers of Orissa not only reflects growing apathy of the media to social issues but also prevents several vital concerns from getting the attention that they truly deserve from the public, government, policy makers and other stakeholders Only large-scale calamities like the 1999 Super Cyclone or startling news such as starvation deaths and child selling get both the national and regional media’s full attention. But, only for that particular moment. Very rarely are development stories relating to human development, poverty, health, gender, population, followed up and properly investigated to create an impact and give an in depth perspective to such issues.  

The progressive shrinkage in newspaper coverage on social and developmental issues was also proved in a media monitoring survey conducted by the Orissa-based Centre for Youth and Social Development (CYSD). According to the findings of the survey, Oriya and English dailies in the State had devoted less than 4% and 2% coverage respectively of their total space to social issues. The Survey also revealed that social development issues were no more a priority with newspapers, while they had given substantial space to advertisements, business, sports, entertainment, crime, politics etc.  

According to the CYSD Survey, the placement of stories revealed that little space was devoted to social issues, and they were mostly relegated to less important pages and placed insignificantly.  Interestingly, the vernacular Oriya dailies showed relatively better concern for social issues than their English counterparts. The Survey on coverage of development issues focused on five major themes —social development and poverty alleviation, women issues, child rights, dalits and tribal/indigenous people and human rights. Regional language dailies chosen for the study included The Samaj, Sambad, Prajatantra, Pragativadi, and Dharitri. The English dailies included The Times of India, The New Indian Express, The Telegraph, and The Asian Age 

"Newspapers today have forgotten they have a social responsibility to the people of India and Orissa is no exception," says Deputy Director of Press Institute of India (PII) and development journalist Usha Rai. The PII recently conducted a media workshop in Bhubaneswar to sensitise journalists on population and development issues. Earlier workshops have been conducted at Lucknow, Jaipur, Bhopal, Patna, Mankote in Uttaranchal, Delhi, Maneswar, and Gurgaon. The Maneswar workshop was to sensitize editors and senior journalists because it is they who ultimately decided what kind of stories should be given space. "The regional PII workshops are being conducted to sensitize journalists to development issues, whether it concerns health, agriculture, employment, or the impact of WTO on the livelihood of weavers, fishermen and others" says  Rai. 

Most development stories covered by the media in Orissa are mostly on the lack of infrastructure in certain areas, rarely offering a desirable solution to the problem or holding the concerned authorities accountable. Other development success stories are also seldom highlighted. "We have an extremely biased media that rarely talks about the struggles, and problems of the common and poor people," opines Vidya Das of Agragamee, a NGO based in Orissa’s Southern district Rayagada working on food security, food rights and education of the poor. "We hardly find articles on issues related to forest rights, livelihood rights, and forced migration among people," she adds. 

Few newspapers in the State have full time, professional rural or development correspondents and most of the contributors are either stringers or people from other professions trying their hand at journalism. Many times, their understanding and perception of development issues are limited. Though the local television channels do have programmes on development issues, their viewership is few and far between.  

Even magazines and newspapers in the State focusing exclusively on development and pro-poor issues have their share of problems. One such newspaper is Janavani (People’s Voice) — a social newspaper launched in Orissa in January this year. Since the last six months of its publication, the social daily has been highlighting issues and problems of the rural poor, dalits and adivasis in the villages of the State. For the Janvani team, bringing out the edition daily is indeed a challenge. Not only do they have to keep the development issues alive through their newspaper, but also work within limited resources. Explains editor, Prof Krushna Charan Behera, a former academician and editor of Janavani. "Besides giving various kinds of information to the people, the daily will also highlight positive stories like people’s participation in developmental works. Priced at Re one, the four-page daily’s aim is to establish its presence across the 50,000 odd villages of Orissa.


Even independent journalists who have tried to build a strong public opinion by publishing pro poor and pro-people development issues have had to face severe obstacles. Former editor and publisher of Janamadhyam, Purushottam Thakur is a case in point. The newspaper managed to generate tremendous public interest and many of the stories also created an impact. But by exposing corrupt bureaucrats, local politicians who swindled public money in the Khariar and Nuapada districts of western Orissa, Thakur was mired in many legal cases and was also forced to drop several issues. Though after nearly six years Thakur stopped publishing the newspaper, his dream now is to start a development newspaper in the future.  

Development media experts feel that to keep the flag of development journalism flying there has to be public pressure, a groundswell of voices of young committed journalists and civil society organisations that compel newspapers to rethink their priorities. Fortunately at least a few committed development journalists in Orissa are aware of the change that such stories have the power to initiate, if properly investigated and presented. "I still believe that Orissa can be transformed into the most developed of states if we have even five committed, upright and pro-people journalists in each of its districts," concludes Thakur.

Elisa Patnaik is a freelance journalist based in Cuttack. Contact: elisapatnaik@yahoo.com







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