By TERESA REHMAN
It is not every day that one discovers a press club running its own news portal. But Moirabari Press Club, located in the nondescript flood and erosion-affected area of Moirabari in Assam’s Morigaon district, runs its own news portal called http://mpcnews.co/. The press club is quite small with just nine members and was set up on February 2015. A permanent office was set up later in the midst of Moirabari Bazar. The club has contributed to the solution of various problems in Moirabari by virtue of presenting timely news to the residents. The portal disseminates what can be called ‘hyper-local news’. Arifuz Zaman, Input Editor of the portal, says, “This is a backward area. Most often important news from Moirabari doesn’t find space in the Guwahati-based media. We thought of creating our own space where our news can be disseminated.”
The portal was launched at the initiative of a few enterprising young journalists of the area like Zaman. “We invested our savings. We invited some educated youths to be our reporters. Our aim now is to popularize the concept of online journalism and we are not even thinking of generating any revenue at the moment. Most of us involved with the website are also working with other media organisations,” says Zaman. In fact, the concept has caught the imagination of the educated people of the area. Dalil Ahmed, Associate Professor of Moirabari College feels that it is under-developed places like Moirabari actually need media attention. “I appreciate the efforts of these young men. Their portal is playing an important role in holding our people together and disseminating information.” Moirabari is one of Assam’s agricultural hubs. Jute, peanut, and spices are produced in the riverine areas. Its status is that of a village panchayat, not of a town. “Various crimes are on the rise like drug abuse and trafficking. We want to raise awareness about these issues. We want to take a stand against these anti-social elements,” says Pranab Goswami, Consulting Editor of the portal. The portal has gained popularity among the young, tech-savvy crowd. The portal has a Students Corner which lists possible questions for the board examinations. Zaman adds, “Now we plan to start a jobs column called ‘Sakori bisare neki? (Do you need a job?) which will have details of all kinds of job openings including their forms.”
The most popular column in the portal is ‘Dignitaries’ which profiles the lives of important personalities of the area who have contributed to its development. “It’s heartening to see the instant feedback from our readers,” says Zaman who used to work for a channel in Guhawati before returning to Moirabari. His aim was to start a local channel but lack of funds made him change track and start a news portal instead with other journalists. Now they want to expand and popularize their portal in schools and colleges by organizing awareness seminars and poetry and short story competitions. In particular, they want to encourage women to write as there are no women members of the club because women here do not usually take up journalism as a profession. Apart from highlighting crimes and other problems, the journalists want to engage with the local population on health issues such as immunization, family planning, and reproductive health. The residents, mostly Muslim, need help on many fronts. Women are still married off at a very young age and very few complete their education. Goswami says the portal has a huge role to play in creating awareness in Moirabari and its adjoining areas which covers over five lakh people. The portal also features stories such as the physically challenged farmer who has successfully set an example in vegetable farming. “We want to flag these inspiring stories which can encourage other youths,” says Goswami. Another inspiring aspect of life in Moirabari that is covered by the portal is the harmony among the different communities. For example, the area boasts of the Sri Sri Patekibori Alipukhuri Sattra, the birthplace of the Vaishnavite saint Srimanta Sankardeva. Many Muslims have donated land for the Sattra or the Vaishnavite monastery. Baharul Ulum Choudhury, Editor-in-chief of the portal, is optimistic about its future. They now want to upgrade their technology and start a mobile app. “It’s important to keep pace with changing technology especially when you are dabbling with new media. It’s an emerging field with lots of possibilities,” he says. The portal tries to make use of innovative ways to reach out to the masses. During the last assembly elections earlier this year, they organized talk shows called ‘Raizor Motamot’ in remote areas and in different panchayats and videographed the events. They were later screened in front of the press club which is also close to the marketplace. “In a way, we were trying to elicit public opinion and analyse the elections,” says Choudhury. The portal plans to come up with a magazine on the occasion of Durga Puja. As the area is an agrarian hub, they want to do something that will benefit farmers. “Our farmers work hard but they do not get their due. The area is also badly affected by erosion and floods. We want to invite experts who would interact with them and give them advice on improved farming methods. We will videograph these interactions and screen them with the help of the projector in remote and far-flung areas,” adds Choudhury. Moirabari Press Club has taken various steps from time to time for public welfare. It has held free medical camps, organized cultural functions and provided financial help to poor students. The dedicated team believes that impartial and objective news can contribute to the development of a society.
“We are committed to the ceaseless struggle for socio-economic, cultural and political change and the development of our area by virtue of presenting news,” says Choudhury. No wonder the portal’s tag is “No views, only news”.
(This article was earlier published on thehoot.org)