Citizen journalism hot on television channels in India

August 2006 -

A quick surf through India’s wide spectrum of television channels, and your attention is easily drawn to promos for the Hindi-language Channel 7. Right now it is aggressively marketing its news show Citizen Journalist. This programme is a stage for citizen-journalists around the country to conceive, document and present a story of social and political relevance on national television.

Getting viewers to engage actively in the collating and presenting of news on television is becoming a standard feature of many news channels in India. On public hoardings the 24x7 English-language channel CNN-IBN invites viewers to be a ‘citizen journalist’ in the news enterprise. ‘You see it. You report it’, is how one of their advertisements phrases it. Viewers with well-documented stories send in video reports on local issues, or on local repercussions of national issues.


Citizen journalism is a hot new catchphrase that also refers to the role of blogging and text/video messaging of public viewpoints in today’s 24x7 news universe. While there is some debate about whether this is journalism, reporting or story-telling, this manner of public participation has gained remarkable ground in India over the past two years. On the news channel NDTV, text messages from the viewing public are forcing courts to re-open long-standing unresolved criminal cases and expedite the delivery of justice. After the tsunami and in the wake of the recent terror attacks in Mumbai, eye-witness accounts sent in by sms supplied early facts about the incidents. They have often exposed inadequacies in disaster management and emergency facilities on the spot.

Citizen reports and commentary augment regular journalism by increasing the range of voices heard in a story. The editor-in-chief of Channel 7 and CNN-IBN says about citizen journalism initiatives on both channels, that the idea is “to build a citizenry that is engaged with public life”. Writing to newspapers has its limitations, such as circumscribed space and a newspaper’s inability to reproduce more than a small fraction of the mail it receives. 24x7 channels and weblogs have widened the parameters of public participation.

Every evening at prime-time, the news and analysis programmes India 360° and Face the Nation on CNN-IBN solicit public opinion on an important issue of the day, and the viewing public obliges with a steady stream of text messages. While the programme anchor engages in a lively discussion with the invited commentators, the viewer can read opinions ‘sms-ed’ by a nation-wide public at the bottom of the screen.
Public opinion now finds easy and instantaneous expression.