When media begins to campaign

IN Media Practice | 15/04/2002
When media begins to campaign

When media begins to campaign 

Down To Earth
Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain

Shot : The monsoon greeting card reminds Indians of the value of monsoons and rainfall

Situated in the heart of the once proud and prosperous Malwa Plateau, the rapidly growing city of Indore, benefited by the waters of the Narmada, is today facing an acute water crisis. The municipality cannot supply enough water and the groundwater table is falling, and whatever there is of groundwater is getting polluted. Nothing unusual in this scenario. Every Indian city is facing it.
But Indore has one big difference. The city`s leading newspapers, Dainik Bhaskar and Nai Duniya are campaigning for water conservation - more like activists rather than the usual bickering, but hands off journalists. Tradition has it that Indore celebrates two Holis. One, the normal Holi that we celebrate all across the country. And another, five days after the normal Holi, called Pancham Holi. A lot of water gets used during the festival revelries. The municipality has to make special provisions for meeting the extra water demand. But, this year the papers went on a campaign and urged the citizens to observe a dry Holi - a Holi without the famous pichkari, the water pistol that everybody loves to use, but only with the lovely colours of dry gulal.
As part of its `Pani Bachao Andolan` (Save Water Movement), Dainik Bhaskar even organised three big public meetings which had the state`s Chief Minister, Digvijay Singh, and environmentalists rubbing shoulders with each other, and filmstars thrown in to bring the crowds. On the first day, nearly 8,000 children were brought together for a painting competition based on the themes of water.
The second day saw a women`s meet with activists like Medha Patkar and Vandana Shiva and model Priyanka Chopra.
On the third day, a public meeting with Chief Minister Singh, Ajay Devgan and Mahesh Bhatt from the film world, and three environmentalists including Anupam Mishra and Rajendra Singh. Mishra said that if people in Rajasthan, with 200-250 mm annual rainfall, can survive with the help of rainwater harvesting, then, why should there be water shortage in Malwa which has 800-900 mm rainfall.
The paper has also been taking out ads urging people to take up water conservation. Dainik Bhaskar has today emerged as the biggest Hindi daily, with a total circulation of 1.8 million and a readership of 10 million. Sudhir Agrawal, managing director of the paper, explained why the paper got into this campaign. "Every month we meet select readers and increasingly we found our readers worried about water. We publish from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh and all these states are suffering from an acute drought this year. Therefore, we felt we must start a campaign for water conservation." Good business sense but one with a social purpose.
The paper`s extraordinary reach gives it a power to create `water literacy` that no other institution has. Creative copy editors hit the message hard.
Here are two good headlines that I found during my two day stay there. "People pump out water as if it rains underground", and "There is no shortage of water but…", in other words, there is no application of mind.
Indore`s other and older daily, Nai Duniya, has also been campaigning for water conservation and water harvesting. The paper`s chief editor, Abhay Chhajlani, worried by sinking water tables in the villages and towns of the Malwa-Nimar area of Madhya Pradesh, had started a campaign for water conservation in June 2000 after the paper tad taken out several ads on the subject.
At a public meeting attended by the city`s mayor and leading officials, Anupam Mishra and Rahul Ranade of the Centre for Science and Environment explained to the people the whys and hows of water harvesting.
The paper also organised a meeting of NGOs and activists for advice and brought out a simple pamphlet on water harvesting for distribution. The paper has a circulation of 1,30,000. By setting aside five paise per paper sold, it has created a fund of Rs 1 crore under the `Nai Duniya Jan Seva Trust`. The trust now wants to create models of water harvesting in houses and farms by

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