Wanted: ‘Rural poor’ journalists

This year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communications goes to Mr. Palagummi Sainath, an Indian reporter in his early 50s so honored for his 14-year devotion to covering stories of India’s rural poor amidst and despite the “corporatization” of mass media.

I was amazed by his profile. Like Jesus Christ led by the Spirit into the wilderness and tempted by the devil for 40 days, Jesuits-educated Sainath manages to live in the rural areas of India for about 300 days a year and produce journalistic stories that highlight the struggles of the rural poor as well as ironies in the countryside arising from the globalization that has hounded the country.

With his flair and commitment, Sainath warded off the temptations by the corporate media. He chose not to raise funds from government and other entities with vested interests and instead use his income from writing to continue writing for and about the rural poor.

Sainath could be characterized as the product of the souls and minds of Gandhi, Nehru, Thomas Paine, and Jesus Christ. Their common traits are dissidence, sacrifice, and perseverance. They would rather not conform to the realities that perpetuate inequality and inequity; they would go out on a limb and attempt to change them. To do it, they would stick it out even though it means putting their lives at risk.

I would consider Sainath as a leader then. Because leaders have been there before us; they blazed the trail for us to follow. They have the moral high ground. They do inspire. They do galvanize actions. Sainath deserves to be an icon for journalists who want to be identified with the poor. His exemplary life must prick the conscience of those who have hopelessly bowed to the corporate interests.

Karl Marx said that “philosophers have interpreted the world; the point is to change it.” Noam Chomsky interpreted the evils of the corporate media. Sainath has worked to fight those. Mainstream journalists would believe that there is something wrong in society but do not have guts and wherewithal to right that wrong. Sainath is one of the few that struggle righting that wrong.

Thanks to Yvonne Chua for covering Sainath. A progressive journalist herself, she did justice in describing a foreign journalist that must stir, if not revive, a discourse in the Philippine journalism: Has Philippine journalism become not of the masses but of “the stakeholders”, to quote Sainath’s words?

Sainath is here to pose a challenge to the progressive journalists in underdeveloped and developing countries, whether they are in the mainstream or in “indiestream”: In this globalized world, can we become journalists of the rural poor? Bloggers are no exempted from this challenge. I am not, either. This blog of mine runs a pot pourri of social and political topics, but admittedly, I post a very few entries about the rural poor struggles and rural ironies. I have blogged about the difficulties faced by peasants before the opponents of land reform but I feel that it is not enough. I feel that I need to be infused with some blood of Sainath to be able to draw a more realistic picture of the rural realities.

To try to bring rural poor struggles in the front pages, engaging the mainstream media through feedbacks (through letters to the editor) and “working” with them (through media briefings, press conferences and press releases) is not enough. The greater challenge is how to produce and maintain “Sainathans” in this nation of ironies. Nevertheless, I’m beginning to sound optimistic as Sainath. Who knows, if we, social activists, continue to be dissident, selfless, and persevering, chances are journalists of the rural poor will be born in our midst.

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One comment

  1. First time I read his article in The Hindu, I knew this man is god. Later Magsaysay came along for him, but that doesn’t matter. As a son of a farmer, I respect this man desire to bring the apathy of rural masses in the Newpaper. Other writers whom I respect as much are Pramchand and George Orwell.

    I used to have an attitude towards the elder generation. “Oh these old man, first they set all the bad examples even worst of us wouldn’t imagine, and when they no longer could do that they come along wielding morality and start preaching how should we young guys behave.” Thanks to these few examples I understand now you just have to look around to see the real persons.

    In semiconductor technology (I design chips) there is a rule called Moore’s law. It says that in 2 years, no of transistors doubles per unit area of the chip. This trends gonna last when this technology reaches its physical limit. This can be applied to the mass-media. “The no of substantial/sensible news in a corporate newspaper per unit area reduces to half in XX months (research required to determine this factor).

    Times of India already started “nano news” colomn on the front page. Most of the substantial news are there.

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