CGNet Swara – Medium For Masses, Of Masses!
Can we call the urbanized media serving us the News of Rakhi Sawant’s latest scandal or probable reports of alien attack, the mass media? Someone actually needed to redefine the meaning and significance of mass media; and it was Shubhranshu Choudhary! The founder and initiator of CGNet Swara, is on Halabol platform today to talk about this information revolution.
For a layman, CGNet Swara is a platform to discuss issues related to Central Gondwana region in India. For people with Mass Communication background, CGNet Swara is India’s first concrete step towards democratization of information. Swara means voice and CGNet Swara was meant to be the voice of Central Gondwana region and was launched in February 2010 focusing on the issues concerning the tribals of Chhattisgarh and other areas in Central India at its core.
The credit for its inception goes to the veteran journalist, Shubhranshu Choudhary, who has worked earlier with The Guardian and then the BBC. He has also been a Knights fellow with the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) and has always been concerned about the need for a real ‘mass’ medium.
“CGNet Swara is a voice-based portal, freely accessible via mobile phone, which allows anyone to report and listen to stories of local interest and about topics that are relevant in day-to-day life. The stories reported so are first authenticated by journalists and the made available for playback online as well as over the phone (+91 8050068000). The idea for this came up as a solution to the aristocratic pattern of communication prevailing today. The current flow of News and Information is top-down and hardly participatory in nature. CGNet Swara is meant to report about the issues that matter to public and in their own voice.”
So, all it takes to change the world is just one phone call!
No wonder, listening to reports on www.cgnetswara.org is an incredible experience. Many times, such News is reported by people in their own dialect and the grassroots level issues are touched through such reporting.
“The media in India follows agenda setting theory; the editors sitting in glass walled rooms decide which News is the top story without realizing the real issues that concern masses today. Till date, more than 74,000 calls from 10 states have been made on CGNet Swara for either publishing or listening to news reports. This implies that common man is deciding what News is and is even voicing it in his own words. We do no promise any action in return; but what CG Net does is – it gives them a way to express their concerns. This is what citizen journalism is all about.”
All this started in 2004 when Shubhranshu had set up an online discussion group called CGNet which was intended to be a platform for concerned citizens to exchange views on issues related to Chhattisgarh.
Over the following five years, many volunteers joined in CGNet and it developed as a hub for information about the area. Today, CGNet has more than 2000 members!
“Over the years, with the generous support of the International Center for Journalists, we have developed CGNet Swara as a voice portal that enables ordinary people to report and discuss issues of local interest. All they need to do is call a phone number using any mobile (or fixed line) phone. The IVR message asks the caller to press "1" to record a new message, or "2" to listen to messages that have already been recorded. Once a message has been recorded from the field, professionally trained journalists review and authenticate the report. Approved reports are then made available for playback over the phone. The reports also can be accessed on the CGNet Swara website.”
Now if that sounds interesting, have a look at the kind of stories reported and broadcasted through CGNet Swara –
- There are stories from Andhra Pradesh village where the villagers have to walk 8 kilometers for water and there is no electricity to charge the phone locally.
- The grievances are of all kinds – schools not working, salaries not being paid, poor conditions in hospitals, corruption problem, monopolization by private companies etc are discussed.
- Water supply and sanitation is the major issue that has been reported almost from every village.
- It was CGNet Swara which reported the sensitive condition of Pitbasu Bhoi from Ambikapur, a labourer who was not paid his wages even after working 100 days under MGNREGA. Two leading dailies, The Times of India and The Hindu, took up the story of Bhoi from Swara for follow up.
What has Shubhranshu got to say about the impact of this new-age medium?
“Democracy can function really well when the media also plays an active and efficient role. My definition of active and efficient media is one that talks about people rather than talking to people. It has to do sensitive reporting rather than sensationalism! The mainstream media has failed to give any proper representation to the voice of youth, tribals and even women folks! CGNet Swara is different as you have realized and that’s how it impacts people. I would like to share that Bhoi was paid his due wages on 20 January 2011 and he is now a regular contributor to Swara even if he does not own a cell.”
To clarify more, we would like to tell our readers that even if journalism is not everyone's cup of tea; any common man can join CGNet Swara! The group also conducts some formal trainings and workshops to train enthusiastic people about intricacies of being a citizen journalist.
Shubhranshu during a Training Workshop at grassroots level
Through CGNet, Shubhranshu has clearly brought a new information renaissance in the country. By doing so, he has surpassed his earlier achievements like producing the first television coverage of foreign militants operating in Indian Kashmir and conducting the first television interview with the chief commander of the Kashmiri militant organization.
Halabol falls short of words to applaud the CGNet Swara experiment and wishes to see many more opinion leaders like Shubhranshu to come forward and change the way Indians communicate!
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