After winning the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, journalist Ravish Kumar gave a speech on the importance of citizen journalism given the current state of mainstream media, on Friday, 6 September.
While speaking on "The Power of Citizens' Journalism to Advance Democracy" in the Philippines, Kumar highlighted the fractured functioning of mainstream media and how it is now a part of the “surveillance state.”
“The state today has established full control over the media and the corporations. The implication of this control over the media and in turn your information flow is that it limits and narrows the scope of your citizenship,” he said.
‘Media Now a Part of Surveillance State’
According to Kumar, pure information and courage are the only ways the current state of democracy can be fought.
However, he said now the media controls diversity of news stories, and specifies what interpretation of news events are acceptable.
“It (media) isn’t the fourth estate anymore, but the first estate.”
Kumar stressed on how democracy is “on fire in broad daylight” and that these are testing times for journalists and citizens. He emphasised need to fight back against fake news, propaganda and attempted rewriting of history.
Taking a dig at the mainstream media, he said, “News channel debates take place within a vocabulary of exclusionary nationalism wherein they seek to replace the collective history and memory of the nation with that of the ruling party's in their viewers' minds”.
“There are only two types of people in this news universe narrative: the anti-nationals and us. It’s the classic “us” and “them” technique. They tell us that the problem with ‘anti-nationals’ is that they ask questions, disagree, and dissent. Disagreement is the aatma [spirit, soul, or essence] of democracy and citizenship. The democratic aatma is under relentless attack every day.”
Press Freedom a Farce?
Kumar lamented India’s and its neighbours’ standing in the Press Freedom Index and the fact that they all fall within 50 ranks of each other.
“It is an unfortunate coincidence that most of India's neighbours are also its neighbours on the press freedom index. India, Pakistan, China, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar - all fall within 50 ranks of each other, right at the bottom of the international press freedom index released by Reporters Without Borders.”
"Freedom here has become a farce. When those that are meant to safeguard the reporter's right to report make a mockery of freedom in such an obvious way, not only is our intelligence as viewers insulted, but the very imagination of citizen journalism begins to weaken.”
He cited the application by Press Council of India to the Supreme Court, supporting the communications blackout in the Kashmir valley, quoting its commitment towards national interest and keeping up "high standards of public taste".
“India is a great nation, and it has magnificent achievements to show for it that are pre-eminent in the world. However, a majority of its mainstream and television media has gone to the dogs. Indian citizens possess a great passion for democracy, but every night news channels arrive to trample over that passion. While evening in India may arrive with the setting of the sun, it is the reportage from news media that spreads the darkness of night.”
He also spoke on communication blockade in Kashmir which was imposed in first week August before moving abrogating Article 370 and said if media supports such an action, it stands between the citizen and the facts.
“What happens when the media, which is meant to gather, process and relay information, supports the shutdown of all sources of information? In doing so, the media stands against the citizen who is trying to learn about the world around her - not as a matter of curiosity, but for her survival and her family's well-being.”
‘Citizen Journalism – Need of the Hour’
As mainstream media “turn hostile” to information, citizen journalism has become the need of hour, Kumar added in his speech.
“The state has increasingly being opaque and blocking information. The mainstream media seeks profit maximisation above everything else and this singular motive compels it to serve as a PR agent of the state. Government advertising forms a huge chunk of revenue for the media today.”
“India's mainstream media is working night and day to convert our citizens into "post-illiterates". It has given up on trying to convert superstitious beings into rational thinking beings. Its syllabus is comprised of unthinking nationalism and communalism. The mainstream media has begun to consider the state's narrative as pure information.”
‘Citizen Journalists and Citizen Journalism Both Under Constant Threat’
“When mainstream journalism can neither support its own rights nor the sheer idea of journalism, citizen journalists and citizen journalism both are under a constant (existential) threat.”
The senior journalist accused the “old school” media houses – which once promoted citizen journalism to reduce operating costs – to turn against it use of social media a journalistic medium.
“When the state and media unite to control citizens, is it possible for a citizen to be able to act as a journalist? To be a citizen and exercise the associated rights, it requires a system that has to be provided for by the same democracy that the citizen belongs to. If the judiciary, police, and media become hostile towards the citizen, and the part of society that is aligned with the state begins excluding them, how much can we expect a defenceless citizen to fight? Yet, the citizen is fighting back.”
He made a point of highlighting in his speech that the challenge before citizen journalists is to find out how to fight against this media, which runs its business in their name.
“We are at that moment in time when people will have to push against the barricade of the media if they want to reach the government.”