Orissa’s rural newspapers

IN Regional Media | 29/12/2004
One of the brightest examples of successful and effective grassroots journalism is Gaan Maati Khabar


Elisa Patnaik


For a State where a vast population still resides in rural, remote areas and remains isolated from the mainstream development process, the grassroots media has indeed a large and definitive role to play. Though Orissa is far from witnessing a rural newspaper revolution, the success stories of individual rural newspapers — though sporadic — illustrates that the grassroots media can play a vibrant role in hastening the pace of development.


While the mainstream media in Orissa, including the national media is obsessed with stories relating only to starvation deaths and child sale they often ignore the other significant aspects of poverty and development. Notwithstanding the constraints, the mainstream media is also alleged to have captured only the bigger picture while ignoring the factors that contribute to it. It’s only a handful of rural newspapers and development newsletters that have continuously tried to create consciousness and highlight issues related to development.


One of the brightest examples of successful and effective grassroots journalism is Gaan Maati Khabar, a vernacular fortnightly published from Bongomunda in Orissa’s Western Nuapada district. The newspaper has not only made commendable effort by giving wide coverage to pro-people, development issues in Nuapada, Bolangir and Kalahandi districts, but has also taken up cudgels with the authorities for the sake of its readers. "Nearly 80 % of the news carried in Gaan Maati Khabar is based on the problems, exploitation and issues related to the lives rural people," says correspondent Bijay Kumar Sahis. Besides being interactive and people-centred, the newspaper makes people cognizant of their rights. "It carries the stories of people and we make it a point to keep the language simple so that it’s easier for a large section of the population to understand," Sahis explains.


The role played by the rural print media in the underdeveloped western districts of Orissa as compared to the developed coastal districts has been at par with any development organization. Apart from Gaan Maati Khabar, other grassroots newspapers like Prahiri, Aarji and Rudra Awahan published from the western districts have been playing an important role in creating awareness among the people and also highlighting their problems. More importantly, the rural and grassroots newspapers have given the common people a better and easy access to media. So much so that people have begun to feel that their problems will be solved once it gets published in these newspapers.


A recent addition to rural newspapers in Orissa is Janavani launched in January this year. The social daily has been highlighting issues and problems of the rural poor, dalits and adivasis in the villages of the State. A wide range of issues have been covered by the newspaper including safe drinking water, health and infrastructure facilities, sanitation, firewood, forests, housing, electrification, vocational training programmes, people’s demands and aspirations, corruption, primary school education, girls education, status of women etc.


Interestingly, barring a few, most of the rural and development newspapers are brought out by NGOs in Orissa. Gram Vikas Samachara monthly newsletter published since 1998 by NGO Gram Vikas, based in Ganjam district — represents the grass roots activities of the organization and shares the same with villagers, NGO workers and other development practitioners. "Gram Vikas staff commonly read the articles aloud at village meetings to share its contents with illiterate villagers. It is produced entirely from material contributed by the field staff," says Natabar Padhi of Gram Vikas. Importantly, the newsletter has motivated the field level workers and to some extent villagers to form the habit of writing and documenting their experience.


Described as a newspaper for the common man and their extraordinary struggles, Grama Swarajya Abhijan is another development Oriya newspaper brought out by NGO, Sahabhagi Vikash Abhiyan (SVA), based at Orissa’s Nuapada district. It covers development issues ranging from agriculture, forest, tribals, health, primary education women and child, cottage industry, rural development etc and also provides information on agricultural and other products required for the farmers and the common man. The SVA also brings out another Oriya periodical Gaunli Bichar, which brings for the people development related news issues and news from all across the globe.


On the other hand, Muhamuhin, claimed to be Orissa’a first fortnightly children’s newspaper covers issues related specifically to slum and marginalized children. Published by the Orissa-based NGO Centre for Youth and Social Development (CYSD) and Plan Bhubaneswar, it has stories and articles written by slum children and has so far covered issues like child marriage, primary education, environmental pollution, health, liquor menace, street children, child labour, slum problems etc.


Regardless of its tremendous impact, the cost of bringing out a rural or a grassroots newspaper is immense. While the newspapers published by the NGOs have limited circulation and less visibility — for others sustenance due to financial crunch is a big problem. Many reporters and stringers also find it difficult to make ends meet. While many of the newspapers have been irregular, others through their reports have invited the wrath of authorities and offenders alike.  Janamadhyam, published from Khariar district for example, was closed when editor Purushottam Thakur was mired in several legal cases due to his expose on corrupt bureaucrats, local politicians who swindled public money in the Khariar and Nuapada districts.


"One of the biggest challenges to sustain a rural and development newspaper is to keep up the motivation level of the contributors and providing incentives," says Padhi. "In a State like Orissa, rural newspapers can be sustained only by a growing readership, if development journalism is linked with the literacy and adult education programme," suggests educationist Prof. B.B. Mohanty, envisaging a pro-active and progressive role from the government, development organizations and people.
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