New Formats for a News that Encourages Citizen Action for Social Change

News in a democracy, other than covering national and international events is supposed to provide information to the citizens on issues of relevance, so that they may make informed choices.

However, with a plethora of channels providing ‘news and information’ today, how does a citizen make sense of news events? How does s/he translate all the unrelated information and turn it into knowledge that empowers him/her to take a concrete action towards change? Traditional journalism, while necessary, is limited by its format and ethical stipulations that prevent it from presenting comprehensive information that fosters understanding of public issues.

However, talk- shows and news-shows have emerged as an alternative forum where serious issues can be discussed openly, and public concerns be presented in a simplified yet formal manner. As new technologies that allow for interactive features make appearance on the market, they are becoming integrated into new formats of old media, there by allowing audiences to participate by leaving phone messages, sending text messages, emails, contact on the webpage etc. At present, whether or not these features are used, it is possible to get near instant feed back from the audience, thus potentially expanding the span of public sphere.

Satyamev Jayate (‘Only the truth triumphs’ a phrase borrowed from ancient Indian scriptures) is one such show that has resonated with the audiences in India as it performs a function formally restricted to journalists. The show that is broadcasted simultaneously in five Indian languages to maximize its impact, combines several affordances provided by technology to inform, educate and engage the public and has had an impact of unprecedented proportions, from viewer responses, to tweets, to follow up actions by state governments, activists and even film stars.
In addition, stepping away from traditional news format where events are presented without a context, Satyamev Jayate (SMJ) covers history, and context of topics that are either taboo (female feticide), or ignored (garbage disposal) or overlooked (water management), which do not fit into regular news beat. The show has provided avenues for the audience to participate and provide their opinion. It is too early to tell if these kinds of show will become a regular feature on mainstream channels or they might replace traditional news, but public response to SMJ indicates that there is definitely a need for programs that provide current issues in a context so that the public gets a better understanding of the issues and is encouraged to follow it up with action to bring about positive social change.

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