The media in our backyard

Published: September 15, 2010
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We need to "come to" them "with the trust of a child."

We need to "come to" them "with the trust of a child." Children pose for the camera once they feel comfortable

It was that simple. Chou En-lai knew that he was addressing lonely men, men whose mentalities had been branded with a sense of being outcasts. It cost him nothing to make such a gesture, to speak words of compassion. He offered no programs of industrialization, no long term loans, no mutual defense pacts. To the nations smarting under a sense of inferiority, he tried to cement ties of kinship.

Richard Wright, The Color Curtain.

These are the words of compassion we direly need from all quarters. The have-nots of this country have become a city within a city, the city of poor. Marx’s words about being two cities within a single city, one of the rich and one of the poor, can easily be generalized for the whole Land of the Pure. What does the city of the poor need, part of the nation that is the dominant, silent majority, reeling under abject poverty or a minority among them (the so called middle class) ready to go down the spiral to be devoured by it, to become part of the scenery than being a spectator.

A fear-fueled corporate media

What could be the word we can offer and how? The how becomes more important than the what because we have to look for venues of compassion. The only compassionate partner of the modern man, no matter how backward he or she is, is the media. What kind of media could bear the word of compassion? It is community media. What is community media? The present day mass idiot boxes that pose to be the community spokespersons through local tickers and making a mockery of people’s miseries by claiming to be the first on the scene surely don’t qualify, there is no question about it.

Community media develops from the needs of simple human beings. It answers questions and advocates issues. Corporate media, which runs on fear and favors can not qualify, highlight or advocate such a notion. Needs of the impoverished and those “smarting under the sense of inferiority” could only be met by something more altruistic. Many will say that such an arrangement is impossible in the cut throat competitive world. This is what we call mediated reality. If good schools and hospitals can exist why not an altruistic community media? The need of the hour is to understand the meaning of this very important phenomenon.

Giving the people their voice back

Community media is a patient, audience based enterprise. One should have the patience to listen to stories and also have the acumen to tell stories. A story can never be told effectively if every angle and view is not prersented. Our mainstream media presents us people with preconceived notions which is of no use to us. Questions must arise from the very core of the people who are being presented. It is their version of reality that is important, not what we decide to be important in our cozy (and not too cozy) drawing rooms. Our being “knowledgeable” is the worst qualification for the job. We need to “come to” them “with the trust of a child,” quoting words from Peter Gabriel’s famous song Red Rain.
The very word community media means their media not someone else’s. The second most important step is to give the people their voices back. It should not transmit messages in “packages”, giving the name of the reporter and the channel that streams it. The person and the community should get their name. It is important to build confidence and develop a horizontal system of communication. People should get their views back in a form where they can see themselves, individuals as well as communities should be able to identify themselves.

Objectivity is what helps people most. It does not succumb to narrow, vested interests. It is never based on fables. It is the truth of a people. Let it be in the open.

A network that is not an outsider

There is a need to develop a network based upon community radio (most effectively), newspapers, or even TV that uses reporting methods in a humane manner. The picture above is one such example. The little guy feels comfortable with the camera. He is interacting. Both the kids are not afraid. They are enjoying it, being part of the process. All this comes after a patient hour or two. The reporters roam the area with their elders, listening to their stories. The little ones watching the whole process. Then comes the moment that they appear in front of the camera. This ends up in a photo (also a video clip) where the media is no more an outsider.

The need of the hour is thus to develop a network that lifts images, without bias and prejudice, from the simplest level of human existence (and these shouldn’t be social outcasts, exceptional problems), to the mainstream. Every part of the country should get its coverage. This can only be done if we learn the art of reporting for the poor, understand the need of “cementing ties of kinship”, to give the silent dominant, but unrepresented, never honored majority of this country a voice.

This post was originally published here.

altafkhan

Dr. Altaf Ullah Khan

Chairman of Journalism department at the University of Peshawar, Khan is global adjunct faculty at the center for International Studies at Ohio University. He completed his doctorate in communication and media sciences from Germany. He lives in Peshawar with his wife and three sons.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.