Dr. Christiane Verschooten is associate professor at the Department of Journalism, Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel, Belgium and a member of the Brussels Center for Journalism Studies.

In this last part of an interview with Dr. Jitha T. J., the then Project Fellow with CCMG, Dr. Verschooten reflects on the complex relationship between the issue of Dalit underrepresentation in the mainstream Indian media and the role that alternative media and critical journalism can play in addressing the same . Excerpts:

JITHA T.J : How do you think these issues can be addressed?

CHRISTIANE VERSCHOOTEN: My opinion is that alternative as well as critical journalism can be used as forums for voicing Dalit issues. Alternative media include all news platforms, internet, press and other media platforms which are not formed from a commercial point of view. Although mainstream media has the watchdog role, they are embedded in the market model. I can give some examples of alternative media. One of the examples is a TV channel that focuses mostly on Dalit issues, and it reaches the Dalits. In Delhi there is a university magazine that specifically caters to Dalit students. There are also some Dalit websites. We have alternative media in Europe as well. But it is the same problem that they face in Europe as well; in terms of reach it is very limited.

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JITHA: How do you distinguish between alternative and mainstream media?

CHRISTIANE: The design of alternative media in itself also is a very tricky issue. You can’t find much in media literature about alternative media. For me the main difference between the mainstream and alternative media is with regard to their reach of the medium. The reach of alternative media is very limited and reaches only certain category of the people. This is the main drawback of the alternative media. There could be main reasons for this. It is not only that they lack resources but the content also matters. Many of the alternative media are NGO funded and sponsored, or they may be initiatives by small number of individuals. Also, they would be addressing issues of the neglected lot and hence the content too would be based on their issues which might not be of interest for the audiences of mainstream media.This automatically limits its takers and hence the reach.

Chris 24Another hurdle alternative media faces is that of fragmentation of voices. Different groups talk using different forums and there is hardly any interaction among them.  Even in alternative media as each of them occupy their own space and rarely communicate with each other, I feel that their voice gets fragmented; and I would rather suggest if they make use of the modern technology and have some common internet web forums to exchange ideas, it would gain them great mileage in this regard.  People from Dalit communities, Dalit activists and intellectuals can come together under one forum. Their issues are very complicated. And researching among them is a rewarding experience.

JITHA: What are your future plans with regard to curriculum development around these issues?

CHRISTIANE : My idea and dream is introducing a special MA in our university department involving alternative journalism, investigative journalism, global journalism, critical journalism and ethnographic journalism, as well as gender in journalism. These ideas are in pipe line. The idea is that even if the students would not be able to make use of it immediately in their work field, they should be familiar with all methodological and theoretical frameworks about critical journalism.

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The media should be more open to talk about women’s issues and other issues that concern people. We need to make sure the new generation engages in meaningfully with internet. We need to make students aware about what they can do with internet. It is very important to inculcate aptitude for critical analysis among the students.

(To be concluded)

Dr. Christiane Verschooten teaches International Journalism and New Media. Her main focus is on South Asia. Her research interests include Dalits and media, alternative journalism, and poverty and critical journalism. 

She was in Delhi to present a paper at the international conference on “Contours of Media Governance: Teaching, Disciplinarity, Methodology”, organised by Centre for Culture Media and Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia on February 25-27, 2013.She can be contacted at chris.verschooten@hubrussel.be

Image Courtesy

Image 1: CCMG

Image 2 : http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/ lead/ missing-from-the-indian-newsroom/article3294285 .ece

Image 3: http://globalvoicesonline.org /2012 /09/ 05/india-dalit-camera-media-for-the-marginalised/

Image 4 : CCMG